Law, Foreign Norms and Social Order (Or, How I Survived A Naples Soccer Celebration)

naples.jpgHello again from Rome.

Last weekend, when returning from Sorento/Capri to Rome via Naples, I was forced to confront the relationship between norms, law and order in an unexpected context. Naples has just emerged from a debilitating garbage strike. Even when not mired in its filth, I don’t think the City is known for its cleanliness or a general ambience of security. Indeed, when we had passed through earlier in the weekend, I noticed that cab we were in obeyed the relevant traffic lights, signals and lines only at random intervals. Fine by me, but bad for the mopeds we pushed onto the sidewalks. Riding a moped is not quite the same in Italy as it is over here, and it’s not just a case of getting moped insurance for 17 year olds in order to feel protected. The driving in busy areas can get quite aggressive at times, and unfortunately the moped drivers get the rough end of the stick.

Now Italy has one of the highest car accident rates in Europe. (And the system for resolving accidents is Byzantine.) I wondered whether this accident rate was a result of legal/institutional design (bad comparative negligence rules, for example) or a bad compliance regime (a lack of a contingency fee system) or bad norms. Lacking data, I imagined that most accidents occurred between Italian and non-Italian drivers, because Italian drivers are all following the same set of informal traffic norms, in turn validated by Italian negligence rules, that help them to decide the optimal time to cross four lanes of traffic against a red light.

But I digress. The real news from Naples came when our ferry was about to dock in its port. A ruckus had erupted. Apparently, Naples tied with Genova in a soccer match, resulting in both teams being promoted to Series A soccer, or the major league. This led to a general “celebration” consisting of an impromptu “parade” of thousands of mopeds and cars, flags flying and horns blaring, with the occasional firework (or pistol?) thrown into the mix. I expressed some doubt then and now about the celebratory atmosphere not just because there were some random acts of violence against Genovese fans, but because the scene was decidedly chaotic. I also question whether a parade can occur simultaneously on every main street in town.

Here, again, the naive foreign tourist might think to himself that the law had broken down, resulting in a potentially bad situation, a view itself reinforced by a Napolese citizens who told that tourist that it was “very dangerous” to walk to the train station. But a more realistic analysis demonstrated that so long as that tourist walked at a brisk pace while shouting “Forza Napoli” at intervals, he could effectively comply with the new set of norms and not be sanctioned by passing celebrants. Plus, I hailed a cab halfway through the walk.

All of which is to say that this trip is reminding me vividly that much of what we think of as law – the rules that permit us to be social – bears only some relationship to the formal instructions written down. It is much easier to see this when you are out of the Matrix. (A Moneylaw argument for hiring foreigners on the entry-level hiring market, on the theory that they are best positioned to do transformative legal scholarship.)

Next time I’m online, I promise to post something about the Xoxohth lawsuit. As a teaser, you may be interested to read this thread by Xoxohth co-founder and owner Jarrett Cohen.

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4 Responses

  1. Ann Bartow says:

    Hey Dave, hope you are having fun! Thanks to Temple I was in Rome last year when Italy won the World Cup. Basically the entire city shut down and paraded around as you describe for two days afterwards. I carried an Italian flag on my backpack and never had a moment’s trouble :>)

  2. Patrick S. O'Donnell says:

    In keeping with a law blogging norm (i.e., take advantage of an opportunity to promote your work): I wrote an *introductory* piece (i.e., those working in this area probably will not learn anything from it) on law and social norms that can be found here:

  3. Roger Alford says:

    Apropos of your post, the Vatican has just released the “Ten Commandments for Driving” (details here):

    1. You shall not kill.

    2. The road shall be for you a means of communion between people and not of mortal harm.

    3. Courtesy, uprightness and prudence will help you deal with unforeseen events.

    4. Be charitable and help your neighbour in need, especially victims of accidents.

    5. Cars shall not be for you an expression of power and domination, and an occasion of sin.

    6. Charitably convince the young and not so young not to drive when they are not in a fitting condition to do so.

    7. Support the families of accident victims.

    8. Bring guilty motorists and their victims together, at the appropriate time, so that they can undergo the liberating experience of forgiveness.

    9. On the road, protect the more vulnerable party.

    10. Feel responsible toward others.

  4. Patrick S. O'Donnell says:

    Given how often these Commandments are broken, here or abroad, let’s hope violation of most of them amounts only to a venial, and not grave (mortal) sin, or else not a few folks will be subject to eternal damnation.