Consider just a few of the basic structures of the police.
By design, police are not a part of the Market, free or otherwise. They don’t compete with each other or trade the authority of their office for as much profit as they can get, as they would in a truly capitalist system. Considering their power over everyone else in society, one might expect them to be the highest paid members we have, yet they are, like every other public servant, intentionally solid middle working class. The emphasis there should be on ‘working’.
Nor are they ‘individuals’ in regards to their work. All police are meant to be units within the greater machine of society. In principle, one cop has no particular authority over another while on the beat. Nor do they compete with each other for arrests or rewards. They are not people following selfish interest, as they would be in a capitalist system; to the contrary, a selfish police officer is potentially a corrupt one, choosing their own personal reward over law and order and public peace.
The police officer is middle class, and while they advance through great performance or sacrifice, such reward is considered, at best, a secondary motivation. Police officers are public servants, and it’s not capital growth that we trust them to aspire to, but service to the greater good of society.
In theory, our justice system, and the people within it, should have no special allegiance to wealth or competition. While our legal system clearly does give preference to folks with money, that’s certainly not a circumstance that anyone but the rich ought to feel good about. It’s certainly not what how we intend a fair and just society to function. And it’s most certainly not how we intend the law to function. Justice, as they say, should be blind.
Two factors dominate the conflict between communism and capitalism: the free exchange of goods and services for profit, and individual freedom within society. The police, as an institution at least, practice neither. If anything, they emphasize the opposite.
In the last election, nearly 80% of polled working police said they would vote for Donald Trump, but that’s no surprise. Like the even more communistically-structured institution of the military, law enforcement has always voted conservative. You want people who love personal freedom, hate communists, and worship American capitalism, look no further than the police.
But before we direct any outrage at conservatives, consider law enforcement’s political opposite, the education system.
Examine the Universities, those gardens of such fertile liberalism that police-loving red states are frequently compelled to try to weed them of it. McCarthyism was nearly as focused on American colleges as it was Hollywood, and even the Dean of Harvard’s School of Business was forced out in the 1950’s for his politics. More recently, a half dozen Republican-controlled state legislatures have introduced measures meant to curb campus liberalism. In Iowa, the governor has proposed new professors state their political allegiance on their resumes, and in Florida the Republican House wants Universities to survey their campuses and faculty for ‘political bias.’
The bias is certainly real. Campuses that have been surveyed generally show at least 80% of professors voting Democrat. If you want to find the most liberal, anti-capitalist, anti-corporate, pro-big government, pro-union, competition-fearing, anti-bullying, marginalized-population-loving, suspicious-of-power group of people in the nation, you’d go to the nearest public school and gather the teachers.
Yet colleges are the most Darwinistic, survival-of-the-fittest, unequal, capitalist jungles in our society. College success is determined first by inherited environment and traits (that is, Capital Wealth), then competition and adaptation. School is the free market in absolute practice.
Colleges may spend a great deal of time and energy talking about race and identity, but when it comes to economics and individuality, they are as capitalistically competitive as possible. We call it ‘merit’, but it’s a merit honed in competition and survival.
Our Universities take care of nobody who cannot pay for it with their own money. Every single person on campus is in ruthless competition with the other. And not only is no student or professor on a college campus responsible for anyone else, every single one of them is almost obligated to look out for their own interests first.
Up to 70% of most University classes are taught by adjuncts and graduate students. The Institution of college does absolutely nothing for them, sometimes less than nothing. Adjunct professors receive no insurance and no retirement. Often they don’t get parking and share offices. They are paid by the class, and often only for the actual hours they spend in the classroom (rather than the more significant time they spend planning and grading.). They have absolutely no job security. And why? Because the ‘market’ of college means they don’t have to. A glut of workers and a poverty of positions allows the University to treat its laboring class exactly as Marx predicted the capital owners would.
But it’s not just colleges. Just consider the role of wealth and money in public school. Schools rely on the value of their location for success. Do you live in an economic desert, someplace sparsely watered by the money that nourishes schools? Then life is going to be hard and mean. Get used to it, because ain’t nobody coming to your rescue. On the other hand, do you enjoy the metaphorical benefits of water and good soil (that is to say, high property values and income)? Congratulations, you have landed in a diverse, thriving school economy, with ample opportunity for growth and success.
If the neighborhood’s poor, then you better hope for the inherited wealth and habits of your family. Statistically, a wealthy young man with terrible grades and a lousy attitude is far more likely to be successful upon leaving school than the poorest student the class, even if that poor student has the highest grades. Family wealth can ensure tutors, provide a healthy daily diet, help navigate social pitfalls, and soften the crippling anxiety of an uncertain future. If still poor, pray for family capital in the form of habit and behavior that can ensure you already know how to read, have discovered an aptitude for math or music, or arrive with a well-developed vocabulary.
If the neighborhood AND the family are poor, then pray for inherited personal strengths. Success is far more likely if you enter school with a competitive genetic advantage. The genetic capital a student brings to school is their most valuable and powerful personal asset, whether that’s their skin color, gender, height, athleticism, brains, or beauty.
The school environment itself is fiercely competitive. Day to day success depends mostly upon individual, non-cooperative effort. Equality in schools is a barely maintained illusion. For one, you are constantly measured against your peers. Success or failure always arrives as a comparison against your classmates. Every class is a competition. The foundational economy of grades guarantees it.
After competition, adaptation is the law of school’s jungle. Because conditions change so dramatically from grade to grade and classroom to classroom, success demands both skill and adaptability. Success is dependent upon a student’s ability to shift gears, change processes, and maximize or minimize specific traits to the landscape. One class may demand gregarious extroversion while another asks for introverted silence. One may use logic, the other creativity. Students must adapt to each environment quickly, often in as little as a few minutes.
(One might be forgiven assuming that schools are more Fascist than Capitalist. After all, each classroom is ruled by a dictator with absolute authority. But a teacher receives so little physical reward from a student’s labor that they can hardly be said to be ‘exploitive’.)
The disconnect between what we vote for and the lives we actually lead in the workplace and home is vast. It’s not merely vast, it’s downright contradictory. And that contradiction, which we ignore in ourselves, makes it all too easy to judge our political opponents.
But if faced with a contradiction, with two competing bodies of evidence that claim to be true, which do you accept?
Which is more true: what we say or what we do? How we imagine our lives to be or how we actually live them?
The answer, I think, is neither. The answer is that we are hopelessly paradoxical, caught between forces that should cancel each other out yet somehow co-exist.
Coming to terms with the paradox might at least allow us to walk back towards being a little more forgiving of each other.
It might also allow us to solve some of the more stubborn problems that exist within both institutions.
The justice system probably wouldn’t benefit from true capitalistic competition within itself, but the economy of modern democracy is built on shared differences, not conformity and obedience. Many of our policing tragedies today stem from an absence of community, by a stubborn disrespect by the uniformed police towards the citizens they protect and patrol. And vice versa. One function of the police is to resolve the conflicts that arise among a society of unique individuals pursuing individual self-interest. But the order can only be truly maintained if everyone understands that their differences are the source of strength, not chaos. The order is not the mission, the differences are.
And many of the problems facing our American education system stem from ignoring the equalizing power of knowledge and skill within the profoundly UN-equalizing potential of capital wealth and competition. But true equality can only be created if everyone understands that it’s the by-products of competition and capital that benefit everyone in creating a more just society. The competition and wealth are not the mission, the order and equity are.