Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for? – Robert Browning
I am feeling a bit better about American society not going totally off the rails when it comes to personal responsibility. The Colorado Supreme Court was unequivocal in its skier responsibility decision, ruling 5-2 that when skiers, boarders, and other such adventurers venture forth from the beaten path, or in this case the defined trail, he/she assumes the risk. Even to the point of death.
In its ruling, the court referred to the Ski Safety Act. “The phrase ‘snow conditions as they exist or may change’ encompasses avalanches that occur within the bounds of a ski resort. The statute also contemplates that the snow conditions ‘may change.’ One obvious way in which a snow condition ‘may change’ is through the movement of the snow, including by wind and gravity. And at its core, an avalanche is moving snow caused by gravity.”
Justice Monica Márquez, one of two of the court enablers, wrote that she was “unconvinced” by what is not only readily observable but is also scientifically provable. Moisture, temperature, wind, and gravity. By the seventh grade, students learn their interactions can cause lethal phenomena.
By age 18 however, many males and an increasing number of females forget that and begin to believe more in their own mystique and immortality. By age 24, they morph from superboy to superman, conquerors of nature, invincible vanquishers who salivate while anticipating regaling their brew buds, who, being one of the same, know the lie, about their exploits.
The larger issue is not only specific to personal responsibility when it comes to actions; it also correlates to the ongoing quest to find simple answers in a complex society and world. Despite Occam’s Razor stating the simplest solution tends to be the correct one, oftentimes it isn’t. Black and white might be opposite ends of the behavioral, ethical, and moral spectrum but an infinite gray exists between. And that’s where reality ultimate lies.
When looking at the current political phenomena, it’s intriguing to see the ranks of both the Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders camps are populated primarily by whites with people of color noticeably few and far between. While one can make the case Trump has certainly ensured that given his visceral attacks on minorities, the same is not true for Sanders. So what gives?
I suggest the answer lies in the experiences of the various societal sub-groups. One thing for sure: Life for people of color and other sub-groups—e.g., sexual orientation, non-Christian people of faith—has never been simple. The societal monopoly-chess board, reinforced by its rules, formed by custom, religious dogma, and practice as well as opportunistic rigging, has been a gauntlet for them to negotiate.
That society structure is being reformulated. In such times, the leery, claiming Occam’s mantle, seek simplest answers. However, in a complex organism such as American society, simple answers tend to lead to other disruption. As my old prof, John Haas, succinctly put it: You can’t do just one thing.
On the right, ostriches wearing blinders scurry to find a convenient sand hole in which to bury their heads. On the left, utopians seeking to recreate our society in one fell-swoop fail to understand a utopia to be is destined to become dystopian menagerie.
As a species, we have not evolved to be our better angels. Nor will we ever. Our task is to continually work to rise to them.
In so doing, we have to dare, to risk, to keep reaching. That is what Robert Browning meant when he asked, “What’s a heaven for?”
Our other task is to strive, to reach for that just beyond our grasp, and in so doing, accepting full responsibility for the outcome. It is in-artful to find fault, to blame, when the goal is unrealized or one falls to his or her death. But what is more unbecoming is to blame others because we failed to reach in the first place for that which lies just beyond reach.