Just as the golden rule is prevalent in many different spiritual philosophies around the world, so is the principle is known as the law of the harvest in Christianity, the law of karma in Eastern religions, and the Old Testament as “an eye for an eye.” This principle is even found in physics, which tells us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
This is the law of cause and effect, which we’ll refer to as the law of the harvest. Any farmer or gardener knows that to grow the crop you want; you have to plant the right seeds. The crop is pre-determined in the nature of the seeds.
This law claims that the choices I make are the seeds I plant and the results I experience in my life are the crop I reap. Freedom gives me the right to choose the action, but it does not give me the liberty of choosing the reaction. I can’t plant corn seeds and expect to reap a crop of wheat. The reaction (effect) is built into the nature of the action (choice), just as the nature of the crop is built into the nature of the seed that was planted.
Like any law of nature, this law operates whether we believe in it or not. We all recognize that the laws of nature can’t be violated. I can choose to step off a cliff, but I cannot choose to fall up. My beliefs don't matter. I can say, “I don't believe in gravity,” but that won't stop gravity from operating on me.
The law of the harvest works in this same way. If the law of the harvest is a universal rule, then the golden rule isn’t just a nice sentiment. It’s a rule I ignore at my own peril. It’s informing me about the nature of reality. It isn’t just that I should treat others the way I would like them to treat me, it’s warning me that the life I will reap for myself will be dependent on the nature of how I chose to treat others.
Ralph Waldow Emerson went to great lengths to explain the inescapable nature of the law of the harvest in his famous essay, Compensation. It’s a powerful explanation of this universal principle. In it, he claims, “Crime and punishment grow out of one stem. Punishment is a fruit that unsuspected ripens within the flower of the pleasure which concealed it. Cause and effect, means and ends, seed and fruit, cannot be severed; for the effect already blooms in the cause, the end preexists in the means, the fruit in the seed.”
Emerson further declares, “You cannot do wrong without suffering wrong.” He also insists, “…because of the dual constitution of things, in labor as in life there can be no cheating. The thief steals from himself. The swindler swindles himself.” If you have not read Compensation, I highly encourage you to read and if you have read it, re-read it.
Freedom, Accountability, and Responsibility
The law of cause and effect links freedom to the principles of responsibility and accountability. My freedom only extends to my choices (cause); it does not extend to the consequences (results) of those choices. The consequence is the natural outgrowth of my choice and is automatic in the nature of how the universe functions.
The law of the harvest impresses upon us the inescapable responsibility that goes with freedom. While I am capable of using my own agency to trespass against the unalienable rights of another person, the law of the harvest says that I am responsible for the trespass and I can, and ultimately will, be held accountable for it.
There are many people who do not believe this principle. They believe that they can “cheat” and obtain “something for nothing.” But, the law of cause and effect clearly tells us that for every action there will be an equal, and opposite, reaction. Thus, as Emerson says, “You cannot do wrong without suffering wrong.”
The punishment for doing wrong, Emerson assures us, is sure and swift. “All infractions of love and equity in our social relations are speedily punished. They are punished by fear. Whilst I stand in simple relations to my fellowman, I have no displeasure in meeting him... But as soon as there is any departure from simplicity, and attempt at halfness, or good for me that is not good for him, my neighbor feels the wrong; he shrinks from me as far as I have shrunk from him; his eyes no longer seek mine; there is war between us; there is hate in him and fear in me.”
He elaborates on this saying, “Has a man gained anything who has received a hundred favors and rendered none? Has he gained by borrowing, through indolence or cunning, his neighbor’s wares, or horses, or money? There arises on the deed the instant acknowledgment of benefit on the one part, and of debt on the other; that is, of superiority and inferiority.”
So, to revisit what I discussed previously when I make a free and unrestrained choice I am responsible for the outcome of that choice. If I chose to initiate violent action against another and trespass against another person’s unalienable rights of life, liberty or property, I have made a choice and planted a seed. The person whose rights have been trespassed against is going to feel violated and angry with me. He will justly have cause to seek restitution and other honest, moral people will support him in that desire. Hence, I have opened myself up to violence being justly measured out to me.
To someone who doesn’t believe in God, the big issue is not getting caught. That’s why the Founding Fathers knew that the only foundation that would keep the government they created working was the moral integrity of the majority of the citizens. If you’re one of the people who believes that there is no higher authority than man, and man-made government, I assure you that the law of the harvest is real, and it will act on you.
Nevertheless, understanding the law of the harvest leads us to the understanding of justice, which is a practical operation of the law of the harvest.
The Law of the Harvest and Justice
Under the idea of common law, as long as every person in a society is respecting the inalienable rights of others, we have equity or equality in society. Everyone gets treated the same by the law. Thus, the law is common to all.
When a person violates the common law by committing a crime, they made a decision to not treat their neighbor as they would want to be treated. They have breached the equity of society by not seeing their neighbor as an equal. They have judged that their desires were more important than their neighbor’s rights.
Under the common law, a trespass creates in-equality in society. This in-equity (which is shortened to create the word iniquity) must be corrected if all the members of society are to continue to be equal and that’s what justice is all about.
Justice is a scale of social balance or equity between people. It is based in our sense of what is fair, which is tied to our conscience. That part of us that declares, “That isn’t fair!”
The concept of equity or equality is essential if we are to properly answer the question, “When are we morally justified in using force to deprive another person of life, liberty and property?” The word justified in this sentence, is the same as saying, “When is it just (or fair) to use force?” The answer is that we are morally justified in using force as a reciprocal measure to correct inequity in society.
Casting our Moral Vote
The individual who violates the common law has cast his or her moral vote against one or more of the unalienable rights. In deciding the other person did not have the right to their life, liberty or property, they have basically decided that this right doesn’t exist. Therefore, society can respond by not respecting their right to their life, liberty or property to an equal degree.
The criminal can be held accountable for the trespass because they are responsible for the consequences of their actions, which caused loss and suffering on the part of their victim. A moral society will, therefore, be justified in forcing the criminal to correct the in-equity between them and the person or persons they trespassed against. If society allows for the trespass, then it encourages others to trespass as well, increasing crime in society and a breakdown in respect for government.
A similar thing happens when the government uses excessive punishment. People who feel that the law or actions of government are unfair or unequal won’t respect law and order, which ultimately threatens the peace of the entire society.
This is why only a society that offers “liberty and justice for all” can endure in peace. Any faction or minority in a society that is being denied their unalienable rights will not only feel justified, but they will also be justified, in fighting against the iniquity that is being committed against them. Unfortunately, one of the ways in which the American system has fallen short of the ideal of the common law is by calling punishment justice. This is not accurate. Just because someone has been punished does not mean that justice has been done.
So, in the next chapter, I will explain why a true justice system is a system of restitution wherein the person who committed the trespass is required to make amends with their victim. This balances the scale of justice and restores equity in society. If we were to reform our justice system to accomplish this task it would radically transform our society for the better in a very short period of time.