Life has no brakes10 May 2006, Posted by Writings in
“Moral education” sounds like something contemporary teenagers would skip to go skateboarding. Why? Don’t they care about what is good for them? Of course they do. That is why they skipped class to go skateboarding! Contemporary teenagers are not corrupt! Corruption takes time – only old people are corrupted.
The teenager who is rebellious and does something different from what he is told is actually exercising his own judgment instead of obeying ours. That his judgment may be mistaken is the minor evil that should be allowed to avoid a bigger one: his enslavement to judgments other than his own1.
How can you encourage teenagers to trust their own judgment when we prescribe where and when it shall be used? How can teenagers trust something that they seldom use? How could they ever get better at it if they don’t use it? Would you drive a vehicle you don’t really know how to drive, especially if it has no brakes? Life has no brakes. When we allow people to drive on the highway of life, we are surprised by the number of crashes and casualties. Not to mention the insufferable traffic.
Then we think that the solution is to add rules and regulations. We think this way at least we’ll avoid the casualties. But the crashes happened not because of the lack of rules but because people were never given the chance to exercise their judgment, thus improving it. Adding rules makes people worse. Road signs rob us of our judgment2. They are the sign that people are too stupid to trust. It is the same with laws. We do not trust each other. But the solution is not obedience to the law.
Laws were made for specific people, under specific circumstances. They become bulwarks to freedom, efficiency and improvement if people and circumstances change while they remain unchanged.
I am at a crossroad around 4 a.m. Most people are asleep in their homes, their cars in their garages. I am not drunk or too tired. I am a competent driver. There is ample visibility and street lighting towards all directions. It is a quiet night. I do not see or hear a car for miles. There are no pedestrians. Yet the light is red. According to the traffic light, I shouldn’t drive forward. But the light does not know it is 4 a.m.; it does not know that most drivers are sleeping, their cars in their garages; it does not know I am not drunk or too tired. It cannot see or hear there isn’t a damn car or pedestrian coming for miles; it doesn’t know all these things. For if it did, it would have been green. Yet it is not. If I decide to cross because I am aware that I am not breaking the spirit and purpose of the law, a policeman watching will still cite you; and a judge will condemn you.
They would not be punishing you because you broke the law but because you did not obey it.
There lies the difference between citizens and subjects.
What made America inspiring was that very re-vision.
1. This thought is found in the Reflections and Maxims of Vauvenargues.
2. I obviously don’t mean all signs, rules and regulations rob us of our judgment, nor am I implying that all of them are useless.