Tuesday, April 12, 2005

What Might Have been

People often speculate on what might have been. What if I had decided to stick it through the US Navy in Apr of 1999? What if 9/11 never took place? What if Hitler died as a baby? What if the Confederacy won the civil war? What if the Hebrews were unable to conquer the land of Canaan? As we move back in time it becomes more and more difficult to speculate on how history would have developed in light of such major hypothetical events (or non-events). The difficulty inherent in this speculation is evidence that the very speculation itself is flawed, because if it were a valid speculation then we should have been able to come to solid conclusions about it just like we can scientifically investigate the past or the natural sciences.

Why is such speculation flawed?

As you should already know, we believe that there is no free will. Just like we have no control over when and how a hurricane will develop or the laws of gravity, we likewise have no control over other people's actions and even our own actions. Control over ourselves is only an illusion!! It's a good illusion, a very constructive illusion, since it induces people to behave responsibly and thus improve our lives and the lives of future generations. But in reality, if we think about it, it doesn't take much to realize that all major decisions that any person or organization makes is based on precedents and biases. President Bush is not a Republican because he "chose" to be a republican; he is republican because his family and upbringing is republican and his business (or former business) interests are best advanced through the republican platform. Likewise, the current Satmar Rebbe Moses Teitelbaum is not Satmar Rebbe because he is the most pious and capable person within the community; one must be foolish to think so. He is Rebbe simple because he is the nephew of the previous Satmar Rebbe. I can give you hundreds of such examples but that's not the object of my discussion here.

The reason I am bringing this doctrine up here is that since there is no choice in human actions or in any of the events that we observe in the universe, the speculation of "what would have been if I had made an alternative choice" is a fruitless attempt because we now KNOW that such a choice was not possible and it's therefore no different than speculating on what human society would be like if we had wings. The fact is we don't have wings and we can't fly. We never had wings and we never will (in the foreseeable future) and thinking about it is therefore pure fantasy.

The decision I made to quit the Navy was carefully deliberated and given the circumstances I was in during that harsh transitional phase of my life, I now KNOW that it was the only feasible option. I don't know so because I have some sophisticated proof. I know so simply because I observe now that I did not choose to stay in the Navy then.

But there's more to this. A major decision (defined as one that involves major change) will never be executed successfully unless there is a major impetus for it. We see this with all the societal revolutions: the French revolution, the American revolution, the Glorious revolution (in England). Roosevelt's "new deal" of the 1930's would have never taken place if not for the Great Depression. Now imagine if some very smart guy came out in 1928 and said: I have analyzed the recent economic trend and I have realized that if society doesn't implement some major social changes, a gigantic depression will occur. Millions of people will lose their houses, farms and jobs. People would have laughed at him. Congress would not have enacted any laws to tackle the issue seriously and life would have continued as usual until the prophecy actually materialized. Then, the smart guy will say: you fools! I told you in advance that all of this would happen. If you had listened to me then you could have avoided all this! What's the answer to this? Since there was no "real" impetus to cause such new-deal-like legislation at the time, such legislation was therefore not possible. That status-quo rule prevails: life remains the same until a major force causes some change.

Therefore, even if I did make a mistake by quitting the Navy, which may very well be the case, I didn't have the "major impetus" necessary to convince me to stay and staying was therefore not an option just like new-deal-legislation was not an option before the Great Depression. In other words: I was simply "not ready" for the Navy at the time and I couldn't hasten the pace of the Great Rebellion any more than I had already done.