As we have seen, law, as far as human beings are concerned, tends to deal with behaviors. Of course law does attempt to define physical or material items. What is a weapon, what constitutes a profession, What do we mean by assets, and many more “things”. A knife or a club may be a weapon but only in reference to behavior. This is an important concept that we need to keep in mind. One may wish to class all firearms as weapons, but is this the only way to classify them? If we use them for sport such as target practice, competitive shooting, or hunting of animals, do they retain this classifications of weapon? What is a weapon anyway. Is it used only against other humans? Would a rubber ban gun be classified as weapon? Surely one might use it against another human. Or is it only those items that use deadly force against humans that we can classify as weapons. That may well involve placing automobiles in the same class as hand guns and knives. But we use knives in a variety of ways that exclude deadly force against humans.
And we have the problem of that human psychological motivation called intent. Does intent then change an inanimate object from a tool to a weapon? The object has not such motivation, it is inanimate, it has no mind, it is simply an object whose used is determined by the user. But classification is more a function of a legal system. A physical action may be specified by some law as belonging to what is proscribed or allowed, but the mental state tends to be the province of the legal system. We look for some reason for behavior. If a man walks along a road for a few hours and sits down on the ground we may offer a reason such as he is tired from his physical exertions. On the other hand his mental state may be one in which he has decided to look at the flowers or enjoy the warmth of the sunshine upon his body. A legal system looks for information as to motivation and opportunity. True, we tend to lump all these ideas into “law”, but one must be careful when attributing these extra legal ideals to law. For physical laws there are not psychological or philosophical meanings that must be imputed to law. Legal systems say otherwise. A law does not need to be rational upon its own. That the law of gravity may explain only to a some extend that what goes up must come down has no bearing on why, it need not be rational in its operation. If an object of sufficient gravitational attraction can bend light is it necessary to inquire as to its mental state? Indeed, this transition from one state to the next can be troubling as we often want explanations that cannot be forthcoming, they don’t exist.
So what is a legal system? We might favor the explanation that a legal system provides meaning, a reason for human interactions from which we have constructed a set of laws and definitions that guide or prohibit human actions and interactions. Males in a group of chimpanzees will order themselves in that male society according to their individual strengths and intelligence. It’s not the largest wolf in the pack that becomes the leader or the major primogeniture of offspring. It is the one with that combination of strength and intelligence that becomes the primary alpha leader. Same with chimpanzees. And with the females, there are those who are physically larger than others but not smarter. Hence, females dominate in a manner consistent with that of the males. What we see in any group of chimpanzees or wolves is a legal system at work, one that regulates behavior of the individuals within the group. If law is an ideal then a legal system is the practical application of that ideal. Conflicts in behavior are resolved and order restored. A legal system must be practical, it must show that it works most of the time.
Legal systems include such assemblies that define laws, behaviors, activities, regulations, guidelines, and so forth. A legal system gives us a framework upon which we can hang our laws like the windows in a steel and glass building. I use that analogy because I wish to make clear that a legal framework or system must be as transparent as it can. If it suffers from opaqueness then its workings become associated with magic or myth. One cannot understand what one does not see. This is why our governments, from local to federal, must strive to be as transparent as possible. Once they grow too opaque then they become too untrustworthy. One cannot be certain to any degree how such a system may be of benefit or harm to himself. An individual cannot divine reason when transparency is not present. Opaqueness implies irrationality, untrustworthiness, and at worst immediate harm for all by a few. In so many ways, a legal system is about expectations. A legal system should reduce the arbitrariness of the behaviors of others, particularly those in authority. In a troop of chimpanzees, arbitrary actions by the leader result in irrational and illogical behaviors. When the females, the ones who raise the children, don’t trust the leader, there is hell to pay. You might be the biggest and strongest male, but against a large number of females, you’re a dead chimp. A legal system brings order to chaos in living. It brings a sense of certainty We know what to expect and how to react. This is what a system does, it provides the feedback necessary for the organism, meaning human society, to exist and live well. Next time we take up the idea of law enforcement.