[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.