Law and Ponies

OK… I’m not quite sure why this came up other than the previous question on the biology of ponies, but the question was about Equestria’s Legal System.

Oh yeah. Player characters in a civilized area. Legal problems are pretty much inevitable.

Well, It’s not like I’m a leading expert on My Little Pony, but I am an incurable answerer of questions and I possess the power of Google, so why not? Lets see what we’ve got to work with here…

We’re officers of the Royal Guard. We take our orders from royalty. With Princess Luna and Princess Celestia gone, and Princess Cadance overseeing the Crystal Empire now, that means we take our orders from you.

-Unicorn guard in Princess Twilight Sparkle Part 1.

Oh yes. That’s why not. The Royal Guard seems to be all that Equestria has in the way of an army, police force, national guard, or secret service – and they’re basically only seen in Canterlot, the Crystal Empire, and accompanying the Princesses or running their errands. There may be some local militias, but there’s no real evidence of that – and even if they exist, they seem unlikely to be more than a bunch of farmers and other local Earth Ponies who poke pointy sticks at monsters to give the Unicorns or Pegasi time to hit them with magic, lightning, tornadoes, or whatever.

In fact, going by the show… there really isn’t much of any evidence that Equestria actually has a criminal legal system other than being judged by the princesses (and usually being let off with a scolding. Princess Celestia really does seem to think of “My Little Ponies” as a bunch of kids in her care).

So there’s no real evidence for much of anything in the way of a criminal justice system. How about social services and contract law? That’s another big chunk of most legal systems.

As far as Social Services go… ponies don’t seem to need clothing even in winter (Winter Wrap-Up) and, while they may prefer fruits, vegetables, and baked goods, there’s apparently nothing to stop them from eating grass and leaves. There’s no shortage of water and they don’t actually seem to need very much in the way of shelter. It looks like Equestria doesn’t need much in the way of a social safety net. With Love and Harmony as principles of nature family law doesn’t seem too important either. Fire department? When any passing Pegasus Pony can shove a wisp of cloud into place and stomp out more water than anything but a water main could deliver otherwise? When unicorns can levitate down trapped people and most buildings are small anyway? Orphans? It’s an affluent (after all, a small town of creatures who do not normally wear clothes is supporting a boutique) female-heavy, society that’s quite indulgent of children, values extended families (Apple Family Reunion) and is based on love, friendship, and harmony. No… it sounds more like Orphans would have a hard time avoiding getting taken in.

Dressed? Uh, beg pardon Rarity, but, uh… we don’t normally wear clothes.

-Applejack, The Best Night Ever.

If Equestria doesn’t need social services, how about contract law? Well, The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000 shows us that major business deals are conducted via verbal contracts and that ponies adhere to the spirit of the agreement, rather than to it’s exact wording.

That pretty much kills contract law. Ponies evidently run their society on the honor system.

That doesn’t leave a lot.

Evidently a land of full of peaceful, noncombative, highly cooperative, herd creatures with few serious physical needs and a tendency to share things freely, set in a universe where friendship, love, and harmony are actual forces of nature, has very little call for a legal system. Even when they’re dealing with nomadic buffalo, simple verbal agreements meet their needs.

What’s turned up on the show? Maybe there’s something we can find there in the way of law enforcement besides the (rather useless) royal guard and Alicorn decrees.

  • The hospital has a “security guard” – but that guards primary job seems to be chasing runaway mental patients.
  • Appleloosa has a Sheriff, who is apparently armed with pies and being disapproving. If there’s actually any serious crime out there I don’t think that pies and disapproval is going to stop it.
  • Police ponies appear in Pinkie Pride, in the police lineup of Cheese Sandwich semi-clones shot and next to Pinkie when she’s watching the show on a television – but that song-sequence also involves Cheese Sandwich jumping into paintings and disassembling his own body, backup groups and spotlights from nowhere, ponies wandering around on a giant pizza, the world turning upside down, giant party bombs, a lake of punch, many sudden shifts of setting, and Cheese Sandwich making a rainbow with his accordion – among many other bits never seen before or since. I think that the entire sequence – like much of the rest of that episode – can be safely chalked up to Pinkie and Cheese being Pinkie and Cheese and “party magic” (which looks to be about equal to Discords, but only works for moments).

Now on the “Law Enforcement? What Law Enforcement” side… Where were the hypothetical police when Trixie was banishing Twilight from Ponyville? Why did Twilight forgiving Trixie let her off the hook for imprisoning all of Ponyville as her personal kingdom? Did Twilight get arrested or sued for mass mind control and causing a massive riot by enchanting her doll? Did Twilight have to turn over her spending money for the next century to pay for destroying the town by fiddling with the parasprites? How much property damage have the Cutie Mark Crusaders done with no repercussions? Did the Diamond Dogs face kidnapping charges or – if they’re an independent nation – some sort of reprisals? Did Spike get persecuted for stealing that green dragons treasure? Did Zecora sue over not being served? Why are the Cutie Mark Crusaders and Spike still in the custody of ponies who let small children do absurdly reckless things? Why didn’t the buffalo go to court over people stealing their land? Why wasn’t Sugar Cube Corner sued out of existence over the “Baked Bads”? For that matter… the various animals are shown to have significant intelligences in many episodes; how do the chickens feel about ponies using their unborn offspring as baking ingredients?

