The Rules of the Game

11 December 2020

Jeff McCarty

What separates our society from a civilization of anarchy and chaos? What is the key difference that allows human beings, and all species for that matter, to function without the species snowballing into a catastrophic confusion of creatures running amuck? One perspective can prescribe an answer to this question, a perspective that is based on the role of rules within society. Many words can be put in place of the word, rules, to illustrate the same concept. Whether we use the term rules, laws, regulations, or any other synonym that connotates the same meaning, we can see that there are guidelines in place that dictate the nature of our reality.


From a modern perspective, we have always been a species with rules, laws, regulations, codes of conduct, standards of practice, and any other creative ways of labeling restrictions or guidelines to our activities as human beings. Growing up with these rules throughout our existence it seems that they are in place for the very benefit of coordinating society. It seems to make sense when we compare our existence as a species to that of any other creature we know of in existence on Planet Earth. Although one could argue that all forms of life are living under a set of unwritten, unspoken rules that are intrinsically known and processed by all, no other creature lives under rules that are elaborately created into existence from the minds of that creature itself.


Though the anarchists may resent me, we will go forward with the basic assumption that rules have risen to their role in the functioning of society for the better of human beings, and that holistically the need for rules to structure society is a feature rather than a bug. With this baseline assumption that rules exist for a beneficial reason for our society, the next thing that we can turn our attention towards is the rules that we currently have in place. Why did the rules that currently lay out how we are allowed or at the least expected to conduct ourselves in society come about?


Different rules have of course come about for a variety of reasons. The first set of rules that human beings are obliged to follow are the laws of nature that we must obey to sustain our life force. Things like breathing air, drinking water, eating food, and sleeping are all rules that nature has imposed on creatures inhabiting a form of life such as our own. Thousands upon thousands of years ago, this would have been the key set of rules needed to function as a human being. As time went on though, the very element of weaving together fictions that allowed us to thrive as a species and work in collaboration with each other in higher numbers than any other species has shown, became the machine that would churn out all other rules to follow. Any thread of ideology that helps in explaining our experience of existence in the universe, is bound to have rules attached to it. Most of the ideologies would directly give rules to follow and a lack of adhering to said rules would be an act of disavowing of the ideology.


As our evolutionary biology took hold, we began weaving complex ideologies and rules to help us in adhering to the original rules that guided our existence. Every rule would be installed to ensure the continuation and functioning of the group. As each band of ancient human beings made incremental improvements towards the techniques they utilized to sustain their life force, a swath of rules would be put in place to ensure that those improvements would be carried out properly. All these rules would have been instituted for what we would call the ‘greater good’ of society to ensure that each human being would have a better shot of survival and that each group of humans would stand a stronger chance of surviving. With this goal in mind, some human(s) somewhere in time went about dictating the rules that must be upheld due to their utmost importance in the structuring and maintaining of society.


Flash forward to the 21st century, and we find that many rules outlined in those days have made their way into the future. Rules against murder, theft, and rape just to name a few are all sound rules that have stood the test of time for good reason. Other rules though have existed for less credentialed reasons in the scheme of structuring society. Rules of this degree are rules put in place, perhaps with the intentions of structuring society for the better, yet have no merit in improving our civilization.


Many of these rules have been implemented for generations and have had plenty of time to prove their worth in the grand scheme of bettering society. Rules such as the criminalization of drugs and alcohol have proven as a great example of this. These rules were originally upheld as necessary glue to ensure the fabric of society would not become unwoven. This just isn’t the case though when we look at the objective reality. For example, though drugs were and are illegal in much of America, it has not stopped people from the consumption of these drugs. Yet with all the drug use occurring in society, where is the collapse promised that was bound to happen? Although some may say it has already happened, one look at a piece of propaganda like ‘Reefer Madness’ and you can see that the worries illustrated in that film, which in turn help inspire the laws criminalizing cannabis, are by no means what is occurring at any of the recreational or medical cannabis dispensaries across the country.

We are reaching a transitional period in our history as a species in which we will have to reconcile with the rules that we have installed for our society and determine what truly is structuring and guiding society into a better future for all humans. With a delineation of what rules are serving a higher purpose and what ones are detracting from the positive progression of society, we can then work to reform the latter into the former.


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