Quamdiu se bene gesserit

‘As long as he shall behave himself well`

It must have been a source of great amusement to Frank Herbert – or at least I hope so. This was a common Latin clause in the commissions given to various public officers – in particular judicial/executive ones who served at the will of the people.

It has sadly largely passed from use – because it is in fact fundamental for the consent of the the governed. That is is that IF the general populace are governed with their consent, those doing the governing have to have their conduct approved of by a vast majority of the governed. In theory this is primarily what constitutional states have constitutions to try to ensure. If this is not true – you make rules, and enforce them, but the vast majority does not support them, they logically they do not approve of the way you conduct your office, and it is not with their co-operation and consent that they obey, but by coercion -force to put it differently, and it is not with the consent of governed.

But what does it matter? governance is governance.” Well, think of it this way: if you can only rule -and have any of your rules obeyed, under threat of prosecution, then you have a situation where the authority exists (as it did for the larger part of human history – and still does in the animal kingdom) as far as the ruler can see – and only over what he can see. This works sort of if your demesne is very small. The minute it gets bigger than you can see you have to have subordinate authorities (who you can see – or at least intimidate – more on that in a moment) who once again rule what they can see, or they must have subordinate authorities etc… and so on. Basically it comes down to a cop on every shoulder, and cop on the shoulder of each cop and so on. The ratio of ‘police’ to productive people for them to police becomes such that productivity is sacrificed to constant monitoring (which is why electronic snitching is SO attractive to would-be dictators who do not have the consent of the governed.). People will disobey if they believe they can – and in practice they can.

The normal way of the governors who lack such consent is to resort to intimidation – which in turn rests on force and stealth (spying) so people think they MAY be being watched, and obey out of fear. It is more effective than a cop on every shoulder, but it’s still enormously resource-hungry, productivity-stifling and produces a very low trust society, with a reasonable probability of serious harm coming as retribution to the rulers and their lackeys if the populace see the opportunity. In terms of being a ‘good society in which to live’ it’s only good for the rulers and their lackeys and only if the populace doesn’t get the chance to pay them back in kind.

The consent of the governed society (and most Western societies are in a perpetual conflict between this and their rulers desire not to have to be in a qaumdu se bene gesserit situation, but in absolute power) on the other hand has rules imposed that most of the populace choose to abide by, voluntarily or with minimal persuasion – or they’d tell the rule-giver that he wasn’t behaving well, and must lose his position. These are high-trust societies. The more intimidation, the lower the trust. High trust societies benefit everyone in them – even the rule-giver who would rather be secure and rely on intimidation, than have to rule in a way that most of the society approves of or lose his position. It is fairly simple logic – far more of the society is directed at productive work, so the wealth and comfort of that society is better. Far less of the individuals in that society’s resources are directed at protecting themselves from the rest of the untrustworthy society. They can spend more time, money and effort being productive. The ruler who finds himself dismissed for not behaving well (within certain limits) has little to fear from losing that position. Ex-Prime Ministers or Presidents are generally not subject to the retribution they’d get in society where there is no consent of the governed.

The average politician – and judge, and policeman – of course, wants to have their cake and eat it. They want the power of authoritarian rule by intimidation, without the consequences of living in a low-trust society. Logic says that this cannot work and must damage the entire system, making it low-trust. This doesn’t seem to deter many of these folk from rationalizing that it doesn’t apply to them – because that idea suits them far better than having to do a good job so they have the consent of the governed. These rationalizations follow typically two courses (or both) 1)It’s for your good, we know better than you. 2)It’s the LAW. The law is magical and sacred and the letter of it trumps everything. I don’t have to conduct myself well in the eyes of the governed, because the LAW trumps their idea of what is good.

I’ve written at length about the first in a number of my books. It is an amusing conceit that I cannot buy into. There is little or no evidence of it being true, and the concept that some bureaucrat is a fit judge of what is good for any individual besides themselves (and even that is questionable) let alone societies is, you have to admit if you’ve met any, ridiculous. The latter is a core part of the plot of both THIS ROUGH MAGIC (where Benito breaks his legally imposed exile – a capital crime, to save the City-State of Venice – and particularly the welfare of the minuti populi. The judges find themselves caught on the horns of a dilemma – the letter of the law, or remembering that they hold their position quamdu se bene gesserit and getting lynched, along with any officers of the law who didn’t hastily lead the charge to string them up first) and in THE RATS THE BATS AND THE UGLY where the letter of the law is repeatedly used by those aiding and abetting the bureaucrats who are de facto selling their entire species into slavery for their own short term interests. Almost all of both rationalizations rest on ‘we know better than you what is good for you.’ In practice of course the law is neither magical nor sacred nor inviolate – or no-one would ever get shot in a gun-free zone.

