“No doubt we have to look hard in the mirror when our profession’s reflected image in popular culture is no longer Atticus Finch but Saul Goodman.” Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, referring to a character on TV’s Breaking Bad.
The law in interesting times – part three
Last week, looking for some underlying principles that promote civil cohesion, I introduced the concept of universal relationships and their philosophical extension into a three-fold social order. An economic element can be attached to each of these relationships and then further distilled down into a triple bottom line (3BL) accounting system that can be instituted as three types of money.
The Farm Resettlement Congress’ 20 Year Plan to build economic self-sufficiency in watershed basins includes monetizing each of these social relations through the introduction of local scrip. In a later column I’ll examine parallel currencies such as Frequent Flyer Miles (corporate), Lawrence Dollars (community) and grocery store coupons (local). It’s a juicy topic, especially the idea of “God dollars,” but first I’d like to develop a broader context for these considerations.
A central premise is that law is the best way- the most just way- we have in organizing a response to solve problems. Equally, resolution of today’s most pressing issues eludes us (in no small part) because the law fails to resolve an age-old antagonism between legal positivism and natural law, in as much that we suffer from a personal vs. collective conflict in economic relationships. It is likely that this conflict will continue even if we properly assume that the rules of law, and the case history of court decisions, are two parts of one whole.
But binary symmetries, like this one, come with inherent and intractable limitations. Unless another element of symmetry is added, no resolution of this antagonism is possible: the relationship between law and justice will remain problematic. However, there is one area of agreement between the two camps, namely, that while law is a constructed system, it can be deconstructed, meaning a concept must be understood in the context of its opposite. This means both sides of a binary system are true. But Justice itself is indeconstructible.
Resolution of this conflict might begin with fundamental questions about relationship such as: “What is the difference between a healthy and unhealthy society?” And, based on the mess we’re in now, “How would we know?” The FRC answer is we can’t know, in fact, until we begin to restore healthy relationships within the natural three-fold social organism. The fundamental breakdown of order is beautifully documented in Wendell Berry’s classic book Unsettling of America: culture and agriculture. This is essential reading for anyone looking to fully understand both the FRC mission, and the powerful moral conclusions that inspire its volunteers to work for rural restoration.
The consolidation of corporate power has progressed alongside the continued deepening of social and environmental system failure. Most people know that our digitized society is estranged from the land and seasons- not just from the intimate knowledge, love and care of it- but from personal and communal spiritual health. Harder to see is how economic decline and a half-empty Main Street link directly to unrestrained human population growth.
Even harder to follow is the relationship of our debt-based, single bottom line, currency (1BL), owned by hereditary banking elites, as tied to our place in a perpetual-growth economic paradigm. What we do know, however, is that the hamster wheel of regulatory laws, loopholes and orchestrated venality has ripped American farming communities out of their historic cultural context.
A commonly held belief is that adult responsibility means voting, so that our non-voting life lies outside the scope of what can be done to change the system. Not so. We can also work to restore Constitutional adherence through the ordinary tools of civil society by using local money, Charitable Foundations, and creating worker-owned businesses. Demonstrating a personal resolve to restore food and energy sovereignty to “We, the People” is a superior measure for adulthood.
Modern career politicians, the majority who are lawyers, reap the benefits of morally controversial transactions while laboring in a system that outsources the moral costs of engaging in problematic market behavior. Our current monetary system (1BL) works great for servicing the lawyering industry to the point we now have vast corporate communities, but no longer recognizable human ones. At the same time, lawyers are uniquely situated to foster a society that respects nature by bridging these unresolved conflicts in their philosophies of law, and applying the three-fold social order to economic realities.
The Framers had a “common sense” understanding that government, as a regulator and enforcer of rules necessary for honest, fair, accessible and competitive markets for all citizens is legitimate only to the degree that food and energy freedom remains controlled by the people.
The revolutionaries of 1776 would be horrified by our condition of “educated” helplessness! How could free people lose ownership of the very substance and skills that sustain their own Liberty? What other kind of “sustainability” is there? A million family farms, swept from Missouri’s landscape in our times, attest to a melancholy truth: The patriot desires self-control; his children desire candy.
Healing our American democracy means letting go of past mistakes. It also requires a new way to amplify and reward leadership through hands-on participation. As societal tensions mount, our local lawyers have an historic opportunity to lead a revival of democracy through the farm resettlement effort. Ozark neighborhood law offices and hometown financial advisors are positioned to accrue substantial rewards for the long term management of TOW donations and complex Charitable Foundation portfolios.
This situation is not unprecedented. Thirty five of the original delegates to the Convention of the States were lawyers or had legal training. Although grounded in the King’s Law, they were tasked to create a new form of union. There was no upside for timidity. Just as they augmented new concepts of individual rights back then, today’s addition of a charitable dimension to law and commerce, as instituted to build local wealth and citizen power, would reinvigorate the current paradigm of legal knowledge. Fulfill it, actually. More than ever, we need a three part dynamic, not two, to make our society whole. The missing part is altruism.
The application of democratizing elements to the management of a Charitable Foundation does not contradict standing legal theory. The process of returning localized environmental oversight to a community, through restrictive use provisions written into land titles (as held in the Charitable Foundation’s growing Land Trust portfolio), is organic and violates no interpretation of man-made or natural law. The process of wealth transfer instantly restores responsibility, stewardship and decision making power to those people who step up to give; less farsighted members of society can continue to lead from yet farther behind
Another benefit of instituting our 3-fold social relationship in local currency is the creation of an internalized sense of justice outside of the law. Our present dependency on haphazard personal moral awakenings can be improved by visibly tying personal economic self-interest directly to community well-being through a tangible 3BL currency. How?
“God Dollars,” for example, as backed by holdings in a Charitable Foundation and issued in normal scrip denominations, could pay the salaries of watershed water quality specialists, biologists and Foundation foresters and caretakers employed to protect both community and planetary health. “God dollars” could come in a different color than the regular community currency but spend just the same.
Every watershed basin can create its own name for “God dollars,” of course. The point is to see the money a community spends on improving its ecological health at work in the course of doing everyday business. Another thing: Today’s landsman is best positioned to manage his own environmental affairs. We, the People, educated on the internet like everybody else, can handle things with our own staff of PH.D’s and experts. Bureaucrats can find other things to do.
Not only law, but spiritual interests become economically grounded when our money is tied to observable, measurable, and accountable standards of stewardship. Fortunately, both scripture and modern science gives us these standards. Because of its visibility and utility, the addition of community scrip augments the Federal currency system (macro economy) by monetizing both ecological and community health interests (micro economy).
The great goal of developing a new paradigm in the law, therefore, is for local independence to arise in such a way that the human social organism matches its best approximation to the three-fold relationships found throughout nature. The most effective way government can deal with the problems of our times is to prevent them in the first place by enabling people to stop violating natural law. A three-fold economy that works to our survival, and restores the law to its (currently missing) balance is the answer.
Next: A healthier model