Government is “the political direction and control exercised over the actions of the members, citizens, or inhabitants of communities, societies, and states; direction of the affairs of a state, community, etc.; political administration: Government is necessary to the existence of civilized society” (Dictionary.com Unabridged). Many people have been a victim to authority, believing that government is what creates a happy, justice-filled, functional, and orderly civilized society. We tend to view our governing force as a stable outside reality in which everything runs smoothly and for our own good. This outside reality is looked at as a near-infallible entity, necessary in order to maintain our current safe and happy lifestyles. We believe this outside entity (which is above us, of course) to be controlled by very intelligent individuals who know what is best for everyone, and who tirelessly work in order to keep us safe, free, and happy. The outside reality is presumed to pre-exist us, having always existed in this fashion. However, this notion of government being a pre-existing, stable, perfect and transparent outside entity which keeps all order is challenged in the following writings: The Trial, 1984, Women Without Men, The Stranger, and The Pathological Politics of Criminal Law. In reality, our constantly changing government and complex system of law is a reflection of the people. Our law system is imperfect and has many negative effects on society. We must not become disconnected and disengaged from this source of power.
Although the law is supposedly transparent, in reality, access to the law is very limited. This secrecy and imperviousness of government is shown clearly in the parable from The Trial. In the “Before the Law” parable, a man from the country shows up to beg admittance to the law. He arrived at the place where “the law” is supposedly held, and this man encounters a large gate with a guard waiting outside. He assumes that this guard is preventing him from entering, and that he just needs to wait to get in. This country man ends up indefinitely waiting for access to the court system, only to be left to die. Right before death, he realizes that the door was actually open the whole time. The only thing holding him back from accessing it was the illusion that the door was locked and inaccessible. This represents the fact that we tend to believe that the law system is necessary and stationary. Since we think it is necessary, we never even attempt to open the door. We do not question the laws we have in place. We accept the criminal system as how it is: those with the most money make the laws. Furthermore, the man standing at the door represents merely a common man. This parable shows that the law is written ad-hoc, on-the-fly to keep the common man from ever obtaining freedom from the order of those behind-the-curtains. These lawmakers focus on playing word games and appeal-to-statute games to confuse and belittle the honest people who don’t specialize in “law.” This effectively keeps them from gaining access to better “justice” than the cartel is willing to provide. The common man waiting on the doors of the law is the analogy to present-day society. We are all on the outside of “the panopticon” – outside the elite world of law games, money games, and ownership games. However, if enough people stand up, realize this, and start disobeying unjust laws, it is theoretically possible to put the judicial system into the hands of the people. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “One who breaks an unjust law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law” (King). The inaccessibility to the law results in necessary disobedience in order for the common man to have a chance at taking back the law.
Our present-day complicated criminal law system is far too complex for the average citizen to comprehend. Consequently, the public has become more and more confused about the criminal law system. In “The Pathological Politics of Criminal Law,” William J. Stuntz documents his surprising observations of this extremely complicated criminal justice system. Stuntz writes:
American criminal law, federal and state, is very broad; it covers far more conduct than any jurisdiction could possibly punish. The federal code alone has thousands of criminal prohibitions covering an enormous range of behavior, from the heinous to the trivial. State codes are a little narrower, but not much. And federal and state codes alike are filled with overlapping crimes, such that a single criminal incident typically violates half a dozen or more prohibitions. Lax double jeopardy doctrine generally permits the government to charge all these violations rather than selecting among them. (Stuntz 507)
William Stunz points out the absurdness of how the American criminal justice system really works. The average man is not able to realistically keep up and abide by every single new law. While new laws are added constantly, they inevitably begin to overlap. These laws are not as clean and black-and-white as many may think. Moreover, Stunz continues with his critique of laws in America, writing: “Since all change in criminal law seems to push in the same direction—toward more liability—this state of affairs is growing worse: legislatures regularly add to criminal codes, but rarely subtract from them” (Stuntz 507). As laws are added on a regular basis, well-intentioned people who do not know they are doing anything wrong can be accused and punished if needs be. The citizens of America (overall) are losing more and more of their freedoms to the state. It is becoming easier and easier to convict someone because of how many laws we break every day. As a result, the final decision of who goes to jail is in the hands of law enforcement. The public has become disconnected from the law, and all trust goes to the state. We are becoming ever-more overwhelmed with this constantly increasing sets of laws. If the state’s agenda is to jail someone posing a threat, law enforcement could find a law which you have broken in the past. In the end, anyone could be arrested if needs be. This foreseeable truth must be recognized in order understand the imperfectness of our current criminal law system.
