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Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right:

I would like to raise an honest discussion about the real life implications of this trope, based on some issues that have been raised in other threads.

I suppose the starting point would deal with Kohlberg's stages of moral development, and the notion of conventional versus postconventional morality system. In short, the characteristic defining trait that must be asked is: Is it right to defy law for the greater good?

(For reference, Kohlberg's dilemma is a simple one: Your significant other is dying of a terminal cancer. There is a cure for it, but it's very expensive - after pooling all your resources, you still can't afford enough of it to save him/her. You are then asked: Would you break in and steal the drug to save his/her life? Why or why not. The reasoning given is used to determine a person's stage of moral development, with simple reward/punishment mechanisms being preconvential morality, societal norms and laws being conventional, and rights-weighing, philosophical discussions being postconventional. There are criticisms to the methods, but it's a nice starting point for this discussion.)

What about for the individual's own good, assuming that no one else suffers because of it? At what point should a person state that something needs to be done, law or no law. The entire notion of civil disobedience is based upon the premise that there is some higher notion of justice that supersedes human law, and that it is sometimes justified to break the law when the law is unjust. The Civil Rights Movement was largely based on this peaceful protest, and, some would state that the Occupy Wall Street movement is as well. (Please keep discussion on that in the appropriate thread.)

Another tangential question can be raised from this: Does a Law Enforcement officer have an obligation to enforce laws that he/she finds unjust? If there is a moral conflict between the two, what should a person working for law enforcement do?

Some would say that the law must be held as sacrosanct - once we bend the rules once, we open the door to all sorts of loophole abuse. Proponents of this position argue that the laws have to be obeyed, but the best way to effect change is through the political system. The opposing viewpoint holds that there are inherent flaws in the political system, that it is unresponsive without substantial popular pressure, and that it's necessary to do what is considered wrong in order to bring about what is right. Of course, there's plenty of room for differing opinions about what "right" and "wrong" are, and in my opinion, that may be the biggest argument for allowing law and the legal system to stand except in the most egregious positions.

Going back to Kohlberg now: Would you break the law and steal the cure for an otherwise terminal illness to save the life of your (possibly hypothetical) significant other? What about your (again, possibly hypothetical) child? Why or why not?

  • Note to mods: Please do not move this to Trope Talk - I want this in OTC.

edited 18th Jun '12 10:13:17 AM by DarkConfidant

 2 Best Of, Mon, 18th Jun '12 10:09:10 AM from Finland Relationship Status: Falling within your bell curve
FABRICATI DIEM, PVNC!
Great OP - except that you gave a link and a technical term but no summary. Could you provide a summary (just a couple of sentences) for that model of moral development you mentioned?

I get that it's not the central topic of this thread, so just a very brief description of just the general outlines is all we need.
Quod gratis asseritur, gratis negatur.
How does that look?

 4 Aceof Spades, Mon, 18th Jun '12 10:21:31 AM from The Wild Blue Yonder Relationship Status: Yes, I'm alone, but I'm alone and free
I'd like to point out that as someone who isn't a doctor, administering the cure to your loved one without knowing what you're doing could end up doing them more harm than good. Maybe a bit of an outside concern to this particular dilemma, but there's a reason we have doctors. Not to mention that these days you can do things like ask people for money. (This seems to be pretty popular on tumblr, people ask for donations for things like helping to move out of a really bad situation to helping pay for a pet's medical bills.)

Anyway, I can understand why a person would do it, and I don't think it's necessarily wrong. I just think it's unwise for a lot of reasons. For one, you would most likely end up caught and put in jail. Supposedly I'm a source of income and support for this hypothetical loved one, and taking that away from them isn't going to help their health. In this way I am doing them damage. As someone with no medical training it's likely that I would administer the treatment wrongly and do them more harm than good. I'd do them harm that way. In this situation it's not a "do this and I'm doing the right thing" situation. It's a "do this and I end up subverting the end goal I desire" and causing a lot of pain all around. Subverting the rules in this situation just isn't a good idea.

As for cops, I've observed that they're increasingly in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation. In some places they're told not to arrest for things like marijuana, in some places they're told to prosecute that vigorously. And these are all decisions made by higher ups that can essentially fire them at will.
Well, certainly jail factors into it. However, I feel that if you asked married couples, there would be a good number of people willing to accept five years of jail time to save their loved one.

