Fuzzy Degrees of Freedom –
When is the Law a Burden?
“Rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men” [Douglas Bader]
Preface: This is a discussion paper, not a researched academic document. The reading list at the end is mostly a collection of contemporary links from the Internet and pretty accidental, not edited for quality. Where a topic is of broad general interest comes up with friends, I have adopted the practice of posting discussion starters like the present one on Academia.edu in the hope that others might also find them worth thinking about. In spite of the caveats, this particular topic has been important to my working life, so the observations to follow are not merely casual.
This is the sort of topic where I am (we are..) in danger of taking myself too seriously. For an 8 year old child who hasn’t lived in a war zone, the future stretches out forever. For a 70 year old (as I’m about to become) the past and what’s left of a future life look impossibly brief. Hell, the fun has hardly begun, and too much of that snippet of time called a past life was spent being polite to somebody else’s rules. On the other hand, if there had been no rules to keep the wolves at bay, my bones by now might have been bleaching in a shallow grave.
It seems we need some rules to live by, but not of a kind or interpretation that will shut us off from all fun, mischief or even danger sometimes, lest we become mere weakling prisoners on a treadmill of time. In other words, rules for the ordering of human lives and societies cannot be simple choices of black and white. Such rules must leave space for movement, for “degrees of freedom”. It turns out that “degrees of freedom” are critical in nature, in science and in technology too, so in that sense human organization is not so special.
2. Degrees of freedom
A heartbeat comes from a series of processes with a particular outcome. Thinking of this outcome, we could say that no two heartbeats are ever quite the same. If they were, it is likely that our heart muscles would be destroyed in infancy by the targeted, repetitive force. However, if those heartbeats vary beyond a small tolerance, the heart goes into fibrillation, all cardiac control is lost and the person dies. Within that small tolerance of movement, those “degrees of freedom”, variation is random and unpredictable. This limited random variation, however brief, gives the organism space to relax, recover and grow. The phenomenon just described has now been studied in many fields under the general name of Chaos Theory, and more latterly Complexity Theory. It also has a great deal to do with what happens in human societies.
The public conception of technical devices, like the internal combustion engine, is that they are precise and utterly predictable in operation (hence boring). However, every engineer understands that anything which moves must be allowed a certain “tolerance”. Even things which are not supposed to move, like buildings and bridges and railway tracks have carefully calculated tolerances for movement and expansion to prevent them self-destructing. Like a beating heart, the piston moving in an engine’s cylinder never quite follows the same path twice. It can vary randomly within a few thousandths of an inch, for without that freedom it could not move at all.
Now let’s think of that mass of contradictions, the normal human being. Normal? Your average working stiff will conversationally claim that he/she has a great deficit in “degrees of freedom”. Certainly the tighter the routine, the greater often is the level of stress, yet left to their own devices these same working stiffs will rarely show great enterprise or originality. A few hours in front of an anaesthetizing TV is more common. There is therefore a restricted band of freedom within which people function effectively at all, a routine that allows limited variation, not too much and not too little. The factories and companies that employ them, and the governments which govern them also function within restricted bands of routine, or degrees of freedom, sometimes defined by convention, sometimes by law. It is at the margins of these bands that ambiguity and conflict occur constantly at a low level, or sometimes spin out of control when good judgement and tolerance is lost.
Some people seem to have vastly greater “degrees of freedom” than others. A popular idea is that wealth is a pass to freedom of this kind, and hence a supposedly universal goal. One catch here is that lifetimes are finite. Many individuals of a certain age, conforming to a set of career rules and narrow routines, are suddenly retired into apparent freedom. Most do not know what to do with such new freedom. I see legions of my age peers dissipate physically and mentally, and die, for want of a purpose beyond the mating game, or the self discipline to pursue some light on a distant hill (however illusory that might be). They had forgotten that the journey was more important than the destination. Others, less patient, more reckless, perhaps more ruthless at a younger age, evade confining rules and expectations. They may be entrepreneurs or criminals, or radical thinkers, or researchers who break away from accepted models. Sometimes they are just adventurers in games of love or power. They may fail catastrophically or they may succeed beyond all expectation. They embody the idea of “Who Dares Wins [ahem, or loses..]”.