Furthermore, these boundless laws which limit peoples’ actions are both written and unwritten. For example, one unwritten (yet assumed) law is blatantly shown in Women Without Men. As Amir talks to Fa’iza and Munis, Fai’za mentions that it was time for her to go outside. In response, Amir Khan was astonished, stating, “’On principle,’ he said, ‘women belong in the house. The outside is the world of men’” (Parsipur 16). In Amir’s mind, it is abnormal and unacceptable for women to go outside by themselves. For a women to merely be alone was shocking to not only Amir, but the representatives of the law. Although there were no laws writing about women staying home, this unsaid law was expressed through the actions of supposed representatives of the law and those subjected by the law. These rules, structured by society, dictated what was acceptable in public. Women were expected to hold a certain role, as were men. As a result, the women were regularly held accountable for and abided by these unstated laws. If they did not uphold this role, they were marginalized and looked at as criminals. However, abiding by unsaid gender laws would merely be a performance. Living up to these societal norms is not genuine, and is an undesirable consequence of unsaid law in society. This is undesirable because people are not allowed to freely express their individuality. Instead, everyone is required to act the same, whether they like it or not. Without this freedom, this oppressed life becomes dull and unsatisfying. Women are required to not be themselves, because representatives of the law dictated this. As a result, not fulfilling their role defined by society deemed it okay to punish them accordingly. They are then considered criminals by society. If a woman was outside by herself, her societal status would be similar to that of a murderer. Clearly, unsaid laws such as this were just as significant as the written law.
The belief that our current system of government law is necessary for prosperity and happiness is one important issue that must be addressed. In The Trial, the chaplain is talking with K. while walking down an isle of the court. After telling the “Before the Law” parable, the chaplain gives some response an analysis. One notable point that the chaplain made was: “it is not necessary to accept everything as true, one must only accept it as necessary.” K. responds, “’A melancholy conclusion,’ said K. ‘It turns lying into a universal principle’” (Kafka 129). This passage reveals important insight regarding the function of law in The Trial. This fact is the backbone of the law system; it allows the court machine to continue functioning. The assumed notion that the judicial system is necessary is what keeps individuals submissive. As long as one believes it is necessary, he/she will abide by it regardless of truth or justice. Even those who understand the imperfections and flaws will tend to submit to it, because they think it is necessary. We tend to believe that the law has always been around and that it is a stationary set of rules to abide by. K. calls this unfortunate fact a “melancholy conclusion” (Kafka 129). It is extremely unfortunate because individuals will submit to these warped set of rules for the sole fact that they believe the law to be set in stone. They believe that the law is superior to them, and is necessary. Good, honest people become compliant. This belief can lead to them accepting cruel punishments from authority, even if they do not believe it to be true. K. obviously learned this from his discussion with the chaplain, and began to understand what kept the system of law functioning. Without the compliance of these well-intentioned people, this “guilty until proven innocent” system of law will unfortunately endure.
Although we have the tendency to believe that our government is comprised of honest individuals with good intentions, hypocrisy has shown quite the opposite. One example of hypocrisy in The Stranger is when Meursault is put to trial. Meursault kills a man and is brought to trial. He realizes he is not being tried for murder, nor for his error; he is being tried for his virtue.
