This morning, in that misty land between waking and dreaming I hover after hitting snooze the first (or second) time, a realization on the meaning of life came to me.
No, not on the meaning of life.
On crime, and honor. And the law.
In the world we live in today, it's almost impossible to imagine lawlessness. With the advent of efficient communication, the arm of the law can reach us anywhere, anytime. An escaped criminal has very little recourse for hiding effectively; extradition treaties and other agreements of information exchange have turned the world into a global village, all too well-supervised by Big Brother. Right? I'm not saying this makes for safer living--actually, that's my point. Even with all these "extra" laws that govern and regulate every patch of Terra, and the supersonic means to enforce them, has the world become any safer?
Seems to me it has not.
I'm not just talking about international scenarios here. Think of the most menial of local altercations. A dispute with your neighbor, maybe. In the olden days, an argument about a tree growing too close to the other's property or a parked car blocking a driveway, even a child's pranks, would have been solved leaning on a fence, perhaps over coffee and biscuits. Today? More likely than not there'll be a uniform involved. Even if not physically, now there are laws that govern these disputes. "No, Ben, the tree doesn't bother me, but the law says it can't be there, so you gotta take it down."
I love the law. I understand that without it we'd live in anarchy, that certain rules must be created for everyone to abide, to behave. But here's the thing. When is it too much?
Imagine a "lawless" environment, such as the Old West or the mountains of Afghanistan--definitely lawless, right? Even the high-tech super-powerful US satellites that can find a newly planted orange tree in your backyard within hours of it being in the ground couldn't locate the most wanted terrorist in those mountains. No, what snark? Dunno what you're talking about.
Anyway. Lawless environment. Past, present, whatever. Yes, very bad for the lonely damsel in a stage coach that gets railroaded by a bunch of unwashed bandits and doesn't have a smartphone to tweet for help. But think of it. Property was bought and sold without so much as a piece of paper being drawn up. How did deals get sealed? Handshake. How did claims get staked? Promises. Honor-bound promises. People promised each other things, and actually felt obligated to carry them out. Not because of a big bad sheriff coming to take you to what must have been horrible jails, but because, in a land without law, your honor is the most valuable asset you'll ever own.
Is the observation that honor has no more trading power nowadays than a sack of flour really necessary?
I didn't think so.
I don't think this is a "good ol' days vs. today" thing. After all, the past is ripe with honorless examples. Rome in its decline comes to mind, when the maxima civilization became mercenary and corrupt. There, too, law had its heyday.
So this thought that came to me in the hazy post-alarm-clock doze was: is there a link? Are these two things linked? Honor--its existence or lack thereof--and the law? Is it possible that, by setting down these rules and regulations that govern human behavior and interactions we've created a black hole that swallowed honor into its vortex gut? Is the message we're sending, with these rules for every bit of minutiae, that honor isn't necessary anymore?