Larken Rose again delivers a very clean view of the validity of laws and the need to follow them. We are talking here pretty much about laws against mala prohibita (according to Black’s law dictionary: Prohibited wrongs or offense; acts which are made offences by positive law and prohibited as such) in contrast to laws against mala in se (Wrongs in themselves; acts morally wrong; offenses against conscience.)
I could try to out-do Larken by giving my two cents but I think I would only distract from what Larken says so eloquently.
The only problem I have with Larken’s writing is its clarity and precision which is so far out of the reach of the regular – confused – person that it simply can not be understood. The problem of a huge gap between communicator and communicatee is easier to understand if we consider a difference in emotion.
A person in deepest grief can not relate and understand a person in the deepest state of bliss and vice versa – there just is no basis of common reality. This holds true as well for clarity. A person who is permanently confused will simply not be able to grasp a clear thought, just as the clean thinker has no reality about a deep state of confusion.
But then, we don’t need too many clear thinker to bring about change. In principle, if there is any validity to many of the great new (and old) philosophers, it is only necessary to change my own view of a subject or area. My view will determine its condition. So, yes Larken, you are definitely succeeding in helping me to change my view.
Now – without further ado – please welcome to the stage – Larken Rose!
Is it bad to break the law? Without thinking, almost everyone would say “yes.” (However, almost everyone could think of exceptions as well.) Note that the question doesn’t say what the “law” is–a “law” against murder or a “law” requiring you to have that little sticker on your license plate. The question is about “law” in general: is it bad to disobey the official commands of “government”?
The terms “law-abiding citizen” and “lawbreaker”–the first with a positive connotation and the second with a negative one–show how much we revere “law,” in and of itself. But what are we talking about when we speak of obeying the “law”? In short, we’re talking about politician scribbles.
A bunch of politicians got together, wrote down some command — either requiring us to do something or prohibiting us from doing something–and threatened some punishment for failure to obey. Every such “law” is a threat of violence: if you don’t do as you’re told, your property will be taken, or you’ll be locked up. It’s not a suggestion or a request; it’s a command backed by a threat of force.
Whether we call something “law” does NOT depend upon the nature of the command, or what it’s about. As long as it was created via the “legislative” process, we call it “law,” and we treat is as something which–except in rare situations–should be obeyed.
But why? How did I acquire an obligation to obey whatever command a bunch of slimy politicians might happen to come up with this week? How on earth can one say that it is good to obey the “law,” without knowing WHAT the “law” in question is? How can it be inherently good to obey a command, ONLY BECAUSE OF WHO GAVE IT, and not because the command itself is justified?
I’ve talked before about justified defensive force and the unjustified initiation of violence. So-called “laws” are ALWAYS threats of force, but they can be in either category: justified or unjustified. For example, I consider a threat like “If you try to steal my car, I’ll punch you in the nose,” to be justified. On the other hand, “Give me your car or I’ll punch you in the nose” is unjustified. But either one can just as easily be “legislated” into being “law.”
Again, the simple truth makes people uncomfortable: either politicians somehow have the ability to ALERT morality, or their so-called “laws” deserve no respect at all. Either they can, by legislation, make an inherently unjustified threat into a justified threat, or their “legislation” makes no difference to what is the right thing to do. (In most religions, even God doesn’t claim the ability to CHANGE what is good and what is bad from day to day, so apparently politicians outrank God.)
In short, respecting “law” is utterly insane. The fact that a threat went through the “legislative” process has NO BEARING WHATSOEVER upon whether the threat is justified, or whether anyone has an obligation to comply with the command. None. Zero. Nada.
The morality of murder does not change depending upon whether it’s “legal” or not. The morality of theft does not change depending upon whether it’s “legal” or not. The morality of hiring a kid to mow your lawn does not change depending upon whether it’s “legal” or not. The morality of having a beer, smoking a joint, eating a cheeseburger, driving a car, opening a restaurant, singing a song, building a deck, shooting a rabbit, buying a gun, selling someone a hat, or killing and eating your neighbors, does not change depending upon whether it’s “legal” or not.
In other words, what almost everyone calls “law” deserves NO respect at all. You should fear those commands, as they are backed by the very real threat of violence, which will be carried out by people who will “just follow orders” because of their belief in “authority,” but you have no MORAL obligation to obey. (Your moral obligation to refrain from murder comes, NOT from the fact that some “law” forbids it, but from such an act being an infringement upon the rights of someone else.) In other words, breaking the law is not bad (in and of itself), and obeying the law is not good (in and of itself).
Such concepts, though based upon very simple, basic, self-evidence lines of reasoning, make most peoples’ heads explode. We are so trained to bow to “authority” that when someone says we don’t have to, most of the indoctrinated peasants reflexively react with shock and horror at the suggestion. Why, there would be CHAOS if we didn’t respect “law”! Why? If people respected individual rights, but had no respect for politician scribbles, what would happen? Think about it, and see if you can come up with a rational justification for humanity’s authority-worship and fear of freedom.
(Whether a threat via “law” is justified or not is also NOT determined by whether the “law” is constitutional. Two pieces of paper–a constitution and a piece of legislation–cannot make immoral violence into justified force any more than ONE piece of paper can.)