Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Rule of Love

In the wake of the George Zimmerman trial, a lot of jurors have been saying a lot of things. One thing I hear most of them saying is that they wanted to convict Zimmerman of something, but the law wouldn't allow it. That's got me thinking a bit about law.

I'll likely never make it onto a jury - mostly because I won't lie about the things you'll read here. I've also got a lot of lawyer friends (this is what happens when you're a history major) who have been drilled repeatedly in the importance of the rule of law. To them, I apologize. Sorta.

Rule of Law has been held up as the foundation of democracy. It makes sense, for the most part. We see it with the problems emerging in new-ish democracies around the world. Things don't work unless people trust the process, unless everyone is playing by the same rules.

President Morsi, of Egypt, was deposed by the military, supposedly because the populace was clamoring for his impeachment. I've been told that Egypt doesn't have a legal or legislative process of recall. If you want the President out between elections, this is pretty much the only way. That somewhat shaped how I've viewed the situation. Somewhat.

We, in the United States, don't often appreciate what Rule of Law means for us. If the President were impeached by the House of Representatives, tried in the Senate and found guilty, he would likely, angrily, step down, leave office, and move on early to a lucrative career speaking to corporate boards in exchange for duffle bags full of cash.

Conversely, if the President were impeached by the House of Representatives and the charges dismissed in the Senate for lack of standing (you can't just get voted out for unpopularity in the US - you need to have done something unbecoming your office), opponents would likely, angrily, concede defeat and continue grumbling to themselves in their cable news ghetto (whichever ghetto that happens to be).

There would likely be no armed conflict, no protracted process (the actual process is protracted enough), mostly because people in the United States respect the Rule of Law. No matter how clear the Constitution seems to however many of us may agree, the only authoritative voice on the matter is the collective voice of nine old people in stuffy black robes.

As a society, for the most part, we respect that.

It's quite unbelievable in the grand scheme of things. And it's no wonder we fight tooth and nail between our different interests and ideologies for control of the process. As convoluted as it is, this legislative process is the only means by which we can change, alter, or amend this Rule of Law that so thoroughly governs our lives.

What's even more amazing is that this system, which is supposed to be "blind justice" - that is, blind to special interests for the sake of justice, is often "justice blind" - that is, blind to justice for the sake of law.

It's not just about Trayvon Martin - it's also about Citizen's United and the Affordable Care Act and the fact that no one of any consequence at any major financial institution has faced any charges related to the massive lapses in judgment of recent years.

The United States was founded as a protest to the Rule of Law. Our revolutionary fore-fathers didn't like their lot in the system (mostly because they had very little say in the system) and they opted out.

There was a Rule of Law in 18th century Britain, it's just that a King had undue influence over its practice. Historically speaking, that King had less influence over the Rule of Law than any other monarch had ever had over any other nation in the history of the world.

Some are offended I'd even call 18th century Britain a "Rule of Law," since one person had such an out-sized impact. Law is supposed to be an inclusive process of reasoning together, where majority rule is tempered by tolerance for minorities.

It's a great idea. I much more appreciate living in the 21st Century United States than under the rule of mad King George and I'm more grateful to live here than in Egypt right now. (Although we do need to admit that this "Rule of Law" has been passed on to any number of other nations - including jolly old Britain - and we may no longer be the best at implementing it.) The concept of Rule of Law, as practices in modern western society, is far superior to any other form of government that's ever existed. I'm not even sure one could govern an involuntary society any other way.

That being said, I am part of a voluntary society that operates differently. As much as we allow the principles of the Rule of Law to creep in from time to time, the Kingdom of God operates on the Rule of Love.

This Rule of Love is much messier than the Rule of Law. There are no clean lines, delineation, or definitions. There are no winners and losers. A humble spirit and a commitment to self-sacrifice will get you farther than a strong argument and an air-tight case.

The Rule of Law means winning the battle of ideas, logically proving one's point and setting the course for the future. It also means someone coming up short. It means, while the value of the losing side may be recognized, it is not respected; and while the problems of the winning side may be recognized, they are not addressed. To do so would confuse the law.

We do so because the ends, the quiet society where everyone ultimately respects the Rule of Law (except for those odd many few we keep locked up for everyone's protection), justify the means, the ambiguity of right and wrong.

The Rule of Love means recognizing the failure and value of every party and attempting a solution that brings reconciliation without removing consequences. The Rule of Love means walking with, and perhaps suffering with, both those who suffer needlessly and those who deserve their suffering. The Rule of Love means refusing to name winners and losers unless it's corporately - that we are all losers in situations of unresolved conflict and that conflict can be resolved with no losers.

I'm not sure the Rule of Law can accommodate the Rule of Love. It leaves too much in the hands of too few. How can a jury or a judge be counted on to represent all of society without a strict rubric of accountability? In the age of hubris, ego, and bribery, subjectivity is a luxury we can ill afford.*

For many that means separating the Rule of Law from the Rule of Love. When dealing with the courts or the public, we accept the Rule of Law and when living our personal lives or perhaps when engaged in matters of faith and the faith community, we accept the Rule of Love.

Of course both Rules depend on people buying into the system. If an impeached President raises an army to retain power, a war ensues, a victor is proclaimed, and the Rule of Law resets, often with entirely different parameters. You can't force someone to participate in the Rule of Love. Of course, that's obvious. But what we often fail to recognize is that you can't force someone to participate in the Rule of Law, either. You can force them into non-participation through incarceration or execution or expulsion, but participation can't be compelled.

Neither system works the way we hope it will - the way we often pretend it will.

In the end, it comes down to persuasion. How do the Rules persuade those skeptical of participation to fall in line? The Rule of Law does so through force. It is, without question, the most efficient way. The Rule of Love does so through, well, love. It is, without question, a messy, inefficient, often unsuccessful way of doing life.

The Rule of Law has proven effective in the short term (even a "short" term of several hundred years); it's never been effective in the long term (but I guess there's something honorable about the notion that "this time we'll get it right"). The Rule of Love is horribly ineffective in the short term (at least on a large scale), but I have great hope it will be wonderfully successful in the long run.

As much respect as I have for the Rule of Law, it just doesn't possess qualities to which I'm willing to give my life. I'm going to choose the Rule of Love, come what may, it just seems so much more worth dying for - and at least I'd be in good company.

*I am sympathetic to the notion of universal health care, even if I'm skeptical of the current attempts to deliver it in the US, but even I was/am leery of the methods employed to fit this scheme into the Rule of Law.

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