Some humans are heavily confined. That is, they are imprisoned in one way or another. A prisoner may have violated the norms or rules of his/her society beyond socially accepted degrees of tolerance, and therefore have their degrees of freedom restricted to prevent them damaging others. Of course in human societies, which are extremely complex, “accepted degrees of tolerance” for deviation from a norm are often neither clear nor consistent.
Winding up in jail can sometimes come from sheer bad luck, or being a victim of malevolent entrapment, or even having the wrong skin colour. More commonly, imprisonment can come from belonging to a competing sub-culture (with different norms), or lacking the intelligence, experience or judgement to navigate complex choices, or simply lacking the functional literacy to avoid the many traps of an increasingly complex lifestyle. Then there are smart banksters, with degrees in mathematics and no conscience, who can play roulette with the savings of millions of people, ignore all prudential rules, lose the lot – other people’s money, not their own. A penalty for them? No of course not.
3. Can there be the same rules and laws for everyone?
In many societies laws and rules simply do not apply equally to everyone. This is expected, and may be accepted. There have always been stories, collections of oral lore, and since the invention of writing, texts, to justify a social ordering of individuals in ways which severely disadvantage some people relative to others. Historically, women in most communities have had limited rights in public domains, but sometimes special privileges in certain private domains. Traditionally in warfare it has been the men who are slaughtered, while the women and children are carried off into slavery. The Christian Bible, the Koran, the Indian caste system, the Confucian writings of China, all assume hierarchical societies where the moral order prescribes an unequal assignment of rights to according to gender, birth status, occupation or wealth.
In clear conflict with traditional moral values of inequality, most modern societies claim that all men (meaning women too) are born equal and should stand equal before the laws of the land. It is common for the constitutions of states to proclaim exactly this. Yet all of us know that even in the most liberal and democratic societies some people are “more equal” than others. These inequalities are found at every level from petty privilege to the most deadly legal entanglements where life and death is at stake. Most of us have some pragmatic tolerance for inequalities of this kind. It’s not a perfect world. We may bend the rules a bit ourselves from time to time to make life tolerable. It is a matter of degree and judgement. Others, disadvantaged in some way from birth, might conclude that the system will be forever stacked against them. They form sub-cultures, pass us on the street, but live by different codes. When it is a case of “them” and “us”, violating the laws and rules of “the other” may carry no stigma.
The sense of “them” and “us” has a great effect on the political dynamics of any country, both internally and externally. For example, a contemporary issue in Australia (even more so in the United States) is that “government of the people, by the people, for the people” seems to be becoming a threadbare and dishonest slogan. Increasingly large numbers of the governed perceive that major commercial companies, especially multinationals, use governments as proxies to promote commercial profit for the company, and damn the electorate. The structure and application of taxation law is a glaring example. While the Australian Taxation Department will pursue the extraction of income and small business taxes relentlessly, huge multinational corporations shift billions of dollars into overseas tax havens with impunity. This is a recipe for political revolt.
So can there be rules and laws for everyone? In a country like Australia, most rules and laws claim to be for everyone. In spite of imperfections, there is a reasonable civil society in Australia, and a usually a workable level of public trust. This leaves enough space in daily life to at least pretend the same rules apply to everyone. We know very well that the young, for example, are apt to do some dumb things before they gain responsibility and life experience, so we try to cut them a bit of slack, or give a warning, where an older rule breaker would attract a less forgiving response.
When real injustices, meaning inequalities, occur there is usually some formal mechanism for claiming correction. However, anyone who has spent time in a court of law knows that the whole process of navigating a fair society is very approximate indeed. If you have the misfortune to get your hair tangled in the legal machine, your personal outcome can depend upon luck, money and what particular prejudice a judge lives by. You have “black letter judges” with literal minds who decode printed statutes by the strict formal meaning (they believe) of words and grammar, and others who are far more open to interpreting the actual intent of the law and the circumstances of the defendant.
4. Who are the obedient fools, and who are the wise men licensed to exercise judgment?
Well, the fools of course are not me, and should I charitably say, not you. They are “the others”. If I’m an unemployed 17 year old high school drop out from a depressed neighbourhood, you bastards driving BMWs are “the others”. If I’m a comfortably employed and housed middle aged businessman with a private school background, I’m surely licensed to take a few liberties that would be unthinkable for the dole bludgers on the other side of town …. And so it goes. Whoever we are, we get away with whatever we can get away with, according to temperament. We wax indignant when the less deserving get away with their own fiddles. When things go bad, when our luck goes down the drain, and perhaps the long arm of the law fingers us, we rationalize furiously. Life is just not fair, we complain.
