In any basic Introduction to Law course it is explained why the norms that rule our life exist (laws, decrees, ordinances, provisions, etc.). And even if you study landscaping, engineering or medical imaging, it is not hard to understand: we live in society and we can’t behave in any way we want. In a democratic system, the representatives of the people have the difficult task of describing the attitudes that, as society, are considered acceptable, and those that aren’t. This means that, in this system, people trust a group to determine the rules under which we must behave when going outside. A law is simply that: the disposition of our rights and obligations to live our lives peacefully, accepting that so does the rest of the population.
In Argentina (and certainly in many other countries), every day we experience situations that, unfortunately, don’t fall on the socially accepted category, as these texts ask for. And I’m not referring to those serious criminal offenses, which involve damages to somebody’s physical integrity (like violent robberies, kidnappings, rapes, murders, etc.). Neither I am referring to extremely philosophical situations (euthanasia, abortion, assisted fertilization, etc.). Minor but not less important situations exist everywhere that cannot be considered acceptable for our society. For these cases, it would interesting to analyze two aspects:
- Why they occur
- What we could do to improve
The situations I am talking about are varied: not lifting the dog’s poop, throwing trash on the street, accepting that a stranger asks us for money to “look after” our car, occupying half of the sidewalk to sell goods… etc. All are things that happen daily and are done by citizens. Citizens like me,… like you, like everybody. People that are part of this society and willingly decide not to behave as they should… (at least according to our own law).
Let’s take the last example: street vendors occupying half of the sidewalk to promote their products. There is and endless discussion on whether this situation is or isn’t acceptable. On one side, the vendors: they claim that they have the right to carry out an activity that will allow them to bring a plate of food to their homes. They will not know another way to do it. On the other side, the law… the regulation of life in society: it is clear that it is illegal from different standpoints (tax, civil and commercial).
Is it necessary to write somewhere that this activity should be considered socially unacceptable? Interrupting or hindering the use of public roads, not paying taxes, not recording sales, competing unfairly with businesses in the same sector… (not to mention if the goods don’t have a legal origin!). The reasons why this activity should not be accepted by us citizens are many; and they are all based on values that, as society, we defend and encourage. [ If anybody is thinking, “show me an example of a law that says so”, here is one for the Ciudad de Buenos Aires (in Spanish): Law 1166 of the Authorizations Code of the Ciudad de Buenos Aires, Chapter 11.1, “Permits of Use in Public Spaces”, article 11.1.17].
In my view it is clear: this should not be accepted. However, it still happens and it will continue happening. Is it justifiable to perform an illegal activity for a good purpose? “It is my only source of income, and with it I feed my children”; is it enough? If we validate this point of view, shouldn’t we validate the one of whom steals in order to eat? Of course, one situation is more serious than the other… but both are just as illegal… just as socially unacceptable.
Why do these situations occur? When the excuse is hunger and family support, it seems that the values upon which we build our life in society are unauthorized (street vendors, car-carers, etc.). And even worse, some values are lost without an excuse (throwing trash to the street, not lifting the dog’s poop, etc.)… And I am just talking about minor situations in which the private property and physical integrity of each one is not compromised.
If we finally understand that the most important thing to teach are the attitudes that we accept as society, we will to stop fighting over the curriculum content, and we will start to get along much better. I truly wonder: how hard is it? Is higher education needed to understand that what matter is educating attitudes and not forcing knowledge? We discuss about many complex rules, but none about basic coexistence…