Lunaya Pravda

06 July 2006

Why's and Wherefore's

My commute affords me much time to ponder. This particular morning, my train of thought brought to recall a story of educational testing lore I heard in my college years. In some (perhaps mythical) class, students showed up to take their final exams. The instructor handed out the papers, upon which was written a single question: "Why?" Now, according to the story, failing credit was assured for the answer "Because." And, according to the story, only one student achieved a perfect score on his exam, responding with a more impressive "Why not?"

It struck me today how much this illustrates the comparison of thought processes of freedom-oriented folks with everyone who desires some level of state interference. It also hit home how unsatisfactory "Because" - or even the more parental "Because I said so" - has sounded to me, and I realized that, even in my childhood, only begrudgingly have I accepted either answer, often only after a lengthy debate which made it clear that no better answer would be forthcoming.

Most of the freedom folk I've been fortunate to know don't take to hearing "Because" as a justification either. Whether it's the war on drugs, immigration, property rights restrictions, or taxation, "Because" has never been sufficient to gain our acceptance of some new policy or practice foist upon us by bureaucrats, voters, or anyone in any position of authority. Rather than the response of the failing students, we prefer the A+-garnering "Why not?" for a couple of reasons.

First, it involves asking a question that, in any responsible logical exchange, should be asked, from decisions as mundane as whether to bring a jacket to the ball game, to significant, big-picture questions involving finances or careers. Second, it acknowledges possibility. Possibility of success, of failure, of being right or being wrong, of pros and cons. It acknowledges the existence active thought processes a curt "because" hasn't once demonstrated.

Lately I've become greatly dismayed at how often I read or hear folks use "because" in their circular logic as a weak justification for our current laws and policies. I'll use immigration to illustrate my point, though examples abound. It goes something like this:

Illegal immigrants broke the law.

How did they break the law?
By not jumping through utilizing the proper hoops channels to work here legally.

Why should there be hoops?
To keep immigrants from coming here illegally.

Would they still be illegal if we didn't require all the hoop-jumping?
That's beside the... oh, look! Something shiny! (wanders off to watch television)

When the laws are subject to whim and a simple pen stroke, they cease to be a firm foundation for any political or personal stance. Yet apparently a large segment of Americans can't fathom asking why certain laws are even necessary. "Because" is all they need be told in order to toe the line and justify (to themselves, at least) their actions.

As for me personally, I find "Why not?" to be refreshing and invigorating. Forthwith I intend to more consciously use it in my own life, and to more actively challenge the "Because" users around me.