This is a concept I stole from Marc MacYoung.
Imagine a circle. This is the Rule Circle. Inside the circle are the social rules we agree to follow. Those rules restrict our behaviour, but they also grant us a level of safety by restricting everyone else’s. For instance, we can’t hit, but we also can’t get hit.
Outside the Rule Circle are the people who choose to ignore and/or break the rules, such as criminals and outlaws. The rules of the circle don’t apply outside the circle. Now you might think this gives them an advantage, but as you’ll soon see there are… some problems.
Then you get the people who straddle the line. They have one foot inside the circle and one foot outside. This is playground of the real problem children. They’re breaking rules while relying on everyone else to follow the rules, BUT they haven’t gone completely outlaw because they’re relying on the rules to keep them safe.
What difference does it make where we choose to stand?
Inside the circle, our society decides what rules are appropriate and how they are applied. If you enter a different society, completely different rules may apply. This can render life interesting – or painful, or short if you really mess it up. However, each society has some rules.
Outlawry frees you from all societal conventions, which can sound kind of epic until you realise what it entails. Courtesy of Wikipedia: “In historical legal systems, an outlaw is declared as outside the protection of the law. In pre-modern societies, the criminal is withdrawn all legal protection, so that anyone is legally empowered to persecute or kill them. Outlawry was thus one of the harshest penalties in the legal system.”
In our society, criminals and outlaws still have recourse to the law, but obtaining it tends to carry a cost. Aside from the obvious (“Officer, they stole my stolen car with all my drugs in it!”), a criminal who calls the police on another criminal may be starting something serious.
Furthermore, law-abiding citizens are authorised by law to defend themselves from criminals even if that entails committing otherwise unlawful acts. The fact that a criminal stepped outside of the Rule Circle entitles the affected party to do the same, up to a limit – although self-defence legislation is so complex, varied, and counterintuitive that it’s easy to get it wrong.
Even everyday dealings outside of the Rule Circle are fraught with a much greater degree of danger. A lot of routine interpersonal conflict is kept within “acceptable” limits because we all agree that certain things are unacceptable, and toe the line unless pushed. We might be utterly furious at an interfering neighbour, a sabotaging co-worker, a bossy boss; that might result in us being willing to take action, but that action is unlikely to include bloodshed and mayhem. Yes, some people may snap, but that’s the exception rather than the rule. That is absolutely not the case outside of our Rule Circle, where the penalties for wrongdoings can be extreme.
Basically, you either play by the rules and are (generally) protected by them, or you ignore them and have to do without that protection.