Proactive vs Reactive Law in a Free Society

We all want to live in a safe society. The idea of living in a world where we can be harmed or killed at any time scares us more than we usually think about, and we try to put measures in place to mitigate the risk of something happening to us. It is reasonable to be cautious about our own personal risk, but when do we cross the line from being cautious to delusional? Like many things, it is a blurry border.

Western society has for many years been predicated on the concept that individual sovereignty is the primary goal. Especially in America, we have been brought up to believe that we are the land of the free and the home of the brave. I grew up on that saying. We believed in it so strongly that our military has fought wars around the world trying to stop the spread of ideologies that oppress individual liberty.

Like many things, however, as time moves on the ideals get shifted to the point that it becomes corrupted. We have added more and more restrictions as our rulebooks continue to bloat into an unmanageable mess. Endless regulations and prohibitions are choking our freedoms out one at a time. What used to be a reasonably free nation has turned into a quasi-socialist state, and there is no end to the madness in sight.

The primary reason for this is our incessant need to try to control the uncontrollable. We put restrictions on our citizens in the name of public safety, and punish people before they ever really do anything wrong in the hope that doing so will prevent something bad from happening. We put speed limits on our roads to reduce the chances of accidents. You can’t start a business without a government issued license, because we’re afraid of bad actors so we want everyone to be supervised. In places like California, you can’t even make modifications to your own home without approval from the local authorities because people think you might do something that endangers yourself or others.

I’ve written a couple of times now about the slippery slope, and our mentality about law is another prime example of this terrible effect. It used to be that we focused on putting in place penalties for crimes committed against people, but today we are trying to simply pile as many rules on top of us as we can in the hopes that it will stop bad people from doing bad things. We just won’t accept that fact that you can’t legislate good behavior, and the rules we pass only affect those who wouldn’t do the bad things we’re afraid of anyway.

That is the crux of the issue, in my personal opinion. We are so fixated on creating a safe environment that we convince ourselves that people are inherently good and we just need a good enough rulebook to prevent the random things that people do. We believe that crime is an accident that we can prevent with enough preparation. The truth is that people have both good and bad inside them, and no amount of iron fist legislation will ever change that. If someone wants to do harm, they will find a way.

The longer we go ignoring this basic fact, the worse things will get for the people who just want to go about their lives. Preventative laws are simply wrong, because we end up punishing people who have done nothing wrong. A crime is something that brings harm to someone, but these rules we put in place are about things that don’t harm anyone. Until a person reaches the point where they have actually hurt someone else, we should have no fear of the law. This is called the “non-aggression principle“.

If we extol logic as one of the premier features of we human beings, then we must stop making emotional decisions and start using reasonable starting points for the ways in which we regulate our society. We have more than three hundred million people in our country, and each is an individual with their own hopes and dreams. Putting any rules in place at all will infringe on those individual desires, but we accept that a certain level of restriction is required to maintain the peace. Knowing this, our goal should be to create as few rules as possible so we minimize the effects on individual people.

A good starting point would be to use the non-aggression principle as the primary node for deciding whether a law should be passed. We should always be asking ourselves: does this punish someone for actually causing direct harm, or are we just trying to prevent people from being bad? If the answer is the latter, the law should be discarded. If we value our freedom, then we should be skeptical of any law at all, but even more so about those laws intended to regulate our behavior through prevention.

What do you think about the law? Is it a useful tool or a dangerous, bloated mess? How much regulation can you accept in your life? What would it take for you to rebel against the system? As we move into the future, it is clear that things are only going to get worse. It seems like there is nothing we can do about it, but perhaps it might not be too late to take a hard look at the path we’re on and find a different way.

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