This isn’t going anywhere in particular, its just an interesting idea. I worked this idea into a few government papers at the end of the semester, and I was reminded of it while reading this post by Bing, where he discusses the transient nature of language, and how writing something down ties it to an in-transient document.
Basically, the law, our written laws, are dead. That doesn’t mean they don’t matter, however, cause they’re still there, taking up space the way a corpse takes up space.
How is the law dead? Well when a law is written, it is in reaction to something, some event or concern, that was necessarily raised before the law was written. In other words, laws account for the past. And not even the entire past, but one particular moment in the past for each particular law. Let me simplify: when something happens that our legislators think is sufficiently important, we enshrine that moment, and our collective reaction to that moment, on paper.
Ok, so the law isn’t forward-looking, so what? Well look at Bing’s post again, particularly the part about transience. The world isn’t broken up into distinct moments, time doesn’t start and stop. Rather, things just keep going. All the time. Laws are one of the ways that we say, “hey, look what happened there! Isolate that period of time. But time keeps going anyway. So, as time keeps going, we’re left with this law on this paper, continually reminding us of a time that isn’t now.
The Law is a leftover, a “corpse,” if you will, of the past. In this light, maybe laws aren’t the expression of morals that we often think of them as. And if that’s the case, that means we aren’t moral people simply by following the law. Instead, being moral is something that we always have to strive for, always do better at than before. We’re never done being ‘moral.’
But back to the law. Is the law a cumbersome corpse, getting in the way because it can’t be constantly ‘becoming,’ the way our lives come into being continuously? No, instead the law is a-moral, that is, free from moral weight. It does present moral ideas though, things that we can consider when making decisions. All of our decisions are based on what we know of the past anyway, ignoring what we wrote down about the past doesn’t free us of that limitation.
So the law is dead, and can’t be said to give us a moral code. It does provide some thoughts for behavioral guidance, however. It’s a corpse, but a very interesting corpse to examine. And that’s it. That’s enough continental politics for the night. Now go out, think carefully about your ethical actions, and break any laws that you decide don’t measure up with a clear conscious.