Suppose two men are marooned on a remote island somewhere. At first each is unaware that the other is there, but eventually they meet. Suppose that for some reason they don’t want to join up, but they do want to interact. So they set about working out ways to share the island, and obviously they want to live amicably until they are rescued.
So they might draw an imaginary line across the island. A can only go into B’s half as long as B is aware and approves, and vice versa. Maybe it turns out that food is easier to come by in B’s half, but there is plenty for both. B allows A to venture into parts of his half of the island and A drops off a few items that he has gathered as thanks.
Later on they find that A’s part of the island has the best spots to catch fish or something, and they come to an agreement about that. Slowly but surely they build up a set of rules on how to behave and live on the island in harmony.
One can imagine that an arbitrarily complex set of rules may be developed, and these rules could be further complicated if a third man, C, were to join them on the island.
You can probably see where I am going with this. As the population of the island rises, more and more rules will become necessary, or if not necessary, useful, and at some stage someone will have the idea of writing them down. The rules become laws and eventually attract all the mechanisms of a full legal system.
While browsing around while thinking about this sort of thing, I came across a review of “Day Z”, which the author of the review describes as “A Video Game Without Rules”. The author describes how the ability to do nasty things to others leads to characters in the game, especially established players doing nasty things to other players, usually new spawned players.
It’s possible that the behaviour of players in the game is merely an early stage in its evolution, and it may be that later on stronger players may band together to help the newly spawned players and the people who treat new players badly will be marginalised or persuaded to change their ways. One can hope.
Another dismal view of the island scenario was that of William Golding who wrote “The Lord of the Flies”, where a group of English schoolboys are marooned on an island, perhaps as the result of an atomic war. They soon revert to savagery and murder, overriding the civilised urgings of Piggy and Ralph. As Piggy says “Which is better—to have rules and agree, or to hunt and kill? … law and rescue, or hunting and breaking things up?” The rest of the boys obviously want to hunt and kill.
Nevertheless, the process of generating laws by discussion and agreement was probably along the lines that I have suggested above. No doubt there were many tries to achieve this process which failed in the manner that things appear to have failed in the video game and how they were depicted as failing in “the Lord of the Files”, before a working system of laws was achieved.
It’s possible that the magic ingredient was the evolution of system of magistrates and a method of enforcing the laws. With a supposedly impartial system to decide the rights of a matter, and a special force or police system to enforce the laws, the weak individual would be protected against the stronger.
In early days, the system of laws and the enforcement of them would have been vested in the priests and spiritual leaders, who would have controlled the enforcement system, probably “Temple Guards” or similar.
Where do kings fit in? The rulers were often not priests themselves, but the rulers were seen to rule by divine right, so there was a tight link between the rulers and the religious leaders. Kings such as Hammurabi supposedly led the way in law making, though no doubt there was much political to and fro between the kings and the priests.
These days, in many countries the law has been secularised and in many laws are decided by the government of the country, and are arbitrated by a separate branch of the administration called the justice system, and the enforcement is carried out by the police and retribution by the prisons system.
Lawmaking, justice and enforcement are in many countries legally independent of one another so that, for example, the government cannot manipulate the system for its own advantage. The principle is that justice should be independent of lawmaking and the enforcement systems.
How does all this affect the man in the street? Well, in practise, not very much, usually, at least not directly. When driving along the road, a motorist is aware that the speed limit is so-and-so, and usually keeps to it, more or less. He or she treats it as an advisory rather than a restriction, in that it is taken as the top speed that is safe for that road.
The man in the street also uses laws for his own protection. He will assume that the consumer protection laws back him up when he purchases something which it transpires is defective and will feel confident in returning it. In most cases the retailer would not be too upset by someone returning a defective product as in most cases the retailer would want a happy customer and can return the product to the manufacturer.
In general, laws work best when they conform with the principle of “natural justice” or what would generally be considered fair. It is not fair for example for someone to keep others awake by holding noisy all night parties, and in most cases the law will support the sleepless neighbours over the noisy one, but it could come down to a matter of perception.
Things like disputes about access to properties can hinge on such matters and are very often cannot easily be settled. The law has been evolving for thousands of years, but it can’t solve every dispute, although we would be worse off without it. It has to change as the world is changing, so it is constantly evolving. We cannot expect it to be perfect.