Archives for posts with tag: respect

We live.
Hard to deny that, no matter what we may think about it.
The very fact that there are so many of us who do live simultaneously makes it a near certainty.

Since we do live, then there must be a place where this whole charade unfolds.

That place is called, by us, ‘Reality’.
Which reality had started to exist only after we, the living things, have become aware of its existence.

‘Hey, wait a minute!  a short moment ago you were arguing that our mere existence was absolute proof for the existence of ‘reality’ and now you pretend that ‘reality’ has appeared only after we’ve  noticed it… We’d been alive for way longer than that, dude!’

Of course. Our very existence does depend on the presence of a certain place where we may exist. Only there’s no need for us to know that. Nor for us to be able to name that place. The ants don’t ‘know’ there’s a whole world around them. Nor have a word to describe it!

What we call reality and the ‘place’ where we live are two separate things.
There is an intersection, of course. What is correct of what we think we know about the ‘reality’ and the collection of things that really exist. Only we don’t exactly know what is correct of what we think we know…

And it is here that things become really interesting.
We not only think that we have meaningful information about the thing we call reality. We also act based on that information, with the deliberate purpose of fulfilling our intentions. And in so doing, we decisively change the place. In ways we fail to understand comprehensively.

My point being that we change the place we depend on, for our lives, without having a clear understanding of how the place itself really works. Nor of the changes we implement – willingly and/or unknowingly.

At least, let’s have some respect. For the place itself.
And for us, as an important component of that place.

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There’s a seemingly unending debate about what “my liberty ends where yours begins” really means.

The initial saying was a little longer, Your right to swing your arm leaves off where my right not to have my nose struck begins.”, and had been coined during the disputes between those who tried to impose the Prohibition and those who opposed it.

In that context, it made sense.
‘How close to my house – a teetotaler, should you be allowed to open a bar and why should I be able to tell you what to drink/serve in your house.’

In a wider setting – individual rights, for instance … not so much!

‘Your right to swing your arm leaves off where my right not to have my nose struck begins’ only if at least one of the following is true:
– My arms are as long as yours AND I’m willing/able to defend my nose.
– You are a civilized person.
– We, the entire community, have reached the conclusion that we are better off, together, if we observe – and enforce, this rule.

The first proposition describes a situation of generalized conflict. Not necessarily ‘hot’ but, nevertheless, always waiting to happen.
The second depends, decisively, on the ‘other side’ behaving ‘properly’. Nice and commendable but what happens when someone goes berserk?
The third describes the de facto functioning of any civilized nation. Only a nation, any nation, is composed of individual people. ‘Endowed’ with ‘free will’ and not always ‘well behaved’.

Hence the danger of defining freedom as a collection of individual spaces where each of us might do as they please – as long as the consequences of their actions remain inside that space.
Which spaces would have to be constantly defended.
Or could be extended, whenever any of the neighbors wasn’t on the lookout.

How about ‘our mutually respected individual liberty is the well deserved consequence of our collective effort to enlarge OUR freedom’?

I must clarify from the start that ‘yes we can’ sounds indeed more compelling but this is so only because ‘marketing’ has conditioned us to fall for ‘positive’ messages. ‘Yes we can!’ feels good because it implies that it is enough for us to set a goal and that goal will become accessible just because we declared it so. Very ‘American’ but also rather arrogant.

Besides that, how come that we are so sure that all things we have elevated to the rank of goal are worth pursuing?

On the other side of the barricade are the people who say there is no such thing as ‘progress’, that the advent of science and technology has done zilch to improve the human nature who has remained as sinful as ever.

Yes and no.

Science and technology are indeed nothing but innate tools, they cannot change anything by themselves. Human nature can change, for better or for worse, only under its own steam. It is the individual human being who is the ultimate decision maker about how those tools are going to be used.

There is another thing that needs clarifying. The sinful nature of the human being. In fact this notion is a purposefully distorted interpretation of a certain passage in the Bible:
 And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.””

