Saturday, June 01, 2013

The use of force

There are many interventions in medicine that are life-saving when used acutely but detrimental when applied chronically. Steroids produce highly desirable results when used for brief periods in such conditions as asthma or rheumatoid arthritis. When used for extended periods they cause abnormalities in bone and skin, psychiatric disturbances, weight gain and cataracts. Antibiotics are useful for acute infection but when used long-term do more harm than good. Surgery is often necessary in an acute, discrete crisis but is impractical as a continuing intervention. The underlying principle is that certain actions and interventions that are indispensable in confronting dire, but focused emergencies do not function as well when used as indefinite strategies.

The same principle that applies to medical therapy of human illness has an analog regarding the use of force in civic life. The use of force, and particularly armed force, is often indispensable and necessary in the management of discrete crises, such as violent criminal behavior and hostile military confrontations. The use of force is much less efficacious, and in fact detrimental when used as a governing principle for day-to-day life. This is true not only for actual armed incidents such as SWAT team actions or law enforcement raids, but also for the coercive legislation that serve as the rationales for such actions. Bans and prohibitions, mandates and imperatives, while perhaps necessary to transient exigencies are detrimental and corrupting when relied upon for social order.

A society cannot succeed, progress or even survive when daily life occurs under the shadow of government coercion. Dictatorships and tyrannies have limited lives because the inevitable result of rigid force is destruction and decay. Societies thrive as a measure of the character of their members rather than the force of their rulers. The transient efficacy of force is not dependent upon the rationale for its use. Force and coercion can be employed for malevolent as well as benevolent purposes. They can be used to suppress virtue as well as vice. The indiscriminate use of force tends to become a substitute for reasoned policy and the consensus that results from civil discourse. Bans and mandates are the tools of the impatient, incompetent, misguided and corrupt.

Once force is employed as the basis of a particular policy, especially when such is contrary to popular sentiment, it creates a self-perpetuating cycle of increasingly intrusive and coercive interventions that eventually become unsustainable. The bonds that exist between members of a thriving society are not bonds of submission. The use of force and its antecedents are malignancies in the body politic, consuming more and more of civic life and corroding the societies that host them. If society that requires the use of force and government intrusion for survival is doomed regardless.