- Folkways are small actions that help streamline routine social engagements.
- Mores imply the behavior is crossing or straddling a moral issue.
- Taboos are clearly wrong by the group’s standards.
However, there will always be at least 3-10% of the people who find enjoyment and meaning in breaking those rules.
The group’s leadership determines which of those standards become laws/policy, and then it’s approved by the members proportional to how much power they have in the group.
A wide variety of enforcement measures can serve to impede individuals’ (hopefully immoral) purposes. However, most rules are simply enforcing a culture’s fashions and don’t precisely conform to justice.
The purpose of those rules isn’t to “stop” the action from happening completely, since people will always make evil decisions if they have something to gain. Instead, a rule is designed to make the action’s risks so challenging and scary that people decide differently before doing it.
The rules must at least appear to be enforceable, or people won’t honor them. Enforceable rules require several components:
- Clear – indicates exactly how someone can honor the rule.
- Realistic – it doesn’t push so far against human nature that it’s impossible to honor.
- Observable – the authorities can somehow perceive when someone is crossing a boundary.
- Actionable – the authorities can do something to take away from that person’s power.
To be just, every rule must have a few qualities:
- The rule’s boundaries must make sense to everyone.
- The rule’s consequences must reasonably fit the crime and be enforceable.
- The language and enforcement of the rule must be resistant to image distortion by evil people.
- The rules must not impede the ranges of human behaviors that could be both ethical and culturally permissible.
- There should be a means to repay the injustice the person performed.
- The criminal, upon repayment, should be released from any further obligation.
Since stated rules have no room for the nuances and stories that accompany reality, they can be utterly devastating to outlier individuals in a group if the people in power don’t employ a case-by-case judgment. In practice, the rules are the culture’s likely responses to events.
Further, the rules must be maintained evenly. Detaining, impeding, or killing a person can provoke dramatic distrust from that person’s family, friends, and bystanders about the leaders’ justice if a technicality permits someone else to go free after performing a similar action:
- Whether something happens on one side of a political boundary or precisely one mile away on the other side can lead to absurdly different consequences.
- A strict age of majority without a rite of passage to accompany it often distinguishes a few months’ age between a 5-10 year prison sentence and a death penalty.
- The only difference between murder and manslaughter/negligence is someone’s motive, which is often difficult to discern but severely defines the scope of criminal sentencing.
Most rules imply a “precedent” to create consistency across time and fashions. Precedent is very useful because it empowers trust through tradition, but avoids forcing complete uniformity within a large group because it’s already accommodated the range of personalities from past historical events.
Larger groups have more power to observe and regulate rules. Often, in a very large group that has generally moral rules, people are unaware the rules are purely man-made. In those cases, people may trust those rules more than their own sense of morality.
- Protecting members from things outside the group, which people always assume automatically.
- Protecting members from other things inside the group, usually by either protecting the weaker from the stronger, separating people, or through standards that protect people from neglect or dangerous behavior.
- Healthcare and everything else that protects or forestalls death.
- Formalized education, especially of young people.
- Entertainment and amusement (e.g., the arts, sports).
All prominent authorities have competitors, so they’re constantly fighting various threats that may erode their power:
- Subordinates may steal that power for themselves or subvert/divert the rules for their own purposes.
- Others on the same power level may compete with them to command their power for themselves, especially if they’ve recently gained more power and imagine they could benefit from the conflict.
- Higher authorities may take away that power if they’re displeased with how that person has managed their power.
Power dynamics become more complicated because other groups often have tremendous power over authority figures:
- Other large, allied organizations.
- Representatives of other large groups who could use their power (e.g., envoys, lobbyists, senators, CEOs, NGOs, Super PACs).
- Large corporations who create the things that people need and want.
- Organizations that transfer risk to alleviate fears (e.g., insurance).
- The managers overseeing technology, especially the ones that manages information and communications.
- Media organizations who share stories (e.g., news outlets, scientific research organizations).
If there is a hierarchy of power, it’s almost guaranteed each tier will have their own interpretations and nuances that will diverge from each other.
