Everyone has some sort of philosphy by which they live their life. It’s inevitable. After all, we all need to make sense out of life somehow. But how many of us really ever think about it? I know I didn’t until I found myself in a “religious studies” course in my first year of university. Then, astoundingly enough, we were encouraged to think about just that point. What is your personal religion? (The term “religion” refers to a belief system, not one of the major cults that is usually graced with the term.) So, since then, I’ve managed to put together some level of understanding of my own personal religion.
I am a pessimist. That is, I expect everything will go wrong. Unlike many, I do not actively try to make things go wrong. Nor do I want things to go wrong. Many people have expressed concerns about my attitude. Apparently most folks think it’s a rather bad attitude. But look at it this way. What are the odds that everything goes wrong every day? So if I wake up knowing that everything is going to go wrong and it doesn’t, I have a pleasant surprise, right? And given the odds of things always going wrong, I’m in for a pleasant surprise most days, right? So it’s really not such a negative attitude after all, is it?
I am all for equality. Everyone should have the same rules applied to them. Everyone should have the same responsibilities. This is not particularly surprising given my upbringing in a relatively free society. But there is one thing where I am clearly at odds with the apparent majority. I do not believe in rights without responsibilities. For rights to exist, there must be responsibilities. Your rights cannot take precedence over my rights nor can mine take precedence over yours. Where they conflict, there is a responsibility for you and I to arbitrate the situation. That means that both of us are likely to have our rights abridged slightly in that situation. That is, rights cannot be absolute.
There is another point to equality that irks me some too. There seems to be a growing faction that believes that ability should be removed from the equation when considering payment for services rendered or when being considered for a job. This clearly is not workable in the long term. Let us take an example that’s fairly clear. Being a firefighter requires considerable stamina and strength. Yet recently, a woman was fighting to have the qualification test to become a firefighter in one jurisdiction reduced in difficulty based on the fact that she was a woman and she simply couldn’t do the physical requirements. Ummm, the physical requirements are part of the job; if you can’t pass the test, you can’t do the job. And then, she would have demanded equal pay for doing less than the complete job. This is not reasonable.
I do feel that I must make an addition to the above statement, however. There are many cases where one group is doing equal work and not being paid the same as another group doing the same work. This is not reasonable. Anyone who is capable of doing the job and actually does it should be paid the same as anyone else, or at least according to the same structure as anyone else would.
The previous section aside, there is no possible way to make everyone equal. If everyone were equal, the world would be awfully boring since we’d all be the same. Some of us have more ability than others at particular tasks. Some of us have more ability than most at many things. Some of us have better luck with our backgrounds and are able to accomplish things that a very large number of otherwise equally qualified individuals would not. This does, by its very nature, create inequalities.
That said, we must not try to remove those inequalities at a societal level. There must be an incentive for people to strive to improve their lot in life. If I do well, I make life easier for my children. If society is arranged so that all I worked for allows me to do nothing for my children, what’s the point? I can’t take it with me when I die, after all. Of course, such inequalities must not be institutionalized either. We must be diligent in examining our structures and institutions to make sure it is always possible for a sufficiently skilled, motivated, and possibly lucky, individual to climb the class structure. If it is not, then we have violated the doctine of equality I described previously.
To some extent, property is necessary. We are territorial by nature and thus have an inate need to own things, be it land, trinkets, or what have you. Any philosophy that completely ignores this is doomed to fail in the long run. Then again, just about any other philosphy has some fatal flaw in it somewhere anyway. However, when property is taken to the extreme, it ceases to be a good thing.
Basically, property arose from the need to apportion a limited number of resources to fill an essentially unlimited number of wants. There are various schemes for apportioning property depending on it’s inate value and various other factors. Most of these have been hashed out over a very long time. I am not opposed to this. I would, however, hope that people would realize it is not in their best interest to accumulate property (wealth) at the expense of all else or as a goal in itself.
There are, however, cases where applying the property doctrines is simply a bad idea. In cases where there is no limit to something, property must not exist. Suppose I have a rock. Then I hand the rock to you. You now have the rock. However, I no longer do and can no longer use it. In this case, some level of property makes sense. However, suppose I have an idea. I tell you the idea. Now you have use of the idea. But I still have it as well. Why should I be able to prevent you from using the idea I told you when I still have use of it myself? This simply makes no logical sense to me. It is the latter that is largely the case when it comes to copying information electronically.
It’s all well and good to say the above, but it fails to address one critical point. I, as an inhabitant of a physical world need to acquire scarce resources in order to survive and generate ideas or copy ideas, or what have you. If I gain nothing from my intellectual activities, how do I continue to exist? If I spend more time surviving, I spend less time creating ideas. This is a trade off I have no answer for. I also don’t expect human societies to figure it out in the near term either. (I never said a philosphy had to be complete.)
Many people seem to have a rather shaky view of the world. I think this is largely due to the fact that things change too much these days. It is hard to form a coherent (or even incoherent) view of the world when things are changing daily. I do truly wish that there could be some stability in the world. That change could happen somewhat more slowly. Yet on the other hand, I also applaud the progress that has happened over even the last decade. (I never said a philosophy was self consistent or non-contradictory either, did I?) There needs to be a reasonable balance between progress and change that affects the masses.
As a result of this, I feel that changing small things for no apparent reason is not a good thing. In fact, if it would take only a small additional effort to avoid changing the overall appearance of things or method of access or what have you, it is worth the effort. Especially if it is not detrimental to the overal functioning of whatever is being updated. Let us take the example of a web site whose purpose is to serve as an archive of information. (Not all web sites serve that purpose.) There is little to be served (other than petty short term gain) by regularly rearranging information on the site. That is not to say that organization should not be updated periodically as better organization appears. But there is rarely a need to make the old “address” of a document stop working. In fact, I subscribe to this policy myself. Even when I rearrange my site, I make certain that old links to various documents to continue to work. This may mean that I have to put up redirections or have a slightly more complicated underlying structure. But it does mean that people can find what they are looking for more easily and thus the utility of the site remains even if the mechanics of it change. If only the rest of the world attempted to operate in this manner. Of course, if there is a good reason to change something, it should be changed, but again, with as little disruption as possible.
Regardless what else I might believe, I also believe that a strong community is a good thing. This can help during times where resources are scarcer than normal. It can also help when one is simply having a bad time of things or when one’s luck is down. But in reality, humans are a social animal. As a result, we need some sort of a community structure. Without it, we are at something of a loss.
Tolerance is a good thing. Tolerance to the extreme is not. It is one thing to understand that another person’s belief system is as real as one’s own. It is another to allow that person’s belief system to be considered more real than one’s own. For example, if I believe in tolerance and understanding but another person does not, we are now looking at a possible irreconcilable difference. I have no idea what the right thing to do in that situation is. As far as I can see, there is no right thing in the general sense there. Each situation is different. But if I believe in something strongly enough, I obviously must fight in some manner to allow it to come to be or remain in existence. Unfortunately, this is a double-edged sword and can just as easily swing back and lop off my own head. This is the problem with most so called enlightened philosophies.
The preceeding was by no means complete. Nobody can possibly express their complete philosophy. This document should, however, have given you, the intrepid reader, some insight into who I am without having given away any details about anything. While what I have written here is accurate as of the summer of the year 2004, there is no guarantee it is still accurate.