In primitive societies when the organizing principles were pretty simple, there were some basic rules that were strictly followed. For example, the males did the hunting and the females did the gathering and kept the babies, the hut and what passed for food on the table.
As the lives of humans developed the need for more rules followed. For example, the family group expanded to tribes. And tribes expanded into “nations”. Rules were agreed on as those stages developed on how to select leaders and allocate responsibilities. While rule following was far from perfect, the intimate knowledge and involvement of peers kept most folks in line and things rocked along pretty well.
Fast forward to our modern life and today when we cannot count the rules on which our lives depend and many of us live effectively anonymously in dense populations, how can we expect everyone to know the rules and practice them for the benefit of society at large? The answer is we cannot and should not.
That suggests that we have too many rules, or the wrong kind of rules, or a wrong system of managing and policing those rules.
Let’s be more specific. We talk a lot about the “rule of law”. It is one thing to believe in the general proposition of a rule of law. It is another to know in every case how that rule of law should be applied.
For example, several years ago on Pitcairn Island isolated in the Pacific where about 50 descendants of the Bounty mutineers from the late 1700s had decamped and remained today, two men were charged under applicable Australian law with having sex with underage girls. It was obviously a very messy bad business that properly played very badly in the modern press. There was a trial and the law under which they were tried had been passed in Australia but never published on Pitcairn. The defense lawyer asserted that it was not right to hold a defendant accountable for a law that he in fact never knew about nor had any reasonable basis to have known about as there was at that time little communication between Australia and Pitcairn.
It also turned out that the two defendants were essential members of that tiny community virtually isolated from the world, and the fabric of that little world could not do without them. The result was a negotiated arrangement where they were effectively paroled forever if they stayed out of future trouble and did their community duties.
The notion that the rule of law requires an appropriate context is important despite the fact that the general the standards in the modern world as we know them then clearly draw the line about underage sex.
So we in the modern world have been taught and learned that we must be bound by modern conventions, as well as laws, and we are assumed to have picked up most modern conventions as we grow up.
But, even that notion has flaws. Some years ago I knew a young man who liked to flaunt conventions just for good measure. He refused ever to wear a matching pair of socks, a matching pajama bottom and top, to bathe regularly etc. It was his badge of honor and independence until one day an older friend of his asked him, “Isn’t it just as bad to be bound by unconvention as by convention?”
He heard and moved on to other displays of independence. But the fundamental point remained and remains.
How can we hope and expect for all the nooks and crannies of 7 billion humans on earth today to live peacefully according to what a relatively few people believe to be the proper rules of life.
There are several religions around the world that have professed to have the answers to those questions. For a long time those religions did seem to manage pretty well a quite large number of their believers. Now there is a global clash among those various rule making bodies and we see a great deal more tragedy around the world all the time.
Perhaps it is time for a new universal genius to begin to proclaim a new rule making process that everyone could believe, understand and practice in daily life?