Quarterly Potpourri: 2012, Q3
There is something of a thread connecting some of these items in that they are follow-ups to topics left hanging from previous columns. For example:
I have a good selection of guns and have made up my mind that if it comes to diapers, I shall see myself out with a gun. I will not wear diapers — that's the end point for me, the milestone I am determined not to pass.
This generated comments and emails along the lines of: "Yeah, that's what they all say." A couple of readers pointed out an implicit paradox — that such an extreme act of desperation is motivated by loss of physical capability, yet you need physical capability to go through with that terminal act.
Obviously some foreknowledge of your catastrophic decline is necessary, and procrastination would not be your friend. People manage it, though. Here's one:
A desperate WWII veteran killed himself with a shotgun because he feared he would have to go into a care home and loose [sic] his independence, an inquest heard.
George Duckmanton, 88, whose eyesight was failing, was terrified by his deteriorating health and did not want to lose his freedom.
The comment thread seems to be entirely supportive: He's a brave man that "made the right decision," etc. Although, mind you, the story is from a British newspaper.
I got masses of reader help and advice on that, for which many thanks all around. The piece I had left over was the "connector," part number 65 in the schematic on the amazing Numrich website. The safety doesn't work without it, a thing I had not noticed because I was using shotted dummy shells to test the mechanism, so absent fear of an accidental firing I did not think of the safety.
So did the shotgun work on Saturday's live-firing test? Yes it did — perfectly, through three rounds of skeet and some range work. Heh.
When grandfather Alf Thompson saw a knife-wielding robber, he knew exactly how to tackle him — by turning into the Cavalier swordsman he loves to play in re-enactments of Civil War battles.
The old boy, a member of the Sealed Knot society of reenactors, went to a store to buy a newspaper and walked in on a robbery in progress. His 17th-century military skills took over, and the perp is now serving four years at Her Majesty's pleasure.
Sectionalism for ever. On the matter of our own Civil War (War Between the States, War of Northern Aggression, Second American Revolution, whatever), apparently it's never over. NewsBusters has a piece on travel writer Chuck Thompson, who thinks this would be a better country without the South:
"We didn't let the South go when we had the chance. We would have avoided a lot of problems," Thompson said …
The problem, he said, is that "dim-witted, mouth-breathing, racist rednecks" represent enormous "voting quorums" in the South.
As commenters noted, both at the NewsBusters original and at AmRen where I first saw the story, you can be pretty sure Thompson is one of those types who turns purple and sputters in the presence of a perceived stereotype.
The general tenor of comments from Southerners at both sites, however, is: "Secession? Bring it on!"
The North-South antipathy in the USA is huge and apparently permanent. A couple of years ago I was chatting with a contractor who was doing some maintenance work on my house. He was a local Long Island guy from a local family, a high-school graduate, and deeply unintellectual. When I mentioned I had just come back from a trip to the South, he went into full Yankee fire-breathing mode: "Those damn rednecks … been nothing but trouble … time to teach them another lesson."
In my own recent explorations of the Civil War era, I've learned about the Northern "Copperheads," AKA "Peace Democrats." One faction of them wanted to make an armistice with the South and restore the antebellum Union, but without New England. They thought that region's moralizing abolitionists were incompatible with the Constitution and the rest of the country.
I wouldn't go that far, but it's interesting to see that sectionalism is still alive and well, and not only in the South. And those damn moralizing New Englanders can get kind of tiresome.
The problem with nihilism. If you were to ask me for an honest opinion, I'd say that no, there aren't any gods, and no, there is no afterlife, and no, life has no purpose outside of itself, and yes, the only facts about the world we can know with high probability are those delivered by science.
I'll allow that my actual mode of life is not in precise agreement with these opinions. How could it be? David Hume, just after he has gotten through disproving the existence of pretty much everything, including his own self, turns and says:
This sceptical doubt … is a malady, which can never be radically cured, but must return upon us every moment, however we may chase it away, and sometimes may seem entirely free from it … Carelessness and inattention alone can afford us any remedy. For this reason I rely entirely upon them …
So do I, so do I.
Should you wish to take a bath in the purest nihilism, though, you might take a look at philosopher Alex Rosenberg's book The Atheist's Guide to Reality.
Nihilism? Rosenberg embraces the insult.
About the only thing that there is to worry about with nihilism is the name. Most people are nice most of the time, and that includes nihilists. There is no reason for anyone to worry about our stealing the silver or mistreating the children in our care …
Scientism has to be nihilistic, but it turns out to be a nice nihilism after all.
(Yes, he embraces the term "scientism," too.)
The guy has a point. I have never stolen anyone's spoons, nor mistreated any children in my care. My own children, in fact, have been spoiled rotten (a form of mistreatment in itself, some would say, but hardly amoral).
Rosenberg is a tad too reductionist for me, though. It's all very well, and probably true, to debunk free will as mostly a matter of unconscious brain processes, but the everyday language of volition — "Grant decided to launch a frontal attack at Cold Harbor …" — gets us through the day and offers a good high-level summary of several trillion deterministic events.
There's a place for reductionism, and it's probably the truest fundamental description of reality. But imagination is part of the human package, and it needs to be fed if we're to take an interest in anything at all.