Musings on Thomas Hobbes 431st Birthday.

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader raised a glass of whisky this past Friday (April 5th) and toasted Thomas Hobbes. Thomas Hobbes is on a very short list of political philosophers that your Maximum Leader greatly admires. Thomas Hobbes. Michael Oakeshott. Edmund Burke. Those are the big three…

Anyhoo…

Your Maximum Leader wrote recently about how to classify Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. He was using old Cold War Soviet terms for his classification. So he had the Soviet Union on his mind. Bringing the Soviet Union more to the forefront of his mind was his watching (probably for the 100th time) “The Death of Stalin.” It happened to be on cable on Friday night. He caught it about 15 minutes in…

NB: Your Maximum Leader loves (LURVES!) “The Death of Stalin.” It is funny. It is intelligent. It is so well acted and well written and well directed. He rented it to watch on a flight to California last year. He saw it and knew he had to own it. He bought it upon landing and watched it three more times that weekend. He’s watched it a bunch since. In the past five years there have been two films that your Maximum Leader has found rewatchable over and over again. They are “Stalin” and “Deadpool.”

So, moving along…

Your Maximum Leader had been thinking about nomenklatura. Then he had been watching the comic antics of the Soviet Politburo jockeying for power in 1953. Then his mind wandered in a bourbon infused fog. At that point he had something of a revelation. And Hobbes has something to do with it too…

The revelation was that many liberals of today genuinely believe that a Soviet/Socialist/Communist political system is a good thing. Now you are saying to yourself, “Self, how it is that my Maximum Leader is just realising this? Is he stupid?” Well, not exactly. You see, intellectually speaking your Maximum Leader has known that many liberals think this way. But there was something of a series of subtle connections that were made in that fog that made things clearer.

You see, your Maximum Leader, in his heart shares a belief espoused by ole Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes famously wrote that in a state of nature life was a war of all against all. His famous sound bite was that life in such a condition was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. Now, Hobbes’s view of humanity is more nuanced than this. You can pick up his writings and read a few hundred pages and figure this out for yourself. But here is the rub. Ultimately Hobbes, and your Maximum Leader, believed that human nature is inherently egoistic. We want what we want. We want to do what we want to do. If we think we can get away with something to our advantage, without fear of reprisal, we will do it. To use religious terminology (because in this the religious and political are closely intertwined), man’s nature is fallen. As a being with a fallen nature, we need to be constrained. Constrained, in Hobbes’ mind, by an autocratic state. (At least this the the broad theme of Leviathan.) Please keep this in your mind…

Of course, on the other side of this equation (as it were) are those who prefer the state of nature described by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Man was a perfectible, noble, creature. The nature of man was not fallen, or sinful, or bad. Mankind was corrupted by society, but society could be reformed and likewise man will be reformed as a result. Of course, your Maximum Leader is oversimplifying here, but bear with him.

So, broadly speaking, Your Maximum Leader thinks we can all agree that the best (theoretical) type of government to live under would be an autocracy ruled over by a wise, just, and benevolent autocrat. The Philosopher-King of Plato’s musings as it were. A good, wise, just, and benevolent autocrat has the power to “get things done” as well as the restraint to “keep from going too far.” Just laws, just taxes, and justice in general would flow quickly and efficiently from the Philosopher-King at the head of such a state. Things would be good…

Of course, the problem with autocracies is that you aren’t always guaranteed a good autocrat. The odds of a bad one are better than the odds of a good one. This is especially true if you believe, as your Maximum Leader and Hobbes do, in the not-so-good nature of man. But let’s say, you fall more under the Rousseauian theory of mankind. Well, even then you know that you are bound to get a bad egg from time to time. No matter how well you educate and train an autocrat, sometimes you are going to get a bad one. But if you give autocratic power to a bunch of perfectible people. People who are well-trained, well-experienced, and well-educated. Well then, that is a different story…

This is the root of the liberal’s love of technocracy. If mankind is perfectible and generally good, if you give power to right group of technocrats you will get a good outcome. If it doesn’t work out, it is because the “true formula” hasn’t really been tried. Ah… The ole “true socialism has never been tried trope!” Yes. Of course it all comes back to a fervent starting principal. If man is good it is all bound to work out! We just have had the wrong people in place…

