Monday, October 1, 2012


The new Judge Dredd movie is actually surprisingly good. It's at 76% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is unusually high for an action movie.

The line that stood out to me (and was repeated twice, once at the start and again at the end) was the following:
800 million people living in the ruin of the old world.
Only one thing fighting for order in the chaos - the men and women of the Hall of Justice.
This is a surprisingly reactionary concept of "the good". They are not fighting for justice. They are certainly not fighting for social justice. No, they are fighting for order, which is a good in itself.

This is not a common viewpoint. That's because we live in such a generally ordered world that we take it for granted. But you notice order when its not there - the London Riots, Hurricane Katrina, the LA riots etc.

Mencius Moldbug had an excellent article years ago talking about this point. The Dungeons and Dragons World classifies characters on a 3x3 scale of {Lawful, Neutral, Chaotic} x {Good, Neutral, Evil}. But Moldbug raises the question of whether there really is a Chaotic Good - whether the only real dimension is Lawful (and Good) vs Chaotic (and Evil). I'm not sure he's right, but it's an interesting perspective.

The world of Dredd is one in which Judges are fighting a rearguard action to preserve the minimum amount of social order. The movie also flirts with another reactionary theme about martial law that is surely true, but rarely acknowledged: that due process and compassion are luxury goods, relative to the basic good of maintaining a functioning civil society. Substantive fairness is a Louis Vuitton handbag. Procedural fairness is three square meals a day. Order is oxygen.

When the world gets sufficiently violent and crime-ridden, the first priority is to put a stop to the violence and crime. Indeed, when things get bad enough, ideas like martial law may actually become very popular. This seems like a strange possibility, because the average westerner today is perhaps more worried about police brutality and abuses of power. But if citizens start to feel that they have much more to fear from thugs than the police, you might be surprised what a change that produces. Sending in the marines to finally stop the LA riots was a highly popular decision.

Dredd is the ultimate personification of the idealised policeman in this framework - tough, and absolutely fearless in his fight on crime. There is one interesting scene early on where you see that he also does not mechanically apply the rules in every single case - there is a homeless guy at the start that Dredd warns to not be there when he gets back, after quoting what penalty he is guilty of. He has more important things to deal with than minor infractions that don't threaten social stability.

In the Dredd universe, the law's main function is as a tool for maintaining the peace. This is the context in which Dredd's catchline, 'I am the Law', need not be ironic. What stands between society and chaos is ultimately a small number of individuals.

Or, as Orwell said about Kipling:
He sees clearly that men can only be highly civilized while other men, inevitably less civilized, are there to guard and feed them
I imagine a lot of cops would agree.

No comments:

Post a Comment