“There Ought Not To Be a Law”: The Absurdity of an Age-Old Colloquialism

Barring injury and death, destruction or theft of property, or the outright prevention of someone living their own life, there ought not to be a law.

Every now and then, either in conversation or—more frequently—when walking in public with someone, I hear the phrase “there ought to be a law.” This is usually an off-hand remark that someone uses to punctuate the ending of a story in which the narrator encountered something that displeased them or when they see something in public that they find reprehensible. My typical response, being the proverbial thorn in the side of nearly everyone I encounter in some fashion, is simply, “Why?” Why should there be a law against something they do not care for or find displeasing or unsettling? Rarely have I ever been given a straight answer, and never has that answer been satisfying.

Life, Liberty, and Property

The United States, founded as a constitutional republic, was designed with a singular but incredibly daunting task: protect Natural Law with Man’s Law. For libertarians, this is usually a much simpler idea; the law is there to protect our rights to life, liberty, and property. Beyond that, everything else is purely superficial manipulation at the hands of career politicians who wish to be reelected. But for others, those who would toss out this phrase with frightening ease, the government must protect more than that; it must protect our narrow view of morality, our personal values, and our sensibilities. A traffic jam on Interstate 10 is far easier to manage our way through.

These moments in time have no bearing on their lives, but they view them with such disdain that, even for a brief moment of jest, they would suggest that an officer be called in, as this is what a law would inevitably lead to were it on the books.

So, what are common moments that I have heard such a tired but dangerous phrase? Usually from members of older generations or from individuals who are having a bad day and something has finally irked them to the point that they must invoke the almighty name of government. I have heard it from someone on the street who noticed a young man with his hat on backward and his pants hanging low. I have heard it from fellow travelers who cannot handle the sound of a crying baby two rows behind them. I have heard it from individuals without children who spy a mother in public breastfeeding her hungry child. These moments in time have no bearing on their lives, but they view them with such disdain that, even for a brief moment of jest, they would suggest that an officer be called in, as this is what a law would inevitably lead to were it on the books.

Consider, for a moment, the sheer absurdity of such an image: an officer fixing a backwards hat or pulling up someone’s pants; an air marshal ordering a parent to silence their child lest they face a penalty; an officer telling a mother to stop feeding her child in public. It might make some feel better, even vindicated, but all you have done is prevented a young man from expressing himself through his clothing choice. You have threatened the parents of a child for doing what children do naturally. You have interrupted or prevented the feeding of a hungry child, which is just as natural as childbirth itself. This is the reality of obsessive lawmaking.

Social Problems Are Best Handled Socially

It was not until this past year, 2018, that breastfeeding in public became legal in all fifty states, with Utah and Idaho bringing up the rear. Some were afraid that such leniency would result in a further breakdown of social norms, but there has been no evidence of such. As with all antiquated laws, once repealed, the dark days of Armageddon are nowhere to be found. In states where cannabis has been legalized, incidents of drunk driving and public intoxication have decreased, hard drug use and overdoses have decreased, violent crime has decreased, and new businesses have flourished.

A common theme among those who would prefer not to see certain behavior in public or displayed in the media is a desire to protect their personal values and the culture they hold so dear. But our personal values and cultures clash at every turn.

A common theme among those who would prefer not to see certain behavior in public or displayed in the media is a desire to protect their personal values and the culture they hold so dear. But our personal values and cultures clash at every turn. As someone who has lived in nine cities in seven states throughout his life, I can easily say that the personal values of each person vary from street to street and city to city, not just state to state or region to region. In order to protect one set of ideals, we must trample on another’s, which defeats the very purpose of liberty.

Social issues are best handled socially, to put it simply. It is the individual and the surrounding communities who must address such things, not with the strong arm of the law but through dialogue and respect. If a person feels their values are under attack, it is not the government that deserves a hard look but the person themselves. Values and cultures change with great frequency over time; new ideas are slowly accepted, if not adopted. Start with your own family and stress the importance of what your family believes and why, but do not cloister yourselves from the rest of society. The cornucopia of variety is what makes life so intriguing; if you fear that the differences from person to person are a threat to what you personally believe, that speaks little of the state of our country and volumes about yourself. Barring injury and death, destruction or theft of property, or the outright prevention of someone living their own life, there ought not to be a law.

Further Reading

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