Rules, when properly enforced, are supposed to empower and preserve human rights, but it’s a murky philosophical debate about how far and where it cuts off. The inherent uncertainties of living together mean evil people can adapt the image of reality to exploit for their own purposes, and hardship (e.g., famine, disease) can magnify that effect out of everyone’s desire for safety.
- Making impossible rules – by creating a rule that nobody can honor, a leader can effectively exploit the rule later if that person doesn’t fit the authority figure’s purposes.
- Creating specialized rules – specific language in rules can carve out criteria for people the leaders favor while holding a double standard for everyone else.
- Making immoral rules – creating rules that defy justice permit an authority to oppress civil liberties. This often comes as a desire to preserve the group or hatred of another smaller group.
Also, people who are subject to rules can also pervert the spirit of the rules:
- Dishonoring the rules – by appearing to honor the rules, people can often disregard them when none of the leaders or their allies are looking.
- Honoring the rules inaccurately – by conforming to them when it’s not the purpose of the law’s/policy’s language, people can do things they normally couldn’t.
- Adapting rules to benefit – by influencing the rule-maker to create exceptions and caveats in the rule’s language, someone can fulfill their purpose on a double standard compared to everyone else.
- Rendering rules useless – by influencing the rule-maker to adapt language to apply the rules to vague concepts, the rules can become irrelevant toward what the rule-maker’s original purpose was.
Rules sometimes create perverse incentives:
- Placing taxes on unfavorable items (“sin tax”) will not stop addicts, but will drive them further down the social ladder.
- If a government pulls from too many fines and penalties, they’ll start depending on them and will quietly accept the source of those revenues, even when it is not in the interests of the public.
- Make rules that are impossible, or near-impossible, for members to maintain reliably in any practical sense.
- Let enough time pass where the rules are disregarded, but still codified.
- Once the system/organization has grown in power, start enforcing those rules under the claim of a greater moral good.
- Keep enforcing those rules to an increasingly greater extent, with an emphasis on stealing power from anyone who may be a potential threat to their power.
- Once the punishments for those violations become standard practice by everyone’s expectations, then larger-scale actions (e.g., banning, exile, harsh sentencing, killing) become commonplace as well.
On the other end, an absence of rules will allow the strongest people in the group with evil intent to abuse everyone else’s rights without the risk of losing power. When this happens, that person can make their own rules that strip away more power to enforce their rule.
That freedom/power balance is a complicated philosophical debate of how much a human is inherently worth and on what authority. Political opinions directly stem from how people answer that question, and part of why religion and politics perpetually mix.
Without a principled look at it, grounded in love, powerful will subdue weaker proportionally to size.
Almost any rule established in a group will work against the purposes of a minority of the group. Unless the rule is excessive, that minority will find ways to avoid honoring the rule.
Rules can never capture the subtlety of changing individuals’ wills, and only serve to externally deter or motivate people. If enough people are willing to sidestep the rule, that group now has a black market.
The authorities never have precisely enough power to completely stifle a black market. The only way they could is by changing human desire through the love of each other (which is utterly impossible), or completely legalizing it with a modest tax.
The general consequence of more rules is that they become harder to enforce, and everyone will be so preoccupied with following those rules that they won’t think about why those rules exist, and in the long-term will inhibit healthy social risks.
One of the most common forms of redistributing who makes the rules comes through the concept of voting. By giving each person an equal measure in the decision, the majority can determine what the group does.
However, voting is subject to error because people are often swayed by a convincing story even when it’s a lie. Plus, in a large enough group (such as a country), nobody has the time to vote on everything.
The compromise to everyone voting on everything is to appoint elected representatives. By giving decision power to specific people that the majority trusts, they can (theoretically) make wise decisions in the interests of the public and free up time for everyone else.
To the degree people can engage in the voting process, an electoral system gives one specific type of power to the public. They have the ability to funnel their individually unimportant decision through an appointed leader, who can then make all the decisions.
Voting comes with an unfortunate side effect. Since people make decisions based on what they understand, which is based on what they perceive, the people who become appointed are the ones who appear to be the most fitting for the role. Thus, the art of political power in an elected society is to bend the image to influence opinions toward their purposes, as opposed to military/tactical strength, and it becomes nothing more than a popularity contest.
