Kiddo#2 has me singing the preamble to the US Constitution (ala Schoolhouse Rock) because she has to memorize it for school.
This morning I was biking into the next town while trying the “sing test” and concluded that I can sing…for about five seconds…then gasp…but not very loud… I don’t know what that means, but they say if you’re working out properly, you shouldn’t be able to sing, and unfortunately (sigh, my Patient Husband can verify this) I actually can’t sing even if I’m not working out properly. Or at all. So it’s hard to tell.
Regardless, there I was biking and huffing the words to the preamble to the Constitution because it’s my duty as an American mother, and I remembered a previous conversation with Kiddo#2 about the government. She had to study the branches of the government and was asking questions about the balance of power.
I tossed her a question posed to me by my friend Michael back in college. (If he’s reading here still, I’ve thought about that question a lot in the past years, thank you.) The question was this: is the purpose of government to make people be good, or to keep people from being bad?
My first response had been that it should make people be good, because we certainly have laws like that (tax breaks for donating to charity, for example) but most laws are negative laws, written to keep people from being bad (not driving over badly-singing bicyclists with your car, just to pull an example out of my helmet) and I think that’s how we left it.
My current take is different, though. If asked right now, I’d say the purpose of the law is to protect the weak from the strong.
That’s how it boils down, right? If the world were lawless, then those with strength and no scruples would take whatever they wanted: your possessions, your property, your body.
But when a group of people agrees to live together as a society, we make certain basic standards of behavior we expect in order to enjoy the benefits of living in the collective. That’s the preamble to sets of laws. For example, you in your car are stronger than the out-of-tune bicyclist, and therefore the law sides with the bicyclist: you may not run over her. If you do, then the law makes provision to remove you from the benefits of living in the collective.
But now I ask myself: do the laws of the United States protect the weak from the strong?
The answer I find is, in many cases, no.
And if that’s really true, then have we failed as a country?