HARD Summer and legal belligerence

3 die after attending HARD Summer rave near Fontana (http://lat.ms/2aKrN6q)

I just attended this concert, and lived. There was around 150,000 people. HARD Summer is an annual festival for electronic dance music, ordinarily thrown in the Los Angeles fairgrounds but moved to Fontana this year. Three twenty-year olds died during the two day event, presumably from drug overdoses; another two died last year, and eight have died from drug-related causes within LA county since 2006.

The intuition is simple: drugs are so popular at concerts is because it is one of the very few public places to actually engage in use without fearing legal consequences; few people get arrested while hidden in a crowd. Recreational effects are secondary, because recreational considerations account for all gatherings. It’s also a great way to make new friends, and factors as part of the culture, etc. The criminalization of drugs means that they are taken covertly instead of publicly, and thus much more dangerously and ignorantly. So, concert-goers, to satisfy their adventurousness and recreational fixation, must purchase their drugs in the streets and sneak them through security, instead of buying them safely inside from some reputable dealer. And there are cops on the premises, and not medical practioners and drug safety experts. (Cops that are especially incompetent with public health, as this article suggests.) 

And so young adults die at these events, and their parents blame the management, the county, the city – for “failing to protect” the rave’s attendees from pushers distributing drugs. A lawsuit was filed last month, citing negligence and wrongful death, in the case of woman who consumed “what she believed to be pure ecstasy,” after she died of multiple drug intoxication. The promoter’s owner, Live Nation, the city, the County Fair Association, down to the security, Staff Pro, face the suit. There could possibly be a measure of protective failure. The management doesn’t make promises or guarantee welfare to the individual attendees, but the police, also known as public safety officers, were not able to effectively use CPR, according to a witness in the parking lot. In California, law enforcement is required, under Police Officers Standards and Training, to be accredited to perform CPR. Yet, even if legal responsibility was on the officer, moral responsibility rests on no one.

The risk-taking behavior was entirely in the hands of the attendees. Health as a consequent of personal risk-taking is inherently a personal responsibility. When consuming drugs – which are infinitely more dangerous because of criminalization – the consumer also incurs a perceived risk (based on subjective probability), proportionate to several external factors. One of these factors is the hospitality and security of the local environment. If it could be shown that assurance of protection had been made on behalf of nearby staff or officers, resulting in a reasonable estimation of security, a moral duty would be invested. No such guarantee existed though. On a side note, the staffers even provided free water, which is actually rare at these events, and vital for safe drug use. (But not as an antecedent necessarily resulting in safety, nor even enough to lower the perceived risk substantially such that otherwise drugs would not be consumed.) 

The parents of the deceased twenty-year olds are planning to sue whoever could legally be held accountable, but I think it’s easy to see the difficulty in assigning meaningful blame. I know, also, that many people, more reasonable than the parents but not wholly impartial, want to blame the consumers themselves. I don’t think it is an altogether correct judgment to blame drug consumers for their deaths, simply for trying to squeeze more pleasure out of a state-suppressed existence. There exists responsibility, but the blame is incalculable and worthless to investigate. Who can rightfully be held accountable? The event organizers, for trying to suppress drugs but inevitably failing at whole prohibition? The pushers, in their harsh realism, living dangerously to supply wealthy and risky (but competent) young adults with their demands? The drug “kingpins”, for functioning productively in an open market with high demand, with full consent of all involved parties? The basement scientists, for discovering new chemical arrangements – agents that can be used medicinally as well as recreationally; agents that are inherently neutral to their alteration, route or variety of consumption? The Earth, and Nature itself, for creating the ingredients? I believe the chain of thought concludes with a puritanical condemnation of human nature. Human nature as something to be escaped, battled with religion or values; at the very least it must be vehemently detested by society. This is the conclusion of those who would want to sue others for their children’s use of drugs. 

There are those too, that want to simply change the United State’s drug culture: our alcoholism, our designer drug scene. This not through laws necessarily. It’s worth pointing out, however, that whenever someone expresses the desire to change a cultural aspect, he or she can only be saying, in veiled language, that their ideology should replace the current ideology. There is no society, there are only individuals in that society; talking about battling “society” can only mean pushing on a new ideology to others. Society’s temperament and exclusive nature can be chalked up solely to psychological states in the brains of its members. When recognized as a useful fiction to describe coordinated groups of people, instead of an emergent quality, cultural attitudes can be critized. Otherwise, writing polemics about society, and not individuals in the social sphere, makes clear an authoritarian intent: group all these people together and inflict my rules; empower me with merciless authority; subjugate dissenters to anonymity.

