Saturday, October 21, 2006

Everyone Has Their Own Path

When you're discussing something with a person and they say "everyone has their own path," what that usually mean is "I want to live my life the way I want without providing anybody and explanation." This is a fair enough assertion in a free world and in a free state, but it has a further implication. What it also means is that they do not want their way of life challenged, even theoretically or implicitly in a free exchange of ideas; when someone says "everyone has their own path," what they are really doing is shutting down free exchange of ideas in the name of free exchange of ideas, or in other words, they are being closed-minded in the name of open-mindedness, and that is one of the most ironic things. Not only is this ironic, it is extremely silly, and it happens all the time.

Again, the assertion is a fair assertion, but it becomes more silly when the person volunteers that piece of information, as in, when their view of life is not even being directly challenged or pressed. Sometimes the person will say, "I am free to do what I do and you are free to do what you do." However, as nice and tolerant as this sounds, there is actually a relatively grave side to such a way of thinking. The "live and let live" attitude, as I am sure this has been argued before, allows peace and tolerance, but when society faces its turbulent times, to which it is prone, then "live and let live" becomes something more like the Beatles song suggests, "live and let die," or maybe even "die and let die." If we really want to be extremists we can even say that it becomes "kill and let kill."

We Jews have a responsibility in this world, and it is to call society out when it's messing up - to a certain degree we are experts at this, both left and right-wing, religious and secular. Everyone should know that one essential rule of thumb when acting as a critic of society is the rejection of the false premise that "live and let live" is a valid maxim when one person lives within a greater society. We know that a few crazy people can bring a society to shambles and therefore "live and let live" begins to fade into "irresponsibility." This is not a suggestion for creating a morally legislative police state, rather, it is a suggestion that we try to move away from a societal norm which says that individual freedom with the goal of attaining maximal pleasure be severely questioned and challenged, and if we are up to it, changed. If we are free and we live in a free state and in a free world and we have free minds, then it is the ultimate expression of our freedom to restrain ourselves when it comes to our own lives in order to keep society a clean and healthy place. This is the job description of every Jew. There is no greater freedom than this.

Recall that in the instance of our being brought out of slavery and into freedom, G-d gave us commandments; with freedom we had commandments, we became free to keep them and so everyday we must become free from the shackles of society in order to keep our relationship with G-d. A huge part of our relationship with G-d is the betterment of society.


Nick said...

Excellent commentary.

I often wonder what the best way is to break down the "everyone has their own path" pluralism to allow frumkeit in.

jjew said...

Thanks very much.

In Israel or in the States?

I wouldn't even know where to start yet with Israel because I've only been here for a week as an observant Jew. But for America I would say attempting to get and/or allow Jews to see that free will is basically crap if you do whatever you want with it. It's the introduction of a paradigm, and spiritual people love paradigms - how is it free will if G-d rewards you for doing the right thing and "slaps ya up" for doing the wrong thing? He lets you do whatever you want but does not have a neutral response to what you've chosen to do. I would start, hehe, by challenging their assumptions that freedom is the prime value of a society. I mean, for example, we certainly don't think that it's a proper freedom for our neighbor to rape people in his/her house, and although that's an extreme example, that kind of pluralism can be shown to be a bit passe, hehe.

But we can also say something a whole lot simpler; choosing a specific path by which to live your life does not suck away your personal identity and your character traits; every day somebody chooses a career path or a major or a way to live his/her life, and nobody assumes that a choice of that nature takes away a person's individuality. I mean, the most respected Sages of Judaism were an incredibly diverse bunch, but if someone has a hard time fathoming these people, we can always introduce them to a particularly quirky or interesting or maybe incredibly normal-seeming observant friend of ours. If we let them see that there are tons of normal frum people, we can show them that observance is clearly within reach for normal people and that religiosity and spirituality are not separated by thick walls from normality.

anonym00kie said...

so interesting..

Dovid said...

Well written.