A couple months ago I left my keys on a bus too late at night to follow said bus to the bus company office and get them back, and I couldn’t sleep in my own apartment, so I slept on the floor at a friend’s.
We ended up talking about politics, and somewhere past 2 a.m. I said, “It comes down to, do you want people who do the right thing, or do you want people who think for themselves?”
(I may have forgotten to mention that my friend and I lie on nearly opposite sides of the political spectrum.)
We were discussing (I think) the problem of Saving the Planet. I don’t remember my friend suggesting that everyone be made to live an environmentally friendly life, but we were talking about whether or not that would be necessary in order to achieve the goal of Saving the Planet.
I see people say, “Everyone should ride their bike! It’s good for the environment!” and I wonder what happens if we follow that statement out to its bitter end.
Everyone is made to ride their bike.
First question – who is making everyone ride their bike?
Second question – is that all they’re allowed to do, or do they have permission to make people do other things once everyone rides their bike?
Because if we give that authority to someone who is capable of abusing it, we now have someone who cannot handle power who has control over an important aspect of our lives.
We have demonstrated that we wish to do what is good for the environment in our original statement. We have further demonstrated that we want an external force to make it mandatory. We have given power to an external force of our choice. Presumably (as are most things on this planet), whatever the force is, it is controlled by a person (or people).
Who is that person? What are their motives? And do we trust them?
I see that becoming a very dangerous situation very quickly: the wrong person is given power (or, alternatively, someone who can handle it is in power to begin with, but someone who likes power sees a way to have it and proceeds to get it and abuse it). And whether or not you, someone who does not have power, are happy to or capable of following all the demands of an environmentally friendly lifestyle (whatever that is as deemed by the person now in power), you are now forced to.
“What’s wrong with that?” I hear you saying. “The planet gets saved, everybody lives a more environmentally friendly lifestyle, what’s not to love?”
I’m only gonna say this once, so pay attention. Goals are not worth more than people.
Sure, the people are living on a planet which is now not going to explode and kill them all. That’s good. That’s great, even.
Question one – who made the choices to save that planet?
Question two – why did they make them?
Question three – whose planet is it now?
In high school I was on the newspaper. I was the Opinion Editor…kind of. What that was supposed to mean was that I did the layout of the opinion page and edited/had a hand in choosing the articles which went onto that page. What I actually ended up doing was laying out one of the six issues we sent out that year. The editor-in-chief was very interested that everything be done correctly. I didn’t even really know how to do it incorrectly at first, and as such, she did it. And so it continued, and I didn’t learn until I was producing my own issue the next fall, as the editor-in-chief.
In this case, the goal (having a good newspaper) superseded the people (yours truly trying to learn how to work on a newspaper).
When I was a kid, I was watching the Disney film The Sword in the Stone with my sisters. There’s a scene in which Arthur is supposed to do a veritable mountain of dishes because he is being punished. Merlin sneaks in and sets all the dishes alight with the magical ability to do themselves. Arthur, flabbergasted, whispers, “But I’m supposed to do it!”
Merlin scoffs. “No one will know the difference, son!” he sings. “Who cares as long as the work is done?”
My dad walked by in time to hear this line, and said indignantly, “I care!”
It stuck in my head. True, Arthur’s punishment was unjust and we are all on his side in the story when Merlin spirits him away to do something more exciting. But in a general context, my dad was right. Merlin put the goal (making a prodigy out of Arthur) ahead of the person (Arthur, who needed to learn something from his plight – okay, so not in this particular instance, but you get what I’m getting at). And frankly, couldn’t that adventure with the annoying girl squirrel have waited a couple more hours?
The other day my boyfriend and I got mad at each other. He lives 4 000 miles away from me, so we couldn’t see each other’s faces. I was hurt. When we resolved the argument, I felt like we hadn’t acknowledged the fact that I was hurt. I didn’t want to say, “Hey, are you gonna apologize for hurting me?” because if he didn’t mean the apology, then it wasn’t worth anything, but I wanted it so badly I was considering demanding it anyway.
If I had demanded an apology, I would have placed the goal (getting my apology) ahead of the person (my boyfriend, who needs to be genuinely sorry if he hurts his girlfriend – which he is, because he’s a lovely person, but the point stands).
