Dying for an idea

Tribe by Sebastian Junger is one of my favorite books. A couple of years ago Mr. Junger was on the podcast circuit as a guest, an interviewee I devoured. It was during one of these, I think they were discussing fatalism (its been a while and my memory these days is mostly shot) that Mr. Junger posits the following question, ‘What would you die for, what ideas would you die for?’

On the surface (I think) everyone can rattle off a couple of things they can imagine they could or would die for. Family, close friends, maybe. Whether this is true or not, it’s difficult to judge intent until faced with circumstances in which you are forced to act. Interestingly, I seem to remember the discussion… or maybe this is in the book (or maybe I’m completely misattributing this, I’m too lazy to go look it up right now) about a statistical happenstance that occurs when people fall (or get pushed) onto subway tracks and that people that jump onto the tracks to save them, in cases where they are saved, the rescuer is almost always a young male. (something crazy like 99%)Subway.jpgIn any event, I can think my way through saving actual, individual people with faces. That part of the question never really bothered me, since I could imagine myself dying to save my children for example. Thats an easy one because I feel some deep mammalian instinct there.

Where it becomes murkier, for me at least, is the ideas part. What idea would you be willing to give up your life for?

On the surface of it we are taught (or at least I was) that the American civil war was about the economics of slavery. I’m not going to go into the minutiae of it (and indeed the conspiracy theory aspect). For the sake of my post let us assume this to be true and the only concept. People on the North were against it and the south was for it. A war over an idea as it were.

Only it turned out, that northerners we less inclined to die for this idea (on some muddy field in Virginia) than originally anticipated. Sure some of them were, but the government for lack of enough volunteers to fight for their ideology had to implement a draft (and so forced people to die for this idea).

It’s generally at this point that my libertarian-ness gets all hot and bothered, ie that a government can implement a law that can force you to go off and fight and die for something. Otherwise people with guns will come and arrest you, deprive you of your liberty and if your actions are found treasonable enough, kill you. Just because you don’t want to do something.

Also, as an interesting aside, Theodore Roosevelts father, a wealthy New York businessman didn’t want go off and line up on a field to invite musket balls and grapeshot into his personage. His wife was also a hardcore southern belle whose family were wealthy slave owning Georgians. Theodore Senior hired a ‘body-double’ to fight on his behalf, something wealthy people could afford to do and wasn’t necessarily frowned upon by the upper class elites. Theodore Jr, the later president, took huge umbrage that his father had been (in his mind) so cowardly. It is theorised that this episode influenced Teddy to take on above average risk and adventurism with which to prove his personal honor and valor.

Would I die to oppose slavery somewhere far away? Or fascism? Lots of people fought, died or were injured for that relatively recently. Including my relatives who were on the wrong side of that particular conflict.

The truth is I don’t really know. And I’m finding myself leaning towards probably not. Dying for an idea I mean. Can’t we oppose things we find onerous with facebook activism and blogposts? Maybe product boycotts?

I mean suicide bombers die for ideas that they find troublesome after all… although maybe we need to consider intent there, people going off to fight a war might die, but I imagine that is not their intention, where as suicide bombers mean to die. And therein lies the rub I suppose. Might die in the process versus definitely dying.

For some reason this makes me think of Idmon, the seer that joined Jason and his Argonauts on the voyage for the golden fleece. Being a seer, he knew ‘stuff’ about the future and it was revealed to him that he would die relatively early on in the journey. (I think he was either the first or second casualty) Tough when your party loose their seer early on. I think he got gored to death by a boar… in any event, even armed with this knowledge he was still an eager participant and volunteer because it was revealed that his name would never be forgotten.

Maybe this is the sort of death I can get behind.

Honor bound

‘Dishonor is like a scar on a tree, which with time, instead of effacing, only helps to enlarge’ – Bushido maxim

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Truth be told I am a fetishist when it comes to scar tissue. I’m inclined to believe that they are indicative of either a life well lived, or challenging circumstances that has been overcome (since you are still here). Both are worthy of respect and admiration and I’m drawn to damaged dermis and cracked people in a very profound and liminal way. The proverbial moth towards the flame. Although, now that I think about it, doesn’t the moth die in this analogy? (explains a lot of my relationships actually) In any event, I often find they are the best sort. Those with the rent skin I mean, not the Lepidoptera. And are (for the most part) pure, unadulterated sex appeal.

