Saturday, March 28, 2015

Law v Morality And The Conflicts Thereof

Laws do not define the behavior patterns of a society. They reflect the behavior patterns of a society. This, to me, is blatantly self-evident. A majority of the people are already acting in a particular way. A smaller portion is refusing to comply with the majority's defined standards of 'appropriate' behavior. So a law is enacted that gives the majority the official power to smack the minority into line and make them march to the tune of the proper drummer. If/when the minority becomes the majority, the law either becomes unenforceable and ignored, or it gets repealed. I don't understand, I guess I will never understand, why so many people get enraged when this idea is presented.

My male protagonist, Peteros, is trying to change the behavior patterns of his society. As a prince, and a member of a dynasty that has ruled long enough to be regarded with awe, he has a lot of influence. But there are limits. There are also differences in the behavior patterns between the classes of a rather clearly stratified power structure. He's running into trouble.

So how do I present this in a realistic and reasonable way? I am looking at our world and trying to find situations that I can adapt. There are a lot of prime examples here in the US. I don't even need to get into the politically provocative ones like gun control, or abortion, or drug Prohibition. There's a long list of minor laws that illustrate this. I don't need to find something in our world that causes major upheaval. I am looking for insight into the way people in groups think and react under circumstances like that.

One example is the highway speed limit. Originally it was set at 55 mph. It wasn't a bad idea, in theory. Most cars and trucks really do get better gas mileage around that speed. But people didn't like it so they ignored it. For a while it was a windfall as the local police made out like bandits writing speeding tickets. But it soon became a running joke everywhere across the country. Especially in places where towns might be scattered 50 to 100 miles apart. Eventually the cops stopped paying much attention once their ticket quota was full, unless someone was driving recklessly. Then the speed limit was raised to 65 mph, and then in some places even higher. The law had become effectively irrelevant because the behavior patterns of the majority had rendered it null and void.

The nifty idea of switching the US over to the international metric system was another case. For a few (brief) years road signs started displaying speed limits and distances in both miles and kilometers. Whereupon, as Dave Barry pointed out, the American people promptly shot them full of holes. The law was allowed to die of neglect.

The majority had an established behavior pattern. The government attempted to change the behavior patterns of the majority by decree. It didn't work. I have spoken to immigrants from China and Viet Nam. They tell me that even under oppression, people merely render lip service to the almighty state, then go back to doing whatever the hell they want, They just make sure not to get caught.

This also ties into the principle of jury nullification. Although in my kingdom trials are not conducted by juries, so this doesn't specifically apply. But in practical terms, if whoever is in charge of a trial, be it a jury, or a judge, or a magistrate, or a prince, decides to find the accused innocent then that's all of it. It doesn't matter whether they did it or not, if they don't get punished the law has no teeth and is irrelevant.

One more complication for Peteros is that what he is trying to do, while it complies with established civil law, is in direct defiance of religious doctrine. This does tie in with current controversies about abortion, and marriage rights, and posting the ten commandments in schools and courthouses, and prayers before legislative sessions, etc.

The difference is that the people of Kulhn are members of a society that is just coming out of the medieval period. They, like people in many places in our world, believe in their gods with all of their hearts and trust their priests and priestess to be the living mouthpieces of the dieties. To them, their religion is not a theoretical matter for debate. It is Truth to live by. To defy the will of the gods is functionally equivalent stabbing yourself in the guts. So it's going to get ugly.