Sunday, July 10, 2016
The Hard Slog: Self Evident Truths
It's not easy.
I hiked 14.5 miles yesterday. I didn't intend to go that far, it just happened. The first mile really sucked because my joints -- hips and knees -- were really sore. But somewhere around 5,500-6,500 feet the pain eased and I hit a good rhythm.
My route was entirely along county roads, and I was clad in sneakers and shorts. This wasn't a prairie hike, but rather a pushing-the-limits workout hike.
It was a good hike. On the page (screen, whatever) 14.5 miles seems a long way. More than half a marathon! But it's not really that far. I walk at least five miles every day in the course of my normal activity, and often it's more like 6-7-8 miles. People are designed to walk, after all.
I didn't set any speed records. My phone tells me that my pace was 15.41 minutes per mile, and the hike took nearly four hours. I did burn something like 14 kcals. According to the phone, or to the algorithm in the hiking app.
It was hot, too! Already over 80 degrees when I set out, it was 97 by the time I returned to the barn.
One of the upsides of hiking is that it gives one a lot of time to contemplate.
I'm really not so good at this blogging stuff. And that's probably because I'm not very good at making reasoned arguments. So many things appear to be self evident, but when I encounter contrary opinions I struggle with putting together cogent arguments in defense of self evident truth.
The solution to the problem is of course to keep banging away at it, keep doing the work. Keep making the arguments and try to make them better. And above all else, be rigorous and honest.
It is to laugh, because I am lazy! It's so much easier to rail in anger and to harrumph in indignity and to toss around a bunch of half truths and little white lies.
This is the first principle.
All men are created equal, and endowed by their creator with natural rights.
This means all men. And don't give me any crap about "what about women?" In this context it clearly means all human beings. Women are human beings. Women are fundamentally different than men, way down in the chromosomes. And vice versa. Men and women are completely different. Boys and girls are completely different. Yet they are all human beings, and therefore all are men in the sense of this particular context.
All men are created equal, which means that each has exactly the same level of humanness. None are more human, none are less human. Each human is distinctly individual and unique; none are identical to their fellows. Yet they are all, each and every one, without exception, human beings.
Human beings have the ability to think, reason, imagine, contemplate. Human beings have emotion, too, and deep seated instinct. The reasoning part is in control, though it obviously considers input from emotion and instinct. This means that humans have free will, that they are in charge of, and responsible for, what they do. Each human being has the capacity to be supremely selfless and altruistic. Each human being has the capacity to be completely self centered and vicious. Your sainted grandmother is capable of committing atrocities on a scale that would make Hitler feel inadequate. The sterno bum living under a bridge, lying, cheating and stealing to get by, has the capacity to sacrifice his life to a higher purpose.
This gives lie to the notion that there are good people and bad people. If the first principle is that all men are created equal and endowed with natural rights, then there are just people. No good ones, no bad ones. Just people.
When we sometimes use the shorthand terms good and bad, we are really talking about actions. The doing of good things, the doing of bad things. When we say that someone is a good guy, we generally mean that on balance we believe that they do much good and little bad. And the same thing in reverse when we talk about a bad guy.
Actions, however, do not change the fundamental nature of the human. They do not make the actor better or worse, greater or lesser, than other human beings. This is critical.
It's easy to think of the guys who gunned down Dallas police officers as monsters. Just as it's clearly easy for many to think of all police officers as monsters. Of all terrorists as monsters. Of all politicians as monsters. Of all people who drive in a fashion we don't appreciate as monsters.
Monsters, as in not human. Less than ourselves. Or the corollary, ourselves as greater than those we identify as monsters.
When we do this we kill ourselves.
This is the hard, hard slog of Liberty. We have to recognize that actions contrary to the first principle are conducted by human beings, not monsters. We have to turn away from the siren song of classifying "them" as things and objects. We must recognize their innate humanity, recognize our shared human equality. We must know why the first principle is right, and why violating the first principle is wrong.
Or we die. At least in the sense that we make ourselves animals, rather than human beings. Animals with all the vices of human rapacity, and none of the virtues of the beasts.
The human world is a mess. The human world has ever been a mess. There's nothing we can individually do to control our fellows. We can't "make" things change in DC or Dallas or Denver. All we can do is to choose to embrace and live the first principle. Or not.
It's a hard, hard slog.
It's not easy.