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The New Pinkertons

"Libertarian anarchists" often smugly trot out the idea of privately-funded security agencies as the great solution to all of the obvious crime-related objections to -- well, to libertarian anarchism. DynCorp is the great, one-word counter-argument. If you can afford to hire DynCorp, "right" and legal oversight become irrelevant.

DynCorp specializes in outsourcing security. Other names are more public, but there may be no company more deeply and richly integrated into the fabric of governmental security outsourcing. For example, DynCorp currently holds contracts with the U.S. government to manage American drug interdiction efforts in Colombia and Mexico-US border posts, and to advise the new Iraqi government on law-enforcement and security issues. They have a specialty in field helicopter maintenance, so the Army often contracts DynCorp to operate forward Apache attack helicopter bases, like "Camp Commanche" in Bosnia.

They also run the Bosnian police forces.

Sometime in early 2000, two DynCorp employees approached officers of the Army's Criminal Investigative Division with evidence that DynCorp contractors were heavily involved with the local sex-trade -- in many cases even "purshasing" young (as young as 12 year old) women as personal sex slaves. You can guess what happened next, right?

You got it: DynCorp fired the whistelblowers, and covered up the rest: Several (but far from all) perpetrators were fired, a few more shipped back to the states (to be shipped out again somewhere else, presumably), but most went scot free. Why? Well, I'm guessing they aren't clearly under US jurisdiction.

But what about Bosnian jurisdiction? Couldn't they be arrested and prosecuted by Bosnian law enforcement authorities? Ah, but remember: DynCorp is Bosnian law enforcement....

Ultimately, the grievances of the whistleblowers were upheld, albeit in a less than gracious manner on DynCorp's part: One made an out of court settlement for wrongful termination, and the other was able to get relief under a Brtish whistleblower statute. DynCorp itself, of course, has yet to admit that it fired either for cooperating with the CID.

It's curious to note, here, that we're coming full-circle (well, full-spiral, at least): As for one-word retorts, "Pinkerton" should have been sufficient. But it's my experience that people who self-label as "libertarian" usually don't have much consciousness of history; the only image they get from "Pinkerton" is a bunch of middle-aged guys in armored trucks and ugly uniforms. Great American fortunes have been built in no small part by private armies, not to mention dynasties with histories both notorious and obscured, and we mythologize the private use of force to this day.

I sometimes believe we are not really a civil society, in America. Much of the rest of the world sees us as a lawless place, in one sense or another, and in a way they're right. One reason that we can instinctively see private armies as a good thing, that we instinctively believe we need to own assault rifles to defend our homes and Glock .40s to defend our persons is that we don't have coherent and consistent traditions of civil behavior. I fear that the same lack of homogeneity that has generally protected us from fascism, also renders us unable to trust civil authority, however it is vested.

[Link courtesy The Tutor.]

Comments

I sometimes believe we are not really a civil society, in America. Much of the rest of the world sees us as a lawless place, in one sense or another, and in a way they're right. One reason that we can instinctively see private armies as a good thing, that we instinctively believe we need to own assault rifles to defend our homes and Glock .40s to defend our persons is that we don't have coherent and consistent traditions of civil behavior. I fear that the same lack of homogeneity that has generally protected us from fascism, also renders us unable to trust civil authority, however it is vested.

Regardless of what one thinks about Michael Moore or the objectivity (or lack thereof) of his quasi-documentaries, I feel he effectively presented our country's obsession with fear and guns in his movie Bowling for Columbine. Quite riveting.

Before I got around to reading Rober Putnam's intriguing book Bowling Alone, it dropped out of print. I guess it's back, so my only excuse now is lack of time. Apparently the thesis is regarded as fairly controversial, which is interesting: I've heard the author on the radio, and he's a very mild-mannered character. The idea is that our leisure activities are becoming less and less social -- he looks to the demise of the bowling league as a bellweather.

I agree, to an extent: I believe this is happening, but you have to choose your cases carefully. As bowling leagues failed, beer-league softball and volleyball picked up steam. MMORPGs are growing rapidly in popularity -- though the "social" interaction of such venues is pretty heavily structured. You don't have a side discussion about your kid's teacher; you don't trade tips for dealing with hay fever.

I'm sure you'll remember cases where you've been "spanked" for going off-topic onto something like that, or telling jokes, or getting into a playful thread in a mailing list. Lynne and I can give lots of examples from the old AugustGroup Yahoo group days. Off-topic messages drive some people insane; they devote great amounts of righteous energy to getting everyone else back on topic.

Well, bowling, or any kind of sport for that matter, is only one way to socialize. One simply needs to find his/her niche based on personal interest. Invitations from others are helpful, but it still takes personal effort to get involved. For instance, sometimes I've seen students attending large universities feel less "lost" or isolated and fare better when they find a club or group of people with common interests.

I find a lot of the homogeneity in my community that you mention is missing on the whole in American society. I don't own a gun. I live in a small community within a large metropolitan area, and on a circular court of five homes with close, friendly, but not nosy neighbors, who are available in a pinch if needed. We attend each other's family weddings, funerals, etc. Generally, the community at large offers many opportunities for socializing. I also belong to a fairly large group of friends and acquaintances who make a point of meeting at least a few times a year for the sole purpose of socializing (no other hidden agenda allowed).

It seems to me that one key to "coherent and consistent traditions of civil behavior" that you mention is to think about parts within the context of a whole. Not everyone likes to bowl; not everyone wants to socialize, for that matter. But everyone should realize that his/her chosen activities and relationships (or lack thereof) still take place within a larger community of humans. I don't believe in an ideal world on this earth. But, respectful interaction could be a goal, anyway,--better than a goal necessitating the arming of every citizen. And, emphasis on more relaxed, friendly group settings might be a good way to invite this kind of nonconfrontational civil behavior.

As far as online activity, I have mixed feelings. Most groups I've belonged to (including the one I co-moderate) have had a specific focus, not just social, although there is still a community feel based on common interest. So, although I don't mind occasional off-topic posts, there is always the issue of trolls whose main purpose is to sabotage a group, and care should be taken to provide a cohesive forum for those interested in the topic of discussion. I have, however, engaged in email correspondence or even a separately formed group with those I might want to communicate on a more social level, and that way I don't disrupt the focus of the group where we met. Some groups offer a combination of social and topical conversation, so ostensibly off-topic dialogue shouldn't be so great an issue. And, if a group's main purpose would be for very general, respectful social interaction, the only moderating I would offer would be to pounce on boorish trolls, in order to maintain some sort of civil atmosphere.

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