Law of the Plains

51ta-us7crlWelcome back to our discussion of Legal Systems Very Different from Ours. I know we normally hold book club on Mondays, but since I spent most of Monday just laying the groundwork necessary to be able to discuss Comanche, Cheyenne, and Kiowa law, today we’ll actually jump into the subject.

Notably, the nomadic plains Indian lifestyle was not some ancient way of living the Indians had followed since time immemorial, but an essentially new invention enabled by the importation of the horse. Comanches started out as hunter gatherers and maybe sporadic horticulturalists in the Great Basin (Utah, more or less.) The Kiowa started out near the Canadian boarder in western Montana. They’re related to agriculturalists, but probably weren’t farming up in the black hills. And the Cheyenne hailed originally from the other side of the continent, descended from agriculturalists who were driven out of their homes by other Indians who’d gotten guns from the settlers. The Cheyenne also have a tradition stating that they intentionally decided to stop being farmers and become nomads; the other two groups were likely already nomadic before they got horses.

The authors write:

Faced with a sudden opportunity for progress, the chance to stop scratching in the earth as primitive agriculturalists and turn into noble savages hunting buffalo living in tipis and proving their manhood by making war on each other, the Indian tribes living on or near the Great Plains seized the opportunity.

Obviously I question whether the Comanche were ever agriculturalists, but the Cheyenne probably were. A better question is what happened to the other agriculturalist/horticulturalist peoples near the edges of the Great Plains like the Mississippian peoples, whose cities had largely disappeared by the time American settlers reached them.

Anyway:

800px-Chief_Quanah_Parker_of_the_Kwahadi_Comanche
Cynthia Ann Parker’s son, Comanche chief Quanah Parker

The result was the development in the eighteenth century of a common material culture shared by tribes with quite different origins. It depended on the horse but also made good use of the rifle rifles having been initially provided by the English to tribes willing to fight tribes allied with the French and by the French to tribes willing to fight those allied with the English.

One thing I noticed while researching this chapter is that the eventual triumph of the settlers in the late 1800s by no means seemed guaranteed in 1800. Once they got ahold of horses and guns, the Indians held their own against American and Spanish/Mexican settlers for over a hundred years. Their eventual defeat was due to a combination of the railroad, increased wartime production of guns during the Civil War, the steel plow, irrigation techniques that opened up the Great Plains to agriculture, and overwhelming quantities of European immigrants that just kept flowing into the US. (Oh, and diseases.)

But anyway:

I start with the Comanche; their government is the simplest of the three to describe, since they did not have one. A Comanche war chief was simply an entrepreneur a warrior who announced his intent to go steal horses from the Mexicans Americans, or some other tribe and invited anyone interested to come along. Within the war party he had absolute rule, but anyone unhappy with the situation was free to leave.

I note that the Comanche seem likely to have had the simplest social structure before they obtained horses, so this might account for their simplicity after moving onto the plains.

In addition to peace chiefs and war chiefs, there was also a council.

The council consisted of respected elders whom everyone simply agreed were held in respect; there was no formal process for joining the council, nor any formal process for implementing the council’s decisions.

Generally the majority made little effort to impose its will on the minority, for, as in most Indian tribes, it was thought that agreement should be unanimous.

When your lifestyle involves riding horses around on the open plains at will, it is hard to impose your will on anyone because it is hard to catch them. If they don’t like you, they’ll just move away and go hunt somewhere else.

The Comanche, in other words were anarchists. Their social system included institution for coordination at the level of the individual band but nothing we would recognize as a government over either the band or the entire tribe.

The authors note that one of the theoretical problems with an anarchist society is convincing everyone to pay enough to contribute to the common defense; the Comanche solved this problem by making “providing for the common defense” extremely profitable to the individual–mostly by stealing their enemy’s stuff, raping their women and torturing the men to death.

I mean, it’s a solution, sure, but it’s a solution that didn’t exactly inspire their neighbors not to massacre them when they could.

Still, I’d like to contrast Comanche warfare–which probably bears a close resemblance to warfare as typically conducted throughout human history, plus or minus the horses and guns–with modern warfare. The US has been in many wars over the years, but hasn’t actually held onto any of the land it conquered since, well, the Indian wars (which we hardly even recognize as real wars). We conquered Cuba and the Philippines in the Spanish American War, but we no longer own these territories. We conquered big chunks of Europe and Asia in WWs I and II, but we gave France back to the French and Japan back to the Japanese. We gave South Korea back to the South Koreans and have basically tried to return Afghanistan and Iraq to local rule.

There might be some government fat cats or weapons contractors who make money off these wars, or they might potentially benefit us all in some grand, abstract way that you can’t really pinpoint in your daily life, but no common American has benefited from these conflicts in the direct, immediately obvious way of an Irish raider carrying off his neighbor’s cattle or a Comanche stealing another man’s wife. We’ve invented the concept of “just war,” and it seems that everyone hates it.

[The Comanche] drove the Apache from the southern plains raided the Mexicans for horses and slaves and, despite the disadvantage of lower technology and smaller population, blocked American expansion across Texas for decades, fairly earning the title of Spartans of the plains.

In this case, it’s not about tech, it’s about mobility and the ability to survive largely off theft.

… they made warfare into a private rather than a public good. for most of their history, the incentive to fight was not the welfare of the tribe but the individual warrior. Successful raids produced valuable loot. Heroic and successful fighting produced status.

I think there is still some status in being a soldier, but not much. We might say that modern governments have appropriated for themselves the spoils that would rightfully go to their soldiers.

On the other hand, modern soldiers get paid.

On wife stealing and family structures:

The strongest bond within the tribe was between brothers who, among other things, shared their wives and had the power to marry off their sisters. [Note: maybe] From the standpoint of the brother the ideal brother-in-law was a wealthy and successful warrior. The sister might prefer someone [else]… and given the opportunity, leave the husband chosen for her by her brothers to run away with one such. The incentive of the wife stealer was less possession of the wife than the opportunity to outface the husband.

Wife stealing was carried out openly, followed by demands of compensation from the original husband. Of course, with no police or prisons to enforce the demand for compensation, the only real threat the aggrieved husband can make is that of killing the thief.

Carrying out that threat was neither desired nor likely, since if the husband killed the stealer (or vice versa) the victim’s kin would take revenge by killing the killer. The intended result of the threat was to set off the game that economists call bilateral monopoly.

So each side calls up whatever resources it can to back up its threats and then one side pays up.

Of course, if a man suspected his wife of adultery, he could just torture or kill her. After all, men are stronger than women and there weren’t any police or prisons to protect them from violent spouses.

Cases of wife stealing and adultery seem to have been the nearest thing to legal disputes among the Comanche. … One possible resolution was for the wife to swear by earth an sky that she was innocent, at which point the husband accepted the oath… The same approach was used to settle some other disputes, such as disagreements as to which member of a war party had counted coup on an enemy… As far as minor theft was concerned, the Comanche, like the other two tribes I will discuss, regarded such matters as beneath the notice of a warrior. As a Cheyenne would have put it, “if you had asked, I would have given it to you.”

What we regard as extreme generosity is often noted of nomads. It’s in part due to the fact that nomads simply cannot store up large amounts of stuff. They don’t store grain for winter because they don’t farm and they have nowhere to store it. As a result, nomads–especially nomadic hunters–always face the threat of simply having a couple of bad weeks and running out of food. Nomadic economies work better when people share food (and hunting weapons) fairly freely, especially from large kills such as buffalo that a single man can’t hope to eath by himself, anyway. This doesn’t mean that people lose their sense that “This is my arrow because I made it myself,” but it does result in a lot of sharing, some voluntary, some very socially enforced.

We see as well the abundance of the nomadic lifestyle. Certainly they had fewer physical belongings than we do–since they can’t carry that much around–but what they did have, like horses and buffalo, they had in abundance. This abundance is partly due to the fact that they stole a lot of horses from other people, so they didn’t have to put in the hard work of raising them themselves, and yes, it is easy to be generous and happy when you are living off the fat of another man’s labor, and partly because they had a low population density on an open plain that was full of giant herds of delicious animals.

Low population + tons of resources = happy people.

The more people are trying to share a certain area or set of resources, the less there is to go around, the less “wealth” each person feels they have, the less freedom, less happiness, more hoarding.

From Footnote 441:

“From the liberality with which they dispose of their effects on all occasions of the kind it would induce the belief that they acquire property merely for the purpose of giving it to others.” (Neighbors 1853, 134)

I am reminded as well of a by now only vaguely remembered passage in which some missionaries or others initiating contact between the settlers and plains Indians gifted them with necklaces, beads, and other sundry products of civilization which they thought fine presents, and which the Indians happily received. Then when time came to break up camp, all of the new gifts were abandoned, trampled underfoot in the process of getting underway and left behind in the mud. Of course the missionaries probably saw this as some failure to value items of wealth or perhaps ingratitude, but to nomads who have to physically pack up and haul all of their belongings from place to place, additional stuff that doesn’t have hooves quickly acquires negative value.

The value of a gift-giving network, though, is much greater than the value of any individual item that passes through it. Through such networks travel not just trifles like beads and necklaces, but things of substantial value like food, horses, weapons, wives, or allies, so it makes perfectly reasonable sense for a man to obtain something simply for the sake of giving it away.

What about murder? As already mentioned, a first killing required a second, of the killer by the kin of his victim. At that point the matter ended. … For these purposes, killing a favorite horse, thought of as having a soul, counted as murder and so justified the killing of the responsible human in revenge.

The Comanche believed in magic and sorcery, and might kill a man believed to be killing people via lethal magic, but don’t appear to have believed in it strongly enough to make killing the sorcerer mandatory (a rare show of good sense in the ethnographic record on sorcery).

Occasionally the whole tribe might come together and decide that a particularly bad medicine man deserved to die and killed him.

The Kiowa:

The Kiowa, while in some ways similar to the Comanche, had something a little closer to a government and much closer to a well-defined class/rank system. The latter consisted of four classes. The Onde were the high-status warriors… they are estimated to have been 10% of the men. The Ondegupta were the would-be Onde… Not surprisingly, the Ondegupta were the chief source of conflict within the tribe as they… tried to gain status. Below them were the common men and below those the Dapom, the dregs of society. … Kiowa bands had recognized headmen, almost all of Onde rank, who in practice made important decisions for the band.

There were also ten “medicine bundle” keepers and one “keeper of the Sun Dance fetish,” the nominal grand chief of the tribe. In case of disputes, the medicine bundle keepers would hear out both sides and help them come to an agreement about an adequate resolution and compensation.

If someone was killed, the killer might be killed in retaliation by his victim’s kin or they might accept compensation, the equivalent to the Icelandic wergeld or the payments that atoned for killing under Islamic law or among the Somali.

This seems to be a very common pattern. It’d be interesting to see a broad cross-cultural comparison of the communities where it is (or was) common vs the ones where it isn’t.

The Kiowa and Cheyenne had military fraternities or warrior societies. Wikipedia reports:

Like other plains Indians, the Kiowa had specific warrior societies. Young men who proved their bravery, skill, or displayed their worth in battle were often invited to one of the warrior societies. In addition to warfare, the societies worked to keep peace within the camps and tribe as a whole. There were six warrior societies among the Kiowa.[24] The Po-Lanh-Yope (Little Rabbits) was for boys; all young Kiowa boys were enrolled and the group served mostly social and education purposes, involving no violence or combat. The Adle-Tdow-Yope (Young Sheep), Tsain-Tanmo (Horse Headdresses), Tdien-Pei-Gah (Gourd Society), and Ton-Kon-Gah (Black Legs or Leggings), were adult warrior societies.[25][26] The Koitsenko (Qkoie-Tsain-Gah, Principal Dogs or Real Dogs)[27] consisted of the ten most elite warriors of all the Kiowa, who were elected by the members of the other four adult warrior societies.[28]

As for the Cheyenne:

Specific warrior societies developed among the Cheyenne as with other plains nations. Each society had selected leaders who would invite those that they saw worthy enough to their society lodge for initiation into the society. Often, societies would have minor rivalries; however, they might work together as a unit when warring with an enemy. Military societies played an important role in Cheyenne government. Society leaders were often in charge of organizing hunts and raids as well as ensuring proper discipline and the enforcement of laws within the nation.[23] Each of the six distinct warrior societies of the Cheyenne would take turns assuming the leadership role within the nation.[24] The four original military societies of the Cheyenne were the Swift Fox Society, Elk Horn Scrapper or Crooked Lance Society, Shield Society, and the Bowstring Men Society. The fifth society is split between the Crazy Dog Society and the famous Dog Soldiers. The sixth society is the Contrary Warrior Society, most notable for riding backwards into battle as a sign of bravery.[6] All six societies and their various branches exist among the Southern and Northern Cheyenne Nations in present times.

The Dog Soldiers have their own Wikipedia page, with a photo of a fellow in an excellent headdress.

The Dog Soldiers or Dog Men (CheyenneHotamétaneo’o) are historically one of six Cheyenne military societies. Beginning in the late 1830s, this society evolved into a separate, militaristic band that played a dominant role in Cheyenne resistance to the westward expansion of the United States in KansasNebraskaColorado, and Wyoming, where the Cheyenne had settled in the early nineteenth century.[1]

After the deaths of nearly half the Southern Cheyenne in the cholera epidemic of 1849, many of the remaining Masikota band joined the Dog Soldiers. It effectively became a separate band, occupying territory between the Northern and Southern Cheyenne. Its members often opposed policies of peace chiefs such as Black Kettle. In 1869, most of the band were killed by United States Army forces in the Battle of Summit Springs. The surviving societies became much smaller and more secretive in their operations.

Apparently they’re still around.

On to Cheyenne law:

Of the three tribes, perhaps of all the Plains Indians, the Cheyenne came closest to having a government–part of the year.

That might be because they started out as agriculturalists with a more complicated social system.

The Cheyenne had a seasonal government. During the winter, the tribe split into small bands that each went their own way in search of food, fuel, pleasant lodgings, etc. During the summer, when food was abundant, the entire tribe came together in gatherings of a few thousand people–possibly four thousand.

