Why do we have laws?

Do we need a law that says you shouldn’t lie in bed and use a cheese grater on the back of your thighs until you bleed? (Bonus points to anyone who gets the reference, and names the principles)  Not yet.  But I can guarantee you that if we saw an epidemic of cheese-grater injuries at our Emergency Rooms, and it cost millions of dollars in medical insurance pay-outs and missed work and even a few hundred or so deaths, we’d have a law against that behavior so quick it would make your head spin.

That is, unless the cheese-grater political action group didn’t block passage of such a law on the basis of some ambiguous human rights argument.

Is running a stop sign evil?  If there were no penalties for running stop signs, how many people do you think would do it occasionally?  If there were no law against running stop signs, I would bet that you would see new drivers run them the most often, and as drivers grew in experience, they would obey stop signs more often.  That’s because someone who has been driving for 40 years would have seen more than one accident from someone ignoring stop signs, and quite possibly would have even struck another car, or been struck by another car.  They would learn from experience.  And then, most likely, they would use that experience to try and pass laws against ignoring stop signs.  They would do this to prevent unnecessary pain and suffering.  They would try to pass the laws so some reckless young driver would know that even though it seems like a waste of time to stop at stop signs, there are penalties for failing to do so.  They would try to pass the laws so that all drivers would have a chance to learn to obey stop signs to avoid artificial punishments, so that they will never have to experience the natural consequences of ignoring stop signs, i.e. loss of life, or having to live with killing a happy family, etc.

Laws always seem unnecessary to the inexperienced.  Laws are usually advocated for by the experienced.  The experienced usually don’t need the laws, because by realizing that a law is necessary, they have already internalized the necessity of the proper behavior.

And looking at it another way, laws are necessary to stop people from doing something that they feel is a natural, normal, and acceptable action, but is actually harmful to themselves, others, or society in general.

We have laws that are unnecessary, and there are laws we need but don’t have.  Society changes, and the need for certain laws wax and wane in concert with not just the desires/intents of the citizreny, but with the understanding of the natural consequences.

As the toll of widespread smoking became more and more clear, communities passed laws against smoking.  The number of smokers in the US has plummeted.  If smoking is ever eradicated, we will probably not need laws punishing smoking in public places.  But laws against smoking are good and useful for the overall and individual health of our people, even if it feels like an imposition, or a violation of human rights.

Because, honestly: do you have a human right to run a stop sign?  What’s the difference between smoking in a public place and running a stop sign?

There were no laws against psycho-active drugs, and people went wild with them.  After decades of strong anti-drug laws, we are reaching a stage where it is possible to at least conceive of ending those laws someday.  Why?  Because the impact of drugs is known well-enough that those who are deterred by laws are already pretty much deterred, and those not deterred won’t be deterred no matter what laws you pass.  Please not, I don’t think were actually at the point where we can abolish all drug laws, but we’re far closer than we were, say, 20 years ago.

As always, this is my OPINION; maybe I’m wrong.  Make a strong argument, and we’ll hash it out.


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