Why The Rules Don’t Matter


October 6, 2014 by Liberty

In 1991 Hans Monderman introduced a minimalist traffic design concept that revolutionized the way many people thought about proper traffic planning. While throughout history, traffic designers have been using more signs and more rules to try and increase the safety of pedestrians and motorists. Hans Monderman took a different approach. He suggested that the problems in traffic design aren’t related to too few signs and rules, they’re related to too many rules. In fact, his idea was to remove curbs, lines in the road, traffic lights, and virtually all signage from the side of the road.

While most rule loving purists would balk at this idea, the results were surprising. The vast majority of the roads that implemented this concept had fewer accidents. There are a few reasons having fewer rules helped everyone. First of all, the right of way is uncertain. There are no sidewalks for people to cross. There are no red lights to figure out whose turn it is. All this increases the focus required for anyone trying to drive there. That also decreases the speed of anyone driving there. While that could be perceived as a bad thing, commute time and traffic didn’t actually get affected. (Remember, stop signs and red lights slow you down significantly too.)

While I bet Monderman would cough up a lung hearing my following arguments (I don’t know the guy. Maybe he’s even more anarchic than me,) I feel like his concept can and should be introduced to every aspect of life. Rules are more often a distraction for humanity than an enforcement for it.

The Loophole Concept

There are always loopholes in rules. (This is particularly true for rules created politically.)

If you introduce a weight limit for a wrestling league, you’ll have people that weigh 145 pounds dehydrating and throwing up to get themselves into the 140 weight class. The nature of the rule makes it in everyone’s favor to try to game the system. Instead of common sense being used, people assume the system keeps it fair. (Hmmm… He’s strong but… he is in my weight class… I guess it’s a fair fight.)

The introduction of rules always adds a new loophole into the system. As soon as that loophole is discovered, people tend to try and shut those loopholes with more rules. Those new rules, of course, introduce more loopholes. All this adds up to more of the next problem with rules.

Distracted From Morality

You can see this with speed limits. Speed limits were introduced to keep people from driving too fast but that’s not actually what they do in most cases. While they were meant to be a limit, they’ve become a de facto speed median. I’m sure at some point in your life you’ve been riding behind someone and thought, “Why is this (explicative) driving 5 under the speed limit?”

People stop perceiving the limits of the road naturally and start to assume the maximum speed allowed is safe. That speeds everyone up to that limit and puts social pressure (through cars driving dangerously close) on everyone that tries to drive slower.

These distractions happen in virtually every rule that exists. It even happens with murder.

Lets say there is a society that doesn’t have a written rule against murder. In that world, lets say Bob murders John. A lot of people are going to be very mad about John’s death. People aren’t a big fan of people they know dying. That offers an incentive for everyone to figure out who killed him and make sure it never happens again. Everyone has the responsibility of judge, jury, or even executioner. If people discover Bob is the killer, suddenly, Bob’s life is in serious and immediate danger.

This may seem a little odd to most people because of the way we were raised. The criminal justice system is not just a criminal punishment system. It was created to give the criminals a fair punishment instead of them randomly hanging from a tree without a trial. Criminal punishment is common in every society, even those without written rules.

(I’d argue the only way justice could be counted on is in a rational society. The more rational the society, the more just it would be.)

Simply put, Bob is screwed without criminal justice laws. Let’s say no one is sure whether or not he killed John but everyone suspects it. Even if he doesn’t get killed, the person making his breakfast at the pancake shop will gleefully spit in his maple syrup. Many people would intentionally avoid dealing with him for fear of their own life. The only way Bob would be treated like a real human being is by leaving and hoping no one else knows. (With the internet, that would be virtually impossible to get away from. Imagine a background check on the internet showing people saying that you killed someone. Good luck getting a home in the nice neighborhood.)

Now let’s move Bob and the living John into our society. Bob kills John again. The police investigate and are confident they found the killer. (Let’s pretend they actually found Bob. Probably through sheer coincidence.) When Bob goes to trial, his survival is based on the whims of a jury of 12 instead of a jury of everyone in the society.

There are two scenarios I’ll go over.

1. Bob is found guilty.

If Bob is believed to be guilty by the jury, no one will punish Bob more than the criminal justice system. He won’t need to worry about his maple syrup getting a pinch of saliva because everyone has decided his punishment was dealt with. In some cases, the rule will lead to Bob getting killed. Of course, the vast majority of people don’t question the morality of that either.

My point is this: If there is a mean of appropriate punishment then society has virtually no moral incentive to find it because the rules distract everyone from morality. People will say things like, “You do the crime, you do the time,” and completely dismiss questions about the morality of a situation.

2. Bob is found not guilty.

The evidence may have been just too shaky for a jury to put the mans life on the line. Again people will say things like, “He wasn’t found guilty. He’s probably not guilty.” People may have questions about whether it was just or not but most people wont be spitting in his maple syrup.

If the evidence was overwhelming and everyone had every reason to believe Bob was guilty, (OJ anyone?) his life was now protected from potential societal punishments. If someone killed OJ, I mean, Bob, they would go to trial and have their own lives put at risk.

Rules Exist

Rules are not something that can be defined for a society. Society doesn’t exist. It’s just a word to distract ourselves from personal responsibility. Rules only exist on an individual level. While that individual level is usually pretty close to other people’s rules, you can never find a more accurate median than through trusting people.

There will be insane people completely willing to kill anyone for anything. The morality of the vast majority of people will force those insane people to not kill for anything without putting there own lives on the line.

There will be people willing to let anyone do anything without punishment. Those people will be socially ostracized and end up only getting to deal with people that same have that same philosophy.

Writing down the apparent median of the rules is pointless because every second of a communities existence is providing an election for what’s acceptable and what’s unacceptable. It’s democracy in it’s most meaningful form. Your vote is the action you take.

While it’s not a perfect balance, the only thing keeping it from becoming perfect is the rationality of its participants. The more rational the society, the more confident we can be that our treatment of societal deviants is appropriate.

One thought on “Why The Rules Don’t Matter

  1. Henna Lund says:

    Shared Space is an interesting concept – especially when you see that it works !
    Here are some believes of Hans Monderman, who is unfortunately not alive any more:
    Enjoy reading !

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