Sigh. Look the entire purpose of a codified law is to enable equal justice in disparate cases – a fair outcome, with the written law helping to provide a reference so judge A does not lop off hands for theft of a loaf of bread and judge B merely makes the thief say sorry and give it back. That justice – in a consent of the governed society – needs MUST be what most of the governed can accept is fair and just. They don’t give a rats arse about the letter of law: they actually want the outcome to be what most of them accept as fair. Humans – like all social species – have a notion of what is ‘fair’. We’re actually – most of us – perfectly capable of seeing the benefit of laws and the enforcement of them, for things where the logic is sound and the consequences severe, and quite probable. For example, you would find few people who would regard a driving speed limit outside a school during the times when children are there or arriving and leaving (particularly with little kids attending) as illogical, the consequences of fast driving there could be very severe, and the chances of hitting a child with a car, high (high probability). It’s a law that has overwhelming consent of the governed, and really needs little enforcement. Anyone caught racing through the area might whine and rationalize (we humans do) but most people would see them as deserving some punishment.

Now apply that same speed-limit to a dead straight country road nowhere near a school. Most people would see that as illogical in the extreme, with no likelihood of consequences due to driving faster than that, but still at a safe speed (besides a fine from a revenue seeking town), and microscopically small probability of having anything go wrong (besides getting fined). The law is law. It can be enforced. It however has little consent of the governed, and if the locals knew that the cop totaled his vehicle and the speed-gun and was in hospital – would be ignored.

So what?” you say. Well, nothing exists in a vacuum (ok -except a lot of space objects. I mean a social vacuum). All things impact on others. The local town used the letter of the law as a revenue collection device, not because there was any justification, logic, consequence to it not being applied, or probability of that consequence. The cop arrests you under the color of the law, the local judge fines you under the same law. Both know perfectly well it’s illogical and is in no way something that most people would consider fair. But they have the LAW and force on their side so they do as they please… without joining the dots that the governed will extend the fact that in this case the law does not have their support (they probably don’t do it to locals, because they know this), and if it is true in this case, it may well be true in many others. That they have inserted doubt and disobedience where possible, and likely retribution, if and when possible, not just there, but for laws and authorities everywhere. The cop and the judge do not have to conduct themselves well in the eyes of the governed, so they don’t. It adds up, time after time. And lo, you’re on the slippery slope to a low-trust authoritarian society, with all the negatives that brings.

For a high trust society to thrive, the law and the authorities must be quamdiu se bene gesserit and exist with the overwhelming consent of the governed.


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6 responses to “Quamdiu se bene gesserit

  1. Kipling: The Portent

    0h, late withdrawn from human-kind
    And following dreams we never knew!
    Varus, what dream has Fate assigned
    To trouble you?

    Such virtue as commends of law
    Of Virtue to the vulgar horde
    Suffices not. You needs must draw
    A righteous sword;

    And, flagrant in well-doing, smite
    The priests of Bacchus at their fane,
    Lest any worshipper invite
    The God again.

    Whence public strife and naked crime
    And-deadlier than the cup you shun–
    A people schooled to mock, in time,
    All law–not one.

    Cease, then, to fashion State-made sin,
    Nor give thy children cause to doubt
    That Virtue springs from Iron within–
    Not lead without.

  2. One interesting thing in Japan is that the country has over the last decade or so raised speed limits in some areas where they had been stupid low for no good reason and they have very little enforcement in the places where it doesn’t matter (i.e. out in the countryside). Mind you the official limits are still low compared to most other countries, but everyone knows that if you drive 9.9km/h faster than the limit and you’ll be fine so the actual speed often approaches a rational one.

  3. This doesn’t seem to deter many of these folk from rationalizing that it doesn’t apply to them

    When you answer why you argue* for women serving in the line (not Aux) armed forces and clergy you will know why “these folk” so rationalize. It requires no elaborate theories, just the entropy of human nature.

    (*I am assuming this applies to Mr. Freer and most of my interlocutors here. If I erred, my apologies.)

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