If I tell most people that I’ve broken the law, in a way that has harmed no-one, they will not be alarmed. They will not threaten to turn me in, or even cut me out of their lives. However, there is a minority who believe otherwise. They believe it’s fundamental to obey, to comply, even if you don’t know why, and if you do disobey, they will withdraw any empathy they once had. In fact, they may even delight in your punishment.
These compliants say it’s vital to obey the law, but which law do they mean? The law that is written in some dusty book, gasbagged about by politicians and referred to with long words by lawyers in court rooms, written in papers that, to regular people, seem like a foreign tongue? Is it really fair to call that “law”? If you use that definition, then you find that the majority of the world is outlaws. Most people, including compliants, will cruise at 5-10 km/h over the speed limit because they know it’s more important to adjust to the conditions than to follow a line in a book they’ve never seen. That means, while they say the law books count, they really follow a greater law, a more subtle law – a more complete law.
In fact, for most people in the world, non-compliance is the law. Compliance is a luxury that few can afford, and fewer hold as a value. I’ve seen this for myself – even in large corporations, they have small compliance teams with infrequent updates that involve bureaucracy that most staff will ignore.
Generally, if people perceive a rule as having good reason, they will follow it. If people believe that it is likely that there will be negative consequences for breaking a rule, they will follow it. However, if a rule has neither reason nor consequence, people will break that rule. If you follow a rule without reason and without consequence, make no mistake, you are an exception. You might believe that people are unusual for breaking rules, that they are different and wrong. It’s not true. You are the different one. You are the freak. You are the one whom reason has not yet reached. But there is hope for you yet.
Reason is the law, and empathy is the law. If values dictate that a person should comply, or demand of another, without regard for what makes sense or what is good for people, that is against Law, in the highest sense of the word. Arbitrary authority is not the law, but an exception to Law.
How long can an idea such as compliance without reason survive in an information age? It’s not hard to find someone who is passionate about freedom, even if it’s just their own. It’s very difficult to find someone who is inspired about obedience. Nobody writes odes to compliance, yet hidden in every song ever written is the subtle subtext: I will be free; I will show what is inside of me; I will bear my soul despite judgement. When your ideas are in opposition to every passionate human being on Earth, you will know your cause is doomed.
If you live in an authoritarian bubble, you can believe that those who stand for freedom are defiant, contrarians. But to say people want to be free is so simple, so obvious, that it can be easy to forget. People want what they want, and they don’t want what they don’t want. That means they don’t want to be forced. As soon as people realise that their freedom depends on the integrity of the freedom of others, the battle will be over. Law lives.