The other morning while trawling TV channels looking for some cogent news to inform me about the state of the world, I happened upon a presenter interviewing an author about his new book. As a writer, I’m interested in interviews with authors, so I turned up the volume, sat back, sipped my coffee and prepared to listen.
I was appalled by his, apparent, premise that if we’re going to survive as humanity we need to behave like pirates and ‘break the rules’. To ensure I don’t provide this nob with more publicity than necessary to make my point, I’ll not give you his name or the title of his book (if you’re interested, you can probably find him, and it, with a little search effort. I refuse to purchase one myself; the blurb and the interview gave me everything I need).
Pirates, particularly those of the Caribbean, have always fascinated me although I certainly don’t claim to be an expert. Suffice to say they were not lovable rogues interested in thinking outside the box and building a better world, they were nothing more than, usually cruel, sea-going muggers (maybe that the few who escaped the hangman’s noose, death in battle or the pox, and ended up wealthy and living peaceful, land-dwelling lives is, for him, enough to drive his metaphor).
Let’s look at some rule-breaking in the context of life in the twenty-first century (this list could be almost endless. Please feel free to add to it from your own life experience).
I wonder if he would be happy if:
- the surgeon performing heart surgery on his daughter had some difficulty passing his theory exams so he paid somebody to sit them for him;
- the airline pilot flying his wife and him off on holiday did very well on her theory exams but struggled with her flying competencies so she paid somebody to do her check flights;
- the drug company executives developing a new cancer treatment for his mother concluded they didn’t have enough time or money to complete comprehensive trials and examine potentially damaging side-effects, so they decided to short-circuit this process and rush it to market;
- the software developers creating programs for his new driverless car noticed glitches in their code, but only a couple of minor ones, so they decided to roll it out anyway;
- the housing association responsible for refurbishment of the tower block where his grandparents live decided ignoring fire regulations could save them loads of money so they wrapped their buildings in cheaper, flammable plastic cladding;
- his son’s football coach decided his lifestyle included having sex with eleven-year-old boys, and
- he decided since he was late for an important meeting it was okay to speed through a 20mph school zone at 9:00am one weekday morning at 40mph while texting his colleagues he would be arriving soon (this one is problematic but only if he were arrested for driving at twice the posted limit or ran over somebody’s kid)?
This entity we call ‘society’ works because most people obey most of the rules most of the time. Our culture is robust enough to sustain the presence of a few rule-breakers but if we’re going to survive at all let alone advance, whatever that means, we need to work to a set of agreed rules.
The blazingly apparent irony here is this proponent of rule-breaking would probably respond that, well, no, the rules I’ve cited here aren’t the ones he’s suggesting we break; he’s talking about other ones. But this raises the metaphysical question of who, exactly, decides which rules are okay to break and which are not? I submit his response will likely be he, but not me, is somehow qualified (how he arrives at this decision is beyond me. I believe Plato and Machiavelli, and later others such as Kissinger and Thatcher had something to say about it).
Yes, our rules change over time, and, yes, we need to push the envelope, but I find the suggestion disturbing that gangs of violent muggers cruising the seas three-hundred years ago provide us with suitable societal role models.