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Big Laws and Small Laws

BY Mark Shea

| Posted 8/10/12 at 1:01 AM

 

Over at the Catholic Vote blog, my friend John Barnes notes this curious development

In case you are wondering, that is a product warning label on a dental floss container, lest you fail to understand how to dispense the dental floss, leading to unforeseen horrors too terrible to describe on a Catholic news site.

I am something of a gourmand of product warning labels and instructions written by giant corporations on the assumption that if any consumer can do the stupidest thing possible with any product, he or she will.  Sadly, some of the best dumb product warning labels turn out to be fakes ("Odor Eaters: Do Not Eat"), but plenty more turn out to be quite real (such as the warning on the windshield screen for blocking out the heat in parked cars: "Do not drive with windshield screen in place.").  This being the web, there is a website for everything, including multiple sites devoted simply to stupid product warning labels such as:

Warning: May cause drowsiness. Do not operate heavy machinery after taking.

Prescription Ambien Sleep Aid

 

“Additional purchase idea’s: rocks, aquatic plant life, fish”

Wal-Mart Fish Tank

 

Peel fruit from cellophane backing before eating.

Fruit By the Foot

 

Intentional misuse by deliberately concentrating and inhaling the contents can be harmful or fatal.

Pantene Pro-V Flexible Hold Pro Vitamin Hairspray

 

Warning: For indoor or outdoor use only.

Unknown Christmas Lights

 

Do not pass while opposing traffic present.

Boyne Falls, Michigan, U.S. 131

 

(Placed on bottom of tray) Do not turn upside down

TV Dinner
 

The reason for the existence of these and other labels--such as instructions on your shampoo bottle ("Wet hair.  Apply shampoo, Lather. Rinse. Repeat.")--is fourfold. 

First, there are people out there dumb enough to apply shampoo to dry hair.

Second, among this set of dumb people there is a subset of dumb people who then blame somebody else for not warning them not to be dumb enough to apply shampoo to dry hair.

Third, among that subset of dumb, blame-shifting people is a third subset of dumb, blame-shifting people who are aggressive enough to take giant corporations to court for damages if the corporation does not protect itself with a product warning label designed for people with the common sense of a sea cucumber.

Fourth, some lawyer is always happy to oblige these aggressive sea cucumbers.

In short, the reason for product warning labels is that our civilization, having forgotten big laws of common sense and justice is not capable of constructing a system in which absurd frivolous lawsuits are immediately thrown out of court and the frivolous complainer is punished for wasting everybody's time.  Instead, we live in a litigious culture in which silly people can hold sane ones hostage with ridiculous legal threats about trivialities. 

The whole thing illustrates Chesterton's remark that when a civilization gets rid of the Big Laws, it does not get freedom.  It does not even get anarchy.  It's gets the small laws.

The HHS Mandate is, among other things, an illustration of this principle.  Our civilization has actively rejected Big Laws like Be Fruitful and Multiply or Love Neighbor and Love God.  So now we are embarking upon a new phase of the Federal Imperium obsessing over forcing Catholics into the bedrooms of strangers and shelling out the nickel necessary for a new condom.  Very clearly, the point of the Obama Administration is "It's not the money.  It's the principle of the thing."  You can buy rubbers for a few cents a piece from Amazon.  Birth control pills are so cheap and common they are screwing up the water supply.  There's no economic need to force Catholics to buy them for other people.

But there is a huge ideological need for Obama and his ilk to force Catholics to buy them for other people.  This is the modern secular equivalent of compelling a pinch of incense to the Divine Caesar.  The point is to make the Church knuckle under to a jealous god.  It's an exceedingly small law.  Petty, even.  But it betokens a civilization that is making war on the biggest law of all:  You shall love the Lord your God.

Resist the Tyrant!