Thursday, June 30, 2011

Why the “Dark Ages” Rocked - Medieval Philosophy: Practical Common Sense (3/3)

Medieval Philosophy: Practical Common Sense

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Middle Ages is the philosophy. As GK Chesterton tells the story, human beings have historically vacillated between having two sorts of appetite: an emotional or mystical, and a rational or philosophical. There are appetites of body and of mind. Most of the time, these have been satisfied quite separately, and in each age, one or the other of them was preferred. In most ancient peoples, the pagan priests existed side-by-side with the philosophers; their domains did not intersect.

Zeus had sex with whomever he had sex with, and demanded what sacrifices he demanded; those details were not rational because Zeus was not rational. And the philosophers were generally satisfied with thinking; their domain required neither mystery nor ritual. And average Greeks could engage in philosophy and worship of Zeus without conflict. The Greeks tended to value the mind over the body. And the Romans the body over the mind. The early Christians swung back to the spiritual things being most important (though not so much as the Gnostics or Manicheans). More recently, we’ve swung from the Enlightenment telling us that thinking was central, to Romanticism telling us that feeling was central, to Modernism telling us that thinking was central, finally to Post-Modernism telling us that feeling was central.

But what about the Middle Ages? According to writer and philosopher GK Chesterton (and more recently, Peter Kreft), the Middle Ages were the one time in human history where these two extremes of the human experience finally kissed. In the central thinker of that great age, Thomas Aquinas, mystery and logic both found an important place. The spirit did not dominate the body; neither did the body dominate the spirit. In fact, Chesterton asserts that Thomism (the philosophy of Aquinas) is the philosophy of common sense (and is unique amongst Philosophers in this). This is a claim that I need to investigate, as if he is such a philosopher, I think I will join him. For I think common sense entirely too rare a thing in the world, and especially the educated world. And, by all accounts, having someone like Thomas Aquinas on my side is a good thing indeed.

The Middle Ages was an era of the waking up of the mind. The people of that time, if they were as arrogant as the people who followed them, might have called it the Enlightenment. But they were much more concerned with enjoying the Light itself than with telling stories about how much more light they had than the pitiful people before them who lived in the “Dark Ages.”

So in conclusion, I think I’m becoming a Medieval. I would that thought were as free now as it was then. I wish we had the passions of the quiet friars, the patience of the monks, the discipline of the students, the courage of the knights. In short, I wish we could become as awesome as they were.

Like you’ve rid yourselves of silly childish notions of the jolly old elf, I hope this essay has helped you rid yourself of silly grown-upish notions of the Dark Ages. I’ll end with a quotation from the book I started this essay with, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The White Company”:
So they lived, these men, in their own lusty, cheery fashion--rude and rough, but honest, kindly and true. Let us thank God if we have outgrown their vices. Let us pray to God that we may ever hold their virtues.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Why the “Dark Ages” Rocked - The Not-So-Dark Ages (2 of 3)

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Notre Dame: "Dark" Architecture from a "Dark" Age
The Not-So-Dark Ages
Now that we’ve dispensed with the mythical images of the Barbarian-Knight and Scientist-Martyr, we can actually start to look at the Middle Ages.

Let’s start with technology. In the Middle Ages, the plow, advanced crop rotation, the horseshoe, the draft horse, the harness led Europe to the first Green Revolution, making European lower classes the best fed in the history of the world. Written music, the wagon brake (very useful on hills), and the flexible front wagon axle (which helps a lot with wagon turning), and the stern-mounted rudder were all medieval inventions.

Military technology made great strides. The crossbow was invented (which was so deadly, there was a time when one could be excommunicated for using it). And, as I have previously alluded to the knight came about, and he became legendary partly because of his technology. Improvements in genetics (animal husbandry) led to monstrous 1200 lb horses which could bear armored knights on a full charge. The high-backed saddle and the stirrup were developed, allowing the full force of charging horse and rider to be projected through a spear-point. The knight was a powerful new thing on the battlefield. It was like the introduction of tanks to warfare. What could be done against a thundering horse and rider, spear advanced out in front? Even the previous style of cavalry, with light armor, a shorter horse, no ability to use a spear or lance, and no ability to use get leverage in swinging a weapon, had no chance against these new knights. An infantryman could barely even reach a vital part of his enemy, let alone do any damage.

