Monday, February 24, 2020

Of bootleggers and the law

There is probably almost no law which does not interfere with what someone or the other wants to do. Well, if no-one wanted to do a thing, why would you need a law to prohibit him from doing so? Like, say, a law that prohibits people from poking their own eyes out? And, if everyone wants to do something, why would you need a law insisting on their doing so? Like, say, a law to make it mandatory to drink water when you are thirsty? It is only when there is even a possibility of someone wanting to do something, or not wanting to do something, that you feel the need to promulgate a law.

What, then, happens if a law is put in place which interferes with what a wide cross-section of society wants to do? Well, it is a salutary lesson to look up the law prohibiting sale and use of alcohol which the US Govt, in its wisdom, put in place in 1920. And, as is the case with all Govt.s, took nearly 13 years to repeal, even though the questionable wisdom of that act was probably apparent right from the inception. Governments are elephantine, that way. They take ages to make a U-Turn.

When you have a Society which consists primarily of people who want to drink, people who may be able to do without but see nothing wrong with drinking, and only a few outliers who actually think of drinking as an evil to be eliminated...well, when you have such a society and you get a Government that decides it is going to force people to do what it thinks is good for them, you get laws like that. AND you end up making the smuggler of liquor - the bootlegger - every man's best friend and the law enforcement agencies become every man's villain. So, as Govt, YOU call the bootlegger the criminal and the law enforcement guys the good guys; and Society thinks of them in the opposite terms.

How true it is I do not know but the rise of organized crime in the USA is partly attributed to the Prohibition. No matter how unfair the law, it takes a criminal mindset to take to law-breaking as a business enterprise; and when the criminal has more social acceptance in Society than the lawmen, the Government has direly failed Society.

Unfortunately, though, not all such laws, which are unacceptable for a majority of Society, are necessarily laws that should not be put in place. Through our history, myth and religion, we have an idea of a social morality which will have a lot of elements which are not moral or ethical. So, a law mitigating those elements may not have social sanction but will nonetheless be required. It is these where law enforcement has to be taught that their duty is to enforce those laws; whether or not they agree with them is irrelevant. AND Society needs to be educated to accept and adopt a change in their attitudes to morality.

The problem in making laws to eliminate unfairness to one section of society is that, if it leans too far in that direction, it will seem to be unfair to another section. THAT retards the spread of social acceptance. Not every rich man, say, who agrees with the fact that wealth should be more uniformly distributed will accept a situation that seems bent on impoverishing him and enriching others. Sad, but true, that altruism, or even egalitarianism, for almost all of us stops short of suffering for it ourselves.

It is, probably, that which makes the tax laws the least acceptable throughout History, in all nations. Invariably, and regardless of how well it is administered, it is the taxman who is the villain and the chap who helps you evade taxes, who is your best friend.

All of us may prefer an orderly Society but we are all united in being unwilling to pay for it!

Monday, February 17, 2020

Morality and legality

The strange thing about us humans is that we first put in place systems and procedures to serve a purpose and then promptly forget the purpose. Thereafter, we either start worshiping the systems we have put in place or think of the systems and the purpose as antagonists warring with each other.

This case of morality and legality is a prime example of that behavior. What are laws but a way of codifying the existing morality of society? And the entire process of a legal system is to drive society to live by that morality, ensuring punishment for those who fail to do so. And, yet, we keep talking about morality and legality, as though the latter is inimical to the former.

The vagaries of human interactions are so many that the law, indeed, cannot perfectly encompass all of them. So, yes, there are cases where what is illegal may not be immoral; and what is legal may be immoral. Even in the best of systems that humanity can put in place. The fact IS that perfection in this will always elude humanity, as in most other things to do with Society.

The bigger problem lies in where the current morality of Society itself is not 'moral'. Most of the inequities in Society's treatment of classes, communities, genders may be considered moral, sanctioned by tradition, but in their inherent unfairness be, in fact, immoral by an absolute standard, if indeed one can conceive of a common absolute standard of morality to exist.

Therein lies the biggest area where legality becomes an enemy of morality. IF the law perpetuates the inequity, the law itself can be said to be immoral. At least to those who face the brunt of the unfairness, it would be indubitably immoral and, therefore, requiring to be changed.

There is also a problem where the law runs ahead of Society's accepted code of morality. When the law makes things illegal, which Society at large still considers moral, the law will be SEEN to be immoral. The worst problem arises when the people who are there to enforce the law themselves are not convinced of the morality of the law. THEN, enforcement suffers by default, the law only remains on paper while it is flouted in practice.

Nothing is more dangerous to the stability of Society than to have laws selectively enforced. For, then, the respect for the 'rule of the law' goes down, leading to partial or total anarchy.

When the legal system is not merely reflecting the current morality of Society and is intending to change the morals, it is important to spend time and effort on educating Society about the need for a change in the morals. Most especially, and as a priority, to educate the law enforcement authorities.

Laws, even when properly enforced, can only control the behavior of people. That is necessary, certainly, but not sufficient. To truly change Society you need to modify attitudes. To modify attitudes you need to educate, not just attempt to enforce.

Failing that well-meaning laws will remain just on paper, flouted with impunity or paid lip service to or adhered to only in the fear of getting caught.And THAT's how a country can have a wonderfully egalitarian legal system and continue to be classist or racist as a Society.

Come to think of it, that about seems to describe the whole world - except where there is not even that wonderful legal system in place!

