Saturday, September 13, 2008

Law and Morality in Two Domains

For this first post, I'd like to jump right into the kind of activity that I hope this blog will come to sustain - in this instance, the synthesis of two synchronistically-related (in the Jungian sense) concepts that recently thrust themselves before me.

Kenworthey Bilz and Janice Nadler's paper, "Law, Psychology & Morality", addresses, among other concerns, the consequences of a disconnect obetween legislation and the moral sense of the public. Because the laws of a society derive their power to control behavior from the fact that the public has largely internalized their validity as a source of direction, when a law is introduced that contradicts other internalized (e.g., moral) values, not only is the new law likely to be rejected and in various ways circumvented (cf. the prohibition of alcohol), but the authority of the legal system itself is called into question:

...if the law is not viewed as a legitimate
moral authority, then compliance may be lower. There is some evidence that exposure to widespread social and political corruption leads to diminished respect for law and lower levels of legal compliance.

This brings me to the latest installment of the Documents blog's discussion of the role played by trance-state and possession in the work of some pop musicians. The subject this time is Joy Division's Ian Curtis's apparent insight into the unkind vagaries of a life lived in society (here characterized as descriptive laws, not unlike those of nature), and his recognition of its incompatibility with his own precepts of moral justice (metaphysical prescriptive laws):

In Wilderness, prescriptive law plays only an indirect role, showing through in his feelings of indignation, guilt, and shame at seeing moral laws transgressed. Nevertheless, the fact that these feelings show through so strongly indicate that the relation between the two types of law is highly relevant in understanding Curtis' situation. For Curtis descriptive law (the cruel laws governing social life) and prescriptive law are fundamentally incongruous, conflicting: the laws of social life ordain that the laws of morality will always be trampled underfoot.

The failure of an arbitrary law, whether established by a legislative body or through social custom, to reflect a dominant moral sentiment is experienced as a mismatch of what is with what should be. When such a law comes by judicial fiat, it will often be a target of transgression, and possibly result in an undermining of the institutional authority by which it was imposed. But when a law is, rather, a subtle property of the social structure itself, then perhaps, as Curtis demonstrates, we only have recourse to the equally diffuse transgressions of art.

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