Tuesday, December 3, 2013
#337 / Social Control
One of the courses I am teaching at UCSC is called "Introduction To The Legal Process." The textbook for this course is Law, Justice, and Society, A Sociolegal Introduction. Chapter 9 in the book got me seriously bent out of shape, when I read the authors' statement that "law has one overriding function; it is social control." The authors went on to define social control as "any action, either deliberate or unconscious, that influences conduct toward conformity." [See Page 225]
In other words, this textbook wants me to tell the students in my class that the function and purpose of law is to induce members of society to conform, and that this function of law is its "overriding" purpose.
In fact, I told the students in my class something completely different.
In our human world, the world in which we make the laws ourselves, our "laws" are the written down instructions that we provide to ourselves, to tell us what we think we ought to do. In the World of Nature, "laws" are descriptive, because they describe exactly what must happen. Check out the Law of Gravity sometime. That's how laws work in the Natural World.
In our human world, however, the world we create, the "laws" we promulgate are not descriptive. They don't describe what we must or will do. Human laws are prescriptive. Just like a doctor's prescription, our laws tell us what we should do. They are not an mechanism of "control." They are a statement of mutual aspiration.