Although this particular maxim isn’t about physicality, it’s about the things we do alone (in the dark) when nobody is watching. Which is an entirely different kettle of fish.

I suppose I should say that I find most discussions about honor to be problematic. Isn’t honor one of those concepts that is supposed to be exhibited through action and deed, as opposed to discourse and confabulation? (Trying to remember the Paladin entry in my Dungeons and Dragons Players Handbook) Any person claiming to be honorable, after all, is almost undoubtedly met with, at best skepticism, but more likely, derision. (Unless they’re super scary looking in which case you might be better off rolling your eyes in secret… and then only slandering them once you’ve put some measure of safe distance between you and your overly principled adversary)

If you do think you are the honorable sort, best to keep that sort of thing to yourself, lest you grind up against the benchmark of your fellows. They are unlikely to appreciate your keen sense of… eh… moral and ethical superiority. 

Sometimes, of course,  I like to pretend to be some sort of upright, deciduous broad-leaf… but I am likely one of the more knobbly, gnarled and crooked conifers in the forest.

I tend to think of myself as having lots of non-negotiable statues in my life… which I constantly seem to be breaking. Of course I keep these failings strictly to myself, but moralize and gossip over others failing my own rule set.

‘that mother fucker, driving like a maniac down my quiet suburban street’. Of course when I’m in a foul mood and do it, it’s totally fine. Justifiable even.

-Insert further examples of hypocrisy here-

Maybe honor is a percentile game? Given the choice between an ‘honorable’ and the ‘dishonorable’ action you take the achievement award if you choose correctly 51% of the time? (I basically passed my degree like this).

I feel the spirit of the game is more akin to a single instance of wavering on any of the non-negotiables equals immediate disqualification. No take backs, quick saves or starting over.

That is quite serious.

Fortunately the Japanese have another concept I find potentially more appealing than samurai aphorisms. That of Wabi-sabi.

In traditional Japanese aesthetics, wabi-sabi is a world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”.

I’m sure it probably only applies to physical objects… but I’m going to pretend that it doesn’t. This makes my barky exterior much more cheerful.

 

Burn it down…

A trolley problem is usually defined as a thought experiment in ethics. Although it doesn’t necessarily have to involve a runaway trolley car. There are no perfect outcomes, or indeed right or wrong answers and there are usually persuasive arguments that can be made for either hypothetical decision.

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Scenario #1

A building is on fire, there is a child on the second floor. Without thinking you rush into the inferno firmly intent on rescuing the child. Half way up the stairs you notice a priceless Rembrandt hanging on the wall. Do you can carry on, rescue the child or… do you save the irreplaceable masterpiece?

Scenario #2

A building is on fire, there are two children in the building.Without thinking you rush into the inferno firmly intent on rescuing the children. Half way up the stairs you realise the fire is out of control and you will only be able to rescue one child… armed with perfect knowledge you know that one child has an IQ of 140. The other sub 80. Which child do you save?

Scenario #3

A building is on fire, there are two children in the building.Without thinking you rush into the inferno firmly intent on rescuing the children. Half way up the stairs you realise the fire is out of control and you will only be able to rescue one child… armed with perfect knowledge you know that one child will one day cure cancer. The other child is your best friends kid. Which child do you save?

It doesn’t really matter what you answer. Unless you’re a sociopath its likely you are likely to be bothered by whatever choice you make….

I can’t overstate how much I love trolley problems. I’m especially fascinated by programmers who are going to have to teach self-driving cars the algorithms required to make life or death decisions. Does your self-driving car sacrifice you by smashing itself into a brick wall… or does it mow down the child that broke free from its mothers grasp and ran into the road?

Decisions, decisions… decided in 0.05 seconds.

What a great time to be alive that we can mull over such things 🙂

Homecoming

I spend a lot (probably an inordinate amount) of time thinking about forgiveness. And by association restorative justice and how we as society mete out punishments for actions that are deemed ‘unacceptable’ behavior.

Enter stage right… Shamima Begum

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‘I fucked up. And I want to come home’… is what she should have said.

And had she said that, I likely would have been more sympathetic towards her plight… instead she just came off as extremely unlikable and unrepentant.

