Laws are rules that regulate our behaviour by placing limits on what we can do.
To create a reference point when discussing laws, a true law would be one that always applies, and so cannot be broken, thus needs no punishment. The law of gravity is such a law. In that context, human made laws will always be imperfect, and of necessity, tend to be framed after enough disruptive behaviour has established that there seems to be a need for them.
The problems occur when trying to decide:
Of course, none of this is done except within an established group power structure, as there has to be some means of enforcing such laws. Power structures are constantly evolving, both as a need to cater for new circumstances, but just to maintain the power status quo under the weight of its own increasing jurisdiction. Because the natural tendency of people is to preserve their advantages, and in the absence of an overriding altruistic imperative, most laws are directed towards maintaining an existing power structure.
Therefore, most laws will be directed to:
While just punishing behaviours can do a lot to keep a society under control, some have tried to find means to control the ideas that lead people to question the underlying rationale for why a particular society needs to remain as it is. That is where controlling efforts over free will have been put to use by those in power.
While modern democracies have tried hard to wrestle with how to find the right balance between laws and overt manipulation, many still have employed many repressive measures that try to counter free will, particularly in education, prisons and mental institutions, where they are justified as cost-saving measures, or serve society's needs better.
The questions that really need to be asked are:
It seems that in trying to curb free will, we interfere with our own evolution, and sabotage our ability to find better ways to live together, in spite of the many that use their free will to hinder others the use of theirs.
With increasing sense of ability to think, and the spare time to ponder beyond the basic needs of living, people pondered the greater questions of life.
In the absense of concrete evidence of definitive answers to those questions, many possible answers would have been put up for consideration. However, only those that met with the approval of those in power, or those with the ability to pursuade them otherwise, through strength of argument, would have survived. Naturally, self-preservation would ensure they serve the ruler's power needs, or at least did not undermine their authority.
However, in addition to giving answers to the greate questions, the deliverers of these have taken the opportunity to give some 'guidance' to more earthly matters regarding behaviour and how we must live our lives, usually under the guise of being from a 'higher' source, and so justified to be imposed on others.
Of course, they may be inspired from a higher source, but the result is that they are still just an opinion for those receiving the guidance, and so are subject to being accepted as a fact or not by their own free will. If these guidelines were true laws, we would not have to be told them, because there would be no way we could not obey them. This seems to have escaped many that felt that what they think they know must override other's free will.
The worst case is when a government mandates what the state religion, or set of beliefs should be, and punish accordingly, as if they can really make laws that can make that an actuality. This lack of being real laws is why there needs to be a separation of religion from government. While beliefs and religion can inform and guide government, enacting laws based upon particular beliefs, especially in a way that excludes alternative views, will undermine the ability of societies to adapt to new opportunities to grow and survive.
There is a lot of talk about our rights, and what we need to collectively do to make sure we have them. But isn't that need to do anything to ensure they apply the very acknowledgement that they are not real rights, but only nice-to-haves?
So, where does this idea of us having such rights come from? To answer that, perhaps we need to look at our development as societies, as the need for rights seems to have come out of the conflicts that close quarters living with lots of other people involves.
Many societies started out with a power structure ruled by those with the strongest support base, whether that support was voluntary or coerced. As such power structures grew, some of those within them learn how to enhance their standing and thus rise to positions of power, sometimes even successfully challenging those at the top, usually by force.
Of course, those at the top try to maintain their control, so will usually enlist family members in key positions, and provide a direct hereditary transfer of power, leading to consolidation of power in that line of familial succession. To give some justification to having such essentially meritless succession protocols, many rulers suggested, and consequently enforced, that they have a 'divine right to rule', bypassing the need to be materially worthy of ruling others.
While many objected to such elevations to divinity, they were usually in no position to make changes at the top, but countered by undertaking actions that undermined, but not really restricted, such sovereignty. But, any so-called principle can have others that present a convincing counter to them, and so when some rulers seemed to have gone too far, others have risen to challenge their authority, and have successfully put limits on it.
Such a case was when the barons brought King John to heel at Runnymede in 1215, and forced him to sign the 'charter of liberties', or Magna Carta as it was later to be known, which is generally considered to be starting point for Common Law in England, and adopted as such by many former colonies as the basis of their own laws. It certainly saved a lot of legislative effort by not having to start again from scratch.
Basically, the Magna Carta laid down some principles, which, while the barons would have only been thinking of themselves as worthy of such liberties, started others thinking that maybe it could also apply to them, and so there was the gradual push to extend the principles iteratively to each group of society that began to get enough power to make some demands and have them met.
Principles are like that. Good ones cannot be limited to just particular groups of people, as they are too universal in nature. Of course, the idea of having rights is very attractive, and so the ideas of rights and particularly the right to freedom drove a lot of upheavals in societies from within. However, such a history does not alter the fact that such rights are still human made, and thus must be subject to enactment and punishment, whereas real rights, like consciousness and free will are just givens, and inalienable, at least until death.
That means we must be very careful about enacting laws that essentially are unenforcable. All we can really do is enact laws that ensure that what real rights we do have are not thwarted by other's actions. Therefore, laws should be restricted to only dealing with behaviours, leaving consciousness and free will alone, and only to the extent that they will prevent people interfering with another's free will, but no more.
Principles are what our core beliefs are based upon, and are what guide our thoughts and actions, even if we are not consciously aware of how.
We may not have clearly articulated these principles, and may not really understand how they drive us until some event in our lives pushes us to make a decision about what we really believe. It is part of the process of living that helps us to evolve.
When we can articulate a principle, that does not mean that it is final, but something we can use until we can refine it. We may not change the words, but our understanding of them can still evolve. It is a process of continual improvement.
Beware of assuming that a principle is perfect, because even if others like the words, what they take them to mean may not match what they mean to you. This is what makes it difficult to put principles into law, and why prospective laws need to be debated, just so they have a chance of being effective.
When framing laws, a common mistake is to assume that a principle is universally applicable. Laws are usually enacted to bring fairness and justice, but there will be many people that have been disadvantaged due to unfair actions taken by others in the past, so some sort of temporary reparations need to be made to ensure there is a chance for equal access to the laws.
A fairly cohesive set of principles is a good basis for an ideology. But then that ideology is subject to the same provisos of those principles, namely that they are not final and absolute, but need to be able to evolve.
Ideologies are an expression of a 'perfection' to which we can aspire, and so may seem like a good model to enshrine in laws.
Religions were the earliest ideologies, but political ideologies have been gaining popularity over the last century or so. Talking about ideologies may give food for thought and inspiration to others, but efforts to enforce them have been the cause of many wars throughout history. Essentially, an ideology is just a theory. There may be elements of truth in it, but to those not prepared to just believe it, it may just be an interesting idea.
Because an ideology is not universally accepted as truth, making laws around them, especially in constitutions, will tend to limit the evolution of society, which is naturally fed by the evolving understanding and aspirations of its citizens, some of which will be fed by competing ideologies.
Laws need to have a stabilising effect upon society, even if just to give time to examine the repercussions of possible changes. However, unilaterally implementing an ideology into law, especially if by force of numbers, if not by arms, can lead to resistance, and even rebellion by the non-believers.
Beware of those who espouse an ideology as a solution for the perceived ills of society. If they are not prepared to admit that the ideology is just a suggestion, walk away. Balance and practicality are the qualities required for making workable laws. Laws need to be moderate, restrictive only where necessary, and allow for a range of views so that people can explore ways of tweaking their society to better serve all.