Ranger: "Sir, it's illegal to fish with corn or any natural bait in the state park."
Smokestack: "I wasn't fishing."
Ranger: "It's illegal to even possess the corn. It's a two-hundred dollar fine."
The above is a transcript of a brief exchange I recently had with a park ranger. I, in fact, was not fishing.
A friend of mine was fishing. He had gone through the trouble of getting a fishing license, being a good guy and eager to obey the law. Right about the time the ranger showed up, he had fallen into the river. That's how I ended up with the corn: helping my friend out of the river.
Bump Yo Trout!
I suppose one could explain how expensive it is to stock a trout stream, and how strict rules are necessary to ensure that rangers have the tools needed to prevent the stream from being fished out every weekend, and how natural bait simply makes trout fishing too easy.
I just do not care. I'd rather live in a world without trout than a world where it is illegal to possess corn in any situation or place. Some laws should never me made, regardless of their supposed ends.
One might be able to argue with me for a law against fishing with corn, maybe. I'd rather just tell the park service to stop stocking the stream, and let the trout fishermen associate privately and stock it themselves. Not everything needs a law over it, contrary to popular opinion. The cure is so often worse than the disease.
On the Moral Foundation of Law (or Lack Thereof)
My beef here is that our laws have become so numerous and arbitrary that neither my God-given conscience, nor my systematic knowledge of Juedo-Christian ethics is sufficient to keep me from running afoul of the hideous mountain of rules and regulations our society has heaped upon itself. That's the problem. Our laws are ethically unpredictable. The result of social goal-seeking by lawmakers without any ethical restraint of their own.
This sort of law making destroys the trust that a good citizen may have in the civil authorities. Trust is replaced with suspicion and resentment with every ruined fishing trip, and every torn out vegetable garden. My fisherman friend made the effort to obey, and did so in good faith. It did him no good. I wonder what that useless fishing license cost him.
I will someday have to explain to my young son that, while there is an objective "right thing" that he must always choose to do, It will not necessarily keep him out of trouble. Making reasonable efforts to know the laws and obey them does not merit an assumption of safety. While he must strive to live lawfully, he must also guard himself against the agents of law making and law enforcing, and avoid interacting with them unless they have personally proven their honesty and good morals to him, because he will never know if the park ranger who just pulled up is there to enforce some rule that he has never heard of and could never imagine.