On the rule of law

12 10 2010

When I first got to Argentina for seminary (the SSPX no less), it was made clear to me that I wasn’t in America anymore. In the first few days before classes, I was drafted into cleaning up a bit. The brother in charge, a Mexican, told me to empty the garbage and burn it out back. Still fresh off the aiplane, I asked him rather stupidly whether or not it was legal to burn garbage in Argentina. “No,” was his response, as he handed me a container full of kerosene. He also warned me that I needed to be careful, because there might be some batteries in the trash.

I will admit, I am a pretty scrupulous person when it comes to following rules. Like most Americans, when I come to a red light at three in the morning, I stop. Of course for me as a Catholic, I am more afraid of getting caught than anything else. There was a sign outside a Catholic church in Berkeley that directed outgoing traffic not to turn left. I would always tell AG that we were Catholic and not Presbyterians, and turn left anyway.

Minor things, to be sure, but the classical American approach to the law is something that is a significant difference between our society and others. In most places, people are just too jaded to see human law as an embodiment of the divine law. When those who are supposed to enforce it are just as corrupt as those breaking it, people look at the law in an entirely different light. They might not be ready to consider following the law and deliquency as the exact same thing, but they are perhaps more ready to turn a blind eye.

Through the Conservative Blog for Peace, I found this article (not exactly the Wall Street Journal, but I have no reason to doubt that it is accurate). The following is a quote from this short essay, telling the story of a “decent white couple” who fell behind on mortgage payments:

Brian and Ilsa—the nice upper-middle-class retired couple, who always follow the rules, and never ever break the law—who don’t even cheat on their golf scores—even when they’re playing alone (“Because if you cheat at golf, you’re only cheating yourself”)—have decided to give their bank the middle finger.

They have essentially said, Fuckit…

Just like the poker player who’s been fleeced by all the other players, and gets one mean attitude once he finally wakes up to the con? I’m betting that more and more of the solid American middle-class will begin saying what Brian and Ilsa said: Fuckit.

Fuck the rules. Fuck playing the game the banksters want you to play. Fuck being the good citizen. Fuck filling out every form, fuck paying every tax. Fuck the government, fuck the banks who own them. Fuck the free-loaders, living rent-free while we pay. Fuck the legal process, a game which only works if you’ve got the money to pay for the parasite lawyers. Fuck being a chump. Fuck being a stooge. Fuck trying to do the right thing—what good does that get you? What good is coming your way?

When the backbone of a country starts thinking that laws and rules are not worth following, it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to anarchy…

Brian and Ilsa are such anarchists—grey-haired, well-dressed, golf-loving, well-to-do, exceedingly polite anarchists: But anarchists nevertheless. They are not important, or powerful, or influential: They are average—that’s why they’re so deadly: Their numbers are millions. And they are slowly, painfully coming to the conclusion that it’s just not worth it anymore.

That is a sad story, becoming all too common it seems. But I would not call that “anarchy”, as it is the de facto attitude of much of the rest of the world. It just seems like anarchy to us. What I want to highlight here are the changing perceptions of law and civil society that emerge in places where social crises hit the hardest. The way that “decent Christian” Americans (whether religious or merely culturally Christian) have always acted is to follow the law come what may. That is because America’s wealth and power (based from outside perceptions on a not-so-legal imperialism) seems to have been a magic formula that brought and maintained prosperity in this country for almost seventy years or so. That is why there is a whole sector of American political discourse that has fetishized the Constitution as if it were some sort of Fifth Gospel. All of the people who die in foreign wars have become human sacrifices to that idol, because “freedom isn’t free”. On the other hand, this is responsible for the resurgence of anti-immigrant nativism: undocumented workers are “illegals”, they are outside of legality, and thus a threat to the social order that made this country great.

Judging from the article above, the joke seems to be on them at this point. If the fewer and fewer Mexicans crossing the desert are “illegals”, what does that make those decent, hardworking folks who signed contracts on loans who are now defaulting? What does that make all of the banks and politicians who let all of this happen? I was in Argentina when the bottom fell out of the economy in 2002. I remember walking near the Plaza de Mayo with a small crowd outside the offices of the Central Bank, and one woman saying, “they’re nothing but crooks”. Like Bertrolt Brecht said, “‘What is the robbing of a bank compared to the founding of another bank?” And also, “grub first, then ethics”.

American Puritanical morality about waiting at red lights at three in the morning is all good when you are not worried about getting kicked out of your house. But that seems to no longer be the state of things for many people. Americans look on the Mexican cults to la Santa Muerte and Jesus Malverde and are horrified at such “criminal” religiosity. But really, if the mainstream channels to the divine seem as closed off to you as the mainstream channels to political and economic power, what harm could such cults do in your day to day life? Such scrupulous attitudes to law and morality may soon be an endangered species. I will definitely concede that this won’t be pretty by any stretch of the imagination, but it is in many ways a return to the past.


