People can decide their own paths in life

Wednesday night I had dinner with a good friend of mine from high school. We hung out a lot in high school and had a lot in common: we both liked physics and are studying it now; we both listened to the same kind of music and hung out with the same kind of people. But then as much as now, there’s something different about Jack and I. See, Jack used to be a Communist.

Now he’s just, really liberal.

I used to be a conservative Republican. Now, I’m … well, a conservative Republican. Every now and then in high school, Jack would ask me something about politics, and the whole room would get quiet. There was always at least one person who would sigh audibly and say, “Here we go again!” Wednesday was different only in that nobody knew what was going on at that table in the SunDial. Jack and I were talking about Howard Dean, socialized health care and welfare.

For those of you not in the know, Dean is most likely the next Democratic presidential candidate. Jack asked me what I thought of Dean, and I was letting him know, in no uncertain terms, that I wasn’t a fan. Something interesting happened, though, when we stopped talking about health care and started talking about people taking responsibility for their previous actions.

Jack seems to think that people should be held responsible for their actions, unless the consequences are bad. Being that we usually seek to curb those actions with the worst consequences, Jack apparently thinks we should live in a world where wrong is not punished (unless the criminal was rich), but good is rewarded. In such a society, the status quo is rape and murder; if someone happens to teach a child to read, they might get a cookie. But I digress.

Where Jack and I differed the most was on normative rounds. You see, Jack seems to think people should realize the complex of factors that influence our daily lives and we shouldn’t punish those who do wrong because of some external force placed upon them. While I would acknowledge that our will power is not our only influencing factor, I refuse to concede that any individual should act as though they’re not in control of their lives. You see, I feel like the only way I have to operate on this world is by my own will, and if I second guess that will every time I act, I’m risking wasting prime opportunities to effect change on my life. I’d rather die a broken man who always gave it my best shot than a calculating millionaire who wasted three minutes of my life wondering whether it was really me making all this money, or the teddy bear I left at the cottage when I was three.

The importance of what I’m saying is that it’s not enough to just accept some responsibility for ourselves. Any kind of moral person should demand responsibility for every one of our actions, every day. We should grapple for any strand of our existence we may change, and change it the best we can, and demand to be held accountable.

My actions may not be the wisest ones, and they may not have the best consequences, but at least I can claim them mine. Anything else is simply resigning itself to the dust and dirt of the laws of physics; and there’s nothing human about that.