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Is it moral to join law enforcement?

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What does Objectivism have to say about law-enforcement officers having to enforce non-Objectivist laws? For instance, I am considering going into the US Marshalls for a while, in order to make some money to pay for my PhD. What if I am forced to take actions that are contrary to my beliefs?

Edited by softwareNerd

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I'm not dodging anything, you are by asking us whether or not it is acceptable to go against your beliefs. Only you can answer that for yourself.

I thought I answered your question when I said there were better ways to make money. But, if you really need to know: It is not OK to violate your principles.

Did you really expect another answer?

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What does Objectivism have to say about law-enforcement officers having to enforce non-Objectivist laws?

There are no "Objectivist" laws. Objectivism is a philosophy, and the philosophy of law is a specialized area. There are laws that are consistent with the principles of Objectivism, and laws which are not. In general, better to speak of objective and non-objective laws.

For instance, I am considering going into the US Marshalls for a while, in order to make some money to pay for my PhD.  What if I am forced to take actions that are contrary to my beliefs?

With every dollar that you earn you are "forced to take actions that are contrary to my beliefs," but you still pay your taxes, right? Personally, I would rather see a conscientious, thoughtful Objectivist in law-enforcement than one who gleefuly advocates non-objective laws. I have a very healthy respect for the rule of law as well as for those who enforce those rules. It would be nice if you could avoid being in a position where you had to enforce a bad law -- such as, for instance, the drug laws -- but sometimes such a situation is unavoidable. As long as you yourself do not seek to promote non-objective laws, I see nothing wrong at all with you respecting the rule of law and doing your proper duty as a law-enforcement agent.

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There is plenty of room for specialization in the field. It may be immoral to work for the DEA, IRS, or the “Equal Opportunity” office, (or the &#$! highway patrol) but there are plenty of legitimate positions out there.

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I agree with the last two posts. However, no doubt, all agencies do things that are against Objectivist philosophy. As a student of Objectivism, would it be wrong to follow the immoral orders of a superior. It seems to me that, much like paying taxes, that sort of situation would fall under the category of duress, in which the government is holding an invisible gun to your head.

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It may be immoral to work for the DEA, IRS, or the “Equal Opportunity” office, (or the &#$! highway patrol) ...

The highway patrol? Granted that the roads and highways should be privately owned, but since they are not the government acts as a proper custodian for the safety and regulation of the roads. The highway patrol performs a proper function, granted the context, and I see nothing immoral about working for them. In fact, it might be kinda cool running around on those tricked-out cruisers and super bikes! :D

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that sort of situation would fall under the category of duress, in which the government is holding an invisible gun to your head.

There is no duress. There is no law enforcement draft, and you can quit anytime you want. No one will put you in jail if you don't join the Marshall's service or any other law enforcement agency, or if you resign once there. Not the same as taxes at all.

You're going in with open eyes, you know the things you'll be asked to do. You'll have to make your peace with it. What you do is entirely your responsibility and no one else's. You can't look back on it one day and use the excuse that it wasn't your choice. It was.

Good luck.

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The highway patrol? Granted that the roads and highways should be privately owned, but since they are not the government acts as a proper custodian for the safety and regulation of the roads. The highway patrol performs a proper function, granted the context, and I see nothing immoral about working for them. In fact, it might be kinda cool running around on those tricked-out cruisers and super bikes!  :D

I intended the inclusion to be more of a tongue-in-cheek expression of my personal annoyance with them, but I guess the nature of online forums made my jab at them a little too subtle.

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I am a 911 Operator / Dispatcher. So I have been around law enforcement for about 5 years (Sheriff's Ofc & Police Dept.). I have not seen yet anything that would compromise a person as far as enforcing the law goes. Granted, I am in a rural area. You would most likely have a very serious problem with the ethics course though. I am trying to get my advanced certificate and decided to take the online ethics course. I managed to answer two questions (they all have to be in essay form) before I was just too sickened by it that I had to give up on it for a while. I was told the best way to get through it is to just swallow my convictions and put what I think they want to hear. Obviously I haven't been thru the Police Academy, so I don't know what other classes they have you take that might give you and your convictions pause.

