Lazir broke the silence again. "You mentioned some person Diane. That's a woman's name, I think, right? She does not live here. Is she family?"
Oh poop, not another sticky subject. "No, she was my girlfriend back in California."
"Explain to me this 'girlfriend' idea. We see girlfriends and boyfriends mentioned on the internet, but almost always men have girlfriends and women have boyfriends. As far as we can tell, anyway. Sometimes they are just 'friends' without reference to gender. Is this cross-gender friendship something different, perhaps related to reproduction?"
I gotta hand it to you, you sure do drill down to the essence of the situation, he thought, wondering how to respond tactfully without dragging in all the hurt of broken relationships. "Um, well, um, yes, sort of," he stammered. "Actually most people -- I think it's still most people -- get married when they want to have kids, children. Kids need parents, probably both kinds. Maybe not, but I think so." Enoch wondered how he managed to wander out onto that nuclear wasteland. No matter, he would just wander back... "Before you get married -- I mean before people decide to get married, they date for a while. Some people --" [not to mention me, he hopefully thought] "some people just date and never get married. We think of it as doing our part for population control. Anyway, before you get married, while you're still dating, she's your girlfriend; after you get married, she's your wife. Before marriage he's your boyfriend, afterwards he's your husband." Whew, Enoch managed to get through that without mentioning sex. It would be just like Lazir to zero in on sex.
"You were dating Diane? Did you plan to get married?"
"Yes and no. I mean I didn't plan on marriage, I don't know about her. She talked about it a few times, but we never got serious. We used protection..." Sshhh-- what did he have to go say that for?
"This is some kind of protection from getting married? I don't understand. What we find on the internet about marriage suggests that it is voluntary... Oh wait, what's a 'shotgun wedding'? Is that somehow obligatory?"
"It's kind of an old idea, back in the days of virginity. If you knocked up a girl and got her pregnant, her father might come after you with a shotgun and force you to marry her. Of course it was supposed to be voluntary even then, but you didn't want some disgruntled hillbilly stalking you with his shotgun the rest of your life. Local juries never convicted for murder in cases like that. Nowdays we are more enlightened. The girls are on the pill, the guys all wear rubbers, and if something gets through, you quietly get her an abortion. Most of the time. My cousin, they joked about hers being a shotgun wedding. I think she was six months into it, very visible. Rumor is she did it on purpose to get the guy to marry her."
"Is it very often that the women want marriage, and the men do not? Was that the situation with you and Diane?"
What kind of question is that? Jimminy, this guy could be a talk show host. Or a shrink. "Maybe. I don't know." At least he didn't ask if they were shacked up. Yet.
"But you were defensive of Diane. She was part of your, your -- I don't know how to say this -- you said you would get angry for her and for yourself only. Does dating have some of the characteristics of marriage?"
"That's a tough one. Yeah, I guess it does. Guys get jealous -- I guess girls do too -- get jealous if their significant other dates around when they're steady."
"Is the only difference procreation?"
"There's a legal aspect to marriage. When you're just dating, if you break up, you feel bad for a while, then you get over it. Like Diane, she's already in another relationship. If you're married, you have to go to court and fight over the community property and kids and stuff. It's rumored some people do it amicably, but I've never seen it. Usually somebody is all bent out of shape, even if they agree to be nice about it."
"But you're not in another relationship? Are you all bent out of shape?"
"No, I just don't dig the chicks around here. Not my type, you know what I mean?"
"No, I don't know. Tell me."
"Um," -- how to do this carefully -- "most of the suitable chicks are taken already. California has a high population density, you go to the night spots and you meet a lot of other people looking to hook up. Here, the night life is dead. I think everybody stays home watching the grass grow. Which it doesn't." Home free. It didn't exactly answer his question, but maybe Lazir wouldn't notice.
"Are you saying the kind of person you liked about Diane, there are not many of them around here?" He noticed.
"Yeah, that's it." Enoch decided not to mention the prudes, that would open the whole can of sex worms and spill it all over the carpet. Don't go there.
"I get the impression that you would have liked Diane to come here with you, but she chose not to?"
"I guess she figured -- rightly -- that the night life was not her type either. And she had her friends."
Enoch had never thought of that. Maybe she was two-timing him. The whore! Actually he didn't know, but she sure hooked up with somebody else fast. "I don't know. I didn't know of any." He could feel his anger rising.
"Did I say something bad?" Lazir sounded genuinely concerned.
"No. It just had not occurred to me that Diane might be two-timing me."
"Are you jealous now for her?"
"No. No way!"
"But your skin temperature rose just now, like it did earlier when you were venting your anger over Diane and your parents. Is that an indication of anger?"
Damn this Lazir, why can't he mind his own business? Of course he probably had no clue, he was just trying to learn about human culture. But why did he have to pick on all the sore spots? Damn him anyway.
"Yeah, sorry, I got carried away. Can we talk about something else? I need to get my mind off Diane."
"No problem. Can we get back to this government thing? I'm still trying to understand the idea of voting and elections and laws and compliance."
Whew. "Yes, let's do that. What part gives you trouble?"
"Let's start here: you elect people to be government, and then they make laws -- rules -- for you and everybody to obey, but you said nobody obeys all of the laws. Except your parents, but nobody else. Why is that? Why would you elect somebody to be government, then not follow the government laws you elected him to make?"
"I was wondering that myself," Enoch said slowly.
"Did the government make bad laws? Did they make mistakes, like the bugs in your software?"
"Sometimes, but not very often. Like Prohibition outlawed liquor, but we found out that was worse than the drunkenness. People got drunk anyway, but they also developed a scofflaw attitude, disregarding all laws. There was a lot of crime in the streets that could be traced to the speakeasies. Law is good. We don't want scofflaws making things tough for everybody. So they repealed Prohibition."
