Fractal Weirdness

Fractal Weirdness

“Later, he was to decide that Andrew’s life had been fractally weird. That is, you could take any small piece of it and examine it in detail and it, in and of itself, would turn out to be just as complicated and weird as the whole thing in its entirety.”

– Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson

We’ve long been convinced that the law, like Andrew Loeb’s life, is fractally weird. Looked at from a distance, it is elegant and beautiful — the sum of a society’s rules, the thrust vectors of a culture, a work of art consolidating how people really are with how they would like to be, or any other metaphor you care to mix.

But looked at up close, the law can be — and often is — bizarre. We have the occasional rule that seems to have no underlying policy to explain it. We have statutes and regulations that must have seemed like a good idea at the time, but who knows what it was. And we have countless absurd practices, often with no better reason than “that’s how we’ve always done it.”

Like that “ss.” found at the beginning of so many affidavits. It was probably a meaningful symbol in the dim and distant past. People would see it and go “ah yes, the ss., excellent.” But now means absolutely nothing and serves no purpose. Ask three lawyers what it means, and you’ll get five answers, ranging from the obviously wrong “signed and sealed” or “the seal goes here” (not things you’d put at the top of the page) to the obscure “it’s latin for ‘more specifically’ as in ‘State of New York, more specifically County of New York.'” If you know what it really means, feel free to post a comment.

This is a long way of inaugurating the category of Fractal Weirdness in this blog. From time to time, we’ll post tidbits that show just how bizarre the criminal law can be. If you have a suggestion, let us know!

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