I left off last week with a question that has frustrated many people for millennia. How do we ensure that people are responsible with the freedom that they inherently have as human beings? People can do a lot of things, but not everything is good to do.
Of course, legislation is a popular way to try to do this, but like I talked about last week, people break laws all the time and are never caught. Laws are useful because there are people like me who don’t want to risk of the negative consequences of getting caught. The idea of going to prison is enough to convince me to avoid evil action. Legislation will help keep people in line to a degree if they are the type of people who don’t want to get in trouble in the first place.
However, clearly that doesn’t solve the problem because a lot of people are in jail. We can have a debate about policing and the philosophy behind incarceration at another time, but I think we can at least agree that a lot of people do break the law. Clearly, even good, just laws do not stop people from utilizing their freedom in evil ways even though it can help.
I wrote on Friday as well about these unspoken societal rules that can also help keep people in line. We operate under the assumption that we ought to be kind to other people. It is simply what decent people do, so most people align with this societal norm. While most will not reflect on the origin of such a belief, that really is at the heart of this issue.
The law is clearly a good way to discourage certain behaviors and is better than nothing, but it pales in comparison to people who would not consider participating in a certain activity in the first place.
As an example, I don’t steal from other people because I believe that stealing is wrong. Even if there was not a law in the United States that promise a consequence for stealing that I might not like, I would not steal anyway because I believe it is wrong. The law is a useful deterrent, but the law is not necessary for people who find certain actions unthinkable.
As a quick caveat here, I fully understand that I am not perfect, and I fully realize that there has only been one perfect man in the history of the world. I try my best to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, but I know I come up short very often. As a result, laws are a useful deterrent because sometimes my sin nature creeps up on me, and if there are unpleasant consequences to certain actions, I might avoid them even if I am weak at that moment. It is a very useful layer of protection to help me if necessary, but this does not discount what I said earlier. The law is necessary because I am weak. If I would never think of a particular evil behavior, the law would not be necessary against that action because I would never intend to do it.
Therefore, how do we build the right societal assumptions into play that people do the right thing whether or not there is a law against it? To extend the example I used all last week, they drive safely, not because they are afraid of the penalties but because it is the right thing to do. Their motivations are not avoidance of consequences but rather inspired by love of neighbor. That’s what we need to figure out.