Socio-political Limitations

22:25 Sun 12 Nov 2006. Updated: 07:18 08 Jan 2007
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A scenario I’ve held in my mind for most of my life involves questions of principle, practicality, and transgression. Or, to put it another way, questions about the extent to which your society (which, for these purposes, includes the state) punishes you for stepping outside its bounds.

How quickly can you end up in prison for doing something you believe in, or for doing something you believe one should be allowed to do? Very quickly. And prison seems to me no minor travail, but a place where your life can be entirely ruined (or ended).

The traditional riposte argues that controls must exist or we would have chaos, murder in the streets, theft, etc., because individuals would decide on incompatible versions of what they believe in, with many believing in their own right to dominate/assault/steal from others. And therefore your ultimate detination of prison, due to your act of protest, or drug use, or self-defense against a police officer, or love for another of your own gender or a different race—your prison sentence constitutes merely a sad footnote in the manual of the machinery necessary to make society function for all.

But does that riposte truly answer the question “what society would we have if everyone could do as they wished”? That question immediately begets other questions. Reasonable answers to those questions do not lead inexorably to our present state-dominated world. Further, do we trade safety from the fear of our own out-of-control selves rampaging, if free, for the safety of appearing to select our dominators and the comfort of feeling complicit (as ‘respectable members of society’) in our own submission to power, power we foolishly believe necessary?

I think the question of what can happen to you if you step outside the bounds (especially if you lack class protection) is critical for any society. I also consider our current answer profoundly lacking.

Which raises the question of what to do about it, and this in turn raises the opening question yet again. But I (and most of you readers) have more power than most people on this planet to shift our society’s answer—unless we remain too cowed, indifferent, ignorant, apathetic, or cynical to use it.

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