There was a time — long ago now — when this theoretical situation would have been an interesting dilemma worth holding a long discussion over: You’re in a position where doing a good deed involves breaking a multitude of laws. What do you do?
Back in the day, “breaking a multitude of laws” would likely have meant you were breaking laws against doing harm. So you’d have to balance not only possible penalties of lawbreaking but also the chance of doing bad to one party while trying to do good elsewhere.
Now? It’s not even worth talking about. Laws are nearly all mala prohibita, created for the sole purpose of giving one group power over a less politically influential group. Other than the risk of getting caught, who gives a damn?
A year or so ago I was in a position where doing the right thing, possibly even the lifesaving thing, meant breaking I don’t even know how many state and federal laws. Not one person anywhere would have been harmed by the lawbreaking. But an individual could have been harmed, and IMHO a friendship betrayed, by hewing to the damn stupid laws.
It was a no-brainer — nothing more than a matter of deciding to exceed the standard American citizen’s quota of three felonies a day. Ho hum.
I’ll bet every one of us has been in a similar situation. And we’ve all known what to do when it really mattered — when something personal to us or crucial to our friends was at stake.
As El Neil said so eloquently, “Of course I’m above the law. And so are you.”
So now the only real debate is whether it’s a bad thing or a good thing for our culture (society, freedom, tradition, civilization, whatever) that we multi-felonious Americans routinely hold law in such contempt.
Or perhaps it’s better to say “hold law in such disregard.” Because unless the penalties and/or the chances of getting caught are unusually formidable, I really don’t believe I know a single person any more — including Sunday school teachers, scout leaders, retired old ladies, librarians, and hyper-honorable businesspeople, political or non-political — who considers the law to be any more than a mild annoyance.
We do the right thing because it’s the right thing. Or because we want people around us to respect us. Because we have a moral center or a place in society that we want to keep. Sometimes that puts us on the right side of the law, sometimes on the left side of the law. But I’d never say the “wrong” side of the law, because law is so completely disconnected from concepts of right and wrong. And everybody knows it.