Small Miracles

Have you ever considered what an absolute miracle it is that you exist?

I don’t mean that life exists – I accept that when the right molecules are present with, oh I don’t know, electricity and the right atmospheric circumstances, the process that leads to life becomes a possibility, so if all those elements are present at enough times on enough planets, it’ll happen – I mean you, the person who is reading this blog post. You know, the one with particular (and, unless you are an identical twin, unique) DNA, who was raised in circumstances that only you know about, many of which were effectively random, and who is probably just now wondering: where’s he going with this? You.

Even ignoring the particulars, up to and including the innumerable times when your life might have ended through want, accident or illness, for your DNA to be what it is, your parents had to be united in exactly the manner and at precisely the moment that they were. Otherwise, some other sperm might have fertilized the same, or some other, egg and you might have been your sister.

And, of course, the same is true for your parents, and their parents and so on, ad infinitum, all the way back to that original chemical reaction in the primordial soup. In fact, if any one of those couples had missed their appointed connection, you wouldn’t exist. Somebody else might, but not you.

As you think about all the crazy coincidences that had to happen for you to exist, you have to acknowledge that the odds of all of them happening exactly as they did are so infinitesimal as to be virtually nonexistent. It’s almost as if the whole world was a setup so that you could be sitting there, right now, reading this post.

If so, I’m sure you’ll agree, it was all worth it.

***

Kidding aside, a sense of wonder at and gratitude for our lives is only appropriate. Each of us is unique – miraculous, even.

We savor both the choices we make and the experiences that make us who we are. We are not merely part of some long and wildly improbable chain of causal events – our self-awareness makes us into decision-making individuals, and we accept on faith the premise that our decisions – and our lives – have moral weight.

We have eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge and are capable of good and evil.

***

If making conscious choices is what makes us fully human, the freedom to make such decisions is a fundamental right. Freedom is a moral value; involuntary servitude – even when justified by others as being for the common good – dehumanizing.

But humanity is also a shared enterprise. Neither your life nor mine would be meaningful without other people to provide context. We need each other.

As to governance, then, the eternal question is how individual rights and freedoms are to be weighed against the common good – and how and by whom the common good is to be defined. The Founders answered these questions by positing that all men had been created equal and endowed with unalienable individual rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness by the Creator, and that the proper role of governments is to secure such rights. In other words, we the people are both collectively sovereign and individually equal in the eyes of God; our liberties are all-but absolute.

The fact that small-government libertarianism – ordered liberty, if you will – is demonstrably superior to command-and-control Socialism (or its predecessors, feudalism and caste systems, which also – like Socialism – viewed individuals as cogs in machines to be run by the elites) for encouraging the creation of wealth, is a function of our desires to control and define our own lives. Should it really surprise anybody that we work harder and do better when we are free to make our own decisions and to enjoy the benefits of having made good ones?

But the Founders didn’t rely on a utilitarian (hey, an expanding economy will ultimately be good for everybody, and it’ll grow faster with strong property rights and low taxes) argument for limited government; they simply held that “these truths” about unalienable, Creator-given individual rights were self-evident – though, ironically, the vision they sketched out was anything but self-evident to the world’s ruling classes at the time. It was, in fact, a quite literally revolutionary vision, and it depended on a shared, Enlightenment-inspired understanding of man’s proper relationship to other men – equal in their rights – and to God.

***

It was also a moral vision; take God out of the picture and not only would the equal, unalienable nature of individual rights evaporate (equal and unalienable sez who?), but people could and would find ways to justify doing whatever they wanted to others in the name of some madman’s conception of the common good – as happened in unimaginable scale under the 20th century’s evil twins, Fascism and Socialism. Nietzsche’s pronouncement that “God is dead” was a preface to recent history’s worst, and most dehumanizing, tyrannies.

By risking their lives and fortunes for a vision of ordered liberty under God, the Founders freed this country, and, by the example they set, ultimately much of mankind. Notwithstanding their all-too-human flaws, we should be eternally grateful to them for having done so.

And we should be mindful that we accept Nietzsche’s worldview, or any of its many pseudo-scientific derivatives, at great risk to the freedoms we cherish.

 

M.H. Johnston

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