Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Virtue In Our Gardens

“Tough times demand tough talk” ~ Rush (Neil Peart), 1987

Our most Catholic and reactionary Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, speaking publicly in support of capital punishment, once stated infamously that “for the believing Christian, death is no big deal.”  Most writers and poets I admire, spanning the past twenty-seven centuries of the western literary tradition, would humbly beg to differ.

The ancient Greeks were obsessed with death – probably because they were obsessed with life.  Come to think of it, what makes the Homeric epics (and in particular The Iliad) important and relevant more than 2,700 years after they were written down (from an even older oral tradition) is their profound grappling with that most universal of themes: our passionate desire to live in the teeth of our self-conscious awareness that we will die.

We assume that we alone among the higher animals possess this self-awareness but whether that is true or not is probably unknowable.  Thoreau wonders if a greater miracle is possible than to get inside another person’s consciousness even for an instant.  If another man’s subjective consciousness is that foreign to me, then surely the consciousness of animals is beyond my imagining.  Do they know they are going to die? Do they have that gift?  Or is a curse?

Whether it is a gift or a curse is a question I will set aside for the moment.  What seems certain is that our awareness of the tragic fate awaiting all of us is the root of all religion, philosophy and art.  How does the certainty of dying affect the way we confront death?  How should we confront it?

Homer had one answer.  Notwithstanding the ancient Greeks’ apparent belief in some kind of quasi-afterlife for certain humans, where their spirits roamed around pathetically and semi-consciously, neither suffering nor rejoicing, death really was understood to be the end – a “big deal” in Justice Scalia's terminology.  There was only one way to achieve a kind of immortality and that was to be remembered forever.  What Homer called kleos aphthiton (“imperishable glory”) was achieved, somewhat paradoxically, through killing and dying gloriously in battle.  Achilles wins his imperishable glory, of course, but the real resolution of the epic, in the judgment of many critics, is his mature and adult acceptance of death as an end.

Christian theology offers another, more comforting, answer.  Death is an illusion.  It is not the end at all but the beginning.  So too for Islam.  By believing that death is "no big deal," -- indeed, 72 virgins await them in paradise -- fanatically devout Muslims can be made to fly airplanes into buildings or strap bombs to their backs on crowded buses.  The Eastern religious traditions, with their belief in reincarnation, also see death as an illusion -- which may explain why stuff like this happens.  Needless to say, viewing death as illusory is not a terribly good way to value human life.  And by comparison with Homer and Achilles, it is not terribly mature, adult or accepting, either.

As far as any priest, rabbi or imam actually knows or can prove, death is oblivion.  It is annihilation.  You didn’t exist before you were born and you will not exist after you die.  The world will go on without you, of course, whether humanity lasts another day (before wiping itself out with nuclear weapons) or another 5 billion years (at which time the sun will explode into a planetary nebula and obliterate our planet).  But your day is coming, don't you know?

Now, then.  Are there alternatives to imperishable glory gained through butchery, on the one hand, and the consoling fable that death isn't real, on the other?  Many great thinkers have weighed in on this.  But I honestly never expected to see such big questions so beautifully explored in a major motion picture based on a young adult novel.

On Tuesday of this week, my 13 year old daughter and I walked from my spartan flat to the Kimball Peak Three Theatre in downtown Colorado Springs to see the The Fault In Our Stars.  Like just about every other teenage girl in America, she has been reading this book and was really looking forward to seeing the movie.  "Daddy," she touchingly warned me, "this story is really sad."

Well, the movie was certainly sad.  But it was also impressively beautiful and inspiring.

Teenage cancer.  Tough times, indeed.  The Fault In Our Stars, which is a profoundly atheistic movie to anyone paying the most casual attention, opens with some of that tough talk demanded by tough times.  Here is the main character's voice-over narration at the very beginning of the film:

"I believe we have a choice in this world about how to tell sad stories.  On the one hand, you can sugar-coat it.  Nothing is too messed up that it can't be fixed with a Peter Gabriel song.  I like that version as much as the next girl does.  It's just not the truth."

A commendably adult attitude with which to begin a movie based on a novel that was supposedly written for children.  (Aside:  This lady is full of shit.)  And when you realize that "sad stories" is intended to refer not just to the sad fact of two beautiful teenagers doomed by terminal cancer but to the tragic fact of our certain oblivion, as individuals and as a species, you begin to see the complimentary levels on which the film operates.