"What about yourself, you did not except yourself with your parents as obeying the laws. Does that mean you do not obey them faithfully? Why not?"
Enoch could feel his face redden again, and that damned Lazir, maybe it was outside his visual range, but he could tell.
"What can I say? You got me."
"I never thought about it. The thrill of risk, not getting caught, or maybe I don't agree with those particular laws. Or maybe it's just a fast buck. Like my income tax, I figure they won't pick on small potatoes like me, but if they do, I just pay the penalty. On the average I'm better off cheating. Everybody does it."
"Except my parents, and maybe one or two others in their church, perhaps a couple thousand nationwide. But everybody else. They don't have enough agents to audit everybody, so they have a computer program to pick out statistical indicators pointing to big tax cheats. Most of us know what the indicators are, so we stay inside them. My accountant knows how to do that. Of course he can't actually advise me on how to do it, but there are ways. That's how he makes his money. You know what I mean?"
"Not really. I'm trying to understand. I assume by 'cheating' you mean underpayment of your lawful taxes? If everybody does that, then there will be a tax shortfall, and the people who pay their lawful due -- like your parents -- they are actually making up for your cheating. You are stealing from your parents. Is that your intention?"
Damn him again! "No, I didn't think of that. I guess you are right. OK, what about speeding? The posted speed limit on the interstate out there is 75. During the day, when there are slower vehicles on the road, older clunkers that can't go much faster than 50 -- a lot of the poor people in this state, that's all they can afford -- that's a pretty good law, because you need time to react. But at night, there's nobody on the road at all, especially at 3am, like last night, when I was getting close to home. The limit doesn't make any sense."
"Do you have good night vision?" Lazir asked. "Can you see as far at night as you can in the daylight?"
"No..." Enoch started to redden again.
"Do animals wander out onto the highway? Last night, after you came and disappeared, and before daylight, there was a four-legged animal about the size of one of us, it looked like it was foraging or hunting or something, wandering around not too far from our lander. Suppose one of those wandered out onto the highway. Would you be able to go around it without destroying the animal or your vehicle?"
"They have fences..."
"The fences are wire -- I guess that's barbed wire -- to keep out the large animals. You have such a fence around your property, but it didn't keep this animal from approaching your house."
"I see." This was getting embarassing.
Slight pause. Enoch was relieved when Lazir took a different tack. "You are not personally responsible for obeying United Nations laws?"
"No. The member nations... I guess it's like me and the state laws, the member nations obey the UN treaties we agree to, and then only if we feel like it."
"Why is that?"
"Um, I think it has to do with national security. At least that's what they say. Maybe it's more of an ego thing, the politicians in power want to exercise their power without being accountable to the UN or anybody."
"Is that why you don't obey the state laws? You want to express personal power without being accountable?"
Enoch let that sink in. "You know, I never thought of it like that. Yeah, I guess maybe so."
"The UN government officials, who should they be accountable to? Do they have laws they should obey?"
"Um, well, they have to obey the governments who sent them to the UN. But the UN itself is accountable to nobody. They as high as it gets."
"Would they be willing to obey an interplanetary government?"
So this is his agenda? He wants to impose interplanetary law on the earth? How does that line go, this was over his pay grade. Enoch was not going to take responsibility for making or breaking interplanetary law. "I think you need to ask them," he said carefully. He decided to learn more about this. "Are you saying there is an interplanetary government? What happens when the people on a planet do not obey? Suppose they don't even know about it"
"Like the earth? That's a good question. What happens when people on earth don't know about the laws of their government? Is that possible?"
"It happens all the time. There are thousands of laws. Nobody can know everything. I guess if you get too blatant about not obeying, they arrest you and you pay the fine or go to jail, or whatever the punishment is. Ignorance of the law is no excuse."
"Would you consider that a good policy?"
"It has to be. Otherwise everybody would plead -- pretend -- ignorance and continue to violate the reasonable laws."
"So you think it is reasonable for a planet to be held accountable for obeying interplanetary laws they don't know about?"
"I didn't say that," Enoch objected. "You're not going to make me the fall guy for violations of interplanetary law."
"I'm just asking what you think is reasonable."
"I -- I don't know. Maybe interplanetary law is different from national and international law. I'm not a lawyer or a politician. That's their business to know those things. I'm just a programmer, I just try to get along."
"Let's think about that idea. You are a programmer. That means you make rules for the computer to follow, right?"
"Y--yess..." Enoch didn't know where this new tack was going. He wasn't sure he wanted to go there. Lazir was too good at nailing his lapses in logic.
"What do you do if the computer doesn't obey your rules?"
"That's silly, the computer always does just exactly what I tell it to do, even if I didn't want to tell it to do that. Unless the computer is broken, of course, but that's almost never. The computer obeys."
"And if it didn't, you would assume the computer is broken, and try to fix it?"
"The first assumption is that I made a mistake. I make far more mistakes than the computer does. So I look for my own errors and fix them."
"And if it turns out you did not make a mistake?"
"I did some embedded system work with a hardware guy once. He was making the hardware, and I was writing the software for it, and when it didn't work, it could be either my mistake or his. We worked together to find out which, then whoever it was, he or I, we fixed it. So yes, if the computer screwed up, we fix the computer."
"Is that like paying the fine or going to jail when you violate a government law?"
"Yeah, I think it is! I never thought of it that way, but some penal
theories expect you to become smarter in jail, so you won't repeat the
crime. I think it actually works backwards, but at least that's what they
want to happen. One thing for sure, when one of my tax dodges didn't work
a couple years ago, I sure won't be doing that one any more. So yes, the
computer got fixed. And sometimes you go to court, and the judge throws
the law out. It works both ways."
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