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It has long been a commonly shared wisdom that humans need government to bring social order to what would otherwise be a chaotic and dangerous world. But recent research on human nature and human history suggest that governmental law is not the well-spring of social order. Thousands of years ago, early humans on the Serengeti Plain, surrounded by faster, stronger, and bigger predators, had no government or law yet produced the most successful species in the history of Planet Earth. Presumably they found ways to cooperate and survive what was a harsh and forbidding environment. Does modern man retain this same cooperative inclination, or has it atrophied in humans' modern conditions?
Living Beyond the Law mines the amazing natural experiments and accidents of modern human history: shipwrecks, plane crashes, leper colonies, pirate crews, escaped slaves, Gold Rush prospectors, prison uprisings, utopian hippie communes, Nazi concentration camps, and a host of other situations in which modern man has been thrown into a situation beyond the reach of law, to explore the fundamental nature of human beings and how we behave when we don't necessarily have to. Here, Sarah and Paul Robinson explain that in such situations we are not Hobbesian devils, but neither are we selfless angels. Modern individuals naturally incline toward comparative action, even when in the desperate conditions in which their survival is at issue, but that innate cooperative spirit prevails only in the presence of a system to punish serious wrongdoing within the group and only when that punishment is perceived as just. From the leper colony of Molokai to the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, from the 1972 plane crash in the Andes to the Colombian drug wars of Pablo Escobar, history is rife with examples of how people behave when rules of civility collapse. The real stories included in this book, illustrated with insights from psychology, biology, political science, and social science, help to provide a more optimistic picture of human nature. The authors conclude that humans are predisposed to be cooperative - within limits that need to be taken into account when formulating modern criminal law and policy.