How about architecture? The Renaissance may be aptly named as it was a re-awakening, a new breath in dead things. Dead Greeks and Romans were dug up and their works mimicked. But in the Middle Ages, something truly New was made. One can critique Gothic architecture, but one cannot say that it was simply a copy of Roman architecture; it was something wholly new. Notre Dame, if you have ever been there, is an incredible testament to the Word made stone; it is an expression of Christian thought and soul of the age. The work of building a Cathedral itself was infused with the great philosophy of the age. Consider the description by GK Chesterton:
This was the big fact about Christian ethics; the discovery of the new balance. Paganism had been like a pillar of marble, upright because proportioned with symmetry. Christianity was like a huge and ragged and romantic rock, which, though it sways on its pedestal at a touch, yet, because its exaggerated excrescences exactly balance each other, is enthroned there for a thousand years. In a Gothic cathedral the columns were all different, but they were all necessary. Every support seemed an accidental and fantastic support; every buttress was a flying buttress. So in Christendom apparent accidents balanced.[1]
 They were not, like the terrible splendor of the pyramids, built for the great name of one man by many nameless slaves. Nor were they, like the efficient power of a skyscraper, built for the profit of a corporation by wage slaves. They were built by freemen, artisans, working together but individually for the glory of God. Each gargoyle was the individual work of an individual artist, not the prescribed plan of another, or the artless repetition in a pattern. Each gargoyle has a story, as each man has a story, as the universe and everything in it has a story. The theology of the Medievals was so vivacious, it grew up into a tree of stone with leaves of stained glass.

So the Middle Ages were an age of innovation and great leaps forward in art and architecture, in technology and teaching. But perhaps the greatest inventions of the Middle Ages were innovations that allowed for innovation: the Printing Press in the Fifteenth Century and the University in the Thirteenth Century. When books were made cheap, when knowledge became available, it accelerated the process of learning. It allowed the learned class to be larger than those few monks who could live near hand-copied libraries. And the University became an institution that remains to this day, committed to the idea that there was One Truth that could be known. These institutions were differentiated in being separate from the existing hierarchy; while students were still legally considered ‘clergy’, the University began to allow for more freedom in thinking and pursuing the Truth. These two things, the Printing Press and the University, set the stage for the explosion in knowledge and understanding that would come towards the end of the Middle Ages and at the beginning of the Modern era: the Scientific Revolution.

Far from being a time of darkness, the Middle Ages were a time of great leaps forward in technology, in art, and perhaps most importantly, in catalyzing the acquisition and distribution of knowledge. But the term “Dark Ages” is sometimes directed at the Philosophy of the age: darkened by the dark theology, by morbid restrictions on thinking, by a focus on un-thinking Biblical literalism. But is this truly the character, or is the Dark Philosophy as fictitious as the Barbarian-Knight?

[1]Chesterton, GK. "Orthodoxy"

Monday, June 27, 2011

Why the “Dark Ages” Rocked - The Myth of the Knight-Barbarian and the Scientist-Martyr (1 of 3)

The Myth of the Knight-Barbarian and the Scientist-Martyr
The image of the knight has always been an attractive one for me. Maybe it was a childish romanticism. Or maybe it was how cool the knight stories were. Or maybe just that they looked cool. But whatever the cause, it’s been an image which I’ve loved on first sight, and have since grown to love even more.

