The Paradox of Law.

It is an established fact that ignorance of the law is no defence.

Ignorance of the law is no excuse in any country. If it were, the laws would lose their effect, because it can always be pretended.

Thomas Jefferson.

The concern is a valid one. Anyone can pretend to not know about the law, and thus they would not be criminally liable for their actions.

But, there are thousands of pages of law passed each year, in any country.

Let’s take the US as an example. The precise number of laws passed by Congress in a given year varies, but on average, Congress passes between 200 and 600 laws per year.

The number of pages of law created each year is quite incredible. In 2018, there were 442 laws enacted by Congress, which on average had 18 pages each, for a total of 7,956 pages of law. The average length of a law passed by Congress has increased over time, partly because of the complexity of the issues Congress is asked to address. For example, the Affordable Care Act of 2010 was 2,700 pages long. 1Nothing lame about this lame duck: 116th Congress had busiest post-election session in recent history

If the average person wanted to keep up, that would mean reading at least 21 pages of law each day, and this does not account for other laws that are more local.

Obviously, not all laws apply to every individual. There may be legislation that deals exclusively with the transportation or importing of tomatoes, and you simply don’t need to be aware of that law unless you engage in that specific activity.

Additionally, many laws are based on common sense; they are purely written versions of rules that were passed down from generation after generation. Even if you don’t know the specifics, you still know what’s wrong. You don’t need to know the specific laws governing murder to understand that the cold-blooded killing of another human being will be punished. The same goes for rape or bodily harm. Common sense dictates that these are wrong and that the perpetrators will be punished.

That said, it seems that we are all playing a high-stakes game with many unclear rules, and somehow we need to muddle through.

Most people manage. In the US, one of the countries with the highest incarceration rates, around 5% of the population will spend some time in prison during their life. 2Lifetime Likelihood of Going to State or Federal Prison

Interestingly, it appears than men struggle far more than women to obey the rules. In the UK, only 4% of the prison population is women. 3UK Prison Population Statistics

It is important to note that while men are more likely to be involved in criminal activity than women, this does not mean that all men are criminals. The bell curve distribution of violence shows that the majority of men are not involved in criminal activity, and that a small minority of men commit the majority of criminal activity.


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