LAPD and Special Forces Conduct Military Maneuvers–in Downtown LA

Everything is just fine. We aren’t becoming a police state or anything. Look! Snooki is on TV! Go back to sleep!

Ahem: A reading from The Work of Mercy (from the chapter on “Admonishing the Sinner”):

Lest we moderns gloat over the foolish Pharisees too much, however, we should note that postmodernity has contributed something new but not improved to this ancient evil of spiritual laziness. Postmoderns have added to the ancient tribalism of the Pharisee another very significant reason for the abandonment of admonishment: our rejection of the reality of sin.

Rejecting the reality of sin,we have ended up abandoning the hope of repentance.When you reject the idea of common truth, prattling that “truth is whatever is true for you,” you reject the basis for reason and argument. But you don’t (and can’t) reject the reality of your anger over sin. You can’t ignore it when somebody steals your wallet or beats up your child. But you can pretend that the sinner was an irrational animal acting solely on the influence of genes or environment and not to sin of which he can repent. So we increasingly treat sinners as we treat animals: diagnosing, caging, or killing them like rabid dogs, but never talking about sin or repentance.

The old idea of the penitentiary is almost entirely gone. It is no longer, as the name suggests, a place for penance. It is a state-run warehouse (and slaughterhouse) for human animals who have, as the saying goes, “forfeited their humanity.”

It is, of course, possible to laugh off the notion of repentance as hopelessly Pollyanna and caricature it as the naïve belief that hardened thugs will melt into saints if you talk nice to them. But that’s not my point or my claim. It is, rather, that in abandoning our understanding of the human person to the secular state instead of having the courage of our convictions as Catholics, we are laying the foundation for treating all human beings as animals and potential criminals rather than as citizens of a free society. One need only note the changes in our security state over the past ten years. Big Brother has eyes everywhere. In airports and public facilities across America, Boy Scouts, nuns, and little old ladies from Lake Wobegon are expected to endure invasive searches that, in any other context, should result in an arrest for sexual predation. An eighty-six-year-old bedridden woman is tasered (twice) while the cops stand on her oxygen hose and her protesting grandson is cuffed and frog-marched out of the house. The cops explain that it was all justified because she “took a more aggressive posture in her bed.” The idea that she was a human being never entered their heads.

The curious result of our culture’s growing abandonment of the notion of sin is (as Faustian bargains tend to be) a loss of our humanity. As we become coarser and our belief that humans are made in the image of God fades to a theory of humans as animals shaped by heredity and environment, our faith in the power of moral suasion goes with it. So, for instance, a majority of Americans (including, alas, Catholics) forget our successful use of conventional interrogation with Nazis and Communists and embrace the lie that intelligence can best be gained from enemy combatants via “enhanced interrogation” (a euphemism for torture). This is a complete rejection of the Church’s teaching on human dignity and is founded on the assertion that human beings are, at bottom, beasts. Eventually it occurs to Caesar that if “enhanced interrogation” may be used on perceived foreign threats, then why not on domestic ones too? Enhanced interrogation begins to be deployed to interrogate not merely suspected terrorists abroad but also suspected criminals at home.

In short, as a culture embraces the view that men are brutes, it is not possible to keep that genie in the bottle of a CIA black site. Caesar inevitably starts to treat his subjects that way too. He abandons the language of a ruler maintaining ordered liberty for a free people and speaks more and more like a bureaucrat barking threats at contemptible servants—or cracking whips at beasts. So, for instance, where there used to be public-service announcements saying “Every litter bit hurts,” we now get “Litter and it will hurt.” “Buckle up for safety!” has been replaced with “Click it or ticket!” “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk” is replaced by “Drive hammered. Get nailed.” Threats, not admonishment, are the order of the day.