Your Maximum Leader, in thinking all this, was musing on a column that Paul Krugman wrote some years ago (and he can’t find on the Google with ease and has given up with trying to link it) in which Krugman waxed admiration on the Chinese Communist government. In his musings, your Maximum Leader thought to himself that if you could look past the human rights abuses, the lack of personal freedoms, the rampant corruption, and the cronyism, there is a lot to like with the style of Chinese Communist rule from Deng Ziaoping through Hu Jintao. The Chinese Communist Politburo was populated by well-educated, experienced technocrats. These technocrats had well-constructed plans for moving their country ahead. They executed those plans (without any hindrance to their power). And presto-chango! China is the second greatest power in the world (and some could argue they are tied for the greatest power in the world). The Chinese Communist leaders are like half a loaf of bread in the argument about Socialism. They get so much right that they are admired, but there is that unsightly side. (All that lack of human rights, corruption, etc. etc.) It is like they are a beta version that just needs some more work.

You see, your Maximum Leader never really “saw” this aspect of how many liberals choose to look at socialism. He couldn’t get past his starting point, namely that humanity is not inherently good or truly perfectible. If you can’t get past that point, you’ll never get to where they are… Of course, your Maximum Leader likes freedom and liberty. He likes republican (truly little “r” republican) government. He likes restraint on government power. He likes it all because he doesn’t fully trust other people’s nature. We (humanity/mankind if you like) constrain our nature within society. We set up institutions and rules to constrain ourselves and others. It makes life better when we have boundaries and constrains, but also have the liberty to act as our own free-will agents.

It is possible that, at some point in the growing ever more distant past, he had this revelation before. But it seemed pretty enlightening the other night. It is possible that he’s never really tried to understand the whole “true Socialism” or “true Communism” hasn’t been tried argument. It’s never been tried, because it isn’t possible for it to be tried. If the nature of man is not predisposed towards it working, true Socialism/Communism just can’t ever work. Of course, many people don’t think as I do. So there is that.

Your Maximum Leader isn’t going to round them up and send them out for re-education or anything…

Carry on.

Is this a post I see before me?

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader makes two posts in two days. Think of it. It is like we are back to the halcyon days of 2004 or something…

Okay. That was a big buildup for very little payout. Your Maximum Leader apologizes in advance. (If anyone out there is reading this…)

So, your Maximum Leader forgot to note the anniversary of the birth of Thomas Hobbes last weekend. The man labeled on the right side link bar of this site as “Our Philosopher” would have turned 426 on April 5. Your Maximum Leader has not, until the very moment that he typed these words, bothered to think about the accuracy of the birthday given that it was prior to the New Style Act of 1750. Regardless… April 5th it shall be for your Maximum Leader.

Speaking of ole Thomas Hobbes… Your Maximum Leader has begun over the past years to feel he is getting more stupid. He is forgetting things he used to know. What is worse, he has a lingering knowledge that he USED to know something that he’s now unable to recall. Contemplating Hobbes’ birthday reminded your Maximum Leader that other than the “common” things that any student of history and government would recall; he’s forgotten much of the detail he used to know about Hobbes’ works. This could likely be remedied by a re-reading of Leviathan and other works. But there is some inertia or laziness that keeps him from getting motivated to do so…

This inertia has also manifested itself in your Maximum Leader’s Lenten observances. Your Maximum Leader has tried not to make a big deal of it, but he’s been doing much better at being an observant Catholic over the past years. Without trying to sound hypocritical, he’s been very outwardly observant. But there is a lot to be desired in his inner spiritual life. This Lent has been one of disappointment. Unlike many Catholics, your Maximum Leader doesn’t try to “give up” something for Lent; but rather (and the suggestion of a priest many many years ago) “DO” something that will improve and grow your faith and well-being. This year your Maximum Leader resolved to read & contemplate some of the writings of his name saint, Augustine of Hippo. The plan was to read from Augustine’s writings, then take a nice long walk to contemplate what he’d just read. Well, how many times has that pairing happened? Exactly zero times. He’s walked. He’s read (though very lightly). But the pairing has not occurred. This is a Lenten resolution that will likely have to outlive Lent in order to give your Maximum Leader a feeling of accomplishing something.

