Guest Post: Stomping A Frog

Self-described ‘punk-ass libertarian’ Dan Nolan, who blogs occasionally at Ultimate Science Team, has written a guest post for us on police powers. I reproduce it here unaltered:

It’s a widely held misconception that you can boil a frog alive by putting it in a saucepan or a pot of cold water and slowly applying heat. The theory goes that the frog adjusts to its temperature naturally, so if you heat it slowly enough you will be able to boil it alive without the frog even noticing. It’s a great story and a great allegory, one that Libertarians frequently use to point out the slow erosion of our rights and the increase of police powers in any society slowly moving towards a form of benign totalitarianism. Unfortunately in this situation the reaction does not reflect the reality, the frog will jump out of the water as it starts to heat. They don’t like being contained. The frog boiling alive is a myth that seems to have taken hold in our minds. In the situation of eroding police powers, though, the analogy holds because we are, effectively, doing nothing about the situation.

You may consider it to be a grotesque hyperbole on my part to claim that what is happening in NSW in any way resembles a ‘form of benign totalitarianism’. You may think that this kind of ardent claim is indicative of a mind poisoned by Libertarian propaganda and proof that the individual is thoroughly disconnected from reality. This, however, is not sensationalism. In NSW you can have your property investigated by the police without your consent, or you even knowing as long as a judge issues a warrant. Your car and everything in it can be searched without your consent even without a warrant without reason. Your mobile phone can be taken from you and the contents searched without your consent and, again, without a warrant. If you are traveling on public transport or are in a licensed premises you can be searched invasively without a warrant if a (notoriously unreliable) sniffer dog looks at you funny. The police can and will categorically misrepresent the scope and ability of their powers because their particular role carries with it the ‘fate of society’. They feel as if they are the individual guardians of society and anyone who questions them or attempts to limit their abilities and powers is effectively a criminal. If any or all of you have interacted with police and have uttered the phrase ‘civil libertarian’, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Though it is valid to say that police corruption has decreased substantially over the past three decades, the scope of their powers has increased by a truly vulgar degree.

What we have in NSW is a very dangerous meeting point of three concepts. The first of these is the mindset outlined above, that the police are the very force holding society back from the brink of anarchy and moral decay. This point has a modicum of validity, but it by its own nature, assumes we live in a society of sociopaths that only have the deterrent of the police stopping us from raping and murdering like it’s going out of fashion. The second is that, unlike our compatriots in the US and other nations, we have no enumerated rights that are guaranteed protection. We do not have a bill of rights that exists in either the Federal or NSW constitution. All rights we assume and presume we have are the side-effect of a benign jurisprudence than any real movement for guaranteed rights. This element, in concert with the third point, the drunken nature with which the NSW government kowtows to the media’s demands and those of the police association for increased police powers shows how blindly this erosion of our rights has been enabled.

It would be a crude attempt at pseudo-psychiatry to claim that I have any insights into the overall nature of the Australian psyche. Humour me, as I feel there is something valid in saying Australians have an over-reliance on the Government to solve their problems. Even a fleeting glance at the news media would show that the opinion of the average Australian on many issues is that of wanting the Government to ‘fix this’ or ‘do more’. This is stunningly obvious when it comes to issues of crime and punishment. Politicians wish to look tough on crime and the media holds them to account on this issue. The NSW police association, as by its very nature, wishes to have greater powers to ‘fight crime’ and proposes powers they should be afforded which are rushed through parliament with nary a glance from our elected representatives. Those individuals who see this as a grotesque echo-chamber that dissolves our rights are ignored or marginalised for being ‘soft on crime’. This has extended to such a degree that in response to recent laws passed to deal with ‘bikie gangs’, the NSW Director of Public Prosecution Nicholas Cowdery, commented they were: “another giant leap backwards for human rights and the separation of powers – in short, the rule of law“. The politicians and the police association are so ignorant of the actual role of law in society that they have extended their powers by a degree that would be farcical if it was not so stunningly bleak.

The problem faced by those who wish to protect human rights is the similar issue faced by those who wish to protect free speech. We speak in defense of the indefensible, and we are portrayed as outliers by the media to the community at large. Civil libertarians speaking out in defense of people are often seen siding with ‘terror suspects’, accused murderers or paedophiles, something the community seems to misinterpret. Unfortunately, this is the burden we bear, rights, by their very nature, must be uniformly applied and adhered to. You, as fellow lovers of liberty are already the greatest advocate for the perils of this situation. We need to start rocking the boat with furious and unrelenting anger, querying and questioning every further request for powers. We need to be issuing press releases, giving interviews and motivating people to write to members of parliament or the media. We need to respond to every request for even the slightest increase in powers with a torrent of protest in every way we possibly can. To steal a term from the feminists of the 60’s, we need to focus on consciousness raising. Show the people what rights have been taken from them and demand that the Government, which exists at our behest, relinquishes the power it has taken from us. Only by raising our voices and using the tools we have at hand can we make the response reflect the reality, only by facing this head on and demanding our rights back can we make the frog jump. I’d rather not consider the alternative.