The apotheosis of such contempt-based social control in media (so far) is the infamous “No Pressure” ad sponsored by 10:10, an organized campaign to reduce carbon emissions. There was no attempt to admonish by saying, “Even if you are skeptical about anthropogenic global warming, it couldn’t hurt if everybody pitched in and cared for the environment as best they can.” That would respect human dignity. Instead the ad (which its makers actually imagined was funny) shows an elementary-school teacher urging her class to reduce their carbon footprint. When two children express reservations, the teacher mildly says, “No pressure,” and then pushes a large red button on her desk, whereupon the nonconforming kids explode in bloody chunks, splattering the other screaming children in the classroom. This revolting gag is repeated a few more times to drive home the message: Submit to the Religion of Anthropogenic Climate Change or be slaughtered like animals.

If Christ is to be believed, all this violent contempt for human dignity is foreign to what we actually are. Why do we prefer to treat people like animals when, in fact, admonishing the sinner and not stampeding the herd is truer to our nature as rational beings? Answer: because admonishing the sinner is hard. Christ did it, and it got him nailed to a cross.

For admonishment means looking somebody in the eye rather than imposing bureaucratic solutions from three thousand miles away. It means addressing a fellow human being as an equal, not a lab rat, sheep, or contagion. It means stating truly unpopular opinions, not to peers who share them but to enemies who don’t. It means the risk of losing friends, family, job, and reputation. It means speaking about things that are awkward and uncomfortable. And in our post-Christian world, it often means doing it in a grammar and terminology that members of our culture know, if at all, only in a sort of pidgin.

  • Hezekiah Garrett

    You know, some people, even ignorant of the Good News, managed to maintain complex societies with no courts, no prisons, and a legal code they could have printed in a matchbook cover.

    I do not think it wise to blame post modernism.

  • Consistency

    Conspiracy theorist! Next you’ll be telling us the government can conduct warrantless surveillance on US citizens, then detain us indefinitely without trial and torture us. Psh…

  • http://ohnimus.wordpress.com Christian Ohnimus

    well, its not like its illegal or anything. Oh, wait. It totally is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Posse_Comitatus_Act

  • Kirt Higdon

    Admonishing the sinner is a work of mercy I’ve always had a bit of a problem with. Most admonishers I’ve run into have been self-appointed judges of others’ behavior who fly into a rage if they ever find themselves on the receiving end of an admonition. I think you have to keep in mind the beam in your eye, speck in the other guy’s eye guideline. Also I think you need to have some authority – pastoral, parental, civil, etc. Or there is some great good to be accomplished or great evil to be avoided and whoever has authority is either not there or not doing his job. But what if it’s only a small good or small evil? Wouldn’t an admonition be warranted then, even if less urgent? The problem I see with that is that in effect it gives everyone in the world a license to morally micro-manage everyone else. The loss of charity and resentment which would result would far outweigh any minor good accomplished or minor evil avoided.

    • Mark Shea

      And yet the Church calls admonishment of the sinner one of the works of mercy.

      • Kirt Higdon

        Not questioning that. Just saying that this particular work of mercy is a lot trickier than the others in actual practice, especially when you are dealing with strangers and with situations where you don’t know the whole story. Parents and pastors have plenty of opportunity to practice it on a daily basis and their authority gives them the duty to do so.

        • Oregon Catholic

          It’s a lot harder now because times have changed so much. When I was a kid any neighborhood parent could admonish me and be backed up by my parents. Now the parent of a misbehaving child is likely to get in your face regardless of whether the admonishment was legit. So people don’t admonish others face to face and we’ve come to believe we don’t have the right anymore. Now we do it in comboxes and I admit I’m guilty of it.

          As an example of how bad things have become, recently a mother admonished a kid who boarded public transportation (in a gang of others) and bumped hard into her child’s stroller and jostled him. The kid turned to her, pulled up his shirt, showed her a gun in his waistband and moved his hand as if to take it out. That kid is 11 and the gun was loaded. A 14 year old girl was beat up by a gang of girls and no one came to her aid or even dialed 911. Just 2 examples in a long string of intimidations and physical confrontations recently on public transportation when someone dared make a comment about rude behavior. Riders are looking the other way now and refusing to come to the aid of those being harrassed. When civil society breaks down like that what choice is there but police tactics to keep order?

