Here’s St Augustine, who, I’m realizing, did for Christian thought in the City of God roughly what Newton did for physics in the Principia Mathematica.
This starts being about pears, and is from Augustine’s Confessions. You have to take a slightly deep breath, but if you come out from under it, it’s worth keeping going.
A pear tree there was near our vineyard, laden with fruit, tempting neither for colour nor taste. To shake and rob this, some lewd young fellows of us went, late one night (having according to our pestilent custom prolonged our sports in the streets till then), and took huge loads, not for our eating, but to fling to the very hogs, having only tasted them. And this, but to do what we liked only, because it was misliked. Behold my heart, O God, behold my heart, which Thou hadst pity upon in the bottom of the bottomless pit. Now, behold, let my heart tell Thee what it sought there, that I should be gratuitously evil, having no temptation to ill, but the ill itself. It was foul, and I loved it; I loved to perish, I loved mine own fault, not that for which I was faulty, but my fault itself. Foul soul, falling from Thy firmament to utter destruction; not seeking aught through the shame, but the shame itself!
So I think what he’s saying is that he and his fellow lewd young fellows, after scandalously playing in the streets, ransacked a pear tree: not because they needed the pears, but just for the fun of it. But why? after a few more paragraphs, he tells us:
I might mimic a maimed liberty by doing with impunity things unpermitted me. 1
So: he knows the rules. But he tastes a kind of freedom by breaking the rules. It’s a ‘maimed freedom’. But it’s still a kind of freedom.
This is so true about everything and sits exactly at the dividing line between the short-cut and the slow. Rule breaking feels like the way to get stuff done. ‘Move fast and break things’ is now a Silicon Valley cliche. But (according to Augustine), the result is ‘a maimed freedom’.
In my younger days I watched two people I know well each make a large amount of money by starting their own businesses. (They didn’t know each other.) I observed that both broke the rules to get where they did. It would complete the narrative arc if I were able to say that both now regret it. I can’t. I’m not sure they do regret it, though each has changed focus somewhat.
But I do think that all the times we let our greed and impatience get the better of us, as I do, we invest in a maimed freedom, not the real thing. And my mate Augustine backs me up.