Friday, December 18, 2015

'The Law' as a field theory

When I was thirteen I stumbled upon an interesting paradox: the law applies continuously but is enforced discretely*. I wondered whether technology (AI 'cops' implanted in the brain at birth, or ubiquitous surveillance?) would bridge the difference, make 'the law' act more like gravity.

My mistake was excessive reification. Later, under the influence of Marxism, I realised that the 'law' is a useful conceptual fiction, a social abstraction. What it really denotes is a codified set of intentions, contrived by elites documenting how they require society to be regulated. The extent of the law is identified by the set of people who can be coerced into abiding by it - geography is secondary.

(This is not to deny that social protocols are needed to make any society work, and that often, or even usually in a democracy, most laws run with the grain of popular compliance.)

Internal colonies with different norms such as Sharia stand like islands above the 'pervasive legal field', creating holes. Do we enforce our own laws there or allow cultural autonomy to have its legal head?

No straightforward solution presents itself and if you're looking for a strategy, don't bother asking those high-priests of reification, the lawyers.


* I was reminded of this youthful thought reading George Musser's excellent book about non-locality, entanglement and emergent spacetime. More on that later.


Further reading. Kafka: 'Before the Law' (from 'The Trial') (Wikipedia).