The other day, as I was near the end of Neal Stephenson’s The Baroque Cycle, I espied a television in the dining facility running one of those shows which I had always felt was a sign of the decline of American civilization, in the way that many see video games, rap, etc…
As I was turning away to find a seat that would not only face me away from Judge Judy (running for 15 hours a week in LA!) but not subject me to whatever game was on the main television in the DFAC, I realized that Judge Judy was something other than a sign of decline.
Judge Judy is the perfect symbol of capitalism transcendent. I had thought that the Law was something sacrosanct, that the degree of lawlessness in America was a failure of some sort to maintain its respect. That somewhere along the line we, as a society, had thrown a pie in the face of the Law and that the Law never recovered. I had felt somehow, that this was a failure.
I don’t think of it as a failure anymore. It is, instead of a failure, a success that we should celebrate without delay…
In a capitalist society, the Law exists, ultimately to ensure certainty—to allow the drivers of odious garbage trucks to not worry about being attacked for offending someone’s olfactory nerves while going about their business (which we only really notice when it inconveniences us to have our trash hauled away).1 Or, to allow us to do whatever it is that we do without having to worry that we will be subject to “acts of God” through human agents.2
Law ensures certainty ultimately by guaranteeing trust and enforcing contracts. Do note that it seems to me perfectly reasonable to consider that legislation is a social contract that, even if we do not understand it or agree to it, we are subject to. Any disagreement can be handled by the courts (this is the whole point of the separation of powers and the constitution BTW).
Judge Judy is civil law, the law as it was ultimately meant to be, laid bare. The sign that we want all to work within its framework, and that we will sell it to whomever can afford it, and barring that, we will find a way to sell it to those who can’t afford to participate, by giving someone else a way to make money off it.
In his The System of the World, Neal Stephenson provides a most excellent example of the cost of just this problem, when a human-waste hauler’s horse is stabbed to death because the stench of his cart offends someone. ↩︎
Insurance agents, who take the risk of living off our hands, seem to have a keen understanding of what “acts of God” are and aren’t. To some degree, this has been hashed out in courts so that everyone can agree to what an act of God is, and to some degree this has been a matter of legislation. ↩︎