We always start off our New Yearís resolutions with this one: "We will
never abide by our New Yearís Resolutions." That certainly describes our
particular attitude toward life. If we obey this 1st resolution,
then we must certainly disobey it!
We humans seem adept at saddling ourselves with damned-if-we-do or
damned-if-we-donít scenarios. For ages, men have been looking for a key buried
somewhere deep inside that paradox that will let us transcend the psychical
bog of cause-and-effect relationships that keeps us down. Itís clear enough
that there are no causes, no effects thatíll save us from our self-conflicting
nature. Some would say that there is faint hope for any kind of spiritual
redemption to be found in our raveled life-tapestries, whose patterns always
seem twisted and incomplete.
Iím not sure I fully believe in the notion of human free will. But if it
exists, certainly its most powerful corollary is the freedom to deny
its existence Ė the inherent, guaranteed freedom to elect not to
acknowledge the many unsolicited demands made upon us to select one bad option
over even worse ones. Thatís one of the reasons I donít choose to participate
in that dreadful artifice we call American Democracy.
To be sure, semantically speaking, the decision not to take an action
is itself a choice. Somehow we have to rise above that logical conundrum.
If a fellow is windmilling at the edge of a deadly precipice, you would
surely choose to yank him back onto solid ground Ė he may not be quite ready
to collect his ultimate Karma, and may have stumbled into that dire position
by sheer accident. It wasnít his conscious will that caused him to end up in
his predicament, and your willful decision to save him should be easy to make.
But suppose I add some small history to the scenario by saying that just a
moment before, that fellow had tried to kill you? In that case, your decision
to act takes on a different aura. You might decide to give him a little
outward nudge, rather than pulling him back to safety. Or you might choose to
do nothing, and let his fate be governed by the mindless Newtonian forces
operating on him. Or you might choose to save him, regardless of the sceneís
There are always other options too, that wouldnít ordinarily come to mind.
You might choose to link your fates together by leaping against him, carrying
both of you over the edge. Or by engineering some sort of sacrificial
acrobatic maneuver to save him while going over the edge yourself. Or by
slicing him in two, thereby saving one half of him -- whichever half enjoys
the most advantageous center of gravity.
Thatís an extreme scenario. More often in our lives, the scenes play out in
slow motion, often taking years to unfold. If a fellow doggedly persists in
marching towards some awful personal perdition, most of us will not get in his
way. On the other hand, neither will we help him further his
self-defeating cause. So long as individual wills arenít too closely
intertwined, each can retain its own indisputable, inherent sanction. (This is
notwithstanding the fact that in some places, suicide is considered illegal --
a truly wonderful example of jurisprudential imbecility.)
Problem is, like quarks in a proton, the concept of individual will canít
be separated from the concept of universal rights. Free will and universal
rights are always seen playing together -- not always nicely -- on the
teeter-totter. Have you ever jumped off the board when your play partner was
stuck helplessly up in the air? The uniquely American take on this interplay
explains our love of personal weapons and lawsuits. It also explains why we
struggle so much with defining exactly where we want our government to stand
in all of this.
Having spent the first half my life in the North and the latter half in the
South, itís interesting to me to contrast the regional differences of opinion
in what freedom and rights mean. Where I live now in the South, the concept of
freedom focuses on the individual, rather than the community or society at
large. "Individual right" here often seems like itís defined as the right of
the individual to take on personal risk. That right overrides the impact on
society, when the individualís risk falls buttered-side down. Thus itís
extremely difficult to pass any laws here that abridge, say, the right of
motorcyclists to ride without helmets, or for drivers to drive without
seatbelts. Statistics show that fully 40% of drivers in my county donít carry
mandatory auto insurance. Consequentially, as the insurance rates rise for
people who do carry insurance, less and less people choose to buy it. It would
be extraordinarily easy to link the insurance databases with those of the state
agency that issues annual vehicle license tag stickers. But that isnít done --
and, in fact, it wouldnít be tolerated.
Another difference is the notion of personal property taxes, contrasted
with licensing taxes. Itís all in a name. Folks here will accept the idea of
paying taxes on their personal automobiles as "property", but wouldnít stand
for the alternate idea of paying the same amount of taxes for the privilege of
driving them. That is something God-given; it's not something that is subject
to regulation by government. Yet another facet of individual rights in this
is the freedom to conduct business in an anonymous fashion, especially when
transacting the sale of firearms. Thatís got a lot of logic to it; it does at
least put you on even footing with the raving crackheads and armed criminals
running amok here.
But I fear Iím digressing from my theme Ė to the extent that there is
one. My life philosophy tends to follow the conclusion of Moliereís Candide:
We must cultivate our own garden. In the final analysis, the simpler we can
make our lives, the less conflict and mental turmoil we'll experience.
Decisions and choices will become clearer and easier. Effects become less
risky and less potentially devastating to ourselves and to others. If we
conduct the business thatís close to home in a prudent, honest and
straightforward way, the same pattern will extend to larger transactions we
make in the world at large. Act consistently. Things donít have to be
complicated. Take care of putting local issues in order, and global ones will
fall into place nicely.
To be sure, this wonít preclude hardships from occurring. You canít control
all the vagaries of life. But if you focus on making your own bed, youíll make
your own luck at the same time.