Ignorance of the law is no excuse, right? I have sometimes to wonder, when a judge somewhere repeats that, how she keeps a straight face. And prosecutors undoubtedly see it as job security, first class…sort of like the birdlime hunters used to smear on tree branches to ensnare birds in its stickiness.
This came to mind with a yearend news story observing that California would open 2013 with some 800 brand new laws on the books. How can any citizen be honestly expected to know and therefore, obey that sort of production? I’ll bet that none reading this can come up with 800 laws they know to obey from their entire life’s experience!
So why do our legislators do this? Well, two of the more obvious fallacies in our means of government: legislators and folks who want things from legislators. For the first one, no legislator wants to be known for sitting there doing nothing. She has to do something to justify her selection to the voters, or she thinks that. And outside the door of every legislator is a perennial line of rent seekers for the second factor. Even if a legislator were content to remain idle, these would not allow it.
There’s a third reason, too. It’s convenient for government to be feared; governments aren’t happy or effective with citizens who do as they please too much. Lots of laws means you may be arrested for something or other any time the government wants to bother; that motivates citizens to avoid government notice, i.e. to behave as wanted.
And there’s even a fourth reason: Every law added to the books increases the power and control of government and decreases the freedom of citizens. Government likes that.
If you consider these for a few moments, it’s easy to throw up your hands and just assume the whole thing is hopeless, which of course, it is. So since nobody has come up with an improvement, we just muddle along ignoring all the laws we don’t know of (99% of them) and the cops muddle along ignoring us so long as we keep a low profile and do as we’re told by Authority. And pay our taxes, naturally. And pay the fines when we trip over a law we didn’t know about or forgot or thought no one cared about.
Best not to seriously annoy any potent officials though… they’ve a whole book full of things you never heard that you’re guilty of already. That’s because we have a government of laws, not of men, right? Thousands and thousands of them…
Damn! You’d think all the legislators were lawyers!