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The Laws of Life

News & Features | October 26, 2009

If there is one thing that people can agree on, it’s that things are not the way they ought to be. There is always room for improvement, particularly with regards to your laws. You probably don’t think of laws as yours, as something that you participated in, but rather as the undesirable rules that are imposed on your life. Especially in college, it’s a game of us versus them, and it’s hard to imagine that this relationship will change in the future.

The truth is, you weren’t really asked for your opinion when laws were drafted. Of course, we have the benefit of living in a democratic country that asks us who most accurately represents our views. Representatives run based on what they think most people want, which in turn is based on the opinions of the loudest group, not the one with the greatest numbers. If you’re lucky, your representative will help pass a law that is relevant to you. If not, tough luck. Through representation, your ability to make or alter a law is more limited than the proportion of the population that you represent. It has been assumed that you agree to the laws that govern your life from day one. This is called tacit consent, and it is your daddy.

John Locke was one of the first people to discuss tacit consent. The rationale behind it is that when people come together to form a society, they create a social contract–a set of rules to which all give their express consent in order to protect themselves. The key component to this contract is that all the members of the group are involved in the creation of society. The problem arises when a new generation comes along, as they did not participate in the creation of the social contract. Locke argues that simply by remaining within the society and thus benefitting from its government, each individual gives tacit consent to its rules.

The question remains, however, what happens when we reject Locke’s premises? Theoretically, one could defect from society and start anew. In a modern world where there is no unclaimed land, however, such an option is infeasible. Nevertheless, consenting to stay within your society is akin to consenting to give your wallet to a man with a gun. If the alternative is not viable, it is not an actual alternative.

There are other alternatives, but none ensure you will obtain the benefits of society without the detriments of undesired imposed law. The first obvious one would be to move to a country with few laws, or one with desirable laws. The drawback of the former is that you don’t truly gain the benefits of society. The latter is ideal except that, if it exists, you will likely have to endure a long wait before gaining the citizenship necessary to truly gain those benefits. More commonly people resort to crime.

The only true alternative is to alter rather than escape our original problem. I firmly believe that current United States law does not reflect the will of the majority. The best solution might be to resort to a popular vote. Laws and amendments should be proposed through petition. Those issues receiving the most signatures would then go to popular vote, and so the outcome would represent the will of the majority. By transferring the legislative branch to the people, all decisions would truly come from the people. If the result is that if people are discontent at first, they will strive to understand the cause and fix it.

The main drawback to a popular vote is the time commitment we would have to make to politics, rather than to our own lives. This, too, could be solved through popular vote: we could decide how many laws can be passed, and how frequently and for long we would convene. There will be a necessary adjustment period, but it is a self-correcting system that will adjust far more quickly to society’s ever-changing needs and desires than our current form of government would.

Locke’s argument of tacit consent was perhaps more compelling in an age when those not abiding by the law were enjoying the benefits of anarchy. Today’s society, one in which law-breakers increasingly spark a joint and enjoy the benefits of a good couch, is arguably more evolved. Drawing upon this evolution, it seems necessary to reconsider our traditional approach to democracy. The result of the last presidential election is sufficient evidence that people are ready for change. Let us make this change as drastic as the people see fit and put an inkling of truth into the first three words of the US Constitution: We the people.