This is why I don’t like centralized government and I don’t like the idea that everyone’s goals, morals and priorities should be the same. I want the choices I make to be driven by me and me only, and I want to make them for my own reasons. Because then, whatever I achieve at the end, it is mine, it was achieved by me and my motivations, the achievement belongs to me.
Our goals may be noble, but if we crush the hearts and souls of people on our way to achieve them, if we drag the needed help from their reluctant fingers, they will be tawdry and cheap trophies when we finally obtain them.
If I’m being honest, I would place the well-being of a person’s soul above the well-being of their body. If one must be sacrificed, I would choose the body first.
Because people emerged from concentration camps in Poland with their bodies worn down to the bones, but their souls survived and they went on living.
Because people are born every day missing arms, missing legs, missing hands, missing fingers, missing lots of things we use to type blog posts, but their souls survive and they find a way to live, to thrive, even. (I am reminded of a video I saw years ago of a girl who had no fingers on one hand, but played beautiful piano. She was an artist, despite the fact that her body was not made in the way we often think you need to be made to be an artist. It was her soul that made her so.)
Because people die, people live in terrible conditions, people suffer awful abuse. People’s bodies fail them (Beethoven was deaf, John Milton was blind). But their souls survive. And they go on living.
If I continue to be honest, I would also place the well-being of a person’s soul above the well-being of their emotions, insofar as the two can be separated.
Because people are called names, yelled at, offended and hurt every day, and yet their souls survive and they go on living.
People question themselves and fold in on their own minds every day, and yet their souls survive and they go on living.
People get sad or angry and sink themselves into alcoholism and drug addiction. And yet, often, if not always, their souls survive and they go on living.
And what happens to all of these survivors?
Sometimes they write, or they paint, or they compose. They bring to life something new and beautiful for the rest of humanity to marvel at. This with destroyed emotions, this with crippled bodies. Yet the greatness is there. The soul survives.
Why have I mentioned all this?
Because. Destroy my body. Fine. Destroy my emotions. Fine. Destroy the very planet that I live on and everyone I love. Fine.
I’m not going to say I’ll survive it. I don’t know how to live without a body, nor do I know how to live without this planet to do it on.
But I would gladly die in any of those ways if I had my soul intact.
If my choices had been mine to make, and mine to endure the consequences of.
If my goals had been worked towards by me, out of love rather than duty, with genuine interest and passion.
If the help that I had received had been given gladly and freely and without a sense of obligation.
If I had helped other people gladly and freely when I was glad and free to help, and if I had been kind about it when I could not help someone.
Why are these things important?
Not sure, really. I have a vague idea that somehow it makes them more real. My choices more real because they belong solely to me and not to someone who pulls my strings and makes me dance. My consequences more real because I accepted them gladly, knowing at what price they came. My goals more real because I achieved them for my own reasons, instead of becoming a puppet to the work other people wanted to get done. The help I received more genuine because I did not beg, demand or manipulate to receive it. The help I gave more genuine because I was not begged, demanded or manipulated to give it.
I think that’s pretty fair.
What does this have to do with being a conservative?
Well, it’s complicated. (As are most things.)
But I think there are fundamental differences in the way conservatives and liberals value things. (Obviously those are very broad terms. People are more complex than that. But for the sake of brevity and the metaphor, stick with me here.)
And I think liberals, though compassion is to be admired, place the goal ahead of the people.
The goal is for everyone to have food, shelter, access to healthcare. Great goals. Really. Pretty nice world to live in.
But I, who is irrational, would value my independence more.
And I cannot rule out the possibility that there are other people like me.
People who would find their goals more satisfying because they achieved them for their own reasons. People who would prefer to receive help from those who willingly give than those who were forced to.
So I will ask: “Do you need help?” if I see any indication to the affirmative. Always.
But will I ever demand help from someone? No.
And will I ever demand that someone help someone else? No.
(And it is this that annoys me about Bernie Sanders.)
I will control my own resources. I will help who I choose with them. I don’t care if it is a goal that Everyone With a Heart™ “should” support. I will make that choice for myself.
That freedom is the only one I ask.
(Well, I’d like to ask to not be judged for my choices made with that freedom, but let’s quit while we’re ahead here.)