Anyhoo…

Your Maximum Leader is exceedingly pleased at how his Washington Nationals are performing out of the starting blocks of this 2014 baseball season. They have done well against the Mets and Marlins. They took 1 of 3 against the Braves with another series against the Braves (in Atlanta) coming up. He hopes they continue to be strong and get a nice cushion of wins under their proverbial belts before the middle of the season. These early wins are very valuable over 162 games.

If your Maximum Leader can find the motivation and time, he hopes to write a short essay on independence movements in Europe. It is something he’s been thinking about off and on with all the news out of Scotland, Catalonia, Venice and Ukraine…

That is all for now…

Carry on.

Follow your Maximum Leader on Twitter @maximumleader

A Mess. A gooey, sticky, runny delicious mess.

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader is embroiled in a debate. A hot debate. A gooey debate. A melty-cheesey debate.

You see, yesterday, your Maximum Leader’s buddy Kevin posted a photo of what he purported was a “grilled cheese” sandwich. You can see the image by clicking on this linky. You will not that the first image shows bread, cheese and meat after a light grilling. Your Maximum Leader tweeted in a Darth Vader-eqsue way “Nooooooooooooooooo!” In your Maximum Leader’s opinion, this image shows a grilled sandwich to be sure, but the addition of meat precluded it from being a true “grilled cheese” sandwich.

Thus the debate was joined.

Kevin posted a fine reply to the various tweets your Maximum Leader had been broadcasting on the subject. That post is here: The Great Grilled-cheese Debate.

The sides break down thusly: Kevin believes that we should be flexible in our definition of what constitutes a “grilled cheese” sandwich. The inclusion of meat does not preclude the sandwich from still being a “grilled cheese” sandwich. Your Maximum Leader believes the “bemeated” sandwich ceases to be a “grilled cheese” sandwich and starts to be some other sort of sandwich. Your Maximum Leader would posit that the sandwich that started the debate could be a “grilled ciabatta” sandwich.

You should take a moment and read the comments to this post. Indeed, you should weigh in on the subject yourself. Comment here or over there. (It matters not to your Maximum Leader - although it might make it easier to manage if you commented there.)

Let us continue the suffering on both sides caused by this debate! Should we find a middle way and except a broad definition of “grilled cheese?” Should we stand up and support the Platonic ideal of “grilled cheese-ness” that precludes “bemeating” a grilled cheese?

Make your opinions known! Shout out from the rooftops (or at least in the comments) what is a grilled cheese sandwich.

The world will be a better place if we can put this argument to rest once and for all.

Remember - you can’t “bemeat” a grilled cheese!

Carry on.

The truth about a new word

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader had a wonderful day (last Sunday) with his good buddy the Minister of Propaganda. While shooting the breeze over drinks and victuals, the Minister introduced your Maximum Leader to a word that he’d invented (with another friend of his). Your Maximum Leader likes this word and will share it with you:

Circumwongle = to arrive pleasantly at the results you want by an unexpected route.

Your Maximum Leader has given his approval to this word and hopes you all can find a way to work it into conversation.

In other news…

Your Maximum Leader was speaking with some other friends last night and one of them threw out a nice line that he’ll have to remember: “The truth is a powerful tool and should be used sparingly.” Your Maximum Leader doesn’t know if this a quotation from someone else, but he’ll have to remember this one too…

Carry on.

Canine Karma

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader is going to have to “drop out of character” for this post. (He thought it “sounded” weird doing it in his normal third person style…)

So, I’ve got a dog. She is a mutt. Part Whippet and part Lab. We got her at the pound. She was six months old, had a bad rash that made some of her fur fall out, and was pretty pathetic overall.

Did I mention that she was also named “Tequila” at the time?

We took her home and changed her name and proceeded to love on her. That was 2001.

She has been one of the best dogs ever. She is smart enough to learn and obey a number of commands. She is dumb enough to remain cute and never give you pause to think that she’s trying to outsmart you in anything. She has survived three kids who have tried to ride her, pull her tail and otherwise molest her. Her temperament is everything one could ever want from a dog.

Two years ago she was running through the woods and got a cut on her right hind leg. We treated it topically and wrapped it up. It seemed to heal pretty well.

Then she started to lick her healing wound.

