Christian Long

Philip K. Howard: Four Ways to Fix a Broken Legal System

In TED Talks on April 18, 2010 at 8:50 pm

Reflection by DEREK M.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Philip K. Howard:  Four Ways to Fix a Broken Legal System

This is an informative video of how the US legal system is paralyzing people from doing what they are capable of.

Law has become so dense over the last two decades, that even during the interview process, the interviewer cannot legally ask where their client was from. This restrictive legal policy is quite binding and needs to be simplified and restructured. Mr. Howard does a fantastic job showing us how to simplify the law, while introducing the details of both first and second hand cases that have shown the faults of the legal system. His four step system condenses the law into easy steps capable of changing how the law is used on a daily basis. When you reduce the ability to take risks, society finds itself at a stalemate. The present legal system ensures that risks cannot be taken without consequences. Life is not about wondering what is on the other side of the mountain. Life is about trekking over the mountain and seeing it for yourself. The current legal system prevents that from happening, leaving people in the wrong state of mind to make law less restrictive.

“Judge law mainly by its effect on society, not [on] individual situations.”

In the world today, law is subjective. Law has become so complex we do not know how to process or retain it. Therefore, the only logical thing for an average person to do is judge law based on our own individual experiences. Everyone has their own personality, and we all have different forms of morality. The real issue today with law is morality. When a human finds something to be morally repulsive, they act on it with severe intensity. This intensity drives them to want change the law to what they think is fair on an individual basis. However, the law would only become more complex with the focus on individual situations. The law needs to be simplified in order to ensure that the average human can understand and retain the law for what it is. “You can’t run a society by the lowest common denominator.”

“The hurdle for success is trust. People, for law to be the platform for freedom, people have to trust it.”

When people trust something, they are more easily placated. The problem today is that that trust is hard to find, especially in terms of the law. Everyone has seen or heard of an unfair trial in their life. The only way for us to trust the law again is to simplify it by means in which the average person can understand. We often dismiss things that are too complicated. When anything becomes too complicated, animosity is created and the trust that we had lost can no longer be gained by any ordinary measure. “Trust in law is an essential condition of freedom. Distrust skews behavior towards failure.”

As Thomas Edison stated, “Hell, we ain’t got no rules around here, we’re trying to accomplish something.” Rules, especially in law, prohibit accomplishment. The most successful people in the world in the past and the present were willing to take risks in order to achieve great things. Unfortunately, the legal system presently condemns the idea of risk taking and ensures the ‘safety of society.’ Safety is not always the answer. As Eve Ensler talks about in “Security and Insecurity”, when anyone feels more secure, they become complacent and are actually becoming less secure. When we lose the ability to feel insecure, we lose our instinct to survive, to achieve, and ultimately to progress.

“Law must set boundaries protecting an open field of freedom, not intercede in all disputes.” The key to righteous law is protecting without limiting. We cannot continue to limit society. The law needs to protect the rights of people around the world, not prohibit someone from committing every act possible. Crimes should not be committed, but the goal is not to protect every single individual from a crime. This is not a utopian society and it will never be a utopian society. It’s time that the government accepts this fact and acts accordingly. Nothing will ever be perfect. It may be ideal for the present situation, but it will never be perfect.

“To rebuild boundaries of freedom, two changes are essential: Simplify the law [and] Restore authority to judges and officials to apply law.”

If you are interested in the law and would like more background on this talk, watch Larry Lessig’s Talk: The Law is Strangling Creativity.


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