During the creation of the Cultural Detective USA, my co-author Eun Kim and I agreed upon a basic US set of discourse expressions that reflected commonly held values, though these may vary in how they are articulated and followed by USians and their cultural systems. One of these was Law & Order. Law, lawlessness, policing and justice continue to be untamed US challenges today, as much as they were in frontier times.
There are many issues here, such as the legal rationalizations around Manifest Destiny as a tool of conquest and native genocide, the passion for guns, etc., etc., but today I want to focus on a single one of these, preventative legislation. This is the tendency to fix social and interpersonal concerns by creating and summoning up laws to provide and enforce solutions to situations, both interpersonal and social.
Put simply, if something untoward happens, or might happen, or we fear will happen, we create a law to prevent or discourage it, rather than resolving conflict with dialogue, education and negotiation, e.g., my neighbor's Friday night party is making too much noise, don't knock on the door with a request for taming the ruckus, rather I my cultural tendency is to call the police.
Sometimes this tendency becomes ridiculous. On a recent visit to the US, I had half an hour for a swim in the hotel pool before readying myself for a meeting. On entering through a turnstile, I was confronted by an entire wall cover with "Bathing Rules and Regulations". I felt like, given my time limitations, I had the choice of taking a swim or reading the list. I swam. Likewise, I am both humored and annoyed by disclaimers on so many US email messages that are five times as long as the message itself. Fear of legal liability is a bit like worrying about Nessie lurking just below the calm waters of the loch of life, except that we know that this socially constructed beast makes up our accepted reality and can bite.
I was stimulated to create today's post by a reading of this summary of an Arizona law and court decision situation regarding child molestation, raising the question of how sweepingly can law and order be imposed as a moralistic tool. Here is a summary paragraph:
"The Arizona Supreme Court issued a stunning and horrifying decision on Tuesday, interpreting a state law to criminalize any contact between an adult and a child’s genitals. According to the court, the law’s sweep encompasses wholly innocent conduct, such as changing a diaper or bathing a baby."
Among the causes of this plethora of laws and abundance of lawyers per capita in the USA is the tendency to avoid the dangers of confrontation in an essentially violent frontier mentality; another, the other in moralistic fears, the need to be right and make others right. This frequently means using tools and sanctioned force against people different from ourselves. Perhaps in a society so diverse, law is a shortcut to imposing a common sense and expanding control over others where diversity is unaddressed in more human exchange. Like so many shortcuts, it seems destined to exacerbate situations by not addressing the human to human connection.
Mes deux centimes, mis dos centavos, my tuppence, my two cents. Whatcha' think? How does this affect your dealing with US Americans, or if you are one, your dealing with each other?
Manifest destiny image:
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