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Of Marbles and Men

Remember marble runs when you were little? There was something so wonderful about putting them together and seeing a marble end up  where it should. That fascination never ends – even at 48 I was equally fascinated by how the Moors in the 9th century channelled water from one place to the other. In this case, the old waterways feeding the pool in the Andalucian shack I was staying in.

Here’s a grown up look at marble runs. Marbles have a mass and drawn by natural forces towards the centre of the Earth. Their environment (the tracks) determine the path they take towards the centre of the Earth. Marbles just follow natural laws working their way down to the bottom. It’s great to fiddle with the tracks, adding new things in their way so they spin round and round, drop bigger drops, bash into other marbles. Inevitably, they either get stuck or all congregate at the bottom.

Here’s a leap into something much deeper. There are people who believe human beings are nothing more than very complicated marbles – just a bunch of atoms being bashed around by their environment reaching some unknown end point. The same people who also believe, like the marbles, that human being have no free choice. Anything on the contrary is just an illusion. There’s no objective right and wrong, no good and no evil, just to quote Mr Dawkins “Just blind, pettiless indifference.”.

Yet somehow, we know we have a choice. You have a choice to read this or not. You probably have a sense of right and wrong. You probably believe that loving your children is more than just about propagating your genes.

Why do I mention this? If you believe we are just complex marbles but marbles all the less, it affects just about every decision you make. More to the point, groups of people (Governments, councils) will affect your life based on this very fundamental point. Housing, transport, policies, designs, will all be created on that belief. You may end up with a housing estate that is a perfect marble run, but dehumanises its ‘marbles’ and creates a hot bed of crime and depravity.

Bus stations (such as the big one in Norwich) will appear to be more like cattle markets. Transport systems (again like the one in Norwich) will be about controlling/managing/regulating who participate in it. And if you don’t comply, you will be fined into submission. What’s curious, when false ideologies get turned into real world things, they have a tendency to strip away what it is to be human and replace it with some totalitarian system. The results are often horrible, and generally fail in the long term. The NHS, education and the Police are prime examples of how a totalitarian ideology only leads to failure. Failure can easily be seen when people shift their own personal responsibility to the state, then blame the state for something they must take responsibility for.

When travelling abroad, you do get a greater sense that the state expects you take primary responsibility for your actions. If you fall down a hole because you are not looking where you are going, then you fell down the hole because you weren’t looking where you were going. In these places, you shouldn’t expect the state to take over from your responsibility to keep your eyes open and be aware of where you are going. Yet in the UK, as I dare say  in the US, there’s an increasing blame game going on much to the delight of the law industry.

So if at the very core, we are nothing but marbles, operating on the natural laws and driven by our genes, then this is how it is and we all need to just live with these consequences. Yet we all know instinctively that we are more than marbles, not just more complicated ones, but fundamentally different in a way that gives us the freedom to chose right or wrong, left or right, to love or to hate, to accept or reject. I leave with a question, if we are not just marbles being bounced around by natural forces then what are we?