Friday, June 14, 2013

Tilting at Windmills

Our society is ill. A simple scan of the local news and listening in on police scanners reveals a not so insignificant amount of daily crime. Burglaries, thefts, fraud, extortion, stabbings, beatings, rape, murders. These things abound, and yet we don't know why and how to stop it.

Let's consider the recent Boston bombing by the Tsarnaev brothers. These brothers made and used pressure cooker bombs to kill people. That was illegal. They killed an MIT police officer. That was illegal. They robbed a 7-11. That was illegal. They engaged in a shoot out with police. That was illegal. They were in possession of unregistered guns. That was illegal. They car-jacked a Mercedes SUV. That was illegal. They fled from police, resisting arrest. That was illegal. They broke many laws. Why did our laws not stop them?

I posit the following answer: laws cannot stop evil people from committing crimes against society. A person of free will who chooses what he will or won't do can always choose to do something that violates existing law. Always. Think about a society of people with no ability to make choices. Such would be the equivalent of a robotic society. Just consider a lesser offense: when was the last time you didn't exceed the speed limit to pass a slow poke on the road? You used your judgment and justified (to yourself) that exceeding the speed limit was acceptable, even though the law makes no such exception. That is illegal.

Someone has asked: why even have laws, if criminals won't abide by them anyway? Laws define what is acceptable and unacceptable in a society, and thereby define what is crime. Without law, there is no crime and hence, no criminals. While laws cannot stop crimes, they do give us the means by which we punish those who refuse to behave in society. Society's hope is that these people will learn over time to behave in an acceptable way, much like a child whose parent disciplines him in hopes of teaching him "good manners". Many (or perhaps most) of these miscreants will not. Such must be dealt with by society in order to maintain civility.

In the wake of tragic events perpetrated by evil people, the reaction is always to pass more laws. After all, we must do something to prevent such from happening again. Yet evil people simply will not obey the laws they do not want to obey. Somehow we ignore this fact and have created in our minds an imaginary adversary who can be constrained by an invisible legal force field. If laws cannot stop evil people from committing crimes against society, then the creation of new laws to stop crimes does nothing more than create a false sense of security. In trying to constrain this imaginary evil doer with more law, are we not tilting at windmills?

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