"Why You Can Do Anything You Want…
And Why You Can’t"
by Paul Rosenberg
"People frequently tell children “You can do anything you want.” And this causes a lot of confusion, because in the real world, they can’t. And after their first clash with the aforesaid real world, the child is left wondering all sorts of unpleasant things:
Did mom and dad lie to me?
Are they just ignorant?
Am I defective?
Should I find someone to blame?
The worst thing about this, however, is that the child is likely to have their opinion of themselves reduced. And that’s tragic. As I’ve noted many times, we are magical creatures. Humans, alone in the known universe, are able to create willfully… are able to reverse entropy willingly. The child should think of his and her self as magical… because they really are! So, let’s make some sense of this problem.
Why You Can: Humans are radically amazing. Sure, we’ve been long trained to consider each other to be sacks of crap – a belief that’s essential to rulership – but it simply isn’t true. We are stunningly capable beings, and we generally behave pretty well, even under the reign of self-debasement.
Take a look around you. Wherever you live, you’re surrounded by buildings, roads, and cars. All of them exist only because of human virtues. Without human creativity, they could not exist. Without human cooperation, they could not exist. And they are everywhere. We’ve filled the Earth with hospitals and airplanes and food and computers and medicine. And the list could go on almost indefinitely.
More than that, we’ve learned how to cooperate very well. Forget wars; they’re run by competing states and will exist as long as states do. Instead, look at your local soccer league, little league, church choir, and family gathering.
And remember that we’ve been trained to see one flaw in a cooperative group and condemn the whole from it. (And to hypnotically accept any and every flaw of the state.) A few flaws are meaningless compared to modes of cooperation that thrive over decades, centuries, and millennia. Does being less than perfect make us monsters? Does anything less than 100% equal zero?
So, we are wonderful creatures. And how much better might we be if we dared consider that possibility? Here’s a quote from G.K. Chesterton that I’d like you to read: "There runs a strange law through the length of human history – that men are continually tending to undervalue their environment, to undervalue their happiness, to undervalue themselves. The great sin of mankind, the sin typified by the fall of Adam, is the tendency, not towards pride, but towards this weird and horrible humility."
Can we dare imagine that Chesterton was right? And if not, why not? That kind of imagination is what the child needs, and it is that kind of imagination that results in human thriving, as noted by Leon Battista Alberti, the epitome of the Renaissance Man: "A man can do all things if he will."
Yes, that’s a bit overstated, but we have the essential ability to do amazing things, and if we thought and acted like it – thought and acted like Leon Battista Alberti – we’d do a lot more amazing things.
Why You Can’t: There are two reasons you can’t do anything at all. The first is simple: Nature stands in your way. No matter how much we imagine we can do something, if nature doesn’t agree, we can’t do it. We can work with nature to do “impossible” things (building flying machines for example), but we can’t simply violate it.
The second reason is also simple: Other human wills oppose us and stand ready to use violence against us. This second reason is habitually cloaked in confusing and deceptive terminology of course, but the truth is that adversarial wills and their violence oppose us all.
What we lack is what we can call “a life affording scope.” Limitations of our scope – weaponized wills set against us – have been colorfully covered by Reason magazine’s “Brickbats” section for decades, but the problem goes much farther than that. I’ll give you a few thoughts on that, then bring this column to a close:
• Regulation forbids adaptation.
• Obligation supplants compassion.
• Only violent and corrupt human wills deserve restriction.
And one more, the "14 words" we used in a previous article: "We are a beautiful species, living in a beautiful world, ruled by abusive systems." This is why I’ve been drawn to the cryptosphere. Our scope of life within that realm is not obstructed by weaponized wills. It’s a special place."