But maybe we need to give her props for not lying about how she feels. *shrugs*

In the pros column

  1. Her parents are clearly fuckups eh… not moderates.
  2. Runs away from home at 16
  3. Three years of further indoctrination and brain washing in the balmy Syrian desert
  4. Plus two child deaths and the added PTSD of being bombed (probably fairly regularly) does not make for a great psychological stew.

In the cons…

  1. ISIS. Probably only one needed.

After all joining ISIS is not like saying something stupid on Twitter and then apologizing for it.

*makes a gurgling noise*

But… she has a new born… that… (through the fates) got saddled with that as a mother.

Also a non-combatant (as far as I can tell). I would however be reticent to have her as my neighbor. And if I don’t want her… why should anyone else have to? What are the realistic chances of rehabilitation and societal integration? (probably not high… but probably not 0% either)

But… there are people more compassionate than me. That likely would demonstrate some sort of humanism towards her and demonstrate that Western society(tm) can be merciful and benevolent. You know… all that righteous stuff we claim to stand for.

But on a cost to the taxpayer versus some perceived benefit that demonstrates benevolence and… cultural superiority (when measured against the culture of ISIS)…  actually have no idea what I would do.

Saint Helena has an airport now. Maybe Britain could just exile her there. That particular rock in the Atlantic has after all worked out in the past for troublesome guests likely to cause a hullabaloo in the future. And if that doesn’t work out… there’s always Australia *cough* *cough*

Of course Shamima Begum could just kill herself. Fall on her sword as it were and save us all this mental and ethical mathematics. Her child would undoubtedly be relocated to Britain as a result of her demise… which as far as I can tell seems to be her main concern. Everyone wins. Shamima’s sacrifice will undoubtedly be rewarded in the afterlife and the new born’s infant gets a shot at life… plus we don’t have to have divisive augments on social media about what is right.

Of course the whole Seppuku thing seems to be out of vogue these days. And while people talk a good game about abdication (in this case in a very final kind of way) for the greater good… there is rarely follow through.

I would… *sigh* likely vote for her to be allowed back. If these sorts of things were decided by committee or democracy or even just by me.

I’d likely spend the rest of life wondering if I made the right decision.

 

Punchable features

One immutable truth I’ve realized during my tenure on this planet is that when you punch people in the face… they often want to punch you back. This rarely results in a meeting of the minds post event. In a physical bout between Reza Aslan… and the sixteen year old kid in the stupid MAGA cap… my money’s on the kid.

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Of course… some people avoided the (pesky) escalation of violence that fisticuffs could lead to and called immediately for a more permanent solution in the form of the ol’ wood-chipper… I see there was a nod towards an expedient death however, insofar as they should go in head first, saving them the indignity (and potentially the awkwardness that might result in a blockage of the mechanism) of being fed feet first. In any event what a nightmare to clean up, I’m pretty sure Jack Morrissey didn’t think this one through. When in a genocidal frame of mind, I think gas chambers and ovens have been proven to be the most effective and efficient manner to expedite mass murder of this kind… but weirdly no one jokes about these as a means to an end anymore. That would be… eh… distasteful.

In any event. My personal opinion is that likely everyone involved is an asshole  (both left and right), although I’m inclined to give the kids in the video a pass. Being an asshole when you’re sixteen is par-for-the-course. I’m pretty sure I was an asshole until the tender age of 32. Now I’m more of a curmudgeon… at least this what I tell myself, I’m sure there are MANY who would disagree. Ha ha.

Other things I’ve learnt or wondered about from this…

  1. Fact checking by supposedly reputable journalists, news organizations and blue ticked influencers… does it ever happen? Or was this the exception to an otherwise pretty well adhered to rule?
  2. I felt well disposed to people that apologized when they decided that they got it wrong. But found myself feeling less well disposed to those that doubled-down… especially when their initial reactions had been quite virulent.
  3. Where are the peace loving hippies on the left? And why are they not being more vocal about clearly unacceptable behavior in among their own ranks? I’m convinced most people think calling on people (especially children) to be doxed is a really BAD, BAD thing.
  4. The ability to edit something so succinctly and generate such strong emotional reactions in people in such a short amount of time on such a global scale is truly staggering.

