Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Code_of_Laws AND ~Code_of_Laws

Curiously, it appears my laws are circular. Here's theft:

"Every one commits theft who fraudulently and without colour of right takes, or fraudulently and without colour of right converts to his use or to the use of another person, anything, whether animate or inanimate, with intent"

So if you lie or don't have the right to take something, you don't have the right to take it. The code refrains from defining who actually has rights, and who does not, notwithstanding a few oddities like this one:

"No person commits theft by reason only that he takes, for the purpose of exploration or scientific investigation, a specimen of ore or mineral from land that is not enclosed and is not occupied or worked as a mine, quarry or digging."

So geologist definitely aren't thieves. (And a mining company will probably let you take a pebble or two if you ask nicely.)

Err. Hmm. So about that lying stuff...

"Every one who, by deceit, falsehood or other fraudulent means, whether or not it is a false pretence within the meaning of this Act, defrauds the public or any person, whether ascertained or not, of any property, money or valuable security or any service"

Committing fraud by fraudulent means. Nice. Was there an alternative about committing fraud without deceit or fraud?

But surely, the murder code will be more stringent?

"Culpable homicide is murder
(a) where the person who causes the death of a human being"

That's...that's actually pretty reasonable.

I wonder where they screw it up. Emphasis mine:

"(b) where a person, meaning to cause death to a human being or meaning to cause him bodily harm that he knows is likely to cause his death, and being reckless whether death ensues or not, by accident or mistake causes death to another human being, notwithstanding that he does not mean to cause death or bodily harm to that human being;"

"Yes I'd like to be tried under section 229(b)...yes, the one that's a contradiction."

The next is just amusing. Perhaps there's an obscure legal reason for this:

"(c) where a person, for an unlawful object, does anything that he knows or ought to know is likely to cause death, and thereby causes death to a human being, notwithstanding that he desires to effect his object without causing death or bodily harm to any human being."

So if I, for a lawful object, go ahead and kill someone, it's A-okay, as long as my goal was compatible with keeping them alive? I somehow doubt that would fly in court, and yet...

Even more amusingly, the code explicitly exempts effecting an execution by false evidence. Canada has no death penalty, and indeed if we did the executioner does not appear to have their own exemption.

But, actually, I've been taking you for a bit of a ride. There's a problem I've overlooked:

"(5) A person commits culpable homicide when he causes the death of a human being,
(a) by means of an unlawful act;
(b) by criminal negligence;
(c) by causing that human being, by threats or fear of violence or by deception, to do anything that causes his death; or
(d) by wilfully frightening that human being, in the case of a child or sick person."

All the listed punishments are for murder. All murders are special cases of culpable homicide. Culpable homicide is this special kind of homicide: unlawful homicide.

Progressive. Outlawing unlawful homicide. What will they come up with next? I guess the executioner doesn't really need their own exception.

My motivation for looking up this was the libertarian and anarchist bon mot "taxation is theft." I'd assumed there would be specific exemptions for taxation, but I found that the whole code is meaningless. Reality is more interesting than radical philosophies, it turns out.

I find this puzzling since many of the code's details go to great lengths to be logically rigorous. It would actually be beautiful, if the whole thing wasn't flying on dreams. I don't demand that the code justify itself entirely - it never actually states that it is outlawing crimes, never states that crimes are wrong, and never states who will hand down punishments, nor that these punishments are mandatory, and I don't expect it to do any of this. All logic must start at axioms, and while it's nice if they're explicit, I don't expect lawyers to follow philosophical best practise. I'm naturally too lazy to look up the precedents, and perhaps there's actual statements of 'doing X is fraud' there, but even if so, that just means the code itself is dead weight.

I have trouble imagining that the courts never use the code, though. (I could only find Supreme Court records, and they would never have a reason to cite basic code. They did, as expected, cite precedent often, and occasionally legislative act.) Since it is impossible that they use the actual logical content of the code, they must be reading something into it.

Ultimately, it's not the code but the attitude of the people who support and execute the system. I don't know who these people actually are, in practice, other than I know it isn't who we're told it is. The last thing I have difficulty with is how these people can be simultaneously responsible, and allow the code to remain like this. As it is, formal reality and actual reality cannot converge, which usually means that formal spirit and informal spirit will continue to diverge.


nick said...

I'm very happy to see folks dive into law, don't let me discourage you. But legal code has to be read carefully. Like reading computer code or engineering blueprints, it is an art.

In (b) above the first reference is to "a human being" and the second is to "another human being", so there is no contradiction. For example if you point the gun intending to shoot Alice and accidentally hit Bob instead, and kill him, it is still murder because of (b).

If you look at how (a), (b), and (c) are joined, it is by "or", meaning the definition (c) is another possible way to commit murder, not a narrowing of the definition of (a) or (b) as you seem to be interpreting it.

Writing legal code is hard and there are almost always ambiguities. When in doubt, lawyers look up precedents, long lines of cases applying the code to actual cases. You often know very little about how the code applies to your case until you've read the analogous precedents. In the case of theft via fraud, it's almost all based on precedent and not on the language of the code itself, for reasons you have discovered.

"Without colour of right" is the out to cover legal procedure and taxation, even when done erroneously. To know more than that about what it means one must consult the other statutes and cases that define procedural confiscation and taxation. BTW, this language covers not just legal acts of government officials but also repo men, house foreclosures, and the like, so it's not just about government officials. In days of yore it would have covered a wide variety of political property rights that included rights to confiscate goods with proper procedure, for example to satisfy legal judgments of a private court. Anarcho-capitalism doesn't avoid the problem of how to do this and reconcile it with the general prohibition against theft.

