Law — A Brief History

law

Ever since our hairiest ancestors came down out of the trees and grouped themselves together against the dangers of an unforgiving world, we have made laws to govern ourselves.  In the beginning, they were simple tribal dictates that set out reasonable behaviour within the group.  Things like no stealing another guy’s vegetables, no peeing upstream from the village, everybody gets a slice of the mastodon, and no loud music after 11:00.  In those days, there was only one punishment for breaking the rules.  You were banished from the protection of the tribe and your life expectancy went from short and brutal to zero.  Early humans understood that society was fragile, and if some wiseass wanted to be a jerk, he endangered the entire group.  It was simple, rough and ready, but it worked.  Humans, as a species, not only survived but thrived as a communal beast.

As our society progressed and got more complicated, so did our laws.  We still had to protect ourselves against the unreasonable acts of certain individuals, but we measured the punishment in accordance with the severity of the crime.  We remember this period today in the often quoted homily “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”  These were still simple laws, but they worked well because everybody in the group understood the rules, and they were enforced by the entire community.  For example, if Benjamin got caught eating Abraham’s carrots, he was expected to replace them – with a little extra for Abraham’s trouble – and all was forgiven.  Once again, these rules allowed us to progress as a society because we didn’t have to spend all our time guarding ourselves and our property against theft and vandalism, and we could concentrate on other things, like food and shelter.

As our society progressed even further, more and more people came under the protection of the law.  Our rural villages developed into urban towns and started to interact with other large groups who had also adapted laws to protect their societies.  This caused a serious problem, though, because our social groups were getting so large that not everybody knew all the rules nor understood them.  Plus, although the rules between different groups were very similar, sometimes individual laws were surprisingly different.  For instance, if the people in Town A understood that donkeys must be tethered, when those same people went to Town B, where donkeys were allowed to roam free, their first thought would have been, “Wow! Free donkeys!” and they would have helped themselves.  You can see how there’d be some misunderstandings; wars have been fought over lesser things.

Luckily, it was about that time that a guy named Hammurabi came along.  Hammurabi was a Babylonian king who took all the rules he could think of and wrote them down.  (Actually, he had them chiselled into stone, but the result was the same.)  It was called the Hammurabi Code; a big, heavy copy of it is sitting in the Louvre in Paris, if you want to take a look.  Hammurabi also set down all the punishments that fit the crimes, so everybody in his kingdom knew exactly where they stood – vis a vis the law.

This was great, and even though laws changed dramatically over the centuries, Hammurabi’s system worked for the next three plus millennia.

But, wait a minute!  It ain’t over yet!

Fast forward to the late 1960s, and suddenly everything went to hell.  Somehow (for no reason I can fathom) our society decided that nearly 4,000 years of success didn’t matter, and we’d actually gotten the entire system backwards.  Back in those days, the thinking was: we’d been making laws to protect society from those individuals who wish to do it harm (murderers, thieves and such) but what we need are laws to protect those individuals (murderers, thieves and such) from the wrath of the society they’d harmed!  The idea caught on even though it’s based on a weird dichotomy.  The fact is, the only way to protect individual rights within a society is to have a strong society to begin with, and protecting individuals who wish to harm it weakens our collective trust.  In other words, if Benjamin gets caught eating Abraham’s carrots and nothing’s done about it, the rest of us begin to think we should get some free carrots, as well.  Do that enough times and it’s called anarchy.

It’s an interesting experiment: I’m curious to see how long it takes us to get out of it.

What I Know Now – I Didn’t Know Then

ideas

I’ve been roaming this planet for a few years now, and I’m constantly amazed at how little I know.  In fact, my comprehension of ideas and events seems to be working backwards — like an intellectual Benjamin Button.  Stuff that I knew with all certainty to be true when I was a younger man has become – not so much.  Here are just a few examples of how dead wrong I was.

When I was a kid, I was certain that the best minds would always, eventually, rise to shed light on, and perhaps even vanquish, the dark forces of ignorance.  Welcome to 2020, boys and girls, when the leader of the Free World is going to be either Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders or – holy crap! – Joe Biden.