 

Cannibalism

Blogging to the melodic sound of the Basset licking his butthole on the bean bag. The soundtrack of my life (I wanted the Ode to Joy, but apparently its was taken). My wife and I diverge (like a road through a yellow wood) on parenting techniques for the hound dog. I’m happy to let him lick his derriere. Clearly his rusty sheriffs badge is in need of maintenance, who am I to stick a spanner into the works? My wife however finds the concept of him rim-jobbing himself unsettling. First will come stern words. Then even sterner words with sinister undertones. (personally I would surrender at this point) And then some form of thrown object. And then… depending on the wayward trajectory of said object… possibly getting up and engaging the basset hound in some form physical confrontation. Sometimes this works. But mostly he’ll just glare at us, and then move off to some other location to continue his tongue to ass action.

I point out that this likely qualifies as an act of futility, before pouring half a bag of Skittles into my mouth. We (my wife and I) briefly discussed the ethics of eating the progenies party pack. Turns out we are both okay with it. Basically we are honorless Ronin who burn villages, prey on the defenceless and spurn seppuku. We’re saving her from a lifetime of sugar addiction and hardship…. this is how we justify our actions.

Besides I could do with the energy, I woke up before dawn to take the dogs for a walk…

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It was quiet and misty out. There was no one around. Except for someone donned in camouflage setting up their fishing gear and little row-boat. I worry about those people. And not only because of their woodland attire.  Well… why you would need to ‘Vietnam level’ concealment to cast a line for catfish concerns me. Clearly a caste of beings whose mindset I don’t necessarily understand. I write it off as too much Rambo – First Blood when they were young and impressionable. I’m inclined however to believe that once you’re plumbing the depths of a suburban water source (for an inedible fish) dressed in Tiger stripe I think you’ve reached some sort of mental event horizon where I can no longer see you. Pun may or may not be intended.

In any event it got me thinking, as he pushed off from shore.

You know that lifeboat morality trolley problem? And everyone has agreed that cannibalism is the only way to survive. And now everyone is debating how best one should go about deciding who gets eaten? The egalitarian/libertarians are arguing about drawing straws.

While all this is going on… you should probably nonchalantly pick up an oar. And then viciously… but surprisingly… smack the fattest person on head as hard as you possibly can. Even if you don’t kill them… you can argue their… eh… disability now marks them as the weakest link in your lifeboat. Sure people might be angry with you for bypassing the process. But really, since they are still alive… they will (likely) be relieved. Also you have an oar… and have demonstrated that you’re not afraid to use it.

Also, doesn’t it make sense to eat the fattest person first?

Obviously this is more of a long term survival thing. Smashing people in the head with oars when Captain Sully has just splashed you down in the Hudson is a less desirable course of action…. and may be frowned upon.

 

Stoking my internal Grinch

I feel like I should like Christmas and all the accompanying merriment. But every year it just feels more and more like a dismal chore… something I need a holiday from after I’ve endured it all. I’ve been doing my best to shore up the bulwarks against the Yuletide cheer by… (I think about lying… but really) playing lots of Playstation and reading (when not knee deep in the blood and guts of child rearing… which is actually 80% of my waking day)

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While partaking in the obligatory sojourn of consumerism I gifted myself up a weighty hardcover tome on ethics from the bookstore. I’m less enthused about the history of ethics (which is why I never took it as an elective) and more excited by the practical ethical… um… considerations, which this book purports to be a study of. So far I’ve only picked at it… so I’m not sure if its everything it claims to be (when is anything?)

I also bought a book about Existentialism.

The dedication quotes Rudyard Kipling (whom I love)

‘People say that what we’re all seeking is the meaning of life… I think that what we’re really seeking is the experience of being alive’. 

I feel like I’ve been conned some how… like that was a clever consumer psychology deadfall I just walked into…. buying a book based on the quotation of an author I admire But it worked. It also has a picture of Jean Paul Sartre drinking coffee and chain-smoking on the front cover. I imagine him like a French Christopher Hitchens… or maybe a 1930’s Hank Moody (only season one though, we do not speak of the others)

I generally adore… (ergh, I hate this term) Existentialists. So… Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Sartre… Schopenhauer. Although… I don’t think I’d invite any of them over for a dinner party.  (You know, that trope where you invite a selection of dead… and living I suppose, celebrities and imagine impressing them with your gastronomic skillset) I’d likely choose somebody more fun. Like Teddy Roosevelt.

Of course now I’m thinking who else I would invite. Maybe Richard Dawkins… so I could punch him in the head for ruining my life. I use the term ‘ruining’ quite loosely…

I probably wouldn’t punch him.