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Discussions of Law in 20th Century America

Published by marco on

Modern discussions of law are very frequently mired down in discussions of minutiae of what is legal vs. what is moral. Very quickly, the discussion has narrowed further to niggling over minor quirks of American jurisprudence and precedence law.

For example, it seems that the relatively narrow topic of torture has become an almost impossibly unwieldy and unknowable problem for this modern age’s great thinkers, where hours and hours and hours are spent determining at what point a particular style of imposing on another human being’s intimate personal space qualifies as torture. This from a country that is completely satisfied with defining pornography as “I’ll know it when I see it.” The only useful reaction when one finds oneself getting sucked into or in the immediate vicinity of such a discussion is to do as Shepard Smith of Fox News recently did, which it stare straight ahead in a brooding and foreboding manner while his two moronic colleagues discussed waterboarding, barely tolerating them until he clearly couldn’t take it anymore and was forced to pound on the table, enunciating each word with his fist: “This is America! And we don’t fucking torture!”

A rare beam of light in a darkness filled with chittering half-wits.

Another issue that so fascinates the media and quasi-intelligentsia today is that of executive power. Whereas everyone even tangentially schooled in civics knows that the whole idea of the U.S. system of law and governance is to use checks and balances to keep any one branch from exercising too much power, discussions of the power of the executive branch invariably devolve rather quickly into whether or not the Constitution allows America to become a monarchy. Even if one can find some way to squint hard and interpret the Constitution thusly, any idiot knows that this was not the intent of the founders[1] and, that the only reasonable reaction is to (a) refrain from interpreting it in that way and (b) go about fixing the language as quickly as possible so that it can no longer be interpreted that way.[2]

Instead, we have a bunch of children gleefully claiming that we are actually allowed to torture and that the president is a king and that this is clearly what America stands for because, well, “look, it says so right there in the Constitution!” This style of discussion has nothing to do with debate, philosophy or any form of rational thinking and much more in common with the child who asks his mother is he can “not go to the movies” and then crows with triumph when she says “no” (which he then claims, as any right-thinking person would, means that she meant that he can go to the movies).

Just because a lot of people think it may actually be legal to torture in America has nothing whatsoever to do with the morality of the act. Many members of the media and our dear legislature treat this possibility as if they’d won the lottery. Here’s the seeming thought process:

“Yay! We can torture! That’s a load off our minds … here we thought we were doing something illegal and immoral and it turns out it’s just immoral. Which doesn’t matter. Because it’s legal, you see. You do see, don’t you?”

The reaction of any true human being, any true citizen of the world, would be horror and a scramble to remedy the situation as quickly as possible. The same goes for laws about executive power. Instead of reveling in the seeming fact that there are very few limits that cannot be eradicated by the president and his justice department, the president (especially if he’s a constitutional lawyer) should be working as hard as possible to limit his own power. For the sake of America and morality and the democratic ideal.

Instead, we just got rid of an administration that simply could not have cared less about morality—something it wouldn’t have recognized were it slapped in the face with it—to one that claims to care very much, but also aggregates power wherever such acts cannot be proven illegal. The Obama administration’s recent claims of legality for various secret powers because they were enacted by a sitting president are utterly reprehensible when seen from a moral standpoint (which is really the only one worth considering in such matters). If a law was created illegally, it doesn’t magically become legal because it is now a law.

A law cannot justify itself. That’s just common sense. Common sense that you could get from any child who’s encountered such rule-changers on the playground. Children respond to such other children by stomping them to a pulp and/or not letting them play anymore. Adults respond with envy and promotion for those individuals. You break the rules, you suffer the consequences. Simple as that. You lie, you get punished. You cheat, you go to jail. Force those who think otherwise to justify their views, because you’ll find they are often just trying to promulgate their own slippery grasp of ethical matters in order to profit from it.

These people try to trap you with your own guilt about treating every person’s viewpoint fairly. The very last thing you should do is to entertain every argument seriously. The existence of an opinion in one person in no way obligates any of the rest of us from discussing it as if it has merit if it so very clearly does not. As the wise old man once said, “opinions are like assholes; everybody’s got one.” If you can’t back up your opinion with some post-Enlightment rational thought or some halfway-verifiable information, shut the f#@k up and sit the f#@k down while the grownups do the talking.

[1] This applies equally to those who attempt to interpret the words of Jesus—an ostensibly all-around nice and tolerant fellow—to mean that he wants his disciples to stomp every queer they see into a puddle of blood and guts. People with views like those should not have any human contact, let alone plush publishing contracts, their own television shows or mega-church ministries.
[2] Yes, you can change the Constitution. They’re called amendments, from the French for “change”. That’s right, there are French words in our Constitution. Look it up.