HomeRead It - The Lies Of The Land

Read It - The Lies Of The Land

1
THE COURSE OF LIFE

‘One thing is certain and the rest is lies The flower that once has blown, forever dies’Omar Khayyam (1048-1131)

Let us consider what might be an ideal life and start from what we indisputably know to be true. We know that we are born,

we develop through childhood to adulthood, we age and ultimately die. In the course of this progression, we have a drive to procreate. With procreation and a subsequent birth, the cycle repeats.

The only indisputable reason for our existence is procreation. For all our pretensions at human importance, our lot, in the scheme of things, is no more exalted than that of a messenger-boy. We are simply here to carry germ-plasm from one generation to the next.

From nature’s point of view, any individual is quite dispensable. Those who are the fittest and the most adaptable, survive — those who are not, die. Those who claim that humans have a ‘right to life’ have no evidence to support that contention and they can point to no power that enforces such a right.

We all ultimately die. If we have a ‘right to life’, when did we receive it and at what point does it expire?

If the above progression is all there is to life (and we have no logical evidence to the contrary), we are left with an enormous amount of time to fill. In order to make the most of this time, we can only aim to derive as much pleasure and job satisfaction as possible. The things that give pleasure and satisfaction can only be determined by each individual themselves.

In order to pursue personal happiness, a person must be free to make his or her own choices. Thus, we can appreciate why men and women of all eras have fought and died for freedom. If every individual is to be free, it follows that no individual should be allowed to infringe the freedom of another. This would proscribe slavery and prevent any person from imposing his or her religious or political views on another. We therefore have to accept, without question, that each individual is entitled to their own ideas and actions providing that these do not interfere with the rights of anyone else.

‘I am free to wave my arms about as much as I like, but my freedom ends where your nose begins.’ Anon

We may not agree with another person’s point of view but, because there are no absolute standards with which everyone agrees, we are obliged to accept that an opposing point of view could possibly be just as correct as our own.

The importance of respecting the freedoms and ideas of others is that if I don’t respect your rights, why should you respect mine?

The denial of anyone’s rights ultimately leads to the possible denial of everyone’s rights. If, today, I can force you to act as I wish, there is a good chance that tomorrow you might be able to force me to act as you wish. Under these circumstances, we are all subject to interference and oppression and no-one can be sure of enjoying any freedom.

Taking this ‘live and let live’ concept a step further, we find that if we work together, we can achieve more than if we work alone. This does not mean that we need to sacrifice ourselves to a common good

— a sacrifice is an imposition on the individual and therefore an infringement on his or her freedom. However, it does oblige us to consider the needs of others in any action we might take. We ultimately do ourselves a greater service by helping others rather than by obstructing them. Wouldn’t we all achieve much more, and wouldn’t our civilisation be much richer if we co-operated rather than competed with each other?

Full many a bloom is born to blush unseen And waste its sweetness on the desert air.’Thomas Gray (1716-1771)

If every individual was regarded as important in their own right, if no-one interfered with the lives of others and we all set out to help each other to achieve the best they can, what sort of society would we have? Would we have road-rage or theft or murder? Would we have wars, poverty or oppression of minorities? If everyone acted according to the above precepts, there would only remain one crime that required societal condemnation—the crime of discourtesy.

2
SELF INTEREST

One of the many concepts in life that we tend not to question is that of selfishness or self-interest. It is not ‘nice’ to be selfish, so we ignore the practical importance of it and the integral part it plays in our lives.

Our bodies and minds are engineered to serve ourselves, not others. My heart, for example,

is built to pump blood through my body not yours—although you are quite welcome to it when I am finished with it—my brain is engineered to look after my interests, not yours.

The most important person in one’s life is oneself. Because of this, totalitarian states never succeed in the long term. Even in totalitarian states, the police and military are kept on side by ensuring they receive special perks for their support of the rulers.

This emphasis on the importance of the individual does not mean that society will eventually become an anarchy consisting of a multitude of greedy individuals.

Most people accept the advantages of collective action and co-operation to make their own lives more pleasant. However, in order to achieve our personal goals we must clearly understand that our own interests are paramount.

We have but one life and it is up to us to make the most of it. Fitting into the aspirations of others will not bring us satisfaction unless those aspirations also coincide with ours.

