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I find myself wondering about Family, Community, Society and Nation.

All of these constructions have rules that we create in order that we can function cohesively. Most of these rules are formal .... Laws, procedures etc, others take the form of conventions but the one thing they have in common is that they only operate with the consent of the participants, or at least a majority of them.

Do rules and laws matter? You bet your ass they matter, but there does seem to be some dispute about this, so let's take a look ...

A Nation is no more, and no less than a large group of individuals bound together by their Laws, Treaties and geography. A "sense of Nationhood" adds to the basic formula by throwing in identity, traditions, history and ambitions.

Nations are frequently sub-divided into smaller areas such as Regions or States both for historical reasons, and to accommodate the idea that one large group is harder to identify with than smaller, local groups.

So the US is divided into States, which in turn are sub-divided. Switzerland into Cantons, the UK into Counties, France into Departements and so on. When Manchester United play Liverpool at football, the respective fans hurl invective and humour, and occasionally stadium seats, at each other. When the players from the respective teams play for England, those fans join forces and buy each other beer .... and use their well developed "seat-throwing" skills against a common enemy.

That is community and identity.

So in order that we may live, productively and peacefully both within and outwith our borders, we make Laws and Treaties.

The laws we make fall into two broad categories. Prescriptive and enabling. We make laws that prevent actions, or prescribe punishment for various actions. Most of English Common Law is this type and we know which laws we mean. We also make laws that enable things to happen, like Welfare Benefits and those laws designed to encourage industry.

There is a complication in the US that doesn't exist in most countries. The US has a written Constitution, the Supreme Law of the Land, which has as it's main purpose the effect of limiting the Laws that the Congress can make. In most countries, by contrast, sovereignty is vested entirely in government, the Legislative part of government.  It has another significant effect too. It means that much of US Law is legislative, that is .... the laws have to legislate nearly everything they want to prevent or accomplish. Other systems take a wider view where the laws are written more broadly, and are cemented in place by Test Cases.

The issue here with, for example, banning things, is that if the "thing" isn't banned very carefully, the law can fail because the Constitution also has the 9th Amendment. The implication there is that nothing in the Law can abridge the Rights held, even if they are not specifically covered in the Constitution, the presumption being that, if it is not banned, you can have it, or do it.

For all you attorneys and Constitutional experts out there. I am quite likely wrong about some of that and I am perfectly happy to be corrected. It's not the main point of this Diary, but I do like to be accurate, and I am not a lawyer. Fix it for me, in the comments!

Anyway .... we make laws. Our country is nothing without our laws, it would cease to exist. We would live in a state of Anarchy, a state where the strong survive and the weak .... well who cares about the weak?

Here is what we do NOT do:

We do not, ever, fail to make laws because the criminals will ignore them. That is the oldest, tiredest most inane piece of claptrap I have ever seen posted on the internet .... and THAT bar is really, really low.

Without laws we do not know who the criminals are. Without laws to break, there actually are no criminals. Laws make it clear that some folk are prepared to subvert the will of the people, and those folk are the criminals. So we make the laws we think we need. Those laws let us see who the criminals are, and we enforce those laws against the crooks. That is how it works, and to suggest that banning things means that only the criminals will have them is to miss the point.

The point is, and I know I am labouring it, that those who posses banned things, or commit proscribed actions, are the criminals. We can then deal with a problem that we can identify.

Laws are not all about bans though. Making a sensible law does not imply, nor should it, that more laws will follow or that if laws do follow, they will not be equally sensible. That is down to us. The fear that less sensible laws will follow is a poor excuse for not making a just law.

It is one thing for a lobbying group to claim that they oppose a law because it is the "thin end of the wedge"; but that leaves open the argument that NOT making a just law is the start of the road to anarchy.

This is not an arcane argument. It is how we live together. How we respect the rights of individuals while also protecting the interests of the many. We allow Special Interest groups too much power, too much access to Government. We allow them to infect the entire law-making process with too much money, and way too much influence.

The result is that we get the laws we deserve. Bad laws, generally. Laws that go too far to protect small groups, and individuals, and no where near far enough to represent the interests and needs of the majority.

We even had the ludicrous situation during the Health Care Reform debate of Republicans, fierce defenders of small Government and the free market, opposing the Public Option because it was competition for private insurers. They said it was "unfair competition", but unfair to whom? It certainly wasn't unfair to the American people.

The result was not that we struck a balance, but that we handed a massive cash boost to those self same insurers, who are still using their power to deny health care to the American people. We need to find leaders who recognise that they represent the voters, not the small subset who donate. We are complaining, right now, that we elected a President who is doing his best to be President of all Americans, not just the Progressive elements. Yes, I am disappointed too, but the President is not, actually, part of the problem.

Before I am through, I would just like to dispel a few myths.

The Republicans, and the Tea Party do not want smaller government. They just don't. They have never reduced the size of the Federal Government, and they have no intention of starting now. What they want is that THEY are the ones governing, and if they achieve that, they will revert to type, and make it bigger.

Republicans do not support State Rights. They never have. They only support those States who agree with their view of America, and it is a very narrow view. They support anyone who supports their view, and they oppose anyone who doesn't. Whether that is an individual, a political party, or a State, it doesn't matter.

All parties support and need the government. It's as basic as needing oxygen to breathe, if we don't want to descend into anarchy. Government isn't the problem, laws and regulations aren't the problem. The problem is bad government and bad law, and one begets the other.

For those among us who have a practising faith, I offer the following:

Corinthians Chapter 13 Verses 8 - 13

8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12 For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

For others, including me, I offer this:

Devotions upon Emergent Occasions - John Donne

Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? but who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world?

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.

There comes a point where decent, thinking people have to put aside their childish toys, and their self-serving arguments, and recognise both the needs of the many, and the fears of the few.

Originally posted to Every Part of You Belongs to You on Wed Jan 19, 2011 at 01:22 PM PST.

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