Readers Recall Circumventing Government Authority

July 16, 2015

Inside Insight

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palm tree

WHEN FORGIVENESS IS EASIER TO GET THAN PERMISSION

At The Nerve, we don’t condone defying governmental authority. We advocate paying your taxes and paying them on time, obeying traffic lights and speed limits, and generally abiding by local, state, and federal laws and regulations. Of course, lots of those laws and regulations are unjust, but we should work to change them rather than simply obeying the laws we like and ignoring the others.

Of course, that’s precisely what the Legislature does in a host of ways. Lawmakers ignore the state’s budget law, the Senate allows itself to introduce revenue-raising bills in flagrant violation of the constitution, lawmakers obey the state’s law against nepotism law except when it’s inconvenient, and so on, and so on. 

Still, the rest of South Carolina’s citizens do – and should – obey the law.

There are times, however, when it’s hard not to admire the spirit of independence of people who’ve decided the law – or at least the law as interpreted by the authorities – was sufficiently unjust to resist it. A couple of recent emails to The Nerve brought this to mind.

The first was terse and to the point. “We home schooled our son and daughter,” the reader says, “way way way before home schooling was a thing. This was in the 1960s, even before private school was a popular option in southern states like South Carolina. We would get letters in the mail demanding that we place our kids in accredited schools and threatening us with legal action if we didn’t. We just threw the letters in the trash. And guess what? Our kids are both law-abiding, intelligent citizens with thriving families!”

The second story gave us a little sadness, because we’re tree lovers at The Nerve, though we appreciated it nonetheless.

“This was years ago,” our reader writes, “but I’d still prefer that you not include my name or where I live.” We agreed.

It was 1978 or 1979, and I had recently bought a motel on Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach. We were renovating it, and one of the things I noticed was that a palm tree had grown up next to the front office, right along the boulevard. It had grown so tall that it completely covered the motel sign for southbound traffic. I mean completely covered it. So I called the city and asked if they would remove it. It took them several months to reply, but finally they did, and they said no. They cited some kind of state law or something that forbade them to tamper with palm trees. Okay, but you can’t see my sign? I called them and asked if they could at least remove it and plant it elsewhere, or if I could remove it and plant it elsewhere. They said no. So without really consulting them any further, I sort of took matters into my own hands. I’m not saying I meant to, exactly, but I might have accidentally spilled a whole lot of gasoline right at the foot of that palm tree. Whoops! And strangely enough, pretty soon it died, and THEN I got permission to cut it down myself. I know, it’s terrible, and I’m a bad person. I did feel bad for the poor tree. But what was I supposed to do? I guess I just figured I could get forgiveness faster than permission. 

He figured correctly.

If you have a story about run-ins with governmental authority or wasteful programs or lawless authorities, send it to us at news@thenerve.org.