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Fri, Aug. 12

Column | Fate is vastly overrated

The way things are in the Intermountain West is not really set in stone as most seem to think.

There seems to be a kind of political and economic version of the old predestination mode of thinking in religious life. Folks accept the current patterns of politics and work/commerce as if they were hammered out in heaven and transplanted in a one-size-fits-all to earth. The sad fact is that the powers that be in society absolutely do want only one model for citizenship thinking and consumer spending and work almost non-stop through political campaigning and business advertising to make sure that happens. Just ask folks who have tried to make a dent in those monopolies and behaviors.

Today, political and government leaders, and business and finance leaders, all have developed a program for stasis, for keeping things the way they are, or at most, entertaining incremental change that doesn’t upset leadership at the top, or the bottom line in the finance department. All this is discouraging and people know it.

After all, what on earth can be done about the one-party stranglehold on civic power in mountain states like Utah and others? What on earth can be done to create some kind of labor/management balance of power in workplaces? Unions have been forever banished in right-to-work states.

Another one of the egregious examples of the current state of psychological immobility in culture is the fact westerners don’t believe in rule of law any more. They have forgotten the truth about law. Law is not restricting. Law is liberating. Law sets up boundaries that give everybody a way to figure out how to act. Law is not the enemy of a democratic people, it is their best friend, according to Greece, Rome, ancient Israel, England, and early America, and all the other democracies of the earth. How is it we have forgotten this?

One nauseating example of this we see every year during the patriotic holiday weekend and the summer fire season, is the absolute resignation by leadership and the people to the fact nothing can be done to prevent fires started by fireworks. People will be people. They will buy fireworks, shoot them off, and start fires. That is a law of nature, not a pattern of behavior that can be changed by law, true? And how about water use control? It must be done on a voluntary basis, because people just don’t snitch on their neighbors. That just wouldn’t be sociable, or Christian-like.

Same thing with crime. There is no way to stop people from acting badly and hurting others. That’s been going on from the beginning of time, since the time of Cain and Abel. But people forget, Cain suffered two severe penalties for killing Abel: permanent identification as a felon, and exile from his native land. We learn that Cain straightened up pretty well after that, married and raised a family, and became associated with the founding of a city. So, turns out, penalties for misconduct do happen, do work, and could be implemented today if folks weren’t so addicted to fate and to predestination. We have to stop thinking, “Good people will be good, and bad people will be bad. Nothin’ can be done ‘bout that. People cain’t be corrected; they cain’t be changed!”

(Robert Kimball Shinkoskey is a historian of religion and democracy and writes public commentary with a historical perspective.)

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