[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

An idea I first encountered in a senior college course called “The Individual in History” has remained with me as useful for considering many questions:  Throughout recorded time human beings haven’t been able to survive as individuals, and have always required the support of some kind of community. But as soon as there are such communities, whether familial, tribal, municipal, or national, they have needed rules, regulations, ordinances, laws – to keep the competing interests of the various individuals within them in balance.  That means an individual’s own needs or desires may sometimes (often?) conflict with what the community decides it needs.

What is the individual to do in such an instance? Under what circumstances is it permissible to disregard what the community has determined is right?

If you’re late for an important meeting, is it okay to park by a hydrant now because you can pay the ticket later?

If you’re in a hurry to get home at two a.m., is it okay to run a red light on a deserted street because no cop is likely to catch you?

If you’re under-withheld on your taxes, is it okay to fudge deductions because the Internal Revenue Service may not spot it?

If you meet an attractive new person, is it okay to cheat on your husband/wife/lover/partner because you may not be discovered?

Is it okay to stop paying child support for your first set of children because there isn’t enough left over from supporting your second set and if you can’t be found, the state will support them instead?

If you’re a genial, generous boss with terrible cash flow problems (as in my last piece), is it okay to violate federal securities law governing employee tax-deferred retirement accounts to make payroll, because it’s just for a while and you fully intend to make good later?

Is it okay for pharmaceutical, insurance and other major corporations (considered artificial “persons” under the law) to curry legislative favor with secret, impermissible gifts and cash because if the gifts and cash are discovered, it will be the legislators and not the corporate artificial “persons” who’ll suffer?

There’s no end of places your mind can go with a good college education. You’ll never be bored.

8 thoughts on “WRITING SHORT: 36/50

    • At first I didn’t understand what you meant, Shimon. (The word “diet” threw me off.) But yes, your analogy is a good one. There are times when one must, or feels one must, break a rule (hopefully not a very important one), but such times should be few. (Was it adultery you were thinking of?) And you have to decide when is it justified and when is it not, case by case. Unfortunately, in my last example and the one about deadbeat dads, there’s no bottom to the forbidden box.


  1. We all have to live in the kitchen of give and take. As soon as I don’t accommodate others, my guilt jumps in automatic. An automatic speed camera caught me doing 67Km in a 50km zone. Those cameras have no conscience. I now paid $A260.-. My first fine ever for speeding. Should I have asked for leniency, seeing at 75, it was my only ever traffic offence? I could have, but did not. Can you see what a guilty conscience can lead to?


    • Nice expression: “the kitchen of give and take.” But why guilt, Gerard? Especially for speeding? I would have shamelessly thrown myself at the copper’s feet (metaphorically speaking), full of false contrition, if that would have lessened the fine.


  2. Jools

    In answer to your questions, a rousing ‘no’ to all the above. I fear I may be a tad too uncompromising for my own good. What can I say… I’m a Rules Girl. 🙂


  3. Perhaps you’ve not yet found yourself between a rock and a hard place, Julie? For example, suppose the adulterer in my fourth example is a Catholic married to an institutionalized bi-polar woman? Does that change anything? Should it? Maybe the “rule” should be modified in some instances?

    Actually, I didn’t expect reader answers. Just wanted to stir the pot a little. There really is no answer to my last question, for instance. Bribing a legislator is clearly “wrong,” but as long as capitalist societies are money driven, corporations will go on doing it and some congressman or senator will go on selling his vote. So what is to be done?


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