birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Social Equilibrium

After 5 minutes of sitting still and thinking I can’t think of any rules that I break. I don’t even park illegally. I don’t drive over the speed limit. I don’t litter. I come to full stops at stop signs. I rarely jaywalk. I certainly don’t break rules that are big, like thiefing, cheating, or not paying taxes. I can’t explain this.

I become disgusted when I see people let their dogs run off leash directly under a sign “no dogs.” There is, of course, an explanation. Partly this is due from a certain kind of upbringing. My father scrupulously obeyed laws. He told me that when he was in the Army Air Force during World War II he was so straight his buddies called him the preacher.

If I explore this a bit more I believe it has to do with my philosophy of the social equilibrium. Society is a very fragile institution that has the outward appearance of being rock solid. It has laws, it has police to enforce those laws, but without the cooperation of its citizens this all collapses like a house of cards. Society is a cooperative venture and is held together not by its laws but by the behavior and trust that its citizens put into the society. We can collapse into a Hobbesian state of natural law of the jungle in an instant. An analogy can bee drawn with the concept of policing that goes after minor crimes like window breaking, litter, or graffiti. If the community sees these minor infractions of law and social order it encourages, sends a message to those who selfishly might do the community harm, that there is no policing and community care and therefore they can commit crime without the expectations of being thwarted. This policing policy worked very well in New York.

So to in a society write large there is a social equilibrium which demands of its citizens to obey laws and comport themselves in a manner consistent with the commonweal. Societies have rules of the game and they have them so we as individual human beings don’t slide into a hellish world where survival of the fittest dooms half the population because they are weaker, smaller, poorer, women, or children. Society asks us, we ask each other, to play by the rules and if we do it works. If we don’t then one little act that seems inconsequential now can snowball into many acts of pointless disobedience, call it selfish disobedience, that we, in effect, begin to create the cracks whereby the whole structure eventually collapses. Our social equilibrium is actually fragile and as citizens it’s our responsibility to police ourselves.

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Used To Be The Road Runner