5. Are some societies more rule-compliant than others?
It does seem that some societies or cultures are more amenable to following formal rules and laws than others. Individual societies also change over historical time.
Singapore when I first saw it in 1971 was a rather slip-shod town in the tropics, not the uptight concrete jungle we see now, where you are fined for having chewing gum. Germany and Japan are both relatively rule-governed societies, which doubtless has something to do with their present commercial success and record of civil safety, but also had them marching lock-step into brutal wars in the mid-20th Century. Neither South Korea nor China are rule-governed societies in this sense. I worked in both countries for a number of years. In both China and South Korea cheating is endemic at every level in their present historical phase. One Korean dentist, a man with a PhD from South Korea’s best university, confided to me as a friend that “we see cheating as a kind of freedom”.
The reasons for cultural differences in rule compliance, like most things human, are complicated. However a key to these broad pattern variations (and also pattern variations between individual families) is probably traceable to methods of child raising. By pre-puberty most children have a clear idea of what is "right" and "wrong", what is doable and what is unacceptable in the community around them. They hear of course what their parents say, but above all they internalize habits from what their parents and their peers actually do.
In one community or family, rules might be externally imposed, even by physical coercion, whereas in other families children are induced to internalize self-discipline by carefully coaxing their feelings and desires in a particular direction. Where rules are externally imposed, it seems to be fairly common for transgressors to feel little guilt about ignoring them when nobody is looking (hence my Korean friend's description of cheating as a kind of freedom).
Setting out to change any of this as part of some political agenda in social engineering is like doing brain surgery with a blunt axe. Mao Zedong tried something along those lines in China. The unintended consequences are still reverberating, and emphatically not what he had in mind. We could say the same about "educational reforms" in any number of countries.
6. Are rule enforcers more significant than rule breakers?
In our daily lives we make all kinds of rules for ourselves. For these rules were are also mostly the enforcers. Nobody else cares if a New Year resolution to stop smoking or eat no more than three cream cakes a day falls by the wayside. It is rule which turns out to be ineffectual. On the other hand, as a five year old we might promise ourselves never to put our fingers on a stove hot plate again, and this is likely to be an enduring bit of self control.
When it comes to rules invented by other people, matters are more complex since it usually someone else who does the enforcing. If they don't enforce the rule, then as with our own self-indulgences, it might be safe to ignore it as yet another piece of publicity spin, or a dead letter. British common law for example is cluttered with all kinds of legal detritus from centuries past which no sane authority would dream of invoking today. Social change can bring about this kind of situation too. For example, Australia's so called White Australia Act, restricting immigration by a racial criterion, was a dead letter well before it was officially repealed.
Real difficulty, or a least the need for wise judgement, is a daily dilemma for people officially tasked with enforcing apparently clear regulations and laws. This is the normal lot of police officers and school teachers for example. As a teacher of teenagers or younger children I might find it necessary to lay down certain class rules to ensure the smooth operation of teaching and learning for a restless group of immature minds. Some teachers try to enforce this kind of proscription rigidly and find that they have a class in open rebellion, or showing passive resistance. In either case, learning goes out the window. Other teachers retreat from behavioural rule enforcement completely and find themselves in a chaotic situation where learning also fails. A skilled teacher exercises leadership by example, and shows subtle discretion in enforcement, according to the psychology of each transgressor. It is a hard set of choices, needing lots of professional wisdom.
What goes for school rooms also goes for countries, as the preceding section notes in discussing dominantly rule-based societies Vs relatively non-rule based societies. All countries now have library shelves groaning with volumes of rules and regulations. Their significance rests not in the forms of words enacted, but in their practical application.
For example, the enormous nation of China has a fifth of all the world's people, with 34 top level administrative divisions, including 23 provinces, many larger than "normal" countries. There are hundreds of cities. There is a history of bureaucratic rule application dating from at least the Qin Dynasty (221 BCE). You would think that the Chinese should have the efficient management of rules sorted by now. On the contrary, the first law of the land, the constitution, is randomly contradicted by provincial laws which in turn are randomly violated by local regulations. The actual application of this massive entanglement turns with great inconsistency upon the habits and prejudices of individual judges, and the supra-legal intervention of prosecutors who take their orders from a political party, the Communist Party of China. Not surprisingly individual Chinese citizens tend to be sceptical about the rule of law at all, and form quite different attitudes to violating this or that part of it compared to what you might expect from, say, an Australian citizen accustomed to the broad idea that laws are there for the benefit of everyone and applied fairly.
