It’s an interesting discussion I got into with a couple of friends the other day. We’d gotten to speaking about laws, and we’d kind of worked through what we felt were a couple of “types” of law.
The first type amounted to basic civil misdemeanors. Like, most of us don’t egregiously speed because (a) we know it’s not safe and (b) we really don’t want to get pulled over. But most of us do speed, at least a bit and at least sometimes, because (a) we feel it’s not unsafe and (b) we’re not likely to get caught, in most cases.
I’d argued that the reasoning didn’t apply as you moved into more serious crimes. Many people will commit crimes that they feel are victimless, in some cases no matter how serious the crime. Stealing a million bucks from a bank, for example, is something a lot of people would do if they were assured they couldn’t be caught. In those cases, laws provide some real value. There are consequences, and most of us would prefer to avoid them.
Few people would commit murder, whether there was a law against it or not. Most of us know it’s morally wrong, there’s definitely a victim, and our line of thinking rarely goes all the way to, “plus, if I got caught….”
So we kind of worked out that laws work when they’re about helping people be respectful and safe, especially in situations where we’re likely to make a dumb decision on our own. Texting while driving, ahem. Laws are almost kind of pointless when it comes to your serious capital crimes like murder, because they probably don’t prevent the crime. Someone who wouldn’t commit murder isn’t abstaining because of the law, and, clearly, someone who would commit murder doesn’t care about the law. I mean, you obviously still need the law so that you can do something with a murderer, but I’d argue that the law ain’t much of a deterrent.
We figured – this was a couple of bourbons in, so take that into account – that most societies probably have too many laws. When you start getting down into non-law rules like Homeowners Associations, it’s pretty clear that many “laws” are there just because some people don’t like what some other people are doing over there, and they want it stopped. That shade of brown paint on a house? I don’t think so. Not in my neighborhood. But we also see people using actual laws for the same purpose, don’t we? People push for laws because they don’t like who other people are marrying, sleeping with, socializing with, worshipping, you name it.
That’s kind of becoming a litmus test for me, when I read or hear about legislation on the news. “Is this going to actually prevent someone from doing something dumb and dangerous?” I ask myself. “Or is this intended to prevent something that no normal person would do anyway?” The ones that get my back up are the ones where I answer “yes” to the question, “Or is this law designed to prevent some people from doing something harmless that some other people just disagree with?”