Friday, January 05, 2007

Moral and legal

There is a grey cloudy area of political/legal concepts. This is where clear issues of legal social control clash with perceived moral and lifestyle issues. Let’s use road laws as an analogy; it is imperative for example, that drivers be obliged to stick to a clearly defined side of the roadway. If vehicles simply used roads willy-nilly chaos and disaster would ensure. There must be clearly defined road rules.
The idea of road laws is to mitigate against harm being done to other road users, to establish a safe regime for all.
There are areas where road laws tend to deviate from that basic prerogative. While seat belts have been a legal requirement for many years now there are still those who see the requirement as an infringement of personal choice.
Seat belts don’t save other road users from harm, they are a product of a ‘nanny state’ attitude which would seek to save us from ourselves.
Further into the grey area of road laws are the really personal choices of road users. They can be pretty dumb choices; 4X4s as city vehicles for example, road monsters which are never taken off urban roadways.
Now personally I would rather see our urban and suburban centres designed more for pedestrians and public transports, and environmental prerogatives might give that argument a nice ‘moral’ edge. But the fact is that it will not happen until there is sufficient change in social attitudes to make a natural transition.
You simply cannot, effectively, legislate moral issues – no matter how persuasive the arguments might be. Even seat belt laws have a marginal effectiveness.

Now you might consider same sex relationships an abomination, be appalled by recreational drug use, be disgusted by church non-attendance – but these are all personal lifestyle issues which exist regardless of your sensitivities.
There are clearly areas in some of these moral questions which do require well defined laws and prohibitions; non-consensual sex (of any variety) and the reckless transmission of disease or drug related activities which harm people and property beyond the user.
It is important to define the limits of effective law making and not stray into areas which cannot and should not be controlled. If nothing else moral based laws simply create a criminal class where there should not really be one. They serve no logical or effective function.

Okay, it is not strictly true to say they serve no effective purpose, but using emotional morality issues to blindside voters has its own ethical problems. Emotional, moral issues have become a cynical election tool capable of diverting voters from the failings of governments seeking re-election.
The ethical failings of governments can involve extremely complex issues, beyond the average voter’s grasp. Throw in one of those ‘hot button’ non-issues easily diverts away from those complexities to easily defined social enemies.
But lawmakers, by definition, make the law and create their own comfortable environment. One of those areas, I’m regularly reminded, is the money which so freely flows in the political arena.
I do intend to get into the argument of taking money out of politics (MOOP) but and looking at some of the moral and ethical issues taxing our political class.


abi said...

I'm all ears. ;-)

Cartledge said...

abi, don't brag... It is on the way :)