[Martin Taylor 2008.08.30.13.10]
[From Bill Powers (2008.08.29.1513 MDT)]
Martin Taylor 2008.08.29.10.18] --
Have you considered the possibility that is precisely the system of laws that reduce the likelihood that people will come into conflict?
A nice thoughtful post, with good ideas.
Thanks, but I am afraid you seem to have missed two main points: (1) about the effect law has in substituting an internal conflict for an external one, and (2) that the evidence for evolutionary optimality has to do not with any specific system of laws but with the fact that systems of laws have become increasingly pervasive across a wide range of cultures over the sat 45 or 50 centuries, rather than disappearing as they would have done had they been ineffective in stabilizing a culture against disruptive influences.
I'll try to reword these arguments, but first:
I think you're right on in distinguishing different kinds of laws, with some kinds being not not just OK but beneficial. Traffic laws are obviously good ones, for obvious reasons.
But isn't there another dimension to it? I remember that T-shirt that says,
"E = MC^2 -- it's not just a good idea, it's the law."
It may be funny, but it's hardly relevant. It's what I call a "philosophers trick", the use of the same letter string to refer to two quite different concepts, and then to argue as though the two were the same. "Natural law" is simply a synonym for "the way the world works", and its codification into things like "E = MC^2" is simply our best current bet as to what that way might be. That has nothing to do with human law, which is a set of statements about what particular lawmakers in particular places and times have said they would like people to do or not do. To bring "natural law" into the discussion is a red herring.
Although the issues you bring up about the questionable optimality of current US law and its enforcement are quite valid (probably -- I don't know enough facts to argue the case), they really miss the points I was trying to make, as illustrated by this comment:
/Confronting Confinement,/ a June 2006 U.S. prison study by the bipartisan Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons, reports than on any given day more than 2 million people are incarcerated in the United States, and that over the course of a year, 13.5 million spend time in prison or jail. African Americans are imprisoned at a rate roughly seven times higher than whites, and Hispanics at a rate three times higher than whites. Within three years of their release, 67% of former prisoners are rearrested and 52% are re-incarcerated, a recidivism rate that calls into question the effectiveness of America's corrections system ...
/see /www.prisoncommission.org/report.asp <http://www.prisoncommission.org/report.asp>.
Evolution (and it's equivalent within individuals -- reorganization) isn't guaranteed to find optimal organization of species or of organizations, but it does tend to eliminate structures that are ineffective.
The above quotation tends to argue against that idea. Of course you can say that evolution isn't finished, so what we're doing right now is part of the process of finding the optimal organization, which is not the one that exists right now. I wouldn't argue against that. But the weakness in using evolution as a catch-all explanation (things are as they are because that is the evolutionary optimum) is the assumption that we have reached the pinnacle of perfection.
I don't think any concept of evolution argues for the current state as being optimum, whether it is the evolution of a species, an ecology, or a culture. What it does argue is that if some structure persists over long periods of time, it is more likely to be useful to the survival of the environment in which it lives (in this case a culture or a nation) than to be detrimental to it. In any case, your quote refers only to the state of specifically US law, its enforcement, and the methods used to rehabilitate criminals. US law is well known for its penchant for training criminals by keeping them together in prisons until they come out with no obvious non-criminal means to support themselves. That seems irrelevant to the question of whether there is a PCT-based argument for the existence of systems of law.
My main point, that I think you missed entirely, is in the following:
All laws depend on there being some high-level reference value in individuals that leads to a conflict in cases where the individual would, for other reasons, like to act in contravention of the law. But in its effect, for people with a reference to perceive themselves as "law-abiding", a law is more like a wall than like a conflict. Walls have gates, and most of the time there are other environmental feedback paths that allow a person to control the perception that could have been controlled by breaking the law. It's when the structure of laws does not allow for the existence of alternate environmental feedback paths that the conflict is resolved in favour of breaking the law.
That's a rather complicated way of putting it. The distinction between natural and artificial consequences is a more direct way of explaining why some people break the law.
The wording maybe complicated, but I don't think the concept is. Nor do I think that "natural law" comes into the equation. You simply can't choose to go to London by teleporting, whereas you can choose to do anything that is prohibited by human law. There are no consequences other than disappointment for trying to teleport to London, or for trying to make the day 36 hours long. The reason one does or does not commit an action one perceives to be illegal is inside the mind, not in the physics of the external world.
"Consequences" may be a mechanism whereby some people come to have a reference value of "law-abiding" for one dimension of their controlled perception of self. But it doesn't matter how this reference value is attained; I argue that it is this controlled self-perception that matters.
