The thing about laws is that they are not edicts on what someone can or can’t do. No, they are specific consequences for the violation of rules that society (or at least society’s political masters) have agreed upon. In other words, the entire concept of law is to retroactively punish people for doing wrong, NOT to prevent them from doing wrong in the first place (yes, there is a deterrent effect, but that’s merely a side effect of the retroactive punishment). In other words, legal consequences (the practical definition of the institution of law) can only be applied AFTER THE FACT. As such, terrorists and crazies (who often have no intention of surviving their attacks, and thus will face no legal consequences) will, at most, be mildly inconvenienced by laws.
Quite frankly, I have never bought into the notion that law = “deterrent”. No “law” has ever “Deterred” anyone from breaking it, as such.
The reason people can (mistakenly) believe the “law = deterrence” fallacy has to do with the fact that any particular “lawbreaker” is confronted with a simple question: “IS IT WORTH IT?”
There are always several factors to consider:
- Whether or not the individual happens to agree that the “law” in question actually makes sense/is excusable. (For example: we — CORRECTLY — consider Miep Gies to have been heroic — specifically she CHOSE TO violate a “law” made by what is probably the most overtly vicious regime in human history.
2. Another variable is whether the “law” in question can actually be “enforced” in any meaningful sense of the term. Otherwise, the purported “law” is merely a minor inconvenience to which the victims (at most) pay lip-service while pretending to “abide” by it ONLY when doing so is absolutely unavoidable:
The average professional in this country wakes up in the morning, goes to work, comes home, eats dinner, and then goes to sleep, unaware that he or she has likely committed several federal crimes that day. Why? The answer lies in the very nature of modern federal criminal laws, which have exploded in number but also become impossibly broad and vague. In Three Felonies a Day, Harvey A. Silverglate reveals how federal criminal laws have become dangerously disconnected from the English common law tradition and how prosecutors can pin arguable federal crimes on any one of us, for even the most seemingly innocuous behavior. The volume of federal crimes in recent decades has increased well beyond the statute books and into the morass of the Code of Federal Regulations, handing federal prosecutors an additional trove of vague and exceedingly complex and technical prohibitions to stick on their hapless targets. The dangers spelled out in Three Felonies a Day do not apply solely to “white collar criminals,” state and local politicians, and professionals. No social class or profession is safe from this troubling form of social control by the executive branch, and nothing less than the integrity of our constitutional democracy hangs in the balance.
3. The third major variable has to do with whether or not those in “power” actually give a shit about “enforcing” the “law”, or not.
In many cases, the “law” more accurately resembles bribery, or an excuse for bullshit like the “Stop and frisk” nonsense in NYC.
The above goes for EVERY “level” of Government — Federal/State/Local, as well (notionally) “private” quasi-tyrants of all sorts (religious “leaders”, HOA busybodies, etc.)
The whole apparatus of “law” is predicated on a very specific sort of “doublethink” among both subjects and “rulers”:
On one hand, both groups need to pretend that any given “law” will actually “work” (IE: cause the specific “crime” to magically disappear in perpetuity.)
At the same time, both groups KNOW that the “law” will (at least partially) FAIL — in that the specific “crime” WILL continue to occur.
The only legitimate question to ask about any specific “law” is: How much brutality and “meddling” is involved in the attempt to “enforce” it?
The “Founding Fathers” of the U.S. (implicitly) understood the above fact:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government.
The “there oughta be a law!”-mentality strikes me as the worst sort of “magical thinking” imaginable: the notion that the world will be all sunshine, cotton-candy clouds, and unicorns farting Rainbows and glitterer, if we just wish (OR TYRANNIZE) hard enough.