7. Can we be over-governed?
There is a phrase being heard with increasing frequency in Australia, “the Nanny State”. The implication is that Australians are being coddles like young children, protected from all possible risks, and thus being denied the chance to accumulate the street cunning, wisdom and resilience to survive in a big bad world. Like the “obedience of fools” meme, assessing the Nanny State condition is a tough call. Some of the protection is petty to the point of being insulting, while some tough regulation has come out of direct community experience at the hands of scoundrels.
As a primary school student in the 1950s I lived in the mountains on the margin of bushland. Each day I walked alone, or with my younger sister, about four miles to school. Out of school I always carried a pocket knife, which was endlessly useful, and often a rather lethal sheath knife in my belt. I swung a sharp axe with professional aplomb after school to cut firewood from tough old gum trees. Alone in the bush I was careful to tread heavily to warn off snakes, but when I remembered also carried a razor blade to cut and bleed any snake bite, together with a shoe lace to improvise as a tourniquet. Your modern mother, ferrying her little darlings to the school gate in an air conditioned sedan would faint in horror at such risks. Instead I learned young to manage such risks. Much later, working in China, for one yuan I bought a small folding razor blade for opening packets. Recently, trying for the same in Australia I learned that some idiot regulating do-good department had removed all such items from store shelves. Ditto even for metal tooth picks. The Nanny State out of control.
At the other end of the spectrum, Australian society, like every other, has always been home for significant numbers of confidence tricksters, rent seekers, carpet-bagging politicians, and businessmen ready to ignore any kind of ethical or environmental constraint. As buccaneering youths, these characters often favour the libertarian posture, but become wily with age and seek secret financial advantage. Together this motley crew wrestle to control and redirect the ship of state whenever an opportunity presents itself. Opposed to them are those seeking regulation in various ways, usually with good intentions, but shading into the suffocating Nanny State tendency.
Citizens, you and I, we live with the ever multiplying, ever more obscure barrage of laws and regulations which emerge from the political contest. The simple things, like not killing the bus driver, we try to get right most of the time. Beyond the clarity what Christian types call the Ten Commandments, for better or for worse we exercise our judgement as wise men and women, and hope for the best.
Reading List (other suggestions welcome)
Associated Press (08/22/2015) “American Who
Helped Disarm Train Shooter Recounts Dramatic Scene - Three Americans and a
British man tackled the gunman on the train from Amsterdam to Paris”.
[Classic heroism, uncomplicated by rules] Huffington Post, online @ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/anthony-sadler-arras-train_55d89da0e4b08cd3359c4c13?utm_hp_ref=world&kvcommref
Bowen, Nigel (August 25, 2015) “The big law firms are quaking in their boots as cut price competitors steal market share”. [Disruptive ideas and innovative technology undermine old rules of doing business]. Brisbane Times online @ http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/small-business/entrepreneur/cut-price-wills-threaten-law-firms-20150610-ghl3qg.html#ixzz3jmzQ5KpK
Canaday, Sara ( 09/04/2014 “Rule-Breakers: Reputation Ramificaticatications”. Huffington Post online @ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sara-canaday/rulebreakers-reputation-r_b_5105958.html?ir=Australia
Chapman, Simon (July 2, 2013) “One hundred and fifty ways the nanny state is good for us”. The Conversation website, online @ http://theconversation.com/one-hundred-and-fifty-ways-the-nanny-state-is-good-for-us-15587
Cox, Lisa and Jane Lee (August 18, 2015) “Abbott government to change environment laws in crackdown on 'vigilante' green groups”. [A government that wants no law to guide it.. Wise or foolish?] Brisbane Times online at http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/abbott-government-to-change-environment-laws-in-crackdown-on-vigilante-green-groups-20150818-gj1r4l.html#ixzz3j9m9CogU