The penalty for attempting to destroy the world seems to be one or another variant on being locked up until you escape and/or can be reformed. The penalty for almost ANY other offense seems to be a scolding and feeling guilty – so why are Fluttershy and Twilight so upset at the notion that she might have offended Celestia by trying to help her apparently-sick bird? Wouldn’t the courts and her civil rights protect her from any excessive retribution? Sure, neither Fluttershy nor Twilight are especially sensible in such matters – but it’s almost like they think that Celestia can just do whatever she wants to do when someone offends her.

When you have a nigh-immortal ruler who can literally destroy the world at will, who has vast magical powers (at least compared to almost everyone else), who is often considered a goddess, and who has many centuries of experience… is it really at all likely that the government is anything but an absolute monarchy? It may be a very benign one (Friendship, Love, and Harmony again), but is there any evidence that Princess Celestia is not being utterly literal when she says “My Little Ponies” and lets them “bow” to her?

At the proverbial bottom line… this is a setting where the inhabitants, and even the animals, are so harmonious, cooperative, and naturally coordinated that they spontaneously break out into song-and-dance performances, sometimes involving dozens of ponies and even more animals. They don’t have to practice, they don’t need a director, choreographer, or songwriter, and their environment supplies background music. If Equestria has any criminals at all they’re probably somewhat less threatening then The Pirates of Penzance.

Equestria doesn’t NEED a legal system. If the player characters get out of line you’ll just have to tell them that one princess or another has scolded them and that they’re going to suffer great big penalties for their low morale until they start behaving themselves again and make amends.

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6 Responses

  1. That does seem to sum it up pretty well. There’s simply no evidence of a court system, penal system, or anything other than what you described (though there’s a pony with a gavel as their cutie mark in the background during Pinkie Pie’s “Smile Smile Smile” song). Of course, this means that in the extremely rare event that somepony comes along with actual criminal intent, there’s really no room between receiving a scolding and being sealed into Tartarus (or the moon, or the frozen North, or someplace equally inhospitable) for a very long time.

    Of course, some ponies manage to dance near that line without ever truly crossing it. That’s how Flim and Flam can sell snake oil to sick and injured ponies, claiming it’s a miracle cure-all tonic, and then simply leave town with all of the money when their scheme is outed (in [Leap of Faith).

    This approach also dominates the pony economy. In The Last Roundup, Mayor Mare states that the proceedings to fix the ruined town hall will be entirely donated by a private citizen (Applejack). That’s rather odd, considering that taxes are usually put towards maintaining and repairing public buildings.

    It’s even more odd that Applejack, of all ponies, would be the one to volunteer the money, considering that on three separate occasions we hear about how her farm is on the verge of going bankrupt if there’s even a small disruption to her business (e.g. if they can’t sell their cider in The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000, when Twilight remarks to Rarity that Pinkie Pie is about to “lose the apple farm” (when she has Applejack’s cutie mark) in Magical Mystery Cure, and when there’s an infestation of vampire fruit bats in Bats!). That would explain why Applejack is so eager to sell her wares even during a formal ball (The Best Night Ever). Well, Applejack is notably stubborn, so that might explain her rush to donate money that she can apparently ill-afford (and her shame when she fails to win the money), but the fact that this seems to be the only plan to finance the repairs to the town hall at all (since Twilight assures Applejack that they’ll get the money “some other way” seems to indicate that there’s no backup plan) would suggest that this is a world with no taxes.

    This starts to paint a picture of a society that’s highly stratified, economically. Diamond Tiara’s father (whose name is Filthy Rich) is notably wealthy, and in fact Granny Smith reveals that they’ve been wealthy ever since his grandfather started reselling apple products from the Apple family’s farm (Family Appreciation Day). So inherited wealth is very much a thing here…and depending on how you view it, so are business monopolies (since Filthy buys one hundred jars of zap apple jam, which sounds like a lot for a family of four – including a child and an elderly pony – to make).

    So how does the government get anything done if it’s not collecting money from the citizenry? Well, overlooking Celestia and Luna’s magical power, I’d venture a guess that they simply ask for it, and rich ponies contribute money simply to curry favor. Now, she does seem to be able to give grants of land (as the flashback in Family Appreciation Day seems to imply), which is the basis for a noble class, but things seem to have stopped short of that, as the Apple family don’t have any titles, nor do any other ponies that I can recall off the top of my head (notwithstanding Prince Blue Blood).

