Police Selves, Not Each Other


The Senator had been my classmate. I invited him to say over on his stopover because the plane had landed at an ungodly hour. Lapius became elated when he learned that a Senator was to sleep over and glowed during the introduction. Then he became Lapius.


“I’ll tell you a bedtime story, Senator, but first, why did you go into politics?  Power?  Prominence?” S.Q. Lapius peered inquisitively at the Senator.


The Senator was a friendly and well-intentioned man, having spent much of his considerable wealth to become a Senator.


He brooded over the question for a while.


Then he said, “Lapius, this may sound childish to you, but I went into politics because I felt it was the best way I could serve my community.  I could have retired.  It may sound arrogant, but I felt that the painful experience I had gained in accumulating wealth could be contributive in politics.”


Lapius was quick to reassure him.


“It is not childish nor a maudlin sentiment to want to serve, Senator.  I applaud you for it.  But have you had any particular training or license to become a Senator?”


The Senator laughed heartily, “You know that’s silly, Simon.  No as a matter of fact, we in the congress learn on the job.”


“Well, Senator, I hate to disabuse you of preconceived notions, but would you believe that the motivating factor that drives people into other professions is also the desire to serve.  Young lawyers want to help clients in trouble, young ministers, needless to say, want to help their parishioners through the difficult maze that life imposes; young mechanics derive great gratifications from fixing a device to please their customers, and wonder of wonders, Senator, young doctors really go into medicine to help sick people.”


“And as each of these people become older and wiser in their chosen fields they become more efficacious.  They do a better job.”


“I know that, Simon.  That has been my experience.”


“But, Senator,” Lapius continued, “one would not suspect that this was the prevalent attitude in government, since the trend today is to establish regulations that insist that doctors police each other.”


“Well, Simon, we all must discipline ourselves.  After all, I am answerable to the voters.  That is a discipline of sorts.”


“Of course, Senator.  The key phrase is ‘discipline ourselves’ not ‘each other’.  Therein lies the difference between a police state and a democracy.  Doctors are also answerable to the people.  They also have a constituency.  The public is not an ass.  It can think individually and collectively.  The physician must compete for his practice, and if a patient doesn’t like the doctor he goes elsewhere.”


“But that could just be a matter of personality.”


“Not so,” said Lapius.  “Again you denigrate the individual.  They can tell when they are being dealt with fairly, when they feel better, when they are receiving value in service for value paid.”


“They are not stupid.  But now the government comes along and tells the public that the doctors have been feeding them poisons; the government creates an aura of suspicion when it writes laws to create and subsidize Professional Service Review Organizations, implying that the doctor has to be watched carefully, that he is incompetent and dishonest.”


“What was the bedtime story?” asked the Senator, trying to move to a more comfortable arena.


“Ah yes, Senator, I had almost forgotten.  The bedtime story is really more of reminiscence. Once upon a time, there was a nation composed of people who were trying to improve themselves.  They established a disciplined educational system, and a way of life where there was reinforcement of basic values in the home, the school and the churches.  This enabled people to deal with each other, within a more or less uniform frame of reference.”


“Within this nation professions sprouted, and it was assumed, that a professional man would do his job in a professional way and adhere to the rules of the profession.  Thus the athlete would perform on the field, the lawyer in the court, the physician in the operating room, with honor and proficiency.  In other words, Senator, the nation made the general assumption that a professional of license and experience would practice his profession in a reasonable way.”


“The nation assumed that this man would be reasonable in the practice of his profession, make reasonable decisions.  There was no assumption of reasonableness outside of his profession.  He might be a cheat at golf, a nasty father, a frolic in marriage, or irresponsible in matters that he did not take too seriously.”


“In other words in areas outside his profession, he was permitted the luxury of being unreasonable.  But we were always able to expect, as an act of faith, that the professional, within the confines of his training and license, would do his job in a reasonable way.”


“What happened then?” asked the Senator.


“I am not sure,” said Lapius.  “But I have a feeling that many people who had been successful professionals in one field believed that they could transfer this wisdom and experience to another field and they went into politics. They formed a government.  And of course, because they had not training or license for the new profession, they did not behave as reasonable men nor did they make necessarily reasonable decisions. From the high office they felt that their great wisdom empowered them to make decisions that cast doubt on the probity of work-a-day professional in law, medicine, accounting, and so forth.  Soon suspicion seeped like a religion of its own into the society, and everybody felt that they had the wisdom and experience to interfere with decisions made by professionals. And very quickly, reasonable men were no longer permitted to do their jobs in a reasonable way.”


“What has all this got to do with me, Lapius?” asked the Senator, groping for a connection.


“Nothing at all, Senator, except I told you it was just a bedtime story.  So maybe you had better go to bed.”