November 24, 2005

I am not against Thanksgiving, whether American or of any other colour. How can I be against the one day a year which is actually set aside to appreciate the bounty, the life, we are given each and every day?

I do not hold with generic guilt-mongering. No one, here or otherwise, has ancestors who were utterly innocent of having done wrong to someone. Should I lay guilt upon their descendants for something they never did?

I do not hold with colouring past events as unequivocably "good" or "evil". Had there been no Hitler, how long would it have taken our world to come up with a United Nations, or a (more or less) united front on just what constitutes basic human rights? How long would it have taken the United States to begin to acknowledge that it was a part of the greater world at all, and that the commonly practiced racism of the time was not acceptable? War drives invention: nearly all currently commonly used chemicals -- and plastics -- were developed during or immediately after WW II: a direct offshoot of military research. Without the events set in motion by WW II: what would have become of post WW I Germany? Would unconditional surrender with war reparations have become the norm -- and how would a later nation, with modern weaponry, react, when it found itself on the losing side, but with nothing, really, to lose? Certainly it was a drastic lesson: but have we -- as a society, as a nation, as a world -- ever learned a lesson which was not?

(Of course, many would say -- with some justification -- that those agreements are not worth the paper they are written upon, and that those chemicals are coming back to bite us: but evolution, societal and otherwise, requires the willingness to change, to experiment.)

I do hold with personal responsibility. One may not be able to change what is past -- and it is past, make no mistake -- but one can remember what happened and ensure that it, or something like it, does not happen again. Understanding this point, and recognising that some things uncomfortably close to what did happen are still occurring in today's United States -- and elsewhere -- is a matter for the individual conscience, possibly as driver of national policy.

Finally, I am extremely wary of seeking power in order to do "right". Whose "right"? Few indeed are the actions which are not taken in order to do "right"; and fewer the quests for power which are not justified as granting the ability to do "right" by the society to be led.

My personal test is, does my individual perception of "right" directly or indirectly create a "wrong" to another?

Certain it is that that we won't stop doing. Everybody has the ability to do something. It is inherent to being human. We, all of us, have precisely as much power -- power of perception, of knowledge, of action -- as we believe ourselves to have. Especially, we have complete power over ourselves. All we have to do is choose to accept it.

There is such a thing as "free". One is always free to make one's own choices. One is free to lie or to tell the truth, to speak an uncomfortable viewpoint or to not to say it in the interests of preserving comfort, to conform to custom or to reject those mores so very deeply buried in much of society that they are taken unconsciously for granted. One is free to hold a door for another, or to accept that door being held, or to reject it. It is a freedom that is often underestimated, even overlooked: since much of the time, we willingly, even unconsciously, dispense with that freedom so as to "blend in", to "not make waves", make specific types of waves but not others, even (although I succeed in this far less than I would like) not to offend.

One is always free to take the consequences of those personal choices.

With power over ourselves comes also responsibility for our own actions. If we are to accept complete freedom of personal actions, with only such constraints upon our actions as we ourselves choose to submit ourselves to: we must also accept that we also have complete responsibility for our own actions. We can always choose what binds us -- and the consequences of refusing that binding. Sometimes, as a society develops, it becomes useful for those who are becoming the members of that society to bind themselves by the same rules -- but there are many, many levels of rules: and federal criminal law is only one of them (and, interestingly, probably not the strongest). What of trespassing -- a very new interpretation of which is currently evolving in the Internet world? What of not obeying a traffic signal? What of dress codes? What of codes of etiquette, male to female? There are many public places where a female going topless is legal, there may even be some within your own country: but would you?

This requirement of personal responsibility, perhaps even more than the perceived need to conform, may be the single greatest reason we so often reject our own freedom.

What we do not (and perhaps should not) so often have, is power over others. We, each of us, are human beings, not cockroaches, not ants, not worms, not birds -- although there are those who would argue that the distinction matters not at all. To believe in the certainty of our "rightness" that we should have the power to impose our will, our choices, upon another can very easily become a very dangerous cycle, for it can become very easy to decide that, in our sense of "rightness", we might perhaps know what is better for another -- than that other.

And, if we decide we know better than others what is "right", then, surely, we have the responsibility to act upon that knowledge? Nothing comes without cost (to someone, somewhere): yet inaction is also a choice, one that often results in entropy at best, malicious indifference at worst. The right to swing my fist may end where your nose begins -- but no one ever swings their fist in air belonging entirely to them in the first place. Factor in that we generally tend to be very shaky insofar as we balance our wants against the cost to someone not "us", and it can prove very difficult for one in power -- or even for those within that privileged group who tend rarely if ever to be negatively affected by another's limiting definitions -- to see what action or inaction does "wrong" another, let alone to seek action which could minimise the cost to any (I do not say none), to the benefit of all.

Thus it is each individual's responsibility -- and a leader's, above all -- to ask, and to keep asking and learning. Hope for an honest answer, try always to understand the consequences of what you do ... and continue to dance the tightrope.

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