On Laws

From the Justinian code to modern tax code westerners have been keen on laws for quite a while. While usually well intentioned laws have had mixed results in practice, and as technology advances our laws will need to as well, some thoughts on the matter below.

Currently in the US (and other major nations) it’s impossible to know all the laws that apply to a person. The major ones we all know well enough, there are state (and sometimes federal) laws that prohibit traditional crimes ( theft, violence) but there are also local laws that can cover a wide array of behaviors, state and federal regulations that cover things from the kinds of grass one can grow to how deep a hole one can dig. Many of our laws hinge on a very select group of people knowing them (EX: corp. tax law) and an even more select groups enforcing them (EX: IRS). The result is laws tend to be very easy to break, and only the poor or exceptionally unlucky are really punished.

For example, recently (last 30 years) the US has made changes to its laws prohibiting driving while impaired, these have been generally to increase penalties and reduce thresholds for what “impaired” means, but by and large the people who see jail time for such offenses are the poor ( Google “Ethan Couch”). Systematic inequality aside, our laws are not doing a very good job of ensuring we treat each other in a productive/beneficial manner (which I argue they should).

I recommend a VAST simplification of all our laws; from the US and state constitutions to local regulations, as a general rule if the law takes more than a few sentences to explain it’s too specific and should be rolled into a more general law EX: We have laws prohibiting fraud, identity theft, cheating ext.. What if we nixed the lot and prohibited dishonesty? No legalese to narrow down the people who can interpret the law, no exclusions for the rich and powerful, simple- being dis-honest is prohibited. Now that would open the door to a LOT of cases, millions or more, a 5 year would want his sister brought charged for lying about taking candy ect.  While some may lament the cost to the public, I see this as proof that we have been short staffing our legal system for far too long. Such a case as the one described above would come to one of many local magistrates, who would likely rule in favor of the 5 year old and defer punishment to the parents, more over it would give the entire family exposure to the legal system in a positive way (positive interactions with government are should be the standard). Cases with larger impacts (think class action) would need to be addressed by higher courts and there needs to be a simple system for redress.

Getting out of criminal law and into regulation, specific standards are often used, but the law need not include them. A few years back GE killed some people by using a cheaper switch in their autos, with our current laws not much happened as a result, the CEO at the time is free and super wealthy, no one went to jail, GE is still making autos… It’s impossible to make a regulation for everything humans may do that we know is harmful, a better approach would be ensuring that profit motive is never so great that it would overwhelm an individual’s desire to obey the law.

Legal reform is a tricky pickle, like a lot of facets of government improvement is like working on a car while it’s driving. We cannot pause the world to work on a better model, we need to carefully chart out how to get to that better model while the prior one is still in effect. In essence we should look to democratize our legal system, currently there are far too few people that make legal decisions. This is made possible by creating artificial barriers to the legal system (Legalese, various bars, cost) if our legal system was made stupid simple it could be leveraged to effetely deal with a lot of social issues. In effect we all become our own “lawyers”. Will there be abuse? Likely, but will it be greater than what we have seen in the past? No, by increasing access, reducing barriers and maintaining transparency people will find themselves better served and the legal system will be less a stick the rich uses to beat each other and the poor and more a ruler used to measure the suffering we cause each other and offer remedies when called for.

On Equality of access

The impact of access (or lack thereof) is immense. Being able to directly interact, command the time and attention of an individual can be a catalyst for change, a source of information or even a life line. It’s importance is hard to understate, to illustrate take an example of building a fence:

A fairly simple process as far as land development activities go. Like everything else money comes first, then finding a contractor, then building. Every step of that process can be eased by access to the right people:

Money: Anyone who knows me has access to 1$ (that’s about all I’m good for most days), but there are a select few who know people with FAR greater amounts of money, and far greater complicity to dole it out. Not that people are usually appreciate of being hit up for cash, but it happens all the time. People who have access to billionaires don’t go to the bank for 10k loans, indeed people who know the .001% are usually others in the .001%. For those of us who don’t have access to someone like that, the next step would be a bank (or community organization). Even there access is key, I assure you meeting the owner of a bank for a loan (when the meeting was setup by your billionaire friend) is a decided different experience that meeting with the loan officer at the local branch. Who you deal with is as important as what is being dealt.