I am citizen of Texas, resident of the united states, and don't know where you live. If you are in another state/country then my answer won't help you anyway. :thumbsup:

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I was told the best way to get through it is to just swallow my convictions and put what I think they want to hear.

I hope you didn't DO that, though.

I had to take an Ethics test to apply for a job at LOWE'S. (This was a while ago.) Given, it was multiple-choice, and I am more than intelligent enough to figure out what the "right" answers are given the context. It was such an intrusive and utterly meaningless exercise in humiliation, yes, humiliation that I almost walked out right there. I sweated it out, answering as honestly as the options let me, and got the job.

I suppose I could have lied, but I will say this: if my integrity is the price I must pay for a job, it is TOO HIGH.

I much prefer the job I have now, where my integrity serves me and elevates me.

That being said: Zoso, if you want to go into law enforcement, do so. To quote an Everclear song: They can not hurt you unless you let them.

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Hi,

No, I didn't. I still haven't attempted to complete the course.

I forgot one other thing. At a large Law Enforcement agency you are required to take a psych test. I have heard some of the questions and can guarantee you I wouldn't be hired. The answers I have given to the few questions I have been asked show me to be an unsocial militia type and that type doesn't get the job.

Sample question (paraphrasing):

1. If you had your choice where would you live? Apartment in a large city, cabin in the woods, house in a quiet suburban town. I answered the cabin. Wich means, militia tendencies, no hire.

2. Which would you rather be doing? Spending a night out on the town with a group of friends, playing sports with friends, spending time alone reading a book, spending quality time w/ a significant other? I answered reading. That makes me antisocial, a no-hire.

It gets goofier from there.

Always do what is absolutely best for YOU! :thumbsup:

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I hope you didn't [just swallow your convictions and put what you think they want to hear]...

There are contexts where one has to do just that. On the other hand, one must not make that an excuse never to stand up for one's convictions. It depends on the nature of the "swallowing" and the honesty/openness of the other person or institution. There have been other threads here that discussed similar situations: typically a student trying to get a decent grade from a professor who had philosophically diametric views.

I had to take an Ethics test to apply for a job at LOWE'S. 

...

I suppose I could have lied...

If you can do so (at least to a limited extent), I'd be curious to know the nature of the questions that a corpoartion would ask on an "Ethics test"?

I can see the sense of questions that attempt to figure out if you will contribute to retail "shrinkage" (as they so politely term robbery). Not sure I could construct such a question, but if I could, I could see the point.

Did they as stuff that was not relevant to the job? For instance, did they ask if you were involved in community projects and things of that sort?

Though I would not recommend it, if they did, someone who is not hired might have a legal case against them.

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4. The same moral principles and considerations apply to the isue of taking

  government jobs.

    The growth of government institutions has destroyed an incalculable

  number of private jobs and opportunities for private employment. This is

  more apparent in some professions (as, for instance, teaching) than in

  others, but the octopus of the "public sector" is choking and draining

  the "private sector" in virtually every line of work. Since men have to

  work for a living, the opponents of the welfare state do not have to

  condemn themselves to the self-martyrdom of a self-restricted labor

  market - particularly when so many private employers are in the vanguard

  of the advocates and profiteers of welfare statism.

    There is, of course, a limitation on the moral right to take a

  government job: one must not accept any job that demands *ideological*

  services, ie any job that requires the use of one's mind to compose

  propaganda material in support of welfare statism - or any job in a

  regulatory adminstrative agency enforcing improper, non-objective laws.

  The principle here is as follows: it is proper to take the kind of work

  which is not wrong per se, except that the government should not be doing

  it, such as medical services; it is improper to take the kind of work

  that *nobody* should be doing, such as is done by the F.T.C., the F.C.C.,

  etc.

