Maple: Rules are civilization’s tools to use wisely in Aspen as well as the world
For The Aspen Times
Humanity over the past 10,000 years has spread to nearly every crack and crevice of the globe, reshaping the world into something beyond our wildest dreams — and yet in the coming years and centuries, the world will again be shaped anew in faster and more impossible ways.
As physicist David Deutsch hypothesizes, we have reached “the beginning of infinity,” but I’d argue only if we stay vigilant in our creations, our rule-making, and our intentions. Otherwise, we may reshape this Eden into a nightmare.
Among the many factors that have gone into humanity’s successful expansion is the social construct we call rules or laws. At some point, every vibrant and successful contingent of homo sapiens was forced to create laws and structures to help govern and order the masses.
It took several thousand years of testing and rule-making before humanity created anything tangible, like a pyramid. In prehistory, we were simply trying to ascertain and share what we could and could not eat, where we could drink, and a safe place to sleep. Rules that governed when to run and when to hunt.
We rarely think about this foundation handed down by our ancestors, which continues to support all of human existence. It is this foundation that allows every art, science, and exploration. Done properly, the rules we create enhance our lives, make the game more fun, and allow more people to stay alive long enough to play or perhaps make up a new game.
A simple river life metaphor for the success of structure is that the more dialed your boat is, the freer you become to indulge in “reckless” abandon — to take and enjoy risk. If you take the time to rig your boat to flip, then you are free to take a line that may flip your boat rather than spend the panicked hours needed to clean up the mess or portage around. If your water bottle is strapped in the same place every day, then you are free to play, having gulped down enough water to hop out of your rig and sprint up a canyon in 105 degree heat.
Without these rules, these tools, we cannot be the fools we sometimes wish to be as easily — for without these rules, happy fools become something cruel: dehydrated wretches collapsing on the run. Or we may become completely stunned, paralyzed with panic when the week’s food sinks to the bottom of the sea after a failed attempt at the Odyssey. If only we would have heeded the rules of the sea and strapped down our legacy, for with a little modesty we surely could have survived such a travesty.
Embedded in our culture are countless rules that have become unknown essential tools. We know how to have conversations, to pause, and to listen to read faces and speak in the gaps and structures that allow us to communicate with language. It is the structure of rules that allows me to communicate with you now as you read a variety of weird squiggles on a page. Without these subtle rules, we would be shouting at one another in an incomprehensible clutter.
Another successful structure is found on the highway. We drive on the right side of the road. If we all follow this simple rule, we can safely drive 75+ miles an hour in gigantic death machines just a few feet from one another. If just one of us abuses this rule, chaos and death quickly follow.
But just as dangerous or perhaps more so is when we fail to analyze the rules we have created and follow them blindly into calamity. With too many rules, we risk becoming paralyzed by bureaucracy. We are constantly making up new rules in an attempt to solve problems and enhance our created reality. Too often we implement a rule for reason X, and it does not solve X. We must constantly re-assess the structures we have put in place to make sure they are up to date. If we allow rules that don’t work to persist, then we become a slave to a monstrous machine, incapable of changing course.
Throughout history, there have been countless law systems ever since the 4,000-year-old Hammurabi’s Code in which 282 rules outline the retribution justice “an eye for an eye.” It took several thousand years until Ghandi is credited with pointing out: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”
Hammurabi’s Code and the easier-to-remember 10 Commandments are structures that have allowed humans to co-exist in large numbers; but when we are unable to change the rules, to challenge or analyze them, then we become unconscious fools capable of incredible evil. The first three Commandments have led to more death, destruction, and injustice than perhaps any other laws we have created — and the failings of these first three commandments have prompted millions of people to ignore the last seven commandments that would have had a genuinely positive effect if the first three were ignored.
Some 245 years ago, a few rebels and misfits were fed up with following rules blindly, endeavoring to create a government in which the entire purpose and structure was to make sure that rules could be changed, adapted, and renewed — amendments, they called them. Which means: to be changed.
But we the people will have to decide to change them, not some god or monarch. This country and this town are in need of change. It is becoming harder than ever to get anything done. We need solar panels on every roof if we want to preserve the snow that allows our town to flow, and yet there is so much red tape and regulations, most people abandon the exchange before they even start.
More than half our town’s housing sits empty 300 days a year, while our restaurants and schools all clamor for employees and employee housing.
Aspen is remarkably good at taking care of our minimum-wage employees, but now, it seems, there is nowhere for our architects, contractors, physical therapists, and even doctors to live. Oh, there is plenty of housing; it’s just beyond unaffordable.
One of my doctors — let me say that again, a doctor! — is moving back East because she can’t afford the rent here anymore. Places like Whistler, Crested Butte, and New Zealand are making changes to discontinue second-home ownership. They know they want to live in a real place, and they want neighbors who are part of their community rather than ghosts who carbon bomb our town every time they fly through. Can we not figure out a rule system that ensures these houses are used rather than empty?
It is up to us to change and shape our world and its structures. We have the power to change and shape our reality for the better.
It’s not simply “the way of the world.” It’s the way of the world as we make it. If we collectively don’t like the rules we have implemented, we should change them. No one stopping us but ourselves.
World Cup and Olympic skier Wiley Maple was born and raised in Aspen.