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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Theft of Choice-

I recently finished reading Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville. It is a big book. A very big book. Six hundred pages plus. I say that in the case you are daunted by really big books. It is big.

In the course of the telling of the tale Meiville's protagonist, who lives on the fringes of his culture, aids a person of a different racial and social group who has been cast out of his own culture. The crime for which the outcast was cast out was "theft of choice."

I don't know if Mieville intended for this to be the central element of his tale, or not. In the wiki bio cited above he states that he is just telling a story. I can buy that. I write stories, and they are often just that; stories. Anyway, to me the idea of "theft of choice" is a critical issue throughout the book.

It is an interesting idea, defining crimes by the degree to which they affect the victim's ability to choose and make choices. Murder robs the murdered of all of the choices they might have ever made. Robbery robs the robbed of the choices they might have made regarding the use and enjoyment of the things stolen. Theft of choice.

There are other thefts of choice in the tale. A repressive government robbing the populace of their choices. An opposing set of criminal factions robbing people of their choices. Unrelenting poverty and squalor robbing people of choices. The bad choices of individuals robbing themselves of better choices.

The essence of liberty is the power to choose. To decide for yourself what is right, and good, and worth your personal investment. That investment of time, energy, emotions, and material wealth. When someone robs you of your choice, that is a significant theft. It is a crime.

Of course, inversely it is paramount that one make choices that do not rob others of their choices. If you think about this, this is not an easy thing to do. Choice has consequences. A pebble in a placid pond makes ripples, and forever alters the state of the pond by increasing it by the presence of the pebble. A lot of pebbles make a lot of ripples, and can have a huge impact on the pond.

I value liberty, and the more I contemplate liberty the more aware I am of my choices. I strive to choose wisely, not just for my own sake but for the sake of all who might be impacted by the consequences of my choices. Even in expanding my awareness of choices I must make choices. To choose not to choose is a choice, and also has impact. Even in inaction one acts.

If I choose my values with care, and act on those values consistently, I still cast my pebble into the pond. It still has impact, and will have impact unseen and unforeseen. Yet to choose not to act is also a choosing, and has impact unseen and unforeseen. It compels those who act wisely and with care to assume all of the responsibility. It is criminal, because it robs them of choice.

What of those who wantonly cast their pebbles into the pond without concern for the consequences? Those are the true criminals, who steal choices by their own choosing. For them to lose their liberty is not theft, as their loss of liberty allows those who act wisely and responsibly to make their choices with liberty.

Life is complicated and full of choices. I choose to believe that acting out my values with care is the better choice.

Choose wisely. Choose well. Live free.

1 comment:

Jerry said...

We always think that our decisions lead us on unforeseen pathways. We never think that out choices can nudge other on unforeseen pathways too. You make me think of this.