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Old 10-07-2004, 08:56 AM   #1 (permalink)
Of Rights and Wrongs

“A righty or a lefty?” Covey inquired in his squeaky voice, as he wiped a crumb of white bread from the edge of his mouth.

“None of them really,” replied Echo, “or a bit of both, maybe.”

“A lefty then?” insisted Covey. He smiled with much satisfaction, revealing a yellowish set of upper teeth and with it much of his half-chewed cheese sandwich.

Echo joined the smiling for a moment, and then released a pleasant chuckle. “I try not to associate myself with either of them. Honest.”

“We all do that. Or try to. But in the end, we either support the state economy or we don’t. We either approve of foreign interference or we don’t. Which side are you on?”

They were both sitting on a brick wall that separated the northern part of Athena Park from the noisy Malta Street. Covey was poised comfortably, with one leg hanging over each side of the wall. He was passionately teasing Echo with provocative questions that somehow managed to project a genuine interest in Echo’s opinions. Echo appreciated this, and perhaps it was the only reason other than obvious politeness that he bothered answering the questions.

“In some cases, government intervention is needed,” began Echo, “in others, it would only do harm,” he continued, “but most of all, I really think that ‘government’ is a fake concept.”

Covey suppressed a great urge to say something. He looked at Echo with begging eyes.

“Government is just a measure. It’s a temporary solution to a problem. People wake up in the morning and in their minds they feel that that’s the way it has always been. They read their morning paper and it tells them about a certain decision their government made. They cross the street on their way to work, and they notice the traffic signs on the road. They hear the sirens of an ambulance or a police car, and they take it all as an integral part of the universe, as if it was a law of physics.”

Echo noticed his annoyed tone, and quickly replaced it with a smile. He jumped of the wall into the side that was Athena Park. Covey jumped after him, landing on his hands. He quickly straightened himself, while rubbing his hands to clean them of the dirt that stuck to them.

“But that’s not the way things really work. You see, first of all there’s a murder. There’s a murder, and there’s this person -- we’ll call him Prescott. He’s very smart and powerful and he doesn’t like this particular case of murder. He wants the murderer punished. He gathers several men who adhere to him, and tells them to look for the murderer.”

In a peculiar moment of unison, Echo and Covey decided they were standing in the same spot long enough. They started walking slowly along an asphalt road that led to a small lake in the southern part of the park.

“Now, I’m all for Prescott catching and punishing that murderer. He must be a nasty fellow, and it has to be a good idea to stop him before he commits any more disrespectful acts. What comes later, though, I am less happy with.”

“What’s that?”

“Prescott starts thinking about his death. He recalls all the times he has sent his men on a benevolent mission such as this, and soon enough he realizes that this has happened more times than he could count. But soon, he also realizes, he will be dead, and there will be no one left to stop all the murderers and wrong-doers in the world.”

“Unless -” Covey tried to say.

“_Unless_ he tells his people to stop all the murders that will happen after he dies. As I said, Prescott has a wonderful pair of brains. He comes up with a new concept which he calls ‘crime.’ All crimes should be stopped, he teaches the people. All criminals should be punished, he tells them. And what is a crime? Murder is a crime. Rape is a crime. Theft is a crime. And so, as Prescott is lying on his dying bed, weak and in pain, he knows that this last thing he’s done is his greatest. He has changed the world not for a lifetime, but forever.”

“Sounds good to me,” Covey announced after a short pause. A squirrel sprang in front of them.

“It’s not as good as it first appears, Covey. Wait till you hear of Prescott’s brother, Arthur. Arthur was a bright man, not unlike his brother. He lived in another country, a country that didn’t suffer that much of murders. The problem around his parts was poverty: many people were hungry and some even died of hunger and bad conditions. Arthur would often use his power to collect money from all the people in his country, money which he’d later give to the poor. This worked well, and Arthur was happy. But then, one day, word of his brother’s revolutionary idea arrived at Arthur’s country. Arthur immediately loved the idea. And he came with his own new concept: taxes. Monthly, people would give away a portion of their fortunes to be passed on to the poor.”

Covey was silent. And they kept walking.

“You know who said it best?” Echo finally asked.


“Dryden. John Dryden.”

“The poet?”

“Poet and playwright. He said, ‘We first make our habits, and then our habits make us.’ That’s exactly what happened here. There was a problem, and then there was a measure. Someone simply asked how we -- and as I say ‘we’, I mean society -- how we can solve this problem, and he came up with a solution, a measure. But then he asked how we can solve _all_ the problems of this sort. And he came up with a formula, a habit. Originally, this was just a measure. It was a solution to a problem. But then people became used to it, and soon enough they assumed it was always there. In ten years, people from the Soviet Union forgot seventy years of communism, and they accepted capitalism. Think what a child born to a society with certain rules will accept.”

“So you’re saying -” again, Covey thought he could say something. It seemed Echo was unstoppable once he started.

“What I am _saying_ is that your questions assume these formulas and habits were always there and always will be. You ask me about my preferred formula, capitalism or socialism, but you forgot to ask me if I thought formulas were the way to go. And I can tell you now, I don’t. Luckily such big decisions don’t have to be made in a day. You can think about every particular case for a while, and then use the right method for that particular case. Don’t try to fix every problem with the same method. Don’t try to apply the rightwing formula or the leftwing formula to every issue. Why limit yourself?”

Seriously, why?
"Always do right - this will gratify some and astonish the rest."
Four Fingers is offline  

rights, wrongs

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