Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Legislating morality

The other day, I skimmed an absolutely absurd article in an Arkansas magazine. (I was REALLY bored at the doctor or wherever we were.) This article was arguing whether we should allow clubs to stay open until 5 am, or close at 2 am. Really it was a masterful work of logical fallacies, but was such a boring topic I can't recall almost any of it, and it's not relevant to us here.

One thing did stick with me, though. One of their reasons to not close the clubs early was, "You shouldn't legislate morality."

This is of course a typical libertarian drumbeat. Liberals will say it whenever someone wants to outlaw gay marriage or drug use; conservatives will say it whenever someone wants to use taxes to redistribute wealth or ban smoking or force people to eat healthier. In all cases, the argument basically goes like this:  "Laws should be secular in nature and not influenced by a person's internal morality. That is for their personal lives, but the laws should completely avoid morality statements."

And that sounds really good--until you think about it for five or six seconds.

Because by definition, the Law is a set of nationally-agreed upon moral standards which we all agree to live by in return for being citizens of the land. EVERY law is legalized morality.

Murder. Theft. Rape. Perjury. Discrimination in hiring or firing. Fraud. Embezzlement. Littering.

Every law you can think of is our nation, collectively, deciding what is morally wrong and legislating against it.

Morality is simply defined as a body of beliefs that some group (culture, religion, whatever) uses to define "good" from "bad" behavior.

Law is defined as a set of rules for a governing body to define how its members will behave--in other words, what is "legal" from "illegal" behavior.

There is no difference between these two definitions on a practical level, and ultimately every law ends up being justified by someone saying, "It's wrong because _____, and therefore we made it illegal."

Let's say that you stripped out of our legal code everything put in there due to morality. You know what you'd have left? A list of duties of the governing officials and (some of) the tax code. That's it. It would be basically anarchy.

So if you want to argue against someone's proposed legislation, do it based on that law's merits: not based on some tired and silly argument.

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