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Max Roytenberg: If Each before his cottage Sweeps

by Max Roytenberg, July 24, 2016

Wow! I never thought to make this connection. We are living in a world where everybody can be connected, but with public services, can survive disconnected. But, in our highly organized society we are so interdependent. We have built an infrastructure to service the many that we are, but we depend on everybody playing the game, obeying the rules of the road. If they don’t, we can easily descend into chaos. How do we organize our lives then?


Because we are so interdependent, a single individual, behaving badly, can disrupt the lives of many. What if I decide I want to drive on the side of the road where everybody is going the other way? What if I decide I want to drive a truck into a pedestrian area where we have always believed we were safe because we assume that we will all follow the rules of the road? What if I use the rights we have to bear arms to shoot at people who choose not to, just because I feel like it?

Our western societies are based on the “live and let live” premise. That is all about liberty, the principle on which our societies are built. That is very different from societies lack that, ones which we criticize, that we run away from as soon as we are able. We don’t poke our noses into other people’s business and we don’t want them to poke into ours. But what if that no longer works? What if we have to be interested in what is going on in other people’s lives because they may have plans to do the collective harm? With the privacy you have, the privacy we offer as a basic element of our society, you can reach out, or others can reach out to you, and you can turn violently against what our society offers you. Isn’t it now my business? Not just those elements of our society whose job it is to protect us, but of interest and importance to every one of us? That is not what we are about, you say? That train has already left the station.


Well, what about our loyalties, the loyalties that we have always taken for granted? Our neighbours? Our family? Our ethnic group? Our co-religionists? If we see something that goes against the grain , something which may even alarm us, don’t we close our eyes if it runs up against some of the loyalties I’ve mentioned. Are we going to go blabbing to some authority figure we’re not sure we even trust in the first place? Not likely? Don’t we say it’s their business to take care of such things, not mine. Why would I risk relationships I value, risk sanctions I might face within my own living environment, messing in something I’m not really sure about?

Well, given the world we are living in now, isn’t that something at issue? If we want the village to be safe, don’t we have to do what we have to do in the area of our own cottages, our own homes? And isn’t it that which is not happening enough, things that come to light after things occur, seemingly out of the blue? Don’t we have some loyalties to the collective, to ourselves, essentially, that begin to override the loyalties to which we customarily adhere?


Well, the world is changing. The world has changed. I’m sure we don’t like it very much, but that is the way things are these days. We may shrink at admitting it, because we don’t like it. In fact, we hate it. How did we get to this place where what was, and is, our strength, has become our weakness? Our very basic values and tenets are being used against us. Our generosities are being callously exploited, building communities that may turn against us when numbers will permit. Our western societies are built upon the thesis of integration, where each follows their own path without impinging on the other.  What happens when we come up against the opposite thesis, the rejection of both integration and our own right to carry on in our own way? What happens if those we invite in insist on different rules, rules which contradict our basic values? And they insist on them on the basis of the freedoms we believe are essential to the well-being of our society? How do we keep the village clean then, and still maintain our posture of openness and generosity? We are hung by our own petard! Our strength has become our weakness. And it is being fully exploited in many areas of Europe. We see the results in our headlines every day. And it is happening quietly in our own backyard. And we don’t have an agreement upon the answers to the dilemmas we face. We hear of answers being offered in many places that will ultimately diminish freedoms we all value.


So these are the tidings of happiness and joy I bring to you today. Many of us must be tired of the Pollyanna offer of the other cheek. We have to start with individual focus. To protect ourselves, we have to be much more interested in goings on in our neighbour’s houses that might make us feel anxious, more than we have been in the past. And we have to be much more willing to share our anxieties with public institutions with which we are not fully at ease. We have to be much more aware of the price we are paying for our generosities in opening our homes to those with other philosophies of life, and be much more aggressive in pushing back when they attempt to legalize elements of their philosophies which are in contradiction with the basic principles we value. The record of our authorities in this respect has been shameful in my view. Different from the adage in the title of this piece, we can only get this done if we work together.


Shall we get together to keep our village clean and safe?

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