Civil disobedience is now mandatory


“Waldo, the question is what are you doing out there?”

Last year I asked a simple question: why should I follow the law?

Or maybe it isn’t so simple. But lately I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and my rage has been building.

As I see it there are three reasons to behave lawfully.

  1. Moral conviction – you do a thing because you believe it is right
  2. Fear of consequences – you may disagree with a law but you follow it because you’re unwilling to accept the penalties for disobedience
  3. Respect for the sanctioning authority – even though you may have differences with the state you accept that a functioning society requires citizens to submit to a code reflecting the common will

In the first instance, though, you aren’t conforming to the law at all. You’re doing what’s right. The second probably describes most of us in at least some instances.

And the third… Well, that’s the problem. As I make clear in my post last year there’s no good reason for the average American to respect our laws.

We live in a society where some are allowed to get rich for doing the same thing others are in jail for.

We live in a society where some can be gunned down in cold blood for no legal reason without their killers facing so much as a noise violation charge.

If you’re on the right team, you can be pardoned even after committing election fraud. Or obstruction of justice. Or overtly racist “law enforcement” policies. Or sparking armed anti-government crimes.

Some pay taxes and some don’t because tax codes are written by the wealthy for the wealthy.

If your father is the president not only do laws (and national security rules) not apply to you, trade policies are constructed so as to exempt your businesses.

You may even find yourself in a position to nominate a Supreme Court justice who firmly believes that presidents are above the law, period (at least until they leave office, after the damage is done).

My conclusion: I don’t think I have any obligation to follow the law at present. A code that applies to some and not others, and that excuses even the most egregious behaviors of its elites, that isn’t law. It’s privilege. It isn’t just, it isn’t moral, it isn’t consistent with the values of a modern, free society, and to put not too fine a point on it, it isn’t really a law at all.

We are not a society of laws, we are a society of privilege. Whatever ethical considerations initially motivated a given law, our code of justice is no longer underpinned by a moral foundation. Instead, it festers atop a heap of corruption and moral rot.

My original argument understated the case. It isn’t simply that you’re not obliged to obey the laws of a corrupt society. It’s that you have a responsibility not to. 

The first reason is that when you submit to an order that only applies to certain citizens – racial minorities, religious minorities, LBGT, socio-economic underclass, political dissenters, conscientious objectors, and so on – you validate the privilege of the elites. Acquiescence is endorsement.

The second reason, stemming from the first, is that acquiescence prevents change. When the people who ought to be agitating for reform stay home, when they play along, when they roll over, when they confuse bread and circuses with freedom, whey mistake stuff for prosperity, when they accept through inaction that the interests of the privileged few are more important than the basic well-being of the many…

I’m trying as hard as I can to avoid the language of the bomb-throwing radical, but we have to acknowledge that sometimes the radical has it just right. When we conform to the corrupt, exploitative order of the moneyed elite, we consent to and insure the injustice will continue unabated.

So what do we do now?

2 replies »

  1. It’s an interesting argument. (And “society of privilege, not law’ is a great line.) It is of course not a new one–Thoreau, Alexander Berkman, et al but you’ve phrased it in a fresh way. But it gets to a fundamental question. Why does any of us ever obey any law? I will find myself standing at a cross walk on an empty street waiting for a light to tell me to cross. Why? I know that’s a silly example, but it’s just bomb-throwing writ small. I know a hundred people who’ve thought about assassinating a political leader, but they haven’t and they won’t. Is it fear of punishment? Is it social conditioning? I once had an accountant tell me I was the first ex-pat in his vast experience that had ever paid his full tax bill. Why do I do that? I don’t agree with how much of that money’s being spent. It’s unlikely I’d get caught. So why not?

    • Yeah, I’m hardly the first to have this idea, and those you mention certainly put it more elegantly. Although Thoreau and I aren’t as much on the same page as it probably appears at a glance.

      Why do you follow laws? Well, in your case it’s maybe worth some thought. On the face of things you appear to be acting lawfully for some reason other than the ones I’ve listed. So maybe I’ve missed something. Habit? Custom? Or maybe there’s an internal calculus that has run the risk numbers and you just aren’t aware of (or acknowledging) it?