At traffic lights opposite Alex Surf Club north of Brisbane, a sign last month said “U turn at lights OK”. It did cause problems, as other unwary drivers using the “left anytime” slip lane could nearly collide. The sign has now returned to “U turn prohibited” as normal, but many drivers still do their U turn, now illegal. I want to shake my fist at them. What is my motive? Obviously the ruling has some arbitrary features – there is nothing moral here – it is merely a road law for keeping order.
The offenders risk a police fine now. A bit of a reason to obey. At 3 AM, no police patrol, so there would then be no reason to obey. Tell that to the night patrol you didn't see.
But I have internalised the law. In practical terms, the new Alex corner rule is probably safer, but something in me wants to say more: it's the law, we should obey the law. Laws should be obeyed.
But why? If I don't believe in a divine authority to back a law as binding (and I don't), do I accept the authority of the queen, or the government, or the police, or my mother, to place an obligation on me. When I was a child, my instincts of child submission, along with punishment threats, led me to internalise my obedience. But now mum is dead. I am adult. So why obey? Just the stick?
I contend that most of us do have some sense of internalised obligation, and it is not only the risk of a fine or a shaming. But for secular folk, not convinced of a divine backing for laws, it is a “soft” obligation, one that can be challenged when the law is evidently wrong, as conscientious objectors may judge it in wartime.
If it is “soft”, why do we give any allegiance at all to laws? Because as a human culture, if we do choose to live in it (and totally opting out of all social interaction is pretty much impossible for us), law frameworks place a structure, a safety, an orderliness. There are many layers of law, body corporate, traffic control, tax paying, bank teller queues. Without the...