DeChristopher not above the law

By By By Zack Oakey

By By Zack Oakey

The legal tradition within the United States, Utah and U politics is straightforward in one finite respect: If you want to change the laws, by all means contact your local congressman, representative and the general public to make your case. One U student named Tim DeChristopher didn’t understand this simple principle, and it got him into legal trouble. We ought to support his punishment.

From the dissolution of the Jim Crow laws to the final defeat of affirmative action in California, laws are changed and immoral behaviors are ended through the wise and old process of legislation. As much as we hate Congress for its lack of brevity, representative governance might be the best way to ensure that arguments are heard and some semblance of debate takes place before decisions are made. Compared to unilateral, royal decree and the equally sadistic policy provisions from politburos of the socialist era, our Congress and the legal process it relies on is a fount of beautiful intellectualism. This is why the founders provided it8212;they were constant skeptics of central power.

DeChristopher thought that when he decided to bid on $1.7 million worth of oil and drilling
rights to land in Southern Utah from the Bureau of Land Management and never pay for them, he was doing a good thing. Now in trial, he is asserting that this was a lesser of two evils. He lied to the public to protect “our future” (less evil) so as to avoid possible gains made by oil and gas exploration (more evil). His desire was that bidders and the public8212;you and I8212;ought to, as he said, “reconsider the plans that promoted the exploitation of public lands.”

Is this happening at all? Has the conversation gone along the intended course, to “reconsider” anything environmental? His case has brought up nothing save the legal argument: Should we convict someone who committed a crime he admits to doing when he intended to act for the good of the public?

What is the good of the public? Vladimir Lenin argued for years that he sought only the good of his people. British historian Paul Johnson explains in his book Modern Times that Lenin “made no effort to inform himself directly of the views and conditions of the masses…he never visited a factory or set foot on a farm. He was never to be seen in the working-class quarters of any town in which he resided.”

The good of the public is something that academics, philosophers and jurists have toiled with for centuries. Nobody knows what this means. We know what is good for ourselves, but it’s too difficult to say what is good for someone else, let alone propose to act in his or her name. Those who want to circumvent the established order to bring on revolutions and crusades have more than a legal framework to combat8212;they have the minds of the people to convince because what’s good for an advocate might be bad for a bystander.

If anyone can do anything so long as he or she is driven by what seem to be good intentions, what legal protections do abortion doctors, animal research scientists, musicians or pornographic artists have when their federal and state governments ensure them that their trades are legal? If you feel sufficiently well-intentioned to do anything, to seek the “lesser of two evils,” it can be done. This is why DeChristopher was proposing more than simply stopping drills from penetrating sandstone.

This takes his actions outside anything approximating what many in the media have called “civil disobedience.” The rich, powerful, greedy and selfish oil companies have been thwarted and the air is cleaner; hail DeChristopher. Although his supporters are drunk with victory, they ignore the fact that they are suffocating true, lasting change that could have come about through thoughtful discussion, persuasion and argument. Our nation’s discussion on slavery began well before 1965, but it wasn’t until its advocates sufficiently convinced the general population that it was a good idea to treat all humans equally that lasting change happened. This is true civil disobedience. Convince the people, and you have change. Force them to change, and you have conflict. None of us is above the law, so why should DeChristopher be any exception?

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