Why You Can Do Anything You Want… And Why You Can’t

AnythingPeople frequently tell children “You can do anything you want.” This causes a lot of confusion, because in the real world, they can’t. And after their first clash with the aforesaid real world, the child is left wondering all sorts of unpleasant things:

Did mom and dad lie to me?

Are they just ignorant?

Am I defective?

Should I find someone to blame?

The worst thing about this, however, is that the child is likely to have their opinion of themselves reduced. And that’s tragic. As I’ve noted many times, we are magical creatures. Humans, alone in the known universe, are able to create willfully… are able to reverse entropy willfully.

The child should think of his and her self as magical… because they really are!

So, let’s make some sense of this problem.

Why You Can

Humans are wonderful creatures. Sure, we’ve been long trained to consider each other corrupt and dangerous – a belief that’s essential to rulership – but it simply isn’t true. We are stunningly capable beings, and we generally behave pretty well, even under a regime that rests upon self-debasement.

Take a look around you. Wherever you live, you’re surrounded by buildings, roads, and cars. All of them exist only because of human virtues. Without human creativity and human cooperation, they could not exist. And they are everywhere.

We’ve filled the Earth with hospitals and airplanes and food and computers and medicine. And the list could go on almost indefinitely.

More than that, we’ve learned how to cooperate very well. Forget wars; they’re run by competing states and will exist as long as states do. Instead, look at your local soccer league, little league, church choir, and family gathering. And as you do, remember that we’ve been trained to see one flaw and to condemn the whole from it. (And to hypnotically accept any and every flaw of rulership.) But should being less than perfect make us monsters? Must anything less than 100% equal zero?

We are wonderful creatures, and how much better might we be if we dared consider that possibility? Here’s a quote from G.K. Chesterton that I’d like you to read:

There runs a strange law through the length of human history – that men are continually tending to undervalue their environment, to undervalue their happiness, to undervalue themselves. The great sin of mankind, the sin typified by the fall of Adam, is the tendency, not towards pride, but towards this weird and horrible humility.

Can we dare imagine that Chesterton was right? And if not, why not?

That kind of imagination is what the child needs, and it is that kind of imagination that results in human thriving, as noted by Leon Battista Alberti, the epitome of the Renaissance Man:

A man can do all things if he will.

Yes, that’s a bit overstated, but we have the essential ability to do amazing things, and if we thought and acted like it – thought and acted like Leon Battista Alberti – we’d do a lot more amazing things.

Why You Can’t

There are two reasons you can’t do anything at all. The first is simple: Nature stands in your way. No matter how much we imagine we can do something, if nature doesn’t agree, we can’t do it. We can work with nature to do “impossible” things (building flying machines for example), but we can’t simply violate it.

The second reason is also simple: Other humans oppose us and stand ready to use violence against us. This reason is always cloaked in confusing and deceptive terminology (“it’s the law” among others), but the truth is that adversarial wills and violence oppose us all.

What we lack is a life affording scope. Our lives should be unlimited by outside forces. We should be free to do whatever we like, so long as we don’t intrude upon the equal rights of others. And so I’ll give you a few thoughts on that, then bring this column to a close:

Regulation forbids adaptation.

Obligation supplants compassion.

Only violent and corrupt human wills deserve restriction.

And once more, the “14 words” we used in a previous article:

We are a beautiful species, living in a beautiful world, ruled by abusive systems.

Please give these things some extended thought. We can be, in actual practice, far more and better than the present regime has permitted.


Paul Rosenberg