As it becomes perfectly clear after reading that passage with an open mind, Adam and Eve were not banished from Eden because they disobeyed orders but because ‘they had learned to tell right from wrong’. This was not becoming sinful; it just means that from then on they had the ability to choose to behave badly. Or not. Having the ability to understated what is a sin does not necessarily mean that that sin will be committed.

So why banish them from the Paradise? First of all this is metaphor. The banishment was virtual, not real. Adam and Eve didn’t go anywhere, they only started doubting themselves and their judgments. Enough to loose one’s peace of mind. And rightfully so. As everybody knows people who have an exaggerated confidence in their own prowess are more inclined to making disastrous mistakes than people who are able to exercise a healthy dose of self control. And exactly this is the very reason for why God ‘expelled’ Adam and Eve from Eden (planted the seed of doubt into their soul): so that they’ll never have the opportunity to ‘eat from the tree of eternal life.’
Could you imagine what would happen if wrong choices would be able to last forever?

But how do people learn to behave? Through daily interactions with other people, of course. And the results of those interactions are ‘stored’ both in the individual memories of those directly involved but also in what is called ‘the collective memory’ of a group. Sociologists call that ‘culture’ and it influences individual behavior quite a lot. And that culture is also heavily influenced by the conditions in which individual interactions, those that accrue to eventually form cultural habits, take place.

Let me give you a practical example. I got my driver’s license quite late in life, I was 28 or 29 at that time, right after the fall of communism in Romania. (I had found a good job and I needed one in order to perform it properly so I took the exam and passed it). In those times the cars were rather few so the roads were relatively empty. This, correlated with the fact that policemen were treated with disrespect – they were still seen badly because in the previous regime they were used to suppress dissidence – and that after the so called ‘revolution’ had appeared quite a lot of rather aggressive ‘hot shots’ the manner of driving was chaotic to say the least. Nobody made any concession, no politeness, no nothing. But, I repeat, because the roads  were rather empty, accidents were relatively rare and bottlenecks practically inexistent.

A year or so after getting my license I had to drive to Istanbul. All my friends started to warn me ‘watch out, those Turks drive like madmen, you have to take care, etc., etc.’ I wasn’t exactly scared, in that year I had driven some 40 000 km (approx. 25 000 miles) so I wasn’t a novice anymore but still, I arrived there with more than a little apprehension.

Imagine my surprise when I realized that the Turkish drivers treat themselves with extreme consideration and foreigners with even more. OK, things were happening a lot more rapidly there but they were above all polite, something you almost couldn’t find on the Romanian roads at that time.

And it took me almost two days to understand that had they acted like the Romanian drivers acted at that time traffic would had halted in five minutes and the entire Istanbul would had become a huge bottleneck.

And you know what? Now, twenty years past, traffic in Bucharest has started to resemble the one in Istanbul at that time (I don’t know how it is now, I haven’t been there since, unfortunately). The not so surprisingly thing, for me at least, is that Romanian drivers have cleaned up their act considerably, at least inside the cities. And for good reason. Otherwise it would have been impossible to drive through the narrow and extremely busy streets we have to navigate. Things are not perfect – the Germans or the New Yorkers for instance are driving a lot nicer – but there is a huge improvement.

The point of this story is that most individuals will choose to make the right choice if and when they understands that it’s better to live and let live than to be a constant bully: sooner or later you’ll end up in very unpleasant situations.

And no, heavy handed policing isn’t enough, if the ‘guy in the street’ hasn’t reached ‘that’ level of understanding, if good behavior hasn’t become a cultural habit, people will have the tendency of misbehaving the very instant the policeman turns his head in the other direction. (Not to mention the fact that policemen come from the same community and share the same mentality)

So things can become better, progress is possible exactly because human nature is not inherently bad. Good individual choices coupled with strong interaction and a healthy dose of mutual respect can perform wonders.

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