The summer encampment had a government, the Council of Forty-Four, as was probably necessary for coordinating 4,000 in close proximity.

This reminds me both of the Eskimo (Inuit) that similarly camped together during the long summer days in Kabloona and modern annual events like Burning Man.

Of course, we would call the rulers of Burning Man rulers simply of the event, not of the Burning Man attendees once the event is over for the year.

Once every ten years, the members of the Council chose a successor for themselves. You couldn’t name yourself as your own successor, but someone else could. The Council was responsible for making decisions that required coordinating the whole tribe, like whether to declare war or make peace. They ruled on homicide cases and could allow an exiled killer to return to the tribe if the family of his victim also permitted it. And they organized things related to buffalo and other hunts, which are very large scale, organized activities.

The Soldier Societies had their own internal structures as well, consisting of two war chiefs (clear decision-making is important in battle) and two “servants,” lower-level chiefs “responsible for a particularly dangerous part of the defense against attackers.”

That said, anyone could organize a war party if they wanted to and could get anyone to follow him.

A further responsibility of Council was to control the buffalo hunt… The basic rule was that nobody was to attack a buffalo until the word was given, at which point the line of hunters would charge the herd, with the ends of the line wrapping around to entirely enclose it.

There follows a description of what happened to two lads who, being full of teenage spirit, entered the buffalo hunt before the signal was given. The tribe caught up with them, whipped them, killed their horses, and broke their guns.

The boys and their father apologized, and the tribe forgave them:

“Look how these two boys are here in our midst. Now they have no horses and no weapons. What do you men want to do about it?”

One of the soldiers spoke up. “Well, I have some extra horses. I will give one of them to them.” Then another soldier did the same thing.

Bear Standing on a Ridge was the third to speak out. “Well,” he announced, “we broke those guns they had. I have two guns. I will give them one.”

All the others said, “Ipewa, good.”

There is another interesting story about a man who borrowed a horse, then kept it for a year. When the owner finally got antsy and asked for it back, he returned it with a second horse in apology for keeping the first for so long. The original owner, having done without his horse for so long, didn’t need two, and so sent the original back to the borrower, since he seemed to like it so much.

Beating up another Cheyenne was between you and him. Killing another Cheyenne meant exile from the tribe.

The reason, as they saw it, was not punishment but hygiene. Killing a fellow Cheyenne polluted the medicine arrows that were one of the tribal fetishes… Until the arrows had been ceremonially renewed and the killer exiled, no luck could be expected in hunting or warfare.

This is rather similar to what we read in Things Fall Apart. The exiled man doesn’t die (usually) but goes and joins another friendly tribe until tempers have cooled and his own tribe will have him back.

Eventually the exiled man could return to the tribe if the victim’s kin were okay with it, but he was still seen as somewhat polluted.

Llewellyn and Hoebel see the combination of temporary exile and permanent pollution as successfully replacing feud, evidence of the superiority of the Cheyenne institutions to those of other primitive societies.

The authors note that it was probably only a partial replacement, though.

Exile and feud have probably existed side by side in many societies, depending on how strong each side is and how bitterly one side resents the death. For example, if a death is accidental, like the one in Things Fall Apart, people may accept the killer just moving away so they don’t have to look at him anymore. If the death was intentional, the family may be motivated by grief and rage to put an end to the killer.

Anyway, that’s the end of the chapter. I hope you’re enjoying the book; I think it’s a little dry, but quite manageable in small chunks.

I think anyone who wants to point to these societies as examples of what anarchist societies could be, or how human societies could “chose” to only have governments part of the year, and so on, is really neglecting the fact that these societies had some very important features that made them possible:

  1. Very high ratio of resources and land to people
  2. Very high rates of violence–these tribes were permanently at war
  3. Economic dependence on theft from settled neighbors who domesticated horses and manufactured guns
  4. Extreme mobility
  5. Extremely low standard of living by modern standards.

Modern, city-dwelling people do not have anything like the ratio of people to resources the Comanche enjoyed, and the average person doesn’t want to join a motorcycle club or warrior society and murder every last outsider who moves into their area.

Not that we can’t learn something useful or gain some inspiration into different, perhaps better ways to structure human societies, but we shouldn’t gloss over the fact that they were extremely violent.

You know, part one of this post went up, by random chance, on Columbus Day. I guess that’s fitting. I’ve always felt a bit sorry for the Cherokee, because the Trail of Tears is, well, sad. But I don’t feel sorry for these guys. You can’t have an economy based on theft and murder and expect any stronger governments around not to squash you as soon as it can.

Yet as someone whose natural inclination is to be outdoors and who starts feeling trapped when indoors for too long, I know something of the deep longing to race across the plains and how much modern society closes us in. They fought for their families and their lives against an overwhelming flood, and there’s something admirable in that, too.

Have a great weekend and I’ll see you on Monday.

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Dlíthe na hÉireann: The Laws of Erin

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Cu Chulainn, from the Cattle Raid of Cooley

Welcome back to Legal Systems Very Different from Ours. Today we’ll be discussing Irish law, insofar as we can reconstruct what it looked like over the centuries before England invaded.

Ireland is one of those countries that it has become popular to over-mythologize, especially in certain New Age/Wiccan circles, so I am always a little skeptical about Irish-related claims–I’m in the uncomfortable position of knowing a lot, but not knowing how much of what I know is actually true.

People want Ireland to be this eternal place with a deep connection to Europe’s mythic past, perhaps because it wasn’t conquered by the Romans, or perhaps because it retained a more primitive agricultural/herding economic system for longer than its neighbors (which strikes me as probably just an accident of geography.)

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“Hunter gatherer’s camp at Irish National Heritage Park Exhibit showing how a 7000 B.C. campsite of Mesolithic period hunter gatherers would have looked. They were nomadic and built temporary houses. Wood, bone and flint were the materials of their tools. They fished using dugout canoes – there is one in the photo.” More photos in the park Credit to David Hawgood  

Ireland was settled relatively late, by European standards, because it was covered by glaciers during the last Ice Age. (If humans lived there before the Ice Ages, we have no evidence of them.) The first (known) humans showed up around 12,500 years ago, but we don’t know if they stuck around; evidence of really continuous habitation doesn’t show up until 10,000 years ago.

These folks were hunter-gatherers who built simple shelters that would have made the first little pig proud.

Around 6,500 BC, Ireland’s hunter-gatherers were conquered by farmers, known as the Linear Pottery Culture or LBK. LBK originated around Anatolia and raised sheep, goats, cattle, wheat, and barley. They also appear to have introduced red deer to Ireland. (I suspect wheat that originated in the Middle East originally struggled to grow in Ireland, but sheep did fine.)

The hunter-gatherer population of Ireland was never very big–Wikipedia estimates it around 8,000 people. The farming/herding population was much bigger, around 100,000 or more.

The LBK people also brought the practice of building stone monuments, such as the famous Newgrange, built ca. 5,200 years ago.

Metallurgy arrived with a new group of people, the Bell Beaker, around 4,500 years ago (2,500 BC). They were probably Indo-European speakers but we don’t know which language they spoke; Irish proper probably arrived a little later, with the Celts. This era is marked by the production of metal objects–jewelry, swords, axes, etc–and of course the development of mining and long-distance trade.

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Reconstruction of a Crannog (technically, this one is located in Scotland.) By Christine Westerback  

Housing changed in a rather distressing way–people began constructing their huts (called crannogs) on platforms built in the middle of lakes. This is how you build when either the fishing is very good, or the invaders are very nasty.

As far as I know, the Celts arrived around 500 BC, which on the scale of ancient human migrations wasn’t that long before the Romans invaded Britain, a mere 450 years later.

This is the society whose laws were variously recorded when literacy reached Ireland a few hundred years down the line, around the 7th through 12th centuries CE. The Tain Bo Cuailnge (pronounced “cooley,” because Irish likes to throw in extra letters, but honestly, English has words like “through”, so who are we to judge?) or “Cattle Raid of Cooley,” written in the 12th century (though it may be based on manuscripts that were written centuries earlier and just haven’t survived) about events in the first, offers some insight into the political structure of pre-British Ireland.

Insights from the Tain:

  1. Ireland was ruled by multiple kings, not a single high king
  2. Some of the rulers were women
  3. Wealth was counted in cattle
  4. Particularly nice cows/bulls might be traded or lent for political reasons
  5. Sometimes cattle were stolen; particularly successful cattle raids were immortalized
  6. Warrior culture

There are hints in these stories of the archaeological record–of course, the Irish histories speak explicitly about the migrations of different peoples to Ireland; Cu Chulainn (the hero of the Tain) is himself half Gael and half Tuatha de Danann–depending on the source, the Tuatha are a conquered people, fairies, gods, or people who worshiped a particular god (or goddess).

I propose a fairly straightforward sequence of events: The Celts (or Gaels) invaded and, after some conquering, married a fair number of the locals. In some areas bands of locals and invaders lived side by side for some years; many advantageous marriages may have been conducted to join the estates of local chiefs with invading warriors, and notables like Cu Chulainn with mixed ancestries may have been fairly common. Alternatively, the ancestry may be a bit more attenuated, like when certain American whites claim a smidgen of Native American ancestry. (*cough* Elizabeth Warren *cough*)

The conquering of a bronze-age people by an iron-age people might be remembered in the claim that “fairy folk” have no iron or are allergic to iron. I’d be allergic to iron, too, if the iron were a spear slicing open my intestines.

At any rate, some of the conquered people might have retreated into the hills and bogs and other unappealing places, eventually becoming a memory of an impoverished, violent, “fairy race;” elsewhere, rulers keen on presenting themselves as legitimate to all of their subjects may have played up their semi-mythic Tuatha ancestries, even turning their ancestors into a kind of ancestral cult which eventually resulted in elevating them to the levels of gods and demi-gods.

Or perhaps this is all nonsense speculation. Let’s get on with the book:

Ireland at the beginning of the fifth century was a pagan country with a rich oral literature and an elaborate legal system, also oral. …

Whoever the authors [of the legal texts] were, they showed a strong conservative bias, recording not only legal rules still in practice in the seventh and eight centuries, when the texts were written down, but older rules as well. Their writing thus provides a somewhat blurred window on the pre-Christian legal system, which may have preserved institutions going back much further, possibly as far as the period before the different Indo-European languages separated. The evidence for that conjecture is in part linguistic, similar words in different Ind-European languages connected with the same legal/political institutions, and in part comparative, features that the early Irish legal system shared with ancient Indian law.

This is a fascinating idea which the authors never return to or develop at all in this chapter. We’re never told which terms in Irish law are cognate with terms in other legal systems, nor which traits it shares with the Indian system. (Maybe they’ll get around to it in a future chapter?) People have this funny habit of assuming that Irish things in particular are ancient survivals from ancient Europe, but why would Ireland in particular have any more ancient Indo-European survivals than, say, Germany? or Russia?

To the extent that Irish law looks like Indian (or Somali) law, I’d posit that 1/3 of the similarities are due to the needs of a herding society (Ireland and Somalia), 1/3 the dominance of a warrior elite over a conquered peasant class (Ireland and India) and 1/3 random chance/people  identifying parallels that aren’t really there. Overall, I suspect that Irish law developed in situ, in response to the particular situation in Ireland.

The Ireland described in the law books was divided into a large number of small kingdoms… modern scholars estimate hat there were about a hundred of them, with a population of a few thousand in each.

I feel like this is an abuse of the word “kingdom.” Shouldn’t these be “fiefdoms” or “clans” or “chieftanships” or something similar? The text supplies the Irish word “tuath,” which just means “people,” so I think “clan territory” is more appropriate.

A king might recognize the overlordship of another and more powerful king. … While the idea of a high king of all Ireland existed and the title was sometimes claimed, such a king is mentioned only rarely…

A king who is under another king’s rule isn’t a king.

For the most part, an individual had legal rights only within his own kingdom, although some special categories, such as poets and hermits, had rights elsewhere.

Good poets must have been in short supply.

An interesting custom:

… when the subject of one king was killed by the subject of another, both acknowledging a common overlord, the procedure for collecting the fine for the killing was initiated by the victim’s king taking a hostage, presumably a subject of the killer’s king, in the court of their overlord.

Getting your king to go out of his way to visit another king’s court and take a hostage sounds like an inconvenient way for the common man to achieve justice. I doubt it happened very often, except for cases involving rather prominent or powerful subjects/relatives of the king.

Within the clan, people were divided into kin groups, with agricultural land generally held within a group, called a derbfine, defined by a paternal great-grandfather.

The derbfine, like the much larger dia-paying group in the Somali system, was responsible for enforcing the rights of its members, if necessary by feud, sharing in the payment of damage payments by its members and the receipt of damage payments to its members.

The authors note that networks of mutual obligations, while good when you have debts, limit your ability to make contracts that might impose new costs or debts or obligations on everyone else in the network.

Kind of like how your health insurer would really appreciate it if you didn’t smoke.

Despite the occasional “warrior woman” or queen popping up in the sagas, Irish law wasn’t favorable toward women:

Marriage law recognized a range of possible relationships, depending both on the resources each party brought into the marriage and the degree to which the marriage had or had not been approved of by the women’s kin… A man would normally have a chief wife but could also have a secondary wife or concubine.

A woman was under the authority first of her father, then her husband, hen her sons, and had very restricted rights.

Fostering was common, though:

Fostering of children was a common practice that established a form of pseudo-kinship… a man’s foster father had a claim to a fraction of the blood-money if his foster son was killed…

Irish law was built around a status system similar to the Indian Caste system, which is probably a reflection of the realities of life in a conquered country:

An individual’s honor price determined what he was owed for offenses against him but also the limits to his legal capacity, including the amount for which he could contract on his own authority and the weight of his evidence in legal dispute.

The major categories of status were [noble], non-noble freemen, and unfree. Within each there was a range of sub-categories. …

[Nobles] had a variety of legal privileges, limiting the degree to which legal rights could be enforced against hem… One consequence… was to make contracting with them risky, since it might prove impossible to enforce the contract, a problem pointed out in the period sources.

