Rule of dumb – 1.

Once upon a time, the local authority I was working with decided to make a large proportion of their front-line employees “community wardens.” They gave us a new stick-on patch for our uniform, a training day, and a special notepad. The pad was to issue people with fines for “environmental crimes” (littering, vandalism, graffiti, leafletting and dog poop, as I recall).

The way this was supposed to work was:

  • We see a person or persons doing a naughty thing.
  • We go up to said person(s), all on our lonesome, armed with our inner virtue and protected by the sanctity of our role.
  • We tell them that they have done a naughty thing, and ask them for their name and address so they can be fined.

We didn’t actually process the forms ourselves, so I’m not entirely sure whether Mr. Fuck Off, living at You Stupid Whore, ever paid his fines or not. He sure got a lot of them.

This is the truth of rule enforcement. It is a completely different beast from law enforcement, yet hardly anyone seems to understand that: not the people who ask for the rules, and definitely not the people who put those rules into place.

Good people treat laws and rules as if they were equivalent. Naughty people know that that’s not the case. Laws are “the system of rules which a particular country or community recognizes as regulating the actions of its members and which it may enforce by the imposition of penalties.” Rules are nothing more than the codification of preferences; sometimes those of the majority, more often those of whichever interest group shouts the loudest. Most importantly, they often do not carry a penalty for breaking them; or, if they do, that penalty is impossible to impose.

Driving on a given side of the road is a law. It regulates the behaviour of all drivers in the country, regardless of their feelings on the subject. Drivers who does not subscribe to it and get caught will be stopped by a special group of people geared up to handle that kind of situation; a punishment will follow.

The vast majority of human interactions and human behaviours in public places are not controlled by laws. They are, however, controlled by the unspoken rules of a given society. Most of us behave a certain way because we know that’s the way we’re expected to behave.

Not playing football/soccer in a car park is an unspoken rule. It’s something that most of us wouldn’t do because it’s a damn stupid thing to do at a number of levels. It puts us at risks; it puts people’s property at risk; it interferes with vehicular movement. Most importantly, most of us wouldn’t do it because it’s Not The Done Thing; people may, like, frown at us. Think badly of us. Think we’re NAUGHTY. And good people don’t want that.

The problem is that some people like being naughty. They don’t care about other people’s property; they don’t care about other people’s convenience; they may see a potential accident to themselves as an opportunity for a lawsuit, rather than a risk. Most importantly, they don’t give a good goddamn about all the frowns in the world; in fact, sometimes they court them. In the same way that we’re invested in being “good,” they’re invested in being “bad,” or “hard,” or “outlaws,”or whatever it is they label themselves as. This isn’t just an internal identity issue. This is difference that has huge implication both on their behaviour, and on how that behaviour can be influenced by others.


One thought on “Rule of dumb – 1.

  1. Pingback: Rules – White Tiger Martial Arts

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