As a young person, I believed information and education were the keys to solving the world’s problems.   Not even close!  Here we are, the most educated population in history, with all the information in the universe available to us at the click of a mouse, and what are we doing?  Playing “Fortnite” and binge-watching The Walking Dead.  I rest my case.

I used to think that popular democracy was a good thing.  ‘Fraid not!  I have one word for you – Twitter.

At one time, I believed that intelligence was a sliding scale.  It was my assumption that all people were relatively smart, depending on how you looked at it.  Nope!  The world is full of evidence that stupid is real, it’s everywhere and, in some cases, it’s thick enough to cut with a knife.  Plus, it’s contagious.  Hang out with stupid people long enough and you’ll end up buying outrageous amounts of toilet paper because – uh – a bunch of other people are buying it?  (Too soon?)

And finally:

At one time, I thought the truth was an absolute.  Actually, the truth is a moveable feast, and thank God for that, because there are certain times when I want to be lied to.  For example, I don’t want to know how many nuclear weapons have been lost since 1945.  Just tell me none and I’ll be fine with that.  Nor do I want to know how close we are to economic disaster, why climate change can’t be reversed or what kind of bums and noses are in my hotdog.  The fact is, in some cases, the truth will not set you free — it’ll just totally stress you out.

Spelling Counts!

orlando

Valentine’s Day is over; next stop, St. Paddy’s Day.  So, as winter clings to the Northern Hemisphere like a drunk clinging to a lamp post, and Mother Nature and Old Man Winter fight it out to see who marks the calendar this month, let’s find a cozy place out of the wind and rain, take a page out of Puck’s book and wonder “what fools [we] mortals be!”

Celebrity tattoos are as common as hen poop in a barnyard, so it’s no big deal that Orlando Bloom got a new one the other day.  You remember Orlando Bloom: he’s the “actor” who played Legolas, a Middle Earth elf with an emotional range of .07 on a scale of 1 to 1,000.  Anyway, it seems Mr. Bloom was having a little trouble remembering his son’s name (Flynn) and, rather than constantly bother his entourage about it, he decided to get it permanently inked into his arm.  Problem solved?  Not quite!  First of all, Standard Written English wasn’t cool enough for Bloom, so he had it printed in Morse code, a form of communication that’s been dead since Roy Rogers roamed the Earth.  Unfortunately, something got screwed up in the translation, and they spelled the name wrong.  Okay, a “dot” here, a “dash” there; it was an honest mistake.  But here’s the good part.  Nobody noticed!  Obviously, tattoo artists are not known for their cryptographic skills and there’s no app I know of that spellchecks Morse code, but … here’s the deal!

You’re an A-list (high B-list?) movie star.
You’ve got a ton of people around you every day with nothing better to do than suck up to you.
Every single one of them has an iPhone, iPad, iWatch, iWhatever.
Yet, not one of them, from your publicist to your personal assistant, cared enough about you to take 30 seconds and say, “Siri, what’s Flynn in Morse code?”

That, boys and girls, is a cold and lonely life.

Anyway, the ink dried, and there’s Orlando on Instagram, proud as a puppy with a chewed-up slipper.  He’s selfie-d a forearm shiver with what looks like a surgical diagram drawn on it, and the teasing caption reads “new #tattoo can you guess who?”

And here is where we veer off into the land of WTF!

Apparently, Orlando’s Instagram audience includes more than a few people who took the time and trouble to figure out his body art was Morse code (Remember: it’s not a written language.) and then were willing to spend even more time translating it. (I doubt if many people can do Morse code from memory, these days.)  Plus, they know enough about the life and times of Orlando Bloom to realize that this was his son’s name and that the dolt had misspelled it.  Then, they felt morally compelled to publicly point that out to him – a number of times.

At last glance, Orlando and son are doing fine, despite the looming years of therapy.  But honestly, folks!  Our world has a bunch of people with way too much time on their hands.