In laws lawmakers tell what they think is right and wrong. Laws don’t tell that to the legislators. They shouldn’t tell that to us either – we should have integrity of our own.
The trouble with drawing equal marks between law and moral is that laws are written to reflect the moral of the legislators. If laws defined their moral, they could never change any laws, nor make new ones. In a very real sense the lawmakers are above the law. For the same reason there should be more than one lawmaker: while they are all above the law is the sense that they have the power to change them, they are not above each other and no-one can make arbitrary changes to the law. Yet, if their moral does not transcend the law, they are incapable to carry out they responsibility.
We should not think it is right to obey the law. People have been justly hung to death for doing just that. We should not let anybody tell us what is right or wrong. They are very relative, and ultimately just arbitrary personal views.
The law defines how a society works. It is the official moral code of the society, and defines how we can expect the social constructs to work. Let’s look at how and example where personal and values and social codes clash.
Recently Greenpeace protested against oil drilling in the arctic sea, and as some crew members of the Arctic Sunrise attempted to board an oil rig, Russian coast guard intercepted. Russian government plans to charge the crew for piracy. There has been some debate on how ethical the Greenpeace protest was.
Crew of the Arctic Sunrise did something they thought was right. Could be it was illegal as well, maybe even piracy. That’s something a court will decide. In that case they should expect to face a good time in jail. In that case it would be clear that they had an illegal or criminal concept of right and wrong. But even if they were found to be criminals by court, in their own opinion they would be justified.
Integrity is both doing the right thing and carrying out the responsibility. If we decide committing a crime is a right thing to do, we should not plead innocence to it. We may think that we did not do what we were charged for or that the law is wrong, or that it is unfair to punish for something that’s right and want to avoid sentence – by in the least we would admit we did it. Likewise it is immoral to claim innocent a criminal, who did a morally right thing. That would be denying his rightness and claiming that the wicked law against his just cause is acceptable.
Hopefully the laws are made by a heterogeneous group of people. That way they reflect the views and compromises of various people. The idea of a republic is precisely that: that different kinds of people would get their voice heard in the law making process. The idea is that legislation would express fairly moral values, taking into account multiple points of view. However, individuals typically focus on a narrower point of view, for example environment over economy. Their moral values may therefore deviate strongly from those of the law. But as long as their values grow from their own concerns, and not for example from simply opposing a law, they have a somewhat sound foundation.
As individuals we should always remember that our relationship with the moral values of the law is somewhat strained. Even if we had been legislators and written a law, there would have been others writing it, and as such, it would not represent our own values. How much less if we were never even heard while making the law. We should always accept that law defines how we can expect other people to act – and how they can expect us to act. But none of us is a robot. We shouldn’t agree with every law just because it’s there – or expect others to do so. We should develop our own set of values, and accept that others do so too.
After all, that’s what life is all about.