Love over law?

Do we do the right thing for fear that we might get caught, or because it is the right thing to do?

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There are so many ways that people who don’t care can get away with things. That’s why we have laws, and police to catch them, and also courts of law in case they continue to try to lie about their wrongdoings.

Originally, of course, the court would be the court of the king, or the local lord. People would take their case to the court so that the king, in the absence of any higher authority, could hear both sides and decide. One party would say, ‘I thought it was my pig,’ and the other would say, ‘Well it wasn’t,’ and the king would decide whose pig it really was.

This is quite different to now where the laws are written out as clearly as they possibly can be, and wealthy crooks hire whole teams of legal experts to find loopholes, get-out clauses, or to discredit or disallow others’ testimony. Somehow we have gone from people getting agitated about an honest mistake, to people doing what they know is wrong, and hoping to get away with it.

We now face a whole host of existential crises, from dead soil to plastic in the seas, from global warming to the mass extinction of species, from mass migrations of displaced people to the deforestation and defoliation of the earth itself. These things are not happening by themselves. In every case there were and still are people making decisions, big decisions, that led directly to these things getting worse, and in every case, they knew that they were doing wrong.

Over a year ago, a report showed that just 100 companies were responsible for 71% of all the carbon emitted into the atmosphere between 1988 and 2015. We don’t yet have similar figures for who is responsible for the 80% drop in insect numbers in Europe, the loss of an area the size of a football pitch from the Amazon rainforest every minute, or the loss of 10–40 times the normal amount of topsoil globally per year.

While the local and global approach to the law, to what is right, and to the living world, is to hire crack legal and communications teams — while the well-paid, the rich and the ruthless may legally scheme to keep their wrongdoing and their laziness undercover — then we stand no chance.

How far is it from here, from this state of affairs, to a world where people — even those in positions of power and authority — habitually do the right thing, by their own choice, out of love and kindness and compassion? I fear that until we get there, it is just a matter of managed, inevitable and sinking decline.

This is clearly what normal, compassionate people would wish for, so why are our wishes not being represented at the top?

A shortened version of this article appeared in the Jersey Evening Post on 1 November 2018