Pooper-scooper laws and morality
Michael De Dora
Posted on December 6, 2011
There’s been a lot of discussion on this blog on the topic of legislating morality. I’ve weighed the philosophical arguments for and against legislating morality, worked to clear up misconceptions, and considered specific examples of legislated morality.
Yet Jim Schutze on the Dallas Observer web site has now defended legislating morality with an example I would have never thought of: laws that require dog owners to pick up after their dogs. Take a look:
Since the day [I was ticketed for not picking up after my dog] I have never again seen a single city employee out enforcing the law. I can only conclude that the passage of the law and the very existence of the law sent out some kind of moral message telling people what their fellow community members think of them for scoop-scoffing. And it is that message, not any enforcement activity, that has in fact radically altered behavior.
So you can too legislate morality. Think about it. If you can pass a pusillanimous little ordinance that the city can’t even afford to enforce and get people to pick up dog shit, you can probably get them to do a lot of things with laws.
It’s weird. I don’t feel that I am a better person now that I scoop. I’m just doing it to avoid getting hectored. But I do believe other people think I am a better person for scooping, and somehow that feels like almost the same thing.
I keep trying to get at the inner truth of it. Maybe it’s this: If they pass a new law legislating morality, don’t be the first person to obey it. But when everybody else starts, you better jump in. You can use that for a quote too.