Friday, November 15, 2013

Laws are backed by guns and prisons.

One theme I run into over and over again in political conversations is this: people are unwilling, or unable, to accept the fact that 'I want a law X passed' means - directly - the following:

I want the situation to be such that, if someone engages in act X, a sizable army of men with guns will either throw them into prison, or demand an amount - often sizable - of their money or possessions. If they fail to hand over said money or possessions, men with guns will take everything demanded of them and more, and they will be thrown in prison on top of it all.

I mean, this is obvious, right? This is what it means to pass a law, at least a law that actually gets enforced (and what's the point of passing a law that won't be enforced?) This is what it means to place a tax on an individual. These things are not backed, ultimately, by strongly written warnings from the community, the defiance of which means dirty looks when they go to the supermarket. Men with guns. Prison. Possessions taken away by force. This isn't really an avoidable realization. It's not particularly pleasant, but it's true.

The simple point here is that, if you're not willing to see this through - if you can think of a law that you'd like to see passed, but would NOT feel justified having someone dragged, kicking and screaming, out of what recently was their home so they can be transported to a small cement room where they will live for weeks, months or years if they fail to follow the law - then you actually wouldn't like to see that law passed. You're instead thinking of a way you wished the world was.

Personal example: I sure wish parents with screaming/crying toddlers would take their children out of a public area when their kids acted up. That'd make life a lot more pleasant at times, without a doubt. But I don't want a law against this passed, period, end of story. Maybe I'll endorse roundabout encouragement of parents to properly control and care for their children. Maybe I'll just deal with it when it happens, usually by going for the nearest exit, or at least out of earshot. I wish the world was a certain way, but no, I'm not going to ask my public officials to throw Mother Scream-Tolerance into the slammer, or take away her money, for failing to properly deal with her brat.

On the flipside, I am more than happy to endorse this reaction for - say - child molestation. With apologies to Mister Dawkins, yes, I believe if you engage in 'mild child sexual abuse', you should lose some of your possessions and a decent chunk of your freedom. The men with guns shall show up and move you to your new temporary/permanent home, by force if necessary, and I will not lose sleep over this.

But I think some people have trouble with these distinctions. And, non-sarcastically, it's understandable why they'd make this mistake. They think about the world they'd like to see, they think of ways to achieve what they want, and 'pass a law' shows up there in the list of possibilities. And in their imaginations, they don't always imagine the crucial part where the person who disobeys the law is punished severely, particularly if they don't go along with the 'And now you lose hundreds/thousands/more of your possessions' part of the law. They just imagine the part where everyone is following - maybe even happily - the new law, and that's that. It's a little like eating hamburgers. Lots of people love to eat them - many people mentally block out the whole 'This is what happens to the cow' part of the process. But that process takes place, whether you choose to accept it or not.

So whenever you're pondering a law you'd like to pass - some tax you'd like to see levied, some behavior you'd like to see outlawed - think it through. I mean really think through what you're asking, what is necessarily involved with getting this law enforced. There are other considerations, but if at the end of the day you don't want anyone to lose their money or their freedom for failing to comply, then - lo and behold - you don't really want that law passed after all. You would like the world to change. Work on making that difference instead of passing the law.

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