We are all doomed and terminal, the movie is saying.  And now let us show you how love, joy, ecstasy, and yes, even hope, are possible in an essentially meaningless and indifferent universe.  I believe this is the great theme of all great art.

We are all doomed and terminal.  It is important to hammer this point home because it is a big part of what really makes the movie work.  I once heard the great Christopher Hitchens put it this way (paraphrasing): "it's as if we are shot out of our mother's wombs -- like from a cannon -- and we are barreling towards a barn door studded with sharp, rusty nails."  I think he was trying to be funny.

Even more precisely, we are all doomed to lead extraordinarily short lives.  Whether we get 19 years or 90, when compared to the imponderable twin eternities of the past and the future, our lives are the flicker of a flicker of a flicker of an instant.  Impossibly short.  And the Cosmos and Time are utterly indifferent to us.  From my favorite Robert Frost poem:

What now is inland shall be ocean isle,
Then eddies playing round a sunken reef
Like the curl at the corner of a smile;
And I could share Time's lack of joy or grief
At such a planetary change of style.

At the beginning of the film, Hazel Grace, who knows she is dying from cancer, is stuck in the stereotypical cynicism and hopelessness that all atheists supposedly share.  (Atheists hate this bogus and lazy stereotype propagated by people who don't know any better.)  Her mother lovingly browbeats her into attending a support group at a local church led by one of those insufferable guitar-strumming "up with people" Jesus-dudes.  He strums and sings empty piffle like  "Christ is our friend and he'll be there til the end." Yay!  I feel better already.  (Note: Whenever religion is shown in the movie it is either gently mocked, as in its treatment of this harmless goofball, or it is subtly protested, as in the final funeral scene.  But there is no god bashing.)  When it's her turn to speak, Hazel Grace stands up and gives the standard "what's the point" rant: the sun is going to explode someday, whatever or whoever comes after humanity won't care that we ever existed, there's no afterlife, I am going to die young, so why shouldn't I be cynical and depressed?

Then she meets her soul mate. Handsome, funny, and engaging, this Gus is a cancer teen, too.  But he tells us early on that he has been in remission for eighteen months.  As we get to know him, we realize that there is no logical reason why he would be at this same support group other than the demands of plot development.  Because Gus already gets it.  In the face of one missing leg below the knee and a possible relapse into full blown cancer, he is mature and cheerful beyond his years or his situation -- almost annoyingly so.  When it's his turn at the support group to say what he fears, he smiles, looks over at Hazel Grace, and with a twinkle brightly sparkling in his eye, answers: "Oblivion."

In classic Romeo & Juliet fashion, the star-crossed lovers immediately fall for each other. (The fault in their stars has a different origin than familial rivalry, of course.)  They bond over a fictional novel written by a fictional author they both briefly come to admire this side of idolatry.  I positively love the fact that they bond over literature -- although the raw physical attraction is fairly evident, too.  The novel, titled "An Imperial Affliction," ends with the sudden death of its main character.  When I say sudden, I mean sudden.  The book ends in the middle of a sentence.  Gus and Hazel Grace make it their mission to meet the author -- one Peter Van Houten -- so they can ask him, personally, what comes after the sudden end of the story.  (You can see where this is going, right?)  They make it all the way to Amsterdam to where he has expatriated.

Ah, Amsterdam! The great asylum for freethinkers and religious doubters of the late-Renaissance period, like Baruch Spinoza, who were being hounded and persecuted by the faithful.  The young lovers visit the house-museum where Anne Frank tried to hide from the Nazis -- more effective symbolism, there.  There is a charming dinner at an elegant restaurant at which Gus declares his love in words you would only expect by this point: "I am in love with you Hazel Grace.  And I know that love is just a shout into the void and that oblivion is inevitable, and I am in love with you!"  And there is a bedroom scene that will probably drive the prudish among us crazy.  They're just teenagers!  But the scene is very tastefully done and, c'mon already, these beautiful people are both dying.  Are you gonna begrudge them a little nookie before they check out?

So the trip to Amsterdam is mostly joyous (and gorgeously filmed).  But the meeting with Van Houten doesn't go very well.  It turns out that he is wasting away in drunken misery over the loss of his own 8 year old child to cancer.  He is gruff, rude, dismissive, and brutally cruel to them.  But he slips something of crucial metaphorical importance into the conversation: advanced mathematics, it turns out, has proven that not all infinities are the same.  Some are smaller (or is it shorter?) than others.  Hold that thought.

