25 April 2012

Secret Service Scandal: They Transgressed the Unwritten Law - Hit & Run : Reason Magazine

Reason: hit & Run | Jacob Sullum | Secret Service Scandal: They Transgressed the Unwritten Law
A government official who had been briefed in recent days by Secret Service officials said that agency officials could not answer the question of whether that conduct violated agency rules.

"They said, ‘We teach all our agents that if they go to Amsterdam, they cannot smoke marijuana,'" the official said. “But they couldn’t tell us whether there was anything explicit in their rules and regulations that said anything about whether one of their personnel could spend the night with a woman in a foreign country. They said they would have to get back to us on that, and they haven't."
So far nine employees have been dismissed or pushed to resign or retire, but it's still not clear whether they broke any rules? The marijuana-in-Amsterdam example suggests that having sex with women in foreign countries may be OK, as long as no money changes hands afterward, even in places (like Colombia) where prostitution is legal. (Does the same rule apply in Nevada?) But it sounds like even that much is uncertain.
I can trace my life through a series of beliefs about how rules and punishments work in society:
  1. If break the rules you will be punished, and if you follow the rules you won't be punished.
  2. If break the rules you will be punished if caught, and if you follow the rules you won't be punished.
  3. If you break the rules you may be punished if caught and if the authority figures wants to, and if you follow the rules you won't be punished.
  4. If you break the rules you may be punished if caught and if the authority figures wants to, and if you follow the rules you won't be punished unless you upset the wrong people.
I'm not sure most people ever really internalize #4, because they reject it as being too cynical. (That is, I think most people about agree with #4 if asked, but are still surprised when it happens.)

The whole progression for me covered about the 3rd to 11th grades. I thank the Montgomery County School System for teaching me that the exercise of power and the distribution of punishments, even in modern, civilized Western society, is an arbitrary and capricious thing.

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