    Of course, even Filthy Rich is very amicable towards poorer ponies, and chastises his daughter for not being the same. So clearly the power of harmony is ameliorating the issues of class warfare before they can erupt, but it’s still notable. (It also makes me wonder why, when Scootaloo was upset over how she couldn’t fly in Flight to the Finish, nopony told her to seek a medical opinion regarding why that was. She clearly didn’t know why she couldn’t, so she hadn’t already seen one, but the idea never occurred to anypony…they went straight to “it’s important to accept yourself for who you are,” which is good advice, but should only be done after you’ve conclusively determined that this is something you can’t change. That’s why the old saying ends with “and the wisdom to tell the difference” between the things you can change and the things you can’t. Clearly, whomever her parents were should have thought of that, at the very least…or maybe they did and healthcare costs were more than they could afford?)

    • Hm. Looking back on this, I have finally thought of something else to note – and that’s that Equestarian Criminals must have a REALLY hard time getting away with much thanks to cutie mark labeling and the nature of Equestrian names.

      After all… get conned by the “Flim-Flam” brothers, and you really should have known what was likely to happen even if the link to their cutie marks is a little vague. Similarly, if you gamble with “Marked Cards” or “Loaded Dice”, date “Gold Digger”, “Wife Beater”, or “Black Widow”, open up a business next door to “Crazed Arsonist” or “Protection Racket”, or try calm reasoning when “Firebrand Demagogue” has found a cause or “Violent Drunk” has been hitting the bottle… then you have little excuse for not seeing the ensuing disaster coming.

      That might be a bit extreme – but if changing your name was a thing, would to con artists go around calling themselves the “Insincere Con Artists”? That’s pretty much what “Flim Flam Brothers” says.

      Unless such talents and destinies do not occur due to the power of harmony or something… maybe there’s some special provision (“A certain amount of crime will be tolerated” perhaps?) made for ponies who’s cutie marks are telling them “you’re a crook”?

      Thanks to Harmony (and the nature of the show) we’re never going to see a squad consisting of “Hit Pony”, “Deadly Nightshade”, “Bone Breaker”, “Mail Bomber”, and “Collateral Damage” being sent out under the command of “Captain Massacre” to deal with the enemies of Equestria on the show – but a RPG may have to deal with the question of “what does Equestria do with ponies who’s cutie marks and talents are too extreme even for the military”?

      For the show it’s probably just “such ponies do not exist”, but with players there’s always at least one.

      • The issue of their names (and cutie marks) being such encompassing descriptors is one that the fandom has been weighing for a while, or so I’ve been given to understand (particularly in the case of when their name – presumably given at birth – just so happens to match the cutie mark that they develop years later).

        This usually isn’t a problem for Equestria in terms of crime or other ponies that cause trouble, simply because there aren’t that many of them. True, the Flim Flam Brothers are a major exception (and they seem to showcase how most ponies react to that, which is that they don’t seem to connect their name with how they’re likely to act…talk about a lack of prejudice!), but for the most part it’s simply not an issue. I imagine that’s due to harmony being such a powerful force in Equestria that there’s no such thing as a pony whose destiny is to cause trouble.

        To be fair, though, the fifth season seems to be trying to confront this particular issue head-on. Specifically, it’s been pushing the issue of ponies misunderstanding their own cutie marks (e.g. Troubleshoes thinking that his represents bad luck, and that it’s his lot in life to be misunderstood as a criminal). Hence the new modus operandi of the Cutie Mark Crusaders.

        There’s also the fact that a lot of ponies have names (and cutie marks) that are flat-out ambiguous. Nothing about “Starlight Glimmer” says “steals your special talent,” for instance (though to be fair, a lot of the time their name does just that, e.g. Ms. Harshwhinny).

      • Oh that was a bit exaggerated for effect – as noted, it’s likely that ponies in Equestria-the-show simply do not get talents, names, and destinies like “Gozer the Destructor” and even con artists and such are probably very rare. It’s a what-if – but in gaming it’s one of the places where player whimsy really comes into play (thus the notes on names in the cutie mark discussion).

        I still find the notion of Equestria tolerating a clearly-labeled cruminal class “because it’s what their cutie marks are telling them” both humerous and almost fitting though.

  2. One further instance of something related to law enforcement comes to mind, in the fourth season episode “For Whom the Sweetie Belle Toils.”

    When the Cutie Mark Crusaders rush to Canterlot to crash Rarity’s meeting with Sapphire Shores, the building they’re in has a burly earth pony, wearing a suit and sunglasses (and a padlock cutie mark) guarding the door.

    He’s pretty clearly private security, and the conversation he has with the trio makes it clear that he’s to keep overzealous fans away. But given that he’s apparently the only guard there, and that even in a city like Canterlot (which doesn’t seem like a small town) the CMC seem to be the only ones trying to force their way inside, that doesn’t speak very much to such security guards being all that necessary.

  3. […] Government, Law Enforcement, and the Legal System of Equestria: How Equestria’s “legal system” (or general lack thereof) works and why being scolded is actually a serious penalty. Commentary: Social Stratification, Crime and Pony Names. […]

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