Then Gus dies.  Oh, sorry.  I should have said "spoiler alert," first.

I had not read the book.  For most of the movie, I expected the sad ending that my daughter warned me about to be the death of Hazel Grace.  But in a plot twist -- drama 101! -- it turns out that Gus' cancer comes back and he is fairly quickly dispatched to his inevitable and feared oblivion.

I shouldn't be so flip.  These last scenes are beautifully acted and very tough to watch.  There is just a touch of comic relief thrown in to make it bearable.  We don't want people slitting their wrists in the movie theater.  On the other hand, "pain demands to be felt," as the movie tells us more than once.

At Gus' grave-site, none other than Van Houten shows up to pay his respects.  (I'll skip over the plot device that gets him there.)  We get the feeling that, like Hazel Grace, he is moving slowly from cynicism to something resembling hope.  In another humorous poke at religion, when it comes time for the preacher man to offer the benediction, Van Houten bows his head and tells Hazel Grace that it's "time to fake pray." "We know better," his joke seems to say.  Then the preacher man announces it's time for Hazel Grace to give a eulogy.  He calls her Gus' "special friend."  In a subtle protest at his religious authority, she corrects him:  "I was his girlfriend."  The eulogy she gives at the grave-site is not the real eulogy.  She had already given that one directly to Gus, at his request, before he died in yet another heart-wrenching scene in an empty church.  Moments before another voice-over commenting that funerals "are for the living, not for the dead," Hazel Grace gives them exactly what is called for by the soothing myth that death is no big deal -- a bunch of vacuous pap and sentimentality.  Well, you certainly can't accuse her of the worst sin a speaker can commit -- not knowing one's audience. (Compare Pat Tillman's brother!)

So what does Hazel Grace learn from knowing and loving Gus -- if ever so briefly?

Here's what I think.  Recall the earlier points about the brevity of life -- even of a "long" life -- and how the present moment exists on a razor's edge between two incomprehensible infinities.  The ancient Greeks -- for some damn reason it always begins and ends with The Iliad -- called their gods the "deathless ones." By comparison, their word for "mortal" actually translated into something closer to already dead (or at least, nearly dead).  In other words, we all have terminal something.  We all have one foot in the grave.  Some of us, like Hazel Grace, are just dying a little faster.  But whether we get 17 years or our full Biblical allotment of three-score and ten, life is precious, love is achievable, and hope is possible to us.  And just as knowing the constituent elements of chocolate doesn't make us enjoy chocolate any less (shout out to Sam Harris), knowing that our loves, desires, passions, and joys were hard-wired into our brains by a cold and impersonal process of evolution by natural selection doesn't make them any less real.  It doesn't make life any less worth living.

But when it's over, I'm sorry to say, it's over.  How should we live in the meantime?  I don't recommend seeking glory in battle.  Nor do I recommend pretending that death is "no big deal" because, well you know, Jesus 'n stuff.

For myself, I tend to settle on the notion of "the garden" as put forth by that great infidel Francois-Marie Arouet (Voltaire).  "Let us cultivate our own garden," he writes in his bitingly satirical short novel Candide.  The general idea is to seek the productive, simple, and peaceful life of one who essentially minds his own business, loves his family and friends, and brings generosity and compassion to his dealings with others.  You might also call it The God of Small Things.  The garden is Jefferson as opposed to Hamilton.  A Republic as opposed to an Empire. The Toledo Mud Hens as opposed to the New York Yankees.

In a crucial scene in the Book IX of The Iliad -- Christ-Almighty, not The Iliad again! --  Achilles describes the "choice of fates" that he, unique among men, has been shown by his goddess mother Thetis.  He can win his imperishable glory at the certain cost of dying very young or he can go home to a simple life of domestic bliss with the guarantee that his name will be forgotten.  He can be like an immortal in the starry heavens or he can cultivate his garden.  We know what choice he made.  He orphaned his children in a quest for personal glory.  What a gigantic douche!

So maybe that's what it comes down to.  The majestic stars or a humble garden.  The fault in the stars, I would say, is that they are too damn impersonal, cold, distant, abstract and remote. A garden, by contrast, is down here on the Earth.  It is life-giving, fecund, profuse, and organic -- even if it sometimes smells bad and gets overgrown with meddlesome weeds.

