I sometimes hear people claim that laws exist to be followed. These people are the most dangerous people who exist in a society. Tyranny is never upheld through law; it is upheld through thousands of bureaucrats that follow the letter of the law just because they believe in rules and law.
On the other hand, people who take personal responsibility are not in short supply. Doing so in a conscious way dates back to Socrates, who was the first to claim that there is a moral law that transcends and supersedes the law of the land.
You will notice here that I place taking personal responsibility at the opposite of blindly following laws, rules, or orders. That is quite intentional. Just following orders is never an excuse for not taking personal responsibility. Neither is just following the rules. Neither is just following the law.
Society at large will never take “I was just following rules and regulations” for an excuse in the large matters, when the nuclear disaster, fetal damage or war outbreak has happened. It won’t in the small matters, either — the missed sales order because of failing to bribe the right officials, or the bad grade because somebody was the only one who didn’t cheat on the exam.
A person who considers the orders, rules or laws to be wrong has a duty to defy them. Every single war criminal learned this before they were hanged. On the other hand, many resistance fighters learned the opposite before they were shot.
From this, we learn that it is unwise to follow the rules and laws created by others blindly, but just as commonly, it is equally unwise to flaunt defiance. Most things that we consider reasonable, that are banned by rules we consider silly, can be done with a little sense of discretion and proportion. In the larger scheme of things, it is everybody’s duty to do so. A society where people regard rules as general guidelines is a lot healthier for its neighbors and citizens alike than a society where laws and rules are enforced blindly and swiftly.
At the end of the day, you have only your own moral compass. You must decide whether to follow the law, and in considering this, you need to understand why the law was made in the first place.
Laws are not made because they are righteous. Laws are made because they advance somebody’s political career.
(It should be noted that these are words that don’t come from a rock-throwing masked guy, but from a professional politician in suit and tie.)
Usually, it makes sense to follow most laws, most of the time. But not all laws, all of the time. People who are standing waiting at a hung red stoplight at 2am with no human being nor car in sight are not just stupid, but downright dangerous.
The copyright monopoly is one example of such an unjust law. I can think of few things that are more plain evil than not sharing knowledge with your fellow human being, barring hurting somebody physically. Sharing culture and knowledge doesn’t even cost you anything, it just enriches other humans.
Does this mean I encourage breaking the law? No. Mostly it doesn’t mean that because doing so would be too flauntingly illegal. However, in the spirit of discretion, I encourage everybody to follow their own moral compass and to help their fellow human beings.
It is everybody’s duty to defy unjust laws.
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Rick Falkvinge is a regular columnist on TorrentFreak, sharing his thoughts every other week. He is the founder of the Swedish Pirate Party, a whisky aficionado, and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. His blog at http://falkvinge.net focuses on information policy.
Follow Rick Falkvinge on Twitter as @Falkvinge and on Facebook as /rickfalkvinge.