Why is punishment such an important concept? If one believes in the idea of original sin, that human beings are by nature prone to selfish and immoral behavior, then societal rules and rigid child-rearing practices are the only means by which these instincts can be controlled.
We don't have to look very far to find plenty of examples of alienated loners who finally become so angry at their inability to get what they want from other human beings that they buy a gun (or several guns) and start killing those who they see as having or being what they cannot.
We didn’t, when young, read the fine print in the contract of life: if you are lucky enough to grow old, you will be marginalized by the society you live in, even by your own children. You will gradually become slow of thought and movement, beset by unexplained pains. You will experience unspeakable losses that, finally, will include the loss of yourself.
A central idea of the society is interdependence: the conviction that we are all in this together and that we will succeed or fail based on our ability to hear heartbeats other than our own. This idea is where our best hopes reside.
They volunteered (albeit with insufficient information) to be where they are and do what they do. Like the Roman Legionnaires of old they have chosen to fight their country’s foreign wars. Whether they made the right decision only they can say.
We cannot allow ourselves to be lied to, or worse, engage in a process of self-deception. In psychotherapy I am continually confronted with this problem. I point out to people that there are many things about ourselves that we believe that turn out not to be true.
How each of us confronts loss, in ourselves and in those we would help, defines us as few other attributes can. What we reveal in our attitudes toward grief and mourning determines whether we have anything to teach others.
And so we suffer twice: the broken lives and withered hopes inflicted by and upon the addicted in their relentless pursuit of the evanescent pleasure that substances produce AND the suffering we as a society exact on those who use and traffic in these substances.
We search so hard for heroes to inspire us that the word hero itself has lost much of it meaning. Risk and choice are no longer required; simple competence or the putting on of a uniform is now sufficient.
Our political discourse has been degraded by the rise of an angry and self-righteous minority that thinks it is legitimate to impose their vision of the future through threats to damage our political and economic systems if they don’t get their way.
Somewhere between the narcissistic belief that we individually are the center of the universe and the conception that we are actors in a preordained play stage-managed by God is a large area in which we operate under the constraints of time and chance, but still have choices about how to live.
Pleasure is not the absence of pain; nor is health the absence of disease. It is what we do and who we are with that makes us happy. In a larger sense our mortality confronts us with questions of meaning.
The debate takes place against a background of concern about narcissism and a sense of entitlement that, fairly or unfairly, are seen as implicit cultural values in 21st century America.
An important component of of our knowledge of how the world works is how to cope with the passage of time, especially the all-important process of knowing what to hold onto and what to relinquish.