A while back (three years ago) I penned a piece called “On Regulations and Independence,” in which I posited that regulations are necessary because humans are less than enlightened. (Side note: That article began, somewhat presciently, recalling the smallpox epidemic in the early days of this Republic.) Today, that point takes on significant meaning in that the rule of law is literally the line of defense for maintaining our version of a democracy. I use the phrase “our version” to acknowledge that, as a relatively young nation, we have a long way to go in order to “form a more perfect union.” Nevertheless, the framework is in place to set America apart from others in intent, if not in deed. And within that framework, the judicial system in this country is maintaining some order in the midst of chaos.
Our standing as a Nation of Laws took a major hit the first week of January when a mob (characterized since as everything from “adolescent thugs” to “domestic terrorists”) breached the security of the Capitol on the day our elected leaders were to certify the “peaceful” transfer of power to a newly elected President and Vice President; damaged and pilfered federal property; and threatened members of the U.S. Congress and the Vice President, while contributing either directly or indirectly to the deaths of five human beings. The unimaginable details of this attack have been captured on video by none other than the perpetrators themselves, highlighting the arrogance and stunning lack of conscience in addition to the mob mentality of the participants. This stain on America will be discussed amply in other forums, but is undoubtedly worthy of mention in the context of law and order.
Laws developed by humans are not perfect by any means. Case in point, in Alabama it’s illegal to wear a fake mustache in church to cause laughter. In contrast, the Laws of Nature pretty much are perfect, in that they are rooted in physics and biology. And these [natural] laws are the ones to which we should be paying particular attention. Take the COVID virus (please!). It has one goal: to thrive. There are effective ways to keep that from happening, like wearing face masks, washing hands, and avoiding close contact with other humans (who are walking delivery systems). These are things our mothers told us to do for general personal hygiene and health. Not that we always did it, but it was at least offered as an option. When state and local governments attempted to get some control over a raging pandemic by mandating what should have been common sense, there was a predictable backlash from those who felt their “rights” were being infringed and that the pandemic was a liberal hoax. Like all natural laws, it doesn’t really matter whether or not you believe in them. It’s like saying (as a friend once pointed out in his lecture) “gravity pisses me off.” Refusal to wear masks or any of the good-sense mandates demonstrably increased the cases.
There are laws on the books, like environmental regulations, that are related to natural laws, directly or indirectly, trying to account for the annoying human characteristic of denial — or arrogance. As with all laws and regulations, they exist because someone somewhere pushed the limits beyond reason. To wit, if everyone respected the well-being of the community at large, we wouldn’t need speed limits. But they don’t, so there you are. At a much larger scale, there seems to be a consensus among many that corporations or businesses can be trusted to respect the general population without the burden of regulations. I know. Crazy, huh? Sure, there are exceptions, companies that will follow the science (and market pressure) to make meaningful changes in spite of the whims of politics. Yet, as we watched the wholesale dismantling of environmental regulations without regard to whether or not they actually served a purpose, the potential for backsliding was there to contribute to a crisis — like global climate change — that really doesn’t care if we believe in it or not.
Laws and regulations can be misguided, but there are, in a democratic society, remedies in the form of review, modification and, if appropriate, elimination. These remedies should be based on the latest fact-based, scientific evidence, not the whims of ideology or politics. We have mercifully returned to an Administration that recognizes this, but this doesn’t relieve a democratic society from being engaged and mindful. Laws and regulations are not inherently good, or bad, but the “rule of law” sets us apart from the “law of the jungle,” and might just save us from ourselves.