Law vs. Responsibility

I've been thinking a lot over the last few years about the idea of law versus responsibility. In our society, the lines are often very blurred between the two, and we are encouraged to think of them as the same thing - that if you are following the law, you are being responsible. That if you are breaking the law, you are being irresponsible. In fact, that following the law is the definition of being responsible, and that breaking the law is the definition of being irresponsible.

I think that this view of things is, in fact, very harmful. There are several effects it has that cause a lot of problems in society, make us feel justified in harming each other, and provide a lot of power and profit for the people making up the laws.

Firstly, this view is based on the assumption that all the laws were written with the best interest of the least of humanity in mind. This is simply not the case. Many laws were written specifically to put money in certain peoples' pockets. Many of them were made to support a societal paradigm that, in the end, is harmful to society. Many of them were well-intentioned, but poorly written, or weakened by strong opposition or societal conditions that prevented them passing any other way.

Secondly, it causes us to forget our conscience. We have an innate sense of whether what we are doing is harmful or helpful, whether it is responsible on some level, or reckless. However, when we learn the viewpoint of law as responsibility, we come to simply ignore this innate sense, because it's much easier to just follow a set of rules that tells us what we can and can't do. This has the extremely negative effect of making people perfectly comfortable doing things that should repulse them, because someone either made a law that says it's ok, or someone who has the power or influence to set social rules and norms seems to be saying it's ok.

Thirdly, because we are not tuned in to our conscience, but rather simply following the instituted laws or social rules, we become unable to respond, to resist, to critically evaluate what we're doing. Essentially, we become lemmings, and whatever the political and social norms tell us is ok, we go and do, thinking all the while we're being good, responsible humans, when in fact, we could be causing people irreparable damage.

I'm not saying the law has no value, or is all bad. I do believe it is generally a good idea to follow the law, but I also believe it is critical to think about it, evaluate it, and break it sometimes when it would force you to do something you should not do. I think it is critical to be able to separate following the law from being responsible, so that you can see that, while they sometimes overlap, they are not the same thing.

This applies to political, social and religious law. Any system set up to govern behavior. Because, frankly, nobody has it all right, and everyone has ample opportunity for harboring ulterior motives.