The Cult of Rules

“The mark of an educated mind,” taught Aristotle, is “to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” And that’s what I’ll be asking of you today. Because as certain as I am that I’m substantially right on this, I’m also sure that its acceptance will take quite some time. But I do want to plant its seeds as best I can.


“The mark of an educated mind,” taught Aristotle, is “to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” And that’s what I’ll be asking of you today. Because as certain as I am that I’m substantially right on this, I’m also sure that its acceptance will take quite some time. But I do want to plant its seeds as best I can.

The Cult… Is Us

Doubtless you’ve seen or heard stories about religious cults and the people born into them. They all focus upon the same set of writings and explanations, all repeat the same phrases, and all approve or disapprove of the same things.

If you’re inside such a structure, it makes sense and holds together. Stepping outside the structure, however… that becomes terrifying.

And so I’ll ask you to think, please, of the place rules hold in our world. They are everywhere. They are everything. No one would try to imagine anything else. Rules are, were, and ever shall be. Only a crazy person would think otherwise.

And so the walls of our cult stand, and it is we who maintain them.

What Rules Are

Rules are edicts, not processes. They’re mechanical, not organic. They are binary, not broad or rich.

Rules do not envision thought; they envision only the polarized termini of obedience and disobedience. Rules do not open space for the consideration of principles and possibilities; they open only enough space for orthodoxy or heresy.

Obedience and cognition are opposing models of human behavior.

Rules demand that we abdicate our personal will.

Is There Anything Else?

Having rules inculcated into us – being immersed in them lifelong – we see nothing else, imagine nothing else, and expect nothing else. And yet…

Limits can be enforced perfectly well without rules. The impetus behind this type of enforcement, however, must be willful and personal. That is, we each choose to enforce limits based upon our own determinations. For example:

  • Informing your neighbors that Bob has stolen from you and warning them to be careful.

  • Refusing to do business with someone who behaves especially badly.

  • Putting a note on the car of someone who endangers others by driving recklessly. Then putting a “boot” on the car if the endangerment continues.

  • Shooting a killer or rapist in the act.

We’re all afraid of these things, because acting on our own leaves us unprotected from responsibility and shame. Inside the cult, accepting responsibility is worse than abdicating our minds and wills. We instantly imagine all the ways it could go wrong: The bad guy will shoot me, people will ridicule me, I’ll be embarrassed forever, my spouse will dump me, and so on. We imagine all of the worst and none of the positive. The cult is fighting to keep us within. Balance and proportion are non-players.

And yet, all the examples above show limits being enforced without resorting to rules… by using our wills rather than abdicating major functions of them.

All Be Monsters?

What is excluded from consideration is that most people are basically decent. Sure, they’re also somewhat variable, having better and worse moments, but generally, they’re pretty decent. What percentage of drivers, for example, deviate from the “basically okay” model?

I strongly suggest that the next time you’re a passenger in a car, you start counting basically okay drivers and dangerous drivers.

On a real-world, average basis, I’ll bet that 95% of people (on the street, in offices, etc.) are basically decent.

So, are we really afraid of situations where 19 of 20 people are exercising their will toward the good? Is that automatically more frightening than rules that are written by the corrupt and enforced by only one in several hundred who may be equally corrupt?

And how much better might the world be if people habitually used their minds and wills, rather than instinctively turned them off? This is a question you may want to hold in the back of your mind. I don’t have a statistical answer for you, but I’ll bet the difference would be massive.

A sea of active minds… a web of active will toward the good… these are beneficial things and things that rules forbid.

Last Words

I think I’ve made my point fairly well, but since the cult of rules is so very pervasive, I’ll restate the core of this once more, again asking you to allow it to remain in your mind as a possibility, however unlikely:

Enthroning rules as unquestionable, and life without them unimaginable, we have turned off important functions of our minds; we have deactivated important functions of our wills… functions that are essential for birthing life and goodness into the world.

* * * * *


The 20th century, for better or worse, is over. This book was written from the trenches of the new data wars. It offers a raw, apolitical view of what is happening and where the practice of intelligence is headed.

Comments from readers:

“Be warned; this book is not rainbows and butterflies. This book is a hard look at a future that can be avoided only through vigilance and dedication. At only 55 pages, I read it in one sitting and agree with every word. If I had the resources I would buy hundreds of these books and distribute them to people freely.”

“Right on the money. What’s described so aptly in this book is happening now and it’s only going to get worse.”

“A must read for everyone. As terrifying as The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

If you have a glimpse of the whole picture of history and where we can head (or are heading) as a civilization, you should come away from this read with new insights.”

Get it at Amazon or on Kindle.

* * * * *

Paul Rosenberg

5 thoughts on “The Cult of Rules”

  1. Have been a lifelong gun collector, hunter, plinker and enthusiast. Since 1968 I’ve seen all kinds of laws relative to guns that have no effect on crime, but criminalize those of us who find ourselves on the wrong side of a law at the stroke of a pen.
    Too, I began my adult life starting a small business as an importer of wild animals primarily for the then lucrative pet trade. Suddenly, with the stroke of a pen, many of the species I’d been buying and selling–obeying all laws of the exporting country–could no longer be imported, in the name of saving “endangered” species. Some species were becoming rare, and I had no problem with protecting those, others were added to the forbidden list because–as the IUCN stated–existed in finite numbers. EVERYTHING in the universe exists in finite numbers, so, using that logic, sand on a beach is also “endangered”, as there is a finite number of grains of sand on every beach. Ironically, some of the species protected kill human beings by the thousands every year–crcodiles kill or maim 5,000 people annually, according to WHO–and yet our govt pays foreign countries, as part of their foreign aid package, to protect crocodiles. Does the world really need more man-eating crocodiles, or is this just one more shining example of “laws for the sake of laws”?

    1. Hi ofg,
      Yeah, I don’t see why the world needs more man-eaters at all. But there are people who get their kicks from controlling others, and they love things like that. Always saving the beasts without regard to the humans.

  2. As the control grid gets tighter and more efficient, I think the people are going to have to insist that the rules are few and fair, rather than the opposite we have now. Currently we’re content to just evade or hope our transgressions are lost in the noise but both strategies work less well every passing year.
    I see this as a positive and likely reason for peaceful overhaul of almost every level of government we’re subjected to.

  3. Though as a publisher I know firsthand that every other retailer is crumbs compared to Amazon, I’d really appreciate being able to buy your ebook without contributing to (seriously).

    1. Hi Barry,
      I understand. I’m not particularly a fan of Amazon either. But I just can’t do everything, and so I remain with them for now.

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