Choice, vice, and the Protestant ethic for the 21st century…

Note: The following is loosely based on a recent conversation and nicely sums up what’s probably at the core of my life philosophy. It has been sanitized for your protection, or ribbed for your pleasure, or whatever…

Look, if you want to kill yourself, have at it. You want to whore yourself out? Go forth and do great things. Want to chase that high six times a day? You do you, kiddo. Want to escape from the world and go live in the woods or under a bridge somewhere? Help yourself. I don’t have any business telling you how to live – or rather it isn’t my business right up until how you want to live starts having an out-sized impact on those around you who are just trying to live their lives too.

You see, the thing is, I don’t really care about what are commonly called “vice” crimes. Drugs, gambling, prostitution – the old classics. As long as everyone involved is a consenting adult, why the hell do I care what they choose to do with or to themselves? Experience tells me that trying to save someone from themselves is almost the textbook definition of a losing proposition. I’m fully prepared to let people go on drinking and drugging and whoring and gambling to their heart’s content if that’s what they want to do.

Here’s the catch. When their decisions start interfering with other people who are just out in the world trying to do their own thing, I’m perfectly willing to see society crash down on them like the clenched fist of any angry god. When they start killing and thieving and generally making civilized life impossible for others, my level of sympathy with their “plight” drops to damned near zero.

When the drunk climbs behind the wheel or the addict breaks into a home or the gambler starts embezzling from their employer, I cheerfully advocate a policy of zero tolerance and swift, harsh retribution. In life you make your choices and the consequences should naturally follow. It’s not my job to shelter you from those consequences. It’s not society’s job to pick up the tab and bail people out because they’ve made shit decisions.

Some people call me misanthropic. They’re not wrong. Based on a lifetime of observation, I like to think my general misanthropy comes from a place of reason. Couple that with a firm belief in self-determination across all circumstances, and well, there’s a pretty high risk of sounding like an asshole. Of course just because you sound like an asshole doesn’t mean you’re wrong.
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I feel like I’m on to something here. Do the work. Be responsible for yourself. Basic guidelines for life not spent as a complete and utter drain on society. Maybe I’ve stumbled upon the Modified Protestant Ethic for the 21st Century.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. No paper towels. I’m all for environmental responsibility where it makes sense. I recycle. I’m replacing all the light bulbs in my house with LEDs. The new water heater I installed is ridiculously efficient (and has the price tag to match). Some things, though, are beyond the pale. I know that keeping old fashioned paper towels in your public restrooms is a hassle. They’re expensive, they end up all over the floor, and they become bags and bags of trash to be disposed of… even knowing that, I just don’t care. All I want to do after taking a wiz is wash my hands and be able to dry them. The underpowered, barely functional “hot air dryer” just doesn’t cut it since I don’t have 43 minutes to thoroughly dry my hands each time I used the facilities. Public restrooms are an unfortunate necessity. I don’t expect them to be gold plated but for the love of Pete, I’d like to be able to dry my hands.

2. The demand side. Given my predisposition towards fairly conservative economic principles I can safely be called something of a supply sider. Watching the US Coast Guard show off the nearly half billion dollars wort of cocaine and heroin interdicted last month, though, I’m not sure the who “drug thing” is something that we can fight principally from the supply side. As long as there’s a demand, the suppliers are going to find a means and method of supplying that demand – at an increasingly high cost on both sides. I’m not enough of a libertarian to think that flat out legalization of everything is a good idea, but it increasingly strikes me that to get after the issue with drugs means going after it on the demand side. Pouring increasingly large amounts of money into chasing the supply would seem to only garner continuingly middling results. I have no idea what the answer to the demand side is – treatment, sure, that will work in some cases. Start letting the addicts drop dead, or what I like to cheerily think of as letting Darwin have his due? OK, maybe it’s hard medicine but perhaps best in the long run if it means that subset of the population is no longer thieving and whoring and begging, which might help alleviate the impression that every city and small town in the country is well along the process of turning into a filth ridden hell hole.

