There is an adage that states, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” It is meant to remind monks that true enlightenment is not something that can be purchased or even given, but must come from within. It is somewhat ironic, then, that we consider our society enlightened. While it is true that we have made significant advances in human wellbeing in the past century, it has come at the cost of the only true freedom that exists: personal responsibility.
Rather than holding the individual accountable for their actions, we mitigate and deflect that responsibility by blaming those actions on the ideas and words of something or someone else. This offense is further compounded by efforts to use the actions of the individual to dictate the rights of everyone. The moment a book, song, movie, comic, or game is censored or banned, we have sacrificed an essential liberty, and hammered another nail in the coffin of personal responsibility.
The logic behind censorship is fundamentally flawed:
- Censorship protects no one; ideas are rooted in the culture that spawns them, they cannot simply be turned off like a faucet.
- The only truly free society is an informed society: if you’re worried about a new idea taking over, maybe you should re-examine your own beliefs.
- Personal beliefs do not equal law: the sacrilege of one person may be the gospel of another.
Despite these flaws, people continue to try and censor others, with increasing success rates. We have found our roadside Buddha, and he’s offering censorship wrapped in the pretense of enlightenment. We need to collectively realize that it’s a false promise; cultural enlightenment, like spiritual enlightenment, begins and ends with the self. The true cost of enlightenment is personal responsibility.
2 thoughts on “The Cost of Enlightenment”
You know I’m opposed to censorship, for mostly the same reasons. So I thought I’d stray off-topic a bit.
I was thinking of personal responsibility the other night as I drove home. For no particular reason, I was thinking of a Wired article about Hans Monderman, a traffic planner who’s taken a few dangerous intersections in Europe and paved them wide and flat, took out all the stoplights, crosswalks, lines, markers, signs, everything: just big flat parking lots with no lines. And apparently it’s been very effective in removing the illusion of safety.
Once society tries to put a warning on absolutely everything that might possibly end up causing you some sort of physical or psychological harm, even if you have to sink down to a new level of stupidity to wreak such harm upon yourself, that society’s in big trouble: there’s almost no limit to human stupidity…especially when they work together.
Anyway, while I was thinking of this article, I saw a guy making a U-Turn on the Interstate, in one of those turnarounds clearly marked with a “No U-Turns” sign. And I thought, “OK: I have no problem with this. Honestly, that sign’s a waste of time: everyone learns that U-Turns on the Interstate are dangerous and shouldn’t be done. Because they understand it, they’ll mitigate the risk, like this guy, by doing it at a time of low traffic and in a place with extensive visibility. I’m fine with him taking this risk. Obviously the sign isn’t stopping him: it’s not even telling him anything he doesn’t know. But it has to be there, because if it weren’t there, some idiot would take a U-Turn and get in an accident and sue the state.”
Then I thought, there’s no sign that says you can’t pull into that thing and then go the wrong way down the other side. It’s so stupid that the state hasn’t thought to recommend against it yet. I can hear the testimony now: “Yes, your honor, it had a no U-Turn sign, but I wasn’t making a U-Turn! My intention was to cross to the southbound lane and keep heading north. So you can see why I thought that should be fine, since there was no sign on the road explicitly telling me otherwise!” “By God, he’s right! The state shall award Mr. Dumbass $500,000,000 in damages, and immediately erect One Way signs on all Interstate turnarounds.”
Anyway, like censorship, it’s another way of the state assuming responsibility for the thoughts of its citizens. If people are making logical leaps like, “Hey, it must be ok if I shoot people with an M1 rifle, because I saw it in a game that I bought LEGALLY in the good ol’ U S of A,” a state that purports taking so much responsibility for their thoughts bears some responsibility for that.
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