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Legal System

  • "When wrongs are pressed because it is believed they will be borne, resistance becomes morality. "
  • ~ Thomas Jefferson, Third U.S. President, 1743 – 1826
  • "He that’s merciful to the bad is cruel to the good. "
  • ~ Thomas Randolph, English poet and playwright, 1605 – 1635
  • "It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law,so much as for the right. "
  • ~ Henry David Thoreau, American philosopher, 1817 – 1862

Insane World

The legal system is driven by politics and the greed of lawyers, not justice. There is nothing profound about the way that laws are made: Politicians respond to interest group pressure to advance their political careers, occasionally modifying their actions based on political principle. Lawyers sue anyone on any pretext of getting a large, or huge, contingency fee. Bureaucrats swamp businesses with countless layers of Byzantine regulation. The criminal justice system is completely arbitrary, and depends more on the political climate of the times and the craftiness of lawyers than on the nature of the crime committed. A famous athlete may knife two people to death and go free, even with overwhelming evidence against him, by taking advantage of racial animosity.

Another man may walk into his brother’s home, kill him with a shotgun, and serve less than three years in prison. On the other hand, many people serve long jail sentences for victimless crimes such as possession or sale of drugs. Part of the problem with the modern legal system is that it is very unpredictable, as it relies so heavily on the irrational judgments of legislators, judges, and juries.

The prison population increases, but no more justice seems to be done. The death penalty is rarely implemented, due to lack of confidence in the system and misplaced sympathy for criminals.

Living Sanely

One key to sanity is to keep expectations low. Another key is, to the extent possible, to avoid working in highly regulated businesses. Avoid the court system when possible, but never compromise on matters of principle. Base your decisions on your own sense of right and wrong, and hope that judges and juries will agree. If your judgment of right and wrong differs from the law, then the critical question is purely utilitarian — will you be subject to punishment if you do what you think is right? In such cases, if you are confident you will escape punishment, you should break the law. The noblest people break the law even when they know they will be caught and severely punished, because they have the most inviolable sense of personal morality.

The idea behind democracy is that you have the power to elect politicians who will represent your views of right and wrong, and implement proper safeguards for individual liberty. In a working democracy, you should not have to take the law into your own hands; you should leave the implementation of justice to the legal system. But when society has gone insane — when the most fundamental concepts of common sense and right and wrong are lost, you have both a right and a responsibility to implement justice in the sphere of your own life.

In some cases, behavior that appears to be destructive may actually create value. A rational, thoughtful effort to implement justice can have far more value than commonly lauded virtues such as forgiveness or leniency, which are often motivated by fear or the desire to forget. As a general rule, people that are truly evil will always be evil, and imprisoning or killing such a person may prevent their committing crimes against other innocent people. To destroy what is evil is often to protect what is good.


First, decide what is right. Secondly, look at the law in purely mechanical terms — what is the price of doing the right thing, and is it worth it?

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Chapter 35 of 35