In watching the center-left’s opposition to Extinction Rebellion in the UK, I am dumbfounded and livid because their reasoning seems to be a general argument against civil disobedience that goes like: “If they break the law then they set a precedent for anyone breaking any law. Now, of course, we mean street law, not white collar law, since if street law loses adherence to then society becomes unlivible but the disregarding of white collar law will not lead to utter chaos. So, unlike the hipsters, we don’t need to send the oil executives to jail since that doesn’t protect society in the most acute sense.” That is the most classist, and most common, philosophy of law enforcement in existence.
They’re not arresting the carbon capitalists for destroying the planet, they’re arresting the hipsters trying to save it. Climate Change is worse than Jim Crow and I’d argue that any law that impedes the movement to help the environment in crucial ways is as morally invalid as the trespass laws which the sit-in protesters were arrested under in the Civil Rights Movement and should not be enforced by any municipailty. In having this legal double standard where the people trying to save the environment are targeted by the police but the people running the industries that are destroying the environment are completely free to do what they want, the state has, silently, taken the side of the literal supervilians to the detriment of the literal right side of history and its heroes.
I’ve done civil disobedience at a protest before. I did it with Occupy Wall Street and while I was not arrested, the police promised to arrest us and never got around to it. That said, lots of occupiers did get arrested but the people who crashed the economy felt almost nothing. The main issue is not that it is unfair but that the system of ignoring macro crime while punishing micro crime both prevents effective resistance to the macro crime if normal protesting is included in that micro crime and it prevents the macro criminals from feeling any consequences for their behavior in another sense that the victims won’t cause problems. Having a society where the poor neither can protest nor loot means the streets are safe to walk down and the personal inconvience that should come from driving millions into slums doesn’t exist. The only reason a wealthy sociopath would care about poverty is when it causes street crime, if the police are cheaper than social programs then they’ll choose the cheaper option because, as far as they are concerned, it solves the only symptom of poverty that they care about. The same is true for climate-induced micro crimes.
This system is one where the police are just bouncers for the rich, basically on the justification between the quatation marks in the first paragraph. While many social movements have persisted despite mass arrests, it is a big obstacle to making change. Especially now. A criminal record makes it hard to get a job, an apartment, an education, and more. Back in the 1960s, you could make a living wage despite a criminal record and it was fairly difficult to do background checks. The more excitable activists on the left like to talk about how our society still has political prisoners. We don’t really have political prisoners but we live in a society so punitive where a few days in a county jail can fuck your entire life over. If the price of civil disobedience is living out of a tent and working three menial part-time jobs for decades, it has the same deterent effect of having political prisoners. It is also much more difficult to do activism while in poverty so it takes them out of the movement. It is an effective means of mitigating dissent.
In summation, they have a system of obstructing almost all social progress and a large part of that system is their legal double standard. The dissidents against and victims of social ills shall be punished but those who cause the social ills shall not be. If that is the case, society can only go in a negative direction. That way lies environmental catastrophe and mass poverty. If they can destroy the lives of anyone against them, if they have that absolute power, and it is used the way they use it. It is effectively the death knell of liberal democracy since the mechanisms of democratic society shall cease to function. If the people trying to make social progress are halted by the state’s absolute power but the people making regress are not stopped then there will be regress and no progress.