I’ve been thumbing through Karl Popper’s book, The Open Society & its Enemies. Popper was one of those philosophers who went to extreme lengths to write with clarity so that the average well-read person could understand what he was saying. This is rare amongst philosophers, who oftentimes purposely write jargon-laden gibberish that is aimed only at other professional philosophers. Then… those other philosophers write books to interpret and explain the gibberish, and more often than not, the resulting interpretation is only more gibberish. It can be a bit tiresome, and it excludes input from the general public.
But back to Popper. In the first section of this seven-hundred page tome, he clearly explains the difference between Natural Law and Normal Law. Natural Laws are the laws of nature that can be studied, measured, theorized about, but (as of today) can’t be changed by humans. Think of it as the “hard” sciences. For example, the universe is expanding, and we can’t do a damned thing about it. The expanding universe is a Natural Law. Normal Laws, on the other hand, are the laws are made (or unmade) by human beings. Everything from sexual/cultural taboos to societal expectations (like stopping at red lights) are Normal Laws. Normal Laws can be changed by humans.
“Of course!” you say. “This seems perfectly obvious and reasonable!”
Well, that’s were Popper (and other philosophers) get us between a rock and a hard place…..
If you start to give thought to this obvious thought process, you’ll start to feel a vague discomfort as you connect the dots. If humans can change Normal Laws, then humans have a responsibility to do so. Poverty, starvation, war, rape, and a lot of other social ills leave themselves open to the possibility of change, because they are Normal (human made) Laws.
… and we (humans) are to blame for not fixing things that we are obviously empowered to do.
Then it gets complicated, because we build barriers between ourselves and our responsibility. For instance, you have probably listened to historians talk about history being cyclic. Heck, they even write books about how the same things just keep happening, thus… Cyclic History. This bit of pseudo-science can be easily debunked, because the theory relies on turning Normal Law into Natural Law. Specifically, if history is cyclic and Natural, then there is some mysterious universal force out there that consciously forces history to repeat itself. Yup, after billions of years, this magical force only presented itself with the advent of human beings. Silly. Not that studying history is bad, it just shouldn’t jump outside of the realm of Normal Law. A good historian would understand that he is studying and documenting the behaviors of human being over time. Nothing magical. Just Normal Law.
Introduce religion… and things get really complicated. If everything is God’s will, then there are no Normal Laws. There are only Naturals Laws that were dictated, and are enforced, by a god, or group of gods… or maybe some supernatural cosmic force… whatever makes you feel good.
Which flies in the face of the problem many American religious folks have with homosexuals. If God made homosexuals (in His own image, of course) then homosexuals are a product of Natural Law, and are therefore entitled to be embraced and loved like any other human with a soul. How do religious folks solve this apparent dissonance? They do it by saying that homosexuality is a Normal Law, and under Normal Law, homosexuality becomes a choice, which immediately consigns homosexuals to an everlasting hell. Nice move, religious folks. Uh… checkmate!
Climate deniers have done the same thing in their arguments. Manmade climate change is obviously real, and just as obviously a problem caused by humans (which can be fixed by humans). How to get around that? Easy… take the problem out of the Normal Law box and shift it over to the Natural Law box. It sounds like this… “The changes we’re seeing are just part of the natural weather cycles of the planet.”
Therefore… there is no responsibility. Checkmate again.
And of course, the ubiquitous… “Men are just natural sexual predators.” You hear that from both sides of the discussion, and both sides use it as a hammer to beat down the other side. Just plain silliness. If men are controlled by Natural Law, then we might as well throw in the towel, because Natural Laws can’t be changed by humans.
So what is this all about? It’s about downshifting your ideologies into a lower gear and then trying to think about your views and your perceived solutions for our human problems. Believe it or not, you’re not always right.
Have a day.
primum vivere, deinde philosophari.