Anything Other Than Another Law

One of the reasons I tend not to have political discussions anymore — and there are many — is the prevalent assumption that if you are critical of something, you must be advocating legislative action against it (because clearly bans and legal restrictions are our only weapons).

Such acts may succeed in curtailing an activity, but more often than not they merely drive it underground, where it’s less visible and harder to combat. There have been prohibitions against murder and prostitution for as long as there have been laws. Neither have stopped.

And in fact, those who study such things for a living will tell you that any reductions in the murder rate have nothing to do with a sudden respect for the law and everything to do with the kind of non-legislative action I am advocating.

It’s not that laws aren’t important. Of course they are. Rather it’s that they’re not the solution to everything, and in fact they rarely work as well as the lawyers and legalists would have you believe. Rape is illegal. It still happens entirely too often.

People are funny that way. We’re refractory to rules. Most of the time, whether or not we believe what someone tells us has more to do with our assessment of their character than with any facts they might marshal.

And it doesn’t matter what you are banning or restricting: abortions, drugs, guns, beliefs, pornography, tobacco, fatty foods. Society is big and complicated and pressing down on one end of the balloon, more often that not, forces a new bulge somewhere else.

You cannot squeeze us into submission. Change — genuine change — has to come from within. And that’s a lot harder.

But then doing the right thing is always harder.

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art by Philip Toledano

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