Contractor: The CEO of a major company generally do not take orders or work with a single customer (when there are millions of customers there is not enough time). Major clients can usually get face time with the PIC though. The difference is service is staggering (think call center customer service vs concierge)

From getting a zoning variance to getting a transplant, who you have access to is critical, and (took a while, but getting to the point) in government we need to have equal access! All our public officials’ time should be handled by a lottery type system, having the .001 % and those they hire command the attention of our most powerful leaders is detrimental to a fair democratic process. What we get is just another facet of corruption.  (Spending time with the ultra-rich to the determent of the rest of us is a corrupt practice in my opinion)  Should our officials be free to spend their time with whoever they like? NO! Hell no!  They are given power by the masses for the betterment of the masses, in accepting power far beyond that of a normal citizen they should likewise accept limitations on their freedom far in excess of a normal person.

There are some simple things we can do to turn the tide: Make all communication of elected officials public, have all campaigns publicly funded, Prohibit political ads.  Looking further out: Rework entire legal system to eliminate legalese, have easy to understand laws (and just a few of them), add a boat load of government employees.

The old adage “it’s not what you know, but who you know” is as true today as when it was first uttered. Sadly with the common practice of “closed door” meetings, the insanely disproportionate involvement of the super wealthy in government and a few thousand years of history, I don’t think this is an issue that will resolve itself.

On two types of people-

You know there are two types of people in the world, Zoe’s and Zelda’s (Bonus points of you get that reference ^^). Kidding aside, there are countless ways to divide humanity in two; haves and have not’s, old and young, dog owners and the rest ect… While most of these have limited practical value, there are a few that I am fond of, and one of those is what I’d like to cover today: There are two types of people in the world, those that think “We are all in this together” and those that think it’s “every man for himself”.

I think this divide is the most basic form of the partisan divide we see in the US currently; we have one group of people who think that caring for each other is most important, and we have another group that thinks we all must take care of ourselves (first). Both approaches work in different circumstances, I am of the opinion that the “I’ll look after me and mine” mentality is short sighted and more a liability in a developed society, and the “we’re all in this together” is really the only path forward (I’ll support that claim later or skip to paragraph after next) There are situations (usual when survival is not assured) that a me and mine first policy works quite well, on individual and national levels. If you find yourself without food for a long winter, politely starving is not as appealing an option as doing what is needed to survive. If a nation is on the verge of extinction due to economic assault (Think per-collapse Soviet Union) protectionist policies may be what is needed. Any organism that wants to survive in a harsh environment needs to be resilient.

The disconnect is in the evaluation of environment; from my view, we are so well suited to live here on earth that it’s like it was designed. As of today, we have no natural predators, myriad ways to feed and comfort ourselves and really nothing to fear.  Plants (perhaps the planet’s most benign inhabitants) are producing the O2 we need every day, despite the tragic way we treat them. In this environment we can (and should) be thriving, crushing all the problems that prior were taking our time and focus. Instead of working together to answer “how can all people have good (Clean, fresh, tasty ext.) air, water, food, dwelling and social life” some of us seem to be hung up on “How can I have….” because the larger question is too difficult. By leaving each person to answer those questions themselves, each day we are wasting an almost incalculable amount of time and recourses, both of which are limited. A good society would have readymade answers to those questions, and they should be so good that most people will never think to re-evaluate them. Working together (and I’ve harped on this before, apologies) with current technology we can feed, cloth, house and educate every human living now and produced in the future, failing to do so is what is driving crime, corruption, abuse and all the other ills that have plagued our species.

This is NOT sustainable! the thing about conflict is it is always transient, even the 100-year war ended. Given our open sharing of information it’s only a matter of time before these 2 conditions exist in a single person: 1 know how to blow up the world / has ability to do so, 2. Wants to.  We currently have lots of people who would like to blow up the world, we also have a very select few who know how and can, so far those groups have been mutually exclusive, but both are expanding and it will only take 1 for to be “Game Over Man!”.   I solve this quandy by putting everyone in the first group and reducing the second to 0, MAD on an individual level. Other options exist, but are fairly suffering intensive or distasteful for my sensibilities (I’m fairly big on pervasion of sentient will).

