Law & Order

…is actually necessary for society to function…

“No! No! Sentence first — verdict afterwards.”

~ Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

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Laws are an essential component for a society.  In fact, that’s what the Constitution is at its heart – the very first laws that construct the basic fabric of who we are as a nation and what we stand for.  Obviously, there have been a lot of laws and rules added since then, from federal to state to local, but their goal (even when they add a ridiculous amount of red tape) is the same: to let everyone know the rules by which we all need to play.  If you’ll allow me to wax a bit prosaic, Dear Reader, the law is what makes us and defines us as a civilization.  Without it, we condemn ourselves to the chaos that so defined other times and places in our history, and that still defines lawless lands today.  The difference between humanity and the animal kingdom is that we have the ability to establish the rule of law so that nature’s trump cards don’t decide people’s fates (ie: the strongest or the fastest or the most ferocious always win).  The law is not just what makes us civilized, it’s what makes us human.

As we have seen in many nations lately, but most especially our own, our relationship to the law is complex.  Laws are not always “right” in the sense of every person’s morality or judgment.  Laws are also sometimes broken by those meant to uphold them (which by the way is everyone, not just the police, but our political representatives and us as citizens).  But the chaos that comes with lawlessness is not freedom, it is just tyranny of another kind.  Mob rule, be it in the form of riots or lynch parties, in reaction to not being satisfied with the results of our laws and our legal system, is not the answer.  In fact, that type of reaction hearkens to the days of lawless chaos where humanity was at its worst.  We also tend to place the most blame on the shoulders of those charged with upholding the law, our nation’s law enforcement community and the judiciary, instead of on the shoulders of those who make the laws (our political representatives) and those who choose to keep or break the laws (us, as citizens).

WE defer our own responsibility to the laws that make up the fabric of society by only being bothered with upholding the law when we perceive an injustice or a slight.  This isn’t an excuse for those who break laws, be they in politics, or the judiciary, in law enforcement, or regular citizenry.  But have we been there every day trying to do what’s right, being a good citizen, following the law ourselves and encouraging others to do the same?  Because it seems like our only expectations are that others will do that for us.  We expect our law enforcement officers to be the pinnacle of citizen perfection, to enforce our laws and never make mistakes.  When they are targeted, we mourn them.  When they don’t perform perfectly or do what we think we would have done in a complex situation, we abhor them.  But in all of that we never address our own role in ensuring society functions under the rule of law.  Do we do what’s right?  Do we participate in the crafting of our laws by voting and dedicating ourselves to electing good leaders?  Do we support our community in our capacity as citizens?  Or do we do nothing but talk and then expect someone else to come to our aid when we are in trouble?

Res Publica

Documentation without Representation:

I apologize for selecting a quote from a book instead of the usual from the Founders’ themselves.  They spoke at length on these issues.  However, I think Carroll’s quote most aptly crystallizes the matters discussed in this post, and as a study in profound irony, sums up the Founders’ opinions on the matter.

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