Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Exceptionalism or Changing With The Times?

Regarding Keifus's post below, I'm of two minds -- the temptation to regard our own times and challenges as unique must be resisted, but there still must be adaptations to modern innovations.

To deal with the first problem, whenever there were rules, there are those who think their situation merits breaking them. Sure a red light means stop, but I'm late, and there's no other traffic, and surely those putting the rules together didn't anticipate this situation.

A lot of people have used 9/11 to succumb to this temptation. Yeah, victim's rights and habeus corpus and not torturing and due process things like that are nice concepts, but we're at war, damnit!! We have an enemy that actually want to kill us (as opposed to all those past enemies like the Nazis and Stalinists who I guess just wanted to give us a good scare). So we do things against our principles. And we end up not standing for anything other than our own safety and security.

I think a lot of the laws on the books regarding sex offenders is another example. I think the day will come when we will look back on our current treatment of sex offenders with shame.

On the other hand, it is true that times change, and laws may need to change with them. I think a lot of the Patriot Act was of this spirit, rather than that exceptional times call for exceptional tactics.

In that sense, I'm not sure the proposed law is a departure from principals. It is a fact that a small group of people can create a large amount of damage. And it is also true that creating a public panic is a good way to generate free publicity. So the balance of incentives needs to change. I'm not sure requiring licenses is the best remedy, but it doesn't strike me as particular departure from settled principals.


Keifus said...

There's too much political incentive to make more laws, and enhance punishments.

I'm floating an idea around in my head--idly, and without seriousness--that it would be super if all laws saving the constitution were written to sunset after a generation (or maybe faster).

- it would allow dumb laws to disappear
- it would give the legislature something to do with all the renewals. (They wouldn't have to make new incursions.)

The problem is that (1) it would be about a week before someone proposes a special non-expiring law, and (2) it would give a lot of opportunity for power grabs as necessary laws disappear.