Sunday, July 19, 2009

Cooperation vs. Obedience

Guilty or innocent, we are told that we must "cooperate" with the police.

This is not a call to fight the police. When dealing with police, I will "cooperate". I suggest you do the same.

This is also not a screed against police. We are a nation of laws and we need police to enforce those laws. There are dangerous criminals and we need police to protect us from those criminals.

This is not about "rights" or justice.

This is about the words authorities and policy makers choose to describe the relationship between the police and the public.

When you hear the word "cooperate" in this context, I want you to replace that word, in your head, with a more accurate word:


The word "cooperate" is inaccurate because in order to cooperate you need two parties working toward a common goal. When you are compelled to cooperate, you are really forced to obey. According to the dictionary, to "cooperate" is to "act together or in compliance", so the word is technically correct, but "obey" is a more accurate and descriptive word.

Sometimes you want to cooperate with authorities. If there are burglaries in your area, and you are not the burglar, you want the police to catch the burglar.

But if you are minding your own business and the police start asking questions, or if the police infringe on what you have been told are your "rights", then it is impossible for you to cooperate because their goals and your goals are very different.

Sometimes people who are doing nothing wrong are interfered with by police. Maybe the police tell them to move along when they have the right to stay put. Maybe the authorities ask questions they have no "right" to ask. Maybe the police break up a peaceful protest. How can citizens cooperate with an armed group that does not have the public's best interest in mind?

Do the police have the right to take these actions?

Of course they do. They can do anything they want. They are armed; they are better equipped and more organized than the public. Armed groups are always right, doubly so if they have badges.

Guilty or innocent, cooperating with police is impossible; obeying the police is inevitable. An innocent person does not want to be detained or interrogated by police, yet he has to OBEY the police because of the simple threat of violence. The criminal defiantly cannot cooperate with the police because his goal is directly opposed to their goal; he does not want to be caught. To ask either party to "cooperate" is madness. To force them to obey is easy. The word obey is a more accurate description in both cases.

From the authorities' point of view, it is wise to use the word "cooperate" instead of "obey". The word "obey" is almost offensive to Freedom loving Americans, but we learned the word "cooperate" on Sesame Street, and if we heard it from Grover and Oscar the Grouch, it has to be good, right?

If the media used the word "obey" to describe the relationship between police and civilians, people might stop to think:

Hey wait a minute, why do I always have to obey the police?

That is a dangerous question, and you should never ask that question. The answer to this dangerous and forbidden question is simple: You must always obey the police because they have Tasers and guns and clubs and if you don't obey, they will beat you down and take you to jail. Your innocence or guilt is irrelevant. Do not question the authorities. You must always obey the authorities.

A less hypocritical thing would be for the authorities to come right out and say it: YOU WILL OBEY. If you are innocent, obey anyway because it is more convenient for the police. If you are guilty, they want you to obey because it will make it easier for them to arrest you and throw you in jail, despite your obvious motivation to get away.

Either way, if you don't obey, they will take you to jail and charge you with something.

The justice or fairness of this is irrelevant. You must obey the police at all times regardless of your innocence or guilt, regardless of your "right" to assemble and protest because if you don't obey they will throw you in jail. You will then be told that this is for "the public good".

So remember, you are not compelled to cooperate; you are only forced to obey.

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I am the author of 5 books: Android Down, Firewood for Cannibals, The Cubicles of Madness, Robot Stories, and most recently, Various Meats and Cheeses. I live and write in Michigan. My website is at