Perspectives: Why conscience trumps laws; everyone’s a criminal

OPINION – If you pride yourself on being a law-abiding citizen, get ready for a rude awakening.

There is no such thing.

The fact is, you’re a criminal. You only think you’re obeying the law.

The only thing that separates you from the lawbreakers is that you haven’t been caught yet.

What makes us all criminals is not a secret. It’s the unfathomably complex and ever-growing body of laws, codes, ordinances, statutes, regulations and other rules made by politicians.

Within the United States Code, the Code of Federal Regulations, the IRS Code, and all the various state, county, and municipal laws, are millions of words we’re expected to obey.

Few of those words have anything to do with truly evil acts that harm others such as rape, murder, theft and assault. They are simply rules imposed upon us by government, the breaking of which is considered criminal.

Most of us grew up thinking that crime was the sole domain of bad people whose aim is to deliberately hurt other people or their property. But government at all levels has managed to criminalize virtually any act we can think of.

Morality is no longer a consideration for what is considered a criminal offense. This can be seen in how those in government’s employ can deliberately hurt innocent people and destroy property with impunity.

What would be a crime for us isn’t a crime for them.

While it’s true that there are some truly bad people who have been caught and punished for criminal acts, there are also millions of folks who are now criminals for breaking some politician’s rule.

For many of those convicted of these manufactured crimes, the first they knew of the law was when the government used it against them. That’s the danger of having an incomprehensible body of law being enforced by government entities which insist that “ignorance of the law is no excuse.”

Attorney Harvey Silvergate makes this point clearly in his book “Three Felonies a Day” in which he cites case after case of peaceful people snared in bad laws.

All of us, however moral we think we ourselves, are in violation of federal, state or local laws in some form at any given moment. The only reason we haven’t stood before a judge is that our violations simply haven’t been detected … yet.

That is quickly changing as our government continues to expand its mass surveillance capabilities. With ubiquitous cameras, data mining, license plate readers, warrantless cell phone monitoring, and domestic spying, our crimes are becoming easier to discover.

It’s not a matter of having “nothing to hide,” it’s a matter of the impossibility of being perfectly law-abiding combined with having nowhere left to hide.

David Montgomery wrote a brilliant exposition on this very trend after visiting the Secret Annex where Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis during WWII.

You can read his article “You’re a Criminal in a Mass Surveillance World – How to Not Get Caught” and see for yourself.

Montgomery outlines the shift in thinking that has conflated moral superiority with being law-abiding. He does this by pointing out that Anne Frank and those who helped her family hide from the authorities were criminals.

On the other hand, the men who were searching out her family, the informant who turned them in, and the soldiers who took them to the death camps where everyone but Anne’s father Otto were killed, were all law-abiding citizens.

It was a neighbor of the Franks that discovered Anne’s diary and rescued it before the police confiscated everything in their hiding place. This woman kept the diary – unopened – until the day she returned it to Otto Frank.

Had the diary fallen into the hands of the authorities, she and many others who risked their lives to hide the Frank family and others would have been in jeopardy for doing the moral thing.

This is the power of conscience over the power of law.

As Montgomery said:

Human decency springs from following our conscience, not the law. Millions blindly follow orders. The bravest heroes in this world are law-breakers.

Remember, the greatest atrocities in human history were carried out by law-abiding individuals who lost their consciences. They were “just following” the law.

Most of us are good neighbors and productive members of society because our conscience guides us and urges us to act with moral excellence. We behave because we don’t wish to give offense to others, not because the law requires it.

Politicians’ rules, being detached from morality, are only concerned with legal or illegal. They encourage us to ignore our conscience and act as cheerleaders for greater government control of others.

This, in turn, encourages us to violate the principles upon which a free society must operate.

Long term violation of principles doesn’t just paralyze our conscience, it causes us to forget what our principles were in the first place.

More laws are not what is needed. What is needed are people who are unafraid to act as the bad conscience of government running amok at every level.

Ponder that next time you confront the criminal looking back at you from the mirror.

Bryan Hyde is a radio commentator and opinion writer in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

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Email: bryanh@stgnews.com

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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20 Comments

  • NotSoFast June 8, 2015 at 8:38 am

    Refreshing and to the point article Hyde.
    (Lets see, am I a criminal for viewing this web page via a wifi internet signal without written permission? There’s got to be a law somewhere regarding this question. Does the NSA know I’m typing this?

