Michael Shermer appeared on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast this week and within minutes he explained his approach to driving in LA. He knows the speed limit on a particular highway is 65 mph yet he drives a consistent 75 to 79 mph. He knows this is a safe speed—safe from police intervention. It’s the culture of that stretch of road. When Shermer turns off the main road near his house, he must make a left turn across traffic, requiring a yellow arrow. He doesn’t wait for the yellow arrow. He knows “no one is watching.” At that specific place in the world, the rule does not apply. No one is there to stop him and likely no one cares.
We all experience and engage in these sorts of discretions. We know the rule and we know the world in which that rule resides. The two things have no relationship to one another except when that relationship flashes through our mind at the moment we reach that place in the world. Otherwise, the rule and the action live on different planes. Different dimensions.
These miniscule pairings represent the most common forms of anarchism. There are no rules, no laws, no statutes until you fear them. Until you succumb to the fear of the consequence of infraction, legislated restrictions mean nothing.
Religion has a peculiar effect on people when these sorts of pairings arise in believers’ minds. Much of this stems from the adherent’s misunderstanding of religious rules such as the Christian willingness to align with crusades against the LGBT communities and yet more than willing to rationalize divorce from a spouse. To my recollection, the New Testament mentions negative views on divorce twenty-seven times. It mentions homosexuality four times and only one of those attributed to Jesus Christ. All that weight on the “one flesh” of marriage is sloughed off for the most trivial circumstances to justify a divorce and yet one vague remark by Jesus regarding homosexuality reaps generations of hate. I’m sure this comes down to who’s watching. Who is enforcing the rules—or in this case reinforcing the norm.
One would think that something railed against twenty-seven times in the foundation text of a religion would incur the heaviest obligation. Not, it would seem, if that obligation is policing behavior internal to the group. By several strands of research, Christians divorce more than atheists by multiple percentage points. (The clearest numbers gathered by the Barna group, a Christian research team, no less.) Christian consequences go soft when the violation occurs within Christianity. When a sin occurs for the most part outside the tribe, the tribe finds judgment far easier. When it’s possible the carve off a part of humanity as different, judgment is simpler. Those homos are gonna burn!
Aside from my usual jabbing at the hypocrisy of Christian behavior, this example exemplifies just how squishy tenets become in any structure be it religious, legislative, academic, philosophic. We all bend the rules. We all let things slide depending on the circumstances. Parents do it all the time—good and bad parents. One of the reasons precedent law proves so difficult is the fact that every situation is different than the next. We may label things theft or slander but context and intention form separate solitary dimensions of existence.
No precedent can predict or thoroughly justify whatever label. But things require labels don’t they? Labels and defined terms provide foundations for methods and structures. You cannot argue philosophy without definitions of terms. You cannot perform science without methods and characterizations.
Of course the struggle here is that this battle between laws and reality will never end. We will forever face circumstances that challenge our ability to define right and wrong, left and right, up and down. The beauty of this struggle lies in the one fact we consciously resist but to which we unconsciously surrender on a daily, even hourly basis: we are the ones watching. We are the rule makers. Why do we not accept our role as the rule breakers? Once we acquiesce to human nature’s innate ability to see the absurdity of strict edicts, we might be able to find a more just and rational way to live with ourselves.
In other words, let the façade stand. Let the fantasy of control continue to teeter. There is no need for wasted blood slung across another authority's crest. Violent resistance is a waste of precious time and life. Clamors for revolutions come and go. Hell, revolutions come and go and nothing ever changes. The US is a plastic reflection of the empire she fought for control of the continent. Communist China is just another dynasty. We don’t need another revolution. We need realization. We need a softer touch. We need fluid resistance. Shed both our fear and worship of the law and instead, pity the system that has to exist in this delusion only a few of us will ever recognize or understand. Pity it into oblivion.
Chrysalis, a growing collection of very short fiction.
Unless noted, all pics credited to Skitz O'Fuel.