Powerlessness

by

The other day, after the ESSO concert, my girlfriend, a friend, and I went out to Anchor Bar to get some wings.  That part of East Ave is very crowded on Friday nights, and finding a place to park was proving to be especially challenging.  However, we did see a half-full lot a few blocks away with no blatantly obvious ‘no parking’ signs, and we took this opportunity.  Once we were done, we walked back to the lot, and my car was not there. After walking to the back corner of the lot, we found a faded sign with “North East Towing” and a number, and so I called and left my number, as the very unpleasant auto-answer machine requested. Ten minutes later a man called me back, and I asked if he had my car, which he indeed did.  I told him that I believed it was an honest mistake and that I was just a college student. I would have to draw the conclusion that empathy way not in this person’s pallet of emotions. $180 cash would be the price to get the car, and I could absolutely not get anything that was in the car unless I paid the price, “in fact you’re lucky it’s not more because you spiked the parking break for no reason, which made my job a lot harder”.  (I was parked, was I not?)

My wonderful girlfriend took out the cash from her savings and was able to contact her friend who kindly drove us to the essentially hidden address, non-metaphorically on the wrong side of the tracks. I was greeted by two most assuredly unfriendly men from behind a large fence, who gruffly asked me if I had the cash. I said yes, and requested to see my car to them to check for damage before I gave it, “because it was so ‘difficult’ for you to get it out. “No”. “What if I give you half, then look at the car then the other half?” “No”. I was getting frustrated – “you cant just steal my car like that and then tell me ‘I’m lucky that you not charge me more’ because I did something I was taught to do! This is an unfair business practice and nothing more than a lewd act of piracy!” A hand placed on a hip clearly holstering a firearm and a “stop being a smart-ass” was his reply.

In reflection, the whole thing seams like a rather reveling case of power and powerlessness. I guess that it is essentially straight up Hobbeasian power in the fact that his actions were legal, thus a manifestation of sovereign power (or doing the will of the sovereign in terms of property rights).  However, it also seemed very different than the usual wielding of this power: when I think legal enforcement, police officers and the army pop in to my head, not two men in a seemingly abandoned warehouse at 12 at night.  Further, if I had decided to take matters into my own hands, I feel that Hobbeasian power fits equally as well: his violence power holstered so bulgingly to his belt would have been more than sufficient to put me in my place.

I feel we do a lot of ripping of Hobbes, but at that end of the day, when a man with a gun is legally holding your car for ransom, it all starts to make a lot of sense.



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2 Responses to “Powerlessness”

  1. Duane Houy Says:

    Yes, I am sure the actions of the towing company were legal, but when a man is simply trying to go out on the town and have a good time, there always seems to be a person or persons who seem to delight in making life hell.

    Too often the signs that are supposed to be posted are not posted according to parameters outlined in most local ordinances, however, knowing what I do of towing companies here in Illinois, the signs mean little to the towing companies.

    Your slip up is their life blood and they often approach “illegal” activities in their businesses in order to ensure their livelihood. In fact, there are have been a couple of companies here that have been denied the right to tow vehicles because when times got tough, they simply towed any car and what could the driver say?

    Hopefully, the transgression left you only a little short in the pocketbook. Or, did they damage your vehicle with no concern for it or you?

  2. jshin21 Says:

    This reminds me of the discussions we had on the violence with Arendt’s book, On violence. Arendt asserts that once a government or any other group of leaders uses violence to control the citizen, they lose the authority and respect from the citizen. (Arendt defines authority as an unquestioning recognition by those who are asked to obey and no persuasion needed.) I think similar incident happened here for Jake. Police officers carried out the right legal enforcement. Yet, their attitude and action towards the one without “power” is not considerate even, seem like verbal violence. I think the first thing and most things they lose by carrying out violence are the respect and authority from the citizen. Indeed, they have the power to control, enforce, and carry out their action. Ultimately, I think it is hard for someone to give them authority and respect them as a more “powerful” person when that “powerful” person acts like a tyranny or a dictator who is so inconsiderate of the others.

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