The shallow pond

As thought experiments go I like the original trolley problem the best. If one were made to choose ones preference under duress I mean. This is likely due to my proclivity and penchant for rolling stock. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate burning buildings, lifeboats and shallow ponds, its just that inclines, runaway boxcars and switch tracks resonate more deeply with me. If you’re going to spend time ruminating the nuances of your ethical chalk-line boundary, might as well add an element of trains.

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Enter Peter Singer. Philosopher, savant and Australian. (I like to pair two positives with a negative, that way I don’t appear too sycophantic). Once upon a time Mr Singer proposed a thought experiment called the Shallow Pond, which has given me, over the years, a lot to think about. (And has possibly driven me a little mad)

You are wandering through a wood when you come across a child drowning in a shallow pond. It would require very little effort for you to reach the child and rescue him, perhaps at the expense of getting muddy and ruining your shoes. What would you do?

Most of us would rescue the child. We deem this the ‘good’ and ‘moral’ choice. (I agonize briefly about the use of single quotation marks, but then decide to leave it) As opposed to walking off and letting the child drown.

This thought experiment is then made analogous to real life, every day children around the world are dying, instead of drowning in a pond they are dying of malaria and bilharzia, yet we don’t do anything to stop those children from dying. (even though we could)

I can attest I would likely attempt to rescue the child in the pond…. but I don’t really care for the broader inclusion of children dying of malaria nor do I really care about the relatively small effort it would take on my part to donate a mosquito net through the effective altruism movement.

While I initially balked at my seemingly callous dismissal of this theory it would have been disingenuous of me to mount my hobbyhorse and defend something I didn’t believe in. I also suddenly realized I was deeply suspicious of Utilitarianism.

This was quite an interesting revelation to me. I suppose I could lie and say I don’t really have the means to support effective altruism. But I do. Unpacking my thoughts over time I’ve decided that the first brick in my bulwark against collectivism is out-of-sight-out-of-mind. Being put on the spot on the gently lapping edge of some indeterminate body of water feels somehow different to saving some nameless, faceless homo sapiens obscured from my field of vision by intervening terrain and the curvature of the earth.

But really most of my sea-wall comes from a belief that we are not responsible for other peoples happiness and well being and that ‘goodness’ in the pursuit of collective happiness is an academic pursuit at best.

That’s not to say I don’t have ‘altruistic’ tendencies, but they are limited to my immediate group, most likely doled out in anticipation of reciprocity or some genetic disposition that governs progeny.

 

Besides I get caught up worrying about rabbit holes. After all when faced with a frivolous consumer purchase or the opportunity cost of effective altruism, isn’t the ‘good’ decision always the effective altruism? Stare long enough into the abyss and almost everything becomes a frivolous purchase.

Sure. My inaction causes death. Guaranteed. Every hour I don’t donate a mosquito net, the statistical likelihood increases that someone in the world dies because of me. Over the course of my life I could have potentially saved… hundreds of people. But instead my apathy just causes death and misery.

That’s quite a responsibility. Its also why philosophy is bad for you.

Back.

Work has been murdering any time I might have availed myself towards whimsical pursuits that don’t put food on my table and games in my PlayStation. And while the ship is still taking on water, I have one foot firmly on the neck of my vexation and depriving it of oxygen,

(Mixed metaphors the sign of someone who is feeling better about life)

Anyways. In the immortal words of the Ramones. ‘Hey Ho, let go’.

 

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The dude with the direct (red) telephone to god… and this the best you could come up with…

Doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the great beyond.

 

01.05.2018 – Tuesday (Workers day)

Well done. Go get a sticker. – My wife, post coitus. 

Its a line my daughter brought home from school. It now gets used… more often than it probably should. Although I’m obviously quite chuffed/relieved my efforts are gold-star on my (ample) forehead worthy.

Having exerted myself in creative ways I tried to sleep in this morning. At 5am my daughter was standing next to our bed with her animal cards. ‘Whats this daddy?’, (holding up a card of a leopard toad). Frog I say bleary-eyed. ‘Toad’, she corrects me, clearly disappointed with my lack of knowledge.

In other animals news.

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This is the saddest looking lion I have ever seen. I took my my daughter to the Zoo on Sunday morning. I am usually carefully neutral about zoos, viewing them as necessary but teetering on evil… But this anthropomorphic feline really made me consider my assertions. In the end I decided I could argue it both ways and that I should just go back to neutrality. But I was seriously wavering there for awhile.

I’m at work… on the most Marxist holiday.

I’d like to say its because I’m a true believer in laissez-faire Capitalism. But really its because I need some quiet time so that I can get stuck into my scary looking inbox. I have all the tools I need to make this happen.

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Airpods, coloring-in pencils and a Glock. I feel that covers me for 99% of eventualities. Speaking on which I should probably get on with it…

26.04.2018 – Thursday

We have modest goals now. Like trying to get out of the house at 7am. Why are we so bad at this? – My wife, seventy-twenty-three.

