There is this concept that a good citizen must obey the law even when he/she does not agree with it. Bad citizens are bad in part because they do not obey laws.
It is a sound concept, of course, because if nobody obeyed the law, there would be chaos. The argument is hard to argue with and we must agree with it, so long as it does not become an absolute rule. The validity and limits of concepts such as “I am obeying the law” or “I am executing orders” have been tested many times throughout history, and have been successful strategies only when laws were reasonable and did not become a convenient means to elude conscience and responsibility. Was the obedience of Nazi soldiers in concentration camps admirable? After all, they were obeying the law. Should we admire the obedience of the cop who takes away our hard-earned money because we were “speeding” at 35 mph in a 30 mph zone? After all, it is the law: but are we the criminals or is the state the thief? Should we say that we deserve all punishment all the time because “it’s the law”, and the law is always right merely because it exists (or because it is backed by an entity – the “authorities” – who have the legal monopoly of violence)? Can the majority decide and impose the behaviour and choices of minorities? Where do we draw the legal line in identifying “bad” people? American colonists seeking independence broke British law in very many ways. Were they bad people? How many people must break the law at the same time in order for them to be transformed from “bad” to “good”?
Those are fundamental questions, since the boundaries between freedom, social order and tyranny are so thin that they are often invisible. Every day a new law establishes more “bad” people who weren’t bad just yesterday: smokers, drinkers, the overweight – all people who are told through the law: “We do not want you unless you do as we say and conform to the majority of us and, if you refuse, here is the punishment”. Yesterday’s laws in free countries wanted to regulate society; today’s laws want to make society perfect by rejecting an ever-growing number of “imperfectly” behaving citizens.
There are times when the citizen of good conscience should disobey the law to preserve his freedom, dignity and integrity. That time is when the law is dishonest and unreasonable. Such times can arise when the law forbids behaviours that hurt no one but (at worst) the person who practices them.
Antismoking laws fall into that category and we are in such times. Not only are the laws dishonest because based on scientific fraud and lies, they are unreasonable because they forbid behaviours which, at worst, hurt only the smoker. And since the dangers of passive smoking are an outright fraud, the “hurt others” concept simply does not apply.
Our admiration goes to this establishment owner who – like many others – disobeys the law, as Clearing the Air reports. Our sadness is that there are still too few establishment owners and smokers who disobey the law. Let’s hope that their numbers grow. The stakes will rise, and governments trying to induce fear and submission will punish citizens more severe, make no mistake. We are looking at a clash between two philosophies and two concepts of society, for which smoking laws are just an occasion — but remember: the tyrant does not care about your respect, he only cares about your obedience, because that’s all he has. The reign of the tyrant will last as long as the free men he oppresses will not transcend, at least temporarily, the very principles that make them different from him in order to get rid of him.
The most horrible thing a government can do is raise the stakes to the point where people have to choose in an all-or-nothing way between their needs and those of someone else – like the Nazi soldier of the concentration camp who had to choose between his own life or that of his victims. Today we don’t do that any longer – or so we delude ourselves. In reality we have just changed techniques: we fragment the impact of the big all-or-nothing choices into smaller bits, after instigating citizens against each other. My “need” for “smoker-free” air is to exclude your “need” to smoke. My wild-goose chase of a 100% “healthy” environment is to exclude – or make very difficult – your choice for a life that perhaps could be slightly shorter but surely free from a dream whose price you don’t want to pay. In short, no matter how many slices we cut a pie into, the size and ingredients of that pie are still the same. And when the social pie becomes “my world must eliminate yours” then it’s time to throw away the pie, because eating it will kill us.
When that pie is the only food on the table – and becomes “the law” – we should realize that the thin, invisible borders between freedom, order and tyranny have been crossed, and that there is an invasion against which we are morally entitled to defend ourselves. It is time to break the law, because it no longer respects the liberties of all, thus itself does not deserve any respect.