As I grew up, I learned that it was probably a lie. The knight was a rather barbaric figure, chiefly concerned with oppressing peasants and subjugating his wife. But then I read “The White Company” by Arthur Conan Doyle (the Sherlock Holmes guy), and I got a different picture. Sir Nigel, the model knight, was actually a kindly, noble, courageous, yet also violent, hasty, and somewhat eccentric, character. At first, I was overjoyed to discover so wonderful a character, but at the same time I felt lied to. It was like finding out at 19 years old that Santa Claus really did exist, that his nonexistence was the real lie.

Of course, Sir Nigel is a fictional character, but it must be remembered that he is a character. That is, he has characteristics as has any living, breathing man (or for that matter, any dead man who has left off breathing). He is a fiction, but he is a true fiction. Of course, in the White Company, as in every story in life and fiction, there are bad guys as well as good guys. There were characters who failed to live up to the ideal of the age. A bad apple may spoil the barrel, but it isn’t an argument against the character of apples.

The rediscovery of the Knight in Sir Nigel was the seed and parable of my present love for his age. It did indeed start with the Knight, but I began to realized that it was much the same with almost everything I’d been told about the period between the fall of Rome to the Enlightenment. It seemed the Barbarian Knight was a figure who started appearing in the 1700s to scare good Christians into abandoning their faith, along with this story about the previous epoch as being a time of darkness, ignorance, anti-science, anti-human, and it’s rather a miracle that we ever recovered from it. But as I discovered in the character of Sir Nigel, the Middle Ages were rather more agreeable than I had been told to expect. Santa Claus is an innocent lie grown-ups tell children to get them to behave; the Barbarian Knight is a not-so-innocent lie professors tell grown-ups to get them to be materialists.

I’ll start with one concrete example. Consider the following story: Back in the Dark Ages, the Church was anti-science, and because of literalist readings of the Bible, believed the Earth was the all-important center of the universe. So when Galileo suggested otherwise, they didn’t permit his theories because they were against the Bible, and persecuted him.

To first pick a nit, the episode happened in 1633, so by most standards this is outside most definitions of “Dark Ages.” Perhaps it is ironic that this victim of the Dark Ages is not even a part of them; but this essay is about the popular conception of the Dark Ages, not a rigidly defined historical period, and so Galileo must be included.

The most important thing to note about the story is that it’s not an example of how intolerant the Church was, but about how intolerant Galileo was. There was an increasingly heated debate on the subject of heliocentrism, one that included all sorts of political jockeying. And into this, Galileo decided to print a book mocking the leader of the world, the Pope. And as much as I appreciate the First Amendment, it had yet been written. In the Seventeenth Century, you really couldn’t make a fool of the most powerful man in the world without consequence. Others have suggested that it might not have become an issue, but the Pope himself was in a political tight spot and permitted the trial out of fear of Galileo’s enemies. In any case, his punishment was not torture or death, but house arrest on his villa, where he continued to work and produced some of the greatest of his works until he died years later of natural causes. Not a model of Twenty-First Century Free-Speech, but hardly a case of Science Vs Religion.

But there is another problem with the story: the earth wasn’t the center of the universe with the insignificant stars above. It was, to the Medieval, that the stars were the important thing, and the earth was base, as in, literally lower in altitude, than the stars. You see this in Dante: earth is between the levels of heaven above and levels of hell below; it’s ‘central’ indeed, but far from where they wanted to be. The concept of earth’s centrality meaning earth’s importance is a modern idea imposed on Medieval imagery. The heliocentric view, far from making the earth another insignificant planet amongst insignificant planets, elevated us to be a part of the dance of the stars, part of the heavenly realm.

But I discovered something more troubling. The whole narrative was wrongly set. The Church didn’t believe the earth was the center of the universe from the Bible alone, but from the accepted scientific authorities of their day, chiefly Ptolemy and Aristotle. Would we have wanted the Pope to instantly, on one man’s theory, abandon the majority of thinkers and the scientific authority of generations? Further the Church, as a matter of official Orthodoxy, didn’t believe in pure literalism, and especially not when it conflicted with natural observation. Indeed, GK Chesterton explains the views of the man who defined Medieval Orthodoxy, Thomas Aquinas: “If a literal interpretation is really and flatly contradicted by an obvious fact, why then we can only say that the literal interpretation must be a false interpretation.” [1] If you have any doubts about this, note that the Church had no issue with the science of Copernicus before or Newton and Kepler after, all of whom held the similar views on the orbit of the earth.

