Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Past is a Foreign Country

I love this article from Mark Steyn from Macleans on rudeness and lawlessness in modern society. He writes about the UK and Canada, but the same is obviously true here in the U.S. and in Southern California to be sure. I teach this idea every semester in my Criminal Law course: that illegal acts are illegal because they are wrong -- not wrong because they are illegal. Malum in se vs. malum prohibitum as they are called in common law. Obviously we criminalize some otherwise neutral behaviors -- curfews, speed laws, etc., but I would be worried if murder were removed from the Penal Code tomorrow. Some -- not even nearly most -- would see that as making murder OK. An extreme example to be sure, but not too far off the mark I fear. A handful can do quite a bit of damage.

It's distressing how many folks think that if the law allows it it must not be wrong -- as if the California legislature or Congress are the final arbiters of right and wrong. The word "wrong" is hardly even used it seems. Things are "mistaken" "accidental" or "incorrect".

Steyn rightly sees customs and traditions as the frontline of this coarsening of modern society. How to enforce that? One parent and one real man in public at a time I guess. A danger of course, is overkill, if people see the need to enforce these rules themselves and then take unreasonable and excessive action. It (meaning action -- not excessive -- who defines? -- reasonable people) might be necessary to protect the 96-year old men and pregnant women out in public.

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