    But the same limitation applies to a man's choice of private employment:

  a man is not responsible for the moral or political views of his

  employers, but he cannot accept a job in an undertaking which he considers

  immoral, or in which his work consists specifically of violating his own

  convictions, ie the propagating of ideas he regards as false or evil.

5. The moral principle involved in all the above issues consists, in essence,

  of defining as clearly as possible the nature and limits of one's own

  responsibility, ie the nature of what is or is not in one's power.

    The issue is primarily *ideological*, not financial. Minimising the

  financial injury inflicted on you by the welfare-state laws, does not

  constitute support of welfare-statism (since the purpose of such laws

  *is* to injure you) and is not morally reprehensible. Initiating,

  advocating, or expanding such laws is.

    In a free society, it is immoral to denounce or oppose that from which

  one derives benefits - since one's associations are voluntary. In a

  controlled or mixed economy, opposition becomes obligatory - since one is

  acting under force, and the offer of benefits is intended as a bribe.

    So long as financial considerations do not alter or affect your

  convictions, so long as you fight against welfare statism (and *only* so

  long as you fight it) and are prepared to give up any of its momentary

  benefits in exchange for repeal and freedom - so long as you do not sell

  your soul (or your vote) - you are morally in the clear. The essence of

  the issue lies in your own mind and your own attitude.

    It is a hard problem, and there are many situations so ambiguous and so

  complex that no one can determine what is the right course of action.

  *That* is one of the evils of welfare statism: its fundamental

  irrationality and immorality force men into contradictions where *no*

  course of action is right.

    The ultimate danger in all of these issues is psychological: the danger

  of letting yourself be bribed, the danger of a gradual, imperceptible,

  subconscious deterioration leading to compromise, evasion, resignation,

  submission. In today's circumstances, a man is morally in the clear only

  so long as he remains *intellectually* incorruptible. Ultimately, these

  problems are a test - a hard test - of your own integrity. You are its

  only guardian. Act accordingly.

That was out of "The Voice of Reason." Law Enforcement is needed, and can be a moral occupation if the above is followed.

Edited by Onivlas

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I am currently struggling with a similar issue. I will try to keep the facts brief.

I am a law student. The school offers a "Criminal Clinic," whereby students handle prosecution of actual misdemeanor cases. "Handle" means not only conducting trials, but also making charging decisions, discussing pleas, and similar tasks. I want to take this Clinic, as I am considering a career as a prosecutor. (Resolution of the issue of whether to take the Clinic would probably also resolve the issue of whether to be a prosecutor.)

I spoke with the Clinic Professor about my concerns about prosecuting people under laws I thought were wrong, e.g. drug or prostitution laws. After some discussion, she agreed not to assign me any drug cases. She would not agree, citing administrative difficulties (understandable), to leave me off of anything else. The major problems I see are concealed weapons violations (I am in a no issue state if that's relevant) and prostitution. (Though she said that prostitution cases are extremely rare, it's still a possibility.)

The quotes are from the "Voice of Reason" quoted by Onivlas.

4.  The growth of government institutions has destroyed an incalculable

  number of private jobs and opportunities for private employment. . . . 

This issue does not arise in a law enforcement or prosecution context, since such tasks are (properly) not private.

    There is, of course, a limitation on the moral right to take a

  government job: one must not accept any job that demands *ideological*

  services, ie any job that requires the use of one's mind to compose

  propaganda material in support of welfare statism - or any job in a

  regulatory adminstrative agency enforcing improper, non-objective laws.

  The principle here is as follows: it is proper to take the kind of work

  which is not wrong per se, except that the government should not be doing

  it, such as medical services; it is improper to take the kind of work

  that *nobody* should be doing, such as is done by the F.T.C., the F.C.C.,

  etc.

Here is where I think there is a difference between law enforcement and prosecution.