And I think that's sort of the dividing line. If you have the moral conviction in what you're doing to accept the legal ramifications of your actions, then it's... maybe somewhat more acceptable than someone who's just breaking the law but knows deep down that it's not really right to do so.

 6 Aceof Spades, Mon, 18th Jun '12 10:52:29 AM from The Wild Blue Yonder Relationship Status: Yes, I'm alone, but I'm alone and free
I think for something like a cure to cancer the jail time would be considerably more than five years. Also, there's the court costs and lawyer fees, which can be costly. And again, you're depriving a loved one of sorely needed income in the future, essentially dooming them to crippling debt because they probably don't have a job and probably won't be able to get a job while they're still recuperating.

Seriously, thievery, however well intentioned, is not the right thing to do here. Granted, I can think of these things clearly because I'm not currently in a situation like this, but not thinking of the future can show a lack of foresight.
 7 Barkey, Mon, 18th Jun '12 11:43:02 AM from Bunker 051 Relationship Status: [TOP SECRET]
War Profiteer
Another tangential question can be raised from this: Does a Law Enforcement officer have an obligation to enforce laws that he/she finds unjust? If there is a moral conflict between the two, what should a person working for law enforcement do?

Depends on how unjust the law is, and what the outcome would be to disobey those orders. I wouldn't risk prison time or losing my entire career over any matters less than immediate life and death for others..

edited 18th Jun '12 11:43:55 AM by Barkey

The AR-15 is responsible for 95% of all deaths each year. The rest of the deaths are from obesity and drone strikes.
One question with the idea of right conduct is, it's not just about the single instance of act. So you did the right thing. So... what now?

About the medical example, that's kind of what happened with John Q.. I suppose you were willing to accept that what you did is risky to save a life.

I don't oppose civil disobedience, like what the OP brought up with the Civil Rights movement. Laws actually state "follow this or accept the consequences". If you believe that a law is unjust, you can still be an obedient citizen by challenging it directly.

edited 18th Jun '12 12:07:21 PM by abstractematics

Now using Trivialis handle.
Law enforcement officers are bound to uphold the law, despite their personal feelings. When on duty, they have to follow the law. Especially in matters of life-and-death. Acting against procedure, the law, or orders, can ruin you, even if what you did was ultimately right.

That being said, there are ways to fight the law, including peaceful and legal ways and civil disobedience. But for law enforcement authorities to work, we kind of need them to not be able to break the rules "just this one time" whenever they feel like it without consequence, even if they're right.

 10 Tam H 70, Mon, 18th Jun '12 12:36:46 PM from 合計虐殺 Relationship Status: [TOP SECRET]
War ALWAYS changes. Man does not.
LE Os can break at least one of the ten commandments with impunity. They can lie their arses off, to put it crudely. That would be Screw God, I'm Doing What's Right if that was a trope.
Unless their state is a theocracy, officers are not bound to obey religious commandments.

Lying is a rather important part of crimesolving, in fact.

 12 Tam H 70, Mon, 18th Jun '12 1:10:00 PM from 合計虐殺 Relationship Status: [TOP SECRET]
War ALWAYS changes. Man does not.
Britain is a theocracy. Not as much as it used to be but there is still an Established church whose wishes are taken into account far more often than they should be. And members of that churches' clergy hate the fact that LEO's tell lies to suspects, probably more than they hate the crimes that the suspects are, well, suspected of.
I want Kat's glasses!
Well lying hurts the credibility of cops if there are any witnesses, which may hamper future attempts at negotiations in, say, hostage situations.
They Called Me Mad!! I decided to show them all; but when I looked on my works, oh mighty, I despaired: for it made me realize they were right.
 14 Aceof Spades, Mon, 18th Jun '12 2:02:48 PM from The Wild Blue Yonder Relationship Status: Yes, I'm alone, but I'm alone and free
I think they're referring to things like undercover cops as well. In some cases it's necessary to lie in order to pursue a big time criminal. Although in this case it's more like "hey, it's allowed in our rules in order to this particular right thing." I guess. Cops only have specific conditions in which they can lie, and it's always in pursuance of criminals.

Just lying for no reason or with little justification gets Internal Affairs on their asses.
True, but lying is not a de facto crime. On the other hand, it does lead to instances of Off on a Technicality, which is not the generally desirable outcome.