The problem is still worse for this hypothesis. If it were Christian Europe who persecuted scientists, it raises the question, “Why were there scientists in Europe?” The answer is, of course, that there were scientists in Europe because that’s where Science was born. Sociologist Rodney Stark explains, “Christian theology was necessary for the rise of science." Science only happened in areas whose worldview was shaped by Christianity, that is, Europe. Many civilizations had alchemy; only Europe developed chemistry. Likewise, astrology was practiced everywhere, but only in Europe did it become astronomy.” [2]Of course, knowledge of the natural world has always existed, and flourished in various places throughout history. But in Christian Europe, we began the methodical search for Natural Laws we call science. Stark also argues, "Because God is a rational being and the universe is his personal creation, it necessarily has a rational, lawful, stable structure, awaiting increased human comprehension. This is the key to many intellectual undertakings, among them, the rise of science.” Christianity is uniquely a faith built on the strange paradox of the Word made Flesh, the coming together of Spirit and Body. And because the Medievals believed in a Rational Lawgiver, they set out to find rational Laws (see Rodney Stark for a fuller defense of this). Far from hating truth, the Medievals had such a love for it, that they even invented a new institution by which it might be sought: the University. This institution committed to the thesis that there is One Word (uni-verse), one Truth, one Logos.

Galileo wasn’t a martyr of science, but a victim of a political system and perhaps his own pride. The Pope wasn’t ignoring science, but accepting the accepted science of his day. Persecution of science, if ever done, was against Orthodox. And the whole supposed motivation by which the Church acted was itself a misunderstanding of the Medieval mind. The Church didn’t suppress science. It invented it. Most lies are true in every detail but false in one critical point. The lie about Galileo is unique in that it is all false in every detail but in true one critical point: Galileo’s name.

I offer these two concrete example, the Knight and the Scientist-martyr, as two pictures of this lie about the Dark Ages. If you look into the Darkness, you see that the Knight is actually not so barbaric, and the Scientist not so martyred.

[1] St Thomas Aquinas, The Dumb Ox
[2] ; Originally from Rodney Stark, "For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts and the End of Slavery"

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Clean and Unclean - Reflections on Kosher (Part II)

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Clean bird

Lessons We Can Learn From Clean Animals (more speculations)

Beyond this observation, my speculations go farther afield. But if you’ve made it this far, join me the rest of the way! Rule Number Two is interesting because fish would ordinarily never interact with the earth; they are in the sea, of course. And the sea has similar but slightly different connotations in the Bible. The Sea, in the ancient world, was a place of confusion and dread. In Genesis 1, the Holy Spirit hovers over the sea; in Psalm 2, the author compares the ungodly nations to the raging of the sea; in the Gospels, Jesus both calms and then walks upon the sea; in Revelation, a Beast arises from the sea. It seems to be a place of Chaos and darkness.

But the sea creatures that are clean are not completely separated from the sea. They do not have thick shells to protect themselves. But they do have scales; there is some insulation between them and the sea. But they are true parts of it. They are not like the whales and dolphins that live in the sea, must constantly leave the depths to breathe from Heaven; clean creatures can breathe in the sea itself. Like fish, we need to be insulated from the confusion of this life by the armor of God, but we are still residents here. We will never understand the darkness, at least not in this life. Further, though we pray for God’s Kingdom to come, we are true residents of this world and cannot be like the whales, constantly be escaping into our churches; we must learn to breathe its air.