…while I drag the two year old towards the car by her ankles. The old gods, Wotan and Freya raise their clipboards in unison, I’m in serious jeopardy of loosing my status as a bona fide German, punctuality is not an optional extra in this geographically bound subcategory of Homo Sapiens. I may have to haul out some cultural stereotypes to rack up some quick credit. Socks and sandals (apparently) is a surefire ten points.

Maybe its the threat of violence and ironclad discipline that is lacking? Maybe we should enroll my daughter in assassin school instead of a Montessori. But then we’d have to fear for our lives as well deal with the constant frustration of a toddler exerting her will. I’m not sure I’m ready for that level of constant vigilance. I already got eye-gouged once this morning.

Tomorrow is a public holiday here. I’m not sure which one*. I can barely remember the made up Christian holidays never mind the spurious secular ones meant to… actually I have no idea. Maybe if there was free beer or gladiatorial combat I’d be more into it.

*Freedom day! (I checked)

Having never been oppressed or deprived of liberty (other than by the tax-man) I can’t really empathize. I mean I could try… but it would just be empty platitudes meant to virtue signal.

25.05.2018 – Wednesday (I think)

Gurgle. 

You know when you were younger and your parental unit walked in on you and your friend playing and they would ask, ‘are you playing nicely?’

I’ve thought about this question… and I’ve decided that the answer is no, I’m not playing nicely.

I saw this tweet today. It perfectly encapsulates how I feel about life at the moment.

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Other than this profound realisation… I am actually fine.

I am also procrastinating. I should be paying attention. I’ve been grappling (I think that might be too kind a verb) with this (stupid) tax calculation for… about two days now. I’ve now finally asked my wife to help me. This is basically my default setting. Try something obviously beyond me. Get frustrated. Get angry. Get depressed. Ask my wife to open the child-proof container.

Its a vicious cycle.

My day started off at Starbucks. The slowest Starbucks in the history of the world. Ever. Also the guy in front of me didn’t know what he wanted and then had to connect to the free wifi before he could pay for his Caramel Frappuccino® . This incensed me for a lot of different reasons. Mostly because despite sporting the appearance of a grownup he was just so clearly inept at life. How did he get here? What evolutionary fluke was playing out? Should I step on his larynx?

Things never really recovered from there. I spent my day fighting with people and sending mean spirited emails to my banker. Which I then apologised for. I was hoping for some quid pro quo, you know an admission that it was his ineptitude that caused me to lose my temper and write nasty things… but alas no such admission was forthcoming.

I’ve learnt to moderate my angry replies somewhat in my old age. Difficult to come back from ‘I hope you get sick and die’. (that particular customer still hasn’t paid me)

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I’m glad why wife is struggling with my tax query. She’s had to haul out her university textbook. Seriously this thing is thicker than the bible… but with less incest and murder.

She’s asked me to forward her my spreadsheet. Watching me work in excel on my Mac is making her… twitchy. She doesn’t say anything, but I know its because I can barely colour between the lines and she’s third year fine arts. Watching her alt-tab through fifteen million pages starts to make me nauseous. I go eat some cake.

Its coffee cake. With walnuts.

We had a two legged wall jumper in our garden last night. The Basset hound discovered him while peeing at one AM and gave chase.

We live on one and a half acres of trees and shrubbery (the non Monty Python version). Its potentially the least tactical advantageous place to go tromping around after intruders despite all the Dutch courage heavy ordnance and body armour can provide. Its not a very interesting story though and I only mention it to get up to five hundred words.

23.04.2018 – Monday

I swallowed a bug.

That is a bit of a misnomer. It’s more like I inhaled a bug. I can feel it crawling around in my alveoli. Well more likely flailing around in the sticky gumbo, like some world war one trench fighter, slowly succumbing to the undertow of muck that coats the inside of my lung. I can feel its death rattle though… and its upsetting me. Die already.

This caps off my crowning achievement for the day. Which was wrestling a half decomposed rat away from the Basset Hound before he could eat it. It came apart while we grappled for ownership of said rodent. I then had to pry his jaws open with my fingers to extract the other half before he gulp-gulp-swallowed.

This is still better than the dead bloated toad he tried eat once. But not worse than the time he rolled in human faeces. That was truly a vomit inducing affair. Just thinking about it gives me the heebie-jeebies.

I feel this is some sort of (greater) metaphor for my life at the moment… like I’ve been (unfairly) singled out to have a torrid time. Embrace the suck. Or something along those lines. On the plus side I am still alive and standing. So there is upside to all this workside calamity… even if it isn’t all immediately apparent to me.

May these two hundred and fifty words provided proof of life and underscore that I have yet to succumb to some spurious malady.

 

 

 

 

17.04.2018 – Tuesday

‘I got schmutz on me’ – My two year old (getting her Yiddish on)

 

I’ve just watched ‘Farmer in the dell’, seven times in a row. Apparently… ‘this one’ is my favourite. (it really isn’t)

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Any chance I can be electrocuted with a car battery or waterboarded instead? I don’t I really mean that, but I’m wallowing in self pity at the moment… and it’s making me crotchety. Well, more so than usual.

