Wednesday, November 26, 2014

On Organic Charcoal

I recently saw a bag labeled - and I quote - “Organic Charcoal”. What does this mean? That there were no additives in the wood before they charred it? That the wood wasn’t genetically modified? Technically, ‘organic’ chemistry is the chemistry of carbon; and charcoal is little but carbon; so all charcoal is organic.
And by the way, what does ‘natural’ mean? As near as I can tell, everything in the universe, including ourselves, obey the laws of nature, and in that sense is natural. For something to be unnatural, it would have to be from Cthulhu or something. And as for artificial; anthills, bee hives, termite colonies and beaver dams are the result of artifice. Are they natural?

Your argument is essentially the same as Hume’s argument against miracles (which see). If our only knowledge of what is ‘in the course of nature’ comes from what actually does happen, how can it make sense to say that anything that actually happens is contrary to the course of nature. This not only undermines the notion of a miracle, it puts paid to any notion of any actual behavior’s being “unnatural.”

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Talking Down the Thunder, an Underfable

Talking Down the Thunder

Once upon a time, Thor appeared in a vision to Eric, son of Sven. The thunder god raged, “This town is a wretched hive of scum and villainy. I should hurl a fireball brighter than a thousand suns, and blast this trash to ashes.”
But Eric said, “O Lord of Thunder, would you spare the town, and leave it in peace, if it hosted a hundred worthy men?”
Thor considered this and said, “Yes, Eric, I would leave the town in peace, for the sake of a hundred worthy men.”
Then Eric said, “O Lord of Thunder, would you spare the town if it hosted ninety worthy men?”
Thor said, “Yes, Eric, I would leave the town in peace, for the sake of ninety worthy men.”
Eric reduced the number to eighty, then seventy, sixty, fifty, forty, thirty and twenty; then ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three and two. Then Eric said, “O Lord of Thunder, would you spare the town if it hosted a single worthy man?”
Thor said, “Yes, Eric, I would leave the town in peace, for the sake of a single worthy man.”
Eric said, “O Lord of Thunder, I say that I myself am worthy. If you disagree, then slay me now, but spare the town.”
The Lord of Thunder rumbled with laughter. “A worthy defense,” Thor chortled, and he left in peace.

Moral: Reduce atrocity to the absurd.

Commentary: Eric follows Lot, who also tried talking down an angry thunder-god. Eric didn’t stop at ten, but de-escalated all the way down to one, that one being himself. It helped that his thunder-god had a sense of humor.
The Moral reverses Voltaire’s warning that those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. My version suggests a plan of action, accessible to satirists.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Idol Promise, an Underfable

Idol Promise

Once upon a time, a General losing a battle prayed for a miraculous victory. He promised the God of his Idol to make a burnt offering of the first thing he saw once he got home.
After the miraculous victory, he headed home, and the moment he got there, his daughter rushed forth to greet him. He saw her, then hastily glanced aside, and saw his Idol.
The General took swift counsel within himself. He declared, “My daughter is not a thing,” and he welcomed her into his arms.
Later he made a burnt offering, not of her to the Idol, but of the Idol to her.

Moral: The best things in life aren’t things.

Commentary: This is my rebuke to Jeptha. It’s not my fault that it’s easy to be saner than the Bible. In my version the General experiences not one, but two miraculous victories.