Drysdale, Rhea (n.d.) “Rule Breakers Make Great Entrepreneurs”. Rhea Drysdale SEO blog, online @ http://www.rheadrysdale.com/blog/rule-breakers-make-great-entrepreneurs/
Ferguson, Adele , Sarah Danckert, Klaus Toft ( August 31, 2015a ) “ 7-Eleven: Allan Fels says model dooms franchisees and workers ”. [Intersection systems of rules can generate violations] Brisbane Times online @ http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/business/workplace-relations/7eleven-allan-fels-says-model-dooms-franchisees-and-workers-20150830-gjb0pu.html
Ferguson, Adele, Sarah Danckert and Klaus Toft (August 29, 2015b) “7-Eleven: A sweatshop on every corner”. [Why labour markets need enforceable rules] Brisbane Times online @
Fife -Yeomans, Janet ( July 27, 2015 ) “ Paedophiles repeatedly promoted to positions of authority in Jehovah’s Witness church royal commission told ” . [Organizational leaders can use rules to buttress misbehaviour]. The Sydney Daily Telegraph online @ http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/paedophiles-repeatedly-promoted-to-positions-of-authority-in-jehovahs-witness-church-royal-commission-told/story-fni0cx12-1227458483269
Gagglias, Alexis & Danae
Leivada (08/18/2015) “5 Foreigners Explain Why They're Staying In Greece
Despite The Crisis - The expats are uniquely placed to see both sides of the
story”. [Perspective on rule-based Vs non rule-based societies] Huffington
Post online @ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/greece-crisis-life-foreigners_55d27600e4b07addcb43d788?utm_hp_ref=world&kvcommref
Galer-Unti, Caitlin (n.d.) “Why Rule Breakers Run the World”. Middle Finger blog, online @ https://www.themiddlefingerproject.org/why-rule-breakers-run-the-world/
Galer, Sarah (Fall, 2009) “New Ethics Class Gives Law Students More Realistic Dilemmas”. Alumni, journal of University of Chicago Law School, online @ http://www.law.uchicago.edu/alumni/magazine/fall09/ethics
Groundwater, Ben (Jul 12 2015) “Australia nanny state: Have we become a nation of idiots?”. Traveller.com (Fairfax) website, online @ http://www.traveller.com.au/australia-the-land-of-the-idiot-gi36oy
GSElevator (Sep 11 2013) “The Unofficial Goldman Sachs Guide To Being A Man”. [The unspoken rules of a sub-culture?] Business Insider magazine, online @ http://www.businessinsider.com.au/the-gselevator-guide-to-being-a-man-2013-9
Jordan, D.K. (~2004) “Chinese Philosophical Terms”. [ Quite a good introduction to a non-European value set for dividing up the world. As with Christian values etc, the ideal is often directly contradicted by common social behaviour]. Class materials from University of California, San Diego. Online at http://pages.ucsd.edu/~dkjordan/chin/hbphiloterms-u.html
Kiernan ( May 18, 2015) “Rule Breakers: Michael Joseph”. Don’t Take Pictures blog, online @ http://www.donttakepictures.com/dtp-blog/2015/5/18/rule-breakers-michael-joseph
Koziol, Michael (May 27, 2015) “Nanny state
rules making Australia 'world's dumbest nation': Tyler Brûlé”. Sydney
Morning Herald, online @
Lee, Timothy B. ( December 31, 2013) “ 2013 was a year for American rule breakers”. Washington Post online @ https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2013/12/31/2013-was-a-year-for-american-rule-breakers/
Lewis, Katherine Reynolds (n.d.) “ The Rule Breakers - Don’t waste time navigating the unwritten “rules” of your profession”. Working Mother website, online @ http://www.workingmother.com/content/rule-breakers
May, Thor (2003) “The Case for Favoritism”. Thormay.net at http://thormay.net/unwiseideas/favoritism.html
Thor (2008) “Corruption and Other Distortions as Variables in Language
Education”. Academia.edu (PDF) online @ http://www.academia.edu/1552332/Corruption_and_Other_
May, Thor (2013a) “The Freedom Enterprise and Other Yarns”. Thormay.net (html) online @ http://thormay.net/unwiseideas/Freedom-enterprise.htm
May, Thor (2013b) “Ethical Behaviour is Harder for the Rich”. Academia.edu (PDF) online @ http://www.academia.edu/4118122/Ethical_Behaviour_is_Harder_for_the_Rich or Thormay.net (html) online @ http://thormay.net/unwiseideas/Ethical-Behaviour-is-Harder-for-the-Rich.htm
May, Thor (2013c) “The Contest for Competence”. Academia.edu (PDF) online @ https://www.academia.edu/1958933/The_Contest_for_Competence or Thormay.net (html) online @ http://thormay.net/unwiseideas/competence.html
