Law

What’s the point of law? Or law and order?

I’d say that it’s to provide a common set of rules that everyone in a society can understand and accept, ideally to accept as providing a degree of fairness. Others have or might have another concept – law as a hard and fast rule that defines good and evil in terms similar to their theological beliefs – and still others might feel that law is a tool for the elites of a society to control those beneath them. Some lawyers, I know, believe that the law is a tool they use in attempting to obtain justice, meaning a “fair” outcome for their clients, but, of course, what “fair” is always depends on individual viewpoints. From a technical point, in the United States, a law is essentially a statement by enacted by a governmental body which allows or prohibits certain acts, or imposes certain limitations on them.

And I’m certain there are other definitions of law, but why do we need laws? And why, once we have laws, do we seemingly need more and more of them?

Human societies need laws because there are always individuals who refuse to accept limitations on their acts, even when those acts harm others.

The answers to the second question are more multifold. Every law has areas where it lays down absolutes. Every time an absolute is codified into law, it creates situations where the absolute imposition of that law is unfair and unjust, or perceived as such. And someone often wants to remove that unfairness, which requires another law. In addition, every law excludes as well as including, and people want to “clarify” the law to assure that something heretofore excluded gets included. Then add to that that certain groups want certain laws for their benefit.

When people who share the same culture enact laws, they see those laws similarly among themselves and in a different way than do people who come from a different culture or economic class. That’s one reason why more egalitarian and homogenous societies tend to have lower crime rates.

In addition, equal penalties or “requirements” under law have differing impacts on people from differing social and/or economic strata.

The entire issue of so-called “voter fraud prevention” laws” being pushed by affluent white Republicans in the U.S. provides a good example of this, because those laws are regarded essentially as voter suppression laws by those of minority and lower income levels.

The difference in viewpoint comes from the difference in situation. For me, a photo ID isn’t a problem. It’s a slight hassle at most, a few hours once every five years, when I renew my driver’s license, and because I travel occasionally internationally, I have a passport as a back-up. Because I live in a moderate sized town, it’s a ten minute drive to the post office or the Department of Motor Vehicles, and because I was educated to the need for certain papers, I’ve always kept copies of things like birth certificates.

That’s all very easy and convenient – for me. My offspring, however, all live in large metropolitan areas where obtaining or renewing a driver’s license – or a passport — can be a lengthy affair, requiring travel and time. But they’re well-off enough that they can arrange the time and deal with the costs… and they had parents who prepared and educated them to those needs.

A minority single parent working a minimum wage job who lives in a state requiring a photo I.D. has a much tougher time of it. First off, most of the offices that can issue an I.D. are only open during working hours, and most minimum or low-wage earners don’t have much flexibility in working hours and often have to forgo paying work to get through the process. Also, the fees for getting such an I.D. take a greater percentage of their income. Then, even before that, they may have to obtain a certified birth certificate – taking more time and money. They are likely renting, rather than owning a home, and that requires more documents to prove where they live.

And the impact of other laws falls harder on the poor. If you don’t have the money to immediately fix a broken tail-light or a faulty muffler, that risks getting a ticket, and the cost of the ticket just adds to the burden. If you can’t drive the car, you may not be able to work. What is a modest cost and inconvenient repair for a middle-class worker can literally be a disaster for a poor worker.

What so many Americans fail to realize is that “equal” laws, even assuming that they’re enforced equally, which study after study shows they’re not, fall more heavily on the poorer members of society.

In reality… the “law” isn’t the same for everyone, nor is it seen as the same by everyone…but we’d like to pretend that it is… or that it’s stacked against us – and which belief you’re likely to hold depends on where you come from…and, often, how well off you are.

3 thoughts on “Law”

    1. Pat says:

      Sorry, I didn’t explain. I live in China (for 13 years), am American, grew up in small town Indiana. I see these issues continuously.

      Some are on a more macro level. Many Chinese laws/regulations are extremely time consuming. People give up, and hope for forgiveness vs. approval.

  1. R. Hamilton says:

    The vote is a right, but it’s also a duty to exercise it to the best of one’s ability. Even if obtaining photo ID is a challenge, if someone doesn’t have the time, knowledge, or mobility to obtain it, I question whether they’ve informed themselves well enough to be knowledgable voters.

    But a requirement for ID could be accompanied by an easier way of obtaining it (to the same standard of reliability) for those unable to bear the burden of the regular procedures. So rather than avoiding the requirement, make it easier to satisfy the requirement, and the excuse for not requiring ID would be eliminated. Some states have mobile DMV/MVA units, which could at least take photos and applications, even if the finished card is mailed out later. (One needs similar ID to fly, by the way, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we one day need it for interstate trains, too.) Some states have transportation for the mobility challenged. If there’s a will to eliminate the excuse, the way will be found. As little as I like government spending, a bit more for that purpose would not trouble me.

    There is of a certainty _some_ voter fraud. If we make little or no attempt to minimize it, we don’t even know for sure how much there is or how often it would be significant.

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