Thursday, April 21, 2011

Who's at the helm

Laura told me she disagrees with my post from last week. She thinks people control their own life much more than my low rating of 2 allows for.

“Uh-oh,” I thought. “What did I write?” I intended last week's post to be about societal control, not individual control. I believe individuals indeed do control a lot about how their lives go—a person's attitudes and decisions have profound consequences. Last week's post muddies that distinction.

On a scale from 0 to 10, where 0 means our choices have no effect on our personal circumstances and 10 means those circumstances are entirely effected by our choices, I stand at a 7. Maybe lower—it depends how much I discount uncontrollable factors like where we're born and what our parents are like. Nevertheless, my score is higher than a 2 when it comes to individual control. It's societal control that I wrote about and scored as a 2, and it's societal control that I think is mostly illusory.

The world is like a ship with a crew but no captain. Each crewman goes about his work, and that makes the ship appear orderly in some ways. But no one is at the helm, and the ship goes whichever way the current leads. Someday the crewmen may decide whether to step aboard a lifeboat or else drown in arctic waters. Or they may choose whether to ferry to a calm beach in the South Pacific or remain off shore. The crewmen choose, and their choices impact their lives. But the kinds of choices they make—their options—aren't up to them or anyone else on the ship.

Almost. That analogy represents the extreme score of 0—where society is entirely uncontrollable. My score of 2 extends the metaphor by saying that occasionally someone succeeds in getting their hand on the helm, and they steer the boat for a while. But not for long. There's a frenzied struggle of would-be captains all around the helm, and there's no limit to their willingness to mutiny against the current captain to set their own course for a few moments. The result is little different than having no captain at all.

No comments: