There’s a big difference in how activists and bureaucrats view the world. In the view of bureaucrats, anything lawful is right by definition. In contrast, activists don’t care whether something is lawful, they care whether it’s good and just. Bureaucrats generally do not understand the difference.
This distinction, and the lack of awareness of it, has caused much confusion and antagonization. It is perfectly possible to be totally in accordance with the law, and yet utterly evil. If you are a civil servant on the inside of the system, you would typically mistake “according to law” with “just”. This is simply not the case.
Us nerds who played Dungeons & Dragons in our teens remember that there was a game mechanic called alignment — more or less a person’s attitude towards law and karma. You had to place yourself on two distinct and orthogonal scales — whether you respected the law, and whether you would strive to do good or evil things. These were unrelated.
In a land where the law is evil, the people who serve the law blindly are equally evil. Lawfully evil. Let me explain this with a sequence of examples.
In Iran, it is against the law to execute virgin women. Still, women are being sentenced to death, so the Iranian administration has come up with the idea of forcibly marrying them to prison guards the night before the execution. That way, they are no longer virgins, and so, can be legally executed. Two years ago, one such prison guard stepped forward and told his story, about how the women scheduled for execution would typically resist being forcibly married and have forced sex with the prison guards — so the guards would usually administer sedatives to make the legal process of marrying them easier. Women are eligible for marriage from 9 years of age in Iran.
In nonlegalese, girls as young as nine are lawfully drugged, raped, and shot. (Iran executes in excess of 5,000 women every year.)
What is most striking about this is not the sheer horror of the evil inherent in the system, but the young prison guard’s reflection in the interview:
“The marriages were lawful.“
Here, it becomes painfully obvious that just because something is written into law, it is not good, just, and righteous. But many people who Believe In The Law will refuse to let this obvious counterproof knock them out of their comfort zone, and will therefore and rationalize it as Iran not being applicable, somehow being a barbaric country and not living up to modern, Western standards. I will therefore add more examples of lawfully evil from a Western democracy, Sweden, which scores top notch on democracy indexes.
Not too long ago, there were laws of forced sterilization in Sweden. Bureaucrats would visit families, and those deemed unfit for breeding would be forcibly sterilized. This was based on several decision factors, notably social and medical factors, but also lifestyle choices.
The forced sterilizations continued until 1975. Tens of thousands were forcibly sterilized against their will. Lawfully.
This is plain evil. Lawful evil.
Now, many people will react to this saying that even though evil laws may have existed here, they don’t anymore. Today, all is good. This attitude is delusional. The evil becomes apparent first in retrospect; the people exposed to the evil usually also have their voice taken from them in the figurative sense — they are not credible, so nobody will listen to them.
My final example is therefore contemporary, from lawless Somalia. A woman suffering from a rare, terminal and extremely painful disease had discovered a certain kind of salad that, as she consumed it, lessened her pains to the point where she was almost able to go about a normal life. So she was cultivating this salad for herself.
The warlords in the region had rules that nobody may grow that particular salad — it was seen as dirty. So she was taken away one night and thrown in prison for a year, in horrible pain through the entire year because of her disease for which there was no other remedy, and her rare salad was killed and burned.
This is, again, plain evil. But it was in Somalia, so it can be washed away as irrelevant. Non-democratic. Right?
Except… this was not in Somalia, but in Sweden.
The disease was multiple sclerosis, a terminal degenerative disease hitting the nervous system.
And the salad? It was cannabis sativa.
At this very last revelation, tons of people will lash out in anger and saying that what this woman did was against the law. The law “can’t make exceptions”. And in doing so, they will be gratuitously making my point for me. Because if the scenario was evil under the Somali warlords, it is just as evil in Sweden or anywhere else. Here’s my point: it does not matter that it was against the law, the government’s action is still evil. Lawful evil.
In saying but the law is the law!, these people are placing themselves in exactly the same moral spot as the Iranian prison guard quoted above.
And therefore, my point is that lawful does not imply good. They are two different concepts.
Bureaucrats, civil servants and other people who Believe In The Law think that anything lawful is axiomatically justified. Activists, on the other hand, act from the motto “do good shit, and never mind what the law says”.
This disconnect — this total disconnect — is why net activists are so distrustful of anything with the label “lawful” in the title. It is practically always used to mask something lawfully evil: if it were good, you would not need to point out that it is lawful.
A good example would be telecom companies’ departments for “governmental cooperation”, like the department for eavesdropping called Lawful Interception. It doesn’t matter whether it’s according to the law to wiretap somebody — it’s evil, and therefore wrong. Everybody has the right to safeguard their secrets.
An activist will regard anything labeled as “lawful” with a complete suspicion. Regrettably, the suspicion has all too frequently been warranted. All government authorities consider themselves good by definition. But they are also the ones sitting on the means of violent force for people who disobey them, and human nature has proven again and again that good intentions lead to evil actions as “governing” a community slips into “ruling”.
There are many attempts to regulate the net in various evil ways right now. Cutting off citizens from communication, wiretapping on their secrets, denying them the freedom of anonymous expression. Almost without an exception, they are attempts from corporations to dress “evil” in “lawful”.
Be suspicious of the word lawful. When used, is is often to conceal evil.
Do good shit, regardless of what the law says.
If you’re working for a lawfully evil system, you’re doing evil shit, even if it’s lawful.