A Stick in the Spokes

The Hobbesian world is one in which there are no laws, and everyone is free to run about doing God knows what to one another. We long ago escaped that unsettling situation, but we may, after a time, have landed right in another one. If having no laws is undesirable, mightn’t it be the case that having too many laws is also undesirable? All things are to be enjoyed in moderation, or so I have heard.

If there is such a thing as having too many laws, then I think we long ago crossed that threshold. If we haven’t, then the entire idea of a threshold becomes rather empty of meaning. It’s commonly pointed out that each of us breaks a couple of laws every day, without realizing it. One question, from Yahoo Answers (which is, I know, a veritable fount of truthfulness and sagacity), amusingly asks “what laws do non-criminals commonly break?” I suspect the answer involves squaring circles.

The point, of course, is that we are adrift in an endless sea of rules, policies, laws, regulations, dictates, mandates, and codes. We have too many laws, and too many lawyers. The law should act as the oil in the engine, keeping society running along with nary a tick. Instead, the immense and convoluted system we have in place acts, more often than not, as the stick between the spokes. Yes, I realize I just switched metaphors on the fly. You will get no apology from me.

I am currently reading Richard Epstein’s Simple Rules for a Complex World, which concerns itself with this whole notion that we might have too many laws. It’s a rather dense book and the going is slow. I will, however, have more to say about it at another time. Right now, my eyelids are drooping and I can hear my bed suggestively catcalling me. But consider the idea that we have too many laws. The sentiment runs contrary to our national instinct, which tells us that “there ought to be a law” whenever we come across a situation we find inappropriate  And that, at least, partly explains why we have so many laws, although it doesn’t quite answer whether such laws are unnecessary.

But I digress.











Burying My Head in Large Books

In my younger days as a freewheeling little child, I read often and widely, at least if you define widely somewhat narrowly. I appreciated children’s stories and young adult novels. Fantasy was especially to my fancy, and I devoured a slew of the classics, including Lord of the Rings and most of the posthumously published forays into Middle-Earth’s history, before I graduated 6th grade.

High school affected me differently than most, I think. Raging hormones and a sort of restless skepticism of authority can have a pestiferous effect on young minds, leading to all manner of debauchery and wickedness. For me, the debauchery and wickedness came later. My act of rebellion consisted mainly of me burying my head in large non-fiction books and learning about stuff. Why yes, my middle name is Guevara, and I probably should have led revolutions in exotic countries. Clearly. 

And so, I eschewed the whimsical, imaginative world of fiction and devoted myself assiduously to the quixotic task of figuring out this little thing called life. I am still, several years later, failing in that attempt.

It wasn’t until recently that I decided I ought to read less non-fiction and more fiction. I figured this would be best for my personality, which, having absorbed the dry prose of too many ponderous books, had become rather dry and uninteresting.

And that is where I stand today.

I’ve hit the ground running, so to speak, and am making good time in my effort to read more fiction. In fact, I recently finished Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser, which I found quite delightful. It is not the most exciting or exhilarating book in the world; indeed, there are a number of rough patches—those being tedious, dull, or desultory—I had to force myself through. However, Dreiser’s writing is rich; his command of the language, impressive. If you can lose yourself in his well-chosen words, his meticulously crafted sentences, you will find even the dull moments of the story worth getting through. Although my encomium is worth very little, I nevertheless recommend the book to you.

I now regret the long break I took from reading fiction. I cannot get those years back, but I can use my short summer break to play a bit of catch up. Of course, I haven’t abandoned my need for non-fiction. I also, around the same time, finished The Great Stagnation, which I referred to a post or so ago. It was short and thought-provoking and well worth one’s time, all of which is to be expected from Mr. Cowen.

Also, my personality, having once rivaled the lassitude commonly associated with the dead, is now full of life, energy, and verve. The wonders of literature, indeed.