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Monday

Pop quiz time. What's the least obeyed law in the United States? It probably is the least obeyed law in any country, but lets stick with the US for now. Any idea? I'll give you a minute...

la la la la la.. I wish I was ndixeee, hrahh, rahh... boomp boomp a dooomp doomp... la la la...

OK, you thought about it? I bet you didn't come up with my answer. The least obeyed law in the country is... wait for it... murder.

Really, when is the last time you obeyed the law prohibiting murder? I know I never have. Do you know of anyone who has ever obeyed that law? Have you ever heard of anyone who has obeyed it?

For contrast, consider another law. When is the last time you obeyed the speed limit law? Probably every time you thought there just might be a cop hiding in the bushes or around the next curve. You probably obey that law at least once or twice a week, if not every day. That one is a good candidate for the most obeyed law in the country. But I bet you've never once obeyed the law against murder.

OK, you probably fell into my little trap of thinking about "obey" as the opposite of "disobey". But it's not. Define it this way: you obey a law whenever you don't do something that you would have done otherwise, just because there is a law against it. If you fail to do something because not doing it is just right, you're not obeying the law, you're ignoring it. The law is irrelevant, or at least redundant. It has no effect on your behavior.

In the grand scheme of things, murder is the one law that probably has the least direct effect on behavior across the entire society. It makes big news when it is disobeyed, but then it didn't change any behavior in those cases, did it?

All across the political spectrum, in every corner of the body politic, from every coffeehouse where revolutionary plots are hatched, to the halls of congress on both sides of the aisle, murder is the one law everyone agrees is a "good law". Not even anarchists really want it eliminated, they just want to find a non-state based way to enforce it. Because everyone agrees murder is wrong - that's why it has the least effect on behavior.

So why not eliminate it? Of all the laws we could eliminate, the one nobody wants gone is the one that makes the least difference. Libertarians and other small-government types want a gradual approach, starting with the laws seen as most trivial, because they address the least serious kinds of offenses, offenses that aren't even considered all that offensive, let alone actually wrong, by most people.

But these are the laws most obeyed. They're the important laws, the ones everyone is concerned with, that everyone acts upon, every week of their lives, or every day of it. Who knows what kind of chaos would be unleashed if it was suddenly legal to water your lawn on odd numbered days, even when you live on the even side of the street? Could civilization itself survive the legalization of walking your dog without a leash and tags tied around its neck? Or throwing paper and plastic away in the same garbage bin? Oh the humanity!

The laws against murder could disappear tomorrow, and the only people who would notice, at least right away, would be homicide detectives and medical examiners. It wouldn't affect most people's behavior at all. Murderers would still murder, and most everyone else still wouldn't.

Except there would be a change in behavior, gradually perhaps, but inexorably. The law against murder doesn't have much direct effect, but it does have some significant indirect effects; the main one being that it makes most people think that they aren't likely to get murdered. If that changed, people would start taking their own self-protection more seriously, even though little in fact will have really changed. Hell, that alone might actually make the murder rate go down, though without all those homicide detectives filling out all those forms in triplicate every time one happens, it might be hard to track.

While the average guy on the street might not worry about too much of an actual increase in his odds of getting murdered, a certain small cross-section of the American body politic could come to believe that their political bodies might suddenly be in real mortal danger. Like, for instance, those people who make a habit of doing things that get other people thinking murderous thoughts about them.

People who ain't killing those kind of people now are probably not killers when it comes right down to it, and so the real danger probably wouldn't change much. But one has to wonder, doesn't one? One might think twice about whether one really needs to be going around pissing so many people off, if the next guy is that one guy in a million who actually used to obey the laws against murder. And that wonder might just do wonders. It might start having indirect effects on certain kinds of behavior.

Then we can worry about peaceably re-examining those other, more important laws through the established political process - if those laws remain the most widely obeyed laws in the country, that is. Would they? I wonder.

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