There’s a system rather like feudalism or sharecropping, in which lords have clients who are provided land or animals in exchange for a share of the produce or other services.

Among the unfree, the major divisions were between the semi-free… who had no land of his own and no independent honor price, the hereditary serf, who was bound to the land, and the salve.

More than one level of unfree. Sounds awful.

Private Law:

The legal sources describe mechanisms for making and enforcing contracts that do not appear to depend on either royal courts or any centralized mechanisms for judgement and enforcement. But there are also references to what appears to be curial law, law enforced in the court of a king. …

Private contract law depended on a system of sureties, third parties with rights and obligations connected with the contract…

Freedom of contract within the system was limited by the network of mutual obligations. … A son was obliged to support his aged father, so a father could under some circumstances cancel a contract the son made that might reduce his ability to do so [and vice versa]. Husband and wife had mutual obligations which gave each the right to cancel some contracts made by the other, with the details depending in part on the nature of their marriage.

The derbfine also placed restrictions on the sorts of contracts and obligations the individual could have–in general, in systems where governments don’t offer social safety nets, such restrictions are the norm.

Anyway, if you did make a contract and then failed to fulfill it, after some back and forth announcements and mediation, the other party could come and drive away your cattle. People probably did not always allow their cattle to be driven away without a fight, though.

Of course, if you’ve entered into a contract with someone of higher social standing than yourself, you don’t get to just up and drive away their cattle. The king has more soldiers than you do; good luck.

So if a king or other noble has wronged you, the proper procedure was a kind of ritual fast outside the noble’s house. For whatever reasons, the nobleman was obliged not to eat while the fast was going on, until he had satisfied the claim against him. How exactly this was enforced, I don’t know. Maybe shame.

More violent crimes, like murder, were settled like the Icelandic system, via feud and payment:

In both, offenses were expected to be open rather than concealed…

Just as in Somalia, there was a pre-existing coalition responsible for both pursuing feud on behalf of a wronged member and assisting with the payment of damages owed by a member.

Ireland did have some sort of court system, with professional judges and lawyers; after a promise or physical pledge to abide by the judge’s decision, the case proceeded in a manner fairly similar to modern courts.

As in Jews and Islamic law, the legal procedure might include the swearing of oaths; under some circumstances someone accused of an offense could defend himself by swearing the charge away. …

the force of an oath was linked to the honor price of the person swearing it; a higher-status individual could overswear a lower-status.

This isn’t really a system that looks out for the little guy, but if several little guys teamed up, they might be able to get their oaths to add up to the same value as higher-status person’s.

Women’s oaths were only accepted if no one else could be found to swear on a thing. In general, they weren’t allowed to be witnesses.

Disputes could also be settled via ordeal or duel.

 

That’s all for now. If anyone knows what these supposed parallels with Indian law or proto-Indo-European legal survivals are, I’d love to hear them.

Next week we’ll hop across the pond and discuss the Comanches, Kiowa, and Cheyenne.

Somali Law

800px-somali_veterinary_technician_carrying_a_camel_calf_in_the_rural_of_xudun_district2c_sool2c_somalia
Somali veterinarian lifting a camel calf in the rural of Xudun district, Somalia. Photo by Cabdixamiid Xasan Cawad, Wikipedia

Welcome back to our discussion of Friedman, Leeson, and Skarbek’s Legal Systems very Different from Ours. Today we are discussing Somali law, specifically that of the pastoralists of northern Somalia (law works differently in southern Somalia, due to the different agricultural system and people there.)

I have often characterized Somalia as more of a place where other countries aren’t than a country proper. There is no real central government control of most of the territory known as “Somalia,” though things have apparently been stabilizing a bit over the past few years–a mere 500 people were killed by bombs in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, in 2017.

Somaliland–the northern part of Somalia–has about 4 million people and 68,000 square miles bordering the Gulf of Aden, for a population density of about 65 people per square mile. (For comparison, the US has a density of about 91 people per square mile, but we also have Alaska.)

The per capita GDP is about $347 a year, which is to say, it’s a subsistence economy:

According to the Central Bank of Somalia, about 80% of the population are nomadic or semi-nomadic pastoralists, who keep camelsgoatssheep and cattle. The herders also gather resins and gums to supplement their income.[1]

There’s also some fishing and a few crops, but the area is pretty dry and not suited to growing much.

Most Somalis are ethnically Somali and speak the Somali language, which is at least easy to remember. The Somali language is a branch of the Afro-Asiatic family, along with Arabic and Hebrew, and the Somali people are similarly ethnically related to other Afro-Asiatic speakers. What percent of their ancestors have been in the area approximately forever and what percent arrived within the past few thousand years from Arabia or beyond, I don’t know, but Somalis look fairly distinctive to me.

The ongoing civil wars and low level of infrastructure development (like irrigation systems) results in a lot of human suffering, though I don’t know how it is distributed through the country–this famine happened in the southern part of the country.

The authors argue that the suffering of the Somali people is not due to the inadequacy of local institutions, but due to colonial authorities trying to impose foreign institutions like “states” and “democracy” on a people who were entirely unsuited to them:

The exiting colonial powers set up a democratic central government, possibly not the best option for a society whose traditional institutions were decentralized and stateless. The democracy lasted for nine years… the central government disintegrated and the Somalis were back with their traditional system.

With two differences. First, the experience of a past central government and the expectation of a future one encouraged some… to engage in a power struggle aimed at putting themselves in the profitable role of rulers… Second, outside powers, acting through the UN in the belief that the country needed a central government, attempted to reestablish one… The result has been an extended period of violence and chaos…

There’s a lot going on in these two paragraphs. First, I grant that Somali history is probably complicated and this is probably an over-simplification, but civil war and anarchy are definitely part of the overall picture. Why Somalia should be such a basket case while nearby Ethiopia, which doesn’t seem that different and has also had plenty of suffering over the years, should still have something resembling a functioning government, I don’t know.

Second, some comparative before and after data for places like Somalia, Ethiopia, and Tanzania might be useful when it comes to statements about the role of colonialism and violence, since this would allow us to make some comments on its effects (Ethiopia: no colonization, still mass famines; Tanzania, colonized, seems pretty stable.)

We can also ask whether it was the experience of central government that prompted people to try to conquer Somalia, or the availability of machine guns and armored vehicles.

Either way, the thesis that outside powers acting through the UN just managed to muck things up even more than they were before doesn’t sound unreasonable.

But let’s get to the legal system:

While Somaliland has a government… it is a government based on traditional institutions with an upper house of clan elders and one that appears for the most part to defer to customary law privately enforced in the traditional manner…

The Somali legal structure runs through clan-based kinship structures, which is to say it’s based on the needs of a pastoral community. To briefly review, in case you don’t remember the series on pastoral herders I did a couple of years ago, pastoralists (herders) generally own a combination of personal and communal herd animals which move around within a communal system of land/grazing rights. It is rare for herders to simply own their own herd on their own plot of land, because animals need a lot of land–more land than most individuals can own, unless population density is really low. Herd animals naturally migrate and move around depending on the rain, temperature, predators, grass, etc. A small herd may need fewer pounds of feed per day, but it still needs to travel equally long distances to get to summer pasture, winter pasture, etc., or else it depends on someone transporting food to it (our strategy in the US).

So it’s impractical for individual herd owners to each own enough land for their personal herds, (you’d have to be extremely wealthy), but it is practical for groups of herders to collectively control large chunks of land and move their herds around communally on them.

Of course, individual people still put in individual labor to care for their herds–individual ownership is useful–so individuals have claims to particular animals, but not always the ones they are directly caring for. For example, a man might have a herd of his own, but a particular billy goat is actually his cousin’s, borrowed for the sake of making more kids. A portion of the kids and the milk made by the nannies are therefore also his cousin’s, but his cousin may not come to collect them for several years, during which time the kids grow up, are eaten, and replaced. Sooner or later his cousin does come calling (say, because he needs to gather goats to pay for his son’s wedding).

And likewise, the man may have claims on goats in several of his relatives’ herds, or the whole family may pool all of the goats together and send the kids out to watch them, and everyone knows they get a 10% share of the herd.

Different people in different places obviously develop different systems, depending on the nature of the geography, the animals, and the local culture, but the important thing is that herds, even when they are individually owned, are very communal and run through kinship.

Every Somali memorizes as a child his genealogy through the paternal line up many generations, an important piece of information since it defines his relationship to every other Somali. … The closer the linkage between two Somalis–the smaller the number of generations to a common ancestor–the more likely they are to be allies. …

If, to simplify considerably, there is a conflict between two individuals whose common great-great-grandfather in the paternal line had two sons, the group that becomes engaged on the side of each will be the descendants of the sons from whom he is descended.

I suspect that this maps very closely to how herds are managed and shared, because you do not want to anger the people who have your goats.

If a conflict arises involving a member of one of those groups against someone whose genealogy links with theirs higher up the genealogical tree, the two groups that were enemies in the first round may ally.

Somalis don’t just rely on kinship groups, though. They have insurance clubs, like Triple A but for in case someone stabs your camel instead of flat tires.

The dia [blood money]-paying group is responsible for paying for offenses by its members, collecting for offenses against its members, and in the the latter case, using force or the threat of force to obtain payment. … The dia-paying group’s membership and internal rules are defined by explicit contract.

After all, if you have no prisons, what kind of long-term punishments do you have? Fines. And without banks or much in the way of hard currency, wealth is stored in herd animals, and the value of a man’s life, like that of a corporation, is not immediately available. It’s earned over time. The collective amount he has available to draw on is the collective herd owned by his kinsmen (or dia-paying group) just as they can draw on his herds, in turn, to pay their debts.

Dia-paying groups are usually between 300 and 3000 men. Too small, and the cost to each individual is too high; too big, and internal conflicts split the group.

There doesn’t appear to be (traditionally) an real legislature that passes laws, perhaps because no one had the power to do so. Instead, individual dia-paying groups establish their own laws by explicit contract, and questions of application are up to local judges.

I wonder how the contract-making actually works, though. Are they written contracts? (Only about 50% of Somali men are literate.) Is there some official way to register them? How do you keep track of who has paid up and who hasn’t?

Anyway, judges make their decisions, and if people like their decisions, they keep using that judge. If they think that judge makes stupid decisions, they can switch to a different judge. If people like a judge’s decisions and he makes a lot of decisions on new topics, a kind of informal case law builds up that future judges may rely on. (Judges, at least, are probably literate.)

… matters of marriage and inheritance are usually brought before a judge who applies Koranic law, almost all Somalis being Muslims.

This would normally require literacy, of course.

The schedule of payments of blood-money for death or injury is based on that in Islamic law, modified by custom and contract, with the amount sometimes larger or smaller depending on the relationship between offender and victim.

Note that this system is run by men; women who are victims of violence (there’s a lot of rape in Somalia,) have less support.  Refworld notes:

If the rapist is from another clan, the clans will often settle the conflict through the system of a diya payment. It is the males of the clan who negotiate the price, sometimes against the wishes of the victim, and the settlement money often stays with the male relatives (Africa Watch 4 Oct. 1993, 18).

Predictably, a woman’s life is worth half as much as a man’s.

Somali political institutions at the clan level exist but are limited. …

Was it always this way?

When a dispute arises between members of different dia-paying groups the elders from each side form a court with themselves ad judges, ask the parties to state their cases, hear witnesses and state a verdict. … If force is needed to make the losing party obey the verdict in an intra-clan dispute, the judges can recruit all able-bodied male villagers for the purpose…

Thus the Somali system is ultimately a feud system, one in which law is enforced by the private application of force or the threat of force, but a feud system with institutions for avoiding violence via widely respected mechanisms to arbitrate disputes.

I’m not sure what he means by “private” here. Obviously it’s not state-based, since there is no state. But since this is the (apparent) government structure, it’s still the government. It’s just a smaller-scale system.

I’d like to see some actual data on how good it is at curbing violence, though, before he declares it successful. There’s not a whole lot about Somalia that I’d describe as “successful.”

Interesting note on oaths sworn during trials:

One such oath consists of the oath-giver swearing by his marriage; if it later turns out that his oath was false, the marriage is dissolved.

Since marriages are also legal contracts involving the transfer of money/property/herd animals from one household to another, this is also a monetary pledge.

The punishment for murder is a life for a life; if the murderer flees, the aggrieved can just hunt down and kill some other random poor sap from the murderer’s family, because why the fuck not, they apparently can’t tell each other apart which really incentivizes your family to turn you over to the victims rather than help you flee.

Usually people accept blood money, though, hence everyone’s membership in blood money societies, because “oops I killed someone” insurance is apparently a thing people need in Somalia.

Somali legal rules for bodily injury have one other interesting feature. If a man seriously wounds another, his family must take the victim into their household and nurse him back to health–the same requirement as in ancient Irish law.

The Irish abandoned this law for obvious reasons (you don’t want to be “nursed back to health” by a guy who wants you dead) and I bet the Somalis have, too.

There are a variety of regulations on grazing land, though it is mostly first come, first serve. Some agricultural land is semi-privately owned, with rules about not selling it to people outside the clan, because rampant ultra-racism is the norm.

One odd feature of Somali customary law is that a wealthy man is required, with detailed legal rules, to share his wealth with neighbors and relatives.

That doesn’t sound too odd. There are probably good reasons for the rule, like the lack of refrigerators for storing large amounts of meat obtained by butchering and a limit to the available grazing land before one flock just eats all of the food and leaves nothing for the others.

I thought the case of dealing with the state of Ethiopia as a clan was interesting, though it’s a bit long to quote. Basically, some Ethiopian soldiers (I think) killed a Somali merchant. An hour later, the victims family killed two random soldiers in retaliation. The military decided that the retaliatory killing was just and did not retaliate by wiping out the village.

Anyway, that’s the end of the chapter. It’s an interesting chapter, but since Somalia is such a messed up country, it’s hard to take seriously without some evidence that the system is actually working for its people.

I do find it interesting, though, that even in a place as broken as Somalia, people still organize into groups, make contracts, take out insurance, etc. Organization of some sort seems to be a near-automatic, inherent feature of human groups. It’s also interesting that a system can survive without lawmakers (or any kind of organized executive) and just rely instead on common understandings of what the group does and does not allow, but not without judges.

