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Living Without Rule of Law pt.2

The goal of this two part series is to give the reader an understanding of how ‘rule of law’ collapses, how to best survive the transition, and how to regain some sort of community justice in the aftermath. This second part will focus on surviving the transition and regaining community justice.

This essay builds on concepts from part one and it is highly recommended that you read it first. You can read the first part HERE.

As discussed in the previous essay, all it takes for a complete collapse of the rule of law is for enough cops to decide that the job is not worth the risks involved or the pay received. This can happen in many ways, a freeze on police salaries, a turn of civilian perception towards police, enough targeted officer killings, or for reasons as simple as a negative culture within the police units. We have already seen organized police walkouts for the last reason alone.

These situations combined with a natural disaster or conflict would leave communities completely separated from any form of justice, all while opportunistic criminals or hungry and desperate civilians wreak havoc on cities and rural areas alike.


For this second half of the series we will focus on what a WROL world looks like, criminal psychology fundamentals, a brief look at historic community justice systems, and a rundown of what is necessary to restore justice after a hypothetical collapse.

Acronyms and Definitions

AWOL - Away Without Leave (Abandoning)

ROE - Rules of Engagement

SOP - Standard Operating Procedure

WROL - Without Rule of Law

Rule of Law - A state of society where clear laws are set and an earnest effort is made to enforce and punish violators equally. Rule of law is broken when any of the following occur: the laws are not clearly available, or, those tasked with the enforcement of the laws choose not to do so equally, or, those tasked with enforcement choose to enforce some laws but not others.

Soft-Psychopath - An individual who typically shows normal signs of empathy and social behavior, however, due to extreme conditions (natural disaster, war, or other collapse) the survival instincts in these individuals overtake their empathetic and social capacities, resulting in psychopathic behavior in otherwise normal individuals.

A WROL World

It is important to recognise that the US government does not want any portion of the country to exist without the rule of law. Even assuming an almost nationwide collapse (with all factors like corruption removed from the situation), we would likely see military and federal efforts to establish ‘green zones’ to then project their forces outwards. As discussed in the previous part, less dire situations may see a few days to a few weeks of downtime between the collapse of emergency services and their re-establishment.

It is these first few days of panic that pose the greatest risk, as time passes and people begin to adapt to their new situation this risk begins to drop. Importantly, this phase will only last until people's needs begin to be met, rural communities with some capacity to meet their populations' food and water consumption may be able to transition very easily out of panic, however, urban centers with their higher populations will have a much harder time. Hospitals, shops, and many other key locations will first become inundated with panicking civilians before becoming targeted as desperate or criminally minded people lose faith in the systems.

Hopefully, you begin to see some stabilization in the community. Signs of this stabilization may include increased mobility of the population (higher foot traffic through your community), community efforts to clean up streets, or some sort of community burial/funeral process for those who will have died during the period of unrest. These signs of stabilization show that the people within your community have come to terms with the situation they are in and are prepared to deal with the challenges ahead.

The Criminal Psyche

Before we can establish methods to best reduce and punish criminal actions within a community you must understand some of the underlying psychology. People are inherently social creatures, this is true in every facet of our behavior. If you isolate a person from their social niche, their health will decline; even testosterone is higher in men who play (or watch) team sports than those who don’t. This effect likely occurs because being in a community helps you survive, simply put, survival is good and therefore community is good too.

To best deter criminal activity, we must leverage the inherent social quirks within us. Sacred texts from various traditions, including the Bible and the Quran, as well as religious writings across Asia, often refer to forms of justice that carry a social stigma. Tar and feathering, pillorying, and public lashings, have all historically served as communal events. Public executions would attract large audiences who would scold the accused. Even punishments like finger and hand amputation would leave marks of social disgrace that last beyond the immediate pain of the punishment. However, it's important to recognize that these socially-embedded penalties only make up half of a complete approach to criminal deterrence.

The most effective way to discourage criminal activity is not the severity of the punishment, but rather the perceived likelihood of getting caught. This is not an alien concept to many who work within the criminal justice space. If someone thinks they can get away with it, they may try it. This fear of being caught is not driven by a fear of prison or monetary punishment, instead, it stems from the fear of social judgment. The problem with this approach is that it is woefully ineffective in deterring psychopaths or individuals who significantly lack empathy or social function. While psychopaths are typically uncommon in a period of prosperity, as normal people become desperate, we tend to see an emergence of soft-psychopaths (see definitions). In order to deter these soft-psychopaths, some historic community justice systems combine social and restorative punishments, for instance, the guilty party may have to replace a stolen item in addition to providing hard labor on a public project.

Historic Community Justice Systems

Many ancient and modern communities operate on some level of community justice, employing a council of community leaders to decide on a combination of criminal and social matters. This style of collective mediation and decision making isn’t unique to a single religion or cultural group, however, the best living example of these community council systems is the Jirga.

The Jirga is the community justice system employed by Pashtuns in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is a great foundation due to its simplicity, it consists of a council of elders who are respected members of the community, usually because of their wisdom, age, or social standing. Justice in the Jirga system is restorative rather than punitive. The emphasis is on repairing the social fabric and restoring harmony within the community, rather than simply punishing the offender. Decisions made by a Jirga are highly respected within the community and are generally accepted without question. The community as a whole usually plays a role in enforcing Jirga decisions and an offender who rejects a decision would face total ostracization from the community.

Due to the widespread use of systems similar to the Jirga, we can assume 3 fundamentals of how humans prefer to be governed:

  1. A community will trust a system they can see, understand, and have direct involvement in.

  2. People prefer localized and simple justice that is responsive to the community's issues.

  3. People prefer to be judged by their peers and respected community members.

With these fundamentals we can plan for what our own community justice will look like.

Community Justice Post-Collapse

We believe that any approach to regaining rule of law begins with a balance between security, justice, and punishment.

Security - The approach to security should include decentralized security watches from each house, with residents conducting their own in-house guard rotations. These community watches should be conducted transparently and ethically, with clear guidelines, standards, and training. If done correctly, these small scale security measures will bolster the effectiveness of a more centralized community security force equipped to handle larger issues that individual households cannot manage. This two-pronged approach to security will serve as a powerful deterrent and bring together the community with a common task. As panic and lawlessness begin to recede, these decentralized security measures can be pulled back as necessary.

Justice - The Community should be as involved in the justice system as possible. If the path your community chooses is one with a council of elders who deliberate on criminal and communal matters then you should ensure that the community still has as much involvement as possible. A rotation of community members onto the council, open forums, and a clear transparent approach to justice will not only build the communities trust in the system but also ensure that new ideas and perspectives can be heard.

Punishment - When punishments are employed for infractions or crimes, it’s crucial that the entire community is informed of the decision. This information can be spread in conjunction with the public punishment of the criminal. This combination will prevent the spread of rumors and allow the community to understand the reasoning behind the penalties; contributing to collective morale and a sense of justice while simultaneously serving as a powerful social punishment.

Building a system that works for your community is necessary, and it is inevitable that an effective system will leverage the people's innate social needs as a remediation, punishment, and deterrent. The justice systems of ancient civilisations vary significantly and there are many more great lessons that can be learned from the systems that have survived. The keys to success lie in community involvement, transparent governance, and the blend of local and centralized security systems.


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