The Law-Abiding Citizen
and His Failure to Society
by Reginald Welkin
This phrase, I’m a Law-Abiding Citizen, is often heard among those that believe they follow the laws and thus are due better treatment from their government. At first glance, it would seem that those that follow the law should be considered model citizens and thought of as helpful for that society, and perhaps they are. For what other type of person do these ideals contrast with, but those that are law-breakers, rebels, anti-social, and dangerous? Isn’t it good for society to have more people that can be described as law abiding?
As children, we played games like “Red Light Green Light” and throughout school, there were various rules that had to be kept or punishment would follow, even if they didn’t make sense, or the rules weren’t even posted. Our whole society is based on the premise that those that break the rules are immoral or unethical and that many of the punishments that occur to innocent people, are really meant to punish the guilty.
Corporate punishment was instilled in each of us as we grew up. We could be minding our own business and not even be aware of something that happened, and face general punishment until the perpetrator was punished. Maybe you recall some student writing on the wall or stealing another child’s toy. The whole classroom would face punishment until someone ratted out that child. All students would want to find the person that was making their lives miserable. This would seem strange, if not purely evil, if it was executed on the general populace, as it was in schools and other areas of child care. Of course, it has. There are many examples throughout history where people have been summarily punished for the actions of others. Whole towns have been rounded up and executed because of a few in that town that were acting against the government.
Of course, we don’t live under such a government. Maybe our children grow up under Draconian ideas of rule-keeping, but this is necessary for their development and they grow out of this mindset as they reach adulthood. Our government doesn’t punish everyone for the acts of a few…or does it? Under the premise that evil doesn’t just show up in all its evil glory, for fear of being resisted, but in with subtlety, like that story about how to boil a live frog, we should take a closer look at one of the things that we all seem to believe to be slightly onerous, but necessary.
The rules say that there is a maximum speed, over which, you are breaking the law. This is the “Maximum Speed Limit”, thus one would assume driving less than that speed would be legal. No, they also have written that people must drive at “the speed of traffic”, which means that driving slower, is illegal, if traffic is moving faster; even if traffic is all moving faster than the maximum speed limit! There is no posted range of acceptable speeds to drive. It is all at the whim of the officer that pulls you over.
But this is all about safety, if people are driving too fast, they will end up killing people. Isn’t that why they are enforced? Several years ago, some channel was broadcasting the proceedings of a Star County, Texas, meeting. The county leaders were going over their budget and noticed that their traffic enforcement was not getting enough in revenues from traffic violations. Their budget was short by a few thousand dollars. This was one way their county made money and it relied on this money to continue offering its “services”; including stopping people for traffic infractions. This county didn’t have enough money because its citizens were “law-abiding”.
There is a difference between being good and being obedient. This is where the whole law-abiding citizen ideal breaks down. Each citizen has the responsibility to determine if the laws they are told to keep are merely “lawful” or if they are “right”. Our country was founded on the idea that bad laws were to be broken. The most terrible times in history were caused by people “just following orders”, “just doing my job”, or “obeying the law”. As Kohlberg shows in his Theory of Moral Development, there are multiple levels of moral thought.
6. Universal Ethical Principle
C. Post-Conventional 5. Social Contract
4. Law & Order
B. Conventional 3. Good Boy & Good Girl
2. Individualism & Exchange
A. Pre-Moral 1. Obedience vs Punishment
Oddly enough, most of government relies on lower levels of moral reasoning for its existence. You do things because to do otherwise would mean punishment. Maybe you do things, because it is necessary to maintain law and order or to “keep the peace”. Taking actions or responding in a manner not deemed appropriate, can lead to breaking the law and becoming a criminal.
People don’t really believe that most laws actually make for a better country. If this were the case, they would be happy with more officers on the road, pulling speeders over. They would actually drive the speed limit, rather than driving over the speed limit, then slowing down when a law-enforcement car is spotted. They wouldn’t be happy with such heinous crimes as endangering others by going over an arbitrary and ambiguously moving line in the blowing sand being only punished with a payoff. They would want severe punishments that prevent these dangerous people from repeating this crime. They would want the rules to be solid and exact. They would want to actually know and understand the ever growing multitude of laws and regulations so that they could actually become the impossible, a Law-Abiding Citizen.
Writes about politics from a Conservative Libertarian viewpoint. While pushing for a government that is Fiscally Conservative and Socially Liberal, he personally appreciates the Socially Conservative lifestyle.
Copyright R. A. Welkin