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Legal Priorities: Society Before the Individual

Written by Jack Vero
in 2013

The legal system has the formidable task of writing and implementing a consistent, predictable, rational, fair system of laws capable of governing an entire ever-changing country. In so doing, they occasionally overlook a crack in the system where your average John Doe citizen might get snagged. And herein lies the problem: the legal system is designed for society in general, but what is best for society is not always best for the individual. And then John is presented with a dilemma: Do I obey what appears to be an unjust law for my particular situation, or do I do what I think is in my best interest regardless of the law?

This is not as easy as it sounds. Perhaps some John's would make a quick decision based on their strict or careless upbringing, but for the conscientious thinkers among us, a whole slew of questions are thrown into play: Who am I to say whether the law is fair in this instance? Am I not inherently biased by my involvement? Should I care? Is it selfish to break the law in this instance? Or is altruism just another flawed value conditioned into us since childhood by the very self-serving society in question? Wasn't America born out of rebellion against former legal powers? So then is breaking the law immoral or progressive?

Naturally the decision will depend on the details of the situation, but I would like to suggest one important idea on the matter. Though American law is generally well-crafted and founded upon some excellent ideals, it is not some divine book of commandments to go unquestioned and obeyed eternally. It ages everyday, and by rebelling against the right laws the public directs the legislative hand of the government to continually revise them, keeping them updated and relevant. So it is important that we stretch legal boundaries continually, the only question is: which ones?