• Posted: Oct 03, 2010 15:02:02
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There is an old adage that sometimes floats within our ken: "absolute power corrupts absolutely", words originating with historian Lord Acton, editor of the 19th century tome Cambridge Modern History. Hollow amusement or pithy truth? We might do well to examine those words again.
Those words are often used to describe a powerful government official run amok, and more recently powerful financial institutions run amok. But, there is also relevance on a more down to earth level. If you've never done so before, try something. Stand in a doorway and try very hard for at least 15 seconds to raise your arms against the resistance of the doorframe. Then step into the room and relax your arms. You will be surprised to feel your arms rise all by themselves from your sides. What you are experiencing is similar to what astronauts feel when they first enter weightless space. Your muscles are in constant tension with gravity and the work you ask them to perform. Take away all that resistance for any length of time and your muscles will become confused, disorganized, ineffective, and begin to atrophy. Ask any astronaut returning from space.
Something similar happens to our brains and to our social systems. With respect to our brains, if we don't use the knowledge we have or challenge ourselves with new knowledge our mental faculties will deteriorate. Similarly, our social systems will become reified, stiff, unresponsive, and inflexible monstrosities if we don't continuously challenge them for purpose and effectiveness.
We may dismay at the fumblings of our government in the face of looming disaster, but the consequences could be far worse if government merely mechanically plodded onward obeying ingrained laws, regulations, and procedures. In fact, it's laughably tragic to listen to conservatives pine for a government of intransigent legal purity.
On a personal level, it's also extremely important we stay involved in things that are happening around us. Acquiescence provides an environment for extremism not unlike what happens with your ghostly rising arms in that experiment above. And, the consequences of unrestrained, untempered, unmeasured, ill considered, purely emotional, or hackneyed recalcitrant ideological thinking and action can be deadly. See this week's news for ample proof of that truth on a number of fronts. The recent senseless suicides of at least four distraught young people over bullying and persecution by peers is particularly disturbing.
We have a forebrain for a reason. May you never fail to stay involved and use it with wisdom and prudence. Talking with, not at, someone having a potentially different take on things provides healthful push back for all sides, no matter how ingrained the point of view.
With that in mind, it's a pity legions of us don't stand up and protest the avalanche of distortions and flat out untruths propagated by advertisers, talk radio hosts, religious leaders, inflammatory bloggers, posturing politicians, and journalist/entertainers of dubious credibility, all under the guise of so called "free speech". Personally, I'd be in favor of reformatting "free speech" laws to something more like "free debate" laws, wherein speech could be restricted, denied, or penalized if a valid distinction between demonstrable fact and mere opinion or wishful ideology is not respected.
Monday, September 13th, 2010