But what of the birds? Even if it were true that birds are a holy category, what’s wrong with these twenty? Well, for one, the Raven pretty well abandoned Noah, so there is some bad blood there. In general, the birds excluded are mostly carnivorous or scavengers. Owls, eagles, hawks and vultures are all excluded. And, looking over to the ‘beast’ category, there aren’t any carnivorous animals included in the split hooves plus cud-chewing category. But carnivorous fish are included. Perhaps it has to do with ‘the breath of life.’ This seems to be an important Biblical division throughout the Bible; it roughly correlates to our modern notion of ‘higher animals,’ and like that concept, give special status to animals that have greater ability to be good or bad, to feel pain, be conscious, etc. So these rules seem to call holy only those animals which never shed the blood of anything that has the breath of life. And perhaps the dove and the sheep have a lesson for us: holy creatures love peace and would prefer to avoid violence. Christ tells us, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”  In the future, it seems that we will all become vegetarians: Isaiah promises that, “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain.”

What of the chewing of the cud? Why is that holy? This is the only feature that I have heard speculation on. Animals that ruminate chew their food, and have a special stomach to pre-digest it; they then spit it back up, and continue chewing it. The Hebrew word for ‘cud’ comes from ‘garar,’ which is an onomatopoetic root suggesting sawing or grating (which is indeed what ruminants do). We can learn from the way these animals eat. When we eat our spiritual food, we need to digest it slowly. We need to repeat it, again and again. When we read or hear God’s word, it cannot be well understood on a first pass. We need to memorize it; we need to meditate on it. Truly, we need to ruminate on it.

What of the cloven hoof? This one is a challenge. I have shared my guess as to why a hoof was holier than a paw. But why is a cloven hoof holier than a single one? Why are horses unholy and cows holy? Perhaps it’s a symbol of humility and brokenness. Indeed, horses are quite proud, as is pointed out in Job, “He laughs at fear.” Most importantly, it is a picture of division. What do we have to learn from this? We know that we are a race that is divided in many ways. Male and female; rich and poor; body and soul. But the division is not permanent; indeed, it is only in the superficial plane, where the animal is in contact with the world where these differences exist. Travel heavenward, and the divided hoof comes together in the unity of the leg. And we too shall be united, one with Christ as He is one with His Father.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Clean and Unclean - Reflections on Kosher (Part I)

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Cow and Chicken. Both clean.

Lessons We Can Learn From Clean Animals

I was asked by a friend why God called some animal’s clean and others unclean. Why? What’s the difference between beef and pork? At the time, I hadn’t really thought about it, and so had no good answer.

I know this is a subject that has been debated and speculated on by people for a long, long time. But I suppose it wouldn’t do any harm to add my own speculations onto the pile. Why speculate? Well, that’s a matter of worldview. From a conservative Jewish perspective, it doesn’t matter. Commands are given to obey, not to question or understand. The Modern perspective is that these are silly rules given by a silly religious leader and have no deeper meaning. But my perspective is neither; I think I might have a Medieval perspective: that there is deep meaning in everything, especially Scripture.

Leviticus describes (and Deuteronomy repeats) the rules for Kosher. Observant Jews, to this day, observe these very old laws. And indeed: if one knows the what of a Divine command but not the why, obedience is clearly called for. But, as it says in Proverbs, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; it is the glory of kings to search out a matter.”  So here are the rules and my speculations.

Rule Number One: You can eat animals that both A) Have split hooves B) Chew the cud.  Leviticus is explicit about animals needing to meet both criteria. This includes cows, sheep and goats; it excludes pigs, rabbits and reptiles.

Rule Number Two: You can eat animals from rivers and seas that have scales (e.g. most fish).

Rule Number Three: You can eat all birds (except for 20 explicitly listed).

Rule Number Four: You can eat insects if they fly and have long, jointed legs (e.g. Grasshoppers).

