You don’t learn to walk by following the rules. And if you obey all the rules you miss all the fun. But rules exist in every culture in history. Even those governing defecation. After all what is toilet training if not the first attempt to turn a child into an acceptable member of society?

A few years back, while watching the Philadelphia Phillies in the October baseball playoffs with some old college chums, we got to conversing with a group of younger women at the bar. And it turned out they had graduated from our same little, liberal arts Dickinson College – only about 12 years later.

They giggled about all the changes and softer restrictions they enjoyed as compared to our older, stricter regimens. Such as about their co-ed dorms and putative wilder parties that made the rigorous academic curriculum in the nation’s 11th oldest college more palatable. “You missed all the fun,” the girls gleefully proclaimed.

“Not really,” I replied with delightful memories. “I always thought the fun was in breaking the rules. You guys had too few rules. And the fewer rules there are, the fewer rules there are to break.”

And then I added, perhaps a tad glibly: “After all, you are remembered for the rules you breach.”

Hmm…

Anyway, today everybody must be having a lot of fun… and being remembered. Because doesn’t it seem like everybody is breaking the rules – or simply disobeying them? Or changing them? Or rearranging the furniture?

Avaricious banks and investment houses are garnering multi-billion dollar fines. Blood thirsty Islamic jihadists are killing and decapitating innocent folks right on our TV screens. Atavistic Russia is invading foreign sovereignties. Outraged Chinese are protesting totalitarian government. Mathematically challenged Argentina is defaulting on its loans – again. Haughty U.S. Congress had to pass a law to prevent its fellow Washington legislators from what amounted to insider trading — that is investing ahead on companies their legislation was about to affect. Free-roaming ‘drug’ plants that were once ruled illegal are now medicinally authorized. Same sex marriage is no longer banned, except in the Bible. Amok scam artists multiply among us. Devious politicians – local, state and federal — are spending our money ‘personally’ while only a few are getting outed …

Hmm…

Isn’t it amazing how confused and misdirected and distracted so many people are?

Supposedly morality is a matter of principles. But principles seem to be a matter of convenience. I mean, I understand that there are no absolute rules of conduct, either in peace or war. Everything that happens is a matter of chance, opportunity and necessity. And also everything depends on circumstances.

However, I always thought that integrity has no need of rules.

Apparently I was misinformed.

And the point being is that today there are more rules, regulations, laws and treaties than antidepressant pills. Yet, at the same time there’s more mayhem than ever. And everybody is cheating.

And if you want to get a clearer picture of the anarchy just go to court. And witness the dichotomy of lawyers within the law: The young, eager lawyer knows the rules. But the old, wise lawyer knows the exceptions. And then of course, there are the rest of these venal, vapid, vile, vermin — aka lawyers — whose total ignorance of the law goes unpunished.

Nothing is what it seems it should be. And doesn’t this confuse the hell out of you? I mean it does me. And I have to say that anyone who isn’t confused just doesn’t understand the situation.

Hmm… See what I mean? Because if you are not confused, you are just not paying attention.

Doesn’t it seem as if the ordinary citizen is becoming a pawn in a game where nobody knows the rules, where everybody consequently doubts that there are rules at all, and where the vocabulary has been diminished to such an extent that nobody is even sure what the game is all about?

And I hate the games we play. They’re no fun. They’re rigged. They’re pathetic. But what are you gonna do?

Okay, if I seem confused it is merely because I am thinking out loud. Sort of like mental diarrhea.

Politically, the world is so disrupted right now. There’s so much turmoil caused by a variety of individuals and movements as well as by an assortment of parties and people in power in various governments. And power tends to get confused with repression and privilege. And in the end, as we witness all the way from horrendous jihadists in ISIS to some abusive corrupted local cops, it isn’t government and regimes which rule the world – it is human nature.

And human nature, as we all know, basically sucks. It is insidious. Nefarious. And fraught with deleterious, self serving choices – You know, it is the helpless cry of ‘the devil made me do it!’

Nevertheless we all mostly do what others are doing. So we are more likely to cheat if we see others doing so. We tend to conform to accepted norms of reasonable behavior, rather than adhere to strict rules.

So, if our congressmen are lying and cheating… And our bankers are lying and cheating… And our world leaders are lying and cheating and spying and whatever… And if treaties are made to be broken… What duh hell… what duh hell… what duh heck!

Hmm….

And, of course, this is why we have so many rules and regulations. But, as I told the former Dickinson co-eds, if you obey all the rules you miss all the fun. Yet we have the rules, the regulations and all that stuff because they create and maintain our civility. Our sense of reality. Because when they fall away, we’re left with a whole bunch of illusions.

Smoke and mirrors.

But of course!

On the one noble hand rules are made for people who aren’t willing to make up their own rules. They are also for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men.

On the other meshugga hand societies need even the simplest, most common-sense rules that make no sense for individuals. For example, it makes no difference whether a single, solitary car drives on the left or on the right when there are no other cars. But it makes all the difference when there are many cars!

And, as I read recently, rules governing defecation, hygiene, and pollution have existed in every culture at every period in history. It may in fact be the foundation of civilization: What is toilet training if not the first attempt to turn a child into an acceptable member of society?

Hmm…

But today what is acceptable when everything seems to be so acceptable and/or unacceptable?

And to tell you the truth I have no bloody idea.

In truth I’ve always been really curious about things and, previously, not all that confused by the world – which I used to consider pretty simple to read, interpret and comprehend. After all, people are basically people. That is good, bad, indifferent and terrible.

But these days I just don’t drink enough. Now I don’t know if I am confused, stirred or just well shaken. And I certainly don’t know — or at least not convinced – that misguided moral compassion is better than confused indifference. Which seems to afflict most of us – until a beheading is brought into our living rooms.

And this is probably why I think too damn much and ask too many damn questions. Yet for every question there’s an answer. And for every answer there’s another question.

All I really know – or think I know when I am sober — is that we seem to confuse money with love and respect. Also, power with greatness. You know, might makes right instead of right makes might.

And I think someone who grasps this is in a good position to be the one asking questions. But they are questions we all should be asking… and answering… without the nervous laughter.

Certainly we need rules and regulations and laws and what-not. But in truth, the golden rule is that there are no golden rules. If you observe all the rules – written, social or otherwise — you’ll never get anywhere. Obviously you don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.

But what is really left, when all the bullshit is shoveled away, are our principles and moral responsibility for everything we do. Otherwise the rules really don’t matter. If we find them tolerable, we tolerate them. If we find them too obnoxious, we break them — and accept the consequences. For you may not have to seek permission, but you do have to seek forgiveness. And because of this we are morally responsible for everything we do. Like it or not.

Indeed, if you obey all the rules you miss all the fun. But someone once told me that feelings of worth can flourish only in an atmosphere where individual differences are appreciated, mistakes are tolerated, communication is open, and rules are flexible – the kind of atmosphere that is found in a nurturing family. Or with the Three Musketeers. You know, one for all and all for one.

And dats yDrewIS on dis penal colony…

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