Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Rules for Rules

All generalizations are dangerous, even this one.

Alexander Dumas
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There is a difference between right and freedom. The United States is a nation of laws. Rule of just laws correctly administered by those with the authority to do so is how our nation is supposed to be governed. Ever since they sat down in their wigs and stockings in the 18th Century, Congress has been passing laws and so have the individual states. Those laws are designed to deprive us of certain freedoms while at the same time protecting our rights.

I have the freedom, if I have the ability, to come and take your property. But I don't have the right. The law has determined that it's theft and therefore punishable. The philosopher Thomas Hobbes, a 17th Century Englishman, describes a civilized society as one where we enter into an agreement with each other, in that I agree not to steal your property if you agree not to steal mine. In so doing we sacrifice our individual freedoms for the sake of our individual rights.

In a truly virtuous, harmonious society such an agreement would not be necessary. But, alas, we are human beings and the laws we pass and agreements we make are human and fallible. Philosophers have been trying to define what virtue means since the beginning and will probably continue long after any congresses are passing laws.

I am not an absolutist, thank heaven, and I wonder if there ever comes a time when theft is a virtue, when I have the right to take your property and not have it be theft. What if you are holding a loaded pistol to your head? Do I have the right to disarm you of your legally owned weapon?

Thou shalt not kill. When is killing a right? If you are holding the pistol to my brother's head, do I have the right to kill you to prevent you from killing my brother? Do I have the right to kill you because I think you MIGHT kill my brother? A soldier may be killed on his first day in battle before he has ever fired a shot.

The case of Scott Roeder is an interesting one in this regard. Roeder shot and killed Doctor George Tiller because Tiller was an abortion doctor. Roeder claims the legal "right" to kill one man to save the lives of unborn children and yet the state of Kansas, where this happened, gives the Doctor the "right" to perform abortions according to the state laws. It's a clash of the concept of rights.

Today's journal entry is not a forum for a discussion of the abortion issue and I will not enter into one. Any comments attempting to argue about abortion one way or the other will be summarily deleted. I have my own opinions about the subject and they will remain with me. I cite this case merely as an example of where the issue of rights versus freedoms becomes muddy.

One of our weaknesses as humans is the need to come up with simple solutions to life's dilemmas. We want a rule for living, a simple formula that decides the issue in every case, a recipe that will always produce the same results, a certain code of human behavior that insures virtue, a law that covers every act we perform and move we make. I have seen people trying to live by those rules to disastrous results. On the human stage there is no such thing as always.

On the courthouse wall down town it says "Ignorance of the law is no excuse." Well, damn it, sometimes it is. I know a city where you will be fined $1,000 for tying your bicycle to a tree, but not to a parking meter, a lamp post or a mail box. Imagine that.

In my personal profile it says "no rituals, no rules, no summations." One of the best directors I ever worked with came into rehearsal the first day with a button that read "There are no rules." Are there rules for art? I don't know of any. Are there rules for living? Maybe, but they seem to change every day.

In the panic of circumstances it is impossible to consult a rule book or consider a code of conduct. One can only hope to make the right decision. Roeder's act was premeditated. Is he guilty of first degree murder or voluntary manslaughter? Whichever way the court decides is liable to become a rule for the future. Unfortunately.

We need laws to protect our rights. But life cannot be generalized. It isn't easy to live. But we are all different, our circumstances are all different and we cannot cut out our lives to fit a pattern.

DB - The Vagabond
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Don't forget the special edition of Vagabond Journeys this weekend. OTHER VOICES: Actors talking about acting. The entries I have are very diverse. It's fascinating.

4 comments:

Big Mark 243 said...

This was pretty profound.

Arlene (AJ) said...

Indeed a thought thinking read for everyone DB.....your words are in ineed profound. Hope you are doing well your way in cold country. Take care.

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

The key is for the rules to really be about the majority, not about the minority. When it is backwards, it causes more harm than it prevents.

Bonnie Bonsai said...

Lots to ponder on. The Ten Commandments was given because of too much lawlessness. It was and it still is, meant to be a code of conduct, where people should follow as a WAY OF LIFE. Very simple laws that some people make it complicated.

What makes them so? Just for one reason. They want their WAY, called "MY WAY!" Then things and almost everything go, went and will go wrong.

Ah DB, you have a way of making us THINK!