As if that blind rage had washed me clean, rid me of hope; for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself—so like a brother, really—I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again. For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate. (Camus 76)
Here Camus shows how many people fear the absurd; they refuse to accept it or confront it. The result is lives built on sham and hypocrisy. The natural man, the man of truth and reality, can only threaten their authority, which is the very fragile web keeping their lives together. His very existence may force them to see through themselves. It is for this that they condemn Meursault to death. These people partaking in his trial needed not just an answer, but a story to put behind the murder. Even though the law is supposed to be just, the hypocrisy in these trials is a result of human nature. They believe in just law, but practice the opposite. On the outside, they claim that the law system is good and impartial; in reality, they knew the inner workings of the court system, and how imperfect it really is. These representatives of the law do not base their judgments off rationality. At the end of all this, Meursault realizes this, and concludes that life lacks rational order.
Hypocrisy is again revealed in the working of power in 1984. In the beginning of the book, the Orwellian society of Oceania is described from an informative third-person view. The four core ministries of the Oceania’s government are described:
They were the homes of the four Ministries between which the entire apparatus of government was divided. The Ministry of Truth, which concerned itself with news, entertainment, education, and the fine arts. The Ministry of Peace, which concerned itself with war. The Ministry of Love, which maintained law and order. And the Ministry of Plenty, which was responsible for economic affairs. (Orwell 7)
The sole functions of these four main departments were in themselves hypocritical. The Ministry of Truth focused on changing history into lies. The Ministry of Peace focused on starting more wars with others. The Ministry of Love focused on preventing true love-making from occurring in Oceania. The Ministry of Plenty focused on planning food shortages. This hypocrisy was used to keep the members of the Party convinced that what they are doing was good. These lies had become truth for the Party. They all believed that the times they were living in were the best there ever was. As a result, they assumed that the current totalitarian society they lived in was the best possible system that ever existed. Similarly, this “orientalism” exists today. Many Americans believe that we live in a near-perfect country, and are “above” other countries. However, this confused conclusion is a result of the biased information which is fed to us (the same can be said for 1984). In reality, being born in one place of the world does not make you any more a “savage” than anyone else. Our “freedom” and “happiness” actually comes at the expense of others. “No one is free when others are oppressed” (Author Unknown). Additionally, Winston worked at the Ministry of Truth. Even though Winston was supposedly against the state, he remained complaint during the beginning of the novel. George Orwell writes about how Winston obeys Big Brother at his work:
Winston’s greatest pleasure in life was in his work. Most of it was a tedious routine, but included in it there were also jobs so difficult and intricate that you could lose yourself in them as in the depths of a mathematical problem—delicate pieces of forgery in which you had nothing to guide you except your knowledge of the principles of Ingsoc and your estimate of what the Party wanted you to say (Orwell 56).
Even though Winston had high doubts towards the state, he did as he was told at the Ministry of Truth. Not only did he comply, but he took great pride in his work. Therefore, Winston was also a somewhat of a hypocrite, especially during the beginning of the novel. He changed history into whatever the Party wanted, and was even was pleased with this. The state glorified what he was doing and made the Outer Party believe that what they are doing is good. It was considered to be a respectable job/position to have. Even Winston fell for these tricks; he was so caught up in his work that he didn’t notice that he was part of the cause of this Orwellian society. Although his awakening was gradual, Winston continued contently working for the Party despite his dislike for them.
Everyone devises their own set of rules that they create for themselves. When people start to attempt to impose their set of rules upon others through government force, it does more harm than good. This “trying to play God” results in an Orwellian-like authoritarian society, and leaves people in fear and unsatisfied. These rules imposed by government (or the highest bidder) are a result of many different people trying to play God. Therefore, this government is constantly changing (the people, the laws, the roles of power, etc.). Those who become disconnected from the government are the ones enabling it to be abused. As humans progress from tribes to increasingly larger groups (countries), the government will be able to inevitably become more sizable secretive, and ambiguous. As these unattainable and surprisingly irrational laws are added daily (both written and unwritten), the common well-intentioned man becomes more and more compliant yet fearful of becoming an alleged criminal (rather than confronting it and attempting to change it). However, a more effective and moral technique would be through the motivation of love and freedom rather than fear and coercion.