One day a couple of weeks ago I was reading Saint Augustine while driving to the local convenience store, and I accidentally drove right through the front glass wall of the store, smashing up some shelves of junk food. After I’d made my purchases, a police officer stopped me and asked if I’d intended to drive into the store. “Oh, not at all,” I replied. “I intended to get here as quickly as possible while also educating myself as quickly as possible. I knew I might crash, of course, but that wasn’t part of my intention.”
“Well,” the cop replied. “Where should we send the check for your car repair?”
“I’ll let you know,” I replied, a bit annoyed by the hassle.
My brother in law repaired my car for not much more than $100,000, and all it still needed was to be repainted. So, I took a giant paint sprayer with me. I parked the car in front of my neighbor’s house, the one with the loud dog. When I’d finished painting the car, there was a rough shape of its profile on the front of my neighbor’s house, surrounded by fresh purple paint. I pinned a note to the door letting him know that my intention had been only to paint the car and not his house.
The new collateral damage laws we’ve been living under for the past year have really been working out great, as far as I’m concerned. We don’t let it get out of hand, though. Only property damage is excusable using bullshit medieval arguments about what we “really intended” and what we “merely knew was going to happen.” Damage or death to people or animals is not included in the law.
I’ve heard tell, though, that there is another world somewhere in which, believe it or not, the exact opposite is true. In that world, if I were to damage someone’s property and pull out a load of horse manure about “just intentions” or “proportional collateral damage,” I’d be punished for the destruction I’d caused and possibly locked up for my delusional state of mind.
But, in stark contrast, if I were to blow up some poor guy who dressed suspiciously with a missile from a drone, even though 8 other guys who dressed acceptably were standing next to him, well that’d be totally cool. Or if I were to bomb an entire city flat because its people were suffering under the rule of a brutal dictator I’d stopped supporting and arming last month, that’d just be good patriotic citizenship.
Now, I’m not going to swear to you that this crazy world exists, but I have reports on it from numerous credible sources. I even have recent reports from several people that an ancient institution in this world — they call it the Catholic Church — is dropping its support for using “collateral damage” to excuse murder, while the rest of the society is just going ahead with mindlessly accepting it anyway, even without the support of its original devious devisers.
Regardless, however, of whether such a place is real, the manner in which its customs shock us should wake us up to the possibility that our own might shock someone else, and that we should never accept traditional customs without thinking them through for ourselves.