Before too long it became a large, swollen, infected mess. We took her to the Vet. She got a steroid shot and some antibiotics. Everything cleared up. But after a few months she started licking again and got the leg into a swollen, infected mess. So it was back to the Vet. More steroids. More drugs. Recovery! Then the licking started again… Eventually in addition to drugs and steroids she got “doggie downers.” This cocktail of drugs worked for a while. Eight months or so. But it hasn’t stopped…

Basically… My dog is OCD and licks herself to infection and great pain.

We keep treating her, but my wife and I lament that she is just dumb to keep hurting herself like this. Then again… She’s a dog.

The other day I was sitting in my chair reading and rubbing the dog with my feet. I stopped reading and thought about karma. I am not a Buddhist, or Hindu, or new-agey person so I don’t “believe” (in a religious sense) in karma. Sometimes “believing” in karma makes me feel better about myself or things happening in the outside world.

But I was thinking about my dog’s karma. I thought that if you consider karma and reincarnation together what would explain my dog? If she was a person in a past life, what could she have done wrong to deserve to come back as a dog? Then again, life with my family is a pretty good gig for a dog. She is fed, groomed, loved on and well-treated. That is a pretty good life all in all. Then I considered the leg. Was she being karmically punished for a past life? Had the wheel of fate placed her (even as a dog) in too good a position in life and was karma “fixing” the problem by making her OCD and inflicting suffering on herself where none had to exist?

Then I considered something else. Perhaps it was my karma to inflict suffering in her. Perhaps I am the problem in this equation.

Then I figured that considering this was too much for someone who doesn’t really believe in karma anyway.

So I got up and poured myself a Makers and ginger ale and went back to my book.

Carry on.

Monday Stuff

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader will probably be doing very little posting between now and after Labor Day. Lots of back-to-school stuff going on which requires his attention. (So Mrs Villain tells him.) Of course, every time your Maximum Leader warns you all that posting will be light, he winds up posting a lot. Then when he posts nothing… Well… He posts nothing…

What to write about now?

Your Maximum Leader had some people over to the house for dinner yesterday night. He anticipated preparing some fancy appetizers. He’d thought of serrano ham and marchengo cheese and proscuitto with melon as two ham-based dishes. (With a mix of olives stuffed with feta, almonds, sun-dried tomatos, and garlic. To be clear, each olive was not stuffed with all of those items. There was a variety of 4 different olives each stuffed with a different item.)

Well… What did the great Muse of Scotland once say about the best laid plans? The ham based appetizers never made it to the table.

Gosh… Your Maximum Leader is so (SO!) torn up inside thinking that he might have Serrano ham and proscuitto just laying about in the icebox. What ever will he do with that wonderful, tasty, succulent cured pork goodness just sitting around? Sadly he is too busy to invite people with whom he’d share the ham.

He’ll just have to eat it himself…

The horror… Oh the horror…

In other news…

Your Maximum Leader is sad to admit that he watches “True Blood” on HBO. He has come very close to giving up on the show on a number of occasions starting last season. This season has a bunch of storylines going on. Most of the storylines don’t do a damn thing for him. While enduring the storylines he doesn’t care for he keeps thinking that he’ll just stop watching. But then the vampire characters just draw him back in. Specifically he is speaking about Denis O’Hare’s performance as Russell Edgington. Damn that man can work magic in that role. If it weren’t for the Russell story-line your Maximum Leader would have just stopped watching earlier this season.

Moving along…

Hey! Is it too early to shill for Christmas (or back to school)? You know that you are looking for a new t-shirt in which to knock about the house or wear on a quick trip to the mall. Have you considered a Naked Villainy T-shirt? If you are particularly stunning woman have you considered a Naked Villainy Tank-top and Thong combo? Your Maximum Leader will keep shilling this particular combination until he gets photos in his mailbox one day of some sultry lass clad only in the tank and thong combo. If that day ever comes your Maximum Leader let you all know. If you want to check out the store the link is here. Your Maximum Leader is probably going to update the store soon with a new t-shirt or two. (Not like lots of people are knocking down the doors to buy the old stuff…)

Anyhoo…

Your Maximum Leader has been re-reading books he’s got on the shelf. He realizes that he’s looking at the books on the shelf and not remembering their contents any more. So he’ll both conserve money and do a little re-education for himself. Like FLG, your Maximum Leader might revisit Hume’s “Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.”

That is about all from the Villainschloss now…

Carry on.