You can follow Dan Nolan on Twitter @dannolan.

15 thoughts on “Guest Post: Stomping A Frog

  1. In some ways I do think we are too soft on crime. However it has more to do with courts and sentenceing than with a lack of police powers. I certainly agree that the police have too much power. At APEC in 2007 they essentially imprisoned me and other LDP supporters along with the general crowd of mostly raving socialists for over an hour without any charge. The crowd was peaceful and was trying to disperse. It was a most repugnant show of power and it shattered my view of the NSW police.

    For a very good piece on the bikie laws check out the following blog:-

    http://ausgunowners.wordpress.com/2009/04/05/those-who-would-deny-freedom-to-others/

  2. I remember reading on a blog yesterday – can’t find it now – that the QLD parliament has more criminal convictions as a percentage than any bikie gang.
    The obvious conclusion would be to list the QLD parliament as a banned organisation.

  3. Amusing. Not so amusing is the fact that the NSW laws are so general that political parties could be quite readily banned. If the government wanted to go totalitarian then the instruments exist to effectively ban the opposition.

  4. The post was by Ron Kitching and I have not verified the figures however apart from criminal convictions there are a number of other matters that deserve investigation especially in relation to dirty deals with lobbyists. At the moment any calls for serious investigation into these are being blocked, but it appears we are heading in the direction of another “Moonlight State.”

  5. This is a great post. I entirely agree with it too, which of course has nothing to do with that estimation 🙂

    The only thing the police fear is being held accountable personally. That option was mostly removed by the NSW government a few years ago. They can now behave like the uniformed thugs many of them are, with impunity. When the Police Commissioner publicly defends such thuggery, as he did after APEC, the old saying about fish rotting from the head takes on new meaning.

    I have known police who disagree with these creeping powers. They tend to be the more thoughtful and intelligent ones who realise they won’t always be police and would prefer not to be on the receiving end. Some will also think again if you ask whether they’d like their family to be treated in that manner.

    But far too many are moralising blockheads who, as the post says, believe they are literally the thin blue line between civilisation and anarchy. Because they have a lot of contact with a criminal or violent people, they tend to believe everyone is really like that.

    Given the circumstances that led to their broad powers, as the post describes, there is probably only one response likely to reverse the trend. That is, to demonstrate the adverse impact the powers are having.

    That means complaining, publicly and in writing, every time the police abuse their powers. Take a photograph or record their misdeeds whenever possible. Embarrass and expose them in the media at every opportunity. Never back away from lodging a complaint, to ICAC, the Ombudsman, PIC and politicians. Use the law against them whenever possible. Never give them a statement and never ever plead guilty to anything.

    Eventually, the same politicians who thought there were votes in giving the police these powers might think there are votes in taking them away.

  6. Tim, when adding links, you need to include the http:// otherwise it is assumed by the great Gods of the Internet that your links exist in the same domain as the current site.

    The result is your links end up pointing to “http://blog.libertarian.org.au/2009/08/26/guest-post-stomping-a-frog/ultimatescienceteam.com” and “http://blog.libertarian.org.au/2009/08/26/guest-post-stomping-a-frog/www.twitter.com/dannolan” which obviously doesn’t work.

  7. And you didn’t even get started the federal level – ASIO, AFP, ASIS, ONA, DSA, Defence Signals & the BCP, for starters. And if you’re interested in a spot of rendition, DIaC can help you out.

  8. A call to action!

    I like the interesting observation that the police are actually supporting a miscarriage of justice with the bikie law example.
    I can understand the police position considering they are trying to do the impossible – stop the black market in illicit drugs. But senior police chiefs need to take a step back and look outside the square. Perhaps the laws themselves or the legal system itself has created the problem they are now trying to fix.

    I think that by publically supporting unjust laws such as mandatory sentencing, privacy violations, tougher drug laws or collectivist bikie laws, ultimately police are actually harming themselves and their own profession. Because the more unjust the law becomes the less people will realise how essential and beneficial it is to enforce certain laws (eg/ property rights) and the more disrespectful and distrustful they will be of the legal system.

  9. Pingback: Guest Post: The Emperor’s New Modem « Thoughts on Freedom

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