(This of course reminds me of the progression in the Old Testament, from wandering pastoral nomads in Exodus, following the “oral law,” to the rule of judges in Judges and finally kings in Kings, but only after the people asked for one: 1 Samuel 8:

When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders.[a] 2 …But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.

So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead[b] us, such as all the other nations have.”

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle[c] and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord. 22 The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”

Have a good day; we’ll be looking the supposedly similar Irish feud law next Monday.

Icelandic Law

 

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Icelandball

Today we’re discussing the legal system of saga-period Iceland in Legal Systems Very Different from Ours.

First, a little background:

Iceland … is a Nordic island country in the North Atlantic, with a population of 360,390[4] and an area of 103,000 km2 (40,000 sq mi), making it the most sparsely populated country in Europe.[b][8]  …Iceland is volcanically and geologically active. The interior consists of a plateau characterised by sand and lava fieldsmountains, and glaciers, and many glacial rivers flow to the sea through the lowlands. … Its high latitude and marine influence keep summers chilly, with most of the archipelago having a tundra climate.

According to the ancient manuscript Landnámabók, the settlement of Iceland began in 874 AD when the Norwegian chieftain Ingólfr Arnarson became the first permanent settler on the island.[9] In the following centuries, Norwegians, and to a lesser extent other Scandinavians, emigrated to Iceland, bringing with them thralls (i.e., slaves or serfs) of Gaelic origin.

The island was governed as an independent commonwealth under the Althing, one of the world’s oldest functioning legislative assemblies. Following a period of civil strife, Iceland acceded to Norwegian rule in the 13th century.

Iceland today is a small country; Iceland in the saga era was even smaller. Official records weren’t kept until the 1700s, but at that time, the population was a bit under 50,000 and stayed there for over a hundred years, so I think it’s safe to put 50,000 as our max population for the saga period.

Ethnically, the male population was about 66% Viking and 34% Scottish/Irish slaves; the female population was about 60% Scottish/Irish slaves and 40% Viking.

Note that Iceland’s population went from about 50,000 to 350,000 in two hundred years–seven times bigger–yet Wikipedia claims, “Due to a shortage of labor,[21] immigration to Iceland will most likely increase in the future.[22]” How the fuck do you septuple your population and still have a “shortage of labor”?

Utter nonsense.

Anyway, back to the Viking age, when people solved their problems by stabbing each other, setting their houses on fire, and kidnapping the women:

In saga-period Iceland a thousand years ago, if you killed someone his relatives sued you.

Despite being a bunch of Vikings and their slaves, Icelanders still set up a legal system that was sufficiently complex that modern scholars aren’t sure exactly how it worked. (I’m sure if some future legal scholars tried to piece together the American legal system from old episodes of Perry Mason plus some law review articles, they’d also be confused.) Our understanding of the Icelandic system similarly comes from a combination of entertaining stories (sagas) and a collection of legal texts written down later, the Gragas. It’s tempting to claim that Gragas must be correct, since it is actually a collection of legal texts, but I challenge you to read a bunch of US case law and use it to piece together how US law actually works in practice. (You won’t.)

As for what we know:

The political system they developed [in Iceland] was based on Norwegian traditions with one important innovation–there was no king.

At the base of the system stood the godi [note: the d should be crossed]… The original godar seem to have been local leaders who built pagan temples and served as their priests. A godi received temple dues and provided in exchange both religious and political services. The godord was his congregation. The relationship between the godi and his thingmen was contractual not territorial. The godi had no claim to the thingman’s land and the thingman was free to transfer his allegiance.

It’s hard to have a king or exert much power over people when population density is low and they can just move on if you annoy them too much. I don’t think this is really a political innovation so much as a reality of low-density frontiers-like areas.

Personally, I don’t like using non-English terms when perfectly good translations exist. the godi (plural, godar) is a priest. The godord is his congregation.

Under the system of laws established in AD 930, these local leaders were combined into a national system. In 960, Iceland was divided into four quarters, each containing nine godord clustered in groups of three called things. …

The one permanent official of this system was the … lawspeaker; he was elected… His job was to memorize the laws, recite them once during his term in office, provide advice on difficult legal points and preside over the … legislature.

I once tried to figure out how many laws the US has and came up with an official answer of “no one knows, not event he government.” It’s not exactly clear what is and isn’t a law–for example, if the state mandates that parents whose kids have more than 10 unexcused absences from school in a year be charged with truancy, then does the schools’ procedure for reporting medical absences count as a law? Our system is complicated, and no mortal could ever memorize it, much less recite it all in a timely manner.

The existence of the lawspeaker was probably just necessity in a system where not everyone was literate, but it also provides a check on the number of laws (and thus the structure that the law takes,) since it must be humanly possible for someone to memorize them all.

The godord [congregation] itself was two different things. It was … the particular men who had agreed to follow that godi [priest], to be members of that [congregation]. … The godord was also a bundle of rights, including the right to sit in the [lawcourt] and appoint judges for certain courts. … it was the right to be the person through whom ordinary farmers plugged into the legal system.

So everyone has to be associated with some congregation of other, but you get to chose the one you want to be part of. Once you’re part of a congregation, you have to pay your priest an annual tax, which pays for the expenses of the men who attend the annual lawcourt and decide cases. Membership in the congregation and thus the right to sit in the legal assembly and hear court cases could be bought, sold, given away, inherited, etc.

For serious offenses, conviction meant full outlawry. … It was legal to kill an outlaw, illegal to feed him, shelter him, or help him to leave Iceland. … A lesser outlaw had the right to leave Iceland and could return in three years.

If you’re declared an outlaw, then the court takes your stuff and gives it to the victims or their surviving relatives (saving some for any of your innocent children).

Prosecution was up to the victim or his kin… Most cases in the sagas were settled out of court, usually for money damages. … Many were settled by arbitration. .. Calculations by two different scholars suggest tat only about a tenth of cases went to a final judgment by the court.

Lest you think this is a lot, 97% of criminal cases in the US end with plea bargains rather than actual court trials.

Icelandic law distinguished between killing and murder–secret killing. After killing a man, one was obliged to announce the fact immediately. … Murder cost the killer the ability to raise legal defenses, such as the fact that his victim was an outlaw or had forfeited his immunity by attacking [first, I presume.]

Since this is a system of privately enforced law in which people essentially join a legal society and then pay taxes to it, there’s always the possibility that the poor will be too poor to afford justice, or the rich so rich they can buy their way out.

The former was not a problem, the authors argue, because the money for a successful conviction was always potentially available, so even people too poor to prosecute a case could sell their case to someone else who would be happy to pursue it for profit.

The latter case, the rich buying their way out of trouble, became a problem as the poor peasants (and slaves) who made up Iceland’s initial population gradually built up their estates and some families became significantly more wealthy than others:

By the Sturlung period there were many areas where all or most of the godord were held by one family, reducing or eliminating the ability of the individual thingman to choose his godi and creating a de facto, if imperfect, form of territorial sovereignty…

Another possible source of concentration of wealth and power was the introduction of Christianity…

A second and related cause of the breakdown was the introduction into Iceland of a foreign ideology–monarchy. … Several of the leading figures, when out of Iceland, usually as a result of a settlement that included temporary outlawry, became retainers of the king…

Population growth=all of the good land gets snatched up. Over time, some families get richer and accumulate more power. Eventually, they use that power to get more power, setting themselves up as local lords; with all of the good land taken, people have nowhere else to go if they get fed up.

Exit provides a workable system if there are other places to go; not if everything is closed off already. Eventually, bigger societies become more hierarchical, except in Iceland’s case, this led to a total breakdown of the system.

Of course, even during the breakdown, Iceland was still safer than the US at the peak of the crime wave:

According to a calculation by a scholar who went through the Sturlung sagas counting bodies, during more than fifty years of the violent breakdown of the traditional system the number of people killed or executed each year, on a per capita basis, was roughly equal to the rate of murder and non-negligent manslaughter in the United States in 1975.

600px-Homicide_rates1900-2001

Today, of course, Iceland is one of the world’s safest countries:

863px-Map_of_world_by_intentional_homicide_rate.svg
Murder rate per 100k people in 2012: light blue = 0-1; darkest blue > 20

That’s all for today; next week we’ll look at Somali law. Should be fun. Take care.

Prison Law

51ta-us7crlKey tenants of the Prisoners’ Code:

  • Never rat on another convict
  • Don’t be nosy
  • Don’t gossip
  • Don’t lie
  • Don’t steal
  • Pay your debts
  • Don’t be weak
  • Don’t whine

Welcome back to our discussion of Legal Systems Very Different from Ours, by Friedman, Leeson, and Skarbek. Today we are discussing chapter 8: Prisoners’ Law–a subject of continuing interest to me, as you know.

While I have questioned why people would bother having multiple legal systems–why have parallel or multiple systems, instead of just one–what if we begin from the opposite assumption: why not have multiple legal systems? After all, modern societies are vast, with many different interest groups. There is the state, which wants mostly to promote trade, economic activities, and tax revenues–and will attempt to cut down on violent, predatory human (and animal) behavior to the extent that it interferes with the former. Then there are individuals, whose interests–like avoiding taxation and making sure their kids marry good spouses–are very different from the state’s.

If you have a state that is really trustworthy and definitely wouldn’t use knowledge of your assets gained during a divorce dispute to increase your taxes, then you might be happy to run your interests through the state-run legal system, but if you have any doubts about the state’s potential trustworthiness, you might want a different system to handle your more intimate problems.

Prisoners, of course, don’t have much hope of the state caring terribly much about resolving their disputes. I can’t imagine that prison guards really care that much if Prisoner A cheats Prisoner B out of cigarettes, so long as A and B both keep quiet and don’t make trouble. Even the murder of Prisoner A by Prisoner B may not trouble the guards, especially if it relieves them of some of their duties.

So prisoners–despite generally being lawbreakers themselves–have a strong incentive to create their own legal systems, and they do:

Nevertheless, across every period of prison life that we know about, we consistently find that officials provide only some… of the safety that prisoners crave. In fact, prisoners have developed a legal system of their own to order the society of captives.

… the nature of California prisons is that there are many resources that are held in common. The pull-up bars, tables and benches, handball courts, and basketball courts are freely open to all prisoners, at least officially. In reality, however, there is far more demand to use these resources than there is available supply.

The guards simply do not care enough to ration access to the facilities; prisoners work that out among themselves:

One prisoner associated with a Northern Hispanic gang explains, “If a new yard opens up, you’re going to fight for that handball court, you’re going to fight for some tables… If you ain’t a Northerner and you come into that areas, you’re going to get stabbed.”

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Not getting harassed by antifa.

Gangs, like pirates and yellowjackets, wear their affiliations openly so you know not to mess with them. This, in turn, greatly reduces the chances of you getting stabbed.

Prisoners also have to set up their own systems of rules and enforcement because prisoners have a habit of doing illegal things, like selling drugs, and the government tends to look down on such activities and attempt to stop them (or at least take a cut of the profits). Prisoners can’t depend on prison guards to make sure they get paid for illegal drug deals, smuggled cigarettes, or hired violence.

For all these three reasons, in nearly any prison that scholars have studied, we find that prisoners create parallel, informal legal institutions.

The Prisoners’ Code–quoted at the beginning of the post–served California prisons prior to the 1960s. Adherence to the code meant that one was a “convict” in good standing with his fellows; those who violated the code were mere “inmates” in bad standing with their neighbors. Nobody likes a rat, and “inmates”, since they were regarded as having already violated the general trust, were fair game for victimization. Convicts, by contrast, had the general support of their fellows and so were protected.

The Code was fairly informal–not a written document, not formally agreed upon, not enforced by any particular body. It was just what everyone knew and agreed to, and who was and wasn’t a convict in good standing was just common knowledge.

Interesting, during this period, prisoners did not strictly segregate themselves by race and ethnicity. …

Edward Bunker, who served time in San Quentin prison in the 1950s and later, explained that, “although each race tended to congregate with their own, there was little overt racial tension or hostility. That would change in the decade ahead. what I did for a black friend in the mid-fifties is something I would never have even considered a decade later.”

Well damn. That sounds shitty.

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Point Lookout Cemetery, Angola Prison–final resting place of those who will never leave.

The Code broke down because the prison population exploded and became much more ethnically diverse during the great crime wave of the late 20th century. California prisons went from housing about 5,000 people total around 1950 to over 170,000 people in the 2000s. A system based on simply knowing whether or not the guy you were talking to was generally regarded as a convict in good standing breaks down when the system has 170,000 people in it.

This was compounded by the fact that the prison population was becoming much more ethically and racially diverse. Whereas in 1951 there used to be two white prisoners for every one black or Hispanic prisoner, that ratio had reversed by 1980. Heterogeneity undermines decentralized legal systems because it confounds consensus.

Or in other words, diversity leads to centralized authoritarianism.

Here’s a graph, for the visually inclined:

Inprisonment_Rates

Coinciding with these changes, there was a significant increase in prisoner on prisoner violence. … In response to this increasingly chaotic environment, prisoners turned to groups that today we often assume are the sources of disorder–prison gangs.

This makes sense–with too many inmates from too many backgrounds to enforce common norms via common knowledge, a new layer of organization–gangs–formed to fill the gap.

A formalist would say that we should make gangs official.

Gangs operate in a community responsibility system. Each prisoner must have an affiliation with a group, and each group is responsible for each members’ actions.

Sounds like Chinese law.

Of course, not everyone is a full member of a prison gang, just like not everyone is a paid member of the US government. Most prisoners, though, are affiliated to some group to some extent, following the rules set by their group.

Prison gangs often have written constitutions to order their internal workings. … There are clearly established leadership structures, and some of these positions are filled through democratic elections by a gangs’s members.

Sounds like pirates.

Prison gangs work to prevent conflicts between their members and resolve conflicts between their members and outsiders.