The reason we are taught not to be selfish is usually to coerce us into doing someone else’s bidding; it is rarely in our own interests.

It is a valuable exercise to examine the motivation of the person who accuses you of selfishness — what is he or she going to get out of it if you do as they say? And what are you going to get out of it if you take the course they are suggesting?

Selfishness is not sinful or antisocial because it is the engine of personal achievement. Many goals start and end as a simple pipe-dreams. Many teenagers dream of becoming singers or rock stars, but how many actually fulfil these dreams?

There are ways of achieving goals:

1. You must decide on the goal you wish to achieve. Ask yourself if the goal is the one that you personally want to achieve. Or, are you aspiring to a goal only because someone else has led you to believe that it is worthwhile. If it doesn’t excite you personally, don’t waste your life trying to achieve it.

2. You must determine the pathway to that objective. This involves planning a course of action.

‘Once you have decided to do something, the job is half done.’ Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865)

3. Be prepared to accept the risks and the cost. If you want to become a doctor, that will require sacrifice of many other pleasures and years of your time to study. Are you really prepared to make these sacrifices? Is the goal really worth it? There is no such thing as a free lunch, and when offered one you should carefully determine the ultimate price.

Our ship of life might be occasionally buffeted and taken off course by other events but we must keep our home-port clearly in mind through it all. There will always be some unavoidable detours so we must be flexible.

Greed is good insofar as it motivates us to take productive action. This does not mean that our greed should infringe upon the rights or progress of others, but we should not be ashamed of our own desires to acquire and accumulate. There are many examples where greed does cause grief and disadvantage to others, but a healthy respect for one’s own advancement is not a crime.

If we are to have a harmonious society we must live and let live.

We must accord to each person the right to their own beliefs and respect the sovereignty of each individual.

This might seem like an unselfish exhortation. In reality, this consideration is ultimately one of self-interest. My freedom is only guaranteed if everyone’s freedom is guaranteed and hence my interests are best served when I protect the interests of my neighbour.

‘Conscience is that which makes us behave well when nobody is looking’ Anon

The above argument also applies to the consideration of animals. Without other creatures, our planet would be an unbearable place to live.

We have the power to destroy animals but it is in our own interests to protect them. Animals presumably also have joys of life. Again, the concept comes down to self-interest: my environment will be much better if I also consider the welfare of animals.

We do not become members of a society for the benefit of society; we remain members of a society for the benefits that the society confers upon us.

Where an individual is disadvantaged by a society, they tend to move to a society that provides them with the advantages they desire.

This might seem like an unselfish exhortation. In reality, this consideration is ultimately one of self-interest. My freedom is only guaranteed if everyone’s freedom is guaranteed and hence my interests are best served when I protect the interests of my neighbour.

‘This may mean moving to another country or to a different stratum of society (such as a criminal environment). Politicians never ask people to voluntarily pay more tax for the benefit of society — they always buy votes by promising to give us something.

The fact that they are buying our votes with our money (i.e. we will inevitably pay more tax) probably never occurs to us.

We say we choose to live in a free society. What does that really mean?

There is no such thing as absolute freedom. We only choose the types of freedoms that we want, and accept the loss of other freedoms as a trade-off. I choose the freedoms which I get in a particular society. In return, I sacrifice my freedom to murder people and usurp any property I might desire.

It is very important to realise the limited nature of freedom. We are often exhorted by politicians to fight to defend freedom. But what freedoms are they talking about? The defence of freedom usually means the defence of our rulers’ freedoms. When sent to war to ‘defend freedom’, it is wise to determine exactly what freedom we are fighting for. It is not inconceivable that the freedoms offered by the enemy might give us a better life than the one we presently have.

So when we talk of being ‘free to pursue our goals’, that freedom is always limited.

If you and I are both to be optimally free, it follows that neither of us can be free to do anything which interferes with the freedom of the other. If that results in the other person acting in ways that we don’t

like personally, we have no right to interfere unless those actions interfere with the freedoms of others.

As there is no such thing as perfect freedom, we must decide what type of freedoms we want. Presently, there are a number of controversial issues in our society: homosexuality, abortion, and euthanasia.

Attitudes towards these issues are based on the emotions of religious upbringing and not on any logic. People, of course, are entitled to their religious views and entitled to regulate their lives according to those views, but there is no reason why personal views should be forced on those who think otherwise.

