I was stopped in the subway yesterday by some rent-a-cops. It was a bit jarring.
It was at Square-Victoria metro around 2pm, and they were doing “random checks” of people’s subway passes. I don’t know if this has ever happened to you, but it can be a strange feeling getting stopped by people who think they’re law enforcement, but really are not.
I’ve always distrusted police, so that didn’t help.
So I’m looking this guy straight in the eye as I pass him my card. He checks it and lets me go. No problem. I imagine this is a bit what being in a police state feels like– being able to be stopped at any time and asked for identification for any reason. I leave with my privacy feeling a bit invaded. Weird.
A lot of people think they hold power over you in certain contexts. I met Jessamyn West this weekend, and she talked about how she was stopped in a library in Des Moines for taking pictures. When she asked why, there was no reason– it was just “against policy.” Go figure. What happened afterwards is worth reading.
The thing is, rule makers often have good reasons for creating them. I was stopped in the subway because a lot of people are probably jumping the turnstiles or something. So it makes sense for them to check my card, I guess. (This is a bit like the RIAA piracy thing– accusing all of your paying customers of theft before a film to try and dissuade the occasional real thief, and alienating everyone else in the process.)
Anyway, the disconnect occurs when the rules are passed on to the enforcers– those who wear the uniforms, carry the badges and do the rounds. They don’t often understand why things were put into place, and even if they do, the power can get to their heads. So rules get generalized into these broad, absurd caricatures of themselves.
The reason I distrust police is precisely that– I feel like people look at rules and categorically follow them, blindly trusting that they’re being led in the right direction when they’re often being taken advantage of. If you step out of line, you’re seen as a having done something wrong even though you may actually know better. So we instead relinquish this power a little bit at a time, until it becomes habitual, destroying our personal sovereignty in the process.
The most powerful weapon against rule enforcers is the word WHY. We get trained out of using it very young because our parents get annoyed at it– and they got annoyed at it because they often don’t know the answer themselves. The real reason your parents want you to clean your room may be because they think a messy room is ugly, but they don’t say that– they’ll instead guilt you into doing it as if having a messy room is morally wrong. But it isn’t. It’s a choice.
Jumping the turnstiles is also a choice. So is saying no to rent-a-cops. So make your choices based on your own moral compass and ideas, not based on what the enforcers are telling you. That’s a hard thing, but it’s worth it.
You gotta be you.