For example, if a member of one gang is delinquent in a drug debt to another group, that prisoner’s entire gang is responsible for it. He ma be forced to contact family on the outside to pay it off. The gang may pool their resources to pay it off. the gang may force the prisoner to work the debt off for the other gang… the gang itself might assault their own member to the extent that it satisfies the shot caller of the other group…

Gang-based governance outperforms the Prisoner Code because it requires less information about other people’s reputations. It is easier to know the reputation of a group than to know the reputation of every member of that group.

Seems like a lot of information processing works this way; I care less about the particular details of a random tree than “this is a tree.”

The authors argue that, even though gangs are usually blamed for crime, at least in the case of prisons, the rise of gangs coincided with a drop in crime:

… there was a nearly 90% decline in prisoner homicides from 1973 to 2012 (no data available from 1974-1979). During much of the 2000s, the homicide rate in prison was actually lower than outside of prisons. [!!!]

The homicide rate per hundred thousand prisoners was just over 60 (looks like 63 on the graph) in 1973, and bottomed out around 3 or 4 in 2001. There has been a slight increase in the most recent data, with about 8 murders per 100k in 2012.

Of course, prisons have probably taken measures to prevent inmates from killing each other, but I suspect that is difficult to convince people who are already in prison to be afraid of more prison, but it is easy to make them afraid of getting beaten.

But there are some ironies:

… despite a dramatic decline in the free world in racial prejudice since the 1940s, prison life is actually significantly more segregated today. Showers, telephones, handball courts, and even areas in the yard to sit are claimed by different racial groups and other races are not allowed to use them. Members of different races are not allowed to share cigarettes or meals together, or even live in the same prison cell.

Do the gangs prevent murder (if they do at all) by effectively threatening to make punishment painful for any would-be murderers, or by forcing people to segregate?

The authors note that organizing along racial lines solve information problems quickly–you can tell at a glance which group someone belongs to. But gangs have a variety of drawbacks as government systems–they tend to increase recidivism among their members, for example, and predatory behavior by senior gang members against lower-ranking members often goes unchecked because, being prisoners, they have nowhere else to go.

It is interesting that prison gangs are allowed to operate. Their primary purpose isn’t keeping peace and preventing murder (or so they claim), but doing business–selling drugs and the like. Peace is good for business; murder is bad for business because it gets the guards involved. One might think that prison guards would be uncomfortable with prisons being run by racial gangs that were formed to do illegal things, but either the guards don’t really care, it’s too hard to eliminate the gangs without a great deal more money and effort, or they’ve decided that life is just better with the gangs running things.

511Z26YT83L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_That’s all for today, but please see some of my previous posts related to prisons: God of the Rodeo, about Angola Prison, Louisiana; and my review of Oriental Prisons: pt 1: Thugee; pt 2: Andaman Islands pt 3: Burma, China, and Japan; and pt 4: Egypt.

Next week, we’ll take a look at Saga-Era Iceland.

Legally Pirate: Systems Very Different from Ours

Welcome back to our discussion of Legal Systems Very Different from Ours. Today we’re discussing chapter 7, Pirate Law.

Buccaneer of the Caribbean, from Howard Pyle’s Book of Pirates

We’ve already discussed Pirate Law a couple of times, based on articles by the same author, from the same source material, so some of this chapter is redundant if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, but it’s interesting enough to be worth a review.

The authors begin with an amusing comment on pirates’ odd popularity:

Only the Mafia approaches Caribbean pirates’ criminal celebrity, but large numbers of children do not dress up as mobsters to collect candy on Halloween.

On to business:

Successful piracy required the cooperation of a sizeable pirate crew. The average Caribbean pirate ship was crewed by 80 men, and the largest crews consisted of several hundred. This raises the question of how pirates, who, as criminals, could not rely on government to provide their crews law and order and had no compunction about murdering and stealing for private gain, manged to cooperate with one another to engage in piracy.

The fact that “even criminals” develop legal systems of some sort to regulate their relations with each other is one of the things I find fascinating about humans. Social organization springs up even in the most unlikely-seeming places, like prisons and criminal gangs, suggesting that order is a spontaneous and natural fact of human life (though the form that order takes varies).

Whatever order criminals form among themselves is also interesting because it is, by necessity, separate from the dominant legal systems; most criminals do not have the option of turning to the police should a fellow criminal stiff them on their share of the booty. (I suppose this has some parallels with the Chinese case, as the authors described it.)

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Ships through the ages: Pirate dhow; Spanish or Venetian galley; Spanish galleon The Dhow is a typical 16th century dhow, a grab-built, lateen-rigged vessel of Arabia, the Mediterranean, and the Indian Ocean. It has the usual long overhang forward, high poop deck and open waist. The dhow was notorious in the slave trade on the east coast of Africa, and even after a thousand years is still one of the swiftest of sailing crafts.

Pirates dealt with their problems by devising what is known as the “Pirate Code,” a set of laws that provided for the basically democratic conduct of the ship and division of the booty, with the captain in charge during battle. Since we already discussed these in previous posts, I will skip over the details, but you can read the book (or my previous posts on the subject), but suffice to say that pirates developed constitutions with voting, checks and balances, etc, that parallel democracy as developed in places like the US:

The institutional features of pirate law should sound familiar. They are more-or-less those of the American system of government: constitutional democracy, separated powers, and checks and balances. …

The most notable difference between pirate law and the American system of government is not their substance but when they were created and by whom. Pirate law was created by mostly illiterate, violent criminals in the early eighteenth century. The American system of government was created by the most educated and respected Europeans of their era more than half a century later.

The authors argue that pirate law must have been successful since piracy not only existed, but flourished, despite quite a bit of forceful opposition from European governments.

On pirate flags:

Most bandits do not announce their presence to their victims and potentially the authorities by publicly displaying a distinctive bandit logo

Proper placement of 1% motorcycle patch.

You sure about that, bud? Most criminal gangs I am familiar with, from the Mafia to street gangs to outlaw motorcycle clubs, advertise their status as criminals in rather obvious ways, like clothing patches, facial tattoos, or dapper Italian suits.

And it’s not just humans: wasps and bees, coral snakes and rattlesnakes, poison dart frogs and monarch butterflies, amanita muscaria and blue ringed octopuses  all signal “Stay away! I’m trouble!”

The natural principle is called “aposemetism,” which:

 refers to the appearance of an animal that warns predators it is toxic, distasteful, or dangerous. This warning signal is associated with the unprofitability of a prey item to potential predators. The unprofitability may consist of any defences which make the prey difficult to eat, such as toxicity, foul taste or smell, sharp spines, or aggressive nature. Aposematism always involves an advertising signal which may take the form of conspicuous animal colorationsoundsodours[2] or other perceivable characteristics. Aposematic signals are beneficial for both the predator and prey, since both avoid potential harm.

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Are bulborbs poisonous? Or do you just hallucinate if you eat one?

Of course, Pirates fly the Jolly Roger for the same reason: 

Pirates had a well-deserved reputation for mercilessness toward attackers [sic], which they earned by adhering t a simple policy: surrender or die. Pirates adopted this policy to minimize the cost of taking prizes. Violent confrontations with prey were expensive. … More peaceful piracy was therefore more profitable piracy secured, ironically enough, by pirates’ promise to slaughter resistors. …

To profit from this fact, pirates needed to ensure that their victims knew when they were being accosted by pirates… With few exceptions, only pirates flew the Jolly Roger, which is precisely why they did so.

And non-pirates who might like to dabble in the occasional ship-theft are unlikely to dilute the power of the Jolly Roger via mimicry due to the governments’ promise to execute anyone flying the Jolly Roger. This is kind of like if humans couldn’t tell the difference between coral and milk snakes, and so killed all of the milk snakes they could get their hands on: there would soon be pressure for milk snakes to not be orange.

Human criminal gangs make efforts to protect their symbols, to prevent dilution and ensure clear signalling power. The Hells Angels, for example have trademarked/copyrighted their symbols:

In March 2007 the Hells Angels filed suit against the Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group alleging that the film entitled Wild Hogs used both the name and distinctive logo of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Corporation without permission.[39] The suit was eventually voluntarily dismissed,[40] after the Angels received assurances from Disney that the references would not appear in the film.[41] …

In October 2010 the Hells Angels filed a lawsuit against Alexander McQueen for “misusing its trademark winged death heads symbol”[44] in several items from its Autumn/Winter 2010 collection. The lawsuit is also aimed at Saks Fifth Avenue and Zappos.com, which stock the jacquard box dress and knuckle duster ring that bear the symbol, which has been used since at least 1948 and is protected by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. A handbag and scarf was also named in lawsuit.[45] The lawyer representing Hells Angels claimed: “This isn’t just about money, it’s about membership. If you’ve got one of these rings on, a member might get really upset that you’re an impostor.”[46] … The company settled the case with the Hells Angels after agreeing to remove all of the merchandise featuring the logo from sale on their website, stores and concessions and recalling any of the goods that have already been sold and destroying them.[48][49][50]   

In fall 2012 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California, Hells Angels sued Toys “R” Us for trademark infringementunfair competition, and dilution in relation to the sale of yo-yos manufactured by Yomega Corporation, a co-defendant, which allegedly bear the “Death Head” logo.

Clear signals work better than unclear signals, example # 6,700,789.

That’s all for now; see you next week.

 

More Laws, Please: Jewish Law is Different from Ours

51ta-us7crlWelcome back to our discussion of Friedman, Leeson, and Skarbek’s Legal Systems Very Different from Ours. Today we’ll be discussing Jewish law.

Jewish law may be the best-recorded legal system in the history of the world; there are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of pages of surviving primary sources covering about twenty-five hundred years.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I had this idea once back in college to do a project on parallel legal systems like Gypsy law, and thankfully someone talked me into switching to Jewish law, mostly out of concern for my physical safety.

But Jewish law is also massively better documented.

One thing I find amusing about Jewish law is that Jews seem to actually like the subject. I can’t tell if that’s something people feel like they’re supposed to say in the same way that people feel like they should claim to like school even if they actually hated it, but they certainly give the impression of being rather enthusiastic on the subject. Where the traditional practice of Chinese law can be summarized as “Please go away and leave us alone,” or “good people don’t need law,” the Jewish approach seems like “More laws, please.”

Problems of Divine Law

Jewish law was, in theory, based on a single unchangeable source–the Torah [first five books of the Bible.]… Basing the law in this way rather than on custom, precedent or legislation raised two problems shared with other legal systems similarly based, including Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) and American Constitutional Law.

Note: I wrote a post about this: The Talmud and the Constitution. The trouble comes in when two scholars/judges/etc disagree about what exactly the law should be:

In a system that views law as the creation of a legislature, king, or court of last resort, the same authority that made the law can settle disagreements about it. That does not work for a legal system viewed not as created but as discovered, deduced from divinely inspired sources.

Obviously you need some way to resolve disputes about what exactly the laws should be; you also need some way to change laws should new circumstances arise that necessitate doing so.

The initial solution to the problem of legal uniformity was a simple one. Truth is not determined by majority vote but law can be. … the legal scholars took the position that the interpretation to be followed by judges was determined by the views of the majority of legal scholars.

There follows an amusing story about some rabbis who were arguing about whether an oven could be cleaned. The majority of rabbis held one opinion; the dissenting rabbi’s opinion was closer to the original religious text. God steps in on the dissenting rabbi’s side, at which point the other rabbis basically tell Him to back off, this is a rabbi matter.

His position was summed up by another Rabbi as “The Torah has already been given at Mount Sinai. We pay not attention to a heavenly voice because You have already written in the Torah at Mount Sinai, ‘Follow the Majority.'”

According to the story, God smiled and said to himself, “My children have bested me.”

Most people I have discussed this story with object to it. They just can’t fathom the idea of telling God to buzz off and let the humans interpret divine law. Yet, as a parent, there have certainly been times when my children, as God put it, bested me. And in those moments I didn’t feel irritated or angry, but proud of them for their growth and maturity.

Anyway, as for the Jews, the authors make a good point that you’re much more likely in normal life to encounter cranks and grifters claiming divine revelations than you are to encounter actual divine revelations, so it’s a good idea to just reject divine revelations.

There is an interesting parallel between the conflict between the two schools of Jewish law, ending in the victory of one of them, and the development of Muslim law almost a thousand years later. In the early centuries of Islam, Sunni legal scholars divided themselves into four schools of law named after, and to some degree based on the teaching of, four of the early legal scholars. The schools differed in details of legal interpretation but regarded each other as mutually orthodox–and still do. …

One solution to the problem of [Jewish] legal diversity was the development of geographical schools Judges in France mostly went by the legal opinion of whoever was currently the most prominent legal scholar among French Jews…

This makes sense, given the difficulties of disseminating legal opinions to a diasporic population spread thinly across thousands of miles before the invention of cheap printing and fast transportation.

One of the other difficulties with Jewish law is that after 2,500 or so years, so much has been written that the whole mass has gotten terribly unwieldy:

Once the Talmud was complete, legal scholarship was built on top of three layers. The first was the Torah. That was followed by rabbinic legislation and commentary and interpretation based on the Torah, culminating in the Mishnah. That was followed by commentary on the Mishnah, culminating in the Talmud. Scholarship thereafter consisted largely of commentary on the Talmud, which had the previous two layers embedded in it, along with additional legislation. Further layers were added as one or another work based on those sources–the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides is one example–itself became the subject of further commentary.

This has generally been resolved via books summarizing previous decisions accompanied by more detailed legal books if one needs them, and the development of the previously mentioned local or communal law. Of course, sometimes this led to conflicts between different levels of interpretation or commentary.

There follows an interesting discussion of how marriage customs and especially the laws around marriage could have been modified to increase parental control over whom their children marry, but it is too long to quote here–you will have to read the chapter yourself.

A theory on kosher rules:

Careful observance of such rules is evidence that the observer believes in the religion, since he is willing to bear substantial costs in order to conform to its requirements. The fact that he believe sin the religion means that he will be reluctant to sear, falsely, for fear of supernatural punishment.

Well, maybe. It’d be nice to have some data on the matter.

