Thursday, November 7, 2013

Is Western Society Over-Regulated?

Human Civilization

At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; 
separated from law and justice he is the worst.

Regulations: While many agree that western society is over-regulated, no sane person would say that laws regulating harmful human behavior are unnecessary. “Vicious actions are not hurtful because they are forbidden, but forbidden because they are hurtful,” Benjamin Franklin said.

Laws are both good and necessary in the regulating of human affairs; without such laws and the state apparatus to enforce them, our society would quickly become chaotic and lawless. Criminals would act quickly and ruthlessly, attacking those who are weaker and without the resources to defend themselves. So, no sane or morally responsible individual would argue against the necessity of law and order.

Yet, there can be too many laws; there can be bad laws or, to put it more succinctly, too many unnecessary laws. If you haven't taken notice, we now have more laws, rules  and regulations governing not only our morals and ethics, but also our actions, movements and speech than ever in human history. This is taking place in western civilization, home of progress and science, of the Scientific Revolution, of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, whose combined effects were supposed, in theory at least, set the individual free. And, moreover, make him an autonomous, rational compassionate human being.

Do we see much evidence of this today? Does this describe the prototypical human today? Are governments more trusting of their citizens today? Sadly, the answer to all three is “no.” And a resounding and heavy-hearted “no.” Sure, you can find individuals who act and think contrary to the majority, you can find well-meaning and compassionate humans who do good, make the world a better place; and you can find governments and their officials who announce human- and humane-centred programs.

That being said, such does not generally describe the tenor of our times. On the negative side are fear, xenophobia, spying, surveillance, anti-Semitism and other hatreds, theft, bullying, arrogance, self-entitlements, protectionism, hoarding, etc., which describe some actions and emotions influencing our society today. There are many laws that make hate speech illegal; there are may laws against corruption; there are many laws against influence peddling by political persons—and yet all these human behaviors continue.

Such is obviously not the fault of the most of the laws or the legislators who have enacted them, at least not generally; the fault, if it can be found, resides somewhere in our society that  “says” to certain individuals that such human actions, abnormal and unacceptable to most, are acceptable and normal to them. New circumstances and new technologies often require new laws, or at least a fresh legal interpretation of an older existing law. Even so, the reasons for most laws are the same, chiefly, to both deter and to prosecute harmful actions, notably of those individuals who feel entitled to flout the laws they don’t like.

Since we do not reside in a utopia, there is a need for laws to prosecute wrong-doers—always a minority of the population and sometimes the same individuals.

Thus, if we feel over-regulated it is precisely because most of us are not law-breakers; and the laws are made to address the few that consistently have a hard time accepting legal restrictions to their actions. Such is the way our western society has been structured; existing laws, even very old ones, are rarely repealed. New ones are added yearly, thus increasing the number of laws that rule a nation.