(Another bit of knowledge of the legal art: "general" means "a rule with exceptions", a description that applies to practically all legal rules).

I highly encourage you to continue your legal studies by getting a first-year case book from the local law school's bookstore and reading it cover-to-cover, on a common-law subject like torts or property, to learn how the precedent system works and how to read cases, the two most important skills of law. After that you can dive into a code subject like criminal law or civil procedure, to learn the third important skill, how to read code. You can't read code very well without knowing the first two.

Like I say, it is great to see people diving into actual law instead of just pontificating about politics.

Alrenous said...

"don't let me discourage you."

I'll let you in a secret: I fully expected to be wrong about this.

On the other hand, I'd recommend tempering your happiness. I've yet to outwardly demonstrate more than passing interest.

"In (b)..."

Ah, I see my mistake. For some reason I misinterpreted 'another.'

"meaning the definition (c) is another possible way to commit murder"

And that is indeed how I'm reading it, which means it looks triply redundant.

There's already a prohibition against killing in general, plus the prohibition against killing by accident, plus killing someone is automatically an unlawful object - notwithstanding the exceptions you mention below.

"Anarcho-capitalism doesn't avoid the problem of how to do this and reconcile it with the general prohibition against theft."

To be allowed into a city, you sign a contract waiving your right against theft to those various property holders within the city. To be honest, when properly worked out, it's just a few details difference in procedure. Anarcho-capitalists who think the system would remove courts and the like simply lack imagination.

"Like reading computer code or engineering blueprints, it is an art."

The art of reading computer code is qualitatively different.

Doesn't this mean that if the art changes, the law would also change? When reading an engineering blueprint, this would just mean e.g. the resultant building would differ somewhat.

With law, the changes would be a lot more problematic for me.

This doesn't apply to computer code because there's an objective test to reading it right - you run the program and see what happens. However, like philosophy, the art of reading law is running the program.

I believe you refer to this as wet code. For this code, neither the compiler nor the chipset instructions are fixed.

nick said...

There's no prohibition against killing in general. Killing by accident, for example, except under the narrow conditions where it is specified in the code, is not murder.

Working out your city-state (not really anarcho-capitalism, under which there is no legal monopolies over territories) procedure may seem like "details", but I assure you the devil is in the details. There are even more devils if there are no legal monopolies over territories (the awful problem of ex post forum shopping, for example, i.e. the plaintiff or prosecutor shopping for the judge who will screw the defendant the most). I assure you nobody has ever obtained a very good grasp on these details. It would be very nice if somebody would try, but they haven't.

My comparison to computer code is simply that reading it and reading code are both arts, professional kinds of knowledge that have to be learned to do it properly. Obviously they are not the same kind of code. Programmers have it easy to have it run exactly on the computer -- lawyers have to run it on judges. :-)

Alrenous said...

Alright. I think you've successfully shown me I'm bad at reading code. The murder code really is better. Not good, but better.

"(not really anarcho-capitalism, under which there is no legal monopolies over territories)"

Very well, then we can agree that anarcho-capitalism is not only unstable, but will collapse within a week or so. Upholding property rights always allows properties to accumulate.

Perhaps this is why I don't really consider myself an anarcho-capitalist. I just have a thing for property rights and contracts.

(the awful problem of ex post forum shopping, for example, i.e. the plaintiff or prosecutor shopping for the judge who will screw the defendant the most)

Things like this is why AC needs a limited trial run. It depends on the details.

I don't want to go too far, though, as the whole point of AC is to provide a profit motive for someone else to work out the details for me. The problem is whether this situation is obtainable or not, as opposed to the question of what such a situation would appear to be if obtainable.

That is, I interpret you to mean that profit motive is insufficient to drive organizations to produce outcomes their customers want.

I have two responses. First, nobody has tried putting security under the profit motive to see if it can really work. If indeed traditions are computationally intractable, then the only way to surely determine this is simply to try it.

Second, I have yet to see clearly explained, if the profit motive is corrupting, what do we currently give to our security providers that overrides the profit motive?

I think my verbosity is about to get the better of me, though.

But basically, since an individual would have to pay a court system for protection,* offending against that individual will bring the suspect into trial with that system.

*(Or rent to a city which would, as we have now, employ a police force and judges.)

In practise, I think the plaintiff's court would petition the accused's court for a release for detention. (I understand cell phone companies manage to use each other's networks, as well.)

Put another way: plaintiff has contract with one court system for prosecution of wrongs. (So they don't have to do it themselves.) Court system has contract with separate court system, which has contract with defendant. The committed wrong transmits a contractual obligation to the defendant through this chain.

The form looks different, but the actual result will most likely be very similar, because it's similar people solving a similar problem, just with different tools. (If it's exactly the same, it defeats the purpose of changing, though.)

Before potentially committing an offence, (before doing business, or visiting) it would be wise to check that relations between your own justice subscription provider and your counterparty's have cordial relations. It is not entirely the responsibility of the system to prevent all abuses, simply because it cannot be.

Alternatively, the court in question could be specified in writing beforehand and signed off on. It is not strictly necessary to subscribe to a tort system to do business, for example. (Though I think people would learn not to risk it.)

Finally, for someone with no subscription to a security firm, there would be no protection against simply seizing the individual and essentially enslaving them. This would be immoral, but morals don't exactly enforce themselves - this is simply an incentive to not live off the grid, or not to offend if you do.

Alrenous said...

I should make explicit that it's clear that the question has been answered; taxation is not theft.

It may still be immoral, but theft is a legal concept within a legal framework, and all existing legal frameworks pre-suppose taxation of some form.