Maimonides [a famous Jewish legal scholar] goes on to describe in some detail the rules associated with the avenger of blood,t he heir of a killer’s victim, and the cities of refuge–of which, like kings of Israel, there had been none for more than a thousand years. A killer was supposed to go to one of the cities of refuge, be brought from there to the court of the city where the killing occurred, tried and, if guilty of deliberate murder, put to death by the avenger of blood. If found guilty of unintentional killing he was to be sent back to the city of refuge to remain there until the high priest, also nonexistent in Maimonides’ day, died. En route to or from the city of refuge he could be killed by the avenger of blood without penalty.

That looks rather like the remnant of a pre-existing feud system, untidily integrated into its replacement.

It’s late and I’m pretty tired, so let’s wrap things up. I’m sorry I don’t have more to say, but I’ve already hit the point of exhaustion and I said a lot on the subject back in Why Does my Fridge Have a Sabbath Mode? and The Talmud and the Constitution.

Amish Law: Different from ours

Legal Systems Very Different from Ours: The Amish

…the Amish have done surprisingly well in their relations with the US government. In 1955 Social Security became mandatory for self-employed persons. The Amish objected to participating, in part on the basis that they believed they were religiously obligated to take care of each other and should not be transferring that obligation to the state, in part on the grounds that insurance programs, which Social Security at purported to be… are “gambling ventures that seek to plan and protect one’s fortune rather than yielding it to God’s will.” Many refused to pay Social Security taxes, with the result that the IRS eventually began filing liens on farm animals and other assets. The conflict was only ended in 1965, when federal legislation exempted self-employed Amish from having to pay Social Security taxes, an exemption later extended to Amish employees in Amish owned businesses.

51ta-us7crlWelcome back to our discussion of Legal Systems Very Different from Ours., by Friedman, Leeson, and Skarbek. I apologize if today’s post is a bit rushed; I have been extremely busy lately with the homeschooling and normal parenting and it has left me asleep during my normal writing hours.

Today we are discussing the Amish. (Have I written anything significant on the Amish? A quick browse through the archives suggests only in passing.) The Amish, as I’m sure you already know, are one of America’s fastest growing religious groups in an era when most other Christian denominations are shrinking:

Amish Population:

1920 5,000
1928 7,000 +4.30%
1936 9,000 +3.19%
1944 13,000 +4.70%
1952 19,000 +4.86%
1960 28,000 +4.97%
1968 39,000 +4.23%
1976 57,000 +4.86%
1984 84,000 +4.97%
1992 128,150 +5.42%
2000 166,000 +3.29%
2010 249,500 +4.16%
2019 341,900 +3.56%

(Source: Wikipedia)

This growth has continued despite the fact that almost no one converts to Amish-ism, the Amish lifestyle involves a ton of manual labor that most people assume is unpleasant, and a decent percent of Amish children leave the faith each generation.

To be Amish, one must simultaneously abide by two legal systems: The US system and the Amish system. This sounds rather annoying to most non-Amish, who find the US system alone laws enough. The Amish have no prisons, though, so the authors discuss how the Amish effectively enforce Amish law:

While subject, with a few narrow exceptions, to U.S. and Canadian law, the Amish have succeeded in maintaining their own systems f rules (Ordnung) and enforcing them on heir members, ultimately by the threat of excommunication and sunning (Meidung).

Slightly aside: We talk a lot in these legal discussions about coercion, which obviously gets people to put up with annoying laws, and last week we discussed the desire of people like the Gypsies to be around their own families, which also encourages them to follow the rules of their parallel legal system, but it occurs to me that a group like the Amish have a third factor, which is that being Amish effectively shields them from a lot of the inconvenience, legal or otherwise, that the rest of us have to deal with.

For example, you, office slave, may be “on call” even in the evening and weekends. Your boss may email you with a sudden, “must be done now” project on Friday evening or expect you to come in on Saturdays. I remember many Saturday mornings spent coloring under my mother’s desk while she worked.

The Amish have to muck out a lot of stalls, but they don’t have to spend much time dealing with the IRS or filling out tax forms; it’s a trade-off between labor-saving technology and paperwork.

Which means that the Amish, in order to keep doing their Amish thing, have to make sure that the borders of Amish-dom, which protect them from the evils of paperwork and enmeshment in annoyingly non-amish systems, have to be defended. And the borders of Amishdom are, of course, which technology you use.

If that sounds a little recursive, let me try again:

Being Amish confers certain benefits on the Amish that they enjoy, like not doing a lot of paperwork and getting to be around other Amish people

Some of these benefits are informal (friendships), some are practical/functional, and some are legal (ie, leaving school early).

The Amish only get to enjoy these benefits if they stay Amish. If the fringes of what it means to be Amish start to fray, then “Amish” loses some of its meaning and the benefits slip away.

As a result, the Amish are very careful about which new technologies they allow, checking carefully how the technology will change their lives.

The basic unit of an Amish community is the congregation, typically of twenty-five to forty households; there is no higher level with authority over the individual congregation. Since the Amish are unwilling to build churches or meeting houses, the number of households in a congregation is limited to the number that will fit in a large farmhouse or barn.

Wait, they don’t have churches? What do they do at church? How does this work?

Each congregation has its own version of the Ordnung, some stricter and some less strict… Congregations whose Ordnungen are about equally strict may be in fellowship with each other, making them part of a single affiliation…

The typical congregation has a bishop, two ministers, and a deacon all of whom normally serve for life and none of whom have an formal training. They are unpaid. Ministers and deacons are selected by lot out of a group of ten men nominated by the congregation…

How does this organizational structure work? Is there any formal structure? Any organization that formally owns property, or is it all hosted in privately owned barns?

The Ordnung specifies the rules that members of the congregation are required to live by. Typically they include prohibitions on activities such as filing a suit, serving on a jury or joining a political organization, along with the use of those modern technologies viewed as likely to disrupt the Amish social system…

Basically, nothing that would enmesh you or other Amish with the outside world.

The ordnung is specific to the congregation, which has no legislature. What changes the ordnung is the practice of the members and the response to it by the leadership.

There is very little overt coercion in this system (though possibly plenty of soft coercion). Should someone break the rules (say, by riding in a car or wearing modern clothes,) they’ll first be visited by the church authorities and encouraged to confess their sins. If that doesn’t work, they’ll be encouraged to confess some more, and if that doesn’t work, everyone will avoid them for six weeks.

If that still doesn’t work, they’ll be kicked completely out of the community and shunned.

On the one hand, getting shunned isn’t nearly as bad as going to prison, but on the other hand, losing all of your friends and not being able to talk to your family just because you want to drive a car is pretty harsh.

The authors ask whether the Amish can be described as a democracy or a competitive dictatorship:

If it is a dictatorship, it is a competitive dictatorship. A member who is sufficiently unhappy with the ordnung of his congregation … is free to shift to a nearby congregation better suited to his tastes. Some congregations are, in effect, territorial sovereigns, so that changing congregations requires a geographical move. In other communities, especially where there are congregations with substantially different Ordnungen near each other, it may be possible to shift allegiance with no shift of residence.

The Amish get on reasonably well with the outside world:

Romani in most places have been subject to hostility from outsiders and themselves regarded outsiders as ignorant and unclean. The Amish, in contrast, appear to get along with their neighbors… Non-Amish may view hem as quaint, but for the most part without hostility and even with some admiration.

That’s because the Amish don’t steal chickens and their communities aren’t trash-filled ghettos.

You know, the authors state in the introduction or thereabouts that each of the legal systems discussed in the book are valid systems that have worked for the people in them (otherwise they wouldn’t exist) but frankly, I don’t think the Gypsy system works all that well for the people in it.

Anyway, the authors propose that people’s generally positive perceptions of the Amish account for their decent relationships with the state, including legal exemptions such as not being required to pay Social Security taxes, exemption from the draft, and leaving school after eighth grade. I think it’s more that the Amish are competent, orderly, and well-behaved, which both makes people generally favorable toward them and equips them to push back against government intrusion into their lives.

To be fair, Gypsies probably also manage to avoid paying Social Security taxes, evade the draft, and drop out of school early, just via less legal means.

Since people generally like the Amish, according to the authors, they have good relations with their neighbors:

Some non-Amish operate “Amish taxi services,” providing automobile or van transportation for Amish when they need to go farther than horse and buggy can conveniently carry them…

In an earlier chapter, I suggested that in North America toleration might eventually destroy the status of the Romani as self-governing communities by making it too easy for unhappy or ostracized members to defect into the surrounding community. Along similar lines, it is arguable that the emancipation of European Jews, starting in the late eighteenth century, was responsible for the decline of the Jewish communities as effectively self-ruling polities. Yet the Amish have maintained their identity, culture, and ordnung, enforcing the latter by threat of ostracism, despite the lack of any clear barrier to prevent unhappy or excommunicated members from deserting.

Despite… or because? As the Amish who don’t want to be Amish depart, those left behind are the ones who most want to be Amish. It’s a kind of sifting, natural selection in action: over time, the less Amish leave and the Amish themselves become more intensely “Amish.”

print_graphics_denom_switching
Denominational switching among Jewish Americans, courtesy of the Pew Research Center

The same process is at work in Orthodox Jews, who have enough children that the defection of  50% or so of them each generation to less rule-oriented strains of Judaism (and from there, to atheism and assimilation) still leaves behind a growing core of people who effectively decided to stay Orthodox.

A similar process could happen for the Gypsies; I know nothing about their population numbers.

The same process has certainly happened for various regions of the US and on a smaller scale, black communities. Rural communities have lost people to cities, leaving behind the people most inclined toward rural lifestyles or least capable of moving to a city; racial integration has seen the smartest black kids move from formerly segregated black communities to college and then careers. We could expand this pattern to the global level, with people from various countries immigrating to new homes in other countries.

This proposes an interesting pattern for modern life: the flow of people who are less-ideal members of their own group into a kind of vast, undifferentiated city-fied middle, while the groups on the edges, the ones that lose members, become culturally (and biologically, for that matter,) more and more distinct. (Is this… happening with trans people, too?)

In the Amish case, this seems to work because they produce enough children to keep the numbers in their favor and as far as I know, aren’t just losing their smart people. (High rates of defection by your smartest will turn your group into into idiots over time.)

A critic of he Amish might argue that their upbringing, with schooling ending in eighth grade, leaves potential defectors unqualified for life in the modern world. The obvious response is that there are a lot of jobs in the modern world for which the willingness to work and the training produced by an apprenticeship starting at age fourteen are better qualifications than a highschool diploma.

Plenty of Hispanics leave their families behind, and move to America with less than an 8th grade education + apprenticeship, and still find jobs–and they have to learn a whole new language and deal with the complexities of being international immigrants. Unhappy Amish can just move to Mennonite communities.

As some evidence of the adequacy of Amish education, Amish seem to do quite well at starting and running their own small-scale businesses.

Amish education isn’t that different from what everyone’s education looked like back when the guys who built nukes and sent rockets to the moon were in school. People massively over-rate the importance of highschool and college degrees for pretty much everyone whose career doesn’t require advanced maths or medicine. People observe that smart people tend to have degrees, and so assume that it’s he degrees that make them smart, just as you might observe that rich people have yachts, and therefore yachts make people rich.

The Amish know they don’t need these advanced degrees to do the same kinds of farm work that people were doing without them back in the eighteen hundreds, so they simply avoid them. Not having to save up 40k-200k per child for college (or pay for houses in “good neighborhoods” “for the schools”) allows the Amish to invest more resources into actually producing children, which is why folks leading a “subsistence lifestyle” doing backbreaking labor all day who never even saw a highschool can “afford” more children than you, a person living in a modern industrial city.

Modernity selects for those who resist it.

Of course, the Amish lifestyle isn’t perfect and it is probably coercive in various ways. I don’t know; I haven’t heard any exposes of Amish–dom in the same way that I’ve heard people from various more “normal” evangelical Christian type cults complain about their upbringings. This is probably because the Amish are an older and more stable group that has settled into patterns that are basically beneficial toward their members, whereas new religious groupings tend to turn exploitative and flame out within a couple of decades.

That’s all for today. What did you think? Has anyone ever met any Amish? Are you ex-Amish yourself? Take care, and we’ll discuss the next chapter next week.

It’s not Stealing if they’re Gadje: Legal Systems very Different from Ours pt 2

51ta-us7crlWelcome back to Leeson, Skarbek, and Friedman’s Legal Systems Very Different from Ours. Today we will be discussing Gypsy law, in a chapter that I wouldn’t have believed if I hadn’t already read Isabella Fonseca’s Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and their Journey.

Usage note: I use “Gypsy” instead of “Romani” for the same reason that I refer to “Germans” and not “Deutsch”: because “Gypsy” is the proper English ethnonym. Romani is not an English word, and it doesn’t even translate to Gypsy–it means “people,” and you and I are people, too. In American parlance, “Gypsy” is neither an insult nor a slur, so I will not dance around like it is one.

Furthermore, I am opposed to ethnonymic creep; it is a very annoying part of my job here at this blog to try to figure out what group I am reading about if the name it goes by has changed over the course of years and I cannot track down reliable references. This recent trend of accelerated ethnonymic shift exists mainly to give intellectuals with lots of time on their hands to learn the latest terms something to feel superior about while confusing ordinary people, who are left wondering “Huh? Romani?”

Don’t worry; we here at EvX have enough ways of feeling superior without resorting to confusion–like semicolons.

Background: The Gypsies are a peripatetic ethnic group that left India about a thousand years ago and have since spread across the rest of the Indo-European world. They have traditionally filled the economic niche of traveling blacksmiths, tinsmiths, tinkerers, salesmen, and occasional chicken thieves. Interestingly, in places where the Gypsies never reached, like Ireland, an equivalent group of people emerged to fill the same economic niche–the Travellers–suggesting that this is a real economic niche that people needed filled, albeit minus the part about the chickens.

Globally, there are about 2-20 million Gypsies, with concentrations in the United States, Brazil, Romania, and Turkey. About 1 million Gypsies live in America, a population bigger than the Amish. It’s hard to find really good statistics on Gypsies because Gypsies don’t believe in keeping statistics, much less cooperating with government officials who seem intent on prying into their business and pinning them down. Note that because Gypsy communities are widely scattered across the globe and have not had, until recently, any good way of communicating with each other across great distances, what is true of one band or group may not be even remotely true of another group. Gypsies in one country may be settled, school-going city dwellers, while Gypsies in another country move about in caravans. Few sell horses these days (but many sell cars). Some speak the dominant local language; some speak a Gypsy variety. Some Gypsy languages are mutually intelligible; others are not. To say anything of Gypsies as a whole is probably wrong, so please forgive the limits of language.

