law books

I do not know when the first rule was invented, but boy, do I wish I was there. The one who made it must have been one pissed off caveman. “MOKO EAT FIRST!!! RULE!!!” And the rest of the tribe acquiesced and waited patiently for Moko to die of indigestion.

It probably took a few (hundred) years until the power of the rule has really been discovered. One of the mothers, fed up with children running around after dark and getting eaten by cave bears, created the immortal rule “everyone in bed after sundown”. Parents all around the world continue to enforce it to this day, cheerfully disregarding the severe ecological impact this rule had over the years – especially on the cave bears, which are now sadly extinct. “Thou shalt not eat spotted red mushrooms” was another self-enforcing rule, which was respected religiously by all who seen (or heard about) one of Moko’s descendants eating them FIRST!!! MOKO RULE!!! and then getting kicked out of the gene pool for the privilege.

And slowly, through the ages, rules became lore. Precious, hard-earned knowledge was transmitted from generation to generation – which herbs are good for healing salves, which animals you should never ever taunt, why fruits left too long to ferment in a barrel are actually a good thing etc. etc. There must have been non-believers among the tribes even in those days, but their life expectancy was directly related to the speed of their conversion. Needless to say, they didn’t last very long.

After a while though a curious thing happened. The original makers of rules were able to explain the reasons behind pronunciations such as “don’t poke the sleeping bear”, but as rules became more complicated and obscure and, well, multiplied, the explanations fell behind. They were replaced by diatribes such as “we’ve always done it like this, you dimwit” or “because I said so”. While these explanations seemed to be quite sufficient to impress rules upon children – indeed, they are still in use today – the adults were not as easily impressed. Until one skinny, but rather smart guy, alluded that the gods might be displeased if the rules were not obeyed.

And thus the ritual was born.

We’re not going to follow the various rituals through the ages. Suffice to say that they were highly successful as a means of passing rules from one generation to the next. Of course, as the environment and living conditions changed, some of these rituals became obsolete, but change was righteously opposed, in the name of tradition. And the reformers, more often than not, were handed the short end of the stick. Or the business end of an axe, depending on the severity of their transgressions.  The lucky rituals got re-explained and turned into science. Others put on robes and called themselves religion. Still others crawled in the basement of the human psyche and turned into superstitions. And finally, some of them were written on ceramic tiles or scrolls or tomes or books, were numbered, bound and called laws.

Laws are cool. They first got written down by rulers, who claimed God and birthright as witness for their right to establish how the society lived its life. Then, when neither God nor birthright intervened, they created bodies of enforcers to make sure the laws were respected. Said enforcers were, more often than not, exempted from obeying some of the rules. For instance: when you killed someone, you became a murderer under the law. But when a policeman killed you, he became a hero. Also, the law is compulsory. You don’t get to choose a law for yourself when you’re a kid, just like you don’t get to choose religion. And little changes when you’re actually grown up.

Later still, the power was taken by the people. This new concept, called democracy, meant that everyone got to vote. They got to vote the laws that their rulers put on the table, and if they didn’t vote the right way, they got to vote again until the rulers were satisfied with the result. That’s how the Constitutions were born. That’s how, in recent history, we passed the Lisbon treaty. Under this new “people” leadership, we still got rules we cannot understand. We still got ridiculous laws. We still execute reformers – we’re just using lobbies and backroom deals instead of execution squads. And from our lofty tower, we look down our forebears and their primitive ways.

If Moko the Caveman was alive today, I’m sure he’d understand. And with a bit of effort and education, he’d make a damn fine lawyer.