What prompts people to abide by the law?

by JoeyHodges on October 2, 2015 - 11:03pm

            As we go on about our everyday lives we don’t necessarily think about the law and what consequences we would encounter if we did certain things, yet we generally don’t do things that would entail grave consequences. Why? It could be because they are things that we just instinctively know to be wrong, or maybe they’re just rules that have been drilled so far into our minds we’ve been conditioned to follow them since we were young. Another possibility to explain our passive behaviour could be subtle signs of authority, like a police car driving down the road, an officer on the corner of the street, or even the hundreds of judging eyes of the countless bystanders around you, which deters every individual from committing crimes. This also tends to create a mob mentality that drives some people that may even be thinking of committing a crime to not do so, that way the large majority of the population will end up abiding by society’s norms. Personally, I believe that our obedience of the law is not a result of any one of these factors, but rather a combination of them all and possibly even more.

            The large majority of people are born with a certain sense of morality in order to determine quickly and subconsciously what is the right or wrong thing to do and base their decision on what action to take. This natural sense of doing good isn’t necessarily enough to keep people from breaking the law, because a person cannot be born knowing what laws are in place when the said laws aren’t natural and were created by man. Evidently, if you ask a child who has not yet learned what laws are in place if killing someone is wrong, the received answer will be, more often than not, yes, it is wrong. For more extreme cases of the law and law breaking it is more closely linked to morality, therefore we do not always need to know the law to know it’s something we shouldn’t, but for more minor laws that is not always the case. We still don’t have, however, large numbers of people thieving, vandalising or trespassing because people are informed often and from a young age that doing these things is wrong. For those times that people forget, because it happens to everybody, there are reminders of the law everywhere we go, even if we don’t notice when we see the signs. Whether someone is walking down the street and sees a police cruiser driving down the road or you go in a restaurant and are behind a police officer in uniform in line. It could also be just driving down the road and seeing signs enforcing traffic laws like speed limits or caution signs. Even if these figures of authority and other signs may not be acting actively on the population and we don’t always associate them with a particular law, they speak to our subconscious and tell us not to commit certain acts that would break laws. These repeated instructions and subtle reminders of how to be a law abiding citizen ensure that the majority of people follow not only the major laws put in place in society, but also the more minor laws that won’t seem as obviously wrong to someone that is uninformed. Not every person is informed the same on laws and how to follow them, but the majority being well informed creates a type of mob effect. If one person is thinking about committing a crime, even a minor crime like trespassing, if they’re the only one ready to break the law and nobody else wants to it often deters the aspiring criminal form committing the crime. This effect creates another type of authority that people tend to notice even less than the typical authorities because it is formed of their peers, which ensures that there are even fewer people committing all sorts of crimes. There are still, however, people that will still commit very small crimes like jaywalking, littering or loitering because most people don’t even realize that it really is against the law. These law breakers are often overlooked because there are more important and urgent things with which the authorities are concerned.

In conclusion, even when we don’t see, or rather don’t think we see enforcement of the law and encounter laws because it is disguised in our everyday lives, it still guides us in the decisions we make and the actions we take. Those small reminders of the law are what structure not only our society so that it can function properly and be productive, but they are also all very important in the structure of our individual lives as they guide us to be proper, law abiding citizens.


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