Back in the Middle Ages, people didn’t mind the traditional Gypsy lifestyle too much, so long as chicken thefts were kept to a minimum. People needed tinkerers, and if the Gypsies didn’t send their children to school, well, neither did the locals. The traditional lifestyle clashes tremendously with the modern state, which wants people to stay put, carry ID, fill out their forms, pay taxes, and send their children to school. Stalin grounded the Gypsies of the Soviet Union (and stole their gold–not that they were rich to begin with, but you know, people can’t have anything nice in the Soviet Union) so the state could better control them. Gypsies in less coercive modern states have been less coercively encouraged to settle, to varying degrees of success.

My impression is that America has been less coercive toward its Gypsies, encouraging mandatory school attendance, but otherwise putting up with folks who feel like moving from town to town.

Traditional Gypsy law, as the authors note, exists separate from the regular laws of the state. The extent to which state law applies to them has varied over time, depending on how much the local officials wish to interfere. Where they are left to mostly manage their own affairs, we have a polylegal system:

Polylegal systems, systems in which different people in the same country were under different legal authorities, existed in medieval and Renaissance Europe. The status of Jewish communities in the diaspora, discussed in Chapter 4, is one example, the millet system of the Ottoman Empire another. It is possible that the fifteenth century Romani persuaded Sigismund that they were entitled to similar treatment.

Whether or not fifteenth century Romani obtained a grant of de jure judicial autonomy from a fifteenth century emperor, Romani communities through the centuries have been strikingly successful in maintaining de facto autonomy, staying below the radar of the official legal system while imposing their own rules on their own members.

I have long wondered why anyone would bother obeying two legal systems at once–why obey both American and Jewish law, for example? Obeying complicated restrictions is annoying, even difficult, so why don’t people just slowly default to following only one to make their lives simpler?

This chapter offers no solution, but Chapter 9 does. The Amish, of course, are a community whose lifestyle can only be maintained by adherence to Amish law, but Gypsy law does not guarantee a Gypsy lifestyle. But adhering to Gypsy law does mean that one is part of a Gypsy community (since the strongest punishment available in Gypsy law is getting kicked out of the community,) and Gypsies love their communities:

Part of the painfulness of being denied contact with one’s own people, whether to be in a jail, a hospital, or a job, is that of being alone. To be among a group of Rom [masculine singular declinsion of Romani] is the natural everyday context within which a person lives, learns, and expresses his personality; to be among a group of gaje [outsiders] is to be alone. Wherever he travels or lives, a Rom is rarely alone. More often he is surrounded by large numbers of relatives and friends.

Of course, whether one follows the law also depends on whether there are any better options elsewhere, and for much of history, Gypsies have not had much hope of joining a nearby community if they decided their band’s purity laws were overly burdensome.

The authors’ analysis of Gypsy law is based off accounts of two groups of Gypsies–the Kaale of Finaland and the Vlach Rom of California, circa 1970 (and thus out of date). Be careful of over-extending any of this to other Gypsy groups, and frankly, given the described delight the Gypsies took in deceiving their ethnographer back in the 70s, I wouldn’t assume it was completely accurate back then, either.

(Ethnographers are often deceived by people who think it’s funny or that the ethnographers are being way too nosy.)

Social Structure:

The basic unit [of the Vlach Rom] is the familia, a couple their adult sons, daughters-in-law, unmarried daughters and grandchildren. Above the familia is the vitsa, a larger kinship group descended from an ancestor some generations back. … Above the vitsa is the Natsiya, nation. The Vlach Rom are divided into four Natsiya

So family, extended family, and clan.

Marriage is by purchase, a payment from the family of the groom to the family of the bride. Payments are substantial, typically several thousand dollars as of 1970. While consent of bride and groom is required, it is up to a man’s parents to find him a wife and negotiate with her parents. The wife lives in her husband’s familia; in the early years of the marriage she is expected to do much of the work of the household.

Note that the family structure of the Kaale Gypsies of Finland is completely different.

The geographical unit above the Familia is the kumpania. The original meaning seems to have been an encampment, a group of households camping together. In the modern American context, it describes a unit such as the Romani settlement in Richmond. A Kumpania usually has  Rom Baro, a “Big Man,” who plays an important role in interactions with authorities such as the police and welfare department and among the Rom.

Here we see the difficulties of using an ethnonym from a foreign language–“Rom” means man (eg, Rom Baro = Big Man). You cannot play an important role in interactions among the man. You play a role among the men, plural. The plural of Rom is Roma. (The adjective is Romani. Romni is a woman.)

Anyway, in a move that clearly violates American anti-discrimination laws that the rest of us are required to follow, different kumpanias decide who gets to live there:

It may be a closed Kumpania, meaning that Romani families require permission to move in, likely to be based on vitsa membership and kinship to those already there, or it may be open. Restrictions on entry are typically enforced by the Rom Baro’s influence with local authorities. An unwelcome family can be reported to the police for crimes they id or didn’t commit, to the welfare department for violations that would otherwise go unreported. Restrictions on entry serve in part to protect current residents against competition in income-earning activities such as fortune telling.

Remember that this only works if you’re a Gypsy; if a white person tries to prevent people from entering their town or country in order to protect their job, they’re a dirty racist and deserve universal condemnation. Gypsies using the police to kick their neighbors out of their homes on false charges is totally fine, but you doing that is illegal and a sign that you are a terrible shit person.

Anyway, on to the laws:

Romania, the system of rules can be grouped into two categories. One consists of ordinary legal rules covering the obligations of Romani to each other, including extensive obligations of mutual help, especially but not exclusively between relatives. …

Obligations apply to fellow Rom not to outsiders, Gaje. … swindling or stealing from an outsider comes under Romania only to the extent that it creates problems for other Rom.

“Gaje” means outsiders; it can also be spelled “gadje.” The authors quote the source they are relying on for this amusing tidbit:

There is no word for all men and women. Human beings are either Roma or gadje.

When you use the term “Romani,” you are implicitly agreeing with this notion that Gypsies are people are you are not.

It is only a mild exaggeration to say that Romani view the non-Romani population not as part of their society but as part of their environment.

Do you ever get the impression that different people are held to different standards?

I was surprised the authors were this frank on the matter; usually people try to dance around and hide such attitudes, since they definitely reflect badly on the Gypsies.

avopix-550135045
Gypsy neighborhood in Belgrade, Serbia: So much purity!

The second category covered by Romania is an elaborate system of purity and pollution Orthodox Judaism on steroids.

I would not believe this had I not also read it elsewhere. Many Gypsies do in fact have complicated, annoying purity laws regarding washtubs, pregnant women, clothes, and body parts, but for some reason these laws don’t extend to the trash around their communities.

 

Because pollution is contagious and Gaje neither know nor follow the rules to prevent it, association with them is sharply limited. Vlach Rom in America [in the 70s, at least] if they have to eat in a non-Romani setting such as a restaurant, prefer paper plates; they may eat with their fingers instead of utensils for fear that the latter may be polluted.

Note: I guarantee you that there are Gypsies who love restaurants and use the silverware.

As for lying, the authors quote:

The Rom often lie to each other about everyday matters, but they almost always lie to the gaje. There is no particular shame attached to lying to each other… but to lie to the gaje is certainly correct and acceptable behavior…

When ‘caught out’ in this way [that is, caught in a lie] I never saw anyone show embarrassment. They enjoyed it when a good story was put over on them as much as they enjoyed putting one over on someone else.

There is a Gypsy court system called a kris, at which major decisions are made. The court may decide to ostracize someone or declare that certain behavior is good or bad; it may declare a punishment on one group of Gypsies that caused trouble for another group, etc. The functioning of the court is not terribly consistent over time and space, since Gypsy law is unwritten and based primarily on whatever the local elders think it is.

The pollution and ostracism rules provide the most effective means (besides calling the police) that Gypsies have of regulating each others’ behavior:

Ostracism is a way in which an embedded legal system, one that exists under the rule of a state with much greater resource of coercion than the community possesses, can function. Refusing to associate with someone is not illegal, so the marime [unclean] penalty can be enforced without coming into conflict with state law.

(Oh really? It’s not illegal to refuse to associate with someone? I’ll be sure to remember that next time I’m selling a house.)

Status:

Outside the family structure, the Romani are strikingly unwilling to engage in hierarchical relationships. Men who work together in groups do it as partners, not employer/employee. When Romani find it necessary to work for the gaje, picking crops for example, they do it as day labor not long-term employees.

Exit means you don’t have to put up with annoying people lording it over you.

On feuds:

A Romanichal who believes his rights to have been violated responds by demanding, with threats of violence, compensation. … As with any well-functioning feud system, while the incentive to obey the laws or norms is provided by the threat of private violence, actual violence is the exception rather than the rule.

Feud systems are not actually known for their lack of violence, but people are easily misled by an ethnographer who says something like, “Well, I never personally saw anyone get murdered, so the murder rate in this community must be much lower than the nation as a whole.”

Now, I’ve been a bit harsh, but I do think this case shines an interesting light on how legal systems developed in the first place, top up and bottom down. Every pre-state community had some kind of norms and rules in place to manage relationships, ease business transactions (even hunter-gatherers trade with each other), and manage food production/distribution. Farmers must determine who gets which plot and how to cooperate during planting and harvesting; hunters must split their catches effectively in an environment where meat cannot be stored because refrigeration has not yet been invented. There are religious rules, intended to keep the gods happy, and purity rules to avoid contamination and germs. There are the obligations of children and parents to each other, and matters of marriage and kinship to iron out.

(We discussed this back Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.)

People did all of these things for themselves long before states got in on the game, and state law has historically not interfered too much with local administration. Take marriage, which we now see as indelibly tied up in the legal system: in the 1700s, most marriages had nothing to do with the state. People were married because they said they were married, told their friends and neighbors they were married, and then moved in together and started having children. Today we call this a “common law marriage.” People will of course have big wedding parties if they can afford them, but most people throughout history were poor, and even still, these parties did not need to involve the state.

It is only recently, for tax (and insurance) purposes, that the state has started getting particularly nosy about who is married to whom, and suddenly people have developed this ridiculous notion that only Uncle Sam can determine who is and isn’t married, even though marriage has been going on for hundreds of thousands of years longer than the US has even existed.

It is natural that these local, tribal laws people developed thousands of years ago would only dictate behavior within the local tribe and not dictate obligations to people outside one’s tribe; after all, they’re different people in different tribes who are following their own laws. We only see the emergence of “universal” laws like “murder is bad whether you murder a kinsman or a stranger” within empires that rule over multiple ethnic groups (though Hammurabi’s code still declares some murders less bad according to the victim’s hierarchical status). Empires don’t care about people so much as they care about taxes, and empires can collect more taxes when people get along, conduct trade, and don’t have feuds with each other.

Which leads naturally to the question of whether national or polynational systems are better. Empires by their nature, are polynational–that is, they contain more than one ethnic group. One of the beliefs enshrined in early 20th century liberalism was the Self-Determination of all Nations–see Woodrow Wilson’s 13 points at the end of WWI. Self-determination was the idea that the interests of the Irish people would be best served by a government composed of Irish people, who would be disinclined to let their kinsmen die of famine. The interests of Poles would be best served by an independent Poland; the interests of Germans would be best served by all of the German people living in one country run by Germans.

Current liberal thinking, however, is that polynational (or multiethnic) systems are best, presumably due to the difficulties inherent in creating single-nation states when a population is not located in a single place or two populations are already mixed together. In a polynational state, if no single ethnic group can get the upper hand and thus become dominant, then the interests of different groups may balance and the state can effectively mediate between them.

In practice, both systems have their downsides.

A true nation-state enjoys the simplicity of being able to declare local laws state laws, and the difference between how I treat my co-ethnics and foreigners is simplified by a national border between us and them.

A polyethnic state has to find a way to mange different legal systems in different regions. Sometimes states give local communities significant leeway to conduct their own affairs, staying out of the way for most everything except tax collection; sometimes, as in the USSR, states decide to completely stamp out local systems and bring everyone under a unified system. In general, modern states are far more nimble (since the invention of communication and transportation technologies like telephones, video cameras, cars, and planes that make gathering information and extending power over long distances much easier,) than their predecessors, and so take a much deeper interest in their citizens’ everyday lives.

America is in the process of transitioning from a nation of nations–it was about 90% white in 1900, with the remnants of federalism still somewhat functioning–to a polynational state in which an increasingly invasive government does its best to make sure that whites adhere to the empire’s desire for universal laws and norms.

But enough about that; on to the Kaale, Finnish Gypsies who seem to have convinced an ethnographer that they don’t understand this concept of “marriage.”

The Kaale, the Finnish Romani, a small population isolated for centuries, carry the Vlach Rom attitude towards the lower half of the body even further than other Romani, refusing to openly admit the facts of human reproduction. They have no institution of marriage. Couples that wish to reproduce are expected to first leave their family households, flee far enough away so that the woman’s kin cannot find them and retrieve her, and return only when their child is weaned and so no longer requires a visible association with its mother. On returning, the father is expected to show the humility appropriate to one who has violated the norms of his society while the women of the mother’s generation smuggle mother and child into the household, where the child will be expected to treat all of the women of his mother’s generation as equally mothers.

No way this story started as a way to avoid explaining kinship structures to some nosy outsider who kept asking too many question.

Several obvious problems suggest themselves. First, the system is stupid. Second, it makes no sense. Third, the couple have to like each other enough to want to elope for a couple of years, find a new home, and go through pregnancy, birth, and weaning before returning, but afterward are apparently supposed to pretend like they don’t have a relationship?

Let us assume that the Kaale have a fertility rate above 1 child per woman: must a woman who already has a child disappear again for two or three years every time she or a man she is interested in wants to have sex? Do they simply not have sex anymore after the birth of their first child?

