Imagine for a moment that you are taking a leisurely walk on a favorite beach. As the calming sound of the waves and the wide horizon clear your mind and heighten your senses, you begin to notice the things around you. A group of birds floating on the wind. The play of light through scattered clouds. The remarkable process whereby stones too strong to break by hand have been transformed by time and ocean currents into countless sand particles crunching under your feet. These and other aspects of the natural world capture our attention and inspire natural scientists to discover their secrets. But there are other realities here that go unseen by the untrained eye, and have yet to enter into the colorful documentaries provided by scientists, journalists, and other chroniclers of the natural world. These are the social rules that pattern this physical reality. Sometimes these rules take the form of laws. In other instances they appear as building codes or product design standards. Voting rules, property rights, and constitutional guarantees count among our most powerful social rules, which also include unwritten but widely recognized principles of right and wrong that guide our actions. Our task in this chapter is to make these social rules more visible—to help you “see” the rules shaping your everyday activities, to understand something of their political origins, and to appreciate why these rules matter for the future of our planet. To begin, let us return to our stroll on the beach and see what traces of politics and power we find amid the shells and stones. First consider what is missing from the beach. Why are there no fences? Why can we walk on this beach at all? If our social rules specified that the surf and sand were available to the highest bidder, or belonged to the first party to stake a claim, we would have no more right to swim in the ocean than we would to plunge uninvited into a neighbor’s pool. In fact public access to the shoreline differs markedly from one country to the next, depending on the rules in place.
Keywords: American Chemical Society, Disabilities Act, bankruptcy laws, colonial law, cultural norms, freedom and rules, gay marriage, ozone layer, patents, public trust doctrine, radiation, ultraviolet radiation
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