Without context…

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader gives you this paragraph to mull over without any explaination of context:

If Leibniz is right, then natural disasters aren’t the result of divine punishment for sin. They are the foreseen but unintended consequences of a well-regulated and overall good system of natural laws. So religious believers can explain the causes of earthquakes in purely natural terms (Leibniz was an avid scientist himself), while still maintaining belief in a divine, nonpunitive purpose for allowing such events. The harmonization of natural and theological explanations, reason and faith, is Leibniz’s true legacy.

If you would like full context, you can click here for the piece by Samuel Newlands at the WSJ.

Carry on.

Intellectual discourse

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader finds that his blog is quite moribund when it comes to seriously argued discussion. Most of the time your Maximum Leader just sits here at his computer and spouts off Kornheiseresque rants.* Indeed, most of you must come here out of habit more than seeking intellectual stimulation, ’cause your Maximum Leader hasn’t been putting up the thoughtful stuff recently.

Happily for all of us out here, Fear and Loathing in Georgetown is not affected by the intellectual moribundity that rules here at Naked Villainy.

To wit: the very thoughtful discussion of what your Maximum Leader will summarize as the “slippery-slope” possibilities in the gay marriage debate. The first post (with very important comments) is here. Then FLG restates the issue in the post available here.

FYI… Your Maximum Leader and Smallholder went around and around on this issue a few years ago. Some of the posts that you might be interested in revisiting… Here is a 2003 post in which your Maximum Leader throws out some of his thoughts about the gay marriage debate in terms of lawmakers vs judges. Here is a link to a Volokh Conspiracy post about why polygamy would be hard to implement. There are many more… But he’ll hit just those two.

For the sake of full disclosure, here is a link to another 2003 essay in which your Maximum Leader discusses gay marriage, equality and the state. His views on gay marriage have changed some over the intervening years; but the larger point about equality and the state is still valid.

After looking through the archives a little for some of those past post your Maximum Leader thought to himself, “Self, we really did write some decent stuff here once upon a time…”

* - In case you care, your Maximum Leader is a huge Kornheiser fan. He didn’t find the remarks about Hannah Storm particularly offensive; but he was also unaware of ESPN’s strict policy about ESPN personalities commenting on other ESPN personalities. In light of this, how exactly does PTI get away with treating Dan LeBatard the way they do? Also, as far as female ESPN personalities go, your Maximum Leader likes Hannah Storm. The one he can’t get used to is Cindy Brunson. Brunson’s eyes weird out your Maximum Leader.

Carry on.

Quick links and interesting fact

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader is preparing for the State of the Union address tonight. For the first time in many years he will watch the address live. He hasn’t watched a State of the Union since the one in January 2002. He didn’t watch Bush’s speeches because he couldn’t stand to listen to Bush’s delivery. He always read Bush speeches. Your Maximum Leader has generally avoided President Obama’s speeches because they are lofty and sound magnificent, but are essentially lots of sound and fury signifying nothing. That said, your Maximum Leader is interested to hear what the President will say tonight…

Speaking of Congress (sort of)… Did you know that on this date in 1791 Congress passed the Excise Whiskey Tax. Passage of the act lead to the Whiskey Rebellion. Your Maximum Leader will have to thank a tweet from the Capitol Historical Society for that little tidbit…

Did you catch the post over on the Volokh Conspiracy about the changing Kibbutzim of Israel? No? You should. Your Maximum Leader was, in a debate on socialism, always willing to concede the point that the Kibbutzim of Israel appeared to be a successful implementation of the socialist idea. While he would quibble with anyone as to how the model would work on a wider scale, he was always willing to say that they seemed to work. (Lucky for your Maximum Leader, none of the socialists he knew - or knows - seem to care much for Kibbutzim and the subject rarely came up in a wider context of socalism.) Apparently now your Maximum Leader will no longer have to concede the point of a successful socialist experiment.

Speaking of Kibbutzim, your Maximum Leader’s mother had a good friend who’s sister married a Kibbutznik and was loving her life there. This friend’s sister came to visit in the US and brought along one of here friends from the Kibbutz. The friend was single and looking for a man. She was also up there on the list of the hottest babes your Maximum Leader has ever spent time with. If your Maximum Leader had been slightly older (he was about 17 at the time - she was about 22) and Jewish he might have tried to pitch a little woo in her direction. He would have failed of course, but he would have probably tried.

