All 210,000 residents of Richmond are members of a social contract, but how powerful is that contract if people don’t know the terms?
- Idea: A printed book of all local and state laws for every citizen of Richmond.
- Difficulty: 2 — Laws and ordinances change regularly so print has its obvious disadvantages, but the costs would be relatively low.
In 399 BCE, Socrates was sentenced to death in Athens for corrupting the minds of youths and impiety. Despite his friend Crito offering him a relatively simple opportunity for escape, Socrates accepted his punishment and died by poisoning.
One of his motivations was his belief that after living his entire adult life in Athens, he had implicitly agreed to its laws, and he had an obligation to accept the consequences of his actions. From Socrates, the idea worked its way through Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, to the founding fathers who established this nation on the idea that natural rights like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness could be protected by sacrificing the freedom to do certain things like murder or steal your neighbors’ property.
Children know not to steal or murder, but we live in an era when our legal system changes regularly and increases in complexity almost daily. If ignorance excludes no one from the law, why do we do so little to inform ourselves about this contract that changes lives and ends in fines, incarceration, or even death?
All laws and ordinances are available online, but that’s not enough. It ignores people without internet access, and a physical copy would serve as an excellent reminder of this social contract that we agree to whether we realize it or not.
Plus, few know the differences between being free to go, being detained, and being arrested. Sometimes this is a powerful tool for law enforcement to solve and stop crime. Sometimes this type of a behavior leads to individuals unknowingly sacrificing their rights.
Either way, it’s a far cry from the extreme citizenship exhibited by Socrates in 399 BCE. It’s unlikely that people will ever view the US justice system that way, but simple education could transform the way citizens view our social contract and make RVA a better place to live.
Love this idea? Think it’s terrible? Have one that’s ten times better? Head over to the 100 Days to a Better RVA Facebook page and join in the conversation.