Archive for category Juridification

Warning!

Warnings are everywhere.

You start your car. Warning lights flash, because it’s three degrees and there is risk of ice. You drive and a warning sound tells you, that you’re running short of petrol. Your postman delivers a parcel. Lucky you, your order from Savile Row, but mind, packaging is plastic, danger to suffocate! So you want to have a break, a chocolate break, “cannot guarantee nut free”, it says. So let’s have a sip of water. No, danger looms, be careful when opening, because container is under pressure. So, what about something to eat? Something, low in calories, low in carbohydrates and low in cholesterol, of course, no, that won’t do, my stove uses gas and my pullover say’s “keep away from fire”. That leaves starvation or cookies as alternatives.

Sometimes, I wonder how I even manage to leave my house. I have to put on my shoes without strangling myself with shoelaces. I have to open the door, without hitting my head and I have to meet the opening without smashing my head against the doorframe…

Warnings are everywhere.

They are considered a pinnacle of modern development. They are here to root out human error. But I think what they accomplish is the exact opposite. The more you are subjected to warnings, the less you will give them any notice. You will simply ignore them, or not perceive them anymore. Something always makes a sound in my car. A beep because petrol is low, a beep because there’s a risk of ice, a beep because the EPS is faulty, a beep because the trunk is open, a beep because, … oh I don’t care! The same applies to warnings on packaging, I don’t care if I’m expected to use a non-metal spoon to stir my coffee and I don’t care whether “this side is up”. You just leave me alone.

However, warning-overflow sometimes causes serious damage, as with the Turkish Airliner that crashed at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. Obviously, the crew got fed-up with a warning sound that occurred quite regularly and in the end, they crashed. Warnings, so the conclusion goes, should be administered in a rather tempered way, too much warning will damage your awareness and even make you disregard the warning. Too much warning can seriously damage your health, which means: It’s time to take a measured approach to warnings.

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Juridification of social relationships

In 2004 van Keversbergen and van Waarden published a paper on governance that included the following sentences:

“…seems to be part of a broader tendency of increasing juridification of social relations. Informal relations are becoming increasingly formalized, and mutual expectations and agreements over reciprocal rights and duties fixed in more or less ‘official’ contracts”.

What van Keversbergen and van Waarden describe is well-known to continental Europeans and it’s getting an increasing foothold in the UK as well: Interpersonal and social relationships becoming increasingly juridified. It is not the odd letter of a lawyer, telling you that you’re not allowed to do this and that. Legal fines increasingly become the main tool the settle a conflict between neighbours. Lawyers cue to represent your claim resulting out of a car crash. Lawyer surf the internet looking for website-content violating section 1063(2)a of a law the owner of the website hasn’t even heard of. And almost always victims who fall prey to one of these decent and upright fellows receive a letter asking them to pay a certain amount. And almost always, the one who signed this letter will act “on behalf” and not for himself, so it’s not his “responsibility”, even if he’s been the one who evoked the idea of a fine in the first place.

As lawyers hide behind the claims of their clients, so sometimes do public servants. It’s not Paul who is writing to you, it’s “the Clerk’s office”. And not the people working there, but the Clerk’s office is required to request this and that from you. This and that is almost always something nobody likes himself being subjected to. It’s bad news, and since nobody wants to be the harbinger of bad news, it’s good when you can take shelter behind a position and tell the addressee, that it isn’t you who’s writing this nasty letter, but “the office”. This shelter of semi-anonymity is helpful in a number of ways. You can offend people by being rude, and blame the office. You can do almost anything without being responsible, because it is the office that wrote and not a particular clerk. This is one result of juridification that does not only alter social interaction, it contaminates social interaction with mistrust and with the opportunity for one party to get away with moral hazard.

By the way, Germans on trial after World War II in Nuremberg for being involved in the Holocaust almost always claimed to having been acting on behalf of their superior and in accordance to a particular legal obligation imposed on them by a certain law. Is this just a coincidence or is a broader picture emerging here.

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