Your Maximum Leader, although he doesn’t have the money for it, was shopping around for a laptop computer for himself. The computing needs of the Villainous offspring are increasing and he would like to get a nice laptop for himself. He has been looking at a Mac. But he keeps coming back to an Alienware machine. Yesterday he was sorely tempted to make a purchase he couldn’t afford. Yesterday there was a one day sale on select Alienware machines. They had a M15X that was pretty hopped up for $360 off regular price (total cost $1500). He didn’t bite, but feels like it was a good deal. He’ll likely wait until the M11X comes out and sees how that compares in price to other models.

Apparently much hay is being made about this fellow O’Keefe. You may have heard of him a few months ago when he posed as a pimp and went to various ACORN offices and got advise from the friendly ACORN people on how to avoid taxes and such on his prostitution ring. Well now he has been (rightfully) arrested for attempting to bug a phone in an office of Senator Mary Landrieu. Talk about stupid. One would have hoped that after gaining so much acclaim he might have gotten himself an advisor who might have told him that bugging a phone is a bad idea. An illegal idea in fact. Your Maximum Leader doesn’t have much sympathy for people being stupid. James O’Keefe appears to be stupid.

That is about it…

Carry on.

An ethical dilemma.

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader has been feeling rather funky for the past few days. He’s got a lot on his plate at the Villainschloss. Major repairs in the dungeon are costing more than anticipated. And now your Maximum Leader is facing a serious ethical/financial dilemma.

You see… Your Maximum Leader’s trusted hound got a cut on her left rear leg about two years ago. It was slow to heal, but it healed. We thought she was fine. Then she started licking the leg way more than she should. It got sorta nasty looking. But she stopped and it healed up again. Then at the end of last year she started the licking again. A wound developed. We took her to the vet. The vet prescribed some serious drugs for her. Our dog spent the next 8 weeks on various drugs recouperating. It looked like she was all healed up. Total cost of Vet and drugs: $800. About two weeks ago she started licking the leg again. We went back to the vet. The infection in her leg had returned. We got more drugs, but this time there doesn’t seem to be as much of a positive response to them. The Vet has now recommended we take her to a veterinary surgeon who could cut out the infection and see if there is something else in there causing the problems. Approximate cost: $2500. There is no guarantee of a favorable or final result from surgery.

Now your Maximum Leader is facing the massive amount of spending going on at the house, and the prospect of a massive amount of spending on the health of our dog. He has to admit that he has more than once wondered if he should even seriously consider spending the money on our dog. But every time he starts down that path of reasoning he feels like a heartless ass. At what point is a dog a dog and not a four-legged loving member of the family? Your Maximum Leader could probably swing the various home repairs and one surgery. It would require a bit of creative budgeting; but it could happen. If anything happened after that…

Carry on.

Dirty soap

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader wonders how one can feel good about washing one’s hands when the soap dish (in which the soap bar is located) is dirty - or if the pump on the bottle soap is dirty and crusty?

Is your Maximum Leader the only one who keeps dispensers of cleaning materials clean?

Carry on.

Lesser Known Greek Philosophers

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader received this little bit of You Tube humour from the Air Marshal. It made him laugh. Your Maximum Leader presents it for your viewing pleasure.

Book One:

Book Two:

Carry on.

Pseudo-deep question

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader was in the mood for a lamb stew yesterday. Normally, this would be a craving that would require a trip to a butcher and some cooking. But, since his Monday visit to the good Smallholder, he now has a freezer full of lamb. So, your Maximum Leader had to decide an important question… To get a larger cut of lamb and roast it, thereby getting the requisite cooked lamb for the stew, or get some of the smaller “stew-sized” chunks (separately packaged by the Smallholder’s butcher) and slow cook them in the crock pot to get the required cooked lamb. Your Maximum Leader opted for the latter course. This course also gave him a broth from which he could make a gravy.

So, your Maximum Leader cooked his lamb, made gravy out of the broth, then prepared his very simple lamb stew. While his lamb stew was coming together, he boiled and mashed some potatoes and steamed up some broccoli.

When all was prepared, your Maximum Leader, Mrs Villain, and the Wee Villain settled down for dinner. (The Villainettes are out of town for their annual trip to Mrs Villain’s parents.)

