What’s the point of prohibition?

As ever, I’m coming at this from a lay-person’s point of view. I have nothing more than an average understanding of the law, so please read on in that spirit.

To prohibit is defined in the dictionary as the act to forbid by authority or law. Prohibition is often used to define a period when alcohol is prohibited, but I’m going to use it as a general term for the legal prohibition of anything.

There are lots of things that are prohibited and the law is there to make sure we obey. Some of these are obvious and talked about semi-openly in public, such as drug prohibition. Some are so built into the fabric of our society that we don’t even recognise them as prohibition. For example, public nudity which is described by the CPS as, “…acting in a way that does not conform to the normal standards of society that require people to be clothed in public…”

I’m not trying to start a campaign for drugs or nudity – there are plenty of those already. The bigger point that’s been niggling away at me is that I don’t think it’s always obvious or commonly agreed what a prohibition law is meant to achieve. Who are the drug laws meant to protect – the individual, society, alcohol sales? Why can’t we parade around in the nude – what dreadful thing is being prevented?

If we all understood the purpose of a law we’d be more likely to update or remove it as society progresses and changes. Not thinking about the reason for a rule can lead to some bizarre actions – it reminds me of the ethical vegetarian who drinks milk even though 100,000 male dairy calves are killed at birth each year.

It seems obvious that we need to understand why we do what we do and yet too often we don’t. Surely, if every law included a description of what it was trying to achieve then we could assess whether it needs removing, updating or it’s just plain stupid.

We need to agree and focus on the underlying purpose of our laws and not simply enforce them.

About Stephen Oram

Stephen Oram writes near-future and speculative fiction. His work has been praised by publications as diverse as The Morning Star and The Financial Times.

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