Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Criminalization of Literal Thinking

The time has come, actually it has long past, for me to brandish my "you gotta be kidding" hat, and take this opportunity to comment not on the most ridiculous of "laws" - most predominantly those hokey rural statutes of bygone days prohibiting, for example, the selling of peanuts in Lee County (Alabama) after sundown on Wednesday, or the prohibition in aforementioned state to "wear a fake moustache that causes laughter in church". These are such pathetically easy targets as to compel me to feel less than gentlemanly for calling said "laws" out and verbally pummeling their authors and backers.

I could, but won't, take the liberty of guffawing until my sides ache at the pitiably inept consciousness that brings to bear such public declaration of moral code and the unconstitutional and ridiculously hapless attempt at granting legal precedent the insultingly inappropriate bestowing of regulatory authority on some haggard hack to proclaim, let's say, that "At a wake, mourners may eat no more than three sandwiches". And this is in MY northeastern state of MA, where we proudly hold our noses in the air at just about anybody! What? Watch where we're going? Hush! Another doozy from my own back yard: "An old ordinance declares goatees illegal unless you first pay a special license fee for the privilege of wearing one in public."

Woah! Just imagine what a killing some towns could make at their local Starbucks! We could have paid off the Big Dig in just one relatively hot and chin-strokingly faux-intellectual summer!

While these and, ever so sadly, many more once "legitimate" codes of public conduct were once thinking peoples' bane and outrage, we have in society today not only some equally ridiculous law, and ambiguity, but a nearly tyrannical bestowing of power on law enforcement personnel and district attorneys (prosecutors) to "interpret" the law and its enforcement and adjudication according to their sometimes frighteningly inadequate if not outright ABSENT good judgment. While this problem may not be as "sexy" as matters of Constitutional import (although I believe that the implications and consequences can be JUST that dire in scope) nor as smirkingly befitting a dunce-capped send-off into the abyss of humanity's past and ignorant folly - it is ever deserving of scorn, outrage, AND REMEDIATION!

Did you know that an "officer" of the law can apparently record you as having committed a criminal offense WITHOUT telling you? And he would even call himself "generous" and you "lucky" for his sparing you the awful experience of knowing about it - or having a chance to defend against it! Did you also know that one said "officer" can interpret a behavior as "perfectly legal", if perhaps maybe a bit eccentric, while another officer, even in the same police force (!?) can either, A.) likewise call it okay B.) decide it's not okay and write you up without your knowledge, or C.) arrest you for committing what HE decides is a crime? Oh - I nearly forgot D - and so did certain "officers" at Massasoit Community College in Brockton, MA: informing the "offending" party that he could be in jeopardy of violating a law, and that he should take a course of action to prevent further problems. Or HEY! - even E.) leaving him the hell alone because he is not breaking the law!

What is law? Is it not supposed to be a democratically established standard of behavior that is enforced, interpretted and adjudicated with painfully disciplined, fair, and PREDICTABLE consistency? What is the deterrent effect of a law that flickers on and off like a bad streetlight? What is the benefit to society of having a public code of behavior that is as malleable and morphable as the number of people involved in its upkeep? What society benefits from the granting of unchecked authority to those badged and gavelled PUBLIC SERVANTS who themselves are just as susceptible to the folly they attempt to regulate?

It's no trivial realization made by s/he who first observed that "absolute power corrupts absolutely". In the event that such power is ever given or claimed, the results are always - ALWAYS poor. Sometimes it results in the comically outrageous and just plain stupid establishment "rules" barely utterable for their chuckle-inducing absurdity, to wit: "A woman can not be on top in sexual activities" or "No gorilla is allowed in the back seat of any car". These, we can only hope, are mere fodder for Letterman or Leno, and will ultimately meet their Darwinian fate.

But sometimes, sometimes it results in the criminalization of freedom itself, and the undermining of the dignity of living, and those who try every day to make the most of it.

I'm not laughing, are you? I hope not.

1 comment:

  1. I do love the old "laws" that are still on the books. As an avid collector of Antique Americana Literature including laws, essays, letters, books, etc. I can honestly say that there are laws if used would make people fall over.

    New Jersey has a law on the books that states NO fornicating on Sunday. (The entire state would get fined at one point or another.)

    Keep writing and thank you!