Stopping, not starting

Think of a hobby you used to do.  Why did you stop? Did you choose to or did the time-anaconda slowly sqeeze it out of your life?  How long did choosing to stop take? Now think about starting. How long did it take to start? Or to decide to. I’m a fairly neurotic guy, but even for me, starting is easier, as my litany of partial hobbies suggests.

It’s easy to want to try something new – a new game or sport, a new relationship, new food (well, I used to be a bit weird about food) and it’s usually pretty easy to argue the point – if I don’t meet this person now, when will I? I might love this thing, I should have a go. I just want to understand you/ it/ him. Stopping on the other hand is tough. It’s about not doing and not seeing, not tasting and feeling. And yet,  it’s a much more meaningful choice. By not doing things, you declare that the things you are doing are more important. If you stop playing squash so you can play with your children you are showing they are more important to you and you are taking responsibility. You are acknowledging your time is not unlimited and that some things matter more than others. That’s the decision of an adult.

Maybe you read that and think that you don’t do many things and that each new interaction is scary for you. Perhaps each new activity takes courage. That’s okay. But I don’t think it is the experience of many young Westerners (I could be wrong).

I think this is a key political notion. On almost any topic it’s easy to justify that we should do something. The more important question is, when should we stop.

Most people think we should have some armed forces. But once you have more than one soldier, where should you stop? Most people think we should tax people, but where should you stop? Most people think some freedom of speech should exist. But where should it stop? When should you stop paying for benefits or allowing people to own things that could be used as weapons or intervening in other countries.

Sorry to keep making similar points, but it’s important. Hospitals are good. As a country we should definitely finance at least one. But how many? 10, 100, every second building? There must be a number at which we stop building hospitals. It’s not that I don’t like hospitals, I do, but if we build a hospital every second building then we probably won’t have money for schools and houses.

This is true of ideologies in general. Freedom is good. But you can have too much of it. Should I be free to break into your house and move all your things around (maybe move some of them to my house)? No! So here we are at the same question of starting and stopping.

I think in our society it is far too easy to call anyone who voices restraint the enemy. Whether it’s brexit, Syria, free speech, the NHS, the list goes on. And yet, I imagine you think at least some of the things I have mentioned there should be more of, and some you think less. And frankly, we may not agree. Likewise you could accuse this of being a negative ideology – that I’m always thinking about stopping things. But when we talked about stopping squash to spend time with my children (who don’t currently exist, sorry Grammie) that wasn’t negative, it was a proper use of my time. The truth is, we can’t do everything. We just can’t. And we don’t want to allow everything (murder is wrong, right?).  So there must be a discussion of when to stop.

Ideologies so rarely seem to bother themselves with this most important of questions. When do free market capitalists need to stop the free market? (eg monopolies) When do we stop providing healthcare? (We cannot give everyone the gold standard treatment, and we don’t.) I know it’s scary to admit that there might not be free speech we don’t want to protect, or equality we don’t want to enshrine, but it must be the case (see: every second building a hospital) so until we discuss it, we pretend that we can and should keep on at every good thing, forever.

The person who does every activity has no time to do any of them well. That person isn’t free or focused, they are instead ruled by their hobbies. There would be not time for sleep or eating or any of the few things they really love. The ideology which has no room for stopping will grow and grow until it (or something worse) controls your whole life. So when someone next proposes something (and it can genuinely be a good and desirable thing) ask, “Great, so when will it stop?”

Photo by Kees Streefkerk on Unsplash

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