Junior Inquisitor

Junior Inquisitor

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

What is "right" versus what is "legal," and how that should apply to your stories

I was reading earlier this morning about a widow that was depositing money into her account in small increments in a way that appeared to be avoiding IRS notifications and possible tax implications. The money was seized and there was a great hue and cry over this poor widow being impoverished.

Never mind that just because your old doesn't mean that you are somehow innocent, hell we've had senior citizen serial killers


What caught my interest was the difference between what was right and what was legal, and how that applies to world building.

Anyone who has watched the news, or read a paper, or surfed the net in the last few years has come across some story of where what was legal and what was just were at odds with each other. That's real life unfortunately. Perfectibility is something humans have mostly failed at since recorded history. Religion, and entire schools of philosophers have offered various bits of advice, yet we still fail. Logically, it would follow, that if humans are incapable of perfection, then man-made institutions would also be imperfect.

However, imperfect does not mean worthless. Would you cry over a test that was 95% correct? If your sports team were successful 80% of the time, would you abandon them? Of course not! We understand that while perfection is a goal, it is not always attainable, and we will have another chance to excel tomorrow.

In the real world, if we abandon the legal code, as flawed as it is, to ensure subjective “justice,” a likely result will be a descent into anarchy. Interesting story, not so fun to live through. In the end we have a flawed system, but it beats the crap out of none, where might makes right. We also know that lots of people and groups are trying to improve our legal system. This is also true of most human endeavors, from construction to science to rules of governance, there is a recognition that there is a current trade-off, but the desire to keep improving is always there as a penultimate goal. One day we may finally get there.

Another important factor, laws only work if the government has the ability to enforce them. If I clone and raise a pet T-Rex as my mode of transportation, a cop could try and pull me over as “Bessie,” stomped down the highway. However, my nine tons of dino versus his two tons of car, could make for a very short interaction. Same if I had the Batmobile, or a tank. Now think of the cascade of what would happen off scene, if I ignored the cop, or had Bessie stomp on his cruiser, or worse, turned our poor cop into a dino snack. In real life there will be consequences, and reactions from others, for any of the above, and in your stories there should be as well.

You have a character in your world who is rushing to the scene of a crime, or to stop an atrocity, or stop the love of his life from getting on that plane, or to pay his bill before cable is cut off, the reason is not as important as the impediments. Whether a cop, or a secretary protecting her boss from maniacs, or some pencil-necked bureaucrat who lives to make sure forms are filled out properly, all of these types of people exist in the real world, and should in yours as well.

We exist in a world where our time and money are constantly demanded by others. Junk mail, advertising, sales pitches, legal and semi-legal extortion, generic time wasting morons, and representatives of government, all make demands on us, for our time and money. Some of these walking headaches should bleed over into your stories. Then there are the frustrations of dealing with life, like paying for things we need, like food, and want, like television and cable, and how we find a way to pay for those things. Utopia, where everyone is nice, there are no bills or demands on our time, is not only unrealistic but boring. If everything is perfect, everything functions as it should, where is the conflict, the chance to rise above, the challenge to do the “right,” if not the “legal” thing? Where is the drama?

There should be the small petty frustrations, the doubts that plague everyone, as well as the interpersonal conflict, and the struggle to achieve the main goal, just as there is in real life, in any story wishes to be vivid, rather than flat.

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