Beyond the Cusp

January 5, 2013

Legislating Morality

There is a phrase often bandied about when talking about issues pertaining to morality that it is impossible to legislate morality because people cannot be made to be moral. If this were true then having and enforcing laws that seek to prevent murder, rape, theft, assault, fraud, traffic rules, and much of the rest of the criminal codes should be equally fruitless as these are actually morality questions. What people mean when they say that morality cannot be regulated by laws is that they are against some of the more acceptable immoral acts such as adultery, coveting, misrepresenting facts, and other immoral acts which are generally ignored by much of the populace and perceived as victimless misdeeds. Of course they are not victimless but what they are is non-life-threatening, not injurious or irreligious in their nature. Many of these immoral actions do have a victim such as the wedded spouse of the adulterous partner, but the victim is usually not hurt physically and the mental injury is not perceived as being overly severe.

The question we need to ask about any actions or infractions that are of an immoral nature is will the resultant injury from the act be something which is actively destructive to the fabric and tranquility of the society. What makes this question at all interesting is that the answer will differ from one area to the next. What is considered beyond the pale in Ottumwa, Iowa is likely not so shocking or even notable in Las Vegas, Nevada, especially on the strip in the heart of Casino Row. Such a factor would not be possible to be universally applied when it comes to the vast majority of what might be termed minor moral transgressions. What makes the legal codes against murder universal is that it is something that is a universally agreed upon moral transgression. There is nowhere in most countries where out and out premeditated murder is not a punishable crime. The same can be said about most laws that ban an action or interaction.  The question then becomes at what level of severity of moral turpitude constitutes an act beyond acceptable levels? Those items which are near universally deemed too severe will be constituted in law while those of a lesser severity will only result in possible scandal and setting a mark against your good name to as little as a shrug or raised eyebrow. The problem is that in many areas of our society things that used to be of a shaming nature are now almost considered to be rites of passage committed by virtually everyone and no longer carrying any level of shame.

The other problem which is considered far more problematic in some neighborhoods than in others is that our lawmaking procedures have become increasingly more centralized. With our neighborhoods growing to the point that they form a patchwork of interconnected neighborhoods has led to the blurring of local laws being applied. One of the ways that some neighborhoods have coped with this has been to form community councils which often decide what standards of appearance residents must upkeep and restrictions against some actions. These local groups usually have little if any actual weight to enforce their edicts beyond fines though such is often sufficient to force compliance. As far as actual laws for which incarceration is a possibility, these laws at the most local of levels is usually city at best and county at least. From there the jumps become significant as from the county level the only higher levels are State, Nation, and if those who espouse a single world government, planet. The problem is that the closest to the community where laws are enacted with serious consequences is either city or county, both of which contain numerous different communities which are fused together to form the ruling entity. If you live in or near a major city you probably know of at least one neighborhood where the people are provincial and very religious while there is likely another neighborhood where the accepted morals and acceptable behaviors would be an anathema to the former community. The problem is the City must find some acceptable set of laws which can be applied with only minor allowances for different enforcement levels between these two disparate neighborhoods. The ending legal codes is usually slanted more towards the lower enforcement of morality than the provincial and very religious community would prefer and still would have some laws which the seedier neighborhood would prefer did not exist as they put a crimp in business as usual when the police crackdown and fully enforce all the laws and codes.

Another influence on which of the moral codes is enacted into laws in a community is very dependent on the age in which you study. Laws were far more strident and forceful of a solid Christian ethic in the eighteenth century American colonies than the laws are that exist in the present day. This has much to do with the makeup of the population and the importance of religion which was the central and unifying factor in many of the colonies as everyone was of one religion in many of the townships. Where in the early colonies church attendance was required and if one did not regularly attend church they would quickly find themselves placed in the stocks or possibly worse. Such a law today would be completely unenforceable especially as we have a very diverse society with people of many differing religions and some with no religious affiliations at all. As populations grow and cities continue to hold greater percentages of the total population, the more watered down morality written into the code of laws will become as a result. It is a simple fact which somebody needs to make a formula to fit and define this occurrence; after all they seem to have formulas for everything else. I can predict that the formula would be one representing an inverse proportionality.

But the real question that needs to be addressed as our societies become ever more expansive and this will cause less laws and thus less enforcement of items of a moral basis. Where I doubt that murder as a rule will ever be allowed and the laws against such universal evils will be retained, what I do question is whether some of the definitions of who is considered a person become transformed. One prime example is the rules pertaining to murder under some forms and interpretations of Sharia. Under some interpretations of Sharia it is permissible to kill an infidel, an apostate, a homosexual or anyone like Salmon Rushdie who has a fatwa calling for his death with the most minimal of mitigating requirements. Honor killings are often considered a lesser crime and not really prosecuted as a murder and more likely to be prosecuted as manslaughter under extenuating circumstances. Under traditional Hindu laws it is required for the wife to throw herself onto the funeral pyre of her husband, something the British tried unsuccessfully to eradicate. This is more an example of a completely separate morality for these societies than the one people in the West are accustom to witnessing, but that does not mean they may not eventually end up as the accepted morality on which universal laws are based. How would a one world government rule on such actions and the numerous others where different societies have dramatically different ideas and underlying ethos? Looking at many of the actions which are passed by the United Nations General Assembly and also many United Nations agencies have made over the years and some of the adjudications coming out of the ICC (International Criminal Court) and ICJ (International Court of Justice) do not exactly fill me with even a shred of hope or confidence that a universal governance based on the current form of the United Nations would have a base set of morality which even remotely would match mine. I am actually very sure that I would not be able to live in such a world as my sheer existence would very likely be something punishable by numerous laws emanating from such a body. How about you, would you feel safe under such governance?

Beyond the Cusp

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