One could be in law enforcement and not perform ideological services. Arresting someone, for example, could be done merely by taking facts and applying the law to them. The officer need not offer his opinion.

A prosecutor, on the other hand, has to make some kind of argument at trial. He needs to tell the jury why they should convict the defendant. He could do this merely by arguing that the facts he has presented are convincing and that they show a violation of the law. However, effective arguments often involve appeals to emotion. Could a prosecutor fulfill his duty of effective advocacy by making an argument that, while still effective, was not as effective as it could be?

As to the regulatory administrative agency enforcing improper, non-objective laws, my interpretation of Miss Rand's remarks is that this applies to an agency that is wrong per se. The examples she cites--the FTC and FCC--are such agencies, as is, as a further example, the IRS.

However, a prosecutor is not only a proper government function, but a function that only the government should be performing. And I share the sentiment of an earlier poster that I would rather have someone with principles similar to mine in that position.

To be briefly off-topic, this is my first post. If I have inadvertently violated any forum rules (which I read) or other customs I appreciate someone letting me know. Thanks for the opportunity to participate in this discussion.

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After some discussion, she agreed not to assign me any drug cases.  She would not agree, citing administrative difficulties (understandable), to leave me off of anything else.
I think you should ask her to assign you to drug and prostitution cases, as much as possible. Since your purpose is finding out whether you want to go into criminal prosecution, and you have considered conflicts between the law and your ethics, then you are doing yourself a serious disservice in avoiding those worst cases. I don't believe that prosecutors (especially at the entry level) have the free option of declaring a disagreement with a law, and this means almost inevitably you will be required to prosecute some innocent civilian for possession of a controlled substance. Can you live with that? How can you know without trying? If you are certain that you could not live with that, it seems to me the question is answered for you already: you do not want to be a prosecutor. I urge you not to tread the middle ground, because the traffic is going to hit you from both directions (okay, that was lame, I admit).
Here is where I think there is a difference between law enforcement and prosecution.

One could be in law enforcement and not perform ideological services.  Arresting someone, for example, could be done merely by taking facts and applying the law to them.  The officer need not offer his opinion.

I don't see how that distinguishes law enforcement and prosecution. I believe that every prosecutor considers himself to be dispassionately applying the law in Scalia-like fashion to the facts. The jury decides what the facts really are and how the law speaks to those facts, not the prosecution. The police have a prejudice against the perp, once they have formed an opinion whether there is perpetration and have a theory of the agent. If the police are convinced that a person who you might suspect is actually innocent (in deed or intent), they need not and probably will not present a case to the prosecutor (one prays... At least, what little I know about it indicates that police do engage in a bit of low-level dispensation of justice, and do not automatically arrest every person that could possily be arrested). Prosecutors also need not offer their opinion, they just state the facts (and may make some reference to the law). In addition, if either the police or the prosecution know of exculpatory facts, they have an obligation to disclose those facts (whereas, if the defense knows condemnatory facts, they do not have the equivalent obligation to self-incriminate). So I don't see a difference between policing and prosecution here.
A prosecutor, on the other hand, has to make some kind of argument at trial.  He needs to tell the jury why they should convict the defendant.  He could do this merely by arguing that the facts he has presented are convincing and that they show a violation of the law.  However, effective arguments often involve appeals to emotion.  Could a prosecutor fulfill his duty of effective advocacy by making an argument that, while still effective, was not as effective as it could be?
This is, IMO, quite important, and goes to a fundamental problem in the jury system, which is that jurors are nor dispassionate, Scalia-like scholars swayed only by the application of law to the cold, hard facts. Because the primary goal of the prosecutor is to secure convictions (and he is statistically very good at his job), he will almost certainly engage in intellectual dishonesty at some point, in attempting to sway the jury when the facts themselves do not prove guilt or applicability of the law in a particular case.

