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Just how fickle is society?

I've been thinking recently (not too hard, otherwise I might risk coherency in this post) about what it is that keeps societies functioning according to Government laws. Is it just a fear of punishments or is something deeper? What stops me, if I can get enough land to provide a measure of self-sufficiency, from declaring a given set of land a new country? I know it has been done before, but what stops it from happening more often?

In this post, I will just raise a couple of guesses at answers. If anyone else wants to contribute, I would appreciate it, because I don't have all the answers. Just the questions.

Before I begin, I'd just like to say a few words about money. It has always seemed to me like money is a figment of our collective imagination, and relies on a shared delusion that it actually has some value. What would happen if I decided, for instance, that 50cent pieces were a nuisance and would only accept them as being worth 40 cents when someone wants to give them to me in exchange for a good or service, how does that affect things? If I decided that I will flat out not accept 50 cent coins and I do not consider it legal tender, how does that affect things? More importantly, for a currency which is backed by the Government having a certain amount of gold, or whatever, the money's worth is based on what I consider gold to be worth. Given that gold is generally quite a useless material, whiat good is it having my useless money backed by a useless lump of metal that I have no particular use for? And for currencies which aren't backed by anything other than an arbitrary promise with no actual value, where is the protection? Why do we accept it as having value of its own?

Recently, Van Nguyen, a drug trafficker from Melbourne has been executed in Singapore. Many words have been expended on whether capital punishment is justified, whether it should have been used on him, and whether him being Australian is sufficient extenuating circumstance for him to have been granted clemency (people essentially suggested this while keeping straight faces and thinking they were serious). Essentially, he has been caught and found guilty of trafficking a substantial amount of heroin through a country which has a mandatory death penalty for heroin trafficking. That he was going to hang was not really in question, except in the minds of the deluded. None of this is to suggest that I support the death penalty: I don't. Not even for Saddam.

What I want to know, though, is why he decided that the time to accept the rule of law after he was caught. He quite happily ignored the rule of law by trafficking drugs. Why then, after he was caught, did he start following the law? Why accept the authority of the court? At the very least, you may as well create a minor diplomatic incident. Refuse to go quietly. Make them shoot you, rather than having a carefully controlled execution. What's the court going to do?

Interrupt the judge, the prosecution, the witnesses. Object. Misbehave. You cease being in a Schroedinger's Cat-like state as soon as you are caught. You are dead; but the body hasn't been dispatched. Make the most of it. Know that there is very little they can do to make your predicament any worse. But why go meekly? Why accept it? Why not get up at your court hearing and say, "I do not accept the authority of this court to rule on this matter." Why not make up your own religion, document it, and use any available laws and/or international treaties to say that your imprisonment/execution violates the beliefs of your new religion?

In general, why accept any laws you don't like? Take the Australian Government's new IR laws, which reregulate the labour market, but have certain anti-union provisions. Let's say, for arguments sake, that the employer would prefer to negotiate with the union, and the new employee would particularly like to be represented by the union in negotiations, but the law prohibits the union being involved, why not just ignore that particular aspect of the law and do what you like? Why not just ignore the things you don't like? If brought before court on a given matter, why not just deny the court's authority to try you on the matter? And when they charge you with contempt, why not just deny the court's authority to try you on that, either? It take a bit of commitment, but if you were going to be found guilty of something you are not prepared to accept (a capital punishment is a good example), why not fight it with civil disobedience rather than lawyers?

Finally, with a bit of money, you could purchase a large tract of land and set it up so that it will produce all the food, electricity and water you need to be self-sufficient. Having done this, what stops you from declaring your own state? Ever wanted your own kingdom? Principality? Country? Why not do it? What can the Government of your former country do? Wouldn't it be fun locking up the visiting mormons for entry without the approrpiate visas? Even better, think about how easy it would be to make conditions really favourable for companies. Depending on how you wanted to structure your society, you could do away with corporate governance, and you might even find you become a more attractive proposition for corporate headquarters than Delaware...

So, just how fickle is society? Do we follow laws we disagree with out of convenience? Fear? Something deeper? Is society stable or does it fall apart as soon as enough people decide they don't like enough laws? I'm not talking about revolutions, where society changes from one set of laws to another (from one part of the energy landscape to another), but a descent from rule of law to some form of anarchy, either on a local or national scale?


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