Homosexuality

Providing a person’s sexual preference does not interfere with any non-consensual person, by what logic does society make that preference to be illegal?

We all seem to have an inherent antagonism to those who look or think differently, but before opposing a different point of view, we should ask ourselves whether we have the right to interfere in someone’s life if they do not interfere with ours.

Abortion

My body is my possession. Nobody else can own my body. The law even asserts that no-one can own someone else’s body (or corpse as the case might be). If my body is my sovereign possession, then nobody but me can deal with it. If I choose to allow my body to be used by someone else, surely that is my choice and my right.

If I choose not to allow my body to be used by someone else, surely that is also my choice and my right.

Is this argument any less valid for a woman? If a woman chooses not to allow her body to be used for the creation of a child, that is her sovereign right. If she is pregnant, at what point does the unborn child assume a superior claim to her body? We seem to have a conflict of interest here — two individuals contesting the one body. Removal of the baby results in killing an unborn child.

On the other hand, if the mother is prevented from terminating a pregnancy, she is being denied the sovereignty over her own body. It is a matter of deciding who is the ‘a priori’ owner of the body when such a conflict arises. Given that the unborn child cannot lead an independent existence outside the mother’s body, then it surely does not have a prior right to require the mother to maintain it. If you are drowning, you have no right to my services in order to save you, nor do you have a right to a transfusion of my blood even though you might surely die without it.

Personally, I do not like the idea of abortion – it is destructive and wasteful. I have yet to meet a woman who had an abortion and does not have some degree of sadness about it. Many suffer a great deal of guilt. Most wonder about the potential of the child that might have been. Women do not usually have abortions by preference but due to circumstance. It may result from societal pressure for an unmarried woman not to have a child or it may be that the woman cannot afford to provide for the child. It is rarely because the woman would not have the child if circumstances were different.

Euthanasia

In respect to ‘mercy killing’, there are two quite distinct and separate issues:

1. Where a person wishes to terminate his or her own life. This is a matter of sovereignty in which the individual is dealing with their own property and not affecting anyone else.

2. Where a person wishes to terminate the life of another person who may not wish their life to be terminated.

If I come to the conclusion that there is no point for a person that is old and senile to continue to live, should I have the right to terminate that life?

Clearly not, especially if I believe in not interfering with the sovereignty of another person.

But, what if a person is in constant pain due to an incurable disease and wishes to terminate his or her own life? In this case, anyone really believing in sovereignty of the individual must allow that person to die if that is their wish. As a doctor, I have had it put to me on more than one occasion: ‘Doctor, if I were a dog, you would put me down. Why are you keeping me alive just to keep me suffering?’

There is, of course, an argument that an old and ill person might ‘appear’ to want their life terminated when that is not really their wish; greedy beneficiaries might want to get the inheritance sooner rather than later. Perhaps, in cases such as this, we could require a competent judge to determine the true wishes of that person. It is hard to imagine that such a requirement would overburden our courts as it is unlikely there would be large queues for such a service.

Personally, if my children did not want me around I cannot imagine any reason why I would want to stay anyway.

3
OBTAINING HELP

There are some things that we can do alone and there are many things that we should only do alone. However, to expand our potential in respect to self-fulfilment and achieving goals, we need to recruit assistance. A man can build a house alone, but it will be quicker and more efficient if he obtains advice and help.

Help is like a lever. The more help we can obtain, the greater our ability to manipulate and control our environment. Self-interest is the prime motivator in all of us and so it follows that it is in our own interests to use available help. Unfortunately, there is always a cost in obtaining help. Indeed, there is no such thing as a ‘free lunch’. The cost may be a simple monetary payment where the debt is liquidated immediately, or it may impose future obligations to return the favour.

‘Always go to other peoples’ funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours’ Lawrence Peter ‘Yogi’ Berra (1925–)

As everyone is motivated by self-interest, we must appeal to the interests of others if we want them to help us. A salesman never sells a vacuum cleaner by pointing out that they need the sale in order to feed their children. They point out how it will help you and how much you can’t do without it.

Helping others is not a purely altruistic act. There are distinct advantages to us as a result of it. If we all help each other, then we all derive the benefit of the leverage that help provides, and every person has an increased ability to achieve their own personal goals.