However, there is a similar problem with law enforcement (and if Vern wants to weigh in here, that would be quite fine). The decision to present a case to the prosecutor, or not, isn't totally trivial. In being charged, there is an implicit assumption that the accused is probably guilty of the crime. The police have some discression (not necessarily sanctioned statutorily) to pursue a case or let it go. And that decision may be made on the basis of all sorts of law-external considerations (such as, "The guy is a scum, and if we can't get him any other way, I guess we can nail him for possession", or, "Yeah, I know it's technically felony-weight, but he's not hurting anyone so let's just talk to him").

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I think you should ask her to assign you to drug and prostitution cases, as much as possible. Since your purpose is finding out whether you want to go into criminal prosecution, and you have considered conflicts between the law and your ethics, then you are doing yourself a serious disservice in avoiding those worst cases.  If you are certain that you could not live with [those cases], it seems to me the question is answered for you already: you do not want to be a prosecutor.

This had not even occurred to me. I think your point here is an excellent one. Should I decide to pursue the Clinic, I will probably take this approach.

There are two separate questions on this issue. First, is it morally proper to be a prosecutor where some of the cases one must prosecute will be for violations of improper laws? If it is not, of course, then the inquiry is over. (In my best Soup Nazi impression) No prosecutor for you!

If it is, then a second question must be answered. Do I have the intestinal fortitude for such a pursuit?

Your comments address this second question. As I said, I think your idea would be very effective for testing my stomach.

I still do not have an answer for the first one, though. As of yet, I have not found a very strong, thorough answer for this. Do you have any comments on this first question? Do you think I am misstating the issues, i.e. that the two questions I am asking are the wrong ones? Do you think you have addressed the first question already?

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However, there is a similar problem with law enforcement (and if Vern wants to weigh in here, that would be quite fine). The decision to present a case to the prosecutor, or not, isn't totally trivial. In being charged, there is an implicit assumption that the accused is probably guilty of the crime. The police have some discression (not necessarily sanctioned statutorily) to pursue a case or let it go. And that decision may be made on the basis of all sorts of law-external considerations (such as, "The guy is a scum, and if we can't get him any other way, I guess we can nail him for possession", or, "Yeah, I know it's technically felony-weight, but he's not hurting anyone so let's just talk to him").

From my perspective, this is pretty much an accurate assessment. However, the actual application of "discretion" varies somewhat from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and from within the same juridiction from unit type to unit type. The street patrol officer has less officially recognized discretion for anything above a traffic summons, but there are very few felony matters handled by street officers on our department. This doesn't mean that they don't use discretion anyway, but they aren't supposed to in most instances. In the specific instance of Domestic Assault, a very frequent occurence, the state law and our policy states an arrest shall be made if there is probable cause and you can determine a slightly subjective concept of who was the predominant physical aggressor.

Investigators who handle felony matters have a bit larger degree of discretion, I assume based on their closer working relationship to prosecutors.

While I'm not entirely opposed to the use of some discretion based on an objective evaluation of the case, more often than not the evaluation is not objective.

I can add more later when I have time.

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First, is it morally proper to be a prosecutor where some of the cases one must prosecute will be for violations of improper laws?  If it is not, of course, then the inquiry is over.
That is a difficult question. On the face of it, it is immoral to initiate force against a person, and prosecuting a person for drug possession or prostitution would be immoral, given that you accept the wrongness of those laws. You have relatively little freedom to decline such cases as a beginning prosecutor, compared to the counterpart problem of defense attorneys, which is that in most if not all states, you do not have the option of dropping a client once you realise that he is actually guilty. Perhaps the better way to look at the question is, "me vs. who else?" It is pretty much guaranteed that if you don't take the prosecutorial job, someone else will, and that person might actually think that drug laws are a good thing. At a higher level, if you have the option of setting policy, you can decide not to prosecute Jack Kevorkian, or Martha Stewart, or whoever the state could in principle go after. You could decide, as a matter of principle, not to use bad arguments (i.e. legal sophistry where you extend the reach of the law by a clever stretch of word meaning); and you can make plain-meaning decisions such as deciding that under 21 U.S.C. 841(a), Chapman only has 50 mg. of LSD, thus does not get 5 years (subject to the wrath of your boss, if he really wants the conviction and insists on including the weight of the paper).

