Thursday, January 17, 2013

Damn laws

I often complain about laws.  There are all kinds of problems with our legal system though generally I stick to well known and widely debated points like doctor assisted suicide, marijuana, and prostitution.  We seriously need to stop spending enormous sums to ruin peoples lives over their personal lifestyle choices.  Jail should be reserved for those who cause tremendous harm or who are a danger to others, not people who do things that fall outside the average person's comfort zone.  While I am pretty convinced I am right on these topics I can't actually argue from a position of education; while my parents often suggest I should have been a lawyer I did not end up in law school.

Thankfully there is a place in which everybody can get a quick and entertaining primer on how our legal system works, what issues it has, and why so many of the laws we deal with every day are fundamentally flawed.  While you might find legal minutiae boring generally this version comes with an avatar of justice who wields a giant mallet with which to squash the wicked; she is something of a superhero smashed together with a philosopher.

One of the most critical things the comics talk about is how terrible laws get into place based on reactionary posturing by politicians.  Everyone agrees that the school shooting in the US a month ago was a tragedy but statistically it is a drop in the bucket.  Roughly 30 people a day die from guns in the US so the day the Newtown shooting occurred was deadlier than usual but well within the bounds of normal.  And yet, despite the relative rarity of school shootings and the fact that this particular event was barely a blip on the year's body count the US was spurred into action to enact all kinds of new laws.  I am a fan of gun control personally but many of the provisions in the new laws are trivial to circumvent or even a challenge to properly define.  The fact that politicians here in Canada decided to do foolish things in a desperate attempt to be doing something about a random event in another country is even more ridiculous.

Making laws properly is difficult and requires training.  That, if nothing else, is the lesson I took away from reading more about all of the problems with our current system.  Certainly random voters have no idea how particular initiatives will affect crime but unfortunately our political leaders don't either.  Despite many of them being former lawyers they display a remarkable ability to ignore the basic facts in favour of writing up any old thing that will placate the populace even if it is a long term disaster.

It is very important to separate criticism of lawyers from criticism of the law.  Many lawyers certainly are people who are experts in abusing laws to transfer money from one group to another regardless of any real wrongdoing.  That said, law and the knowledge of the law is critical when examining solutions to societal problems.  We would do well to include this sort of information in schooling because the average voter could really benefit from a bit of inside knowledge into how guilt, punishment, and the system of administering them work together.

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