Even the “every man for himself” group are all about collaborations, but they like the super slow version of it, where they only collaborate in one direction within their peer group (Usually family). Ex. parent imparts knowledge “1” to offspring, they follow the “Every man for himself” ideology and after a lifetime passes on this and their knowledge “1+2” to his offspring and so on. In effect they are collaborating, but there is little 2-way communication and the process takes generations (super slow) and the knowledge is not spread through society.  In contrast, working with all people allows the sharing of all kinds of information in a very short span of time. It is how we can affect quick and well thought-out changes. The more people involved and the larger the perspectives involved the less likely someone is neglected.

Long story short, there are two kinds of people: Those that understand that we are all in this together, and those don’t. Those in the 1st group can work together and are the future of the species, the rest are a relic of our bloody past and will soon enough be left there.

On Freedom-

Hay all, I’m back with some thoughts on how to make things better. Like all the posts, feel free to use what you like and disregard the rest. (going to TRY to keep up the posting, but being lazy is SOOO tempting… we’ll see how it goes)

 

I’ve touched on this before, but given our current social-political polarization it seems appropriate to cover it again.

Freedom is the ability to do (say, feel, think, move, ect.) what you want, It’s applicable to all sentient live (not only humans). We have limitations on our freedoms, they come from different sources (Physical, social, political ect..) and these change over time, as our collective understanding changes.

Physical restrictions on freedom would be the limits on our understanding of the physical sciences, for most of history people could not fly, now thousands do every day. Keeping warm, growing food, how we interact with our environment has changed and (for most) this has been an expansion of freedom (we have more options for staying warm than ever before). Socially we have a different range of acceptable practices, this is not necessarily a net gain in freedom though, as we have also added new social restrictions along the way, but society (especially in the west) has a more muted role now then historically (for most of history even slight deviations from the norm could result in death, now in some places that is getting to be an exception, not the norm).  Political- changing political affiliation is now common place, and we even have the ability (some of us) to choose our political affiliation, historically political affiliation was something you were born into.

Point being, freedom is not a static state that we revile in each day, but rather a range of choices we have that has changed over time and is unique to each individual and circumstance. I do not think of freedom as an absolute, or even an ideal. While having the ability to do what one desires is intrinsic to most of us, unchecked that can quickly lead to excesses of suffering. In our bloodied past (And still to this day) freedom was used as a pretense to justify violence. (Just recently: Annexations of Ukraine and Crimea by Russia) How should a society best insulate it’s self from these excesses?  We have seen nations like North Korea take an extreme approach as far as restricting what ideas can be expressed. Artificial hominization like that has benefits to be sure (no new ideas means systems and institutions are less likely to change, be disrupted or (a particular concern of the Kim’s ) be overthrown), but it also cripples the society’s ability to advance or change.  The other extreme is where we see the western world, sprinting towards technological evolution with no institution safe from the march of progress. From religion to governance all have been altered almost beyond recognition in the last 300 years.

I purpose a pragmatic approach; Freedom of thought should be absolute, meaning that there should never be actions taken to limit the ideas considered and communicated in a society. If your keen on driving a bus through a crowd, I think we would all prefer you tell us that PRIOR to doing it!   However, I would not recommend extending that same absolute freedom to actions, nor should ideas be free from scrutiny. To put it another way, freedom of expression should be maintained because of the benefits it offers both the induvial and society: The individual is able to see how their idea compares to others, ideally refining their though processes to produce new and better ideas more aligned with the society they are a part of. The freedom in a society can be limited by the ideas it permits to be expressed, so allowing this less or unrestricted flow of ideas will maximize the options available to the society. (I am assuming that no person or group will endeavor without thinking first, though that will likely be a blog post of its own down the line).  It is imperative that the society have some institutions or process to gauge and evaluated these ideas though, less the excess of our past be re-hatched.

