In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments; there are consequences.
Robert Green Ingersoll
In their pantheon of deities, the ancient Romans held the god Janus to be the keeper of commencements, terminations, and transitions. Due to his horological nature, he was always depicted as a man having a bifurcated visage, able to view both the future and the past simultaneously.
Skip ahead a score of centuries to the late 1600s, when Issac Newton (not yet a “Sir”) presented his powerhouse work Principia Mathematica Philosophiae Naturalis, which, among other things, contained the game-changing Laws of Motion. The third law, perhaps the best known of the triad, states that, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite re-action.” Hit the pool ball with a cue and the ball “pushes” back on the cue and rolls forward…and hopefully into the pocket.
So what do an ancient bust and a lonely scientist have to do with the predictability of your future? Some esoteric incantation that opens a portal in the cosmos and channels the totality of your existential choices? A cryptic algorithm that maps out with Occam-like precision the certain course of coming events? Hardly. The god and the professor coalesce in the concept of
– a concept that could save your life.
Without diving needlessly into the yawning chasm of epistemological development, let’s lay out some simple preliminary ideas. The central absolute upon which the whole argument articulates is this: there is nothing – save one thing – that you are not allowed to do. Nothing. You can give and steal, kill and heal, exhort and debase, create and destroy. You are completely and utterly free to chose any thoughts, words, and actions that are available to the physical and mental faculties of the human race. In this sense you are an unfettered agent with total autonomy over your existential reality.
At this point, you might be thinking, “Citizen, you’re loosing touch with reality. I can’t chose to launder money or steal a vehicle or burn a building because our laws prohibit these types of activities.”
Wrong. The fact that you live in a society founded upon moral principles which are enacted, enforced, and interpreted by a ruling power is subservient to the a priori fact that you are able to choose. Unless you are physically incapable of doing so, there is nothing preventing you from stealing the car. Even the law is not stopping you. It can only impose upon you the consequences of undertaking such an action.
The great truth, ladies and gentlemen, is that the only thing in life which you are not free to choose is the consequence that accompanies a particular decision. Consequence is inextricably entwined with the nature of choice itself; namely, that decisions are made because they are known – consciously or subconsciously – to produce a particular result. You eat because you know – consciously – that it will slake your hunger and – subconsciously – because it is essential to your continued physical existence (few people habitually think of a sandwich as their guardian against impending death). The consequence of eating – inherent in the action and completely outside of your control – is the support of metabolic processes within your body’s eleven elementary systems.
In the same manner, you are permitted to take a five-finger discount on the hypothetical automobile, but you cannot select the consequences associated with that decision: courtrooms, jail time, family embarrassment…regrets.* There is no alternative. These are unselectable outcomes. It’s the Third Law of Motion manifesting as clear as day:
Striking the pool ball with your cue: autonomous choice.
Rolling pool ball: predetermined consequence.
The takeaway here is that you cannot argue with the operation of a law. If you jump off your roof wholeheartedly believing that you can soar to the heavens, your broken legs will win the case for gravity every time.
In the next post, we’ll come full circle to Janus and the knowability of your future. For now, take some time to let the concept of consequences really sink into your consciousness.
What consequences have you endured as a result of your choices?
*While some may argue that you would avoid the consequences of grand theft auto if you were never apprehended, I posit that you would still suffer some manner of derogatory derivatives: a guilty conscience, paranoia, and continuing moral decay, for example.