Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How We Oil the Cold Machine

Issue 1:
In Connecticut, a drunk driver who is in jail, currently serving ten years for running over and killing a fourteen-year-old boy (the man was doing 83 in a 45 mph zone), is suing the deceased kid's family, claiming they owe him $15, 000 because of "great mental and emotional pain and suffering" and loss of "capacity to carry on in life's activities." He says the kid should have been wearing a helmet. Well, he should have, right?

Issue 2:
People are outraged at airports because the TSA is inspecting their nude bodies on X-ray scanners in order to -- claims the TSA -- keep the airways safer. The people who complain say this is an invasion of their privacy; it is akin to accusing them of being criminals -- worse, terrorists, they say. The TSA says these machines are going to keep the skies safer; the rest does not matter to pragmatists. They have a point, right?

Issue 3:
In the quasi-historical film Braveheart, William Wallace, after fighting viciously for the freedom of Scotland from England, dies like this (warning -- brutal content, in case kids are around):

Walking out of Braveheart, I was literally speechless. Maybe for the first time in my life. But Wallace should have cried "mercy," right? I mean, why suffer just to make a point?

Well, to me, these three issues above have a lot in common, believe it or not. In fact, they raise a question that has hovered over my head since childhood: Are the needs of the spirit, at some point, ethically required to overcome the needs of the mind and the rules of practical, legal and sociological circumstances?

Issue 1:  
The drunk guy has a valid point. The kid should have been wearing his helmet. But does the fact that the legal system protects his right to file such a suit mean that a anyone should allow it? (The judge actually allowed the drunken murderer's $500 fee to be waived, on top of it.) Yeah, I know -- the system is set up so everyone has a voice. But maybe a judge ought to throw away his career, if need be, by saying: "You are the killer of an innocent boy. Go back to jail and rot. I sentence you to life for having the audacity to think you could get away with this obscene suit." Not practical or legal, but is it right? Do we go with spirit or mind, here? Law or what is appropriate?

Issue 2:
I guess it is debatable as to whether the naked scan helps airline safety as a whole, but one thing is for sure: it is hard to hide a bomb under your eyelids. But people feel violated by this. People feel wrongfully accused. Is that trade-off worth it? Would some of us rather die with our dignity than have a stranger peer through our clothes at will and without probable cause? Spirit or mind, here?

Issue 3:
With literally a word, Wallace could have saved himself horrible spans of suffering. It would have made perfect sense to just give up. It would have been understandable. Even his friends wanted him to say "mercy". After all he had sacrificed, no one would have blamed him. But he needed to "die well". He needed to drop a pebble into the pond of history. He chose spirit over mind.

After seeing Braveheart, I told my wife that I wished I believed in something that much; so much that I would be able to sacrifice all my body and spirit to it. Years later, I now know I would die for her or my children without a thought. No suffering would deter me from keeping them safe and happy. My spirit speaks clearly here; it rings true like an orchestra bell. If I were being ruthlessly tortured in indescribably painful ways, beyond the limits of human endurance and I caved in and, as a result, my family were hurt, could you blame me? I could. You could defend me all you want. I'd be reprehensible for caving in. I don't care how much you tell me that no one can have conceivably been expected to have withstood it. I would be wrong, in my book.

"Technically," some might say, "the drunk driver guy has a right to sue." Does he -- spiritually?

"If invasion of our privacy is going to keep us safer, people shouldn't care?" Shouldn't they?

"William Wallace should have caved in. It wouldn't have made a difference." Wouldn't it have?

What's right runs so much deeper than what's allowed and what's accepted, it seems to me. But we forget that. In fact, we even build designs against it. Without the human spirit's nourishment, society is a cold machine, indeed. And we carefully keep it oiled and running.

What would you abandon all rules and all logic for? Something, I hope.

1 comment:

  1. Excuse me while I pick my jaw up off the floor.
    If I were the mother of the child in scenario #1, I would be in jail (or perhaps an asylum) because I would have found a way to kill that man, despite the fact that he was already in jail.

    If spirit doesn't -- or can't, legally -- win out in a case like that, then we need some serious revision. Revision of our judiciary system and revision of the consciences of the people who actually defend a person like that.