It has been said that in order to make a friend, ‘let them do you a favour’. The logic of this is that you place yourself under a debt to your potential friend. This leaves them with the feeling that you will return the favour at some later stage and they therefore think more favourably of you. By the same logic, when you help someone else, they immediately feel under an obligation to repay the debt as soon as possible. Thus, helping others is, in fact, very self-serving.

There are numerous methods we can use to obtain help:

1. We can simply ask (e.g. ‘please help me shift a table from one room to the next’).

2. We can persuade others to help.

3. We can shame another into doing what we want (e.g. ‘don’t be so selfish!’).

4. We can induce fear into the mind of an unwilling helper (e.g. with a gun to your head I say: ‘Give me your wallet!’).

The first two methods are well understood and this is how daily commerce is usually transacted. It should also be noted that these methods imply a quid pro quo arrangement; in other words, there is a specific payment for the help, or the inference that the helper will receive a similar help at a later time.

The last two methods extract help without ostensibly returning a favour to the helper. If we can get help to achieve our objectives for free, then this is obviously preferable to imposing a commitment on ourselves.

If I can get another person to work for me at no cost to myself, then the wealth and fruits of that person’s labour accrete to me. If I buy the raw materials, hire the labour and sell the product at a price that pays for all the costs plus a margin of profit, then I have generated this profit for very little personal exertion. The greater the margin between the sale price and the cost of production, the greater the profit and, therefore, the more rapid the accumulation of wealth.

For this reason, we see the methods of shame and induction of fear used extensively by those in authority – parents, politicians and priests.

Courtesy and assistance to others, therefore, has a real purpose in life. It does make life easier for others but, more importantly, it makes life easier and more pleasant for us.

‘You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals. To that end each of us must work for his own improvement and at the same time share a general responsibility for all humanity, our particular duty being to aid those to whom we think we can be most useful.’ Marie Curie (1867-1934)

Our Adversarial Society

Society traditionally encourages competition, but the importance of being competitive is purely a thing that we have been brainwashed into believing. Our rulers tend to be people who have an insatiable thirst for power. Competition with its consequent destruction of rivals is a very useful tool for them.

There are certain advantages in the competitive approach, but there are also many disadvantages. It suits our rulers to have us competing with one another on the old British principle of ‘divide and rule’.

In a society where only certain selected individuals are permitted to accomplish their objectives, the society receives only a limited contribution. Competition does stimulate the desire to achieve, but it also leads to suppression of the aims of others and a subsequent stratification of the society. As a result, the rulers are at the top, and the poor and underprivileged at the bottom.

One might think that helping a rival will give them a competitive advantage. In the short term this may be true. We need to re-think our society.

If we helped each other rather than competed, our entire society would be a richer place as everyone would accomplish their goals. Each of us has some unique talents and goals. Poor education and poor encouragement lead to a lesser capacity of the individual to determine and reach their goals, and thereby a loss to society of contributions that could be made.

How much personal depression and alienation results from people being unable to reach even modest ambitions? How much bullying and interpersonal animosity arises from the idea that one must always prevail over others?

This commonly leads to all sorts of infringements on the rights of others even to the point of secretly working against the interests of those they pretend to represent. A city councillor now assumes the right to dictate to the citizen what colour he or she may paint their house; a politician now tells the electors they have no right to question oppressive legislation because they do not understand the ‘big picture’.

An executive body therefore develops a life of its own and this becomes more important than its raison d’etre. The executives claim to be working for others but act to serve their own interests.

From Help to Dictatorship

It is well-known that, at any meeting, a few individuals always dominate proceedings. The other members, apart from the occasional interjection, remain as passive bystanders. As time goes by, the dominant members will assume or acquire executive positions. In such a way, a stratification of power (otherwise known as a hierarchy or pecking order) develops.

Once people get to executive positions, they soon convince themselves they are there by divine right. Any interference with their objectives is simply an irritation that must be surmounted.

The former representatives of the people soon become dictators over those whose votes they have usurped to attain power. In Animal Farm, George Orwell paints this picture all too clearly: pigs, originally elected to take over the farm on behalf of the other animals, soon begin to suggest the extermination of those animals that do not fit into their scheme of things.

‘Princes aim to rule but all the people ask is that they not be oppressed.’ Machiavelli (1469–1527)

Not everybody wants to be a ruler.

Other Books by Dr. Corbett