Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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1- Institutions, and Legal Systems

Anthropology tells us homo sapiens went through stages from nomads to tribes, to fenced-in farmers, to city dwellers. There is evidence these patterns were followed in succession at different times and places, so one likely led to another, although not invariably, and at different speeds. Genetics and evolution probably had something to do with it. And so did the climate, as well as recognition that some ways of communicating wisdom were better than others. Although communication had much to do with it, some people were quicker to adopt new patterns than others, and all new methods usually contained variable amounts of old traditions. The tips for success have themselves evolved, from wisdom, to culture, to laws--"I have discovered thus and so", gradually becomes a Law commanding certain choices. Punishments are devised for laggards.

What evolves is a gigantic collection of trials and errors. Even the most advantageous changes grow tiresome, some changes begin to seem loathsome. People often prefer to pursue their whims, others are zealots. Most people gravitate toward a preference for peace and good order, but others are incorrigibly zealous. It's the way the world works, so let's move to other matters. But even indifference doesn't always prevail. Avarice, bad neighbors, and restlessness often stir things up, again.

The most relentless force of all is the aging process. About three hundred years ago, it seemed necessary to define the life span, and the courts decided that it was useful to define perpetuity as "one lifetime, plus 21 years." Inheritance and other things required a time limit should be framed for both success and failure, a little beyond the lifespan of any person. Twenty-one years served well for three centuries. And then, within one lifespan, the average life expectancy increased by thirty years. The old premises of "three score and ten" needed to be retested, one by one; so, many assumptions needed to be tweaked, as well. As I write this, my own life has extended itself for twenty-five years beyond the old biblical definition. My own life has become wealthy beyond the dreams of my youth, but many of my friends ran out of money, years ago. There is no need to expand upon this universal experience with other examples. Everybody sees there is something going on which is important, but no one knows what to do about it. Somehow, it's a good thing, leading to bad things.

Originally published: Tuesday, May 14, 2019; most-recently modified: Wednesday, May 15, 2019