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    “…It means speaking about things that are awkward and uncomfortable. And in our post-Christian world, it often means doing it in a grammar and terminology that members of our culture know, if at all, only in a sort of pidgin.”

    Well said. I agree whole heartedly. Christianity is not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure.

  • Mario Mirarchi

    Actually, this is perfectly legal under the Posse Comitatus Act (hint: read the article). This sort of training occurs quite frequently. In this particular case, LAPD’s role is to observe and coordinate.

    • S. Murphy

      Yep. It’s training for the military, to prepare personnel/ units for missions overseas. Maybe a specific mission, maybe operations in urban environments, generally. Doesn’t really tie in with domestic abuses of police powers, because this sort of thing was being done before the recent NDAA, or anything the Bush administration said concerning posse comitatus.
      There’s an annual exercise in NC, out of Ft Bragg, that’s the culmination of some special forces training – has soldiers running around the countryside, and involves extensive coordination with local law enforcement to make sure everybody knows who’s playing and who isn’t. We sent some Marines there from Parris Island* to be OPFOR or insurgents – playing against or with the SF trainees. It’s not a plot to secure 15 counties of south-central NC under Big Brother’s totalitarian control; it’s an attempt to provide realistic training.

      *permanent personnel, not recruits.

  • Tom

    Actually, thanks to the Bush Administration Posse Comitatus is a subjective determination. It applies when they say it does and doesn’t when they say it don’t.

    http://www.historycommons.org/context.jsp?item=civilliberties_301

  • Ronald King

    Actually, I do not think that the basic attitude towards others has changed in my 65 years on this planet. What has changed is what was once suppressed from expression, namely one’s hostility with others, is now openly expressed through the modern means of communication although be it at a distance and not face to face. I have seen it develop from resentment of others to contempt which is the natural evolution of unresolved anger and learned helplessness in the face of persistent stressors internal and external which have not been resolved. This contempt begins within families first and then spreads like a contagion throughout the culture and becomes the entertainment we are subjected to on the tv everyday.

  • JL Liedl

    The “Negative Spirit” that GK identitifed over a hundred years ago is still live and well. Not surprisingly so. It’s the only mechanism for normative behavior in a society where nothing is held to be objectively good and relativism runs rampant.

  • Sean O

    All the militarized police, well we can see what that is for. If the natives get restless the riot brigade will jump in and crack a few skulls “restoring dis order” a da old Mayor Daley would say.

    The private prison system will love it. More prisoners equal more profit. It’s all good.

  • http://davidgriffey.blogspot.com/ Dave G.

    I often wonder about this. I’ve been hearing that we are on the brink since, well, since I started paying attention to the news. I remember in 1980, when Reagan was elected. That’s it kiddies! Don’t bother with graduation plans now! Just go have sex while you can cuz Reagan and the rest of the warmonger right (the thing that has always been conservatism) is going to nuke the planet. Our government has been wanting to nuke the world, oppress rights, haul us off to secret slave camps in the Nevada desert, conquer the world for oil, and just about everything else ever since I can remember. Now, it seems to be getting there, so I have to wonder: Self-fulfilling prophecy? Keep saying how bad things are in America, how much they suck, how much they’ve always sucked, and eventually it will turn out true? Perhaps. There are things to be concerned about. I’ve just been hearing it all my life.

  • Tominellay

    …don’t really like reading news of this military/police exercise in my hometown…

  • eastriter

    It would be almost funny if it wasn’t so tragic. If you look at the article linked, you can’t help but notice the sidebars. Cruise for 75% off! Look at Brangelina! The newest Hollywood drivel! Jeepers.

