Stephen W. Browne | Rants and Raves

Oct/06

12

Random thoughts of the day

I had to make the title a little wordy. Thomas Sowell uses “Random Thoughts” and while I don’t think he’s got a lock on the title, I’d feel a bit presumptuous using it myself. For the record, I’d read the man’s laundry lists, which ought to tell you quite a bit about where I’m coming from. And, “ahem”, I have signed copies of Basic Economics and The Vision of the Anointed that he sent me after an email exchange.

I highly recommend, A Clash of Visions by Sowell. Reading it was one of those “Ah-ha!” experiences that made an awful lot of things clearer to me. Mostly about why I believe the things I do and where people I disagree with are coming from. An interesting side effect was that I became a bit more compassionate about those I disagree with passionately.

But what made even more of an impression on me was his two-sentence observation that the Law of Diminishing Returns applies to morality. That it is possible to be “too moral”. That one set my head spinning. I’ll have more to say about that later.

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I couldn’t help but notice yesterday that alongside the TV news coverage of the North Korean nuclear test was a lot of coverage of a 21-year-old college student in Maine who has gone missing. This kind of news is sometimes derided as sensationalism of the “If it bleeds, it leads” kind of journalism. My own reaction was, what a humane society we have, in spite of everything else you could say about it. A nation of 300 million people or thereabouts, routinely shows its concern about the plight of one individual.

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Just had to break and change a diaper and let my wife sleep a little longer. My wife is not a morning person like I am, she doesn’t wake as easily or as quickly as I do. A lot of this has to do with being a mother. I do the good male feminist thing and help as much as I can. I believe I change diapers at least as often as she does. (I’m motivated, I know as an older father that this could be my one shot to enjoy my kids, I may not get a second chance with grandkids.) But the irreducible fact is that motherhood is physically hard on women in ways I can do nothing to help with and it shows sometimes.

And yet, is there anything more beautiful than her smile when our five year old comes in to hug her awake, or when I lay the baby down on the pillow next to her?

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And speaking of wisdom expressed in brief remarks, has anyone ever defined love better than Robert Heinlein? “Love is when another person’s happiness is essential to your own.” And the earthy, descriptive corollary, “Love is what goes on when you’re not horney.”

And Raymond Chandler on manhood; when a woman asks Phillip Marlow, “How can a man who is so tough be so gentle?”

“If I weren’t tough, I wouldn’t be alive. If I couldn’t be gentle, I wouldn’t deserve to be alive.”

I recently quoted this is a class, and I swear I heard sighing around the room from several women.

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Something I noticed recently was that every time I’ve read someone quoted as having said that the world is a dangerous place (usually in the context of foreign relations), it’s done in a sneering, condescending sort of way that strongly implies that the person quoted is provincial (or “ethnocentric” in the Soc. sci. jargon), xenophobic and paranoid.

Well damn it, the world is a dangerous place. We can agree on that while disagreeing about how to deal with it.

It seems to me that the denial of that fact expresses a dangerous kind of cowardice. Running away from danger is not necessarily cowardice, America was populated by a great many people who ran away from tyranny, oppression, war etc. Sometimes running away is the best or only available option. When I teach martial arts, I like to remind my students that military experts regard the highest command skill as the ability to lead a retreat in good order. A retreat from an enemy attacking with overwhelming force too easily turns into a rout.

But denying that a danger is real? That’s the kind of cowardice that gets you killed.

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3 comments

  • Cindi · October 13, 2006 at 1:32 pm

    Yessir, there’s a name for that and it isn’t a river in Egypt.

    Sometimes it’s not even that; it’s a fervent hope that the dragon eats you last.

  • Joshua Zader · October 13, 2006 at 7:11 pm

    An enjoyable collection of thoughts, Stephen. I look forward to reading your remarks on how the law of diminishing returns applies to morality. That sounds very intriguing to me.

  • dchamil · October 14, 2006 at 4:09 pm

    Was the person brave or foolhardy? This is a judgement often made with hindsight. If you got away with it, you were brave. If it was a disaster, you were foolhardy.

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