It’s so easy to be deterred sometimes –
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
Of course, it’s hard to blame a nail for the fall of a kingdom, unless you want it to be the cause.
I’ve been waiting for several days now to go on a trip to Manhattan, Kansas (yes, it took me a long time to get used to the idea of there being a Manhattan in Kansas too). It wasn’t a terribly important trip, just a networking event out at Kansas State for the local biotech businesses to get in touch with one another, but it was an opportunity to get to know some more people who might be able to help me get back to work.
But for want of a nail …
In this case, the nail that was wanting was my ability to coordinate with the carpooling van to identify where they would be meeting up. I arrived at what actually was the correct location about 20 minutes ahead of time, but found no one and started second guessing myself. When I checked my schedule, I found another address and quickly scampered to make it there. triple guessing myself, I checked the website at a stoplight only to find that I had just left the correct location and was out of time to rush back.
I tried nevertheless, only to find that I just missed the bus by a matter of minutes because they had been meeting on the top floor of the parking garage (I parked on the lower level previously and had not seen them).
the rider was lost …
My wife, probably correctly, counseled me to go anyway, despite missing the ride. It was only about an hour and a half away, but by this time my will had collapsed in on me and I could think of nothing but,
the battle was lost.
And, with the battle lost, I forfeited the kingdom.
US Chief Justice John Roberts enjoys this rhyme enough to cite it in not just one, but two independent legal cases, in both cases, he warns that ‘want of a nail’ does not anchor one into a set series of causal events, but that it merely illustrates a single possible cause. In this way, he asserts the free will of all people to end (or at least deflect) certain causal chains such that one detached cause can not exonerate those who fail to act after events have been set into motion.
It’s probably a pretty good doctrine, because even if we do not have free will, we still need to act as if we have. – or do we?