Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Circles and Lines

The guided tour of the Israeli Supreme Court loves to harp on the architecture of the court and the philosophy thereof. A favorite line- much mocked among my friends and family- is "Circles and lines, circles and lines," pointing out the use of circles to symbolize justice (מעגלי צדק) and lines to symbolize law (לפנים משורת הדין). (Mocked because really, what other shapes are there to make things out of, if not circles and lines?)

Anyway, sitting in a boring ConLaw class, I decided that the metaphor really works as yet another way for me to formulate my legal/halachic/rambling philosophy. As follows:

Justice is a circle. Now, there are two ways that you can try to draw a circle. The surer way is to construct a polygon made out of lines. The more lines you use, the closer you'll get to an actual circle. But as long as you're using lines, there are going to be gaps between your polygon and the circle of justice. You can keep adding lines, but you can only use as many lines as your 'program' can support. The original Nintendo graphic circles were octagons; now they're something like 96 sided figures, maybe more. But even then you have gaps, and programs like that take up a not of memory, and you have to be really careful to make sure you're adding in the lines right, so that your figure is still transcribed inside the circle and not bulging out all over outside of that.

The other option is to try to draw your circle free-hand. Which is very tempting when you have a octagon and are sitting there staring at the gaps. But actually, it's virtually impossible for a person to draw a real perfect circle. It's bound to bulge over the real circle here, and have a huge gap there, not to mention being different every time. It may well happen that your free-hand drawing- if you're good at it- is better than the octagon, but then again maybe not. It all depends on the person drawing.

I personally like the first model better. Not only is it sure, predictable, and easy to apply, but as your system's 'memory storage' or sophistication of thought, tools, or institutions improves, you can keep drawing in more lines, or very delicately breaking up the ones you have. As opposed to the free-hand style, which is simply chaos.

Which means that law not only is not always just, but it cannot be. Because a circle cannot be perfectly matched using straight lines, especially when the number is limited by the capacity of the system. No matter how clever (or Divine) the drawer of the lines happens to be.


e-kvetcher said...

Wow, these are two ways I would never have thought of.

The traditional way to draw a circle, is to anchor a string or some other straight segment and then rotate around the center.

Is there some symbolism there?

Tobie said...

Yeah, I dunno. Metaphors are so weak when mixed with actual logic...
Um...I think that in my metaphor, you only have a pencil...no string...but I don't know what the string would be in the nimshal...oh, blast.

And you don't have a protractor either.

Beisrunner said...

I once went there and got the same pompous tour. Unfortunately that was before I had read enough Tanach to know that "maaglei tzedek" in Biblical Hebrew actually means paths of justice, not circles of justice. Thus undermining the entire point of the architecture...