John Andrist: Who Is in Charge of Moral Compasses?


The old saying that the only certainties of life are death and taxes is wrong.

You can be almost certain, when the legislature is in session, there will be bills to change speed limits, revisit time zones, set rules on ethics, and close some public meetings or records.

That’s an incomplete list, because there are many other issues which seemingly will never get permanently resolved.

Take the time zone bill to put the entire state on central time and end daylight savings time.

Chances are it will appeal to most folks in the Mountain zone. And chances are just as certain those along the Minnesota border aren’t going to like the idea of having a time differential from their neighbors across the river. Somebody will have to still live on the edge.

One unresolvable issue in my home town was whether stores should be open on Saturday night. The merchants could never get together.

Finally, they decided to let each store set its own hours. It must have been pretty smart, because it ended the argument.

[mks_pullquote align=”left” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]As a person I always felt abortion is morally wrong; as a legislator, however, I hated it when I had to vote on an abortion bill. You and I aren’t gifted with a superior moral compass for everyone.[/mks_pullquote]

It made me wonder if perhaps we should have less regulation of public behavior.

After all, you aren’t required to drive the speed limit. Increasing speeds may add to the risk of accidents, but far more common factors are alcohol, distracted driving, weather, and road conditions.

I may bristle when a car whizzes past me on the highway, but it doesn’t really invade me with a sense of fear or insecurity.

As a person I always felt abortion is morally wrong; as a legislator, however, I hated it when I had to vote on an abortion bill. You and I aren’t gifted with a superior moral compass for everyone.

I’m not about suggesting all matters of public behavior be removed from our law books. But perhaps there are more areas where we really don’t have to make a moral judgment for others.

Take religion, for instance. Why do we have this idea that big government should be ordained to determine when and where public prayer is appropriate, and where we can post the Ten Commandments, and whether our kids should be prohibited from singing Christian music in the school or the town square?

Are these really serious human rights issues?

Isn’t there room to just say, “It’s not our job to determine all of the moral and religious values for Wahpeton or Grafton or Dickinson.”?

The older I get the less I’m inclined to set your moral compass.

Deliver us from hacking

We spend something like $8 billion a year on intelligence work, mostly through the Central Intelligence Agency.

It’s so important, we believe, that we have made the CIA a cabinet level agency.

So what exactly is intelligence? Snooping? Listening to the business of others? Prying into somebody else’s business? Spying? Gathering information?

Think about this with me as we bristle with moral outrage about Russian hacking into our computer systems?

Nobody is certain that whatever they learned influenced our election. Nobody seems to be certain that they used whatever they learned in any way, for that matter. We are just outraged because we were hacked.

Now am I cynical to suggest we ourselves may be doing some things to learn about what Russia is up to?

A friend of mine who was a student of World War II said the Japanese plan of attack was to destroy our Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, and then to bomb the Panama Canal to seal us off from our Atlantic based fleet so they could invade the West Coast without any naval defense.

The plan was thwarted, he said, when we cracked their code and learned of the plot.

Would that be snooping? Or spying? Or prying? Is it a possibility, do you think, that if we had advanced computer systems like we have today we would have been doing a little hacking ourselves?

Of course, that would be different, because we are the guys with the white hats.