What restrains the hand of man other than love or self-interest?

Man, if allowed, will take merciless advantage of his fellow man. If you are over fifteen years old you have observed it and it is quite apparent from history. There appears to be no end to the greed or lust of man, be he the individual or the corporate body.

It appears that at the end of the day all that stands in the way of man’s cupidity is the fear of violence at the hands of other men. After all, if ten strong fighting men are facing off with a thousand men who cannot or will not fight, then the ten can rule the thousand if they choose, and my point is that over and over again, the strong will choose to do just that.

(This reminds me of a time years ago when I was eating with a group of Mennonite men at a local fish-barn (Carmark’s) and the question was asked who was going to take the leftover hushpuppies home. I declared the only one at the table willing to fight for them would. If this went over your head, I’m not a Mennonite.)

But two other brakes on man’s willingness to have his own way are love and wisdom. Love of family, friends, and tribe might cause him to deny his own desires and view their best interest as his own. Likewise in his dealings with all others wisdom may tell him that to deny his own inclinations may be in his best interest.

But imagine before you is a massive console upon which is laid out thousands of buttons in a grid formation. Tens of thousands! Each about half an inch wide and two inches apart. Now, if you press any button someone, somewhere in the world, outside of your own country, and completely unknown or unconnected to you would fall over dead, and immediately thereafter Venmo would send you a notification that $10,000 had been deposited into your account. Untraceable with no one being able to suspect any connexion between the money, the death, and your finger.

Now I like to think that I would not press any of the buttons but rather unplug the great console and carefully deconstruct it, burn its component parts, and scatter its ashes up and down Kentucky Lake over the course of a week. Doubtless you would likewise declare that you would be equally as virtuous as I declare I would be.

But do you know anyone who might press a button or two? Maybe sometime around 2am in the morning after having stared, reclined at the great console for a few hours, the remnants of an empty bottle of brandy swirling in the sifter dangling by his fingertips?

‘Maybe just one. Probably be some wife-beating vodka-soaked Russian with a failing liver. I hear they have more of those than you can burn. Probably be doing them a favour.

[Cha-ching] and off to bed.

Or do you know anyone who might press the buttons with a rolling pin while singing The Battle Hymn of the Republic?

Can you imagine a Power Seeker willing to lay low 10,000 of his own countrymen and none too few of his own kinsmen to gain possession of the great console?

Of course you can. Not everyone is as virtuous as you and I say we are. But if we fear neither retribution nor negative consequences why not just start pressing buttons? Why is it that you and I would be so virtuous, or even declare that our restraint is a virtue at all?

M.C. Atkins

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