Future rule managers are always forced make decisions on how to interpret their predecessor’s rules as technology and trends change, and they often don’t have the aptitude the rule-maker had when making the rule.
Eventually, evil or incompetent people will abuse those rules toward a dangerous end:
- They won’t understand a rule’s importance and nullify it.
- They’ll misapply the rule for the opposite purpose than it was originally intended.
- The rule-maker will redefine the spirit of the rule as it’s interpreted in their present culture instead of the former culture the rule was made in.
However it happens, these badly revised rules change the precedent for the entire group, and are the quickest way to render a system impotent or destructive as the individuals adjust to disrespecting or subverting them.
The only way to fix a bad set of rules (either poorly set or poorly enforced) is to trim down the rules to far fewer (ideally 10-30% of the original) and enforce them far more. This usually doesn’t happen because of how much power many people with specific interests may lose.
True, pure democracy is completely unattainable. Only flavors of it can exist because the rules will always favor the rule-makers.
3-10% of the people (but sometimes up to 20% in a particularly corrupt society) ruin society for the rest of the people. It’s why people lock their homes and secure their belongings.
The best rule system has very few rules which are universally applied and very well-enforced.
Following the rules is a mundane existence. It means you won’t fail miserably, but also means you won’t succeed overly much either. Most success in life involves knowing the time and place to risk breaking rules versus following them.
Generally, puritanical and religious authority come from weak rules (where people are more individually responsible to maintain order), while paganism and secularism dominate with strong rules (where the responsible people are the leadership).
Politics creates constant distorted perceptions, but it’s the only solution for an election-based society. Any alternative involves leaders who don’t need to consider the public’s opinion and can simply take control through raw power.
There’s tremendous power behind elected officials in a government, so corporations and governments will put a lot of effort into bending public opinion to motivate everyone to vote for a specific candidate.
Safety restricts freedom, so many people believe the reverse (freedom sacrifices safety). But, taking away all civil liberties may feel like it’d bring peace, but it would allow evil people to do what they wanted because they’d be the only ones not honoring the rules.
To manage rules, most top-ranking authorities give power to sub-leaders:
- With conventional dictators and corporate structures, the power distributes like a pyramid.
- With representative elections, the pyramid gets a lot flatter and everyone has a tiny bit of authority over their superiors.
- Pure democracy, a theoretical possibility but practical impossibility, would be completely flat.
- All people who ever think immoral thoughts at one point or another are susceptible to performing it if they’re given power to decide, but there’s no way to know what people are thinking without giving them the means to do something with it.
- No matter how elaborate or constricting a system is, all humans who purpose one thing can be subverted by other humans with sufficient motivation and resources for the opposite purpose.
- If you show people the risks, at least some of them will find a thrill in trying to overcome it.
- If, in some way, you can make sure people are completely unaware of a risk, they will hate you for it and will try to destroy you. Further, they’ll be really unprepared for the risks when they do explore them.
- Governments do not act to stop evil or perform socially useful tasks unless it corresponds with their own interests, and it’s all determined by how they maintain their power.
- No individual has a duty to obey laws, but they should understand and prepare for consequences from what they decide.
- If you prefer a social reform, a government is not trustworthy to correctly employ it.
- A government is never powerful enough that a person is never entitled to their freedoms.
In any election, the most competent-looking person ends up winning. Politicians in free societies are frequently good-looking and appear to be competent, but have more reason to look good than be good at running society.
The best solution for society would be a small group of very intelligent, experienced, compassionate geeks. However, nobody would vote them in and they’d never be able to coerce or influence their way to power.
Everyone in power is either forced to permit taboo things or forbid them. Permissible things will allow evil people to misuse them, but forbidding things will merely make them part of the black market, and even totalitarian micro-management can’t prevent a black market.
As a general rule of thumb, have fewer rules that are well-enforced. However, political interests make this very difficult to attain by the time anyone discusses it, so it’s usually better to start anew with a remixed duplication of what had worked previously than fix what already exists.