The Art of Fumbling: A Historical Perspective

Photo: The Art of Fumbling: A Historical Perspective

Yesterday, I was a guest on Ancap Radio, a program that educates people about political philosophy and personal freedom. The first question they asked, was:

Can you explain your political philosophy?

Lacking a definite political philosophy, I answered with this; in regards to political philosophy, people need to be allowed the freedom to mess up their own life.

Can you elaborate?

In my experience, lessons learned the hard way are the ones that stick. I can be instructed and warned, but I am the type that needs to earn the scar tissue myself. I don’t think I am alone.

I also acknowledge that I make frequent mistakes. Maybe you do too. I make mistakes because I often don’t understand which choices are in my best interest.

If I struggle to grasp what is in my best interest, how could I dictate what is in someone else’s best interest?

That belief would be incredibly arrogant.

Consequently, people need to be allowed the freedom to mess up their own life, because this is the best option available.

How did you arrive at this viewpoint? What political philosophers influenced you?

I don’t read much political philosophy. I can’t quote the great philosophers like Plato, Machiavelli, Marx or Friedman.

But I am a student of history. So I will quote Edward Rutherford.

Rutherford is an author who chronicles the thousand-year history of various countries and cities through multi-millennial historical fiction.

His novel "Sarum," for instance, is a sweeping 10,000-year saga that begins in prehistoric Britain after the first hunter-gatherers migrated from Doggerland, a once-existing landmass between present-day England and the rest of Europe, now submerged under the North Sea.

His novel traces the construction of Stonehenge, the Roman invasion, the Dark Ages, the Viking wars, the Black Death, the Protestant Reformation, the founding of the British Empire, and World War II, and continues until the mid-1980s.

His novel “China"guides the reader through a similar journey in the Orient, visiting the Opium Wars, British colonization, and Mao's Cultural Revolution up to the present day.

"New York" transports the reader from 1664, when the Dutch began trading with the Mohawks on the wild island of Manhattan, through to the fall of the twin towers in 2001.

“Russka,” tells an 1800-year story of Russia, weaving through Genghis Kahn, Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great.

But what have I learned about political philosophy from reading our stories of the past?

That our lives, and the grand journey of our ancestors, are nothing more than a fascinating experiment.

I am captivated by the unfamiliar history of familiar places because it illuminates how fleeting our politics, social traditions, and even our religions can be.

I think about our randomly creative past - like the fertility ritual during the Stone Age, circa 2000-3000 BC, where young women would stand in a pit while a bull was slaughtered above them - the blood showering them as an appeasement of the gods.

Or the marital duels of 15th-century Rome, where husband and wife would fight to settle a dispute. The husband would stand in a pit with one arm tied behind his back to even the score. He would be given three clubs with which to fight but penalized with losing one of his clubs every time he touched the edge of the hole. The wife, free to move around, would be armed with a sack full of rocks.

Given my ancestry, it's plausible that my forebears participated in these rituals, and if not, they were indeed somewhere else, participating in something equally bewildering.

We make the mistake of assuming that we used to be so primitive, but this time, we’ve got it right.

But this belief is a continuum, an everlasting cycle. We forever snicker at the rituals of our ancestors while arrogantly assuming that our truths are absolute.

We used to stand virgins in a pit and shower them in bull's blood to ensure healthy offspring.

We used to judge the guilt of thieves by burning their hands in a fire, and watching the speed of recovery - if the wound began to fester… it was festering with guilt.

We used to bind the hands of women and throw them in a river to determine who was and was not a witch.

We used to allow children to select their gender of choice at the start of each school day…

Oh… wait.

Let’s give it some time.

If we are constantly redefining our morals, absolute truths, and gods, what convinces me that "we've got it right this time”?


I don’t believe we can ever get it right because right is discretionary.

I believe in God, but the beauty of God, for me, lies in the mystery - the unknowability. When someone tells me they know exactly what God is and how God works, I’m a skeptic. I will spend my whole life trying to understand God, and that's enough for me - the beautiful mystery.

This unknowability is the only definitive belief I hold.

So why do I believe people must be free to make their own mistakes? Because if I am a flawed mortal descended from flawed mortals, who am I to judge or govern anyone else?

We live by transient, imaginary rules. If we accept that the rules are imaginary, then we are empowered to imagine our own.

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