Tasers and the Law of Unintended Consequences
I can remember many decades ago reading a story about efforts to develop a nonfatal “stun gun,” which, we were told, would give police an alternative to using deadly force. It sounded like a good idea, like something that might actually save a few lives.
But I guess one should never forget the Law of Unintended Consequences:
The Law of Unintended Consequences holds that almost all human actions have at least one unintended consequence. In other words, each cause has more than one effect, including unforeseen effects.
As a liberal, I certainly don’t offer a wholehearted endorsement of this so-called law, given that it’s generally employed by conservatives arguing against the wisdom of all forms of economic regulation and other public programs. But in the case of the taser (the trade name for a stun gun now widely used by law enforcement agencies), it applies with frightening precision.
The video begins in the study room of UCLA’s Powell Library, a beautiful, ornate sanctuary that I inhabited as often as possible. The library looked how a library should look: Imposing, serious, grave, and somewhat holy. And in response, all of us who entered it became slightly hushed, felt an inch more intellectual, became a bit more serious in our academic purpose. Which makes it all the more jarring to hear the screaming, the yelling, the pleas for peace as a student who refuses to produce a Bruin ID card is tasered again and again and again; shrieking in pain and defiance each time.
(John at AMERICAblog has been following the case closely)
Unfortunately, this incident is far from unique. Controversies involving the questionable use of tasers by law enforcement personnel are becoming very common. It turns out that what’s most appealing about police use of the devices, the fact they usually cause no permanent injury, is the very same thing that leads to their misuse.
The most disturbing feature of what happened at UCLA, for example, is the fact the officers appear to have used the device multiple times, not to protect themselves or to restrain an out of control suspect, but, instead, to compel the suspect’s cooperation. He refused to stand up, so they tasered him again and again until he did.
Presumably this same technique could be used to good effect to breakup any politically motivated sit in. Instead of carrying the protesters off to the paddy wagon, just zap ‘em until they finally crawl over to it themselves.
But there are lines you simply don’t cross in a liberal democracy, like, oh, say, torturing suspects (yeah, I know). And allowing the government to use high-voltage electrical shock as a method of compelling compliance to its dictates is one of those things. You can’t do that and still use words like republic and democracy to describe yourself as a nation: They just don’t fit anymore.
November 19th, 2006 at 7:17 am
this law is not about politics - it’s actually about “actions” - about physics, because information is process and therefore creates intertwined environments - and to pull strings in a network simply leads to reactions like that - cross-linked. Reactions, often too complex to be fully understood. That’s what behind that law
this argumentation of the conservatives is “faith-based reasoning” at work - just remove some words to see that: “the wisdom of all forms of economic regulation” is the foundation of leading a company, because a regulation is “a principle or condition that customarily governs behavior; the act of regulating” - each and every company boss does that to do business. So do the conservatives truly argue against the usual style of industrial behavior? Or are they only “cautious” as long as it’s about the common good? And do they really believe that the “Unintended Consequences” of actions of Fat Cats are always “positive unexpected benefits”?
Or remove the words “economic” and “public” and think about the true meaning of “the wisdom of all forms of regulation and other programs” - that’s anarchy. I never met a conservative not longing for “a strong leader”, actually most of them tend to love “authoritative rules” (aka regulations)
And if you spin that thought of the conservatives a little further - of avoiding actions just to avoid unforeseeable consequences - the simple conclusion is to commit suicide. Because only if nothing is done, you don’t have to fear “Unintended Consequences”
alas, that’s not “unintended”, i fear - to use weapons against “enemies” is always intention and persons not willing to follow your commands are always “on the other side” - so only a deep respect for human dignity or the threat of punishment can stop the men with weapons to use it against the weaker ones…
but where the law of the strongest rules, there is no dignity left - and where no “permanent injury” can be proven, there is mostly no punishment to be feared. And the long lasting discussions about “not lethal weapons” showed clearly what could happen - so these results are neither “unintended” nor “unexpected”, they are truly a sad proof of the decline of democracy, always dependent on justice always dependent on respect for basic human rights
November 21st, 2006 at 2:17 am
I saw the video tape of that incident on Keith Olbermann; and it was horrific. I hope those guys get fired and sued. Repeated tasering could cause death. I think the young man was profiled and his civil rights were violated. The University needs to take strong and immediate action to protect students, although I wont hold my breath.