I started my day off trying to multitask. As the male of the species this is usually where things start to go wrong for me. Attempting to unlock the car, answer my phone and toss my messenger bag into the back seat, I fumbled my tupperware and dropped my plantains.

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I’d like to say that I was stoic in this face of this development, C’est La Vie etc. But I’d be lying. I proceeded to annunciate some choice blasphemy, interspersed liberally with cuss words (used as conjunctions). You’d think with the amount of vitriol being espoused something serious had happened.

A grown-up would have moved on. And therein lies the rub. Unfortunately this incident turned out to be the splinter that festered and rotted the appendage off at the joint. Or something to that effect, because the rest of my day never really improved.

I’m making it better now with cure-all, restorative ice-cream, directly out of the tub, like some post breakup ritual experience. I also tried to quit my job today. Which is harder than it sounds.

15.04.2018 – Sunday (bloody) Sunday

What’s worse than your Basset Hound drinking his own body weight in water just before bedtime? It’s a trick question. There’s nothing worse.

‘Wake up human, I need to go pee’ 

A quick survey of past experiences means this REM fracturing occurrence will likely begin at two thirty seven AM and end approximately thirty minutes later. It’s rarely a case of go outside and come back in again… afterall a virtual menagerie of night creatures have tramped through the perimeter by this stage… and ALL of these interloper spoors need to be thoroughly investigated via snout, sent for threat assessment and then graded according to suspiciousness and girth of critter.

Color me excited.

‘Are you listening to church music?’
‘It’s John Cougar Mellencamp’
‘Okay… It sounds like church music’

While our Venn diagrams do overlap musically, my wife tends to view anything that isn’t Seattle circa 1990 as straying from alternative orthodoxy and should therefore be (at least initially) regarded with suspicion. (I click next). Kasabian.

‘Better?’
‘Meh.’

In Johannesburg when the mercury dips below 18C (65F) its broadly considered a sign of the end times. In very short order the dress code goes from Billabong beach casual to Northface Antarctic expedition. Also everyone suddenly starts subjectively hypothesizing how this winter is ‘Going to be REALLY* bad’.

*By REALLY bad they mean two days where the temperature will drop briefly below zero. One of those days might also be cloudy.

Since my toe-nails, cuticles and actual toes received a smattering of purple nail polish yesterday I knew I was purple-traitoring (perpetrating) a cultural faux pas by committing to flip flops today.

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But… I felt it was more important to… eh… strut my stuff as it were.

Unfortunately strutting my stuff (and trying to embarrass my wife) meant I clipped my little toe on this… f’ing… bolt

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Which cut my toe open. (I’m not having much luck with my ability to amble along these days)

Soon I was trailing O+ through the mall like it was the invasion of Normandy. (this may be a slight exaggeration)

After about thirty meters my profound and very public display of hemorrhaging  was remedied with a Disney band-aid (featuring a portrait of Princess Elsa) and a suggestion that I should ‘toughen up’. It does not get any less alpha-male than this.

I briefly considered intimating that maybe ‘someone’ should buy me a lollipop for being particularly brave… you know… under the circumstances. But then decided better of it it.

I spent the rest of the day in the kitchen. I made a roast chicken for lunch. Baked liver bread for the dogs. And fried up enough plantains and sweet potato to keep me out of ‘real’ carbohydrates for the week.

I also bought a west African Yam this morning. It’s a serious beast of a tuber (onion used for scale).

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I have no idea how I’m going to attempt cooking it yet. It’s not a very sexy vegetable, I cannot lie.

Apparently it’s good for you.

14.04.2018 – Saturday

‘Who ate the last cookie? I know it wasn’t you, because you would have left the empty box in the cupboard’

I feigned ignorance, shrugging non committedly…. but actually… it was me… I just inexplicably changed my modus operandi. Consider me admonished.

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For my sins I was corralled and then subjected to adornment. I would have preferred some cuticle work and maybe a seaweed wrap (applied to the soothing sounds of some Enya-esque alter ego). Unfortunately I got the backstreet hatchet job experience, the real life consequences of diminished bargaining power.

But that only happened much later… before things started going really awry for me we had breakfast at the Farmers market. (which included carrot-cake and a plus-sized chocolate croissant)

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Not exactly the cornerstones of high density nutrition and paleo. I mollified my concerns with dietary platitudes and bandied about terms like ‘cheat days’. It seemed to work and for good measure I inhaled a home made chicken pie. It was pure ambrosia of Olympusian* proportions. Just thinking about it now is illicting a Pavlovian response.

*My made up adjective for today.

We also bought eggs, homemade sauerkraut, sourdough and kimchi.

I love kimchi. I eat it on toast. I would write a poem about it, if only kimchi rhymed with… anything. Basically a haiku is my only option.

In your gut it does
probiotic health effects
but with garlic breath

(Counts out syllables on his fingers) I think that’s right.

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I also played with my DSLR for a bit.