The Separation of Action from Consequence

I was writing another blogpost.  Really – it’s all done, except for figuring out how to include the clever little line drawings I made all special for it.  I ran out of time, because I had  agreed to give a guest lecture for a friend, and as I biked home to finish up my post, I had one of those occasional near misses as a driver brushed my arm with his side-view mirror.

I’m fine – (don’t worry mom) – I didn’t even wobble, and it really was just a brush.  I  yelled “Bike lane!” as the driver kept going, and he leaned out his window and pointed down at the yellow line (on which he was driving) as if it was me that was in the wrong, so I yelled “You’re in it!” and he did that thing where you touch your thumb to your fingers to make a mouth with your hand, and flapped it open and closed, as if to say “Blah Blah Blah.”  And he slid his car 10″ to the right to get it out of my lane.

“Blah blah blah.”  “Sure, you’re right, stop nagging me.”

And I wondered: if he really had hit me, if he had actually made hard enough contact with me, if I had lost control of my bike and gone under his tires (I think about these things, I’m of Eastern European Jewish stock), how would he have reacted?  Would he have said “Whelp, I killed a guy.  Blah, blah, blah,” and driven on?  Not if he’s not a psychopath.  And, despite what the profusion of police procedurals would have us believe, there aren’t that many psychopaths out there.

So, what?  How have our actions (driving in the bike lane) and consequences (potentially ending someone’s life) become entirely separated?

It’d be nice to blame other people for it, of course.  I used to love to bitch and moan when my fellow parents failed to follow through with consequences – how easy to judge the dad who says, “Johnny, if you don’t do that now, you’ll be in big trouble” seven or eight times, before doing “that” for little Johnny himself.  But, let’s look in some mirrors of our own.

How often do I put things on credit cards, instead of paying right now?  How often do I sneak into the kitchen and devour those damned chocolate-peanut-butter-pretzels all at once?  How often do I procrastinate on Facebook then freak out because I’ve run out of time to do my real job?  How often do I lose my temper with my son because I’m overwhelmed by the rest of my life?

We live in a world in which we’ve isolated ourselves from the consequences of our actions as much as possible.   We communicate more and more by remote control.  Texting and messaging are ideal for this, as they shields us from any sort of immediate reaction – there’s plenty of time to really think before responding, and if we do do some damage, no worries – the person we just hurt is nowhere near us.  Just letters on a screen.   No direct involvement, no consequence.  I’ll bet every single person reading this has at least one friend who has been dumped by text.  Video games, movies, TV, porn – we live in a world in which we can experience everything without participating in anything.  Hell, I read that the majority of the men doxed in the Ashley Madison dump never actually reached out and tried to have sex with a stranger; of those that did,  eleven million of the responses these men got were from software – from virtual robots.   The “nobody gets hurt” sex that most of these men were having truly was consequence-free, since it was really just a flirtation with the IDEA of sex, followed by a quick solo in the bathroom.

And, of course, it’s far larger than these tiny personal examples.  The US Congress shut down our entire government to prove a point, and then tried to deny the consequences of their actions.  The PA State Legislature and the PA Governor are at such an impasse that we’ve had no state budget for 5 months – and yet, as schools deepen their debts and cities approach total meltdowns, they continue to behave as if their political wrestling match will have no consequences to the humans they meet every day around them.

Yonatan Zunger (a total stranger, whose writing came to my attention via that procrastinative media Facebook) writes about consequences very clearly in this brilliant post.

I won’t restate all of what he has to say (since he does it wonderfully himself), but he’s basically asking: What actions lead to the growth of Da’esh (aka ISIS)?  What human and international events occurred?   He suggests that Europeans and Americans are alienating our youths and Muslim populations, drought is changing the entire  makeup of the Middle East, and local political instabilities have been ignored, all of which are major contributors to the growth of this terrifying organization.

I don’t know how to change this path we’re on, though I think my notion of  a Church of Radical Politeness (that other post I mentioned- come back next week for it…) might be a part of it.  It seems to me, though, that as an individual, the first step I can take is to make sure that I’m never that guy driving in the bikelane, flapping my hand mouth at the world.


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