Written by Greg Ellifritz
Reason Magazine recently published an article titled “Is This the Summer of Snitches?” The article discussed numerous news stories from the last couple months when petty and vindictive people called the police to report someone committing a relatively minor legal infraction.
You would be absolutely amazed how often this happens. Read the article linked below for a look at one of the cases mentioned in the Reason piece. This is what police officers deal with on a daily basis.
The presence of people like this is a factor that should be better analyzed when looking at negative police/community relations.
In every community, there is a significant minority of residents who are the self-appointed “guardians of the rules.” When a rule is broken, no matter how trivial, these people become outraged and call the police. It makes no difference if the rule breaker is not causing trouble for anyone. Just the fact that someone is breaking the rules makes these people incensed.
These busybody “rule guardians” generate a large volume of the calls to police. Once called, the cops have to respond, thereby injecting the police into a matters that often aren’t best resolved by law enforcement personnel.
That leads to confrontations between police and community members who think that the officer is “picking on” them when the officer is actually responding to a call from an irate “rule guardian.”
Do you really think the cops should be called when an eight-year old girl is selling water without a permit? I can tell you with some certainty that no cop wants to go on that call. Yet the rule guardians are utterly outraged when they witness someone breaking a rule at any time. The police MUST be summoned.
These calls never stop and they truly harm the relationship between the police officers and the residents they police.
Why are people motivated to “snitch” on petty rule breakers?
I think part of it is the media. Mark Manson explains the concept well in his book: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck:
“The current media environment both encourages and perpetuates these reactions because, after all, it’s good for business. The writer and media commentator Ryan Holiday refers to this as “outrage porn”: rather than report on real stories and real issues, the media find it much easier (and more profitable) to find something mildly offensive, broadcast it to a wide audience, generate outrage, and then broadcast the outrage back across the population in a way that outrages yet another part of the population. This triggers a kind of echo of bullshit pinging back and forth between two imaginary sides, meanwhile distracting everyone from real societal problems.”
With the average American watching more than five hours of television per day, how can they avoid spreading the “outrage porn” just like their media overlords when they encounter it in their daily life? They are programmed (ever wonder why they call TV shows “programming?) to be outraged and then to spread that outrage to friends and authority figures for some type of either consolation or resolution.
I think an additional cause of “snitching” is our own brain chemistry. In the book Behave, Robert Sapolsky talks about a study that involved punishing the behavior of people categorized as “jerks.” The more punishment the “jerk” got for his actions, the more neurotransmitter dopamine was secreted in the brains of the person in charge of the punishment.
Dopamine is a hormone that affects mood, specifically in the reward and motivation center of the brain. A dopamine spike provides a sense of accomplishment. Sapolsky concluded: “Punishing norm violations is satisfying.”
Interestingly enough, this dopamine hit from “punishing norm violations” is exactly what a lot of police officers are looking for when they stop minor scofflaws for traffic violations and inconsequential criminal actions. They like that dopamine hit and feel a sense of accomplishment for righting a perceived wrong. Yet those same cops will rail against the “Permit Patty” for calling the police on an eight year old. A lot of my cop friends aren’t self aware enough to recognize that both the police and the “snitches” are receiving the same chemical rewards in their brains for performing similar actions.
Research indicates that “Dopamine is the chemical that mediates pleasure in the brain. It is released during pleasurable situations and stimulates one to seek out the pleasurable activity or occupation. This means food, sex, and several drugs of abuse are also stimulants of dopamine release in the brain, particularly in areas such as the nucleus accumbens and prefrontal cortex.”
I really think that lots of people lack real meaning in their lives. They are stressed, unhappy, and unfulfilled. They have low dopamine levels. Both the “snitches” and the cops might be acting in order to get a small hit of dopamine that will brighten their otherwise miserable day.
No thanks. I think I’ll get my dopamine hits through adventure travel, sex, exercise, and good food. I really don’t need to get any extra brain chemical release by punishing everyone who breaks a rule.
Have you ever thought about the origin of all these rules? Should we automatically obey them? Can we ignore some and abide by others? What is the purpose of all of these rules and laws? Do we really need them? These are the questions that merit exploration.
Before calling the police to report a violation of “the rules,” maybe people should instead think deeply about whether the rule violation actually harms someone or merits intervention by governmental authorities. If one is truly honest about conducting such a mental examination, he will likely realize that calling the cops on an eight year old girl selling water is a really dumb idea…even if she is breaking “the rules.”
Yuval Harari stated: “All large scale human cooperation is ultimately based in our belief in imagined orders. These are sets of rules that, despite existing only in our imagination, we believe to be as real and inviolable as gravity.”
As Harari suggests, the laws requiring a permit to sell water are completely made up. In some places such conduct doesn’t break any rules. In other places the exact same action comes with a jail sentence. Does anyone else think that the concept of creating millions of pages of made up “rules” in and of itself is completely ridiculous? We literally make up rules and laws out of thin air and then punish our fellow citizens by putting them in a cage when they violate any of those made up rules.
Just a small amount of reflection on this topic should cause some of you to recognize exactly how absurd we humans are when it comes to trying to control another person’s life, actions, or freedom to exist outside the cultural norms of society. Who has time for any of that nonsense?
So what do we do about the “snitches?”
The best advice I can provide you comes from Caleb Jones’ book: The Unchained Man:
“Learn not to give a shit. Learn to laugh things off. Learn to refocus your mind on positive, constructive things whenever you feel yourself getting frustrated at other people’s behaviors. Remember that most people in The Prison are flawed, limited, irrational creatures, and they’re going to stay that way no matter how mad you get or how many lectures you give them.”
Those guidelines are the rules we really should all embrace.
Don’t get sucked into the “outrage porn.” Keep your sense of humor. Let it go. The world will not stop turning just because some little girl doesn’t have the proper solicitation permit to sell bottled water to thirsty sports fans.
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