The first hint I found for finding some meaning in this was in Lev 11:41-43. It talks a lot about the “creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” Though I don’t think Leviticus has the overly-aggressive and not-at-all-suave guy with bad pick-up lines in view here, the same disgust is suggested. The phrase seemed a bit redundant, and redundancy generally is a flag for meaning or importance. Why is it important that the thing ‘creepeth upon the earth’. It may suggest that this was the problem with those kinds of creatures: they were too close to the earth. Perhaps what is in view symbolically or mystically here is a connection with the earth. The only insects that are Kosher are those which fly and have some special feature of its feet.

Does this hypothesis pan out? Consider the other classes of creatures. The birds is the only “everything except” category. Birds by nature have a light connection with the earth; they travel in the skies. The one in the Hebrew mind that didn’t, happened to be on the list (the ostrich). Rule Number One talks about the footwear of the cattle: only those that had hooves could be eaten; only those that had some keratin insulation from the earth were clean. It seems that there is some repetition in this theme: holiness demands that a creature be not too close to the earth. And this is perfectly consistent with Jewish and Christian Theology. We should not put our trust in the world; we should not cling to material things or the customs and practices of the world around us. We should have our hope in God, and for the Christians, our eyes on His Kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven. In fact, we even put on bumper stickers and wear really cool branded shirts that tell people that we are “Not Of This World.”

---> On to Part II

Friday, June 3, 2011

End of Life Care in Gerty


I’m going to start a new series of short stories with the following premise: Nonsense doesn’t become sense when you multiply it by a million. Imagine a small rural town of 300 people I’ll call Gerty (a millionth the population of the US). In Gerty, there is government (personified by Mayor Wright), religion (Reverend Edwards, the leader of the town’s church), law (Judge Marshall), medicine (a part played by the humble mechanic Joe), business (Mr. Alexander, the shrewd keeper of the town’s general store), and law enforcement (Sheriff Holliday). My intent is to examine societal questions in Gerty with the hope that, removed from complication, nonsense will appear as nonsense, and sense as sense.


Joe, Samantha and the Wrecked Car

Last year in Gerty, there was a couple that got married that was too poor to afford a car to drive them from the wedding chapel. So the town pooled some money to pay for taxis for those who needed them and it decided it would promise that no one would ever be without transportation again; they decided that everyone in the town had a right to transportation.

One day, one of the residents of Gerty, a farmer named Steve, had a car accident that destroyed his car but left him uninjured. Samantha, Steve’s wife, asked Joe to help out. At that time, Joe was Gerty’s mechanic; he was a successful businessman, and owned his own tow truck.

Samantha said she wouldn’t pay him (now or ever), but that he’d have to fix Steve’s car. After one look at it, Joe declared the car was totally destroyed, and would forevermore be un-drivable.

Samantha said, “Alright. If you can’t fix his car, Steve still has a right to transportation. And since you’re the mechanic, you need to be his taxi and drive him around.”

Joe objected, “Look, Samantha. I know Steve’s in a bad spot, but I’m a mechanic. While it’s true, on occasion, I’ll pick people up at the site of an accident, or help tow a car, I’m not a taxi driver. And besides, this is my business; I can’t work for free. I have a family to provide for like everyone else.”

Samantha was furious. She stormed out of Joe’s office and went to Mayor Wright’s house. She told the mayor, “Do we or do we, citizens of Gerty, have a right to transportation?”

The mayor, a portly old man, replied, “Of course we do. We all agreed that none of us would want to be without transportation.”

Samantha responds with poison dripping from her tongue, “Well Joe is denying that right to my husband! Steve’s car is wrecked, and Joe refuses to fix it. And when I told him he needed to drive Steve around, he said he’s not a taxi driver. And worst of all, he demanded I pay for it! Can you believe it?!”

The Mayor Wright looked very grim. “I don’t know what’s gotten into Joe. I thought he was a good man. I’ll get the town together.”