  • native born new mexican June 8, 2015 at 9:27 am

    True, true, true Bryan, only too true! Not only are these laws you unknowing break crimes they are felonies! The state of Arizona has 7th degree felonies! Driving 25 miles over the speed limit is a felony. Ever been on an empty desert road and driven pretty fast? Ever dumped some garden waste in a ditch? Felony! Harass a public official (what ever that is. )Felony! A public official can be as corrupt as they want to but you risk getting charged with a felony if you aren’t very careful when you try to point out their corruption. Traffic violations in Utah are class C misdemeanors which call for three months in the county jail. Most people when they get a traffic ticket just go pay it no matter what because of the serious problems they face if they don’t do that. That means that a cop can write tickets for anything he wants too including where no violation has even happened and the victim will go pay so they don’t have to face the fearful experience of going to court in front of a corrupt judge and prosecutor or going to jail. ( strip search any one?) However if you are a jail guard and you rape three female inmates you only get misdemeanor charges and 90 days to be served on weekends in the iron county jail instead of Washington county where the offence happened or even better state prison. So many of these laws are designed to fill up the jails and prisons because jailing people is good employment and produces revenue. The for profit prisons are so profitable that they trade on wall street. They have deplorable conditions and are mostly unregulated and unsupervised. In New Mexico one of these prisons was keeping inmates way past their release dates so they could could continue to be paid by the tax paying public for jailing these “dangerous” people. Don’t even think your day in court will save you from jail. Go watch the professional crooks in the court – the judge the prosecutor and the deal cutting public defender do one unjust thing after another. the jury will save you you think? that is all rigged as well. The jury is openly lied to. Large important details are withheld from them by the above mentioned crooks who run the court. The jury is even told by the judge what their decision choices are after they have been manipulated and lied to in the first place. If you go to court you Can’t afford to defend yourself and even if you manage to present the perfect case the judge’s job is to be sure the prosecutor wins his case. You have almost no chance. That is what plea bargains are about . It does not matter if you are really guilty you can’t prove your innocence so you plea bargain to something to avoid an even worse penalty. getting you to take an unjust plea bargain is why the cops and the prosecutor pile on every serious charge they can think of. You haven’t got a chance! Bryan is so right!

    • 42214 June 8, 2015 at 2:31 pm

      As usual, you’re wrong and embellish the truth to try to make a point. Arizona only has 6 felony degrees (see Ariz rev stat 13-601 & 13-602). Also, driving 25 mph over the speed limit is a misdemeanor Section 28-701.02 (A) (2), not a 7th deg felony that doesn’t even exist. Camping under a bush on a hot summer day is probably a felony.

      • native born new mexican June 8, 2015 at 3:00 pm

        25 miles over is a felony and littering( dumping) is a 7th degree felony. I know I read the law. I don’t just make things up. I don’t think dumping is a good idea but it is not a felony. You don’t have a problem with 6th degree felonies? How about felonies are only for really serious things like murder or rape. Way too many crimes fro way too many things is the point and the point has been well made because it is the truth. Let’s don’t quibble over 7th or 6th degree how about only three degrees of felonies and only for very serious things.

        • native born new mexican June 8, 2015 at 3:34 pm

          I checked littering/dumping to be sure. Actually it is a 6th degree felony which is even more serious than a 7th degree felony. Way to go! It is even more serious than I said it was. 7th degree felonies do exist in many other state’s statutes. Check so you can be sure to catch me not getting it exactly right. The point is still the point felony this and felony that. A felony ruins a person’s life for their whole life. Why don’t you research that also?

          • 42214 June 8, 2015 at 6:45 pm

            You’re soooooo wrong.

          • 42214 June 9, 2015 at 8:01 pm

            Native Born, you need to check your security software. I think Madison hacked your computer and is writing your comments for you.

  • Knot June 8, 2015 at 11:25 am

    Nice thoughts Mr. Hyde, but let us not start to think it’s okay to break the law because the law pushes us to it. There are hero’s that break the law in the name of all, to try and change stupid laws or rules. There are many who break the law for self promotion or gratification that should be in front of a judge and being punished. You are correct, our moral compass will keep us on the right track to want to do things the right way, and these days it’s easier with the internet to learn about what is expected of us. That could also be saying anyone who breaks the laws or rules for their own gain doesn’t have much for morals.

    All governments are over-controlling everything they can, that’s for certain. With this comes some who will stand up for what is right for the good of all. We will also see many who will say the government is wrong and use this as an excuse to bend the rules or all out bypass them in a quiet way for their own gain. We can say these folks lack in their moral compass. It is the moral compass and conscience that makes the world bearable. It is the moral compass and conscience that tells us the difference between right and wrong. People who have morals will do what they can to do things right.

