“Si, dans le nombre infini de choses qui sont dans ce livre, il y en avait quelqu’une qui, contre mon attente, pût offenser, il n’y en a pas du moins qui y ait été mise avec mauvaise intention. Je n’ai point naturellement l’esprit désapprobateur. ” Charles de Montesquieu, Préface “De L’Esprit des Lois”
“If, among the infinite number of things that are in this book, there be any which, against my will, happens to offend, there is , however, none mentioned with a bad intention. It is not in my nature to be a disapproving person.” (NBPT: Nuna’s Personal Translation)
Today’s meditations brought me to the area of law and personal freedom. I enjoy reflecting on serious topics, but adding to it a pinch of humor.
My recent meditations brought me to cogitate over the concept of law. First, I wrote a previous article on storytelling and politics, then on power and influence , now I am drawn to talk about law and liberty. Mercy…nowadays, I feel too rapidly compelled into adulthood …
Ultimately, I hear a lot on TV, the Internet and on the news a great mention of different topics related to freedom. Everybody is giving their opinion about what should be done or not, and sometimes there are so many different opinions about the same issue (my head hurts a lot because some say “do this”, others say “don’t”, it’s confusing).
It made me reflect on the notion of freedom in general, and on the role of the law in the regulation of society. “Can Lady Justice and Lady Liberty be friends?“, I asked myself.
To understand better the concepts of law and liberty, let’s retrace them back to the notion of good and evil and to the concept of authority.
1- The notion of “good and evil”
Human beings are social creatures bound to share time, space and resources within a community. There are things we want to do, and things we don’t want to do, and we wished we were free to live according to what we want. However, the acts posed by one person may affect another. In order to regulate society, the law was created, and actions were defined under the notions of “good” and “bad/ evil”.
The morality of an act and its level of gravity can be measured based on various variables. For example; the circumstance in which it was committed, the level of the damage incurred and the intention behind it. For example, killing someone with premeditation isn’t dealt with in the same way as self-defense. Stealing food isn’t the same as robbing a bank.
Personally, I define “doing wrong to someone” as an act caused towards an individual that resulted in causing them a sort of damage. It may be physical, emotional, or related to material properties. Doing good, on the contrary, is posing an act that will bring the receiver some contentment or benefits.
Both “good” and “evil” can vary in levels; they can increase or decrease. Something or someone can be described as “very bad” or “very good”, or also “not so bad” or “not so good”.
A “punishment” can be applied to keep people in check by letting them know that something not very pleasant, or something painful will happen to them if they don’t follow the law. A “reward” is the opposite, it is a pleasurable return on an action committed.
On a macro level, the Law (a set of rules) is a summary of the most recurrents crimes (acts that cause a high level of damage) and the corresponding punishment that a certain society has agreed to apply to it. Those rules are based on morals, values and principles that govern a particular community. For example, some countries apply death penalty for certains crimes while other nations considered that no life should be terminated, so they rather applying a life sentence . In some past civilizations, they cut your hand if they caught you stealing. Nowadays, you will go to jail or pay a fine.
On a micro level, the term “law” can also be related to the set of rules that govern a household or an individual’s life.
2- The concept of authority
The concept of authority has always existed. It is the strength that enforces the law and can manifest in different forms. For example, parents have authority over their children, a boss over his employee at work, or a president over a country.
When two voices are raised against each other, the louder one silences the other. As the stronger voice leads, those who agree with it are happy and those who don’t… have no choice but to submit (or rebel, and wait in silence until the opportunity comes to overthrow the leading voice).
In the hand of humans, power takes turns. (That’s why we humans are jealous of God and wished we were deities, because only He gets to do what he wants).
On a macro level: to save society from drowning into chaos, the world needs a strong figure that will superimpose its supremacy on other opinions. In the contrary case, it will be morselled and each part will constantly be clashing, one trying to overthrow the other. It doesn’t only refer to gunshots and bombing. It can also refer to“unrest”, the absence of peace. It’s a natural human need to seek for a leader, “someone who can show the way”. In our relativist era, I wonder who will be able to assume that position now… Our modern society teaches us that we’re all free to think and do what we want. However, it is impossible to accept every single opinion. The majority’s voice will always prevail…
so that kind of backfired on keeping order.
3- Lady Perspective: a friend or a foe?
If we follow the logic that it’s a free world, then why does the law exist? We should all be able to do what we want. Well, the law exists to establish limits to our actions and to ensure that we cohabitate peacefully with each other. However, it has the unique but great flaw that it can be modified at will: either, the principles behind it become obsolete, or when one has enough power to bend it. The Law is therefore directly linked to authority, and is one of the main causes of all power struggles and society uprisings, summarised in a nutshell: “You dn’t agreed with a verdict? Then get enough pwer to shift the tables and overrule it”.
The law can be altered at will according to the changes in opinions, perspectives and other variables that are relevant to each society (and personal gains of influential individuals). Even more, power dictates a lot in whether a law will be passed or not. The stronger opinion gets to have the law it wants approved, and if those against are weaker, they have no choice but to submit. The tables keep changing as power also changes hands.
The current society has taught us that we were free to do whatever we wanted to do (that’s what some higher ups said to compel our votes during the electoral campaigns). However, that grand promise has come to backbite them, because they didn’t tell the second part of the concept of freedom. I enjoy very much this particular quote in French that expresses it pretty well : “La liberté des uns s’arrête là où commence celle des autres”, meaning: “One’s freedom ends where others’ freedom begins” (NPT: Nuna’s Personal Translation).
Nowadays, when the people of law want to punish them, a common justification is: “It is my belief. We live in a free country, so I have the right to do what I want, and you must respect my choices”. I’m not sure why, but I’m hearing that excuse a lot nowadays… As long as the action done doesn’t harm anyone, probably. But if not, then there’s a problem.
For example, I saw on the news, that some folks organised a party to celebrate the New Year with about 500 people gathered in a closed place, with no mask, in the middle of this Covid pandemic . In the name of liberty, should their celebration be permitted? or in the name of law and the greater good, should they be sanctioned?
This is just one example out of many others.
Phew… Lady Justice and Lady Liberty must be having a hard fight up wherever they are. “The law was supposed to maintain order in society. Now we are told that every opinion is valid and we are all free to think and do what we want. Then, if the law is an impediment to liberty, why does the law still exist? ”
In conclusion… our world is a free world, but at the time, it’s not. It’s all about reaching the proper balance.
Oh, charismatic leader who will subdue chaos and at the same time ensure the freedom of all, the world is waiting for you…
I’m out for now… See you in my next post!
Forever meditating and forever overthinking,
Sources consulted (click on the word to follow the link):
5 reason to abolish death penalty