Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Happy Law Day

Since 1958 May 1st has been desginated Law Day in America. As the Law Library of Congress web page says: "Law Day provides an opportunity for everyone to reflect on our legal heritage, on the role of law, and on the rights and duties which are the foundation of peace and prosperity for all mankind."

Who knew? Why hasn't this gotten more press? There oughtta be a law.

Personally I'm tempted to use the day as an opportunity to take cheap shots at Alberto (quaint Geneva Conventions) Gonzales, but law itself is interesting. It's one of those concepts, like money, which only makes sense because we all agree it makes sense. Just as you can trade a piece of green paper for a Famous Amos cookie because we all say they are worth the same thing, we obey laws because it would be a less safe world without them.

The best law, symbolically, is traffic law. Everybody can understand why it's best that we keep to one side of the road and maintain regular speeds, because the alternative is obviously death and bad traffic. Other law can be a little obscure, and often it's counter-productive and self-contratdicting. We love law so much that we try to make it cover everything. The only thing harder than making a dumb law is getting rid of it. The books are filled with "no-slapping-a-horse-in-the-public-square" ordinances.

It's also pretty easy to confuse law with morality. The two should have little to do with each other. Is it morally wrong to stop dead in the middle of a freeway lane? No, it's stupid. Is it morally wrong to slap a horse in private? Perhaps, but a law won't make it more so. Law shouldn't be a tool to express moral outrage. Law should be a means to keep society moving.

Punishing moral offenses is the job of religion, and guilt. Use them people! That's what they're for.

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