 16 Barkey, Mon, 18th Jun '12 2:10:31 PM from Bunker 051 Relationship Status: [TOP SECRET]
War Profiteer
Fuck the clergy and fuck the church.

LE Os can break at least one of the ten commandments with impunity. They can lie their arses off, to put it crudely. That would be Screw God, I'm Doing What's Right if that was a trope.

In the course of an official investigation, lying and misdirection are very important tools, it's why knowing your rights is so important, because then you can tell if a cop is bullshitting you. They will take advantage of your ignorance of your own rights.

That being said, lying to cover their own mistakes is commonplace too, which is unfortunate. Sometimes it's the OP though, a cop does something they aren't supposed to do for the greater good, and then they lie to cover it up. The reverse is true as well though.

Shit, I've lied before to keep people out of trouble. And not just cops, I'll exaggerate and withhold information that isn't directly asked of me at times if it means an outcome that is overall for the greater good. More often than not though, I'm on the straight and narrow about things. I'm all about the little things, like saying "I saw Officer so and so driving that patrol car on day shift, and I didn't see any scrapes on it. Someone from night shift must have hit something. -shrug-"

The biggest things cops do are sneaky things, like a detective being incredibly friendly and asking you some for some basic information on a case that you are actually a prime suspect of. All he wanted to do was get you into a diner to drink off of a coffee cup or smoke a cigarette so he can get a DNA match off the cup or butt without having to alert you by issuing a warrant. Soon as that cup or cigarette leaves your hand, it's completely legit evidence. So note to self: If cops invite you for coffee, keep all cups and butts with you until you get home.

Being an LEO involves metric fucktons of psychological manipulation and deceit, simply because anyone with something to hide lies, and asking nicely usually doesn't work to find out the truth. Everybody, absolutely everybody, has shit they lie about. Cops essentially have to do shit like that if they want to get around your lies.

edited 18th Jun '12 2:14:33 PM by Barkey

The AR-15 is responsible for 95% of all deaths each year. The rest of the deaths are from obesity and drone strikes.
I think they're referring to things like undercover cops as well. In some cases it's necessary to lie in order to pursue a big time criminal. Although in this case it's more like "hey, it's allowed in our rules in order to this particular right thing." I guess. Cops only have specific conditions in which they can lie, and it's always in pursuance of criminals.

Not just this, but as Barkey said, misdirection is often important to get criminals to talk about a crime they committed. The vast majority of cases (over 70%) are solved in an interrogation room, by a cop who tricked a perp into talking too much.

For example, a cop can tell a perp "we didn't find a weapon at the scene" when talking about a murder, and then when the perp later says "Well, I don't even own a gun", the cop can use that against them.

"I said no weapon was found at the scene. How did you know we were talking about a gun?"

 18 Barkey, Mon, 18th Jun '12 2:21:55 PM from Bunker 051 Relationship Status: [TOP SECRET]
War Profiteer
Yeah. Now just imagine growing up around that guys, just think about that for a second. Currently, my dad is a 24 year or so LAPD veteran who works as a senior detective. That was a shitty part of my childhood, trying to get away with anything.

It taught me one thing, always answer questions cops ask with enough information to answer the question honestly, but gloss over and leave out anything else. Or, if you want to get out of doing something really bad, fabricate a story and cop to it about something that wasn't as bad. Like if you were speeding and talking on your cell phone, cop to the speeding, say you were looking at your GPS on your phone really fast for directions. tongue

But yeah, rule #1 about policework is that everybody lies. There wouldn't be a case if the person involved just told the whole truth right off the bat. You have to learn to prove the truth, not just have an instinctual hunch and know it or be pretty sure.

edited 18th Jun '12 2:22:49 PM by Barkey

The AR-15 is responsible for 95% of all deaths each year. The rest of the deaths are from obesity and drone strikes.
 19 Inverurie Jones, Mon, 18th Jun '12 2:59:24 PM from Station 78 Relationship Status: And they all lived happily ever after <3
'80s TV Action Hero
Depends on how unjust the law is...

I tend to work on the basis that 'Lex injusta non est lex'.

What constitutes the threshold of 'unjust' can be debnated until the cows come home, really.