The crux is some restrictions on freedom are good ( in that they reduce suffering), but each restriction should be considered and weighted on an individual basis, be in place only as long as necessary and have a process of redress.  To bring in a current day example; recently someone was convicted of manslaughter for advising their significant other to commit suicide (which they did). The expressing of the Idea (initially) should be protected by society, however whom it was expressed to and the manner of expression was far more than what was necessary to communicate the idea (and the idea was fairly shit). Before anyone came to harm it could have been flagged as dangerous (recall this was via text msg.) and the receiver could have been sent other ideas to give this one context.  A better outcome of this tragedy ( than one dead citizen and another one imprisoned) would be a system where all SMS’s that advocate suicide prompt an auto msg. explaining society’s position on the matter, maybe links to available help. The idea is to preserve our ability to communicate such things, but protect persons that such ideas may influence un-duly. Further, if it becomes necessary to restrict a specific induvial’s freedom, it can be done on levels and only the lightest restriction that will protect the public should be used: cutting access to SMS’s is better than cutting off all digital communication, which is better than house arrest, with is better than prison, which is better than lobotomy, which is better ( arguably ) than death.

We are the custodians of our own and others freedom, careful consideration, empathy, and transparency are what a society needs to both protect its own freedom and that of its members. Either extreme (too permissive or too restrictive) can lead to excess of suffering or stagnation of the society, only by having the conversation, really examining what we value can a determination on freedom be made, and even then there will always be individual situations that need redress. Society’s that do this well will find themselves armed with all the options they need to deal effectively with any situation, those that do not will be relegated to the annuals of history.

On Blood money:

I will preference this one by saying while I normally like to talk about alternatives and better courses of action, here I’m mainly focused on how shit blood money is, and how on basic logical, conceptual, and practical levels the use and more importantly the acceptance of blood money is bad.

What is blood money? Simply put its most basic description is monies paid to an injured party or their family for injury resulted from wrongdoing. The idea was (a long time ago) an ok one, as I do mark blood money as more desirable than “an eye for an eye” I also seem to recall it being recommended in the old testament for the killing of slaves. However we are NOT living in biblical times, and the concept that money can offset moral or ethical responsibility is… troubling to say the least, I’ll start with the real world examples and then get into my more esoteric ideas on the matter.

BP, as you know is a large for profit corporation that from 1995 to 2005 killed 22 of its employees, note this does NOT include the deaths on the deepwater horizon drilling platform(more on that in a bit). In an (small) effort to correct this whole making tons of money while killing workers thing, the OSHA has levied some fines, and BP has paid out a fair bit of blood money. Deepwater happened in 2010, where 11 more people were killed, and here we see the issue with blood money: It allows ( and I would say encourages) greedy assholes “business leaders” to ignore conditions that can kill workers. This is just one sad example, but there are really countless examples: GE killed 13 people with a faulty part in their automobiles, they knew it was bad and it took 10 years for the public to be informed. While this is a tragedy, how did we ensure this will never happen again? By making sure that no one went to jail and that GE paid blood money.

Ok so on a conceptual level: The idea that payment of monies can ease the suffering of someone who has suffered a loss is… tragic, but there is some truth to it. In today’s world money can get a lot, however when looking at loss it is incumbent on us to not just ease the suffering of those directly affected, but to.. I donno… try to ensure the tragedy does not happen again, and here is where blood money is working overtime against us. BP is still doing the oil thing, and they WILL kill another worker, GE is still making autos, and more importantly, the murder who made the call to use an inferior product, to sacrifice safety for profit, that person is still out there, maybe in a decision making position…

Lastly, BP has just settled with the U.S. government for some 16 billion dollars, this will cover the entire deepwater horizon incident: clean ups, payment to affected business ect… and here is where the logic fails: BP gets billions of dollars to extract natural resources, kills people in the process and RELLY FUCKS UP THE ENVIRONMENT THAT WE ALL SHARE, and as punishment, they have to give a portion of the money they got, nowhere is there any incentive to stop and there in lie the problem; accepting blood money allows really bad people to keep being bad and corrects nothing. It is basically a bribe that we are allowing our leaders to take on our behalf.

I would prefer a system where if your company kills someone, 1. That company instantly has all of its rights to operate anywhere revoked, 2. The leadership is bared for life from ever working as leadership again, 3. All earnings from the time that the dangerous situation arose (not when the death/accident actually happened) are equally distributed to the workers to assist in finding/training for new work. In truth BP never killed anyone, it was individuals making greedy decisions, and by being cool with blood money we are allowing them to just keep on keeping on…