Extortion is Good, Just Obey

My father’s appeal against his ‘penalty charge notice’ (parking ticket) and subsequent ‘removal’ of his car was rejected last week by his local council (Tower Hamlets). In a nutshell here’s what happened. A parking suspension notice had been put up outside my parents’ house at the request of the construction company working at a building site a short distance away. The company was intending to take away its crane at the weekend and needed space for a very large vehicle to come and collect it. My father absent-mindedly parked his car in one of the bays where parking was suspended. It cannot be denied, and we do not deny, that he parked somewhere where he was not allowed to park (as did two other cars incidentally). His car was, for some reason, the only one to be towed away and my parents had to cough up around £200 to have it back, but even so I’m sure that so far you’re thinking that the local council was justified in its actions and that my father can have no cause for complaint.

However, here’s the thing. After speaking with the construction company we found out that they had contacted the council’s parking department three days before the day of the towing to notify the council that they no longer needed the parking suspension on those days (they needed it a week later instead). The council did not remove the parking suspension notice, however, which meant a parking suspension for which there was no need was in operation. Here is my father’s cause for complaint and the basis of my appeal on his behalf.

In its response the council did not even address the fact that the parking suspension should have been removed because it was serving no purpose to the public – apparently considering this an irrelevance – and instead stated that “the PCN was correctly issued. The civil enforcement officer had taken notes and photographic evidence which clearly shows the vehicle parked in contravention.”

It then goes on to state that “the sign displayed at the time indicated that the bay was suspended from the 10th to the 11th of January 2015 therefore the request by the company to the [sic] change the date to the 17th and 18th would not affect the validity of this PCN.”

Think about what the council is really saying here. It is declaring that a penalty fine remains valid and justified even if the parking suspension that it served as punishment for the violation of was subsequently revealed to be serving no purpose; of no practical use. In other words it is right for us to keep the money we took from you, even though we know that your car did not obstruct the construction company’s activities, because you disobeyed our orders not to park in a particular place even though we now know that there was no reason to prevent you from parking there.

In short, we’re going to keep your money because you disobeyed us.

I’m quite certain, however, that no representative of the council would agree with this. I’m sure he or she would strongly object to the notion that they are keeping the money simply because my father disobeyed them. But on what grounds could they possibly object? It cannot be denied that in parking his car where he did my father did not obstruct the construction company’s activities. This is a fact that can be easily verified by a third-party, the company itself. So if he was not penalised for doing that which parking suspensions are used to prevent, then what was he penalised for? The only alternative, of course: disobeying a council order. The council is going to keep the money it extorted from him because, and only because, he disobeyed (knowingly or not) what was in fact a pointless council parking prohibition.

The council might argue that it needs to keep the money in order to cover the cost of towing my father’s car, but clearly this would be forcing the cost of the council’s mistake onto my father and would be completely unjustified.

It’s clear that the council’s ‘argument’ in defence of keeping the money it took from my parents does not stand to reason. It doesn’t have a leg to stand on, but the council appears to believe that it doesn’t need legs. It believes that its arguments can magically float in the air, disconnected from and unreliant upon the foundational building blocks of reason and evidence.

Such delusion and power go hand in hand. Power attracts those of low morality, the easily corruptible and those who have unthinking, unquestioning faith in the righteousness of the law in the same manner in which young children believe in their parents. Kids grow up believing that their parents are the truth and that they are morality, until, that is, they develop sufficient reasoning skills to realise that sometimes their parents can be wrong and not moral.

Most people in positions of government authority, it certainly seems to me, believe that the law is what is moral; that if it’s legal then it must be right. We have the legal right to take your car even without reason and then demand money for its return, which must mean that those actions are morally acceptable. Therefore we did the right thing and shall be keeping your money. Through this line of reasoning is how they come to justify their actions.

We got a glimpse of this morally perverse mindset in the council’s response to our appeal. It fails to even address our specific arguments and just unthinkingly and repeatedly states the inconsequential fact that there was a sign prohibiting parking when the car was towed, which is not something we ever contested or denied. It’s almost as if the person who drafted it didn’t read our appeal at all. I suppose that’s quite possible.

Perhaps this kind of intellectually useless response is the best their State school manufactured minds can come up with. They don’t know how to analyse your argument in order to produce a counter argument and so just keep repeating a statement in the hope that you get so exasperated that you just give up and walk away. Pretty much the same way young children argue with each other in the playground.

Maybe the people in the parking enforcement department at Tower Hamlets council are capable of reasoning to a level higher than children and do possess common sense. Perhaps they do realise that they are the ones in the wrong here, but alleviate their own guilt by telling themselves that it’s okay if we keep the money because we will spend it in ways that benefit the ‘the greater good’. Maybe it’s not that. Maybe it’s just too much paperwork to give the money back to my father or it feels too humiliating to certain individuals to admit to the error.

If this is the case, then the individuals at Tower Hamlets council whose responsibility it is to decide matters like this have the opportunity to admit their error, suffer any embarrassment that this may cause them, and undo the harm they caused to an innocent person. But instead they are choosing to not admit to their mistake and keep the money they received for towing a car that they didn’t need to tow. Because their position of power enables them to extort money without suffering the legal consequences that everyone else in society would have to they have little incentive to do the former and much more incentive to do the latter. Power wins. Justice loses.

We accept that the council’s tow men thought they were doing the right thing at the time – i.e. a necessary act to ensure the construction company could go about their business unhampered – but it was subsequently proved (through our enquiries) that there was simply no need to suspend parking in those bays at that time; and thus no need to tow the car.

Enforcing penalty charges regardless of whether the parking suspension being violated is serving any practical social purpose or not is either ridiculously mind-less or a brazen abuse of power. It might even be both.

One of the most galling things about people in positions of government authority today is that they frequently act in denial of reason and of morality – largely due to the absurdity and moral perversity of the laws they blindly enforce – and yet constantly seek our approval of them as reasonable and good people who deserve special praise because they work for the ‘public good’. If we accept that it’s best to judge people by their actions, then nothing could be further from the truth.

If the people at Tower Hamlets council want to keep the money they stole from my parents, then there’s nothing I nor anyone else can do about that because they have the entire coercive apparatus of the State behind them. But we won’t pretend, as the individuals at the council would no doubt dearly want us to, that this is anything other than an appropriation of property through extortion. Good intentions matter not when the end result is the same.

The truth is my parents are worse off by £200, which is a significant sum of money to them, because the council decided to keep the money it mistakenly took from them. This money could have been spent by my parents on some days out with their grandchildren, but instead will now most likely go towards funding the endeavours of the special interest group that is currently most effectively bribing and lobbying the unthinkers at Tower Hamlets council.

The first step to wisdom is to call things by their proper name. Taking a person’s car without their permission and then demanding money for its return is extortion, and is wrong. Regardless of whether the law says otherwise.

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