• Winning or Losing the Lottery

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    Barack
    Obama, the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated
    by Peter Fitzgerald (R-IL), has frankly
    discussed
    using marijuana and cocaine during his youth. He credited
    an attitude adjustment with his choice to take a new direction.

    I
    often wonder why no reporter asks the obvious question. "Mr.
    Obama, you obviously lucked out and didn't get caught while you
    were getting stoned, while other young people who were not so lucky
    got a criminal record for doing what you did. Do you support the
    notion of law as lottery, or is law absolute and universal?

    "If
    you commit murder or robbery and don't get caught, shouldn't you
    be punished no matter how long it takes to identify you? If politicians
    have passed laws against using pot or coke, and those laws are moral,
    shouldn't you be jailed now, today, because you weren't punished
    back when you committed the crimes?

    "If
    you should not be jailed now, then why should anyone ever be jailed
    simply for doing today (and getting caught) what you did back then?
    Would jail time and a criminal record have enhanced your life, helped
    you get into Harvard law school, and improved your chances of being
    elected to the Senate?"

    Which
    kids could have gone on to great things (no, I don't include public
    office in this category) but for the fact that last night the cop
    noticed the bag under the back seat and pulled out the handcuffs?

    Most
    readers of LRC recognize the obvious: The law is now a complete
    lottery where some people have better odds than others, but all
    face the same general risk of disobeying the 12th Commandment
    by getting caught. [The 11th Commandment is, of course,
    Keep a Low Profile, and if observed religiously, usually allows
    the observation of the 12th, too.]

    Was
    it smoking pot? Drinking beer prior to that officially blessed 21st
    birthday? Exploring the biological sciences with a willing sweet
    young thing who's not quite at that "consenting" age?
    Offering legal advice, medical care, shop services, disposal services,
    landscaping services, mail service, hair braiding, coloring, cutting,
    or styling services, taxi services, commercial trucking services,
    or just about anything else without first acquiring an official
    license?

    Was
    it attaching a particular cosmetic part like a flash
    hider
    to a certain kind of rifle? [Sorry, I forgot, that was
    an immoral act but now is a moral act…it's all in the date.
    Or perhaps I'm confused, as it never seemed immoral to me, and was
    only illegal, evidently a MAJOR distinction.] Was it accidentally
    spilling the wrong material into a waterway or filling dirt into
    the wrong low-lying area?

    Was
    it selling a legal weed to a minor? Forgetting to eradicate ditch
    weed on the back forty? Saying anything other than "I don't
    recall" to any government employee? Did you slip a Glock
    into your pocket because you were going to the ATM after dark for
    some cash?

    We
    know that if everyone who smoked pot or quaffed a beer before 21
    actually did time in the hoosegow, we'd need a whole lot more prisons.
    Heck, there'd be more prisons than there are bank branches and there
    are more of them now than gas stations. [In fact, the guards would
    probably have to be ex-prisoners, since there simply aren't that
    many folks who didn't take a hit or a pre-21 shot during their irresponsible
    years.] This same principle will clearly apply to downloaders as
    well.

    Evolving
    technology virtually begs Peer-to-Peer network users to innovate,
    so content owners like the big movie studios will probably have
    the same success as the drug warriors. But how many more young people
    will lose the lottery? At the rate we're going, what with Martha
    Stewart going to jail for lying to the Feds about something that
    wasn't itself criminal, the stigma of being an ex-con is in danger
    of fading out completely. How can you shun someone who, in a tiny
    twist of fate, could just as easily have been you?

    Perhaps
    life will be less uncertain when lawmakers (and their gutless, herding-animal
    constituents…i.e. our neighbors) have the cojones to face
    that question. Someday, perhaps our neighbors will see that the
    people they threaten with a life-ruining criminal record is their
    own next generation, their kids, doing exactly what mom and dad
    did when they were young – playing fast and loose with the
    rules. Until then, it seems that as science conquers the arbitrary
    dangers of nature, humans will replace nature's horrors like polio
    and periodic starvation with man-made alternatives. As we know,
    the institution best constituted to breathe life into these lunatic
    fantasies is government.

    Thanks
    guys. Thanks a lot.

    In
    the meantime, the best our community (the LRC community, that is)
    can do is to teach our kids the difference between nature's law
    (morality) and statehouse law (the lottery). It's wrong to murder,
    or rob, or cheat. It's just hazardous to do any of the literally
    millions of other things that are technically now crimes. Just remember,
    son, to play the odds.

    October
    1, 2004

    David
    Calderwood [send him
    mail
    ] a businessman, artist, and author of the novel Revolutionary
    Language
    , selected January 2000 Freedom Book of the Month
    at Free-market.net.

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