An interesting thought experiment today…
Last week I watch The Purge: Anarchy. I don’t normally watch horror movies because I think they’re stupid, but both this film and the first Purge movie really aren’t horror regardless of how they’re marketed. They’re more action/thriller movies with a touch of sci-fi.
The first Purge movie was forgettable. The Purge: Anarchy was decently okay. However after watching both of these movies I found myself really analyzing the premise of the Purge world. What would happen if the Purge was real?
Let’s enter fantasyland for a minute. Let’s say that in the near future, a group of psycho-extreme right-wing politicians mounted a successful coup against the US government. They then decreed that once a year, on every March 21st, all crime was legal for 12 hours; from 7pm to 7am. That includes everything; murder, assault, theft, vandalism, all the evil stuff you can think of. All emergency services like cops, hospitals, and fire fighters would be shut down during this time. Any and all weapons could be used, including military-grade assault weapons, grenades, the works.
Only two exceptions to the rule is that a) top level politicians, like the congressmen and the president, would be exempt (pretty accurate; high-end politicians always exempt themselves from the laws they pass) and b) you couldn’t use “class 4 weapons or above” which would mean things like explosives such as C4 and dynamite, as well as things like missiles. But other than that, it’s a free for all.
It is strongly implied in the movies that the new rulers of the United States remove pretty much all gun laws, so that you’d have all year to stock up on heavy weapons and bullets to either defend yourself during the Purge, or go kill people and thereby getting all the evilness out of your system.
In the movies, the politicians behind this “sell” the annual Purge as a way of reducing crime throughout the rest of the year. However, their real reason is to reduce the population of people below the poverty line, under the assumption that more poor people will be killing each other than rich or middle class folks.
This is all pretty horrific and disgusting stuff and I would never want to see murder, assault, theft, or anything like that become legal, since it violates every individual’s right to life. The government’s proper role is to protect its citizens from direct violation against person or property. As a libertarian I think that’s all government should do, but that’s a discussion for another time.
However I do think the Purge is an interesting thought experiment. What if this really happened?
In the movies, crime rates drop to “almost zero”, unemployment drops to less than 5% percent and “every year less people are below the poverty line”. Well yeah, because they’re dead.
In real life, crime rates probably would drop a little, but not to anything near zero. Criminals and violent people wouldn’t suddenly put all of their needs and urges on hold just to go crazy for one day a year. So I think crime would still be a problem.
However, the movies make a great point. One of the reasons crime drops dramatically is because everyone has to be nice to each other. Why? Because if you’re mean to one of your employees, friends, or even family members, everyone knows that person can come kill you, or at least beat the shit out of you, during Purge day and face no consequences at all.
In The Purge: Anarchy a woman finds out her husband is cheating on her…with her sister. So she simply puts on a happy face and waits until Purge day, then gets him drunk and shoots him. Hilariously I do believe this kind of thing would happen, and it would actually affect people’s behavior for the rest of the year.
The problem is Purge day would be a much bigger cluster fuck than anyone anticipates. At 7am the next morning, police, fire, hospital and ambulance services would overwhelmed to ridiculous extremes. And it’s not like your local hospital would open suddenly at 7am. No, if anyone was there at 6:50am, they might get shot or something. So it would be well after 7am before there was enough doctors and nurses to actually help the mobs of bleeding people waiting outside.
Don’t even get me started on the fire department. What if crazy mobs burned down every building in a major part of town? There wouldn’t be enough firemen to deal with that. The Rodney King riots in Los Angeles back in 1992 put entire streets to blaze and overwhelmed the fire department. The Purge would be far worse, and it would happen every friggin’ year. Entire neighborhoods could be leveled, particularly commercial districts full of empty office buildings with no one to defend them. (I suppose many big companies would hire security firms to defend their property during the Purge, but still.)
One of the dumb things about the movies is that on Purge day, people are out doing things like shopping at 5 and 6pm, which is just an hour or two away from the Purge which starts at 7pm. In real life, this would not happen. Most people would take that day off, and hole up in their homes well before 7pm. By 5pm or so, you’d see the streets abandoned except for complete idiots or punks looking for trouble.
I was also thinking about windows. Why would people have windows? During the Purge, bad guys could bust right through those, or at least throw rocks and bricks through them. In the movies, super rich people press a button and these huge steel barricades come down over their windows, and that might happen in real life too. But middle class and poor people I’m pretty sure would barricade their windows year-round. Houses without windows would probably be sold to the middle class.
Gun manufacturers, of course, would get very rich, and the stocks of these companies would scream upwards. Lots of rich people would make lots of money (but the already super-rich always make lots of money, since that’s what big government does; shuttle money from the middle class to the extreme upper class).
I also think a huge amount of people would simply leave the country. Canada and Mexico would see a huge influx of American immigrants. People with a little more money, particularly left-wingers and other anti-gun folks, would relocate to Europe or South America. I think in a Purge world, the US would experience a huge population drop, and much of it would have nothing to do with people getting killed in the Purge.
Would the elites like this? Or would it bother them? Hm.
In the movies, bands of criminals, punks, and other jerkwads group together to go out and “purge” (i.e. kill people) on Purge day. I do think this would happen, particularly in the cities. However, I also think there would be an interesting, though violent counterbalance. Rednecks, gun nuts, and other extreme right-wingers would also band together and go down to the cities heavily armed, vigilante style, to go shoot bad guys. It’s not like the bad guys would have free reign to go around shooting defensiveness people. A hell of a lot of people would be shooting back, in a major way. And some of them would be enjoying it.
Probably the stupidest thing about the Purge films is that normal, everyday middle class and rich people suddenly become evil serial killers, killing people for fun, having their own children kill people too, and saying prayers while they do it. This of course would not happen. Good people, which is most people, would stay good. No good person would suddenly become a murderer just because it was legal to do so once a year.
As a matter of fact, most suburbs would likely form heavily armed neighborhood watches, and any strangers entering a such a neighborhood during the Purge would get riddled with bullets before they got three strides in. Also, security firms would make serious cash during Purge day.
Anyway, the Purge would be interesting, but way too evil, chaotic, and unworkable. Instead, I’ve always wondered what would happen if the US government took a parcel of land, say a large portion of Montana, and declared that within that zone, there were no laws of any kind. Go there at your own risk. Rather than a killing ground, I have a feeling companies and entrepreneurs would flock there to go make money without paying any taxes, and the economy of such a place would boom, though chaotically, just like it did in Hong Kong from the 50s to the 90s.
Maybe I should give that some more thought…