After dinner your Maximum Leader was cleaning up. He had a few scraps from the Wee Villain’s plate and Mrs Villain’s plate. He put them together, added just a touch of the gravy from the stew to the mix and gave them to his faithful hound, Maia. She devoured the treat and the sat politely — yet gazing longingly at the leftovers, until your Maximum Leader informed her there would be no more for her tonight.

Then the pseudo-deep question struck him… Would Maia be able to recognize a live lamb as the meat she just ate? For example, if your Maximum Leader brought his faithful hound with him to Smallholder’s farm would the dog be able to see/smell the sheep/lambs and know that if you cook up that beastie for a little while and then cook it in some gravy you have a very tasty meal? Would a dog recognize any taste in common between a serving of lamb that was cooked and fed to it by humans and a lamb it might have killed and eaten raw in the wild?

Of course the answers to all these questions is of course the dog wouldn’t know… But it made your Maximum Leader wonder for a minute.

Carry on.

Atheism and Ethics

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader and his good friends, The Smallholder and the Minister of Propaganda, got to talking about athesim, faith, culture, and reason during our all to short visit two weeks ago. The conversation we had is one that has still been floating in and out of your Maximum Leader’s mind when he has had free time for contemplation. In our conversation the Smallholder and Minister of Propaganda were both espousing ethics and social behavior as governed by reason. Your Maximum Leader objected saying that faith and tradition and custom have an important role to play.

The Smallholder and Minister of Propaganda asserted that while tradition and custom have a role to play - reason should trump custom and tradition. Smallholder pulled out the faith-based/traditional bias against homosexuals and homosexual marriage as a case where reason would show that our society’s behavior in this area is unacceptable. Your Maximum Leader changed the context of the debate somewhat by saying that the problem of reason alone is that reasoned arguments rely on the acceptance of premises. Once you accept a broad premise, it is possible to reason away some pretty awful stuff. Then your Maximum Leader brought up the case of the Downs Syndrome baby. Can one construct a reasoned case whereby the aborting of a child with Downs Syndrome is acceptable? The conversation started to get interesting when the Smallholder and Minister of Propaganda started to disagree with each other based on the assumption of certain premises.

It was getting very interesting when we three were suddenly interrupted by the more pressing issue of what beers to purchase for ourselves to consume. Alas, we didn’t get back to ethics again… (But the beers were quite good!)

In a moment of strange serindipty, an interesting piece appeared in a recent Washington Post. The piece by Michael Gerson is called “What Atheists Can’t Answer.” Allow your Maximum Leader to cite the major thrust of Gerson’s piece:

If God were dethroned as the arbiter of moral truth, it would not, of course, mean that everyone joins the Crips or reports to the Playboy mansion. On evidence found in every culture, human beings can be good without God. And [Christopher] Hitchens is himself part of the proof. I know him to be intellectually courageous and unfailingly kind, when not ruthlessly flaying opponents for taking minor exception to his arguments. There is something innate about morality that is distinct from theological conviction. This instinct may result from evolutionary biology, early childhood socialization or the chemistry of the brain, but human nature is somehow constructed for sympathy and cooperative purpose.

But there is a problem. Human nature, in other circumstances, is also clearly constructed for cruel exploitation, uncontrollable rage, icy selfishness and a range of other less desirable traits.

So the dilemma is this: How do we choose between good and bad instincts? Theism, for several millennia, has given one answer: We should cultivate the better angels of our nature because the God we love and respect requires it. While many of us fall tragically short, the ideal remains.

Atheism provides no answer to this dilemma. It cannot reply: “Obey your evolutionary instincts” because those instincts are conflicted. “Respect your brain chemistry” or “follow your mental wiring” don’t seem very compelling either. It would be perfectly rational for someone to respond: “To hell with my wiring and your socialization, I’m going to do whatever I please.” C.S. Lewis put the argument this way: “When all that says ‘it is good’ has been debunked, what says ‘I want’ remains.”

Some argue that a careful determination of our long-term interests — a fear of bad consequences — will constrain our selfishness. But this is particularly absurd. Some people are very good at the self-centered exploitation of others. Many get away with it their whole lives. By exercising the will to power, they are maximizing one element of their human nature. In a purely material universe, what possible moral basis could exist to condemn them? Atheists can be good people; they just have no objective way to judge the conduct of those who are not.