One result of the Kaale rejection of sexuality is to eliminate many of the taboos associated with it among other Romani groups. There can be no restrictions associated with menstruation since enforcing them would require recognition of the fact of menstruation, and similarly with pregnancy.

Oh…kay.  I can tell this book was written by men. Guys, there is no way for women to not recognize the “fact of menstruation.” Not recognizing the fact that you menstruate means dripping blood down your legs and onto the floor/chairs. Absolutely not going to happen. Just because some women didn’t want to talk to an anthropologist or other nosy outsider about their menses doesn’t mean they aren’t aware that it happens and have some sort of way of dealing with it.

In most societies, the restrictions/taboos surrounding menstruation have little to do with pregnancy (which is pretty removed in most people’s minds) and has everything to do with keeping the bloody mess contained, (which was much trickier before the invention of modern menstrual hygiene products like pads and tampons,) and I guarantee you the Kaale don’t want blood all over their chairs anymore than you do.

A Kalle woman living in the household of her or her partner’s kin conceals the fact of pregnancy until shortly before delivery …

Guys, have you ever seen a pregnant woman? Pregnancy is not something you can conceal.

Then there are some bits about feuding, which sound more likely to be true: dead bodies are easy to count.

For Kaale feud, the relevant unit is the household, not, as among the Romanichal, the individual. All households are considered peers and here exists no mechanism above the household for peacefully settling disputes. …

Conflict between individuals of different households, if sufficiently serious, leads to duels. … If death or serious injury does occur,t he result is a blood feud. … There is no equivalent of the court procedures or arbitrated settlements that terminated Icelandic feuds.

The authors speculate for a while on why the Vlach Rom and Kaale Gypsies are so different from each other. If you ask me, it’s probably because they’re different groups of people living in completely different environments about 10,000 miles apart. Yes, they were probably part of the same group hundreds of years ago, but they split (perhaps because they didn’t like each other’s rules in the first place,) and have been developing on their own ever since. There is nothing about Kaale life that differs from Vlach Rom life in a way that leads us to conclude, “Ah, therefore it makes sense for them to pretend reproduction doesn’t exist and settle their disputes via feuds instead of courts.”

Different groups are just… different.

Please go away and Leave us Alone: Legal Systems Very Different from Ours pt 1

51ta-us7crlI am about a third of the way through Friedman, Leeson, and Skarbek’s Legal Systems Very Different from Ours, so I thought it was about time I got this discussion rolling. If you haven’t started the book yet, don’t worry–you still have plenty of time to pick it up before next week.

How have you liked the book?

While we are at it, here is a similarly interesting piece: War Making and State Making as Organized Crime, by Charles Tilly:

What distinguished the violence produced by states from the violence delivered by anyone else? In the long; run, enough to make the division between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” force credible. Eventually, the personnel of states purveyed violence on a larger scale, more effectively, more efficiently, with wider assent from their subject populations, and with readier collaboration from neighboring authorities than did the personnel of other organizations. But it took a long time for that series of distinctions to become established. Early in the state-making process, many parties shared the right to use violence, the practice of using it routinely to accomplish their ends, or both at once. The continuum ran from bandits and pirates to kings via tax collectors, regional power holders, and professional soldiers.

The uncertain, elastic line between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” violence appeared in the upper reaches of power. Early in the state-making process, many parties shared the right to use violence, its actual employment, or both at once. The long love-hate affair between aspiring state makers and pirates or bandits illustrates the division. “Behind piracy or the seas acted cities and city-states,” writes Fernand Braudel of the sixteenth century. “Behind banditry, that terrestrial piracy, appeared the continual aid of lords.” In times of war, indeed, the managers of full-fledged states often commissioned privateers, hired sometime bandits to raid them enemies, and encouraged their regular troops to take booty. In royal service, soldiers and sailors were often expected to provide for themselves by preying on the civilian population: commandeering, raping, looting, taking prizes. When demobilized, they commonly continued the same practices, but without the same royal protection; demobilized ships became pirate vessels, demobilized troops bandits.

But back to Legal Systems Very Different from Ours.

This book takes a quick look at many different legal systems–13 or 14, depending on how we count the chapter on feuds. This makes for a lot of interesting material, but it means each system is treated very quickly. Some I have enough knowledge of to say a few things independently about them; others I must just trust the authors entirely. I would be interested in an expanded version of this book that goes into some of the legal systems in a big more depth.

The first chapter is on the Imperial Chinese legal system, which is a bit less useful than a chapter on the modern Chinese legal system, but I am sure there are many books out there on the modern system if I wish to learn about it.

My overall impression of the Imperial Chinese legal system is “Please go away and leave us alone.”

The logic appears to be that people who are good and virtuous have no need of a legal system, so the goal is to encourage people to be good and virtuous so they will not bring lawsuits. If that doesn’t work, using the legal system should be unpleasant enough to discourage people from using it. This probably cuts down on the number of frivolous suits, but has certain drawbacks.

In practice, the system tended to delegate authority for keeping people in line (not committing crime, not breaking contracts) to extra-legal authorities like family heads and merchant partnerships.

Here are some of the passages I highlighted:

The Chinese legal system originated over 2000 years ago in the conflict between two views of law, Legalist and Confucian. The Legalists, who believed in using the rational self-interest of those subject to law to make them behave in the way desired by those making the law, were accused by later writers of advocating harsh penalties to drive the crime rate to near zero. …

Confucianists argued for modifying behavior not by reward and punishment but by teaching virtue. They supported unequal treatment based both on the unequal status of those to whom the law applied and on their differing relationships.

China, being an ancient civilization, managed to keep much of its legal code across the centuries:

Laws originated as statues proclaimed by Emperors and passed down from dynasty to dynasty; one source estimates that forty percent of the Qing code came from the Tang code, created about a thousand years earlier.

I wonder if any of this is still around.

The legal code was not so much an account of what was forbidden as an attempt to specify, for every possible offense, the proper punishment. … Where the offense could not be fitted into any category in the code, the court could find the defendant guilty of doing what ought not to be done or of violating an Imperial decree–not an actual degree, but one that the Emperor would have made had the matter been brought to his attention.

I find this very amusing. It definitely has some potential drawbacks, but I can also understand the exasperation of an official going “Of course you shouldn’t have done that! Everyone knows you shouldn’t do that, you imbecile!”

On the difficulty of preventing local magistrates from acquiring too much power for themselves and threatening the chain of command, the authors note a parallel with the Ottoman situation:

The Ottoman Empire had a somewhat similar approach to the problem of maintaining central control. After conquering territory, the usual pattern was to appoint the surviving members of the defeated dynasty as local rulers in some distant part of the empire. The knowledge that defeat would not deprive the losers of life, wealth, or elites status reduced the incentive to resist conquest, and a governor with no local ties was dependent on the Sultan for his authority, hence likely to be loyal.

On to the famous Chinese Examination System:

Officials, including magistrates, were largely but not entirely selected from those who had successfully passed through a series of ferociously competitive exams.

Level one accords the rank of licentiate. Passing level two meant a good chance of official employment, and level three meant nearly guaranteed office.

Our system has all of the exams and none of the guarantees.

Competition was stiff:

In the early part of the final dynasty, there were about half a million licentiates out of a population of several hundred million, only about 18,000 people who had reached the next level. The provincial exam that separated the two groups had a pass rate of about one percent. … The [third level] exam produced 200 to 300 degrees from as many as 8000 candidates each time it was given.

People have speculated on the Chinese exam system/the official appointments made based on the system having a role in boosting the average Chinese IQ (which is quite high) by allowing the brightest Chinese more wealth and security for bringing more children into the world, but at such a small percent relative to the population as a whole, we’d need to do some real demographic number crunching before concluding that the system had any overall effect.

Curiously:

The exams did not test administrative ability, knowledge of the law, expertise in solving crimes or other skills with any obvious connection to the job of district magistrate or most of the other jobs for which the exams provided a qualification.

The authors quote:

The content of the provincial examination presented an exacting challenge, especially to the novitiate. Its syllabus called for compositions on themes from the four core texts of the Ne-Confucian canon and a further five or more classics, extended dissertations on the classics, history, and contemporary subjects, verse composition, and at various times the ability to write formal administrative statements and dispatches. To be at all hopeful of success,t he candidate should have read widely in the extensive historical literature, thoroughly digested the classics, developed a fluent calligraphy, and mastered several poetic styles. …

As the authors ask, Why?

Perhaps the Chinese just wanted well-rounded, intelligent administrators rather than grinders who just “studied for the test,” and figured that testing on such wide variety of qualitative topics would do the job.

Of course in practice this probably just meant that people shifted what they were studying from one subject (say, proper punishments for various crimes) to other subjects (eg, poetry), but it’s hard to make a perfect system and we might as well ask why some systems require men to be ritually circumcised before they can assume leadership positions.

(Still better than being a Chinese eunuch.)

The authors have their own theories:

A more interesting explanation focuses on the content of what they were studying–Confucian literature and philosophy. There are two characteristics one would like officials to have. One is the ability to do a good job. The other is the desire to do a good job. … One might interpret the examination system as a massive exercise in indoctrination, training people in a set of beliefs that implied the job of government officials was to take good care of the people they were set over while being suitably obedient to the people set over them. …

The ideal Confucian Emperor would never punish anyone for anything, merely set an example of virtuous behavior so perfect that it would inspire all below him.

?? This sounds like an improbable ideal, unless espoused by the most truly ivory tower of academics.

I suppose even Imperial China had its bad ideas.

Seen from that standpoint, it made some sense to set up a system designed to produce good men, put them in power and then leave them alone.

I think Socrates would like this idea, but of course:

In the system as it actually existed, crime was prevented not by moral example but by an elaborate penal system.

The authors propose a further idea, that the purpose of the system wasn’t so much to chose officials–after all, so few officials actually got chosen that this is almost just a rare side effect of the system–but to get as many people as possible to study for the exam. If we think of studying for the exam as like going to college, and actually getting a job as like the very rare case of someone becoming an astronaut, we would certainly say that the purpose of college is not to become an astronaut, but “to produce well-educated people who are good at their jobs.”

(If we are not being cynical and going down the “college is mostly signaling” route:

The problem with this theory is that there should be much less expensive ways of generating the same evidence. So far as intelligence is concerned, a few days of testing should do it…

Well, there really ought to be a way to figure out who should be considered a tribal authority without ritual circumcision, but there you are.)

This is an interesting and really quite clever idea.

The authors’ final theory is indoctrination in the justification for the legitimacy of the Chinese state, which ties neatly into the previous idea.

On to the legal system itself:

The State and the Family: Subcontracting Enforcement

In Qing law, as in the law of earlier dynasties, legal consequences depended in part on the status of the parties, both absolute status–the rules for government officials and Manchus were different than the rules for ordinary commoners and those in turn different than the rules for groups of especially low status–and relative position within the extended family. All relatives were classified as senior or junior to each other. … Relative status in turn affected penalties…

It is common to include among the offenses of oppressive polities forcing children to inform on their parents. Imperial China had precisely the opposite approach. It was a criminal offense for a child to accuse his parent of a crime even if the parent was guilty…

My understanding is that this system can also be oppressive, especially if you are the person your parent has committed a crime against.

The system relied heavily on parents and grandparents to enforce the law against the younger members of their families (even allowing them, under certain circumstances, to carry out capital punishment).

This reliance on elder enforcement appears to be due to the relative paucity of official bureaucrats available to enforce the law, due to the dearth of people who had actually managed to pass the third exam–or perhaps the Empire did not bother increasing the number of officials because families were already doing an adequate job of policing their own.

The existence of essentially two different sets of authorities–one’s family and the state–sometimes lead to conflicts. It was illegal to disobey one’s parents, even if those parents ordered an illegal act. At the same time, the act itself remained illegal.

Another way system dealt with the paucity of legal officials was by simply discouraging people from using it by making court cases as unpleasant as possible:

One way of doing so was to treat most private practice of law as criminal. Practitioners, “litigation sticks,” were viewed as troublemakers out to stir up unnecessary conflict. … It was legal to torture witnesses in the process of extracting information from them.

The authors quote:

Shouted at and reviled by the magistrate, growled at and beaten by the constables, the position of the accused was a most unfavorable one indeed. Small wonder that having to appear in court was considered by the people at large as a terrible misfortune… In general people tried to settle their differences as much as possible out of court…

Law was a headache for any magistrate sitting as a judge. Among the public it was generally ruinous for all concerned. The fees paid to [criminal catchers] might bankrupt plaintiff as well as defendant. …

Imperial edicts even urged the populace to avoid the courts rather than crowd into them.

This is why I characterize this system as “Please go away and leave us alone.”

But what about contract law?

The authors discuss the Japanese acquire of Taiwan in 1895, prompting them to try to determine what its legal system was–creating useful records for us today:

One feature of that system was the combination of elaborate contractual practice with an almost total absence of contract law, at least at the Imperial level.

Taiwanese merchants didn’t limit their trade to far-flung family ties, as developed in some uncertain legal system. Nor did they develop private courts run by merchants, like those of medieval Europe.

The authors don’t have much of an explanation for how these merchants managed to do business, other than developing a system of contracts that minimized the chance of either party defaulting on the other. It is a pity that it has been so long since this system has been (I presume) active; it would be nice to hear how it worked from someone who knew and understood it well.

Nevertheless, it stands in sharp contrast with our own system, in which businesses are engaged in such constant legal battles with each other that lawsuits are considered simply “part of the price of doing business.” We are a deeply litigious people; where a problem arises, we are loathe to even consider working out a non-law-based solution.

It is typically assumed that businesses cannot operate without some degree of this help (even I propose a mere 90% reduction in regulatory burden; even libertarians propose that the government should concern itself with enforcing contracts,) but what if we’re all wrong? Would the Imperial Chinese system have worked better with a more user-friendly, more involved legal system? Did its very unpleasantness inspire everyone involved to behave? Or was the formal legal system largely irrelevant, and Chinese business practices shaped by other factors, like local governments, traditions, or just the cleverness and foresight of everyone involved?