Friday, November 21, 2014

Private Command Structure versus Public

Most sensible people do recognize that having a command structure with authority for those at the top to make decisions is good for the overall functioning of any social unit. Even among chimpanzees there are dominance hierarchies, and this is something that would not exist in nature if it did not serve a function.

Military units need military discipline, and even seemingly unimportant details can help. Lawrence, who works with my chimpanzee Bow, was in the service, and he was talking to me the other day about how requiring new recruits to keep their uniform clean was not really about keeping the uniform clean, but about maintaining overall discipline. If recruits were disciplined for tiny, unimportant infractions, then they learned to obey every command by the time they were faced with actual combat.

People who join the service understand that they are giving up most of their civil liberties when they sign up. In many other organizations, people also give up the right to express themselves when they join, Many companies require employees not to speak or publish about certain topics that are considered sensitive to the business of the company. Women who had the right to vote in New Jersey in the 18th century lost that right when they got married. But they didn't have to marry, unless they were sure they trusted their husband to vote the way they thought was right.

Freedom does not mean the freedom to do anything at all at someone else's expense. Free men and women give up rights every day in order to receive certain benefits from other people, to whom they cede their rights. Speaking up for freedom does not necessarily imply that we are against command sturctures in social units. It does not mean that we don't understand the value of discipline.

As long as there is a choice whether to join or not, there is nothing unconstitutional or wrong in the curtailment of those rights set forth in the constitution and bill of rights by a unit of society. But what if a general rode into your American  town and imposed martial law on everyone, without asking permission? Could that ever be constitutional? And if it is unconstitutional, could it ever be necessary or useful?

That is the topic of today's article on Historia Obscura. It's not that military law is bad -- it just needs to stay in the military. Martial law is not for civilian populations. That was one of the basic beliefs that led to the American revolution.

Just as a parent may have the right to discipline his own child but not the neighbor's child, a military commander needs to understand that he can discipline those under him, but not everyone else. It's a very simple proposition.

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