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.
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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