Thursday, July 08, 2010

Meditation on Laws

Since Tobie framed the legitimacy of Sealand in legal terms, it got me thinking about the emergence of laws and the more I thought about it, the more confused I got. This is usually how it is for me which is why I like to not think about things. It's like repeating a word over and over out loud until it starts sounding weird to you. Or maybe it is like looking at an oil painting when standing too close - a bunch of ugly splotches.

In a way, the whole notion of international law seems like a game of musical chairs. For as long as we can go back, nations would grab land or lose land through force. Then all of a sudden, we get these laws that say you can't do that anymore. Or perhaps, you can't do that unless you have a 'good reason' :) So the music was playing, and this country took over that country, and this kingdom built these colonies, and then all of a sudden, the music stopped. Except it's like the guys that were standing in front of the chairs got to decide when to stop the music.

It's like this with nuclear non-proliferation - the US and Russia and the West get to build a bunch of A-bombs, but then after they get a nice stockpile, they decide it's a bad idea and really no other nations should have the Bomb.

Or pollution - first the industrialized nations get to poison the world and get rich from spoiling everything, and then they decide - oops, this whole pollution thing is bad for the Earth. So China and India and whoever else is trying to get a leg up is shackled by these regulations that conveniently weren't there while the first world powers had their opportunities...


Blogger Tobie said...

Yeah, international law bugs me for a lot of reasons. I guess all law is made up, but international law is a lot more made up than most. The analogy that always occurs to me are the complex sets of social ritual and etiquette that spring up in societies before they have governments. Guns, Germs, and Steel has a whole section about how societies develop more formal legal structures and authorities (such as chiefdoms and states) when population gets so dense that they're pretty much killing each other left and right (apparently a leading cause of death in modern hunter-gatherer societies).

And I think that's the stage that the international community has gotten to- we've started noticing that there are a bunch of dead people around and that's bad for business, so we're trying to cobble together something resembling a government. The problem is that we're pretty far from the stage of real government as in real coercive power, so instead it's this almost pageantry where law is determined by what most countries think, enforcement is arbitrary, and the people with the power pretty much do what they want and leave it for the legalists to justify.

But yeah, the international community is pretty ogligarchical. The only thing I will say is that often, they really didn't know that something was a bad idea until they tried it themselves. So yeah, they're stopping after only they have enjoyed it, but any stopping point is going to have some people who have already done it and some who haven't, and the ones that have are naturally going to be the ones on the top because they generally get there first. Also, in terms of colonialism, the big guys did also agree to give up their colonies because again, they'd realized it wasn't as much fun as they thought. On one hand, it's annoying that the West forces its insights onto everyone else, on the other hand, it really is useful to avoid having everybody try it and mess things up even more.

Wow, sorry for the length.

July 08, 2010 1:12 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

>Wow, sorry for the length.

You know, I don't pay for the blog by the byte :)

July 08, 2010 1:18 PM  
Blogger Tobie said...

Yeah, but bloggers get bored with long-winded law geekery just like everyone else and it's not polite to impose upon a host.

July 09, 2010 9:07 AM  

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