The Mayor Wright called a town meeting. All the important townsfolk were there. Reverend Edwards, Judge Marshall, Mr. Alexander the storekeeper, and Sheriff Holliday were all in attendance, along with the other important townsfolk. Joe was also invited, but his opinion wasn’t much consulted. Reverent Edwards reminded those in attendance of the Golden Rule, and how that meant that Steve had a right to transportation. The town decided that Joe was wrong to refuse to work if he was not getting paid. Further, with input from Reverend Edwards and Sheriff Holliday (both of whom had suffered fender benders), they decided that transportation was so important that Joe would have to comply with whatever the person with the broken car (or their spouse) wanted. In Samantha’s case, she wanted everything done; Joe should never be allowed to give up on Steve’s car, no matter what. The town agreed that, if the car crashee wanted, Joe would also have to taxi them around in his tow truck so long as their car was being worked on (with or without compensation).

The debate centered on the question of what constitutes a hopeless car. Most of the town thought it was the crashee (or his wife) who should be able to make the decision of when Joe could stop working on a car. Others thought it was Judge Marshall. A minority of the town felt that Joe could say that some cars were beyond his help and stop working on them. The majority opinion carried the day, and so it was decided that Samantha indeed had the power to tell Joe what to do.

Once everyone was in agreement, Sheriff Holliday agreed to fined or threatened Joe to make sure he complied with the town’s decision. Mayor Wright then levied a tax on all the residents of Gerty to pay for some of the work that they demanded of Joe.

Joe protested, “But none of you would want to be driven around in my tow truck! It’s sometimes necessary, but it’s degrading. Our spouses oftentimes want things that we don’t. Raise your hand if you’d ever want me to be your taxi.” Sherriff Holliday and one other of the ten people present raised their hands. “See? Why should I be forced to do something to people that very few people want done?”

 Reverend Edwards replied, “Joe, my dear boy. Why are you being so selfish? Why are you so intent on denying the good people of Gerty their right to transportation? If a man’s wife wants him to be ‘degraded’ by riding in your taxi (and if you don’t hear from him otherwise), then that’s the wife’s decision. Don’t complain about it.”

“But I’m not a taxi driver. Don’t you want me to spend my time fixing cars? If taxiing people with broken cars is something this town wants, why doesn’t somebody start driving a taxi? Or why don’t any of you drive Steve around this week? Besides, if I had to do this, I’d have to raise my price for fixing your cars.”

Mr. Alexander answered him, “Joe, it seems you don’t understand business very well. Nobody would be able to stay in business driving taxis in this town. I keep a store. You fix cars. Since your job is with cars, it makes sense that you also drive people around. And besides, you have plenty of spare money, so don’t complain about it. Why do you keep bringing money into this? Raising your prices wouldn’t be a very neighborly thing to do to the poor citizens of Gerty.”

Joe tried one last time, “But shouldn’t I be allowed to do what work I want? Mr. Alexander is allowed to stock his shelves with whatever goods he wants. And all of you are free to grow whatever crops you want. Why should I not be allowed to choose what cars I work on? Why should I be the only one in this town that has to work for no pay?”

Mayor Wright answered, “You don’t seem to understand very much about rights. We in this town have guaranteed people certain rights. You might choose to not work on certain types of cars, or only do certain kinds of jobs. And then people would have to take their cars to Calvin down the highway, and that would be inconvenient. Sometimes people don’t have money, or don’t want to pay you money. That doesn’t mean that they don’t still have rights to transportation that you need to provide them with. You’re confused and making this more complicated than it needs to be. All you need to remember is this: if you’re going to fix any cars, you also need to drive a taxi. And you’ll need to do that for anyone who has a broken down car (or their wife), even if they don’t pay you for it. And if you don’t like that, then you can take it up with Sheriff Holliday. This meeting is adjourned.”

And from that day on, Joe spent 10% of his time (about an hour a day), taxiing people around in his tow truck. He had to raise his prices, and the citizens of Gerty complained about it and talked about how they could bring Joe’s prices down. And Steve was driven around by Joe (though he never wanted to be).

And they lived nonsensically ever after.