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Thomas Hobbes vs.
Sir Mallard the Duck

I was recently listening to a very interesting lecture about the 17th century philosopher, Thomas Hobbes. A contemporary of Rene Descartes, Hobbes articulated ideas that were unpopular at the time, but survived the centuries as a foundation of today's materialism.
    Hobbes contended that there is nothing we directly know of that is not of a material substance. That includes the human mind, which is a function of the human brain. He also denied free will in favor of strict determinism. We see an adaptation of this philosophy in today's scientific method.
    Hobbes insisted that the decisions we make are entirely dependent upon our perception of reward and punishment. We gravitate toward pleasure and do our best to avoid pain.
    Chivalry-Now suggests something very different. It tells us that the essence of virtue is something that exists inside us that is not dependent on reward and punishment. It is in someway innate, thus contradicting the utilitarian determinism of Hobbes.
    Now, the objectivity of science does well in supporting materialism, and has brought us great benefits. Chivalry-Now points to our subjective experience of ourselves as a direct source of insight. This produces somewhat of a tension between the two philosophies.
    While contemplating these very different views of human nature, I was fortunate to find a tie breaker in my own backyard.
    Enter Sir Mallard, the Duck.
    A few years ago, my wife and I rescued a baby female duck that had not only been abandoned by her mother, but was viscously beaten by some other ducks. The little thing seemed barely alive at first, and had trouble walking.
    She would not let us too close, but grew to trust us as we kept the more aggressive ducks away from her, and supplied daily quantities of cornmeal for nourishment. Whenever we came out, she would sit nearby feeling safe and secure.
    We didn't think she would live, but she did, and gradually got well, despite a nasty limp that continued all summer long. She put on weight and by the end of summer found a boyfriend and flew off.
    To our pleasant surprise, the couple return each spring and we feed them. Last year, they had some baby ducks, which we fed and protected as well. We felt that our rescue had been a complete success. Not a limp to be seen.
    This year, however, the couple returned as expected, but our little friend was obviously hurt. She hopped around on one leg, and ate her cornmeal while laying down. This broke our hearts, but all we could do is feed them and occasionally chase away the neighbor's domesticated ducks.
    What does all this has to do with Hobbes?
    Absolutely nothing.
    But it does set the stage for some insight into nature that applies to our premise that there is more to us than the determinism of pain and pleasure.
    The mate of our rescued duck, we'll call him Sir Mallard, exhibits incredible behavior toward our crippled friend that can only be described as protective and yes, even courteous. We get to view this daily, and it is a wonder to behold.
    After we pile some cornmeal on a rock, Sir Mallard hobbles up on shore, walks over to the rock, and looks around, neck stretched for any sign of predators. He makes some kind of mumbled duck sound, and his mate then hops over and starts to feed on her own, while Sir Mallard watches. Every once in a while, he takes a shaky beak full of meal, but quickly resumes his guarded position. When his mate is finished, he accompanies her back to the pond safely, and then sometimes returns for his own nourishment.
    We watch all this in amazement every day. Sir Mallard appears completely dedicated to the well-being and comfort of his mate, and follows her wherever she goes around the pond. His genuine concern and natural courtesy are truly admirable.
    Now, a duck is not human, and I am somewhat guilty of personifying this one. But the actions are plain. Call them a response to instinct. Call them an animal variation of Nature's Law. It doesn't matter. If this duck can exhibit this level of sophisticated instinct, it certainly suggests that human instinct, which includes conscience, can do so as well. And yes, many of us experience this in ourselves directly when we allow it.
    The lesson of Sir Mallard is difficult to explain. Just as a dog's loyalty, or the attached friendliness of a parakeet, or the love of a good friend. We don't have to explain it. It is enough to see and feel it, to know that it exists.
Chivalry-Now calls us to recognize this for our own benefit. Virtue is not something alien to who we are. It is not something that has to be drilled into us to combat a natural propensity for evil.
It is, rather, the instinctive source of our authenticity.


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