I feel like a fugitive from the law of averages.
- Bill Mauldin
During those precarious days when almost nothing I told my teenager was acceptable to him, and he thought little he did was acceptable to me, we had one disagreement Ill never forget. My 15-year-old couldnt understand why I wouldnt let him ride to a party with a 19-year-old at the wheel of the car. Without divulging all my fears, I tried to explain why I didnt want him either in the same car or at the same party with kids I thought were too old (experienced) for him.
I won that round. But when he asked later if he could go to a movie with Jerry, whos 16 and just got his license last week, and I wouldnt let him go because Jerry hadnt had his license long enough, even I sympathized with my exasperated son. He was certain hed be imprisoned with his impossible-to-please, warden mother until no one invited him anywhere, anymore.
Laws and rules - who hasnt wished there were fewer of them, or felt with pundit Jeremy Bentham that every law is an infraction of liberty? A recent discussion about why we have so many laws now, and why our aptly named lawmakers are constantly making more, has me wondering why, in a civilized society, we spend so much time selecting those who make our laws, and hiring so many others to enforce them.
If we tallied all the legislative and law enforcement salaries in the country, plus their facilities, equipment, and the cost of apprehending and incarcerating lawbreakers, we may be talking about the single most expensive category in our municipal, state and federal budgets. Its a fact that private security guards represent one of the fastest growing professions in the country today.
But is all this necessary? Subjects like voting rights, civil rights, minority rights and limits on everything from terms to time, are constantly on the House and Senate floor. Wouldnt you think wed get it right someday, that everything that could be corrected, regulated, or defined would finally have its own set of rules, and we could start downsizing legislative and law enforcement agencies as we do administratively improved corporate giants like the airlines and AT&T?
The reason we have so many laws, someone has said, is that weve lost the ability to trust each other.
Interesting thought. We opt for term limits for our lawmakers because we dont trust them to keep from contamination by the system, while recent laws like The Patriot Act and the multi-layered Privacy Act reveal a national paranoia when it comes to trusting everyone else. At the same time, as these two Acts attest, most laws become controversial and complex as soon as they are passed, and others laws are made to correct their flaws.
But we live in a flawed society, where imperfect lawmakers are chosen by the imperfect people they represent. Sometimes we get it right; sometimes we dont. Sometimes a law is short-sighted, and its better to change it than try to enforce what has become obsolete, like building safer vehicles and highways, but keeping speed limits what they were when roads were narrow and few people had cars.
Ideally, in a civilized society, human behavior should be controlled from within, rather than legislated from without. But until the flaws which expose human life, limb and property are removed from human intent, it seems we citizens will be subject to the laws of the land, and our poor, misunderstood teenagers will be kept under home rule.
Fortunately. Anarchy is a terrible substitute for law, order and safekeeping.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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