The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

31 December 2004

Because I said so

The tale of a dog who never quite has his day, as told by Lileks:

For reasons I cannot remember the Christmas Jell-O dessert was placed outside on the patio table after dinner. Covered with foil. The squirrels found it the next day, peeled back the foil, ate their fill, and departed. Jasper watched them from the back door, whining: impudent usurpers. When I let him out he went straight for the Jell-O. I moved it to the center of the table. (Easier than taking it inside and cleaning the pan.) For the next two days he was obsessed with the Jell-O. He circled the table. He would put his paws up — then he would recall his lessons, which forbade such things. But still. But still. At some point he found a loophole: if he sat in a chair and leaned over to eat the Jell-O, and did not put his paws on the table, he was breaking no rules, committing no sin. I watched from the back door. He saw me; his ears went back, and he climbed off the chair. Then he came inside and watched the Jell-O from afar, waiting for the bushy-tailed vandals who knew no rules to return and feast. Nothing made him more miserable than the notion that the Jell-O existed, but nothing would have made him happier than to eat it without censure.

Morals in creatures without morals. They exist in the dog not because he understands why there are rules, only because he knows there are rules, and He Who Is Alpha might be watching.

A few ticks higher on the food chain, some of us have bought into the notion that there really aren't any rules; there is some antiquated stuff in old books on dusty shelves, yes, but how can that possibly be relevant today? And aren't we the Alpha, the top model in the product line, the biggest, the baddest, the most evolved? Forget the Hairy Thunderer and the Cosmic Muffin and all the gradations in between: we have no need to look anywhere beyond ourselves.

For most of us, this phase lasts maybe two and a half hours, until we do something prodigiously stupid and it dawns on us that the entire freaking universe is out there ready to fact-check our ass. Unless you were raised by wolves — and even then you're acutely aware of the pack order and the rights and responsibilities derived therefrom — you learn early on that there are rules, and that there are consequences for breaking them.

Or maybe not so early on. As JanJan notes:

Many of the kids whose journals I see catalog a miserable life spent trying to make sense out of their dysfunctional families. Actually it is heartbreaking to see how many cases of arrested development are masquerading as responsible adults. I see the inner thoughts of kids whose upbringing has been bereft of guidelines, rules and God. Kids whose parents are so busy "self actualizing" their children are involved in things which should make your hair curl, right under the radar.

Far be it from me to discourage anyone from pushing the envelope. But you should never be surprised if the envelope pushes back; we're not as Alpha as we think we are.

Posted at 7:46 AM to Immaterial Witness

TrackBack: 8:57 AM, 31 December 2004
» Life Lessons from Yippee-Ki-Yay!

The Sage of Surlywood builds on a Lileks bleat to reinforce one of those annoying red-state "values" thingies.

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