I like to think about things that everyone takes for granted in new ways. For example, rules. Everyone always says “You’ve got to have rules.” Even so-called mavericks like to say (and god, I’ve said it), “You’ve got to know the rules before you break them.”
Why do we need rules? To control behavior? But if that’s the case, then that implies that there’s something in humans that is irrational and randomly swerving, and rules keep us straight. Neither of those assumptions seems true to me. Even a lunatic can construct a chain of cause and effect for his or her actions — they might not seem rational to us the sane, but they’re connected at least from the lunatic’s perspective. And rules certainly aren’t just made to govern the insane, or only they would have to obey them. No, it seems like the rules are made to govern the sane — in fact, a true lunatic might not have to obey the rules in the same way, under our laws! So the sane are, by definition, rational, and have rational reasons for doing things. Why, then, rules? Are there certain kinds of rational reasoning that are more acceptable than other kinds? Sure, maybe, but acceptable to whom? And by which chain of reasoning? And can we judge the reasoning that leads to the judging of the original chain of reasoning, with another chain of reasoning, and so on? There’s really no ground to stand on.
The other need for rules, to keep people behaving “right” — well, that works well, doesn’t it. No, it certainly doesn’t. Crime fluctuates, but has nothing to do with the establishment of rules — instead, it has more to do with economics, civic identity, and so on. In other words, you give people rational reasons to behave “well,” and they behave well.
Moreover, if we all obey the rules all the time, we can never change them, because we can never test a new rule that might be better. Or, if we do change them, we must therefore do it blind. Again, even the American legal system enshrines this method of changing rules — one way to challenge a law is to disobey it and challenge its legality in court.
Maybe it’s not so much a matter of rules themselves, but obeying and regarding rules mindlessly. For example, last night I found myself — driving home tired — stymied by some construction. Someone earlier had swerved into the cones marking the new lanes of traffic and scattered them randomly about. There was no path through them. What do you do? Get out of the car and rearrange the cones? It’s against the rules to park in a street, even at 3 AM. Drive over the cones? Not optimal. Try to pick your way through them? Back up and find a detour? Every option breaks the rules.
Rules try to take the places of solutions. A solution is something you figure out yourself; a rule is a solution calculated by others. But rules ignore contexts. And all meaning derives from context. A life without rules might be the only kind of life that’s truly meaningful.
What a terrifying thought that is.