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Define: Law (2016-09-28)

StriverSep 27, 2016, 11:52:26 PM

This is the second installment of my Define series, the previous one being about defining worth (link).


In order to define the word, I will seek to remove all concepts that are optional to understanding the word, in order to arrive to the bare bone definition. I will go through related concept, thought and associated ideas, one at a time, and test if they are necessary for the core definition, and if they are not, discard the.

Basic understanding

Law is what one is expected to do, or not do. It bears resemblence to morality, but they are not synonyms, a difference that I will not explore.

Why are we supposed to act according to law? What incentive do we have?

Well, either a reward or a punishment. We can get a tax cut if we fulfill some condition. Or maybe rewarded with heaven. Or we might get sent to prison, or hell.


A fundamental part of law is that it gives structure. Law is often contrasted, wronly, writh anarchy, when it's meant to contrast it with chaos and lack of structure and predictability.

Only Reward or Punishment

Can we imagine a comprehensive set of laws that only rewards, or only punishes? I have no problems envisioning a set of laws that only punish, but I have a hard time doing that with only rewards.

With punishment, you can curtail behavior, and let the natural needs and desires of humans to be the motivating factors that will move the individual through the maze that the punishments create.


However, with only rewards, you will have no structure. Only having the ability to draw people towards a point or direction is insufficient to effortlessly regulating behavior, especially considering that you most certainly will lack a monopoly on incentives, and all people are not equally motivated by a specific reward.


Thus, the concept of a system of laws built on only rewards is discarded as implausible, and we accept punishment as a nesessary part of defining "law".


Imagine an individual going through a maze with electrically charged walls. The walls are the law, the electricity is the punishment. The law gives structure, the electricity disincentives touching the wall, and keeps one within the boundaries that the law has set.

The laws come from the will of the lawgiver; the electricity is the power of the lawgiver, the lawgivers ability to enforce his will. Law with no punishment is in essence some simple suggestions. If the lawgiver does not enforce the laws, then there is no reason for the subjects of the law to simply walk through the walls, rendering them irrelevant in practice.

Non-violent enforcement?

So what character needs the punishment have? Can it be a non-violent punishment? For example, a threat to withhold food and shelter?

A non-violent punishment is basically a refusal to service, and considering nobody is obliged to serve anyone to start with, then the punishment is indistinguishable from that default state. "You are threatening with not giving me food? So what, It's not like I'll go hungry or anything, I'll get my own food!".

What if the person is rightfully expecting to be serviced by receiving food? An entity is only expected and oblieged to serve if they have entered a contract, and breach of contract is to be considered a violent act, as any working system would allow for violence to recover losses from a breach of contract.

But what if the person being threatened is in a situation were they can not care for themselves? Only then will a non-violant threat be meaningfull, but only because it will be indistinguishable from a violant threat in its consequense. If you refuse to feed a man you have put in prison, the outcome will be his death, just as if you had beaten him to death.

Isn't simply putting a person into jail while taking care of his basic needs enough of a threat? Then the question will be, how will you get him into jail without using or giving a credible threat of violence?

By deception and stealth? How stable is a society where you can be found guilty by a secret court and then lured into a prison? By the standard of any competent and impartial arbitrator, deception and stealth to detein would be equivolant with a violent act, both meriting self-defense in order to get free, violent if need be.

Lets consider some entities that are unable to sustain themselves in their natural state. Could they be the subjects of a law that is non-violent in nature? In that case, withholding some food the lawgiver have produced and are willing to offer them could be used as a means of enforcing a structure. But how would such entities survive to begin with, long enough to be able to encounter the lawgiver, unless the lawgiver had caused the creation of those entities?

Given that humans are able to sustain themselves, we conclude that the threat needs to be violent in nature to serve the purpose of enforcing a law.

What about people who have become institutionalized through long time of socialist handouts? Considering that socialist handouts are themselves based on taxes taken from self sustaining individuals, and taxes are based on laws, you are still back to being forced to resort to violent threats to create that system.

Well, what if you give a lot of handouts to people from your own earnings, untill they start expecting them, and then start to demand things from them? Would that be a non-violent threat? No, that would be some gifts followed by a buisness proposal.

The obvious exception to this are children, and the only way to close that exception would be to regard the children as property of their parents, in which case they are no longer to be viewed as sovereign.

Benvolence, morality and concencus

The benevolent intent of the lawgiver does not change this fact - laws without threats of violent enforcment are indistinguisable from suggestions. If it's up to the subject to decide, then it is not a law.

Neither does it matter if the entity creating the law is a single person, a subgroup of persons or a the majority of the persons in a group.

Neither does the morality of the law matter. In fact, as I might demostrate in some other definition, morals is simply a tool to measure the intent of one entity with the wants of another entity - nothing more or less.

Neither does it matter if the laws encourage social cohesion or not. Nor if they are productive or not. "Productive" in itself is an irrelevant word unless measured against a goal. And who is the one setting those goals? Presumably the group in power, meaning, the lawgiver.

Neither does it matter if the lawgiver creates incentives, gives rewards to have people to actually move in the maze that is constructed, preferably in a desired direction with a certain speed. The lack of such incentives migt result in an inefficient system, but it still fulfills the definition of Law.


Only a threat?

What distinguishes a law from a simple threat is that laws are systematic.

Laws are one or several violent threats, permanent in scope, that aim to curtail the actions of its subjects to comform with the will of the lawgiving entity. They remain permanent untill the lawgivers will change or he can no longer keep the credibility of the threat alive.

Laws need to have a rigidness to them to create stability, so they can be predictable. An unstable system can not be likened to a maze with hard walls and thus serves not the main purpose of curtailing the subjects options, since the subject will not be able to anticipiate where the punishment will be located in order to navigate unharmed. And that would lead to a very frustrated subject.


This same rigidness can be used against the lawgiver. Assuming the lawgiver has limited resources, the laws in themselves will not always map perfectly to the environment they are operating in, especially as time progresses and the environment changes. The laws may even contradic eachother.

This kinds of imperfections are usually handled by neglecting enforcment on some parts of the system. Those ignored parts constituted weaknesses, since they undermine the credibility of the system if exposed, forcing the lawgiver to spend resources on reforming the system.



"Laws" are definded as a system of permanent and credibel threats of violence.

Any other association you have with that word can be removed from the definition and the word will retain its core meaning.


To do

Will update this at later date, and change the titel to reflect the update, to include a few words about voluntary agreements and laws.

Are threat of violence always immoral? Is it moral to threaten with violence what you own? Can a voluntary contract compared to a law? Natural threats, can they be called natural laws?