Most people in a society that has not broken down do have "law abiding" as one of their reference values for the multi-dimensional percept of "self-image". That creates internal conflict if they do something they perceive to be illegal. Others, I grant you, may not have this reference value and would equally choose legal or illegal means to control a perception, in the absence of "consequences". It's hard to know whether such people are many or few, but my bet is on few, compared to those who prefer to act legally when legal means to control are available.
Let me try to get at the point in a different way.
There is a principle of PCT: "many means to the same end", meaning that to control any particular perception there are likely to be many different environmental feedback paths. If some of these are blocked, others can be used. If using any particular one would increase error in another control system, there is a reduction in the overall ability to control, and perhaps conflict. When the "other control system" is in another person, you get interpersonal conflict. If to follow the law inhibits that conflict, it is quite likely to generate an internal conflict instead.
Only if this internal conflict is irresolvable by using a different means to control the perception that might have been controlled by illegal means is it likely that the person will break the law and enter into the interpersonal conflict. This is what happens when one lane of a two-lane road is blocked by construction. Often there is a "law" in form of a traffic light or a flagman to say which direction of traffic is allowed to move. But if there is urgent need for speed, a driver may choose to risk conflict with oncoming cars and barrel through the red light, hoping that the opposed traffic will give way.
Let's imagine someone controlling a perception of self as "law-abiding". If such a person wants to control a different perception (e.g. getting more money), they will preferentially not choose an illegal method when a legal method is also available. To choose an illegal method would introduce error into the controlled self-perception. So they tend to abide by the law, as most people do in a society that has not broken down.
Consider, in contrast, a person who has a somewhat different controlled perception, one we can call "others see me as" with a reference value "law-abiding", but who does not have a controlled perception of seeing self as law-abiding. For such a person, the issue of whether to use a legal or illegal means to control some other perception depends only on the likelihood that others will perceive the use of illegal means and perceive also that this person did it. Hence the wearing of gloves by burglars, etc, etc. This the person who refrains from illegal action only because of possible "consequences".
If, now, for some perception a "law-abiding" person controls some perception at high gain (or with large error) and knows only illegal means to reduce the error in that perception, the conflict between self-image perception and the other will be resolved in favour of error in the self-image perception. Its value will deviate from "I am law-abiding"(though another component of self-image such as "responsibility for family" might have its error reduced by the illegal action). In the 18th century, a poor man might have stolen a loaf of bread to feed his starving child (and been transported to Australia if detected). The man could find no legal way to get money to buy bread, pay for housing, and pay for health care, and bread being a great need, stole -- used the only environmental feedback path apparently available, though the stolen food need not have been bread.
As a general statement, in a money economy a poor person usually has fewer means (legal or illegal) to control perceptions than does a rich person. A law will ordinarily reduce the legal means of controlling some perception or other (it will sever some environmental feedback paths, or at least inhibit them). A person with more ways to influence a controlled perception will be less affected than will a person with fewer ways, and if the inhibition applies to enough of the potentially available pathways, maybe it leaves the poor person with no legal means of controlling some important perception -- at least none for which the internal conflicts are not more severe than the conflict with self-image perceptual control.
Bad law creates a climate of lawlessness, since if one person finds that control is effective only by illegal means, it is likely that others with whom that person comes into frequent contact will be in the same state. The cultural reorganization that we have talked about previously is then quite likely to lead to a cultural subgroup for whom acting illegally is normal. In everyday language, we say "Those guys have no respect for the law". But they do have respect for the opinions and reactions of their peers. Even they might say "I would like to be able to abide by the law, but I can't live as I would like by doing so".
Following this line of argument suggests that good law (law that tends to reduce interpersonal conflict) should tend to empower the poor, relative to the rich, since maintaining a person's ability to control through legal means is likely to reduce the probability they will choose illegal means, and will maintain a reference value to perceive themselves as "law-abiding". Since conflict, in the most general case, is evidence of resource limitation, and all resources are finite, this often means that a law should apply mainly to the rich -- as many of our laws do, such as those that put the Enron top people in jail.
When laws are made by the already powerful, they are quite likely to be set up so that potential conflicts between a powerful and a powerless person are resolved in favour of the powerful person (why else would it be permissible for lawyers to be paid by individuals rather than from the public purse?). When that imbalance becomes severe, you get the situation I described above -- a climate of lawlessness among the disadvantaged, and a climate of fear among the better-off -- and the situation you describe in your quote entitled "confronting confinement", with a huge number of people in jail and a high rate of recividism.
As I said in my earlier message, this is not a logically tight argument, but it seems to me to be a reasonable basis from which to start a PCT analysis of the idea of law, and perhaps of specific systems of law.