Thursday, July 8, 2010

Obeying the law

As a consequence of my aborted parole hearing back in May, I recently underwent a long interview with a psychologist.

Given my reputation as a man with anti-authority leanings, the discussion inevitably dipped into the area of obedience to the law. As with all robots connected with the prison system, my man held the view that we should always obey the law - and that my minor misfeasances over the years signify some sort of dangerousness.

I have mentioned this before, to some consternation, but I felt the need to point out that we are all law-breakers. Be it breaking the speed limit, dodging a little tax, or failing to buy a new TV licence right on time; no one complies with every law all of the time. We just don't. Prisoners don't have a monopoly on criminality. This does not imply dangerousness.

So I explained my view that laws are of relative significance. Sliding over the speed limit at 4am on an empty motorway is not the same of letting a bomb off in a shopping centre. Both may be illegal but one causes social harm, the other doesn't. And I have no objection to people who don't cause social harm, whether the actions are strictly legal or not.

This causes prison staff and the parole board some consternation. They honestly believe that if a prisoner is willing to commit one crime - e.g., speeding - then he must have a disregard for law per se and so capable of breaking any and all law. Basically, if you break the speed limit then your garden may be full of murdered bodies. Honest to god, that is their 'reasoning’ process.

I also pointed out that not all law is good. Some are oppressive and should be broken by all right minded people. And to those who believe that we should always obey the law, no matter what, I make the following observations.

Without law-breaking, women would not have the vote. India would still be ruled by the pampered sons of Eton. The United States would be a mere offshoot of Whitehall. And the Blacks in South Africa would have remained under the whip.

So, which laws should I obey?


  1. My instinct says weigh up the harms of obey v not obeying a given rile they obey the ones that are logical and are in place so that other people are not put in unnecessary danger.

    The other part of me says 'make the right noises to the people who currently control your life whilst mentally 'flipping them the bird' so you can get out of that ruddy shit hole and get on with your life.'

  2. Not a law as such, but, quoting William Shakespeare:

    ”To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”

    I would say that would about cover it, though in this too specialized world how many overqualified specialists would even recognise the quote, let alone understand it?

  3. Good points Ben.

    I guess the difference between ethics (the law as we believe it), and morality (the way we behave), is as the cup and the lip.

    I believe the Spartans had the view that breaking the law was OK, but being caught was proof that the gods had abandoned you.



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