The year 2020 was certainly interesting for Americans. In late 2019, somebody in East Asia decided to eat a raw bat (unverified), and we watched with mild interest. After a slow start, 2020 introduced a military strike against an Iranian General, a global pandemic, a massive economic recession, and a new breed of murderous hornets.
As serious, and sometimes tragic, as these events have been, they are likely to be blips on the American historical radar. However, there has been another movement that combines the emotional, economical, social, and political realms that is likely to remain for generations: abolition of the police, establishing a policeless state.
This is not the first instance of social movements to defund or disband law enforcement. Nearly every instance of police violence and misconduct has raised some calls for police disbandment; most end up being realized in the form of training, accountability, and procedural reforms.
As the country was reeling from the impacts of a pandemic and recession, the police violence in 2020 was more highly scrutinized than any other time in history, and several tragic events have given rise to the strongest movements this country has yet seen to defund or disband the police.
This article will not attempt to debate or provide opinion upon the merits of such arguments; local social-government engagements are a more appropriate forum for that conversation. Instead, this article will examine a hypothetical scenario at the extreme end of the spectrum: the disestablishment of all forms of organized law enforcement in America, and what it means for your safety.
What is of law enforcement?
First, what is the meaning of law enforcement? On the surface, it is simply the means for an organized body to enforce laws—preventing crime through proactive persuasion and retroactive consequences. The definition of “crime” then becomes a commonly-held belief system, ideally codified into a public standard. This is known as “law”, typically derived from a commonly-held moral standard.
Were law enforcement to be abandoned altogether, then there becomes no way for the organized body to prevent, discourage, or punish wrongdoing. We know from history that people will generally act in their own self-interests, so the motivation to conform to commonly-held beliefs becomes a broad appeal to people’s altruistic nature. The very requirement for common law becomes diluted: it is an unenforceable code of conduct that citizens are free to violate with impunity.
One historical example of such a society can be found in the American frontier. The “Wild West” is depicted on film and in print as a lawless, violent environment dominated by the powerful. Most researchers agree that modern narratives overstate the level of violence, but many maintain that it was likely on par with, or even slightly than, modern levels.
This was in vast low-density populations with a few higher-density areas sprinkled in key locations (such as along waterways and train stations). There was law, but the organizational ability to enforce it was below today’s common standards.
How did old westerners settle disputes and avenge grievances? A large part of it was “frontier justice”. This extrajudicial practice of the administration of justice aligns with our modern concept of “vigilante justice”. Some people will naturally do harm to others in the name of meeting their own desires—we see this with toddlers taking each others’ toys, and we see this with corporate executives misreporting financial information for monetary gain.
With no governing body to appeal to, there is a low barrier to entering the state of correcting a wrongdoing one’s self. Or even to correct a wrongdoing to another in an act of selflessness.
If we follow today’s social movements to abolish the police to its most extreme conclusion, we should be prepared for 21st century “frontier justice”. In our case, the issues that settlers had to deal with—protecting their own health, their land, their belongings, and their cattle—are a small fraction of what we would face. These are relatively simple to protect with a trusty security system of a dog and a firearm.
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The more challenging aspects for modern society are probably identity fraud, digital theft, property trespassing, noise complaints, intellectual property infringement, and unsafe traffic. These are difficult to self-regulate without an organized body in place that is empowered to protect our freedoms, and a shotgun has its limitations. In many cases, the only defenses might be robust cybersecurity measures and insurance policies.
Are you ready to prepare for the 21st century version of the wild west? Go learn how to “hack back”.