Recently I read a very chilling and terrible article about a growing epidemic where Russians addicted to heroin but who cannot afford it instead take advantage of a drug called Krokodil (the Russian word for Crocodile) that eats them and usually kills them within a year. As scary as the illegal drug problem is in many parts of the West, in Russia, the thought of people knowingly taking drugs that destroy their homes and cause their skin to fall off and for junkies to literally rot to death from the desomorphine .
Now, most of the focus of the press is on illegal drugs. Part of the reason for this is that our civilization is growing more intolerant of the rule of law. We want to feel sympathetic about junkies who are trapped on the way of death and cannot understand why cruel laws have to make drugs illegal and expensive. After all, are they addicts and cannot help themselves, so they need the help of government to ensure safe and low cost drugs legally so that they can get their fix. Of course, such costs must be externalized to the tax payer, but as long as a tax-subsidized addict gets their fix of whatever addiction they have, and pays their taxes, they don’t feel like a freeloader or like a drain on society, and of course they are quick to condemn anyone who would morally object to their behavior. And, let us not forget, that Russia is a society that is currently in the midst of killing its people off through massive abortions and alcoholism that has reduced the average lifespan of a Russian male to 60 years of age, one of the lowest in the Western world.
Clearly, there is something larger at stake here. For one, people often let their sympathy for lawbreakers overwhelm their commitment to the rule of law. People are often insensitive to the fact that law is a reflection of the morality (or lack thereof) of a society, and that laws are designed to increase the costs for lawbreakers—both in monetary costs for buying illegal products and in the risk of jail time. Prostitutes and heroin are expensive because they are immoral. Those who do not respect morality do not respect law, and wish to change the laws and make them more permissive to reflect their own debased moral sense. This is problematic on several levels.
For one, human beings tend to be poor calculators of externalized costs, or in dealing with systems as a whole. The brain can be hard wired to become addicted very easily—and so it is far easier and less expensive to prevent addictions (typically the job of education, a responsibility that God places on parents) than it is to treat them. Indeed, the root cause of addiction is the search of mankind to fill up the God-shaped hole inside of them with something else. Whether that addiction manifests itself in drug or alcohol use, sex addictions, or something else, it causes a host of destructive consequences. Drug and alcohol addictions lead to theft and prostitution to acquire the money for drugs. Sex addictions increase the rates of child abuse (since others are considers are mere receptacles for one’s sexual needs), use of prostitution, pornography (which itself is typically made by those who have histories of sexual abuse serving as actors and actresses). Legalizing gambling likewise increases theft as a result of people becoming addicted to the high of winning and unable to calculate risk and loss rationally. Our lack of moral self-discipline leads us to underestimate the costs of our sins, and to show a great hostility against laws that seek to bar us from the objects of our errant folly.
However, the strength of laws against certain types of sins are a weak reed for a variety of reasons. For one, laws and enforcement are only the “stick” part of what would be a total systemic approach to dealing with wrongdoing and wrong thinking. That is, laws exist to punish evildoers, but they act after the wrong has already been done. It is necessary for moral education to take place before someone becomes prey to addictions, and it may even be preferable to focus one’s laws on attacking those who supply the wicked good in the first place rather than on the person who becomes addicted and consumes it, even if the results of the addiction, such as theft, need to be addressed as well. In Russia, addicts cook up Krokodil from codeine headache tablets which are available cheaply and over-the-counter, sold knowingly to addicts by drug store clerks. That is an obvious place to target the distribution network of that drug, but the greed of drug companies for profits have overwhelmed the morality of the design and enforcement of law.
Likewise, there are many situations where the greed of governments for monies makes them inconsistent moral guides. For example, many states use lotteries to partially fund education, lotteries designed to appeal to the (vanishingly small) chance of a windfall to get the poor to pay a regressive tax that funds education, though probably not in probability and statistics, rather than raising property taxes on middle and upper-income homeowners. By disguising a tax as a lottery, poor people pay the costs of education to a higher degree than is just and fair. A government that uses gambling to pay for its social services is an inconsistent moral judge of the gambling of others, opening itself up to charges of hypocrisy if it seeks to enforce any prohibitions on gambling. The situation is similar when it comes to other moral wrongs.
That said, it is important for us to remember that only a morally upright people can be a free people. There are no victimless crimes. Every single action we take that is immoral and sinful has repercussions on others. A man going to see a prostitute can infect his wife with a sexually transmitted disease afterward. Who pays the price of the sin? A drug addict destroys her apartment by making it a meth or Krokodil lab, making it unsuitable to be sold to anyone else, and steals to feed her drug habit. The owner of the building suffers a loss, as do the victims of the theft to pay for the drug habit, who now have to replace their stolen goods, go without, or maybe even pay increased costs for insurance and security systems. Addiction to pornography leads to exploitation of the survivors of sexual abuse in the porn industry and to the treatment of human beings as things rather than people, increasing the pool of survivors of sexual abuse and spreading the damage further out.
This is not a new problem. Song of Solomon 8:8-10 gives it in the context of sexual purity and the avoidance of fornication: “We have a little sister, and she has no breasts. What shall we do for our sister in the day when she is spoken for? If she is a wall, we will build upon her a battlement of silver; and if she is a door, we will enclose her with boards of cedar.” “I am a wall, and my breasts like towers; then I became in his eyes as one who found peace.” This passage shows the relationship between righteousness, blessing, and freedom. We give praise and honor to those who have self-discipline. People who are under self-control are able to be free, because they can keep themselves away from doing what is wrong. Those who are not self-disciplined must be controlled and regulated by others—enclosed with boards of cedar to protect themselves from the consequences of their own folly.
Is it not this way in the world around us? Why do we have laws protecting women and children from abuse and violence? Is it not because parents failed to discipline themselves and instead became violent and abusive towards those they should have protected? Parents lost freedom in their own houses in large part because they lacked the self-control to govern themselves and their households effectively. Why do we have laws protecting employees and in regulating companies concerning workman’s compensation, wages, and working conditions? Is it not because companies exploited workers, seeking to take advantage of the need of people to labor in order to survive, and not providing honorable or safe conditions of labor for their workers? It is a lack of morality and the exploitation of the vulnerable under our jurisdiction that leads to the creation of regulation. If we were self-disciplined and decent people, we would have no need of external regulations. The law was created because of our wicked hearts, even as it inspires those who are wicked to further break it, given the unequal mixture of good and evil within us.
If, therefore, we wish to be free of the burdensome regulations of the laws that have sprung up across the world, we must first learn to discipline ourselves so that the external laws are irrelevant in guiding our behavior. If our own moral standards are stricter than the law, we will not put ourselves in harm’s way. Likewise, if our own moral standards and behavior are stricter than the laws around us, the laws will become obsolete because of a lack of enforcement, and the costs of such unnecessary regulations will allow the laws to be scrapped, because the moral sense of the people will no longer require the costs of burdensome enforcement mechanisms. To scrap regulations without improving the moral sense of people is merely to replace the burden of regulatory costs with the higher burden of sin and exploitation of the weak and vulnerable, so that our sins begin to eat us, as they do in Russia.