Tag Archives: law

The Case for Activism

So I watched the video Innocence of Muslims that supposedly caused the outrage ultimately leading to novel US protests throughout the Middle East.

First of all, it was clearly a satire.  The issue is that of blasphemy, which is illegal in many of the countries with these protests.  Blasphemy is often recognized as unacceptable within the religion itself, versus being illegal in a country that predominantly constitutes of those in said religion.  The latter likely implies the former (i.e. being illegal likely means it is unacceptable in the dominant religion).  Although perhaps ironically, the Quran and hadith do not mention blasphemy, whereas Christianity condemns it.[1,2]  In the case in question, the issue was about the legitimacy of Muhammad’s teachings. Given the laws within the countries and the video, it’s no surprise that the protests have erupted.  What I personally find puzzling however, is why in the 21st century blasphemy is still taken seriously.

Blasphemy essentially involves questioning that which is assumed to be true.  There is an inherent anxiety in this, for if the assumptions are without merit, the whole religion falls apart.  Now of course, if the assumptions are with merit, then questioning them is meaningless, so why punish individuals in this case?  Won’t their absence of finding anything troubling with the religious assumptions and corresponding time wasted in the process be punishment enough?

Now take two other institutions that have assumptions that are questioned: law and mathematics.  In law, the assumptions are the laws themselves.  Yet for ubiquitously accepted reasons, we permit our legislative representatives to amend and refine laws so that they are compatible with the time period.  Similarly in mathematics, one may start with some axioms and prove something from them (or analogously, start with some laws and note an acceptable behavior), then later the mathematician may change the axioms to prove something more general or more specific.

Thus for the same reasons, I’d argue that the questioning of the assumptions within a religion could only be beneficial to it–except perhaps to those who benefit from the doctrine at a given time.  Religion, like law, may particularly benefit some members at a given time, and such members may be reluctant to welcome change.  This is something of which I claim all members of the institution need to be aware.  For if you fail to question the authority and dogma, you simultaneously give permission to sustain what may amount to a select few disproportionately benefiting.

[1] Saeed, Abdullah; Hassan Saeed (2004). Freedom of Religion, Apostasy and Islam. Burlington VT: Ashgate Publishing Company. pp. 38–39. ISBN 978-0-7546-3083-8. (via Wikipedia: “Blasphemy”)

[2] Mark 3:29


An Approach to a Legal System with Utilitarian Members

Definition 1.  A static legal system is a collection of individuals together with a collection of laws.  (Mathematically, it’s a set P, whose elements are called persons, together with a unary operation \varnothing\in P, called the null person, and a collection of infinitary \{0,1\}-valued maps \{l_n:P^\infty\to\{0,1\}\}, called laws, such that all but finitely many of the terms in the domain are \varnothing).

For example, a law l_n defined on persons p_1,...,p_k may evaluate l_n(p_1,...,p_k,\varnothing,...)=1 , meaning that law l_n pertaining to individuals p_1,...,p_k is legal (or illegal if it returned value 0).   To accommodate the influence that individual complexity has in a  legal system, we could make the additional assumption that each person is a static legal system with persons and laws respectively replaced by perceptions and thoughts.  Let p denote the set of perceptions,  the thoughts have the form \{t_n:p^\infty\to\{0,1\}\} such that all by finitely many of the perceptions are null perceptions.  The value the thought takes determines whether or not a behavior is executed.  But what is a behavior?  A behavior executed from a thought is a model that satisfies the perceptions on which that thought was defined.  Hence we could write

\displaystyle t_n(p_1,...,p_k,\varnothing,...)=1\Rightarrow\left( B(t_n)\vDash\{p_1,...,p_k\}\right)

where p_i are perceptions.  In simple terms, this just means that you only act in agreement with your perceptions (simple thoughts that are assumed true).  To reconnect back to the original static legal system, we may now say that laws dictate the legality of individual or group behavior.  A person is simply a collection of perceptions together with thought functions.  Hence we may say that a law defined on a thought function t is in turn defined on all behaviors B(t).  We simply set l(B(t))=l(t).

Let us now assume every person behaves in a utilitarian manner.  By this I mean that every person has a function u_p:\mathcal{B}\to\mathbb{R} where \mathcal{B} is the set of legal behaviors of an individual that satisfies the following conditions for all thoughts t and perceptions \pi_1,...,\pi_k such that B\vDash\{\pi_1,...,\pi_k\} (we also omit null perceptions for convenience):

  1. u_p(B)\leq 0\Rightarrow t(\pi_1,...,\pi_k)=0 and
  2. u_p(B)>0\Rightarrow t(\pi_1,...,\pi_k)=1.

Hence, assuming legality of the behavior, the above implications are equivalences  (i.e. a legal behavior is committed if and only if it has positive utility).  We could extend the utility functions to illegal behaviors, and the legal utility would be defined as


where B' is the cobehavior (or punishment) of B.  For legal behaviors B, we have B'=\varnothing and hence \lambda(B)=u(B).  But we will assume all committed behaviors are legal for simplicity.

Sometimes groups of individuals will work together as a firm (or corporation) and execute aggregate legal behaviors of positive aggregate utility.  The aggregate behavior and utility are defined as some function of the behavior and utility functions of members of the firm.

Example 2.  Suppose B=\sum_iB_i is a corporate behavior which is a formal sum of behaviors of its members.  Define the aggregate utility U_F of a firm F as

\displaystyle U_F(B)=\sum_i u_i(B_i)

where u_i is the utility function of the person committing behavior B_i.  Perhaps if a member contributes n behaviors per day, then they may say the utility of a behavior is S_p/(365n) where S_p is the salary of person p.  In this case the corporate utility summed over behaviors throughout the year would be their (in economic terms) normal profit (assuming no other expenditures), but it isn’t a very useful value since it does not indicate economic profits, which is really their utility in capitalistic economies.