    I for one do not claim to be a moral person, mainly because I’m to lazy to research stuff or make the phone calls it takes to learn if I’m doing things right or wrong. I use my conscience to guide myself from causing direct harm to anyone, but I may be indirectly harming others, I’m not sure. People with morals would worry about this; I don’t, I’m disabled and down on life. Of course, I also think most people don’t have great morals these days since speeding, pushing that yellow light, over watering their yard, running an illegal business, etc. could be doing harm to others, but evidently, they don’t care.

    • RealMcCoy June 8, 2015 at 1:18 pm

      Overwatering my lawn hurts who? How?

      • voice of reason June 8, 2015 at 4:29 pm

        It hurts me. We live in a desert. Water wasted is water that can’t be used for drinking.

        • RealMcCoy June 8, 2015 at 5:42 pm

          I use secondary water. It comes from and goes right back to the river. Those that use culinary water for watering are penalized in a higher water bill.
          Did you know more culinary water is wasted daily at just one of the many splash pads in the area than in a week of over-watering a lawn?

          • Knot June 9, 2015 at 4:49 am

            First of all, I didn’t say it absolutely harms someone, I said it could be harming someone. Most people around here use culinary water to water their lawns. If you are fortunate enough to live near a river and have permission from the state to use river water for irrigation, then you are one of the lucky ones. However, water is water and it’s a precious commodity in Southern Utah.
            You also seem to be making an excuse for over-watering. It sounds like your saying it’s okay as long as you pay the higher price for the water? Also that it’s okay because others (water parks) waste so much? If such an excuse is being made, then it could be said anyone who does this is doing so for their own gain and lacks in morals.

          • RealMcCoy June 10, 2015 at 12:10 pm

            Knot- I believe smokers that smoke in public are harming those around them. Does that give you the right to restrict their smoking habits (other than designated smoking areas and the 25 ft rule)?
            They pay for the cigarettes, they pay the cigarette tax, and they pay with their health.
            Clean air is also precious and a precious commodity.
            In summary: Take your own personal views of morals and shove it.

  • Brian June 8, 2015 at 1:57 pm

    Dr Ferris, to Hank Rearden in Atlas Shrugged: “Did you really think we want those laws observed? We want them to be broken. You’d better get it straight that it’s not a bunch of boy scouts you’re up against… We’re after power and we mean it… There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced or objectively interpreted – and you create a nation of law-breakers – and then you cash in on guilt. Now that’s the system, Mr. Reardon, that’s the game, and once you understand it, you’ll be much easier to deal with.”

    It will get much worse before it gets better (ie. in the Millennium).

    • KarenS June 8, 2015 at 10:23 pm

      Oh please, save us from the nonsense written by Ayn Rand. My generation all salivated over her books in the 70’s but most of us grew up and realized how her books are utterly devoid of logic. Haven’t the Ayn Rand worshippers ever read anything at all about her?

      • tastysprinkles June 8, 2015 at 11:39 pm

        Seriously? “Oh her philosophy in its entirety is disagreeable to me, so let’s dismiss this singular, entirely valid, on-point observation she makes about abuse of state authority”?

        Seriously Karen? Seriously? Use your brain.

        • KarenS June 9, 2015 at 9:41 am

          Like I said, children of the 60’s devoured Ayn Rand and railed against the government, etc. Then we grew up and discovered that government is us, not some scary big brother. We made contributions to our community, ran for office, and voted to make a better life for everyone. The followers of Ayn Rand rely on fear and loathing of government and for what? Even Ayn Rand used Medicare and Social Security. Horrors!

          • Bryan Hyde Bryan Hyde June 10, 2015 at 7:32 am

            Ayn Rand was a lightweight compared to Frederic Bastiat. His views on the proper limits of government are still relevant even though his essay “The Law” was published 165 years ago. I’d like to see your views on what Bastiat had to say about how to determine whether the laws themselves are just.

          • fun bag June 10, 2015 at 12:33 pm

            More kooky nuttery from ol’ perspectives clown. keep them coming

  • GrandmaB June 9, 2015 at 7:45 am

    I love the last two comments. There is truth even in the most ridiculous places. I really enjoyed the article. The laws that astounded me the most recently, are the eminent domain laws. If the city/county government is corrupt enough, any so called business man can come in and steal your property, and if they chose, never even use it for their stated purpose.

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