Life is full of rules. Some we don’t really care about breaking, and some we do. We’ve made the idea of breaking rules so socially acceptable that there is a famous line; “Rules are meant to be broken” which in itself, is an absurd statement.

Some people define themselves as rule breakers. As bad. Some people like to be thought of as bad boys, or refer to their dating preferences as liking the bad boys or bad girls. I do not. In general, I believe I follow rules — even silly ones, because I understand that a rule that may seem unreasonable to me, may often have a deeper purpose.

When we feel strongly about a rule, we gather together and our representative Government turns it into a law. Laws are not meant to be broken, and it most cases – we are punished for doing so. However, some laws ARE meant to be broken, or at least bent. Perhaps not “meant to be”, but certainly some laws are less enforced than others.

There are two sets of laws I have in mine, that the majority of us break almost constantly. Traffic laws, and vice.

The system has made the penalties for both, worth reasonable risk. We are fully aware we may get caught breaking these laws one day, but the eventual penalty for doing so is worth the risk. We do the math. Every day, we may drive 10km or more over the posted speed limit, but somehow it seems worth it, to get there a few minutes faster. We rationalize we probably won’t be caught, but even if we are, the penalty is one we’re willing to accept, or fight down to a reduced value we’re willing to accept.

ticketThe same is true of parking convenience. In, many cases, parking rules are not so absolute. If you have the cash, it may be worth $60 to park where ever you want. It’s a gamble with enforcement that favours the player, not the house. One of the only gambles where we usually win, despite the fact that the law might be right, and we are clearly wrong. It’s still a win. Some people even park in handicap parking spaces because they can justify the actions against getting caught. Right or wrong don’t matter. It’s simply a math gamble of whether they’ll get caught, and whether they can afford the penalty.

It makes you wonder: Is the real reason we don’t commit harsher crime really just a risk analysis of the potential to get caught, or do we really just think parking and speeding are “light” laws that don’t really matter? Cash cows for the municipality. Perhaps a bit of both.

Sometimes we move our own line of what is acceptable crime as the need arises. Addiction to drugs, sex or gambling are often blamed for moving our moral line and users or gamblers may come to a point where they become a criminal willingly to solve a problem or get a fix. Getting away with speeding is one thing, but you don’t directly profit from that crime. Addicts need to break laws where they actually earn some profit for doing so.

There may be a nearly perfect Virgins out there that don’t smoke or drink or drive and have never gambled, but I suspect not too many.

The list gets bigger as we think about what other ways we are all criminals; stealing cable, downloading torrent songs, shows and, movies, sharing Netflix or memberships, running a cracked copy of your OS or other software, keeping found items, destroying money, making a prank call, using online copywrite clipart on Facebook. These are all crimes with a variety of punishments that many of us risk every day.

…and more. Our system is set up to allow some crime and not others. It would break if we enforced some of them.

I wonder what life would be like if we only enforced crime sometimes and changed the risk variables. I know we’d all scream and protest if we were ticketed for every traffic crime. Even though I know I’m wrong, I still hate it when you actually get caught making a right turn against a sign or find that fine on your windshield after coming out of the store you were only in for 2 minutes. If these offences were all punished fairly, we’d hate it, but we’d adapt. I’ve seen science fiction stories written where little crimes were punished the same as big crimes, and big crimes had far worse penalties. Even in Star Trek, poor Wesley was almost killed for stepping in the wrong garden on a foreign world. To them, it was a capital offence.

I ponder things like this. I wonder, how life would be different if the risk percentages were less, or more. I have always said that my ideal universe would punish crimes against trust the harshest of all, but that is a topic for another blog. Dumb or smart, people break the law when they believe the risk % is lower than the reward payout, often cash, drugs, debt or life threatening reward.

Change the % and change the world.