Definition 3.  A dynamic legal system is collection of static legal systems.  A dynamic legal system P=\{P_t\}_{t\in\mathbb{R}} is continuous if for every static legal system P_t there is some \varepsilon>0 such that the cardinalities of sets of laws for all static legal systems \{P_{t-\varepsilon},...,P_t,...,P_{t+\varepsilon}\} differ by at most 1 (i.e. laws don’t change too fast).

A token economy is a special kind of dynamic legal system, indexed by time, where we define the utility of a behavior to be 1 if it gives the person 1 token.  What makes a token economy special is conservation of utility.  This means that

\displaystyle\sum_{ij} u_i(B_{ij})=0

where B_{ij} is the jth behavior committed by person p_i for all static legal systems P_t (i.e. the sum of token changes at any time is equal to 0).

In particular it implies that any behavior B_p of person (or firm) p with utility u_p(B_p) has a coperson (or cofirm) p' such that B_p is a cobehavior to person p' and u_p(B_p)+u_{p'}(B_p)=0.

Note:  It’s definitely choppy in some areas and could use revision, but I thought I’d throw it out first.

Let me briefly summarize the post.  A legal system is a collection of people, where each person is, for all intensive purposes, a collection of behaviors, together with a collection of laws that govern those behaviors.  We can further assume that behaviors are committed provided that they are of positive utility.  The behaviors that take negative values are cobehaviors (behaviors executed by other persons for whom the utility is positive and equal in magnitude).  In actuality when one purchases something, although they lose money, they typically receive something else useful in return; however, our study is limited strictly to currency, in which case they lose from a purchase.  In this case we can think of the economy of currency/tokens as an approximation to a fluid that changes its density through transactions; whereas the individual who loses/destroys tokens in exchange for a product can simply think of the product as a manifestation of the tokens exchanged for it.

Did Obama Violate the War Powers Clause?

On 15 June, a bipartisan group of ten members of Congress led by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D) and Rep. Walter Jones (R) filed a federal lawsuit claiming that the administration will be in violation of the War Powers Act as of this Sunday.1  According to an article on the Washington Post, the administration sent a report to Congress which “says that ‘because U.S. military operations [in Libya] are distinct from the kind of ‘hostilities’ contemplated by the resolution’, the deadlines for congressional approval or force withdrawal do not apply”.2  Let’s look at the facts.

The US (along with France) began military operations in Libya on 19 March 2011.3  The War Powers Resolution is part of the US Code, specifically Title 50, Chapter 33.  §1543 states

(a) Written report; time of submission; circumstances necessitating submission; information reported

In the absence of a declaration of war, in any case in which United States Armed Forces are introduced—
(1) into hostilities or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances;

(2) into the territory, airspace or waters of a foreign nation, while equipped for combat, except for deployments which relate solely to supply, replacement, repair, or training of such forces; or

(3) in numbers which substantially enlarge United States Armed Forces equipped for combat already located in a foreign nation;

the President shall submit within 48 hours to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and to the President pro tempore of the Senate a report, in writing, setting forth—

(A) the circumstances necessitating the introduction of United States Armed Forces;

(B) the constitutional and legislative authority under which such introduction took place; and

(C) the estimated scope and duration of the hostilities or involvement.4

Notice any of the conditions 1-3 can be satisfied in order to require the president to submit a report within 48 hours to Congress stating A-C.  I’m not sure if he complied with this within the timeframe, but he did send a report within days under at least condition (2).  The crux of this debate appears to boil down to an interpretation of §1544 (b), which states

(b) Termination of use of United States Armed Forces; exceptions; extension period
Within sixty calendar days after a report is submitted or is required to be submitted pursuant to section 1543(a)(1) of this title, whichever is earlier, the President shall terminate any use of United States Armed Forces with respect to which such report was submitted (or required to be submitted), unless the Congress
(1) has declared war or has enacted a specific authorization for such use of United States Armed Forces,

(2) has extended by law such sixty-day period, or

(3) is physically unable to meet as a result of an armed attack upon the United States. Such sixty-day period shall be extended for not more than an additional thirty days if the President determines and certifies to the Congress in writing that unavoidable military necessity respecting the safety of United States Armed Forces requires the continued use of such armed forces in the course of bringing about a prompt removal of such forces.

In particular it boils down to the first sentence; it’s an issue of whether the first sentence reads “within 60 days after report submitted OR required under 1543 (a)(1)” or “within 60 days after report submitted under 1543(a)(1) OR required under 1543(a)(1)”.  The critics could argue that if we interpret it in the first sense, then Obama has submitted a report voluntarily (and in particular under 1543(a)(2)) and hence 1544(b) applies.  The administration could argue that if we interpret the sentence under the second sense, then 1543(a)(1) was never a condition under which a report was filed, and hence 1544(b) does not apply.  It’s like if we have the sentence “X or Y when Z”, then does that read “X or (Y when Z)” or “(X or Y) when Z”?

Also note, as I said I’m not sure when within the 48 hours after action on 19 March Obama submitted a note to Congress (if at all in that frame), but the 60 day rule applies as of that date of submission.  Hence if he submitted at the end of that 48 hour window, there would be 62 days of allowed military action.

And the answer to the question is:  that legislators need to be clearer.

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/16/us/politics/16powers.html

[2] http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/obama-administration-libya-action-does-not-require-congressional-approval/2011/06/15/AGLttOWH_story.html

[3] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-12795971

[4] http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode50/usc_sup_01_50_10_33.html