Sunday, May 09, 2021

A #cjreform update for 'The Devil's Dictionary'

"The Devil's Dictionary" by Ambrose Bierce remains one of my all-time favorite satirical works. But it's become increasingly dated over time, centered as it was on political questions of his day (1880 to 1911) as opposed to those which preoccupy us now.

Your correspondent focuses mostly on criminal-justice reform, and it's evident upon even a sideways glance that terminology from that field largely escaped Bierce's comic gaze. He did refer to prisons as the purview of the "stone wall, the political parasite and the moral instructor," which I love (even if, today, the first two features have largely eclipsed the third), and police as "An armed force for protection and participation." 

His definition of "arrest " - "[f]ormally to detain one accused of unusualness" - remains as valid today as when he wrote it. And in the wake of the passage of anti-homeless legislation in the Texas House, Grits particularly appreciated Bierce's definition of "distance" as "The only thing that the rich are willing for the poor to call theirs, and keep." But many justice terms were omitted.

Grits thought it might be a fun project to suggest a few new definitions that remedy this longstanding defect. It may turn out to be a recurring effort or just a Sunday-morning one off - we'll see how it goes - but here are a few offhand suggestions. Please feel free to try your hand at others in the comments.

Bail: The process by which society separates wealthy criminals it tolerates from the poor ones it doesn't.

Crime: Written artifacts of political deference from the past. In American democracy, a "crime" is one of several thousand things (no one knows for sure how many) which at some point in history offended the eyes or pocketbook of a person to whom legislators were beholden.

Clearance rates: A rarely-discussed measurement of police incompetence.

Police unions: The armed agents of the state organized in such a way as to maximally intimidate their employers.

Police associations: A euphemism adopted by police-labor leaders who despise both unions and progressivism while desiring the benefits of both.

Police beat (journalism): A sinecure for stenographers.

Meet and confer: An economic process by which slumbering taxpayers are fleeced behind closed doors, waking in their bare skin at the start of the following budget cycle after the wool has already been sent to market and future proceeds have been assigned.

Less lethal: Lethal. (See also, "a little bit pregnant.")

Reform: The point at which vectors emerging from the most disappointing outcome and the best possible one converge.

Response to resistance: When police use violence.

Resistance: Any action by a private person contrary to a police officer's desire, expectation, or demand, whether legal, reasonable, or otherwise.

Officer-involved shooting: Police are "involved" in officer-involved shootings in the same sense the term is used to describe one's bacon-and-egg breakfast: The chicken is involved; the pig is committed. Just reversed.

N.b., this is a work of satire. Comments from humorless scolds will either be deleted or mercilessly mocked, depending on my mood.


Anonymous said...

Police - Patrols which existed only in slave states from 1776-1865 and were never needed for anything else, ever.

1SG said...

Police were originally established in London by a retired British Army Col and a group of former soldiers to protect the Merchants from undesirables. Though used in the Southern States for the express reason to capture/return escaped slaves, the Northern States employed them as well, for the same reason.

Sam said...

Slave patrols: founded and instituted by the Democratic controlled party of that time, who codified the establishment of law enforcement and the laws they were to enforce.