"To know what is right and not do it is the worst cowardice." ~ Confucius
Column by Paul Hein.
Exclusive to STR
It’s a familiar aphorism: You’ve got to play by the rules. There’s no picking up the puck and running with it; no using a tennis racket in handball. Golfers are not to use baseball bats. And there are penalties for violations.
It’s not only sports, of course. If you’re a Rotarian, you’re expected to observe the by-laws of that organization. Ditto if you belong to the Knights of Columbus. And in business, if you’re a Ford employee, certain rules apply, which may not be the same as those relating to General Electric workers.
There is one enormous assumption behind the “you’ve got to play by the rules” adage. And that is: The rules only apply if you’re playing! And what’s more, if you are playing, and decide to stop, or if you decide to retire from your employment, or withdraw from your social club, you can. And when you’ve done that, the rules no longer apply; you no longer need to play by them, and there’s no penalty for withdrawal.
The fact that certain rules, of, say, a sport, or a social organization, no longer apply to you does not mean that you are thereby exempted from ordinary ethical and moral behavior. It only means that you have separated yourself from the organization whose rules you formerly voluntarily accepted.
Ah, all except one organization: government. Our Rulers assume that you are on their team, and subject to their rules, which they have drawn up, and frequently modify. The Cardinals, or Ford, or the Knights of Columbus can draw up whatever rules they want, and change them as they see fit, but so what? If you don’t belong to those organizations, it’s moot, as far as you’re concerned.
But the rules laid down by the Rulers, which they call “law,” are thought, as least by the Rulers, to apply universally, automatically, and unavoidably. And any attempts at withdrawal will be dealt with severely: consider the Confederacy.
If you’re on a baseball team, any change in the rules of the game will be explained to you. After all, how could you play by the rules if you didn’t know what they were? The Rulers, however, at local, state, and national level, write thousands of rules every year, and expect you to learn them on your own, although quite willing to punish you if you fail to observe them. “Ignorance of the law is no excuse,” they insist, although that’s obviously absurd; but it suffices to justify their punishment for your disobedience.
I suppose you could ask for evidence that the rules of baseball applied to you, but as you were on the field, in your uniform, with the team’s paycheck in your pocket, that would be foolish. You could complain to your boss that you don’t want to park in the employees’ parking lot, and ask what evidence he had that you were bound to do so. He could produce your contract, and point out the appropriate subsection of part A, subchapter 14. The slave, in the days when slavery was overt, could be shown the bill of sale by which his master purchased him.
It’s different if you ask the Rulers for evidence that their “rules” apply to you. They will reply, in all earnestness: It’s The Law! In their minds, and, sadly, in the minds of most people, that settles it. The law, however, is merely what they want, duly inscribed in the law books. When they insist that we obey them because it’s the law, they are saying that we must obey them because they say so. It’s interesting that, at a time when a large majority of the public believes their lawmakers are doing a poor job, the laws which they pass are treated as sacrosanct. It’s like cleaning out the Congressional latrine, expecting to find diamonds.
In his Declaration, Mr. Jefferson pointed out that governments derive their JUST powers from the consent of the governed. He and his colleagues withdrew their consent from King George, and resigned from his organization, but only at the cost of tens of thousands of lives. Today, at least as assumed by the Rulers, nearly all Americans give their consent, as shown by their willingness to obey. Oh, they may grouse and complain, but in the end, they conform themselves to the rules of the game, even if the rules may be unknown to them, not written with their cooperation, and incomprehensible. The mugger doesn’t mind if you whine and complain, so long as you “play by the rules” and hand over your wallet. The “rules,” of course, are his.
Come to think of it, what’s to stop you from having some rules of your own? It’s your life, isn’t it? One of them might be that you are going to live your life free from outside coercion. What a dangerous idea! You must be a terrorist!