By Sal E. Mustang
I recently had an argument about the banning of plastic bags. I proposed that the banning of plastic bags was not (and should not be) the role of Government. This caused a giggle and a scoff of disbelief that anyone could really suggest that Government shouldn’t protect the environment. I was then berated with a condemnation of the vile scourge of plastic bags that is destroying our precious planet. The intense emotion behind justifying Government’s valiant efforts to protect the world from this plastic menace surprised me. I explained that I also do not like the idea of plastic bags floating across America like tumbleweeds, but that is not what I am arguing against...
I once spent a summer picking up trash along the Veterans Memorial Parkway in East Providence. I didn’t find many plastic bags, but 90% of what lay on the side of the road was plastic Dunkin’ Donuts cups. I was disgusted that anyone would just toss a plastic cup out the window while driving down the road. And this quantity of cups certainly couldn’t have been the work of just one rouge coffee drinker. No, his must have been the entire population of the East Bay! Even the thought of it now shakes my fragile faith in humanity….but I would never suggest that Government should ban plastic cups.
I would agree that intentionally disposing of plastic into the environment is, at best, a pretty obnoxious thing to do. To a certain degree it is a crime – or an aggressive act intended to injure another’s interest without just cause. A legitimate role of Government is to administer the public courts (in which a jury determines whether or not a crime was committed) and to punish those who are found guilty of crimes. So I agree that those who intentionally litter can be deemed to have injured society and could legitimately be prosecuted by Government. However, I do not see how a supermarket, which offers its customers useful plastic bags, is injuring society. In fact, it is helping society and responding to its needs directly. Society creates and uses plastic bags and Government bans them. This brings us to the question of whether there is a distinction between Government and society.
Do you believe that Government IS society? The blurriness between the two has been a major philosophical dilemma for humanity and has caused unimaginable suffering throughout history. Here’s the problem: if crime is an injurious act against society, and you believe that Government IS society; then is it possible for Government to commit a crime? Tyrants throughout history have intentionally clouded society’s perception of this distinction in pursuit of total power. If Government IS society’s will in its most pure and effective state (as Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Nixon, Obama, etc. insist) then is it capable of acting against the best interests of society?
Government’s legitimate role of prosecuting those who have been proven guilty of crime does not extend to prosecuting innocent people who could be potential criminals. Providing bags to customers who gratefully use them is not a crime. Those who support (or do not object to) the banning of plastic bags would rather see the coercive power of Government used to force this service to cease. Punishment shall certainly be inflicted to those who do not comply. Imposing your will on or enacting “punishment” against those who have not committed a crime IS a crime. I propose that Government banning plastic bags IS a crime. The absurd irony of it all and I’m sure what baffles people who reject this argument, is that this crime is committed as a proposed remedy to a crime. Government has (and always will) inflict injury on society under the delusion that it’s actually healing or preventing an injustice. What is it that they say about the road to Hell? When considering Government action, ask yourself if it is actually inflicting injury by setting the precedent of prosecuting people who have not been found guilty of any crime. I know banning of plastic bags might seem like a minor issue or maybe it might even seem reasonable to you, but this misconception is a factor in all our political “crises”. History teaches that a seriously flawed philosophy can destroy far more lives than a stray bag or two.
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