In his essay, Gerson seems to point to one of your Maximum Leader’s all-time favourite arguments against a purely rational basis for ethics. Namely, human selfishness and self interest. The Hobbesian in him smiles widely whenever we have to confront our basic animal nature — and are shocked by what we see.

Of course, your Maximum Leader doesn’t believe that tradition/custom/faith is the end-all/be-all of ethics and morality. But he does rely upon it rather more than would the Smallholder or the Minister of Propaganda. Your Maximum Leader, whenever the discussion turns to a purely rational basis for ethics, is always reminded of the passage from Burke that can be paraphrased by stating that logical arguments are all fine and good until you disagree with the outcome of the argument. (NB: Your Maximum Leader wishes he could find the passage to cite, but he can’t. If you are familiar with Burke’s Reflections and can give the citation, your Maximum Leader will insert it.)

Your Maximum Leader should, by way of fairness, point out that Christopher Hitchens reponds to Gerson’s peice with his own. It is, like all Hitchen’s peices, a good read. You can find it here.

In an odd way, this discussion also lends itself to the discussion that our dear friend the Big Hominid is having about the nature of “God’s plan.” Certainly human suffering is a great argument against a benevolent Diety or divine plan. Some of the same underlying issues are also brought to bear on the nature of ethics and behavior.

Food for thought, and perhaps a more detailed posting…

Carry on.

Comments on Suicide

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader will make a confession. In front of you all he will admit that he hasn’t read his loyal minion Bill’s web site in about a week. He could make all sorts of excuses for this, but there aren’t any really. Normally he reads the blogs of all his “Loyal Minions” daily… Sorry Bill…

That apology said, your Maximum Leader did want to nitpick on something Bill wrote just recently. Bill wrote a thoughtful and lengthly exposition on suicide recently. There is a lot there to comment upon. Especially since your Maximum Leader disagrees with a number of Bill’s conclusions. But your Maximum Leader will focus on one part of Bill’s essay in this post.

Bill writes:

The logic is “Thou shalt not kill” and if one kills oneself, it is sinful. But this is a very absolute proscription. It requires that a person in agony beyond any normal comprehension [it does exist, I’ve been there, bk] with no hope of alleviation must continue to suffer until they die without outside intervention. To take this position and blame God for it is to make God a partner to torture. This is totally incompatible with a benevolent God. However, if God cannot or will not violate the laws of nature to relieve this suffering which must grate against the omnibenevolent side of His nature, then He becomes by default a party to torture. In such a conflict, brought on by the very nature of the omnipotent God, the choice to end one’s life voluntarily seems hardly to be a sin, but rather the resolution of a difficult problem. By my reasoning, suicide under such circumstances is not a sin.

Your Maximum Leader will disagree with this particular passage - but perhaps not for the reason one mght think.

Why do we believe in an omnibenevolent God? Bill’s point above only holds true if one accepts that God is omnibenevolent. Why do we suppose that He is?

Excursus: It is funny that your Maximum Leader should focus on this point. He has an ongoing discussion with a particularly devout friend of his that always boils down to this point. If that friend is reading this (which is doubtful) take heed… All the stuff that follows is old-hat to you.

Your Maximum Leader for many years was caught up in the problem of evil. He looked at, accepted, then rejected, many answers to the problem of theodicy. Eventually he came to think that evil exists because God Himself allows it to exist. There is suffering, intractable pain, disasters, and all other ills because God allows them to exist.

One can try to construct the various arguments to try and preserve the concept of an omnibenevolent God; but at some point - as Bill points out - you always make God complicit in some “unsavory” proposistions. Most devout people have issues with making God complicit in suffering. But where do we stand if we accept God’s acceptance of evil and suffering?

Sometime it may be much easier to accept that God is beyond our poor human ability to define. Our attempts to define Him are nothing but limitations on God’s nature, limitations we impose on Him in an attempt to understand Him. But God is ultimately beyond our understanding. His purpose in setting about creating everything is beyond our understanding. Perhaps the existance of evil and suffering is also beyond our understanding.

To get this back to Bill’s points on suicide… As harsh as it is to say, perhaps God has a purpose to our suffering. A purpose which is not for us to understand.

Just something to think on.

Carry on.

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