3. The NFL. Stories are popping up on a number of news sites about the ratings hit the NFL has taken this year. Some sources are blaming the weather, others the rise of “activist” players. As someone who hasn’t watched a professional football game from start to finish since the late 1990s, I don’t really have a dog in the fight, but I can make a few observations. First and foremost, the NFL is a ratings driver. It’s not in danger of going out of business any time soon. With that said, the league would be well served to remember that despite the outward appearance of a nation of fierce team loyalists, the product they offer is entertainment and it’s subject to the same market forces that influence every other competitor out there trying to put their hands on viewer’s wallets. There has probably never been a time when there are more and better entertainment options available to the average American consumer than we have today. The fact that a game run by billionaires, played by millionaires, and marketed to the great swath of Americans who think of themselves as middle class is losing some of its grip on the market shouldn’t in any way be surprising. A good first step in bringing fans back into the fold would seem to be to making sure the paid performers don’t offend their viewers by dragging politics into what would otherwise be a nice mindless Sunday’s entertainment. Don’t put a stick in the eye of the people who you want to hand over enormous sums of money feels like it should be Rule #1.

What Doesn’t Annoy Jeff this Week?

What Annoys Jeff this Week is usually the place where I vent my spleen each week. Most of the time it’s easy enough to cull the “top three” things from the list and give them each a little paragraph of exposition. Some weeks, this one included, offer what I can only describe as an embarrassment of riches. In fact this week it would be easier to discuss the few things that have not annoyed me in some way.

1. The critters. Despite the bills for care, feeding, and entertainment, I can’t think of a time when I’ve ever begrudged one of my animals anything. Regardless of the stupidity going on “out there” beyond the four walls of the house, they’re consistent in their affection and pleasure at seeing me every afternoon. Even the cat. Walking through the door to be greeted by a wave of fur and slobber is the high water mark of each and every day.

2. Living rural. Every time I switch on the television I find myself faced with an endless amount of stupid things happening. For the most part that coverage is dedicated to the things happening in major cities here at home and around the globe. Now I’m tuned in to the local news outlets closely enough to know that there’s plenty of stupidity happening in Cecil County, too. Fortunately, my little corner of the place is remarkably serene. Now there may still be plenty of stupidity happening nearby, but we have the common decency to (mostly) keep in behind closed doors.

3. Blood. You don’t get to pick your family. What you end up with seems to be mostly be left up to the luck of the draw. Let me say that knowing that, I feel like I’ve been given a very fortunate hand to play. I’m looking forward to that rare opportunity of spending some quality time with them this weekend.

If there’s anything else you can think of this week, it’s safe to just go ahead and assume that it has annoyed me at some point.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Mostly they’ve annoyed me in their misguided majority opinion that the most popular style of rifle currently purchased in the United States for sport shooting and home defense is, in their opinion, “most useful in military service.” That would be a fine point of contention, I suppose, if anyone, anywhere actually employed the AR-15 in actual military service… which in my mind is a pretty good indication that military service is, in fact, not where it is most useful.

2. Sympathy for heroin users. My ancestral homeland in far western Maryland and my current home at the norther edge of the Eastern Shore have a lot in common. Both have a small urban center largely surrounded by very small towns and lots of rural land. The other thing they have in common is heroin. Where there’s heroin, from our big cities to our small towns there are apologists for people who use it. They’re sick. They have disease. It’s society’s fault.It’s no different than you and your high blood pressure from the red meat and carbs. Except it’s completely different, of course. Even allowing that addiction is a disease, there are pretty substantial differences. Newspapers aren’t filled with reports of violent crime and property theft because folks with high blood pressure because they couldn’t scrape up the funds for a dose of their medication. I might take a stroke and die, but I’m not apt to sell off the neighbor’s family silver or hold up the nearest liquor store in the process. Our friends the heroin users, though, they’re up to all manner of debauchery to “get their medicine.” You want to kill yourself, have at it. You want to whore yourself out to get a quick score, help yourself. When the bodies that start falling belong to other people or you start thieving, well, my level of sympathy for your plight falls to damned near zero.

3. Mexico. Apparently the Mexican government is upset that we’re going to return to them the unlawful immigrants who they allowed to cross through their country. “But they’re not Mexican nationals,” the foreign minister cries. I suppose that’s one of those things they might should have thought of before letting them cross the entire length of Mexico with a wink and a promise that they were just passing through. Actions, like elections, have consequences.

The secret to the good life…

The good people of Charlotte are far more tolerant and understanding than I have a tendency to be. If you and your friends step out onto the interstate in order to “protest,” I don’t feel bad at all if one of you finds yourself under the bus. I understand people stopping for the assembled crowd in front of them, but the first time a rock slammed into my windshield or I felt my life was otherwise endangered, I don’t believe I’d have any moral compunction about using 4-wheel drive and 381 horsepower to cleave through that crowd like a hot knife. I don’t ever seek violence, but don’t think for a minute that I’m shy about using every weapon I have at hand to preserve my own life. I value it far more than I do that of someone who decides wading out into the middle of I-85 is a good way to make their point.

