An important question and one the legislatures of this country should consider.

Do laws such as the New Mexico law against cohabitation, which serves no useful purpose for the government, and remains unenforced, cause people who find out about them and happily violate them to gain a lack of respect for other laws? Does it add to a cynicism that the law is not anything worthwhile?

I personally feel it does. The wide variety of laws present across this country that attempt to regulate all sorts of aspects of peoples' lives that are pretty much uncontrollable discourages people, causing them to think the lawmakers just want to make laws. Laws against who we can sleep with in our homes, laws against which sexual positions can be done (last I knew there were laws in some states forbidding sex except in the missionary position), and other similar laws which make things that do not harm anyone illegal encourage people to laugh at all the laws.

Maybe what the government needs to pass is a law requiring that there be a definite reason for any law passed, and that it must serve the interest of the government and people.

Laws are funny things: there are various reasons for obeying them and disobeying them:

Laws such as those against theft and murder - well, most of us would not consider doing these things whether there was a law there or not - and most of agree that the laws should exist.

The outlandish laws which inspired this node may be safely ignored.

It is the laws on the borderline which interest me: in parts of the UK, posession of class B drugs (i.e. Cannabis) is officially a crime, yet many policemen choose to either ignore the matter, or confiscate the drugs and omit to press charges. So is it criminal or not? Is it immoral or not?

Bad laws cause me to lose respect for the lawmakers and my "neighbors" who vote them in. After my recent move, I discovered that citizens of this state often try to legislate preference for their lifestyle. "Let's post the Ten Commandments in every public school classroom!" or "Let's stop big cities from restricting my right to carry firearms everywhere I go. Like into crowded public areas."

In such a homogeneous region, these laws are proposed when the vast majority feels threatened by a small minority of people who are slightly different. This is where ideas like "special rights" for gay people arise.

For an answer to this question I looked up some passages in The Book of Lord Shang, a classic of ancient Chinese political philosophy:

The fact that penalties are heavy makes rank the more honourable, and the fact that rewards are light makes punishments the more awe-inspiring. If rank is honoured, the ruler loves the people, and if punishments are so awe-inspiring, the people will die for their ruler. Therefore, in a prosperous coutnry, the people profit by the application of penalties, and by the distribution of rewards the ruler will gain credit.

If the law goes into details, the punishments will be mulitudinous; if the laws are multitudinous, punishments will be scarce. (...) It is the nature of the people to be orderly, but it is circumstances that cause disorder. Therefore, in the application of punishments, light offences should be regarded as serious; if light offences do not occur, serious ones have no chance of coming. This is said to be 'ruling the people while in a state of law and order.'

If, in the application of punishments, serious offenses are regarded as serious, and light offenses as light. light offenses will not cease and in consequence, there will be no means of stopping the serious ones. This is said to be 'ruling the people while in a state of lawlessness.' So, if light offences are regarded as serious, punishments will be abolished, affairs will succeed and the country will be strong; but if serious offences are regarded as serious and light ones as light, then punishments will appear; moreover, trouble will arise and the country will be dismembered.

To summarize, what appears to be being advocated here is an emphasis on ridiculously (well, unfairly) strict laws to deter offenses, or the "If we decapitate thieves, no one will steal bread" school of thought without circumstantial thought for the desperation of a parent with starving children or why hunger exists in the first place. Unfair, yes, but similar to Mayor Giuliani's recent policy in New York City of cracking down harshly on the "small crimes" (jaywalking, graffiti) to dispel the aura of criminality in a place where until recently, people flagrantly and constantly violated the small laws.

The policy in NYC seems to have been having net positive effects for the city (if not for the rights of its citizens), thus this mentality can't be taken as the sheer insanity it might initially comes off as, which is Bad laws don't cause lack of respect for the law if you kill everyone who disrespects the law. Only ones respectful of the bad law will be left.

Now wait a second: isn't there something wrong with misinterpreting the law to deliberately apply unjustly high punishments? (That sounds like it falls well within the category of "bad law" as asked in the node title even if it's literally "bad justice".) Not, according to this text, if you wish to maintain a strong state:

If the law is crooked, order turns into disorder; if reliance is placed on virtue, there is much talking; if government measures are numerous, the state is in disorder; and if there is much talking, the army is weak. But if the law is clear, government measures are limited; if reliance is placed on force, talking ceases; if covernment measures are limited, the country enjoys orderly administration; and if talking ceases, the army is strong.

Therefore, in ruling a great country it becomes small, and in ruling a small country it becomes great. If the government takes such measures as the people hate, the people are made weak; and if it takes such measures as the people like, the people are made strong. But a weak people means a strong state, and a strong people means a weak state. If the government takes such measures as the people like, they are made strong, and if strong people are made even stronger, the army becomes doubly weak; but if the government takes such measures as the people hate, they are made weak, and if weak people are made even weaker, the army becomes doubly strong. Therefore, by strengthening the people one becomes doubly weak and perishes; by weakening the people one becomes doubly strong and attains supremacy.

A lack of grounding in such material results in western politicians and governments often viewing the Chinese government's actions as nothing less than nutty. Nutty, yes, but nutty as dictated by ancient and traditional texts!

This could be seen as a special case example of the old saying: "The more laws there are, the more crime there is". Silly laws do sometimes get enforced, and thus cause a rise in "crime" even though nothing particularly immoral is taking place.

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