Isaac Newton’s Third Law states that “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Or more simply put for the lay-people among us, there’s a consequence to the stuff that we do. We all know that. Norman Cousins wrote that “a human being fashions his consequences as surely as he fashions his goods or his dwelling.” We clearly fashion our consequences by making the choices that we make. It naturally follows that when we make a choice, we’ve also set up a consequence. Consequences are an inevitable and utterly non-negotiable part of our lives. It doesn’t matter who or what it is that makes a choice, there will be “an equal and opposite reaction,” or what we call a consequence.
The Problem of Consequences
Yet, there’s a problem. A rather big problem. We have long embraced the ethic that we are entitled. We are owed. The gospel of greed as pounded out on the pulpits of a culture gone mad, and the crazed notions spawned of entitlement preached from the self-same pulpits ignorantly declare that our want of something justifies our having it. Yet, there’s this pesky phenomenon that we call ‘consequences’. And because we adamantly believe that we’re entitled to have whatever we want, we also believe that we’re entitled to be free of the consequences that are a part of getting whatever we want.
To our chagrin, we’ve discovered that we can’t deny the existence of consequences. We’ve found out that we can’t just blithely wave them off or somehow hope that they’ll vanish on their own. Realistically, none of those things are going to happen. And because they’re not, we’ve come to believe that we’re entitled to eliminate them. And we attempt to do that by merely redefining them.
Removal of the Consequences
Legislate It and Legalize It
Sometimes the consequences are due to the fact that the action is illegal, or at least partly illegal. So, why not make it legal? There are many instances where our culture has moved to legalize an entire array of actions and behaviors so that the consequences are legislatively removed. We can bring the heavy hand of legislative bodies to bear. The legislation is signed, the gavel is dropped, it’s entered into the record, and in a less than a nanosecond what was wrong has now been rendered legislatively right. The consequences are gone.
Ignoring a consequence is based on the somewhat shaky and rather dim hope that the consequence will go unnoticed and simply go away. If we just set out to ignore something long enough it’s likely to simply dissipate and eventually vanish with no one being the wiser. And it is our hope that if it vanishes, the consequence will be deemed as not having been all that significant in the first place, for if it was it would not have dissipated so easily. The consequences are gone.
Change Our Values
If some set of ethics or morals or values makes something wrong, then we can either rewrite our ethics or rid ourselves of them altogether. Our value-neutral culture has led us to believe that an action is neither right nor wrong in and of itself. Rather, it is the view that our culture or our communities or our belief systems have taken of it that defines it as right or wrong. Therefore, we can redefine an action or a choice in whatever way we please. The consequences are gone.
Lean on Technology
We can create some cutting-edge procedure, or develop some sort of next-generation medication, or devise some kind of advanced algorithm. We can find ways to circumvent the natural processes of the body, or suspend the laws of nature. We can eradicate or manipulate or decimate at the hands of science and technology. And while these things can bring a great good, harnessed in the service of greed they are certain to bring a great evil. The consequences are gone…or so we think.
The Repercussions of Removing Consequences
Despite these efforts, we as a culture have made a large number of questionable choices that have resulted in utterly devastating consequences. We have yet to learn that consequences will not abate nor will they be circumvented simply because we change the rules. The foundational principles from which these consequences stem are embodied in and woven through our very existence. We would be wise to understand that we have neither the power, the acumen, the argument, the ethics, nor the ability to change any of those principles even though our greed has played us the fool and led us to believe that we can. These principles will stand, and so will the consequences of ignoring them.
So we might ask, how many more schools will face the onslaught of terror? How many church members or concert-goers or innocent shoppers in some mall somewhere will have to die? When will we realize that we have crafted a culture borne of our greed, and that in the crafting we have foolishly attempted to side-step the horrendous consequences that have bred such behaviors as these? In all the carnage, I would suggest that we are doing nothing more than observing the outcomes of our choices. This is of our design. This is what we have permitted. This is the stage that we have set. As the cartoonist Walter Kelly said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
I would suggest that it is time to take serious stock of where we are. Honest stock. Painful stock. It is time to look in the mirror instead of pointing the finger. It is time to ground our lives in principles that we long abandoned in the lesser pursuits of self. It is time to walk away from the pulpits of a culture gone mad and seek truths gone abandoned. It is time to realize that the greatest good imaginable occurs at the point that we make the person standing next to us our priority. It is time to realize that this is a matter of the heart and not a matter of legislation or political leanings. It is time to realize that this is an issue of timeless principle and not the lobbying of shallow agendas. It is time for change. And while this kind of change might cost us dearly, not changing may cost us the people that we love dearly. For if we don’t reclaim principles long lost and embrace ethics ignored, the only question I know to ask is “Who’s next?”