Part 3 -- A Twelve-Step Program for American Recovery


The further we get into the presidential election the more certain I am that the salvation of this nation is more about each and every individual American than it can ever be about the positions of power in this country. Our future appears to be dependent on the voting choices of each person, but it is more heavily reliant on the quality of each individual. R.B.Thieme Jr., my old pastor, used to say, “A nation gets the leadership it deserves,” In a representative republic that is even more accurate because the welfare of the nation directly rests on the wisdom, the responsibility, and the humility of each and every person.

As just one of those individuals I offer this series of commentaries as a small effort toward raising the bar, toward urging upward the quality of thinking that drives this society. That’s all I can do. Please add your ideas to mine, help me refine my thinking. Let’s do this together.

Part 3  -- There Oughttabea Law

That natural gut-level reaction to any outrageous situation has plagued mankind for millennia. We see someone picking his nose in public and we think, “There oughttabea law.” Someone cuts in front of us in line and the synapse fires, “There oughttabea law.”  The phrase has come to be a joke, but behind the joke is the truth that we want law so that we don’t personally have to take care of the problem, and at some level we actually believe that passing a law will stop the nastiness.

It is costing us dearly, this belief that law can alter human nature. If we just pass a law, people will stop doing whatever it is we don’t like; human nature, if properly guided by rules, will become generous, gentle, frugal, and productive. However, when I Googled “ineffective laws” I got 19,000,000 results. Hmmm….

If we pass laws prohibiting gun ownership, then

1)    no one will have guns,

2)    no one will get shot,

3)    murder rates will drop and everyone will be safe and happy.


1)    the black market soars,

2)    crime rates go up because criminals know the citizens aren’t armed,

3)    the government spends much of its time and money trying to enforce the gun laws and no one is safe.

We thought we could accomplish a drunk-free society by instituting Prohibition, but instead, we created organized crime and bathtub gin.

We have even been so foolish as to pass laws against hate, not that we know what that means anymore – see Part 1Calling a Spade. By some twisted moral mutation we’ve decided that killing Grandma for her millions is not as bad as killing a person because he belongs to some protected group. Life’s been wonderful ever since – no one hates anyone anymore, everything is copasetic, and hugs abound. 

We have laws condemning voter fraud – but dead people and cartoon characters are registered to vote. We have laws against insider trading, but they don’t apply to members of Congress. We have laws against cutting old growth timber and the spotted owl is dying off anyway while the marijuana groves in those deep woods continue thriving. And we have laws about marijuana and its “medicinal” use and they might as well be selling it in the grocery stores.

I’m sounding like a purest libertarian, but I’m not. My point is that law directly fixes nothing. We have laws against murder. But be honest -- if you had a 100-year-old grandmother whose fortune you would inherit if she’d just die, and even though you could really use that money, you don’t refrain from poisoning her tea because the law says you can’t. You don’t murder her because deep in your heart the thought, which probably doesn’t even occur to you, would horrify every sensibility you have.

That’s not to say that we don’t need laws against murder. Those laws have to be there for two reasons –

1)    To officially affirm that this society is a righteous society, that it values those interior morals most of us hold dear, that it values human life, and

2)    To provide an avenue for justice, a way to deal with those few of us who are, deep in their souls, amoral.

Law can, as did the Mosaic Law, confirm our suspicion that human behavior is not what it should be, but it cannot, which is also true of the Ten Commandments, make us good; it can only make us guilty.

And now America is guilty of making the huge mistake of thinking that we can solve all our social and moral issues, all of our health problems, our financial difficulties, our communication troubles by just setting up new regulations and passing 2,000-page laws.  What we’ve forgotten is that every law, every rule or regulation restricts our personal freedom, and costs money: we have to hire people to enforce it, clog our courts with the resulting trials, and overfill our prisons with the trespassers, because the law itself will not stop people from doing what they’ve been doing.

According to the ACLU, “…the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. With over 2.3 million men and women living behind bars, our imprisonment rate is the highest it’s ever been in U.S. history,” and yet we are no better behaved, no more honest, no more righteous than we’ve ever been. In fact, we’re worse, much worse. 

Let’s use law only as a means of imposing justice and for the glorification of natural human conscience, informed by Judeo-Christian morés.  Government is not God. It cannot provide anything very useful other than military protection. The more we think of government as God, the more satanic government becomes. Perhaps I should print that line in bold type: The more we think of government as God, the more satanic government becomes.

Let’s stop this nonsense, personally and publicly, and curb that natural reaction – there oughttabea law.  If it would produce the desired results, it would be one thing, but it won’t; it never has. It was Eric Severeid who once said, “The chief cause of problems is solutions.” He was right, and we’re drowning in solutions. I’m taking a deep breath, and I’m swimming to shore – won’t you join me?