Whenever we come across a problem like drug use or unemployment, for instance, we automatically mutter that ‘they’ should make a law to solve it.
But having observed laws being made nationally and internationally, I am increasingly convinced that laws do little to solve problems.
And I think the reason laws are useless is because the people who make the laws go with the assumption that the law, once framed and approved by authorities, will be abided unquestioningly by the people.
Take the Kyoto Protocol, ratified by parliaments of the signatory countries, proving that things won’t happen just because a piece of paper says people must do this. Irrespective of the fact that the paper was signed and accepted by the very people who later refused to follow it.
Lawmakers think they have an answer to the problem, though. If anyone breaks the law, there is always punishment. But this only complicates the whole thing. How do you punish an entire country, for instance, for not keeping their Kyoto promises? How do you make sure that you catch people who are breaking the law? Because those who break the law are ingenious, and know how to escape undetected. And how do you know that you have the right to punish someone who didn’t do something that you said they should, or did something you said they shouldn’t? And most importantly, even if you are convinced that they are to be punished, how do you know what punishment they deserve?
I am also convinced that people who make laws do not think it through, and not just in Bhutan. It is hard to anticipate all possible outcomes, and sometimes you only realize the validity of a provision in the law in retrospect. But the beauty of mistakes is that it can be undone once you realize where you have gone wrong.
The Tobacco Control Act is an example of a law gone all wrong, and I do not need to explain why- smarter minds have detailed the many flaws with it. It is still referred to as a debate, but honestly there is no solid argument for the law, and the arguments against it are overwhelming, and convincing.
So why is the law not being changed?
Honestly, I don’t know. There is no excuse that any MP can offer for not wanting to amend the law, and yet, it seems unlikely in this session of the parliament. And yet the voices speaking against it are dismissed as ‘smokers and drug addicts’.
Drugs. The word conjures up images of pathetic, helpless people, crime and violence, mafia and black market, smuggling and broken homes.
Today I read an article about considering legalizing some drugs, relaxing punishments, because people are beginning to realize that the world is ‘losing its war on drugs’.
You may balk at this, shouldn’t we be fighting drugs? They destroy lives and families, after all.
But the point is, with both international drug control and Bhutanese tobacco control, that we are not really fighting either drugs or tobacco. Or even if we are, we are going about the wrong way in doing it.
I do not deny, for one minute, that tobacco is bad for you. It may kill you, it smells bad, you can’t play sports or exercise to the best of your abilities, it is just a lot of money spent on puffs of smoke that could be used elsewhere for something useful. And we should do the best we can to fight it.
The question is how.
We are the Buddhist country that came up with GNH. Can we really do no better than put people behind bars for smoking? Something that genuinely helps the people the “Act” intends to, and treats them with compassion.
You must know the serenity prayer, the one most rehab centers use to help their inmates…
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
I think it’s time our lawmakers got more introspective, and prove their dedication to the service of the people and the nation, by having the serenity to accept the things that they cannot change, like people’s habits, the courage to change the things they can, like bad laws, and most of all, the wisdom to know the difference.