Rules inside Rules inside Rules

In the words of the dancers … we are wild creatures, in captivity. Living in invisible behavioral cages built by people who are not us. And we are taught that those rules are inviolable without consequence, those consequences ranging from accidentally poisoning yourself at home, to being plunged into a lake of agony and flame for all eternity.

We leave our parents, chafing at their rules. And then we re-instate them. With consequences. Or we don’t, with disastrous consequences. Or, we manage to do one better than they did, and our kids get a better boost than we got. And then, they do the same thing all over again.

What are the rules by which we live? What happens when you discover your rules… and find that they are utterly incompatible with somebody else’s rules? Whose rules get to dominate? Who gets to demand the use of force to compel their rules?

  • “The buck stops here.”
  • “Tenderness needs no excuse.”
  • “Vote.”
  • “People are sheep.”
  • “Have an open mind.”
  • “Safety first.”

And on, and on, and on. At home, I’m by far the earthiest of my peers. To Argentine and Brazilian peers, to the contrary, about normal, maybe even a little uptight. In Hungary, a hopeless optimist and dreamer. In San Francisco, alarmingly cold-blooded, hard-hearted. And I am only one insignificant example. 300 million minds in this nation, and in every mind a universe.

For that is, after all, what democracy and the hope of liberty are all about, are they not?

Some say that our society is growing increasingly disconnected. Others that the vision of the unitary society was always an illusion, as if the black man, the hindi woman, the chinese, the irish, were ever really going to identify with the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, and the latter was eventually going to have to realize that there was some significance to the fact that not all of our soldiers were blue-eyed blonds who thought Marilyn Monroe was hot. Eventually, we came to publicly accept that one could be true to one’s culture in America, so long as we all agreed to abide by certain basic ground rules.

Voilà… the Dawes Act goes away, and the Indian begins to have the freedom to be an Indian, whether he chooses the Rez or the City.

What about those who gave up their identity, in order to assimilate by the previous rules, and become a “generic American?” Who don’t know who their grandparents were, let alone their great-great-grandparents? Who are they?
What rules will they follow? What rules will they invent? And will they be allowed to make the case that the rules we follow now are keeping them from being who they are? When should somebody not be allowed to be who they are? Bundy, Dahmer, the Columbine children, let alone those who would inflict themselves upon children… these are broken, sick people, whose rules are defective. They should and must be stopped.

What about somebody who’s simply… different? Who determines the rules that determine the rules? Who allows one individual, or one group of them, to assert that their difference is in reality, no difference at all… merely another identity, hoping to live according to Who They Are, and harming none in the process? Should gays get to marry? Should cousins?

Are you what you do? Or what you choose not to do? Or… what you do not choose?

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1 Comment

  1. A very interesting post. Gets to the heart of the questions, “What is society? What is culture? What is community?” and more. Because, as I have learned many times over as an adult, not everybody had birthday parties like I did. Or two parents. Or a strong religious upbringing. Or skipped university.. or ran with the same types of people, or you name it.

    Those realizations have definitely made me a better person. Firstly, because I realize I was very fortunate. Secondly, when I have a mind to, I can pick up a conversation with just about anyone, ’cause I’ve flown all over the radar.

    As a member of a family who has become almost completely family/home-centric, it is interesting to see how certain truisms do not apply to our situation. No matter how hard we try to conform to them, they no longer apply. The sort of flexibility we require demands we have more structure, not less. And that is an interesting paradox IMHO

    So, I would say you are what you do, what you choose not to do, and what you do not choose. It’s all part and parcel of creating and/or adapting to and/or stabilizing your life. The most important thing you can do is establish a framework.


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