Why is Snitching UnAmerican?


Scott Henson (Grits For Breakfast) has written extensively about snitching; he steered me toward his posts on the subject in his comments to my post on the Abandonment of American Ideals. I especially appreciated his post, “Don’t Snitch, Jack”, in which he gave considerable thought to why “don’t snitch” is part of the American culture:

At another level, though, the scene with Jack and Maggie tells me the “Stop Snitching” meme taps deep into the moral foundations of our society. What positive values does it teach?

  • Loyalty, obviously — to snitch is inherently disloyal.
  • Trust — if someone tells your secrets, they’ve broken your trust, even if those secrets were about some sort of wrongdoing.
  • Faith — telling secrets to others is an act of faith in that person — if they snitch, it’s more difficult each time thereafter to have faith in the trustworthiness of other people, generally eroding human relationships at their foundation.
  • Prudence — society expects us all to know and understand that when someone has put their trust and faith in us, those are treasures we need to be careful to preserve. Snitching commodifies trust and faith in exchange for whatever the snitch gets for their information (whether that’s a sweet plea deal from a prosecutor or satisfying the vengeful spite of a first grader).

(As an aside, one of the great things about blogging is the sense of community — the feeling that there are others who are treading the same intellectual and philosophical paths — that results from reading posts by people — criminal-defense lawyers and others — who have already given lots of thought to some of the questions, like the one in the title to this post, that I’ve marked for future consideration.)

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