Not too much

“Taken moderately, it is pleasant and useful; but… in the end it renders a man brutish and vicious.” This observation of Montaigne’s rings very true. How delightful is a little indulgence? And how often does one encounter somebody who has gone to far, somebody who’s has rendered himself incapable of reasonable interaction with other human beings? That is exactly what becomes of a man who reads too much Nietzsche.

After all, Montaigne was not writing about over-indulging in beer; he was writing about over-indulging in philosophy. Excessive pursuit of philosophy, he argues, carries with it the same negative effects as other excesses. “Excess,” he writes, “enslaves our natural freedom.” One loses his liberty when he gives himself over completely to philosophy (or to drinking, love, or anything else regardless of whether it is a good thing in smaller doses.)

Since we’ve just entered Lent it seems like a prudent time to address moderation. Many people give something up for Lent. This has many purposes and can be very useful. Giving up something for Lent can help one appreciate what is really important in life. It can also lead one to contemplation about the value of sacrifice (and direct one’s thoughts to The Sacrifice.) It can teach a lesson about self-control. But a gentle touch is required; giving up too much or focusing too much on the deprivation can be just as bad as over-indulging. One must always keep in mind that the deprivation itself is not the goal. “The archer that shoots over, misses as much as he that falls short.”

Beer of the Week: 333 Export – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: rice probably should not be an ingredient in beer. Rice is, however, a main ingredient in Budweiser and just about every Asian beer. In a general sort of way, rice beers can be pretty good, but not great. And 333 is not good enough to be the exception that proves the rule. The carbonation level seemed more appropriate for a soda pop than a beer and it had very little hoppy bitterness. What it did have was a tropical sweetness that I could not place. The aftertaste made me think of banana and clove, but neither really captures the familiar but illusive flavor in 333. Perhaps the brewers of 333 strongly advocate moderation, because (even though it is actually fairly decent) I could hardly imagine drinking more than one or two glasses of this sweet beer.

Reading for the Week: Excerpt from Of Moderation by Michel de Montaigne – As is somewhat typical of Montaigne’s essays, Of Moderation quickly jumps from thought to thought. This short and lively essay begins with the claim that even virtue can be made into vice by squeezing it too hard and ends with stories of human sacrifice by Native Americans.

Question for the Week: When people are asked if they would like some beer (or some cream in their coffee or syrup on their pancakes) they often reply with “yes, but not too much.” I’ve always hated that expression because “too much” is obviously more than they would want; otherwise, it would not be “too much.” But could it be that the expression isn’t as stupid as it seems at a glance? Might it actually reflect our innate desire for excesses and represent a sort of mastery over that desire? Perhaps “not too much” is actually short for “I know that I would over-indulge if I gave my desire its head, so although I would consume too much, this time I will be moderate.”

Unoccupied Territory

Seoul has a very large community of foreigners. One of the largest sub-groups of this community is US military personnel. It is often shocking, even disconcerting, to see a GI walking the streets of Seoul. This is especially true the farther one is away from the large garrison in the middle of the city.

Part of what is so striking about seeing soldiers walking about is the ambiguity of their purpose. Why should there be a United States military garrison in the capital of a foreign country? Not just a foreign country, but an ally. Of course, there is the perpetual threat of war with North Korea (to which the presence of American military is either a deterrent or provocation, depending on how one looks at it.) But the soldiers who come to Korea are not typically the sort who seek action, since a number of other posts are more likely to see any fighting. When my uncle joined the army, the Vietnam War was raging and every soldier who didn’t want to fight requested to be stationed in Europe working with computers. Knowing that so many people would make that request, and that nearly as many would be denied and sent to Vietnam as the default second option, my uncle requested to be a cook in Korea. It wasn’t a glamorous or exciting position, but it kept him from being on the front-line in a war-zone. In this regard, I see him as the paradigm for the American soldier in Korea; essentially, soldiers ought to be men of peace. As Machiavelli wrote, “In whom ought there to be a greater love of peace, than in him who can only be injured by war?”

Beer of the Week: Bia Ha Noi – Speaking of American military exploits in East Asia, this week’s beer is Vietnamese. This lager is rather sweet and malty, with a very limited hops flavor or aroma. It would make a fine beer for a session and did a wonderful job washing down spicy noodles.

Reading for the Week: The Preface to The Art of War by Niccolò Machiavelli – In his address to Lorenzo de Medici, Machiavelli first shows how different the modern soldier is from the modern citizen (a distinction that holds true even today,) and then explains the reasons why that ought not be so.

Question for the week: Machiavelli points out that a good soldier is exceptionally loyal, peace-loving and God-fearing. Since these traits are also desirable in citizens, shouldn’t all citizens be subjected to a military regime?