Why do we have laws?

When I ask people this question I usually get a response along the lines of ,” Without laws we would have anarchy” to which I have to wonder if that would be so bad. It’s not like this highly regulated litigious world in which we live is paradise. Laws have not eradicated all of the problems associated with people living together. Also, law has not been a constant in human history but an invention which probably only dates back five thousand years and has changed dramatically over the course of history. There is no evidence or reason to suspect that the early, mostly egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies had a system of laws and some of these societies have still managed to survived until this day. Granted, they don’t have planes, trains or automobiles but they also don’t have war or crime.

Anyway, I’m not here to argue in favor of anarchy. I think that if we simply turned off the legal system one day that the results would be disastrous.  Laws may not be necessary but they certainly seem necessary in modern societies. I want to ask the question of why laws have become necessary, what that says about modern society and what are the benefits and consequences of having a law based culture.  Certainly this could constitute a person’s life work but it’s not my life work. I just have a few ideas that I want to get off my chest.

The first thing that comes to mind is that we have laws because, as a species, we kind of suck. We say that laws are the foundation of our civilization but the very fact that we need laws just tells me that we are not very civilized. If we accept that we need laws then we also need to swallow the bitter pill of reality and accept that we are not evolved enough to live without them. The fact is that human society has evolved far faster than human biology.

Certainly societal, as well as technological advancements, have been aided by the invention of laws but what if laws have also had the unintended consequence of hindering biological evolution. My limited understanding of evolutionary biology and natural selection tells me that over time desirable traits in a species will get replicated while undesirable traits will become muted. Is it possible that laws have allowed people to reproduce and pass along traites that if it weren’t for these laws would have been eradicated long ago? I know that is a dangerous idea and rings of Social Darwinism, but seriously, if murder was legal I’m pretty sure that the genetic trait causing someone to think killing a member of their own species is a good idea would quickly be removed from the gene pool.

Actually, that is a pretty sensitive subject for me. It’s not really something I can joke about so I will leave that to Louis C. K.

I don’t even think I could write a song about it but thankfully Soul Asylum has done that for me.

I certainly don’t need a law to tell me that murder is wrong. I have evolved past that kind of thinking as I think most people have. These laws really only apply to that class of people who are not as evolved as us. These are the people we call criminals. We need laws so that we can identify who the criminals are. That’s why I don’t understand the gun rights advocates who claim, “If we outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns.” That seems like a brilliant idea! We could eliminate crime by just rounding up all the gun owners and removing them from society. Problem solved. Of course I don’t believe that criminals are a class of human singled out and removed. Besides, we already have drug laws to do that.

And then there are the laws that have nothing to do with morality, identifying right from wrong and conveying it to the masses too unevolved to figure it out on their own. There are plenty of laws which serve the whole of society and allow us to function in this modern world. Traffic laws, food safety laws, building codes and environmental protections attempt to serve the common good by creating uniformity, predictability and by reducing the potential for harm. Still, in a more perfect world we could probably handle this through education with standards, guidelines and traditions.

The real reason why we need laws is because they are essential to enforce a hierarchical system. In order for the powerful to retain power they need to the rule of law. Historically laws have been written by the rulers to benefit the rulers. Even in our modern liberal democracy laws are written by the powerful and primarily serve to preserve the hierarchy while giving the illusion of equality.

This is not to say that human and equal rights protection laws are a bad thing. I’m just saying that they are only necessary in a hierarchical society. I’m a big fan of the First Amendment, obviously, but you only need to grant freedom of speech to people who are not free.

Ahhh… there is so much more that could be said about all this and I’m sure that I will in the future. For now I am hoping you will help me out by posting your thoughts in the comment section.

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About lefreakshow
A walking contradiction attempting to make sense of this crazy world though the power of creation, exploration and communication.

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