Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The moral order of humane government

Bush has announced his choice for the Supreme Court by nominating Judge John G. Roberts. An interesting item about Roberts is his assocation with a case involving a 12-year-old arrested for eating french fries in a subway station as reported here, here, and the subsequent court ruling here. The opening of the AP story goes:
16 Nov 2000

Girl Arrested for Eating in Subway

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The mother of a 12-year-old girl who was handcuffed, booked and fingerprinted for eating French fries in a subway station says police went too far.

"I can't believe there isn't a better way to teach kids a lesson," said Tracey Hedgepeth, whose daughter Ansche was arrested. "The police treated her like a criminal."

As a result of the court ruling the DC Police policy was changed from arrest in handcuffs to a written warning and a letter to the parent(s). Even so, the problem is not that people are eating but that they are littering and using the open environment as a trash can. See photo in a blog entry below about the Live8 concert in London.

Going deeper however, there is something even more fundamental at work and it is not contained to America alone as the photo of the London stadium shows. What is at work is a profound lack of care and respect for anything except one's own pleasure. At the root of this phenomenon is the leadership of the government.

Confucius said: "Lead the people with governmental measures and regulate them by law and punishment, and they will avoid wrongdoing but will have no sense of honor and shame. Lead them with virtue and regulate them by the rules of propriety, and they will have a sense of shame and, moreover, set themselves right."

What this mean is that if the government is humane, it will lead the people by its own example of protecting the environment, encouraging good stewardship, and taking responsibility for reducing the trash it generates. More importantly, the government will treat the people as if they matter rather than treat them as trash to be dumped in the street, or in this case, in the station or in the train cars.

The principle here is: treat the people like trash and trash is what you get.