The Mental World Matters – We Ignore it at our Peril

It is not the enforcement of laws that prevents crime – it is the widespread belief that laws will be enforced which prevents crime. The difference is important.

If the law is always enforced, but people believe it never is, then they will still commit crimes because they don’t expect to be caught. If the law is never enforced, but people believe it always is, then nobody will commit crimes for fear of being caught.

The beliefs matter more than the reality.  Changing people’s beliefs without changing reality changes the way people behave. If reality changes, but people’s beliefs don’t, people’s behavior won’t change.

The mental world matters. We ignore it at our peril.

It is not the enforcement of contracts that helps business – it is the expectation that contracts will be fulfilled.

If contracts are always enforced, but people believe contracts are never enforced, then they won’t sign contracts and the economy will flounder. If contracts are never enforced, but people believe that contracts are always  enforced, they will still sign and follow through with the contracts, and the economy will flourish.

The beliefs matter more than the reality. The mental world matters. We ignore it at our peril.

Yes – People try to align their beliefs towards reality.  A world in which everyone believes “the contracts are always enforced” will not last long as people’s experience tells them otherwise.  Yet we all know that everyone believes things which are wrong. No thinking person can reasonably state with certainty that all of their beliefs are correct.     It is the beliefs which determine outcomes in relationships between human beings, and enforcement only serves as a mechanism to spread a belief – we must constantly remind ourselves that enforcement is not the goal in itself.

We often hear “A monopoly on violence is the basis of all civilization” – this is stupid idea that only an unthinking moron could support. I apologize for my violence in this verbal space  but i hold the monopoly here, so you must be respectful.  If you think my argument is absurd – then I hope you apply that same logic to the application of violence by a monopoly in the promotion of peace. Police going around smacking people on the head with sticks all day – as long as it’s the same police force – is not the basis for a civilization.  A distributed group which applies violence rarely, and only in response to immediate threats – that is a basis for civilization, even if it’s not a monopoly.

The absence of violence is the basis of civilization. The monopoly adds value only if it leads to the absence of  violence, so people can go about their day-to-day lives without fear of violence.  People would much rather live in a world where many different groups used violence, but rarely, and always predictably, to stop immediate threats – than  a world where a single monopoly applies violence frequently and randomly.

A world in which violence remains changed, but people’s expectation of it goes down, improves.  A world in which violence remains unchanged, but people’s expectations of it increases, becomes palpably worse.  A world in which perceptions are accurate is ideal – but we don’t have that, and we need to stop pretending that we do.

The thinking “as long as we get the laws right, and then always enforce those laws, the world will get bet getter” – is totally absurd on its face.  It’s equivalent to saying “if we can just come up with the right reasons to be violent towards one another, then the world will improve.”  The existence of uncomputable functions should make this obvious to you. Or if you aren’t big on computing theory, read I Robot, or just follow up on  the story Jesus.  It doesn’t matter what set of principles you choose, unthinkingly and violently enforcing them will not make the world better.

“We must only use violence when we have an appropriate reason” is certainly an improvement on “We must use violence whenever we wish.” But the improvement is the filter – the reduction in acceptable reasons to use violence – not in the application of new, fresh forms of violence.

A monopoly on violence accomplishes nothing without the peoples’ faith in it. Enforcement of laws does nothing without people’s faith in it.  Enforcement of contracts does nothing without people’s faith in  it. The expectation of all of these things is what drives progress and makes commerce possible.

This is why lawlessness by the law is so destructive – because it threatens people’s belief in the law to be fair and impartial.

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