You’re one up on me in knowing that Poincaré discovered that even very simple rule-based systems are chaotic. I never really thought about the matter as one involving rules or no rules. I’ve pointed out in The Story of B, My Ishmael, and, I believe, Beyond Civilization that law functions very differently in tribal societies than it does in ours.
Tribal law, unlike ours, does not PROHIBIT unwanted behaviors. Rather it specifies what is to be done to minimize the harm of unwanted behaviors. It serves to restore (as far as possible) good order and equilibrium. It seeks to do what is best for everyone (including even the author of the unwanted behavior). Punishment plays no part in tribal justice, because (as we all know), no one has ever been punished into being a good citizen.
And of course it isn’t rule-based. Every case is different and must be judged differently. We know this as well as tribal peoples do, but we think that justice works best when wearing a blindfold that prevents it from observing differences; it just follows the rules. It pains me to see so many lives ruined in our society that would not be ruined if they lived under tribal law.
I think, for example, of Mary Kay Letourneau, the school teacher who a few years ago had a love affair with a 14-year-old student, a crime for which she was sent to prison—harming her, harming her family, harming the boy, and harming the child she had by him—and benefiting exactly no one. In a tribal setting, the woman and her family and the boy and his family would be brought together to work out a solution that was as satisfactory as possible to ALL of them. That COULD have been done in our society—it would even have been cheaper and faster. But the Rule of Law had to be maintained.
updated: 15 Feb 2004
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