'...But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep.'
 20 Barkey, Mon, 18th Jun '12 6:53:40 PM from Bunker 051 Relationship Status: [TOP SECRET]
War Profiteer
I tend to work on the basis that 'Lex injusta non est lex'.

What constitutes the threshold of 'unjust' can be debnated until the cows come home, really.

Lets put it this way, if I get orders to start clearing houses down a whole city block with a squad and killing any civilians on sight, I'm not gonna do it.

Pretty much anything involving unnecessary or unlawful loss of life or limb crosses into unjust territory for me.
The AR-15 is responsible for 95% of all deaths each year. The rest of the deaths are from obesity and drone strikes.
 21 Ira The Squire, Mon, 18th Jun '12 10:09:19 PM from No idea. Measuring speed
Phyrexian Dalek
I tend to work on the basis that 'Lex injusta non est lex'. What constitutes the threshold of 'unjust' can be debnated until the cows come home, really.

Some are, but not everything is in the gray area, you know.

edited 18th Jun '12 10:09:37 PM by IraTheSquire

 22 Vericrat, Tue, 19th Jun '12 2:44:09 AM from .0000001 seconds ago
Like this, but brown.
For example, a cop can tell a perp "we didn't find a weapon at the scene" when talking about a murder, and then when the perp later says "Well, I don't even own a gun", the cop can use that against them. "I said no weapon was found at the scene. How did you know we were talking about a gun?"

Just want to point out I really hate this example. It's retardedly easy to make assumptions about a murder weapon, especially when under pressure. If the person says, "I didn't kill the person with a scimitar" then yeah, this should be taken as evidence. But guns or knives are so common that anyone could easily make that assumption and accidentally be right.

I do agree that cops should only avoid enforcing the law if the law requires them to do something horrendous for no reason. It should be something that is outside a grey area, completely black (e.g. kill the crime boss's innocent kid to send a message). Otherwise, they should enforce all laws to the best of their ability, whether they agree or not.

Within the "terminal cancer" question, I'll play along with the game (that is, making the assumption that I can use the cure appropriately and it will cure my loved one). I believe the moral thing to do would be to exhaust all other avenues (charity, loans, whatever), and then, if nothing else presents itself, steal it and find a way to pay it back. The life of a human being outweighs the property rights of another. Likewise, it outweighs my obligation as a member of society to follow its laws.

The only case I really think can be made that you have a higher duty not to steal in this scenario is an argument that suggests that future cures may not be made or retailed at all if pharmaceutical companies and retailers are unable to make money off the goods, in which case, the future victims would outweigh the single life, assuming a reasonable degree of certainty.
THIS IS A PSA: As of 1/1/13 there is a 1-year moratorium on No Pants Thursdays. Instead, we shall celebrate No Pants 2013.
Just want to point out I really hate this example. It's retardedly easy to make assumptions about a murder weapon, especially when under pressure. If the person says, "I didn't kill the person with a scimitar" then yeah, this should be taken as evidence. But guns or knives are so common that anyone could easily make that assumption and accidentally be right.

But that's the thing. As Barkey said, cops can and will take advantage of people who are ignorant of their rights (mostly the poor, unfortunately), and said people should keep their mouths shut until they meet with a lawyer. Furthermore, a better lawyer would argue the very thing you just did, but at that point, it's up to who the jury believes more.

Don't get me wrong, though. This process is horribly slanted in law enforcement's favor, and I think it's horribly inefficient.

 24 Tam H 70, Tue, 19th Jun '12 6:07:51 AM from 合計虐殺 Relationship Status: [TOP SECRET]
War ALWAYS changes. Man does not.
I don't even call that which deals with criminal law "the justice system" anymore. Justice does not exist as far as I am concerned.
 25 Barkey, Tue, 19th Jun '12 8:38:53 AM from Bunker 051 Relationship Status: [TOP SECRET]
War Profiteer
The reason it's slanted in our favor is because we're very familiar with it because we have practice.

You should see some repeat offender criminals out there, fuckers are practically lawyers after they've been arrested a handful of times and done some time.

^

No shit, I'm not terribly happy with it either. It shouldn't take a decade to decide to give someone the death penalty, but that's another topic entirely.

edited 19th Jun '12 8:39:26 AM by Barkey

The AR-15 is responsible for 95% of all deaths each year. The rest of the deaths are from obesity and drone strikes.
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