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Saturday, January 15, 2011

What are Laws?

By Michael Richards
Laws are present in any form of human interaction They are the rules which establish which actions may not be permitted. Even laws which state which actions are permitted are a negation on any act to create a law which bans the stated act. Further, any act which attempts an individual to do an act makes him unable to do any other act than the one which is assigned to him (thus all other acts are not permitted).

An example of a law which establishes what act may not be permitted is the law 'thou shall not kill”; meaning that murder is unlawful in the society and will not be tolerated. A law which disallows for other laws to impede upon the action of individuals can find no more famous source than the 1rst Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The 1rst Amendment basically states that congress shall make no law abridging free speech, religion, or assembly, thus making limiting the act of law making. The last type of law is by far the most restrictive since it states that an individual may not do anything other than the actions prescribed to him. Let's take taxation for example. Taxes force an individual to only use his money as the government sees fit. He may not use that money for any other purpose than giving it to the government. Thus meaning if he uses the money for any other purpose he will be punished by the said government.

Now laws cannot become rules merely by writing them down on some piece of paper, voting for them or speaking them. A law can only become a law if there is some means of enforcing it. The only way for a law to be enforced is by obtaining the consent of the people who follow under its jurisdiction. If individuals choose not to follow the law, then they are in conflict with the law maker(s). This means that the law maker must have recourse to obtain the consent of the conflicting individual(s). Now the only means of solving these types of disputes is through compulsion. Compulsion can either be through violence or non-violence. If through violent compulsion, the law makers employ enforcers to either detain or kill the individual(s) who are in conflict with the law. If through non-violent compulsion, the law makers seek another means to solve the issue, such as through mediation or removal of benefits.

Violent compulsion is most associated with criminal law, where an individual attempts to harm another individual physically to achieve their ends. An example of violent compulsion in enforcing the law would be to prevent a mugger from either using violent compulsion in obtaining money from his victim or detaining him till he has served his punishment as described by the law.

Non-violent compulsion is most associated with civil law, particularly contract law. Let's take an example of two people making a deal. An individual decides to hire a plumber to fix his sink in exchange for 100 dollars. If the plumber does not fix the sink, he will not fulfill his contract and thus won't receive the 100 dollars. Since the plumber won't receive the money unless the work is done, he is under compulsion to finish the work. However, under contract law, both individuals are considered the lawmakers. Thus if the person does not have the 100 dollars to pay the plumber, then the plumber will not fix his sink. If the plumber does fix the sink and the other person does not have the 100 dollars or refuses to pay, they may seek mediation either among each other or through a third party. Or the plumber will just attempt to use violent compulsion to obtain the money or at least to punish the other individual by socking him in the nose for not paying ( it is unlikely this third option will be in the contract). Of course prior to making the actions contained in the contract, both parties may decide how to prevent conflict by making stipulations to ensure both parties' satisfaction.

Laws, as mentioned earlier, describe the punishments for conflicting with the will of the law maker(s). It is important that laws are clear in their system of rewards and punishments, otherwise the law becomes void. Imagine a law that simply stated, thou shall not kill, but has no means of resolving the conflict when someone does kill another. Just saying, thou shall not kill is not enough to be a law. Consequences must be made clear and be enacted out for it to be considered a law in fact and not name only.

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What are Laws? by Michael Richards is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
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  1. This may be pure semantics, but I think that the second category, non-violent compulsion, is contradictory. Using the example of the plumber, I would say that he is incentivized, not compelled, to do his work, since there is no application or threat of violence. If this is anything other than semantics, then there could be substantial ethical implications, since compulsion is generally condemned, whereas incentives are not.

  2. I know, I may need some work with my wording in defining certain behaviors. However, it is hard to say whether or not incentives and compulsion are really different things. Incentives compel people to act, while compulsions are really led by incentives. After all, not having violence done to a person is an incentive for that person not to engage in unwarranted behavior, but really that is just compulsion if we state that compulsion is really just violent incentives (but wouldn't that just be a contradiction as well).

    Good job pointing this out. I will definitely give it a lot of thought not to mention consult some dictionaries lol. After all, my next article is on how laws are made, and thanks to your help, I am finding better ways to state my ideas more clearly.