    As for expressed vs. repressed, that’s just it, Ronald. What is supposed to be repressed (ie. our initial, emotional reaction reflecting our weakness and sinfulness which we constantly battle to overcome) is no longer thought to be a problem. Experiencing temptation and recognizing it as such is diametrically opposed to experiencing temptation and expressing it as a function of our new-found “liberation”. We once knew as a culture that a pregnant woman with a stroller needs to be helped onto the bus and gets the last seat, even if we felt that resentment against her taking up all that time and room. Like it or not, we did what was right because we knew it was right objectively as well as for our own personal development. Not so much now.

    • Ronald King

      Eastriter, The problem with repression at that time was that it would come out in other ways which harmed families and ultimately society. It came out in angry fights at home, adultery, child abuse, gossip, jealousy, racism, sexism, prejudice, etc. with all of these influences eating away at the very foundation of healthy human development. What seemed to be right was outweighed by an insidious evil operating just below the national trance called the american dream and evil used this illusion to pit people against one another to attain this dream. The hostility being expressed so openly today is one of the symptoms of awakening from this dream and not knowing what to do with it.

  • Marty Helgesen

    Everyone seems to be assuming that the military was training for operations in urban areas of the United States. While, obviously, that is not impossible, I read it differently. This statement, “The LAPD said the purpose of the training was in part to ensure the military’s ability to operate in urban environments,” suggests to me that they were training for possible operations in urban areas of other countries. Remember the recent operations by SEALS in other countries.

    • Joseph

      Uh, huh… because the environments we plan to operate in around the world happen to look exactly like downtown L.A.

      Yummy… Kool-Aid.

  • http://successiorerum.blogspot.com/ Jeff Woodward

    “Beer and shampoo”…and books.

  • JonathanR.

    The crowds bay for tyranny, so tyranny is what they will get. Hope and change for everyone.

  • Mark S. (not for Shea)

    G.K. Chesterton’s closing passage of WHAT I SAW IN AMERICA (1922):

    “It would be the worst sort of insincerity, therefore, to conclude even so hazy an outline of so great and majestic a matter as the American democratic experiment, without testifying my belief that to this also the same ultimate test will come. So far as that democracy becomes or remains Catholic and Christian, that democracy will remain democratic. In so far as it does not, it will become wildly and wickedly undemocratic. Its rich will riot with a brutal indifference far beyond the feeble feudalism which retains some shadow of responsibility or at least of patronage. Its wage-slaves will either sink into heathen slavery, or seek relief in theories that are destructive not merely in method but in aim; since they are but the negations of the human appetites of property and personality. Eighteenth-century ideals, formulated in eighteenth-century language, have no longer in themselves the power to hold all those pagan passions back. Even those documents depended upon Deism; their real strength will survive in men who are still Deists; and the men who are still Deists are more than Deists. Men will more and more realise that there is no meaning in democracy if there is no meaning in anything; and that there is no meaning in anything if the universe has not a centre of significance and an authority that is the author of our rights. There is truth in every ancient fable, and there is here even something of it in the fancy that finds the symbol of the Republic in the bird that bore the bolts of Jove. Owls and bats may wander where they will in darkness, and for them as for the sceptics the universe may have no centre; kites and vultures may linger as they like over carrion, and for them as for the plutocrats existence may have no origin and no end; but it was far back in the land of legends, where instincts find their true images, that the cry went forth that freedom is an eagle, whose glory is gazing at the sun.”

  • Mark S. (not for Shea)

    Regarding post-modernism, Chesterton is also a helpful guide:

    “In other words, what is most lacking in modern psychology is the sentiment of Honour; the sentiment to which personal independence is vital and to which wealth is entirely incommensurate. I know very well that Honour had all sorts of fantasies and follies in the days of its excess. But that does not affect the danger of its deficiency, or rather its disappearance. The world will need, and need desperately, the particular spirit of the landowner who will not sell his land, of the shopkeeper who will not sell his shop, of the private man who will not be bullied or bribed into being part of a public combination; of what our fathers meant by the free man.”

  • Joseph

    Well, the LAPD has always been well-known as corrupt since the dawn of its existence. So, the fact that the govm’t is looking for and graciously receiving their active participation should tip you off that something is amiss.


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