But back to Garak's point--this is certainly a consensus view, but does it hold water? In fact, we are not so sure... Indeed, one of the oft-discussed areas of philosophy over the years has been the issue of altruism - why does it exist, and does it confer any evolutionary benefits? There are several views and we will not get into them here, but we can surely say that not only do humans have a capacity for empathy, but they also seem to genuinely care about the well being of other people. So we do not view it as a fait accompli that fewer (or no) laws would lead to an outbreak of "bad behavior"; indeed, one could argue just the opposite - that without specific laws to guide them, people might think more carefully about their actions. (This is very similar to the unfounded arguments many make against libertarianism - that without laws society would devolve into some twisted version of Mad Max. It is based on the same flawed premise - that people are inherently evil, and only restrained by threat of punishment. In our opinion this is a sad and pathetic view of humanity.) Said a different way--one who worries purely about getting caught is surely more likely to commit a crime than one who views it as "wrong."
Further, consider other animals, which do not have "laws" as such, and yet somehow manage not to kill themselves off in a frenzy of orgiastic murder. How can this be? Think about it...
Finally, getting back to the original point of the piece...no matter how "wrong" certain behavior seems to us, the absurd view (that all is physical, and thus nothing "matters") is simply not consistent with the concept of morality. Consider an individual who captured other people and animals, bound them thoroughly, and spent days or weeks feasting on their still-alive remains. Horrible, no? And yet, our children have been watching a spider do this outside one of our windows for the last few weeks. Is the spider evil? Mentally unbalanced? Should we incarcerate it and try to "re-educate" it? If it escapes, should we pursue it and seek to jail it whenever we happen to catch it?
We are no different from spiders (or eels, or cow dung, or even a slab of granite), despite the fact that our self-reflective brains make us view such a statement as beyond ridiculous. We may, as humans, seek to live in ways that make us feel better, and more comfortable, and that (crucially!) maximize our chance for genetic reproduction. But we should not fall into the all-too-easy trap of believing our actions, emotions, and "beliefs" are in any way different from other physical processes--one might as well ascribe meaning to sea tides or cloud formations.
But while the absurd man recognizes this fact, it is inaccurate (and misguided) to assume he will simply act with impunity. In fact, the opposite is far more likely. As the philosopher Derek Parfit once said about his recognition of the absurd:
"My life seemed like a glass tunnel, through which I was moving faster every year, and at the end of which there was darkness...When I changed my view, the walls of my glass tunnel disappeared. I now live in the open air. There is still a difference between my life and the lives of other people. But the difference is less. Other people are closer. I am less concerned about the rest of my own life, and more concerned about the lives of others."
For those interested, Parfit's new book On What Matters publishes tomorrow - we are eagerly awaiting our copy...