Monday, February 10, 2020

The law is an ass?

Humanity has a strange relationship with laws. Being a basically chaotic species, it would be impossible to have stable societies unless we have laws that provide a modicum of predictability to the daily affairs of life. So, first, we strive to put in place laws and, then, bend every effort possible to cast off the restraints that the laws impose on us. When we are unable to do what we want to do, we scream that the law is an ass.

As, indeed, it can be at times. I mean, I am all for non-smokers having the right to not be endangered by secondary smoke, for example. What I cannot understand is how making very long train journeys totally non-smoking is a great help in that. A chap who can do without his tobacco for 40+ hours is a chap who can quit smoking, after all. So, the net result is that the law is broken, even by those who would like to be law-abiding, and non-smokers subjected to the hazards in all the toilets of such trains. One would have thought that setting aside a corner in the train for smoking would make more sense in ensuring adherence to the law - much like airports have seen the sense in providing a space to smoke in. But, no, the law has got to be asinine.

This strange relationship that society has with the law has its variants. As I saw when I shifted from Tamil Nadu to Delhi for work. Tamil Nadu, especially the TamBrahms, have this attitude that 'Anything that is not specifically permitted is prohibited' - or, they did in my times. And Delhi...Delhi is the prime example of 'Anything that is not specifically prohibited is permitted.' Which meant that an injunction to not pluck the flowers did not mean that they could not uproot the grass; an injunction to not walk on the grass meant that it was OK to turn cartwheels on it. No wonder that, when laws are made, they have so many sub-clauses trying to cover every single possibility of what exactly is prohibited. (AND still they miss. Like, you say that you cannot sell spectrum and make profits, and people sell a company for profit when the only asset in that company is spectrum)

The fact is that the bulk of humanity interprets laws somewhere between these two poles. Of whether what is specifically permitted alone is doable or whether what is not specifically prohibited is doable. In a sense, there are those whose morality limits itself to the letter of the law and those whose morality defines itself by adherence to the spirit of the law - and that morality itself being as strong or as weak as the desire for what is seen as prohibited.

Plus, of course, the risk of getting caught and the cost of getting caught. There are those who stick to the eleventh commandment for all their morality - 'Thou shalt not get caught'. There are those who weigh the consequences AFTER getting caught, in addition to the risk of getting caught. And, if the gains are high enough, the risk of getting caught low and the consequences are paltry, shall proceed to break the law with impunity.

The highest of the high operate in a plane of their own. They can close to eliminate the risk of getting caught and manipulate the costs of getting caught, so the laws that they don't break are the ones where the breaking yields no benefits.

And, yet, humanity will, in one voice, prayerfully seek the 'rule of the law' while bending effort to breaking any and every law that does not suit them. Except the vanishingly small minority of those who think 'Anything that is not specifically permitted is prohibited'. If, indeed, any such still exist!

When the humanity that seeks to make laws is asinine, the law HAS to be an ass!

Monday, February 3, 2020


There is this problem with writing anything, anywhere. (Or drawing or painting or singing or...) You write the damn thing because you sort of enjoy the writing; you put it out thinking that you will not care a damn if anyone likes it, you did it for the joy of it after all; and, hello, the moment it is out you are looking up every other second to see if someone liked it, someone said something (nice, of course. You never expect anything nasty till one of those trolls come around to let you know that they exist) about it...

And, when I do it...

"Why don't I ever get anyone to read any of my posts?"

Yes, there is this other problem, this time about me. Not content with getting trolled online, I go seeking my friends so that I can get personally trolled.

"That's because you don't know the first thing about human nature."

"What do you mean? I..."

"Well, tell me, in any conversation what gets the most attention and interest? Information or gossip?"

As one of the foremost practitioners of sleeping in class, I was obviously not going to choose information, was I?

"Right, gossip! And what really counts as gossip? Telling people good things about the 'gossippee', if I may call him so? Or telling them dirty secrets about the chap?"

Was this guy an idiot? I mean, come on, who wants to listen to the good points of someone else? If people WILL spend time on doing that, they should be doing it about me. Naturally, I want someone telling me why someone else is an asshole, so that I can feel comfortably superior to him.

"Well, good things about another guy only counts as information, not gossip."

My friend looked at me with surprise.

"Ah! You know that? Surprising. Then, knowing full well that people hate information and like gossip, why the hell..."

"But I don't give information..."

"You write things that expect the reader to think. That counts as information because it is certainly not gossip."

"You mean..."

"If you wrote calling people names, now THAT would interesting reading."

"But, come on, you expect me to wake up of a morning and just call someone or the other names? How..."

"Now THAT is why you will never succeed in becoming viral. You don't know the first thing about making yourself interesting."

"So, tell me how."

"It can't be just someone. It has to be some celebrity or someone who is known to everyone in your target audience."

"But where will I get those dirty secrets to..."

"Look up the news daily and see what you can get outraged about. Some celebrity, some politician, some government official somewhere is bound to do something which you can get outraged with. And, presto..."

"That's it? I just wake up in the morning, all set to get outraged about something or the other, and look for reasons to do so?"

"In a nutshell, yes. If some actor, say, remains silent on what you think they should support, outrage about it. If someone says something in support, outrage about why they did not say it before on other issues. If someone opposes, obviously you can get enraged. Simple."

Let the World watch out. Here I come, all primed to conquer social media with my outrage!