Here is an analogy. Suppose you can save the life of a person who is being attacked, but because of the circumstances you might have to harm the attackee (let us suppose, also, that there is no risk to you, one way or the other). You have the option of letting the person die, because his plight is not your moral responsibility; or you can intervene and inflict a lesser harm on the attackee. Now: can you save his life? If you realise that being put in that situation would impose a great psychological burden on you because of this conflict, that is a good reason to not be a prosecutor. If you think you could not impose a lesser rights violation on innocent people than the alternative prosecutor, do not become a prosecutor. Do not become a prosecutor for more than 5-10 years.

Oh, and I think there is not one single legitimate reason to be a federal prosecutor. I may be wrong, but I cannot think of anything at all that they are good for.

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That is a difficult question. On the face of it, it is immoral to initiate force against a person, and prosecuting a person for drug possession or prostitution would be immoral, given that you accept the wrongness of those laws. You have relatively little freedom to decline such cases as a beginning prosecutor, compared to the counterpart problem of defense attorneys, which is that in most if not all states, you do not have the option of dropping a client once you realise that he is actually guilty.

So far, then, it seems that the answer is that it is immoral.

Perhaps the better way to look at the question is, "me vs. who else?" It is pretty much guaranteed that if you don't take the prosecutorial job, someone else will, and that person might actually think that drug laws are a good thing. At a higher level, if you have the option of setting policy, you can decide not to prosecute Jack Kevorkian, or Martha Stewart, or whoever the state could in principle go after. You could decide, as a matter of principle, not to use bad arguments (i.e. legal sophistry where you extend the reach of the law by a clever stretch of word meaning); and you can make plain-meaning decisions such as deciding that under 21 U.S.C. 841(a), Chapman only has 50 mg. of LSD, thus does not get 5 years (subject to the wrath of your boss, if he really wants the conviction and insists on including the weight of the paper).

So would I merely be a better variety of thug? I don't mean this to be sarcastic or rude, I'm just having difficulty understanding the underlying principle. Wouldn't this "damage control" theory, if you will, apply equally to, say, the FCC? For example, could someone who thought the FCC improper work for them to try to keep them in line, so to speak?

I understand that the FCC is per se improper, whereas a prosecutor is not. But if the justification is damage control, it seems to me to apply equally in each situation.

Here is an analogy. Suppose you can save the life of a person who is being attacked, but because of the circumstances you might have to harm the attackee (let us suppose, also, that there is no risk to you, one way or the other). You have the option of letting the person die, because his plight is not your moral responsibility; or you can intervene and inflict a lesser harm on the attackee. Now: can you save his life? If you realise that being put in that situation would impose a great psychological burden on you because of this conflict, that is a good reason to not be a prosecutor. If you think you could not impose a lesser rights violation on innocent people than the alternative prosecutor, do not become a prosecutor. Do not become a prosecutor for more than 5-10 years.

It would impose a psychological burden, no doubt. It is one I might like to find out if I could bear (for which you earlier offered a wonderful suggestion for determining).

I think there is a difference between the type of situation you have described and being a prosecutor, in that your situation suggests something of an immediate situation, whereas I have plenty of time to determine if I want to be a prosecutor. That notwithstanding, I understand your point.

What do you mean by the 5-10 year limitation? Don't be a prosecutor for more than 10 years ever? Don't be one for more than 10 years if I don't like it? Sorry, I've considered the context of this comment and I still can't quite figure it out.

Oh, and I think there is not one single legitimate reason to be a federal prosecutor. I may be wrong, but I cannot think of anything at all that they are good for.

Why? Is it that you think that all current federal laws are wrong? Is it something to do with the impropriety of the jurisdiction in general? What's the distinction?

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