Friday, November 04, 2005

Meant to be broken

Before I drove my car into a post, I was already worried about it. November is the last month in which I can drive it on public roads without passing the annual checkup. The reasons why it may have had problems with it are the smoke coming out of the tailpipe when the engine is cold, and the surface rust.

I mentioned this to Mutton, who was mildly surprised by the strictness of our rules; apparently in Britain the only rust that matters is structural. I proceeded to tell him that it was essentially a question of money; rather than taking my chances and maybe having to repair the damage and pay for the checkup again, I would simply acquire the necessary paperwork on a, shall we say, commercial basis.

Not something that's done in England either.

Now, this is certainly not something the local DMV takes kindly to, although they really have no way of stopping it; but it does raise a point worth discussing. Even within the strict confines of administrative and criminal codes in Europe, often enough
the stricktness of laws is compensated by the fact that you don't have to follow them.
It is, in my opinion, an important and overall positive factor. As I've said recently, there is a lot of room in legal practice for judging a case on its merits, rather than verified against the statute; and there is even more room in the everyday interaction between citizens and overseeing bodies for the exercise of common sense.

Bill Bryson told in one of his books, don't remember which, of his first encounter with this phenomenon: European laws being unnecessarily strict, and a local explaining to him that it was all right, because they could choose which laws they would enforce. This attitude startled Bryson, and he commented on it in a strictly negative way, but I find it eminently worthy. Laws are created by people for people; they are rules for a society to live by. If one person chooses not to submit to these rules, he is free to leave, or be isolated; but the society in general has the right to choose the way the laws are used, ignore some which are outdated or have been passed to deal with a specific situation, and invoke others selectively or in a reduced way.

If we were to put the letter above the spirit, there would be no need for human law enforcement. Society is fundamentally an interaction between people. The rules of this interaction can be, and should be, flexible and dynamic - and above all, reasonable.

2 comments:

Simon Lucy said...

This is the fundamental difference between the UK and the rest of the EU. The UK doesn't understand the rules that people want and the rest of the EU doesn't understand why the UK wants to enforce them.

Flasher T said...

So which is better? :)

To be honest, I am perplexed by the fact that it is entirely possible to exist in the UK with no form of ID whatsoever. We have mandatory ID cards here, and a lot of stuff is directly tied in to the national identity database. Which really simplifies things a lot.

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