Someplace where a lot of useful lessons about Life were collected, something you could read at your own speed, and that would help you figure out how to be the best possible you that you could be, and how the society you live in could be the best possible society.
It would be a book full of general rules about how things should run for the best result. Short rules, but also stories illustrating them, all of it written in a simple, easy-to-understand style.
Stuff like “Get some exercise every day,” or “Never put complete faith in the person trying to sell you something.” Or …
Open doors for older people. Never walk on the roadside facing away from traffic. If two people come to a narrow passage or doorway from opposite directions, the one with the larger/heavier load has the right of way. When driving on the highway, always stay in the right lanes unless you’re passing someone. Loud parties should end at 11 p.m. Never make important decisions while under the influence of strong drink or strong emotions.
(Heh. Maybe the rule “If you kill it, you eat it,” would have the accidental side effect of ending the death penalty, or yes-kill pet shelters.)
Or how about “When people in positions of trust and authority – especially those trusted to enforce the laws – break the law, they should automatically be punished twice as severely as normal people for the same transgression.” Or “During a trial, when a witness is sworn in ‘to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,’ the judge and all attorneys should simultaneously take the same legally-binding oath.”
And maybe even “Any architect designing a building to be used by the public should put in at least double the number of restroom stalls for women as for men.”
There would be separate sections for children, I’d imagine – lessons that every child should know, and written appropriate for the understanding of each age group, from toddlers to adolescents to teens. “Don’t put strange things in your mouth.” “Eat your peas so you’ll grow up big and strong.” “Having sex without a condom – even once – is a Very. Bad. Idea.”
And maybe even there would be separate lessons for men and women.
It’s kind of a no-brainer, don’t you think? A book of lessons and rules designed not to control you or lessen your freedom, but to help you grow and become complete. And to help in building a society of justice, equality, and opportunity.
It would be the handbook, the basic operating manual, that should come with every human life.
And yet we don’t have one.
Maybe it’s because we’re not advanced enough to think we might need one? Maybe because we’re TOO advanced? Because it seems impossible to create a Book of Good Living, considering how complex life is?
But then again, maybe that very complexity is the best reason for doing it? If everyday life is an ever-quickening storm of new stuff that you have to struggle to deal with, a basic operating manual for you yourself as a human would at least give you a firm grounding in one of the systems involved.
I think the real reason we don’t have this book is a simple one: It’s because of the Bible. Well, all holy books, really, but the culprit here in the West is that one.
First, because you could never write the Book of Good Living without raising a tidal wave of Christian opposition: “It’s the Atheist Bible! They’re trying to usurp God! Look, this proves it – atheism is a religion!”
I’d bet even full atheists would chime in with pungent critique: “No, we don’t need a Bible-clone full of rules and stories! That’s not what atheism is about! Besides, people should have the freedom to figure that stuff out on their own!”
And yet so many of us don’t, do we? Figure it out on our own, I mean.
Hey, I DO figure some of this stuff out on my own, coming up with a few rare insights out of my own life experience, but I still feel like I don’t really know shit about living. And I hate how long it takes to figure out the really good stuff – like “Have an adventure every day, even if it’s a small one.” Or “After you lose half your hair, you can stop worrying about it.” Or “If you overuse words like ‘fuck’ in speech or writing, you devalue them so that the day you REALLY need a shocking epithet, it won’t draw as much notice. Besides, if you hold back on fuck, it helps you develop more imaginatively florid insults and constructions.” – so that I’m left to fumble my way through every damned day on all the things I haven’t yet figured out.
Second, possibly, because even non-Christians would assume that all this stuff should come from your parents or your cultural elders, and that it impinges on parental authority to attempt to teach such things to kids. To which I ask “Who said only parents have good stuff to teach kids? And what does it matter who provides the lesson, if the kids get it from somebody?”
And third, and probably most important, because the niche is taken. Taken by the Bible. Even if you could convince a volunteer team of wise men and women to get together and write the thing, there would be resistance just because a supposed “Good Book” already exists. (I’ll bet even you reading this right now probably aren’t seeing the value in the thing.) And certainly huge numbers of Christians, and those raised under Christian influence, would refuse to read it. “I’m not readin’ that evil book! The devil wrote that book! All I need is my Holy Bible!”
Even many of us who weren’t Christians would feel that the thing is uncool. If the Bible, which supposedly teaches about good living, is uncool – and it is – this new offering in that (apparently) same niche would be tainted with that same uncool image.
But think about it: If great numbers of people already read the Bible as if it was this Book of Good Living … it means there’s already a demand for it. Among great numbers of people.
And if the thing lacked all the fluff, all the idiot Christian mythology about heavens and hells and such, and all the shit-silly stuff about who begat who else several thousand irrelevent years ago, or that it’s okay to (holy fucking shit!) bargain your daughters to a rape-minded mob or kill your kids if they sass you, it would immediately start to out-compete the Bible on effective wisdom for daily living.
And damn! I’d read it. Hell, if the Book of Good Living wiki came together in an attempt to write one, I’d feel privileged just to be a proofreader.
It would be something like a thesaurus, indexed so you could find things by subject, and versioned so kids could read the kid version and adults could read the adult version. And it would be freely available online, or in printed versions you could carry around with you.
Anyway … I’d like to write a few contributions to it. Some of the general stuff I’ve figured out on my own. Just to toss the idea out there, maybe see if it catches on.
[ Uber-cool illo by Human Born on Mars ]