Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Are parallel societies a bad thing?

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In a recent text, I mentioned parallel societies in a manner that implied that they were something negative. For the cases at hand (school-children vs. teachers; prisoners vs. guards), they probably are, but this need not hold in general.

Problems are likely to arise when the parallel societies come into conflict, when (claimed) jurisdictions overlap, when the presence of the one society can prevent exercise of rights granted by the other, and similar. For instance, a tax payer who wishes to draw on the police to rectify a crime might fear to do so, because he lives in a “snitches get stitches” environment; for instance, different takes on what is criminal might make the leaders of one society hide someone from the leaders of the other; for instance, multiple societies might simultaneously request taxes or some tax-equivalent from the same person for the same income; etc.* An interesting observation is that most governments see themselves as having the say everywhere they want to have a say, which can lead to unnecessary such conflicts, overlaps, whatnot, compared to a more restricted and focused government.

*There is precedence for all of these, including (outside parallel societies in the conventional sense) that some constellations of countries can lead to a poor sod being taxed by both his country of work and his country of citizenship.

However, if various such problems are resolved, if concerns are sufficiently different, and/or the parallel societies are sufficiently respectful and cooperative, working systems might be found. We might, e.g., allow different laws to apply to contracts between (voluntary!) members of the same society than between members of another or between members of two different societies. An interesting idea is that citizens of various nations could, to some degree, choose to have their “native” law apply in place of local law, e.g. with regard to copyrights, marriages/divorces, naming regulations, taxes, and social systems*/**—but not with regard to e.g. whether cars are driven on the left or right side of the road or what punishment a bank robbery should bring. For instance, if*** Sweden and Germany had different copyright rules for a certain work, why should I, as a Swede, underlie the German rules when downloading from a Swedish server, while living in Germany? (Or worse, while merely passing through. At an extreme, we could have someone legally streaming a movie on one side of a border and suddenly breaking the law merely through crossing that border, while the movie is still running, or a legally downloaded book turn into a copyright violation.) Why should local law apply to free speech, when the speech is published over the Internet, to a non-local audience, and in a non-local language? What if husband and wife from country A live a few years in country B, have a child, and that child is stuck with a name restricted by the rules of country B? Etc.

*In some ways, it would make sense to pay taxes to, receive social support from, whatnot, the place of nationality instead of the place of living. This would, for instance, solve the problem of migration to gain better social support. Similarly, it might reduce problems through “brain-drain”. (However, the citizen must, at least after sufficient time has passed, have the choice between the two. For the country of citizenship and/or origin to e.g. dictate taxes with no possible escape would be unconscionable and counterproductive.)

**In a similar idea, I have long contemplated the possibility of having more freely chosen combinations of e.g. taxes and social systems, say that the one chooses a “welfare state” setup and the other a “low taxes/fees and I pay for myself” setup. Unfortunately, this is bound to fail, as politicians will refuse the latter—after all, the welfare state needs “other people’s money” to remain running. (More generally, the remaining suggestions of various kinds are likely to fail on a governmental refusal to surrender authority.)

***They probably only do so very rarely, if at all, due to inter-EU harmonization, but such differences do occur internationally.

Excursion on practical problems:
There would be practical problems here and there, even apart from governmental refusal to relinquish power, but most are solvable and some artificial to begin with. For instance, handling income tax is unduly complicated by the fact that it is typically withheld by the employer (solely for the benefit of the government, to ensure that taxes are paid in full and prioritized over everything else), which would imply that employers have to keep track of who pays taxes to what government. Changing the system to have the employee receive all of his money, and then have him pay the taxes to the right government, would make this complication disappear. It would also remove the unfair advantage of the government and make it more obvious to the tax payer how much money is actually taken from him.

Excursion on analogies in nature:
Nature is filled with similar parallel societies, say, that a certain area of land can simultaneously “belong” to a variety of animals that fill different niches, have different life styles, are of different sizes, or are at different levels in the food chain. A group of browsers and a group of grazers, for instance, might coexist peacefully with only minimal conflict—and so might a sufficiently large predator and a sufficiently small prey animal. Even prey within the size range attacked by a certain type of predator might find the coexistence tolerable, if the prey outnumber the predators sufficiently. The most likely area of problems is likely when two species are too close in niche. (Excepting situations where too little time for co-evolution has been present, as with various “invasive species” situations.)


Written by michaeleriksson

November 24, 2022 at 5:51 am

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  1. […] and usually long exceeded size, tend to do more or far more harm than good, and as a world with parallel societies might be an […]

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