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As most of us are at least vaguely aware, the precise wording used in any sort of advertising or PSA is not selected haphazardly.  Advertisers have a very limited window to get their message across, and so tend to use words which have been predetermined, whether by focus groups or some similar means, to capture a listener’s attention and stick.  It is with this in mind that I notice  the words “It’s the law” have gradually been creeping into PSAs, which tells me the PR firms that craft those PSAs have gone to some lengths to determine that “It’s the law” will make us stand up and take notice. What were once free, independent, self-reliant Americans, skeptical of power and resentful of being pushed around are now, according to their fastidious double-blind, cross-referenced and twice-checked research, the sort of obsequious, kowtowing, biddable peasant minions those in power have so long sought to govern.

It is as a service to those of you inclined to perk up and become attentive little obedient dogs upon hearing “It’s The LAW” that I write these words, for I desire nothing more than for you to get your dignity and–man or woman–testicles back.  So let’s take a quick peek under the hood at what The Law is, shall we?

1.  The product of compromise.  Me: “Let’s compromise.”  Cannibal: “Okay, I’ll only eat half of you.”  We hear “compromise” touted so often as the golden ring that we forget it’s a means, not the ultimate end in itself. And when it is the end sought in the crafting of legislation, the result is a jumble of nonsense pleasing to no constituency whatsoever at least as often as not.

2.  Often unprincipled, and barely majoritarian.  How is it that the mere fact 51% of a very small, unrepresentative group of idiots voted in favor of something affecting every man, woman and child in a population of millions, tens of millions or hundreds of millions gives that thing any sense, logic or moral authority sufficient to make it worthy of the sort of unquestioning obeisance “It’s THE LAW” commands? I say “unrepresentative” because, apart from being every bit as fallible as ordinary people, and often a good deal more so, people who are drawn to careers in politics typically are not ordinary, well-adjusted human beings. They are sad, attention and validation-craving creatures or, at least as often, power-hungry sociopaths, their prating protestations to having devoted themselves to “public service” notwithstanding. P. J. O’Rourke did a masterful job in his semi-recent tome Don’t Vote, It Just Encourages the Bastards of pointing out how a typical politician exhibits literally every trait listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)–the standard reference used by psychiatrists and other mental health professionals–for Narcissistic Personality Disorder. And while most of O’Rourke’s work is either facetious or satirical, this bit was neither. Here I excerpt from the DSM in relevant part:

“A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior) . . . beginning by early adulthood . . . as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

(1) Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)

(2) Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

(3) Believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)

(4) Requires excessive admiration

(5) Has a very strong sense of entitlement, e.g., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations

(6) Is exploitative of others, e.g., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends

(7) Lacks empathy, e.g., is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others

(8) Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her

(9) Regularly shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes."

Does the foregoing cause any particular group of people you’re familiar with to spring to mind?

3.  Inexpertly put forth by inexpert, even wildly ignorant policymakers whose cluelessness allows them to be easily manipulated by lobbyists.  As the world becomes more complex and knowledge more diffuse, esoteric and specialized, lawmakers and regulators are less equipped than ever to micromanage in subject areas where their knowledge is often excruciatingly deficient.  Not that this ever stops, discourages or even gives them a moment’s pause when charging in to do so, since the personality defects listed above invariably lead to individuals who, while often wrong, are never in doubt.  This is why laws of broad applicability are typically more effective and desirable than those which are highly specific.  The specifics change too rapidly for the law to keep up, and the futility of its attempts to do so is often equal parts tragic and comical, though nearly always ridiculous. Unintended consequences are often the only consequences of these blundering, half-baked forays into matters the self-anointed have no legitimate business dicking with.

4.  Corruptly enacted/selectively enforced for reasons having little to do with maintaining order, stability and fairness.  More to the point: To pick winners and losers.  Helpful hint: You’re almost never picked as a winner.

Finally, I would be remiss in failing to mention that The Law is, with lamentable frequency, unconstitutional, since legislatures long ago abdicated the responsibility to remain faithful to the relevant constitution (federal, state or both, whatever the case may be) and punted to the judiciary. Apparently it's a judge's job to invalidate laws on constitutional grounds, not a lawmaker's job to avoid violating the constitution (and his oath of office) in the first place.  Of course, it's hard to know when one is supporting an unconstitutional policy when, as is so often the case, one hasn't read the law being voted on, or the constitution, or both.

In short, Dickens’ Mr. Bumble had it right when he said The Law is an ass. I’ll stop acting as though I’m above The Law–casually ignoring, in most instances–should The Law ever evolve back into something reflective of time-tested values, principles and common sense, and should it resume a posture more respective of the rights, freedoms and basic dignity of individuals. When, in short, it becomes something slightly better than utterly beneath contempt. I’m not holding my breath.



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