PHIL 335 – Law and Society
The Black Box That Reflects Its Maker
“As we look behind the closed door of law’s room and into its fi ling cabinets, we fi nd secrets that unmask the public persona of the room’s occupant. It’s not simple or straightforward though. Along the way, we fi nd conflicting records, indecipherable notes, bits and pieces of nuance, and other enigmatic evidence of our subject’s true character—who appears to be alternately compulsive, tyrannical, helpful, dismissive, or indifferent, depending on the circumstances.”
Law is a black box. It is a machine whose internal workings are intractable and indecipherable. It has no intention; it has no agency of its own. As the author put it, “law and society are mutually embedded.” Together they form a mobius strip, where countless agents are acting in mutual discord, fighting countless battles across time. The law and society that we see in the world are like the boiling over of these countless discords, behaving in aggregate as the author put it, “alternately compulsive, tyrannical, helpful, dismissive, or indifferent, depending on the circumstances.”
If form follows function, and if it’s true that social systems come to model the groups they are composed of, then it’s easy to see law and society as an abstraction of the minds of the countless individuals they are made of. From that perspective, it’s easy to see why law and society are so full of conflicting priorities like malice alongside compassion. Our laws and societies are models of our selves, and we are every bit as discordant as individuals and as an agglomeration of social groups constructed in conflict.
Calavita, K. (2016). Invitation to law & society: An introduction to the study of Real Law. The University of Chicago Press.