The leaders of our country are opting for dogmatic faith in other people’s judgement rather than conscience and reason.
Photo: Oxbridge Essays
It is astonishing how many politicians mentioned in one article could demonstrate such blind conformity to the legal system. Last week The Guardian reported that both David Cameron and William Hague tried to justify the Government Communications Headquarters’ actions merely with a reference to their supposed legality, a position echoed by the opposition as shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander simply questioned whether or not the government’s actions had been lawful. Later in the article former foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind was quoted going into detail about relevant laws and whether or not they’d been broken, but at no point did any of these powerful and well educated people consider the existence of moral judgement independent of pre-existing laws. In fact it took members of the public’s comments at the bottom of the page to bring this notion into consideration.
The law isn’t an easy thing to change, meaning there will always be actions committable within a legal framework that are difficult to justify, but that legislation hasn’t caught up with. So this saga trundles along as people willingly perform actions they know to be wrong but do so because they are yet to be prohibited by those in charge. It seems as if the people in charge of our country have a vast knowledge of the law but haven’t thought back to its origins: it isn’t divine rights given to us by the almighty, but the creation of people. All of whom, however educated, possess only finite judgement, meaning their creation is necessarily limited in its capacity.
We may be under the impression that our law is correct but it only takes a glance at other countries – and even our own in the past – to see how easily people can get it wrong, while bearing in mind that the laws we obey right now will most likely be updated or modified in the future. We only have to look at our how we responded to homosexuality in the past, or women’s rights, to see how true this is and how other countries might still have these outdated points of view. Thus any conviction that your own country’s law must be right is based on ill thought out subjectivity. Unless you subscribe to anarchism you’ll agree that a legal system is a vital part of any civilised society, but it becomes a great burden when legality becomes the measure of morality, accepted dogmatically with faith in the judgement of other people rather than thinking for yourself.
The psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg devised stages of moral development, observing the way people’s views on right and wrong change during their lives, claiming the conventional level most people reach is to simply obey the law and accord to social norms. He found that post-conventional levels of conscience, including the capacity to question these ideas, think for yourself and create your own ethical principles were rarely met.
Seemingly some of the commenters on The Guardian website have arrived at a more developed ethical perspective than those elected to lead us: either that or the government are aware of the flaws in justifying actions based on their accordance with the law alone. With no other justification to hand, they’ve appealed to the conventional level of social conformity which sadly might work on most people (but certainly shouldn’t have to).
The idea of living according to the law without questioning it is reminiscent of a young child, yet to develop any reasoning abilities, being sure their parents know right from wrong and carefully recording what they are both praised and punished for. The danger is they can never have tested every action, and their undeveloped brains can lead them to do naughty things they haven’t been caught doing yet. Scarily our country seems to be run on these principles.