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Crime and Punishment

For people whose beliefs include some sort of existance after death, I can understand that they care about their thoughts and actions, since they expect to be rewarded or punished for them eventually, and the common assumption is that you cannot hide what you have or haven't done.

Fair enough. I can respect that, even though I do not myself hold any such beliefs. But how does it work for those of us who do not expect to face a divine court? Now, I'm not talking about criminality here, but the things you can do without risking a conviction in the court of law.

You can hurt other people, use them, decieve them and betray them - all legal and without legal repercussions. As long as you take care not to break the law, you can do an awful lot of damage. And without worries about the divine court, you don't have to care, right?

Wrong. There are the two other courts to think about, with judgements that might not always be logical or rational, but still are very noticeable.

The first is succinctly expressed in Havamal, and the translation by Olive Bray works quite well, too:

Cattle die and kinsmen die,
thyself too soon must die,
but one thing never, I ween, will die,
fair fame of one who has earned.

What will people think? It's not just what people think when you're dead - unless you believe in an afterlife it won't matter much what people think when you're gone - but what they think of you now.

We are wired differently. Some people are very sensitive to others' perception of them, some are not. But I think that most care, to some degree, and think about it. It's not just the "keeping up appearances" of Hyacinth Bucket, but the simple fact that the way we are percieved affects our lives.

Okay. There is actually quite a lot of things you can do without having to worry much what other people will think, or circumstances where those who would object are people whose opinions you don't care much about in any case.

That leaves the last court. You. A psychopath lacks it altogether, but for the rest of us it's there, to greater or lesser degree, and is evident in a lot of old cliches:
"be able to look yourself in the mirror"
"to thine own self be true"

It's your personal morals, those you have picked up through your upbringing and reflection. That's what say what you can do, in the end; what you allow yourself. Sometimes, especially after imbibing alcohol, it appears that the boundaries you've set out weren't that rigid. Maybe they came from the second court, the one that judges based on what people will think?

That court might be weaker. Or perhaps it's stronger, so it overrides your own judgement.

Evidence from what people when intoxicated suggest at least one, but often all three of them, loses the power to intimidate.

But then there are strong boundaries too. Usually, they're not rational, haven't been established by logic deduction, but thorugh faith and belief. They're a fundamental part of who you are.

I wonder... Can you cross that boundary and still be the same person? If you do something you can't live with - do you have to become someone else, who can? Or try to forget what you've done, pretend it never happened?

Sometimes I find myself standing there, by the boundary, wondering what's on the other side. Wondering whether it's worth crossing over. Wondering who would emerge on the other side.

It wouldn't be me. I'm the one who doesn't cross those boundaries.

But maybe, some day, when I'm someone else...


What do you think?
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