(For a brief aside, this is one of the idealistic problems of progressive movements: their unceasing condemnation of an unreal entity. The great majority of people blame their problems on society. There’s a classic idiom, occasionally attributed to Neitzsche, that “God is in the details”; used to stress the significance of detail, it can also be used rather literally to describe man’s desperate search for God. In early history, the Western world thought its God lived in the clouds above, e.g., the tower of Babel. After the invention of the telescope, the world moved its God back to outer space. Now, with our advanced technology, we can see billions of light-years into space – with ourselves at the radius of the observable universe, of 45 billion light-years – and still cannot find God. So, the theological theories have changed (now God is “all around us,” or “in another dimension,” and he breaks the laws of physics and logic). The way that people brood on their social problems is similar. Without the ability to accurately pinpoint an antagonist, the invincible figure of Society is summoned to scapegoat problems that may not have any material instances. Thus, “institutional” is really a synonym for “individual.”) 

It is detestable to enforce, legally or idealisticaly, a new ideology upon others. But the true moral repugnancy of this entire situation, rather than resting on event administrators, rests on those that would sue others – and thus attempt to prevent another 149,997 people from having a good time next year – for a grand payout because they cannot cope with their children’s choices, after they themselves raised them. 

A note on the police or – “Why I don’t trust the police.”

Police brutality is back in the news cycle following the Dallas shootings, Philando Castile shooting, and [insert your regional news cycle shooting here] in early July. I expect the topic to be removed from the news cycle as the Olympics draw closer so I am writing this note now explaining why I don’t trust the police and why I hope other classical liberals have similar reservations.

Two quick asides:

  1. I am at heart at pacifist and I don’t encourage the use of violence against anyone.
  2. The current literature shows that police activity reduces crime rates; here is an ungated article for those interested in reading part of that literature.

I come from a poor migrant family and was raised in Los Angeles’ Koreatown back in the 90s. The area has become more middle classed in recent years due to new development, but at the time it was a working class neighborhood populated largely by recent migrants and other minority groups. Unsurprisingly there was plenty of crime and the sound of police sirens and helicopters was common for me growing up.

Despite this I don’t think I ever held police in a high prestige. It is true that I often saw the police round up criminals, but I also saw them round up several innocents or perpetrators of ‘victimless’ crimes, mostly unlicensed merchants.

Many of the migrants in my neighborhood, including my family, were illegal and therefore unable to acquire employment in the formal sector. To survive they instead turned to work in the informal sector. I had a neighbor who ran a bakery from her kitchen and sold her goods on the street. Another neighbor sold various electronics and clothing apparel; during the weekend they would go around buying things from garage sales in bulk and re-sell them during the week. My father ran a taco stand. Often times the police would harass these informal vendors by confiscating their goods and/or destroying their makeshift stands. I vividly remember my father’s taco stand being thrown to the street when he didn’t have the proper documents for passing police.

In my mind the police were worse than the criminals they put away. To be sure criminals are undesirable, but most of the ones I encountered in my youth only wanted to steal what cash you had and they would leave you alone otherwise. On the other hand whenever my father’s taco stand was raided by the police his cash would be confiscated and he’d be put back several hundred dollars in fines and having to rebuild his stand. Not only was a robbery cheaper, but criminals never pretended to have the moral high ground.

Note that in my story there was no mention of police corruption. The police who harassed my family and neighbors might have been acting out of genuine belief that they were serving the public good. Their good intentions still had negative consequences for the neighborhood though. Those who were harassed were the immediate losers, but so were their consumers. There were plenty of people who would have wanted to purchase from the informal vendors, but were denied the freedom to do so.

-And for what reason? It was not like vendors in the informal market have any incentive to cheat their consumers. The neighborhood baker might not have been licensed, but she could hardly afford to give food poisoning to anyone.  The apparel salesperson relied on repeat business and would quickly be out of business if they didn’t sell clothing others wanted. My father certainly wasn’t adding horse meat to the tacos or anything like that – migrants are picky about how their tacos are made!

The police may be filled with good intentions, but they ultimately are enforcers of illiberal laws. If well intentioned can so easily cause harm one needn’t much imagination to see how corrupt police can do much worse. It is difficult for me to understand those who defend the police or even honor them. It may be the case that they are a necessary evil to discourage other criminals, but they are still an evil themselves. Police ought to be tolerated at best, but never glorified.

Lost Innocence.

One of the defining features of a “free society” is that the citizens in such a society are innocent of crimes unless proven otherwise by a body that can be trusted to be impartial in its deliberations. In other words, the right to a fair trial and the belief in innocence until guilt is proven. This natural right was guaranteed to United States citizens in the U.S. BIll of Rights under the 4th, 5th and 6th amendments of the Constitution.

Time and again in modern America that right is ignored by those whose job it is to protect it. Recently a particularly vile example took place near Houston, Texas. The article speaks for itself but to make a long story short police invaded the personal lives and property of two individuals under no legal pretense. The message is clear, we are not secure in our persons or our properties if the police decide we are of particular interest to them. These officers will likely go unpunished and even if disciplinary measures are taken they will not be the same measures as if, lets say, I removed two people from a car at gun point, bound them, and held them hostage for eleven hours. There are two sets of laws, one for the people and the other for the state.