Well, it's been a long post and I'm exhausted.  I will close this one out -- of course! -- with some lines from the Rush song "The Garden" (which is based, like the entire Clockwork Angels album, on Voltaire and Candide).  I believe these lines nicely summarize the movie I have been discussing:

The measure of a life
Is a measure of love and respect
So hard to earn
So easily burned
In the fullness of time
A garden to nurture and protect

The treasure of a life
Is a measure of love and respect
The way you live
The gifts that you give
In the fullness of time
It's the only return you can expect

The future disappears into memory
With only a moment between
Forever dwells in that moment
Hope is what remains to be seen

"Forever dwells in that moment."  It is forever and infinitely now.  It's just that some infinities are a little shorter than others.  Right, Hazel Grace?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

(Perhaps) Worse Than Slavery

“That liquidation of private wealth [the abolition of slavery] is the only precedent for what today’s climate justice movement is rightly demanding: that trillions of dollars of fossil fuel stay in the ground.” (emphasis added) ~  Chris Hayes, Earth Day, 2014.

I cannot recommend strongly enough Chris Hayes’ recent essay in The Nation: “The New Abolitionism.”  Hayes has read Bill McKibben’s equally essential Rolling Stone essay, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” has found it to be “haunting” (as I have), has mulled over McKibben’s argument for almost two years, and has now produced his own tour de force on this most critical and difficult of problems facing humanity.

In our corporate-owned mainstream media environment, which has been scandalously hesitant to inform Americans about the grave implications of the climate crisis, Hayes has been a refreshing exception.  Now, with this long-form essay in The Nation, he becomes the first nationally prominent news-media personality (of whom I’m aware) to state – very publicly and very unambiguously – that the energy companies simply must be dispossessed of the trillions of dollars in fossil fuel reserves they currently own – just as the slave-owners had their “property” taken away from them.  Something in the range of 80% of those reserves simply must remain in the ground.

That demand is every bit as extraordinary and unthinkable as it sounds.  The great value of Hayes’ piece is that he persuasively helps us to start thinking the unthinkable. 

Although we don’t usually think of the Civil War in such terms, the end of slavery amounted to the liquidation of the private fortunes of some of the wealthiest people in 19th Century America – to the tune of trillions of dollars (in today’s money).  It turned an entrenched economic order on its head by outlawing the nation’s addiction to, and dependency upon, an immoral energy source.  It cost over 600,000 lives and the razing of great Southern cities, to boot.  Only a great moral cause could justify such a momentous upheaval in American society, right?

Is addressing the climate crisis a great moral cause equivalent to abolishing slavery?  I think it is.  The McKibben piece, that so haunted me and Chris Hayes, talks of “global catastrophe,” “the peril that human civilization is in,” and “a planet straight out of science fiction.”  Hayes himself writes that 80% of known fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground “if we are to avert a global cataclysm.” (emphasis added).


What would this cataclysm look like?  The chair of the International Panel on Climate Change (“IPCC”) said last month that the impacts of climate change will be “severe, pervasive, and irreversible.”  According to the IPCC’s most recent report, summarized nicely by Mother Jones, those impacts include increased species extinction, reduced crop yields (with related famines and global unrest), increased heat waves, wildfires & droughts, increased climate refugees (with related violence), increased coastal flooding and erosion, and massive “adaptation” costs – to name a few.  This misery will be suffered mostly by poor countries that did least to contribute to the problem.

Please note that the IPCC is an unavoidably political body whose reports actually tend to stick to the less alarming claims.  Other prominent scientists and writers have sounded far greater alarms.  For example, Pulitzer Prize winning author Jared Diamond said the following, just the other day, in an interview with the “Inquiring Minds” podcast:

“Either by the year 2050 we've succeeded in developing a sustainable economy, in which case we can then ask your question about 100 years from now, because there will be 100 years from now; or by 2050 we've failed to develop a sustainable economy, which means that there will no longer be first world living conditions, and there either won't be humans 100 years from now, or those humans 100 years from now will have lifestyles similar of those of Cro-Magnons 40,000 years ago, because we've already stripped away the surface copper and the surface iron. If we knock ourselves out of the first world, we're not going to be able to rebuild a first world.”