I’m beginning to feel like a broken record when I say things like this, but then again I’ve never had much a warm fuzzy for organized “protestors.” In my experience the only thing they’re much good for was lunchtime entertainment back in the olden days when I worked in DC. Those Million Whatever marches, though, were mostly harmless for the average tourist or office worker. If your idea of a protest involves endangering life and destroying property, you’ve really ceased to be sympathetic in my estimation.

Wake up. Go to work. Come home. Make dinner. Have a few hours of entertainment. Go to bed. Repeat. There’s no great secret to the good life, but you kind of have to work for it… and no, looting the local Walmart and throwing rocks at commuters does not count as work.

The hood life…

My neighborhood has an internal Facebook-style social media site that keeps homeowners apprised of the latest news of our small slice of Ceciltucky. The vast majority of updates are made when someone is having a yard sale, there’s going to be an association meeting, or some other important civic event. This past week, though, the whole feed has been given over to a recent spate of crimes that threaten to drag our quiet neighborhood down into the gutter with Baltimore or the unfortunate souls who live in Elkton proper.

You see, over the last three days there have been empty bottles of Mike’s Hard Lemonade found thrown into several yards. One of these bottles had the audacity to land in someone’s driveway and shatter. On another thread, there is news of an unnamed presidential candidate’s sign that was stolen from someone’s yard. The neighbors are up in arms over the effrontery of the vandals, thugs, and hoodlums plying their trade in our usually bucolic subdivision.

There’s wild talk in the hood about installing gates, and cameras, and streetlights and I love my neighborhood for having such a massive hissy fit of an overreaction to a $5 crime. It’s one of the ways I know I’m among good people. After spending a few years living in a suburban Memphis neighborhood where car windows were regularly smashed and at least one burglary was reported a month, I just kind of chuckle to myself. This is probably the safest neighborhood I’ve ever called home so I’m cautiously optimistic that cooler heads will prevail before someone calls an association meeting to approve a special assessment for security upgrades.

My guess, if only based on the type of bottles involved, is that it’s local neighborhood kids being stupid. Sure, you’ll want to stop that before it escalates beyond a few thrown bottles and a missing yard sign, but in the grand scheme I don’t think we’re seeing the birth of a new and terrible criminal enterprise along the banks of the Elk River.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go back to living the hood life here on the upper reaches of the Eastern Shore.

See and say…

Over the last couple of days there’s been a rash of motorcycle and 4-wheeler thefts in the county. Asshat or asshats unknown have broken into a number of local sheds and garages to ply their trade. Knowing that it’s been a recent issue is probably the only reason I noticed the “young adult” pushing a dirt bike just off the side of one of my rural commuter route. I didn’t think anything of it at first, but the coffee kicked in and I realized that a teenager pushing a dirt bike around that section of road was, in fact, unusual by definition. In a year of making that drive at about the same time five days a week I’d never seen so much as a telltale trail into the woods where someone might be riding, let alone actually seen someone riding a bike or a quad.

So yeah, I started off the morning by putting in a call to the Sheriff’s office to file an unsolicited report of the location and description of the young white male of average height wearing a dark hoodie pushing what appeared to be a white dirt bike of unknown make. Maybe it was nothing. It was probably nothing. On the other hand, maybe I helped get some little shitbird caught and someone’s property returned.

I did ponder for a few seconds if I wanted to bother given the likelihood that it was some neighborhood kid and that even if it weren’t, but the time some deputy got a chance to drive through the area he’d as likely as not be long gone with the bike. Still, it was that nagging thought that if he’s one of the ones going into garages at night and stealing shit, I really want someone to catch up with him.

I got the chance to put “see something, say something” into practice today. It wasn’t exactly foiling the next big terror plot or anything, but I knew it felt just unusual enough that I’d be annoyed with myself all day long if I didn’t take the effort to make a simple phone call. At worst I inconvenienced a deputy and some kid had to answer a few questions. At best, someone in blue got another lead on tracking these creeps down.

I’m not at all sure why I’m bothering to write any of this down, let alone hit the publish button… but the up side is it saves you from reading another in a long line of gripes and complaints about the office. Maybe we should all be thankful that my path crossed a young man pushing a motorcycle this morning.