Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Leviathan in a Car Chase
Imagine my delight, then, when I found myself assisting the local police in chasing a car driven by a girl so high on heroin that, when arrested, she promptly fell asleep in the back seat of the cruiser. It all started when the family and I and were driving home this past Sunday from dinner at a friend's. I had some clothes to return at the mall (some of those bought on the pre-vacation splurge that didn't make the cut), and on the exit ramp off the highway, the car in front of us swerved. My husband pointed it out, but not being as cautious a driver as he, I (empathetically) thought that they had perhaps dropped something and lost control of the wheel while looking for it (when he reads this it will only fuel his belief that I am a bad driver. But that, in turn, relieves me of any driving duties on road trips). Seconds later, they overcorrected, hit the concrete barrier, and almost flipped the car. Now this is not something I would do, so (in response to the husband's clipped-bark order) I called 911. They put me through to the local dispatch and that's how I came to direct 5 cop cars through the city streets in hot pursuit of a heroin-high college student.
Let me just say that what's neat about cops is that they really listen. When they asked me for the license plate of the car, I only had to say it once. We followed this car for a few miles with me giving a "play-by-play" to the cops (this included the driver and passenger switching seats in an apparent attempt to gain some control of the car). I never once had to repeat myself. It's a girl's dream.
That was pretty much the peak of it, though,--my directing the cops via cellphone--because once they pulled the girls over, they told us to wait in a parking lot until they could question us. After about 45 minutes, I began to feel a little ridiculous and especially vulnerable because of my overeagerness. I mean, how long was I supposed to wait? It even occurred to me that it's really not cool to like cops. Of course, when they did finally come over after an hour or so, I was overly cooperative and eager to please, happily handing over my license for personal info and acting as if I knew the prescription drugs that the cop said were in the car. And later that evening, when they called and asked if I would be able to identify the girls in a line-up--which I couldn't--it was all I could do not to offer a theory that filled a hole in their story quite well, if do say so myself.
This was actually my second run-in with cops in the past 2 weeks, excluding the parking ticket I got while having dinner at said friend's house. While we were on vacation, my mom-- a modern Amelia Bedelia--watered our window boxes while leaning out of the front window, and accidentally left the window wide open. Our neighbor noticed and called the police, who called us and reported doing a "walk-through" our home (fyi: that's police jargon). Thank God I did all of that mad cleaning before I left:).
So, both of these experiences have prompted me to think about why I love cops. This, in turn, made me think of what life would be like without them, which naturally made me think of Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan.In it, he imagines what life was like before civil society, i.e., the construction of laws and government. He conjectured that, in this pre-civil "state of nature", man was brutally competitive and that, finally, in order to survive, a social contract was drawn up by which people forfeited their rights to everything in order to have some protection. In other words, we agree to abide by laws because we know that the alternative would be chaos. Or as Hobbes famously said, pre-civil society would have, "no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death: and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short". In fact, the work Leviathan is so named because of Hobbes' view of human nature: the leviathan is an Old Testament deep sea monster, and the analogy is that as the calm water is to the deep sea monster beneath, so is civil society to the monster that is our true human nature, lurking beneath.
So where do cops fit in? They are the most immediate enforcers of the social contract. But, really--even though they are not supposed to be, I think--they are above the social contract. In virtue of their position, they can run through red-lights, do a walk-through a complete stranger's home, and ask you anything they want (for any of you have been pulled over, don't they ask weird questions sometimes? And don't you answer?). They're sort of living above the law...which makes the think about what life would be like without the law. Which makes me think of Hobbes...
In any case, I love cops, and that was one exciting car chase!
Posted by Philosopher Mom at 6:01 PM