Sunday, November 20, 2011


This is called "assault"

I was disgusted to see yet another act of brutality by police against peaceful demonstrators yesterday: this time at University of California, Davis (see above photo).

Every cop involved in the crackdowns on the Occupy movement must make an individual choice.

They must decide whether they are going to conform to any and all dictates from their "superiors," or to have the courage to disregard immoral orders and say "No, I won't do that." Behind the uniforms and dehumanizing face shields (which predate the Anonymous masks by a long shot), are individual human beings from different situations, with different ideas, all capable of thinking for themselves.

We Make Our Own Choices -- And We Are Defined By Them

Thinking for yourself and acting according to your conscience constitute the essence of personal, and social, responsibility. Copping the plea "I'm just following orders" will only buy you so much slack. Every war has been made possible because the elites revved up the patriotism engine and made the "chain of command" sacrosanct in the mind of the common soldier.

But some jobs (including wars) are just plain dirty and when it gets to that point the only right conclusion is to decide that doing one's job isn't the same as doing the right thing.

This is true in the workplace, in the armed forces, and in the police force.

And, no, it isn't an easy thing to do, to cross that line. It can come at quite a price. Sometimes you just bite your tongue or let something slide.

But sometimes it's more black and white. More serious. Like pepper spraying peaceful demonstrators -- something that's happening more and more at the Occupy protests. That one is black and white. If you're squeezing the button on that canister and inflicting suffering on a passive human being, you're wrong. No debate, no gray area. Wrong.

You can go through life and never break a rule, never break a law. That doesn't mean you've always done the right thing. That just means you know how to obey.

"But I don't want to get into trouble."

Nobody wants to lose their job, be arrested, get harassed or be vilified. Alas, doing the right thing often comes with a price.

One of the great pacifist-activists of our time, Noam Chomsky, once recounted, in an interview, the moment that he learned this. It was in the schoolyard as a child. A large group of kids had surrounded an overweight boy and were taunting him mercilessly. Chomsky tells that he stood by and watched, frightened to do anything, but that it haunted him later. "It didn't feel very good and I decided I'd never just stand by and watch a wrong being committed again."

And if you are still convinced that obeying the law or "going along" is always the way to go (and remember, laws change and evolve), then what about these lawbreakers who helped give us a better world? (Just a random list off the top of my head.):

The Ploughshares Eight, the Catonsville Nine, Rosa Parks, John Brown, the members of the German Resistance during WWII, the leaders of the Arab Spring, Emma Goldman, Frank Serpico, Nelson Mandela, Henry David Thoreau, Gandhi, Jesus... Pick any era in recorded history and you'll find righteous people who defied the rule of immoral law. Who resisted the force of institutional pressure to conform. Who decided to step from the "safe" side to the right side.

You can make a contribution, or you can let others do the work and take the risks. You can play it safe and be a dead weight, or you can help bring about change all the sooner and live with a clear conscience. Of course, everyone's situation is different. We have differing constraints of time and resources. Some people can attend a protest but not risk an arrest that would have serious ramifications for them. So you do what you can. That is your civic duty: to do what you can.

One would've thought that the Nuremberg Trials would have put to rest, once and for all, the notion that "following orders" was a valid defense for committing a crime. Make no mistake: Many police have committed crimes against Occupy Wall Street protesters. Check the Net and watch the video clips.

So beware of the notions of "duty," "nationalism," "patriotism," and "following orders." Of "loyalty to your company" and going along with the crowd. (And yes, I would personally hope that every Occupy protester is thinking for themselves as well.)

These are crucial times for the future of our planet and the species. We need to keep our wits about us. We need to think things through. And we must have the courage of our convictions.

Take care,


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