May, Thor (2014) “Crime without Punishment - the journey from means to ends”. Academia.edu (PDF) online @ http://www.academia.edu/6807011/Crime_without_Punishment_the_journey_from_means_to_ends or Thormay.net (html) online @ http://thormay.net/unwiseideas/CrimeWithoutPunishment.htm
May, Thor (2014) “Fakes, liars, cheats, deceivers, animals in the forest”. Academia.edu (PDF) online @ http://www.academia.edu/8480396/Fakes_liars_cheats_deceivers_animals_in_the_forest or Thormay.net (html) online @ http://thormay.net/unwiseideas/FakesLiarst.htm
Meade, Amanda (22 August 2015 ) “Mark Latham in foul-mouthed tirade at Melbourne writers' festival - Days after his departure as a columnist from the Financial Review, the former Labor leader lashes out at journalists, ‘left-feminists’ and ‘rich girls’”. [ A conflict of cultural rules to play by?] The Guardian online @ http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/aug/22/mark-latham-in-foul-mouthed-tirade-at-melbourne-writers-festival
Miller , Nick ( August 29, 2015 ) “Nudge-unit trials reveal best ways to prod people ”. Brisbane Times online @ http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/world/nudgeunit-trials-reveal-best-ways-to-prod-people-20150826-gj7yoo.html
MMM (Apr 19, 2015) “A Bunch of Penguins: A Case For Conformity”. Middleagedmormonman blog, online @ http://middleagedmormonman.com/home/2015/04/bunch-penguins-case-conformity/
Phillips, Matt ( July 23, 2015) “Rebellious kids grow up to out-earn rule-followers”. Quartz website, online @ http://qz.com/460267/rebellious-kids-grow-up-to-out-earn-rule-followers/
Poulos, James (12 December 2013) “ Edward Snowden, Not Pope Francis, Is the Person of the Year”. The Daily Beast, online @ http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/12/12/edward-snowden-not-pope-francis-is-the-person-of-the-year.html
Rozenberg, Joshua (13 January 2015) “Police face new ethical dilemma in increasingly digital world”. The Guardian online @ http://www.theguardian.com/law/guardian-law-blog/2015/jan/12/police-ethics-digital-internet-technology
Sri, Jonathan (August 26, 2015) “Why towns should let us sleep in our Kombi”. Brisbane Times online @ http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/comment/why-towns-should-let-us-sleep-in-our-kombi-20150826-gj7uwq.html#ixzz3k6kq0TyT
Stossel, John (August 19, 2015) “When Rules Multiply, the World Needs Rule Breakers - Breaking the rules can lead to innovations”. Reason.com website, online @ http://reason.com/archives/2015/08/19/when-rules-multiply-the-world-needs-rule
West, Michael (August 22, 2015). “Corporate tax avoidance could become a whole lot easier”. [ Power without responsibility, and rules for whom?] Brisbane Times online @ http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/business/the-economy/who-wants-to-grab-a-billionaire-20150820-gj4c3q.html#ixzz3jWy246WP
Wikipedia (2015) “Nanny state”. Wikipedia online @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nanny_state
Wikipedia (2015) “Statutory Interpretation”. Wikipedia online @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statutory_interpretation
Source of this essay
Professional bio: Thor May has a core professional interest in cognitive linguistics, at which he has rarely succeeded in making a living. He has also, perhaps fatally in a career sense, cultivated an interest in how things work – people, brains, systems, countries, machines, whatever… In the world of daily employment he has mostly taught English as a foreign language, a stimulating activity though rarely regarded as a profession by the world at large. His PhD dissertation, Language Tangle, dealt with language teaching productivity. Thor has been teaching English to non-native speakers, training teachers and lecturing linguistics, since 1976. This work has taken him to seven countries in Oceania and East Asia, mostly with tertiary students, but with a couple of detours to teach secondary students and young children. He has trained teachers in Australia, Fiji and South Korea. In an earlier life, prior to becoming a teacher, he had a decade of finding his way out of working class origins, through unskilled jobs in Australia, New Zealand and finally England (after backpacking across Asia to England in 1972).
Fuzzy Degrees of Freedom – When is the Law a Burden? ©Thor May August 2015