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8 responses

13 10 2010
Lucian

Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a freaking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suit on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the heck you are on Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing freaking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pi$$ing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, screwed up brats you spawned to replace yourselves. Choose your future. Choose life… But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin’ else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?

13 10 2010
Bernard Brandt

Ah, law. Don’t talk to me about law.

This may have something to do with the fact that I have a law degree and am not afraid to use it. It may also have something to do with the fact that I think that modern education has ill served most people by not including an education in law in peoples’ so-called education.

I read the article in question about the anglos who basically said fuckit. Some people try to tell me that the English have no mythology. Nice try. What’s nearest to a mythology are three things: the “matter of Britain”, or the myth of Camelot; the legend of Robin Hood; and the myth of the yeoman, as expressed in Magna Carta.

Those myths say three things: There was, and still can be, a King who is concerned with his people; that if the King is not there to give justice, heroes will arise to protect the people; and most important, that if there are no heroes who will rise, then we will just have to do it ourselves.

But what happens when, in close succession, a President on the left gets caught getting a blowjob (sorry to be so crass, but that’s what happened), and what is worse, lies about it under oath? What happens when creeps from the right try to have him impeached for lying about what was really none of their damned business? And what happens when his cronies on the Left exonerate him in spite of the fact that the President DID commit an impeachable act?

What happens if everything from that time on (and, if we really wanted to talk about it, decades earlier), is where the government controls everything, and the government (or actually the petty bureaucrats who run everything) choose to distribute benefits not on the basis of justice, but on the basis of who knows who?

Is it any wonder that people are just intoning the solemn oath:

Fuckit.

13 10 2010
vinny

“I wonder if this is the reason for increasing secularism.”

There is one reason for increasing secularism and new age nonsense, just as there is one reason for this post. The nice white couple like a good many other baby boomers and whiners of this generation share one thing in common; its all about them. When the rules don’t work in their favor they say fuck it. When it gets uncomfortable they say fuck it. There is nothing Catholic about this. Just as there is nothing Catholic about disorder. You do what is right because it is right end of story. And for every fucking crybaby and whiner there is a man who has done what is right because it is right. Pick a side but please don’t call it Protestant or Catholic its neither.

12 10 2010
Paul

The question is, how much did the U.S. fight for other people’s freedom and how much for its own freedom to further its business interests?
Didn’t a U.S. president say that the business of America was business?

12 10 2010
Christopher

Very perceptive and thought-provoking, as usual.

There is something in this about a properly formed conscience, I think.

12 10 2010
Carlos Ramalhete

Here in Brazil we divide (human, man-made) laws between those that “stick” and those that don’t. The latter is the vast majority, and people just ignore them. Although people usually don’t go that far in their interpretation of why it happens, the litmus test is basically the same as taught by St. Thomas for the validity os a human law.
In other words, a red light means you have to slow down and check whether there is another car coming. 🙂

12 10 2010
Robert Hiyane

There is a distinction between morality and ethics.

Also the spirit of the law.

Also the statement by Jesus that the law was created for the man and not man for the law.

There is a theoretical that if nobody was left on earth except you would you still stop at a red light–many people still say yes.

It is a hypocricy for banks to practice Usury and to kick people out of their homes and then worry about the red lights and turn left or right and all the other petty nonsense–however social order is important.

12 10 2010
Turmarion

Excellent and troubling post.

All of the people who die in foreign wars have become human sacrifices to that idol, because “freedom isn’t free”.

This points out an excellent concept that rarely gets mentioned. Aside from the American Revolution (which founded the country) and the Civil War (which freed the slaves), no war we’ve ever been in has really been about keeping our freedom. The closest one could argue would be WW II (assuming that in a counterfactual world the Nazis and/or Japanese went to war against and conquered the US if we didn’t get involved first–a speculative proposition, to say the least. Not that I’m against our having fought it, mind you–I think it was a rare just war. It’s just that it was for making other people free, not us) and the proxy wars in Korea and Viet Nam during the Cold War. We didn’t even win those, and whether they were necessary in the long run to win the Cold War is also highly debatable.

Certainly the current madness in Afghanistan and Iraq, if anything, is making us less free, what with all the government spying, eavesdropping, and such.

But really, if the mainstream channels to the divine seem as closed off to you as the mainstream channels to political and economic power, what harm could such cults do in your day to day life?

I wonder if this is the reason for increasing secularism and the spread of New Agey and quasi-Gnostic (in this regard, have you read Harold Bloom’s The American Religion? It’s fascinating) ideas even into mainstream areas in this country. Maybe these manifest in a historically Protestant culture the same thing that Santa Muerte and Jesús Malverde do in Latin Catholic culure.

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