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Rules and regulations

Rules and regulations

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.



minorityDemocracy means, literally, “the rule of the people”. It was invented by the Greeks, thousands of years ago, and it became the preferred type of organisation for their city states, like the powerful Athens. There’s a lot to be said about  democracy of a city state, where every citizen gets to vote. Well, every citizen that is male, owns land and is not a slave, that is. It also helps if your fellow citizens – and the local politicians alike – are practically your neighbours, so you’ve known them, or at least of them, your whole life.

But that was then, and this is now. Democracy is the preferred form of government for more than half of this globe’s population; from Greenland to India, from Russia to USA, Japan, Latin America and South Africa, democracy spread far and wide, much like a certain form of flu. And it likewise mutated.

How does it work? Well, people get to vote. Every 4 or 5 years, they vote a party, a platform, an ideology or, if they’re really lucky, an actual person. But who chooses the candidates? Who pushes them in the limelight, who writes their names on the ballots? In a democracy you may choose whosoever you desire – as long as you choose from our own carefully selected candidates.

Oh yes, democracy is the rule of the people in the true sense of the word – as long as you’re in the majority, that is. And if you, as a majority, vote to, say, deny utterly and unabashedly that a minority even exists, let alone is entitled to some rights, well, let it be so, right? The democracy hath spoken.

And even if you, as majority, do care about minorities, and treat them well to raise your status as a country in the world. You do your job, you elect your politicians, based on their platforms and their promises, and then… and then you go home, you shake your head and you fully expect to be disappointed yet again by them. They all lie, you tell yourself, but you still hope against hope that this time, this time you sent an honest man in office.

Have you noticed that, whatever the report or response of a politician, everybody expects him to lie? Maybe just a little bit. When Amnesty International denounced the war crimes committed in the Gaza strip in the latest soon-to-be-forgotten Israeli-Palestinian war (well, Hamas, actually), both sides jumped up and said that the report is biased and unbalanced.1 Accusations are promptly met by denials, rebuttals, counterclaims; proof is brushed aside, a counterfeit, an image coup manufactured by the political adversaries. Politicians cry their innocence on the way to prison – and then wonder why the vote turnout is low, why people loose interest and stay away from politics altogether. Why indeed.

Take the Lisbon treaty. It was shot down by Ireland, in what must have been the biggest news story of 2008 for the Old Continent. European political animals pulled a fast one and continued the vote in other countries, in spite of the treaty needing unanimous approval by the member states. Most of them didn’t even dare ask their voters via referendum, knowing full well what happened with the late European Constitution project. And now Ireland votes again. Who’s willing to bet it’s going to be a Yes this time?

And yet, when we do vote, we chose the trustworthy candidate. The one with strong moral values. They got a black man to take office as president of the United States and are now claiming that for an extraordinary feat, but mark my words: an atheist wouldn’t have a snowflake’s chance in hell. No, we need God-fearing politicians – at least they fear someone, the saying goes.

And the part that really cracks me up?

This is the best we can do.

  1. Yes, hello, Israeli can of worms, I’ve been sitting on you a long time now, but finally I couldn’t help myself – I had to look inside, you see. []