It’s the Law
I don’t put much stock in the legality of my actions, but rather try to determine if they fit the current situation in a way that’s both moral and effective.
Don’t get me wrong, legality is a factor for me. But just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s okay, and just because it’s illegal doesn’t mean it isn’t.
I think most people understand this to be true, but it isn’t often intellectualized and brought to the surface.
Who’s responsible for actions? You and I are. The law isn’t — we are responsible for our own actions in their own right. Just because Cigarettes are legal doesn’t mean you should smoke. That the law says it’s illegal to consume a certain substance shouldn’t be reason alone for you to dismiss it as wrong and/or not use it.
I have a friend who is probably the worst driver I’ve ever been in the car with…but she always follows the law to the T. Always obeys the speed limit. Uses her signal appropriately. Being in her car is terrifying, however, because she seems to be following the letter of the law over the spirit of it: to be safe. And then there’s the friends who don’t follow the law while driving exactly…maybe they are going 10 over, or maybe they don’t use their signal sometimes. But I feel safe with them, because they have a handle on driving and their key motivation is safety, not following the law.
Of course, there needs to be some baseline standard we can follow and be held accountable to. I’m not suggesting we all blatantly disregard the law — the reality is there are consequences for going against it, and with our current system that’s necessary. What I am suggesting is that we’re careful to not make the law god. To elevate it above common sense, and above the spirit that it (hopefully) was created for.
This philosophy extends beyond matters of safety, and into what American forefathers called the pursuit of happiness. They believed that each person has the right to seek their own happiness, in addition to a right to life and freedom. While pursuing my own happiness, the law isn’t on the front of my mind. Instead I use what the law says about something as a factor in my decision. Sometimes I use it as a starting point, but more often it’s an afterthought…something that I consider, but secondarily. Law (in this sense) is made up. An invention. So why should you elevate it above what is real and tangible?
I propose everyone adopt this unspoken law: you can break any law as long as you realize there could be consequences, both as a direct result of your actions and through the legal system of the society you live in. You should break a law if it compromises the goal you are trying to achieve (which hopefully includes respect for others), but be aware you could get in trouble for it. Additionally, something legal could have consequences and it’s just as possible that you shouldn’t do that.
Let’s do what’s right even if risks are involved. Consider that in 1942 Germany, you were breaking the law by protecting or hiding a Jewish person from the state.
It’s easy to say “That’s different, I wouldn’t blindly follow the law in that case.” But the Jury is out. We as humans are guilty. When we put the law as the highest order (as we’re instructed to do), we are capable of doing anything. I don’t know about you, but I just don’t trust any system of law that much.
When our belief system is literally just an externally maintained list of dos and don’ts, we can be manipulated to do nearly anything.