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Legal systems around the world Legal systems around the world
by Joseph Gatt
2021-05-01 08:18:50
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Traditionally they say you have “Romano-Germanic law” and “Common law” and “Socialist law” and “Religious law”.

Romano-Germanic law being a textual kind of law where judges have to refer to evidence and to the text of laws. Common law where there are few or no legal texts and where judges refer to evidence and legal precedents. Religious law of course draws from sacred religious texts. And socialist law was, in theory, the kind of legal system where people of different social groups sat down together (social groups being parents, teachers, farmers, factory workers, office workers, priests etc.) to write the legal texts together.

I don't discard those legal systems and their existence. But I do think cultural factors play an important role.

leg001_400So I tend to divide the law into three or four cultural categories: free countries, tribal countries, militarized countries and failed states.

In militarized countries, legal texts tend to be drafted to protect the powerful, to protect the generals, to protect the boss. Any threat to the boss will be punished harshly.  

In tribal countries, legal texts tend to be drafted to protect the social harmony of the village, settle disputes, and tend to punish public gossip very harshly.

In free countries, legal texts tend to be drafted with a scientific or social reason in mind; the reason is often stated for why the law exists. And those who disrupt an individual or his/her property tend to be punished.

In failed states of course there is no law, there are no courts or tribunals, and there are no judges. The gun is the judge.

How does this work concretely?

In militarized societies, you have the law tailored to protect the boss. Thos boss writes the law to protect himself. So you might have legal texts in the form of Romano-Germanic law or Socialist law, but what the judge will be looking at is whether the boss was really offended.

Militarized societies tend to pass laws based on the boss's mood. So the laws change all the time, with no notice. So a lot of times judges don't know, nor do they care, what the laws are.

Let me give you an example of this. I once worked at a Korean company where I had to “provide a daily report detailing my activities.” I'd write the report before leaving work and heading home, and hand it to my boss. But then my boss changed his mind and decided he wanted to receive the report the next morning after my work day. So I'd write the report the previous day and hand it first thing in the morning. Boss changes his mind again and decides he wants it before I leave work for home. So I hand him the report then. But then my boss wants two reports: one in the morning for what kind of tasks I intend to accomplish, and one before I leave detailing the tasks I accomplished. After a couple of days, my boss no longer knew what his instructions were. After about a week, I would spend three hours of the workday writing reports about my tasks, because my boss wanted the reports to be spelling-mistake-free and to contain precise wording and language.

That kind of how their legal system works. They pass a law demanding that you register housing at the town hall. Then a couple of weeks later they decide you also have to register housing at the tax office, effective immediately. Then you have to register housing at the provincial level immediately. Then you have to register garbage disposal at the tax office. Then those who use washing machines and air-conditioners have to register. Two days later the address system changes and everyone has to register their new address everywhere. You get the idea.

In militarized nations, it's not breaking the law that tends to be punished. It's refusing to obey the law that tends to be punished. So if you steal money, you'll usually get a slap on the wrist. But if you steal money to and older man, to a boss, or refuse to follow the new law mandating that you register your business with the provincial tax office, you could get heavy punishment.

In militarized nations, punishment tends to come in the form of humiliation and shaming. So if shutting down your business or paying a heavy fine will cause more shame than prison, you'll have to shut down your business and pay a huge fine. If spending a week in jail will be humiliation because your co-workers will laugh at you, then you get to spend a week in jail. So jail terms tend not to be lengthy, because the judge of factors in shaming and social outcasting factors into consideration.

Tribal societies. Legislation tends to be lax, but the goal tends to be the promotion of social harmony. So legal texts tend to mean little or nothing. There's the law, and then there are government employees who apply the law according to their whims, their mood, the bribes they get, or how willing they are to help.

So social networks are very important, and you have to find ways to work with government administrations who often refuse to talk to people, need to be bribed to talk to people, or who only talk to family and friends.

What tends to be punished is “disrupting the social order” or “engaging in shameful activities.” So anything that will cause negative gossip can get you in big trouble. Drugs will get you in trouble. Pre-marital sex will get you in trouble. Public displays of affection will get you in trouble. Cheating on your spouse could get you in big trouble. Homosexuality of course gets you in trouble. But, if you shame people in public, as in writing articles or publishing anything about public figures or private individuals could get you in big trouble.

Petty crime however rarely gets you in trouble. Pickpockets don't go to jail, but being drunk in public could land you in jail. Pickpockets will probably escape with a small fine.

Then you have free societies. In tribal and militarized societies, there tends to be no explanation or philosophical rationale for why laws exist. In tribal and militarized societies laws exist because the boss decided what the law should be, and no one really asks the boss why the law is what the law is.

In free societies laws are explained, debated, and the reasons for and against the law are widely available. The law usually involves not harming public property, and not harming a private individual's property.

The definition of “property” is what tends to be widely debated in free societies. Is your “image” your “property”? Some say yes, meaning people can't use my picture without my authorization, or in some harsher cases, they can't even discuss my name without my authorization. But, in the era of Facebook and the Internet and all that, your image is usually not part of your property. You don't own your image, and that means people can say anything they want about you, and use your pictures everywhere.

Other property debate. Is your religion your property? Some would love to say yes, meaning that if they harm your religion, they harm your property, and you can sue them. But the fact is in free society; your image and your religion are not considered your property.

Then there's a more complicated question. If the front area of your store or your house your property? Some say yes, others say what's at the front of your store or house is not your property, meaning people are allowed to stand in front of your store or house all day, they can block the passage, and you have no legal way to push them out of the way.

And even more complex questions. Is your website your property? If someone hacks your website, it sure is. But what if someone keeps leaving negative comments about your website or trolling people on your website. Is that property damage?

And then there are the complex medical questions. If a doctor operates you, your body is your property; you gave the doctor authorization to operate you. But is there a part of the deal that says you should recover 100% from the operation and that there should be no side-effects after the operation. What if the operation fails, or there are unintended side-effects?  

So the question of property is very complicated. In militarized societies, everything counts as property for the powerful, including their image, their company image, their employees, their sub-contractors, and other aspects that tend not to be defined as property in free nations. So in militarized societies, a CEO could sue you for offending his/her employee.

In tribal societies, the notion of “public” property is vast, and includes things like relationships, sex, and politics. So if you date someone or get married, in tribal societies, your couple is “public property.” Politics also tends to be considered “public property” and individuals are considered “public property.” So if I go out and make a documentary ridiculing an individual in tribal societies, I could get in trouble.

In free societies property is mostly individual property. And your image is not even defined as property in most cases.

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