A Very, Very Short Discourse on the Law

The foundational platform of a society is always attached to the laws and regulations that are instituted (at least theoretically) for the benefit and protection between its members. The reasons for establishing laws arose as societies developed into more complex relational systems regulating the actions of its members and enforced by the imposition of penalties. From the earliest eras of human civilization it was seen that laws were necessary structures of protection from abuse between members of the group. Not only that, certain conclusions were drawn. The observable world seemed to operate fairly predictably, and since science had not been developed, superstition and imagination were the platforms that formulated the conceptual framework to explain the natural cycles of the stars, seasons  and permanence of the world. In looking at two of the oldest and most influential societies we can see what they considered the most important aspects and concerns when it came to building a system of  laws for its citizens. We will find that certain conclusions led to specific outcomes, and since we are still living with the consequences of those ancient conclusions and find them inadequate and destructive, we need to re-imagine a new foundation for a new set of laws based not upon superstition and deceptive, imaginary concepts, but rather a moral universalism that enriches, protects and strengthens the bonds of relationships between its members.

The Vedic and Egyptian Concepts of Law and Order

We begin with a survey of the great civilizations that arose in the Indus and the Nile river valleys. It is ironic, but worthy to note, that both of these civilizations that produced and contributed so much of the cultural framework of all the civilizations that followed are hot, steaming piles of rubbish today, at least in terms of the current state of their societal status today. Both societies are now embroiled in controversies centering around long-standing divisive religious arguments that have never been resolved. India suffers from a punitive and divisive social caste system and Egypt is in the throes of a civil war between the military and various religious factions. There exists a titanic social and economic inequality between the members of both societies. This is the consequence of a social inability to deal with the issues of social balance and harmony, and reveals the dysfunctional systematic objectives that has riven the social contracts and made them untenable.

When one turns to the Vedic structures of society, we discover that there was a direct linkage between the observable patterns and rhythms of the natural world and the emerging social relations that were moderated by the priestly factions. It was under the great Sun – Eye of the sky god Varuna that the cosmic Law of the universe was said to have been established. This law was eternal and kept chaos and discord at bay. It was the same law, according to the priests, that regulated the moral relationships between the people. The priests insisted that to keep the balance of the universe in place rituals were necessary. Over time these rituals become more complex and intricate. More valuable sacrifices were instituted. Literature emerged to give guidance and rules about the proper institutions of the rituals. This gave the priests much authority and advantage over the people they allegedly served, and it also was a source of controversies when these rituals failed to produce the desired results, which over time became more clear to the people. Over many centuries the rituals began to lose their mysterious hold on the people and the power of the priests diminished, but not before they had managed to protect their social status and inoculate themselves from the lower rungs of society. Today the consequences are on the Indian subcontinent is extremely unpleasant. Recently elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi has compared the current economic state of Indian to a “dying patient.” [1] Child brides, violence against women, institutionalized poverty, widespread hunger, lack of education and opportunity; all these flow from the consequences of these fabled and utterly failed cultural constructs.

On the African continent, Egypt also enjoys a historic status as being one of the most influential and ancient civilizations in the world (over 10,000 years in the making). Science, technology and religion made its greatest advancements in this North African country that the world has ever seen. And yet, it is today a seething cauldron of misrule, social division and punitive militarianism that has gained ascendency in governance. But in the beginning, the members of the civilization of ancient Egypt was concerned with maintaining order, balance and an abiding sense of justice. And this was personified by the ancient feminine deity Ma’at.

Ma'at iconDepicted in the ancient glyphs as a winged woman shown with an ostrich feather and a set of scales, Ma’at represented balance, law, order, justice and judgment. It was believed at death, one had to pass the judgment in the Hall of Ma’at. With her ostrich feather she measured the human heart on her scale. If the heart leaned to the side of good, the soul was allowed to pass into the afterlife. If it was deemed bad, the soul was forced into eternal damnation. Thus were formed the foundations of law and order within ancient Egypt, not to mention ethics and justice. As with the example of the ancient Vedic priesthood, the order of priests in Egypt asserted that they alone were the representatives of the goddess Ma’at and were bound to keep her traditions and precepts alive for the people. Thus an intricate legal system developed along with a deep sense of morality and justice.

It was the Pharoah, or the ruler of the ancient kingdom that was responsible for maintaining balance, law and order – that is, maintaining the “Ma’at” of the country. As the “God” living on Earth, the Pharoah was not only the political leader of the nation, he or she was also the religious leader as well. As gods, they owned the lands, created the laws and engaged in maintaining the country or conducting wars against rival nations. Obviously an aristocratic elite was necessary to keep that power in the hands of a few.Predictably, the decline of the power of the Pharaohs coincided with the many military defeats at the hands of the Persians, Greeks and the Romans. And while the country always garnered great respect for its historical ancient wisdom, technology and culture, it is today a crumbling social vortex of uncertainty, violence, death and injustice.

There are consequences to establishing societies based on social inequality. They all turn into failed, authoritarian states with elites desperately clinging to power through any means necessary. This leads to questions about the possibility of laws ever being able to fulfill its role in ensuring that justice, equality or personal liberty is possible for everyone. As it stands now, laws more and more are designed and used to protect the positions and advantages of those who sit in the seats of power. A call for the re-imaging and recalibration of the meaning of law and order should be placed under discussion and examined. In the next few posts we will look at some of these points that deserve attention.

 

Notes

[1] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/goa/Tough-economic-decisions-ahead-PM-tells-bigwigs/articleshow/36591681.cms

 

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