Thoughtful Heresy


Every thinking person is in some way a heretic. Socially, culturally or scientifically.

We develop simple quotable rules for running complicated lives in a complex environment. The rules cannot fit, yet we are attracted to them.

When I was in high school we had a fifty-five mile per hour speed limit to save fuel. It was imposed on the states by federal coercion because the government didn’t have the authority to do so directly. Every one knows that drag goes up with the square of the velocity. Less energy is used. Simple and obvious. And wrong. Cars and trucks were geared to operate at higher speeds. So we were operating below design specifications.  The highways were at the time designed for seventy-five miles per hour. In some places energy was saved, but on the whole there was little effect. Except that people ignored the law more. I drove outside of Chicago at the time in an old car that would make about seventy-five miles per hour at a safe maximum. I was nearly driven off the road. I was exceeding the speed limit by almost fifty per cent and was still the slowest driver on the road. Were all these good, Democratic voters heretics to the Democratic party line? Yes. But they may have been rational.

On the same trip I was in Pennsylvania. Safe and easy traffic at seventy-five miles per hour though narrow valleys. The roads were nearly full. Slowing traffic would have backed up things for miles and caused accidents. It would also have required energy and money to increase the roads by fifty per cent to keep up with traffic. The police were enforcing political orthodoxy by stopping random cars for speeding and giving five hundred dollar tickets. [At least that’s what the signs said the fine was.] A negative lottery doesn’t instill belief in justice. [ In retrospect I feel I was immune to these revenue generating tickets; I was driving safely and my car advertised that they would have a hard time getting much money from me.]

Morally, everyone has heard of the problems with simple and obvious rules such as ”Thou shalt not kill.” OK, murder. Killing in  the service of one’s country is not murder. At least in the Army. And defending yourself. Or your wife. Or children….

Conservationists have outlawed the traffic in elephant ivory. We are saving the elephants. A fine and noble goal. Alas, the poachers are not affected. And without the income from ivory the farmers on whose land the elephants live have no incentive to feed or encourage the elephants. They have become frightfully large pests. Pests that cannot be fenced out. They obviously clever law doesn’t seem to work. he elephant has a smaller range every year. A range enforced by poor counties.

Also there are the self-appointed upholders of the proper order. They cannot be reasoned with. Some people enjoy rules because the rules grant them a power they do not possess in themselves. Such people take a glee in running other’s lives. A glee that does not consider logic or burden.

Simple clear laws might be nice if they did what they purport to do. It’s like they old puzzle of projecting a globe onto a flat map. It sort of works. The only people really happy about it are the ones who are too oblivious or simple to see the errors. Blinders can be so comforting.

Any thinking being comes to his own conclusions. Most will not fit any dogma or party line. Thinking begets heresy.

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