Codes of Silence & Codes of Law / by Bryce Hidysmith

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There are two standard narratives as to the nature of the police in society. One of them is that police are by their nature men of honor, men straight out of the silver nitrate-tinged frontier, attempting to exert order on a chaotic world. This is true in the ideal, and perhaps sometimes we live up to our ideals, but in practice the enforcers of the law are as susceptible to corruption as anyone else—even more so due to their privileged position. The other theory, then, is that such corruption is unavoidable, and that the role of the police is to simplify the strategic environment by becoming a singleton. This is this model where the feudalists and the gangsters provide similar services. One may live an entire generation at least in the same protection racket, and so the logic goes that living within the same protection racket makes the rules more explicit and thus more livable, even if those rules are simply the necessity of appeasing a capricious lord.

Both of these narratives seem to be incomplete to me, as they avoid the possibility that the existence of professional law enforcement groups is potentially just a way of providing cover for law-breakers by scapegoating less advantaged law-breakers. If one is able to provide the appearance of common knowledge that all crimes are prosecuted with remarkable effectiveness to enough of the population, then it is possible for a class to arbitrage the knowledge of holes in said enforcement. It is possible, likely even, that entire classes of lawbreakers could coordinate in such a way if their desires for how to break the law were normalized enough that they could predict one another's objectives reasonably effortlessly. Provided that the desires are sufficiently similar, one needs only install a code of omertà. It seems likely that an entirely class might be able to coordinate in an entirely decentralized fashion, potentially developing a clear symbiosis with the law enforcement bodies of its localities. It is also probably worth noting that such codes of silence have a tendency to naturally emerge when one is dealing with individuals of sufficient similarity to oneself, as one would be a fool to provide information that could just as easily apply to oneself. It would need no central coordination, only a sense of identity.