Opinion: Questioning Rules and Rulers

As a social sciences student, a question that seems to pop up in many a problematic case seems to be the time-appropriateness of laws and the legal system in our society. In every “problematic” case, the law proves itself anarchic time and time again to cause headaches, cost taxes, and put blatantly – futile. Every new controversial case that has to be disputed in court is disputed because we simply do not have rules for it. When a dispute is finally resolved, it’s not resolved because the legal system guided us there: if the legal system had a clear set of rules, order, and punishment outlined for the “dispute” – it wouldn’t have even been a disputable case in the first place. It would have been an outright offense. Disputes get resolved because the fighters in the cage match put forth and battle their rationales as humans. In the end, the more persuasive and economically efficient rationale takes home the trophy. So my question here is – why have so many laws?

I’m taking a class called the “Sociology of Law” this semester. This class will supposedly be devoted to studying the philosophy of law as it has served, and serves, society. The flavour of philosophy I (as an amateur) am just starting to taste here is absurdity – the law as a rulebook in an absurd world; a rulebook that manifests itself in the hands of already-powerful agents seeking to manage society for (prosperous) economic ends. Rules that people try to find justice in, but don’t. Rules for humans to achieve something that never really serves anyone as a human being – rules to serve efficiency. Rules to inflate the bank accounts of the powerful, like foie gras. Rules for fast, fatty foie gras.

I’ve always been able to perceive the legal system as a vessel for the justice system, but never a direct, justice-serving system in itself. Yet the rules, laws, within the system – I’ve never been able to question before. Did the idea of having laws create the legal system, or did the idea of a legal system create laws? Laws seem to be changing all the time (albeit, at snail-pace), but the legal system can be manipulated to change laws, too.

The direction of influence of the system and its components empirically goes both ways – but because of society’s idolization and cultural aura of unworldly sacredness for both the law and the legal system, the pace of change in our legal system always ends up being an arduous, time-devouring task. Just imagine two 600 pound wrestlers (one being the law, the other being the legal system) trying to topple each other – and constantly fueling themselves while they’re at it. The platform on which they’re fighting will probably collapse before either one wins. This is what’s happening today; especially in the Internet world.

Technology, the Internet, have been progressing at speeds beyond our tangible conceptualization of time and space – creating new worlds and world orders for us to inhabit, live, and be governed (controlled, for the weary) through. Delivering a message now more than 3 different parties: the writer, the content provider, the Internet Service Provider, and various infrastructure stakeholders. What’s the difference between “stealing” someone’s work, versus “sharing”? Is Net Neutrality really neutral? What’s the point of privacy laws, when people want to share their personal information; remain apathetic to surveillance; and sign away their sovereignty over their online activities in the Terms and Conditions for every application they sign up for? What is cyber-harassment – an online figure offending another online figure? Is it people enacting these online personas that we should be charging? Or the harassment facilitators? And to what extent? In this new, virtual world where the material privileges, distinctions, identities can be hidden and rendered useless in democratic participation – can the rules of the material world (where all these classifications matter) be properly applied?

We’re now living in a world where the virtual world reigns supreme – for communication, education, work, democratic participation, control. A world based on 0’s and 1’s, travelling in packets through wires and air, possible and secured through logic and algorithms. We’ve evolutionarily shed religion for science, manual labor for machines, Canada Post for Gmail – material “things” to guide us, for logic based systems.

The legal system has always been based on efficiency: we have laws to keep people on track, in line, away from tomfoolery. We have the court system to facilitate the bringing about of verdicts that we socially find appropriate at the time. But alas, the nature of “systems” have changed: we’ve moved from making up stories, to field-testing/recording/re-testing, and now – to turning to equations and logic for answers and results that will serve us not only in the present – but the future, too. We’ve travelled our species to inhabit a new dimension of space and time – space and time that have never been visited before, let alone lived and ruled before.

So my concluding question would be this: when will we realize the heavy, substantial, material-based nature of our legal system – to “efficiently” revolutionize it for the ethereal (sorry, Internet geeks) world we’re increasingly living in today? Could the legal system ever shed its tried-and-true, fake-neutral, constitutional “base” (literally), for contextualized logic? Or would that produce a Logic God – more powerful, unpredictable than Rulebook Rulers?


Jeong-Wan

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