I don’t think Chris Hayes sees the situation in quite such dire terms – i.e., the near extinction of the human race in 100 years.  (For the record, I don’t either!)  But Hayes does apparently believe the situation is quite dire, indeed.  As do I.  He seems to agree that humanity faces decades (or centuries?) of climate-related famine, war, death, and extreme misery.  If this is all true, mustn’t we start thinking of fossil fuels as an immoral energy source – comparable to human slavery?  I think we must. 

And this is the one part of Hayes’ essay that really sticks in my craw.  He goes out of his way, in two extended caveats, to disclaim any moral comparisons between owning slaves and, um, knowingly devastating the environment our grandchildren will be doomed to inhabit.  I would say the latter is at least as bad as slavery, wouldn’t you?  And slavery was, of course, an utter moral abomination. 

Here is the first of Hayes’ annoying caveats:

“It is almost always foolish to compare a modern political issue to slavery, because there’s nothing in American history that is slavery’s proper analogue. So before anyone misunderstands my point, let me be clear and state the obvious: there is absolutely no conceivable moral comparison between the enslavement of Africans and African-Americans and the burning of carbon to power our devices. Humans are humans; molecules are molecules. The comparison I’m making is a comparison between the political economy of slavery and the political economy of fossil fuel.”

And the second:

“Let me pause here once again to be clear about what the point of this extended historical comparison is and is not. Comparisons to slavery are generally considered rhetorically out of bounds, and for good reason. We are walking on treacherous terrain. The point here is not to associate modern fossil fuel companies with the moral bankruptcy of the slaveholders of yore, or the politicians who defended slavery with those who defend fossil fuels today.”

I am trying to imagine the cognitive dissonance Hayes must be experiencing.  Climate change risks a “global cataclysm,” one that will almost certainly result in massive famine, death and misery.  But the energy source responsible for all of this future misery cannot be compared, on moral terms, to slavery.  Even when we now know what our gluttonous consumption will cause.  According to Hayes, “there is absolutely no conceivable moral comparison” (emphasis mine)! 

This represents a breath-taking failure of the imagination – focusing on the short-term and immediately visible consequences of filling your tank (seems harmless enough, eh?) and evading the baked-in and truly “terrifying” longer-term consequences.  To be honest, I don’t think Hayes believes his own bullshit.  He is too smart.  Rather, I think he is afraid to offend those who see American slavery as “the worst thing that has ever happened in the history of the universe.”TM  On MSNBC, and in the pages of The Nation, one simply cannot be found to have even hinted that some other civilizational evil is as bad (or God forbid, worse!) than slavery.  (Did I mention that slavery is an utter moral abomination?)

Hayes more or less admits these constraints of political correctness:

“Comparisons to slavery are generally considered rhetorically out of bounds, and for good reason. We are walking on treacherous terrain.”

Rhetorically out of bounds?  We are talking about possible “global cataclysm” and you are worried about being rhetorically out of bounds?

For all that, Hayes is truly one of the good guys in this debate.  I am always mildly surprised that GE-owned MSNBC lets him say as much as he does on this subject.  Please read his otherwise superb and essential essay. 

And then begin thinking and planning for what you are going to do, personally, to burn less fossil fuel, support alternatives, and fight those who seek to maintain the status quo out of sheer greed. (I am looking at you, Koch brothers.)

Some suggestions, perhaps a bit snooty and presumptuous:  Get a bike or walk as much as possible – it’s good for you. Buy local when you can.  Consume less – you don’t need half the crap you waste your money on.  Turn off the god-damned TV – it is nothing but endless exhortations to consume.  Instead, read or converse with friends and family.  Or play an instrument.  Or just listen to one.

Oppose climate denialism.  It is the intellectual equivalent of Young Earth Creationism.

And apologize to your children.  Often.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Jean Valjean, Meet Javert

I am going to give my dear friend Barry Fagin the benefit of the doubt and hold the inherent limitations of newspaper commentary responsible for the sweeping generalizations found in his most recent column.  I assume Dr. Fagin does not really mean to suggest any of the following:  that all human civilizations were miserable and squalid before Western civilization and property rights came along; or that anti-poverty programs "enshrine envy"; or that those who favor a modest social safety net necessarily disapprove of the profit motive and want to kill economic incentives; or that without Warren Buffett being free to make $32.8 million a day in non-productive rent-seeking and arbitrage ("absolutely fantastic") we would all be living in caves and eating the flesh of wooly mammoths.

