rules or guidelines?

There oughta be a law.

How often have you heard that one?

Human beings have an innate sense of fairness, but they are also lazy and lacking in self-confidence, as well as highly variable life experiences. (There is also the fact that many human beings are actively malicious and want to do those annoying and hurtful things. As much as I believe in the basic goodness of humanity, I fully acknowledge that there are individuals who have chosen the way of evil. Much of the laws that are necessary are a result of those persons.) The result is a desire to have a “rule” or “law” to refer to for authority when dictating something to another person. This is why we have homeowner’s associations that dictate the appearance of your property. This is why we have those lists of really ridiculous old laws still on the books in many towns.

This is why we have laws in the first place. And laws can be a good thing, if used rightly. And using them rightly also means remembering the spirit of the law first and the letter of the law second. But rules can also be hideously dangerous.

Why are laws dangerous?

First of all, there is that letter of the law danger, already mentioned above. Any law that is slavishly followed without understanding its intent can lead to harm. (Perhaps a way to ease that possibility is to include statements of intent into the text of a law so that people can adapt judgment to reality?) But even beyond that is the fact that rules can be manipulated by people to achieve goals wholly unrelated to the true intent of the law when it was created. Unfortunately I’m not sure there is a solution to that problem, since it is inherent to human beings and their faults. Even the solutions I can think of at this moment lead to the same types of problems.

Another danger that I have seen a lot of recently is when laws are created that usurp my right to choose. A vivid example that I am noticing nowadays is the raw milk vs. pasteurized milk laws. As I understand it, many people, especially large corporations that sell pasteurized milk and government agencies that regulate our food and drink here in the US, really want to make selling and drinking raw milk completely illegal. They claim that it is horribly dangerous. Yet the facts, as I understand them, do not support this contention. Is there danger in raw milk? Yes, but there is also danger in pasteurized milk. If appropriate precautions of cleanliness and temperature control are taken, then I would guess that the dangers of raw milk are equal to or less than the dangers of pasteurized milk. Which means that the government and these corporations wish to control my choice about the milk I drink based upon faulty assumptions or selfish desires. (The full discussion of this needs a post of its own.) I object to their limiting of my choices regarding my food and my health when they have no real proof for their desire to limit me. (I will note that more research needs to be done. But it needs to be unbiased. Is that even possible?)

Yet this usurpation of choice is not of itself the fundamental danger. What truly underlies this attitude is a blind trust in the “authorities” of our government, which is really a “Big Brother” type problem. Yet the sad truth is that that selfsame government that we are trusting is made up on human beings. And once again that is related to the inherent problems of being human, which includes character traits such as selfishness and laziness. How many ordinary people truly want to bother researching whether or not the risks of raw milk are better or worse than pasteurized milk? How many truly want to bother changing an entrenched situation when the longterm effects are not clear? Truth is, very few people care enough about the same things to make changes when there is an easy way out.

What laws and regulations are necessary?

These days I am discovering that, once you get past the clearcut dangers that do require laws and the rules that help deal with annoyances, the answer really shouldn’t be a law. There should be guidelines and regulations, but flexibility is better than rigidity and free choice is often preferable to restriction.

Of course, always, always there is a problem with deciding what is truly a danger and therefore requires a law, what is simply an annoyance and therefore needs just a rule, what is a reflection of choice and therefore should have just guidelines.

Really, this kind of thing is what lies behind the desire of so many to go and build a utopia on the edge of the wilderness, where the choices are clearcut and the shades of gray are few. The utopians think that if they just start afresh, they won’t make the same mistakes over again. I regret to inform them that humanity bears its own mistakes inside its own character. All they are doing is starting the cycle all over again.

In a way, this kind of confusion is why I am a Christian.