But it is hard to know for sure.  The  seduction of ideologies like libertarianism (or 20th century communism, for that matter) is the easy and systematic answers they provide to complicated problems.  You really do become a hostage to your simplicity. Follow this one rule -- thou shalt always maximize freedom -- and the ideal society inexorably emerges.  Question this principle and you embarrassingly fail to appreciate the leisure time the producers have given you to loaf around and whine about capitalism!

When the rules are few and simple, everything sketches out beautifully on the chalkboard.  A favorite assumption of the classical economists is "all other things being equal." Of course, all other things are never equal in human affairs.  The Humanities are not a chemistry lab.  This is why economics is rightly called the "dismal science" and why utopia is not one of the options.

Here is a small sample of things the libertarian charts and formulas assume away:

First, economic power is always translated into political power – a phenomenon called "political capture." It happens under capitalism and communism.  In effect, the wealthy tend to rig the system to grant themselves subsidies, lax regulation, immunity from prosecution, and so on.

Second, and closely related, is the problem of "externalities." This is a fancy academic term that simply describes the way companies push the costs of their businesses (often pollution) onto everyone else.  It is economically rational for profit-seeking corporations – in a free market – to attempt to get away with this.  It's capitalism on the revenue line items, and socialism for the expenses.

Third, the efficient deployment of material resources to their supposed highest and best uses is not necessarily the greatest of all human aspirations.  Material progress is unquestionably good.  But it is not the sole end of human existence.  Libertarian economic theory is expressly value-neutral.  It holds that only an elitist snob could believe humankind might benefit from a culture that openly declares its preference for Beethoven's “Ode to Joy” over "Smack My Bitch Up."  If utility-seeking consumers, ordering from the menu of choices offered by profit-seeking producers, give us a vulgar and dumbed-down culture of professional wrestling and junk food, how dare anyone complain (or even notice)?  Define "vulgar."  The market has spoken!

Fourth, other than references to "dumb luck," libertarians have almost nothing useful to say about generational privilege or the vestiges of racism and exploitation that still plague billions of people around the world.  Thanks in significant part to the libertarian-inspired dismantling of the post WWII settlement, social mobility and its cousin “equal opportunity” are largely mythical today.  Where you come from socio-economically counts infinitely more than Rothbardian notions of liberty in where you end up. Communities trapped for generations in cyclical economic serfdom need more than a copy of Hayek's The Road to Serfdom.

And that brings us to the libertarian's positively contemptuous attitude towards "fairness" (the derisive quote marks are Dr. Fagin's).  A desire for some modest fairness in economic outcomes -- say, CEOs making 100 times the average employee instead of 500 times -- gets lumped in with envy, rapine, sexual manipulation, and a host of other primal human tendencies that are best left to the campfires of our brutish prehistory.  Our innate altruism worked fine when we all had to share the same mammoth carcass.  But it is obsolete now because a rising tide supposedly always lifts all boats. (Dr. Fagin seems unaware of what has happened to the working class in the past 30 years of financial deregulation, globalism, and union busting.  Or maybe he thinks the problem is not enough libertarianism.)

We know that our ingrained sense of fair play precedes any exposure to religion or formal ethics instruction.  It can be observed in small children and even in primates.  It is the essence of the Golden Rule found in virtually all ethical systems.  Except, apparently, libertarianism which indicts this basic impulse on charges of being "unenlightened."  This is the dead end to which slavish allegiance to lofty principles leads you.

A democratic society cannot long survive the egregious levels of income inequality that are developing in America today.  Many boats are sinking, Dr. Fagin. (We tend not to notice this in our relatively affluent community that benefits hugely from government subsidies – i.e., our blue-chip military installations.)  If things keep heading in this direction, the shovels and pitchforks will come out – except, when they do, they will be semi-automatic rifles and Glock pistols.  Maybe that's merely a "pragmatic" reason for spreading it around a wee little bit better.  But the Romanovs probably wished they had acted more pragmatically as they sat in that dreary basement in Ekaterinburg, dressed in their royal finery, wondering how things were going to turn out for them.

The libertarian purist will tolerate no such pragmatism.  Once more unto the breach!  We must hold fast to our principles and harshly punish the pauper who steals the bread crumbs he feeds to his child.

Jean Valjean, meet Javert.