Essays in Idleness

DAVID WARREN

As the world turns

Has it occurred to anyone in the Obama administration that the Persians, perhaps, cannot be trusted? Probably not; but it need not occur to them. They are told it every day.

And the Turks, not quite doing as they say? (Ditto; but with fewer reminders.)

I refer only to the governments of the respective nations, of course; we all know that Persians and Turks are, as a general rule, Sufi saints, incapable of deceit; that they have been so since time out of mind. Granted, the classical Greeks tended to be Persophobe; and the Byzantines, Turkophobe; but that was long ago. If you can’t trust Persians and Turks, today, whom can you trust? (Arabs?) Though of course, they do not trust one another.

They are the Turks who command my attention this morning. Their valiant, “moderate Islamist,” freely elected and re-elected leader, Erdogan, promised to help us bomb the Da’ish. (Turkey is, technically, still in NATO.) But oh look, he’s bombing the Kurds by mistake. (Our most reliable allies in the theatre; to whose territories all the refugee Christians run.)

I don’t expect gentle reader to follow; I can hardly follow myself, despite years of trying; I am simply noting the outcry from various Kurdish sources in Syria, reported by the BBC and others. They had enough on their hands with the Da’ish coming at them, before the Turks started hitting them, too.

The Kurds in Iraq will be unsurprised. They have lost ten-thousands of lives to Turkish forces, crossing into Iraq in (officially) “hot pursuit” of Kurdish “separatists” fleeing Turkey itself. They hardly expect the Turks to be serious about attacking their enemies — the Da’ish, who are also the enemies of the Persian ayatollahs. (“The enemy of my enemy is my friend”: sort it out.) The Sa’udi air force is in a similar position in Yemen: ostensibly bombing terrorists of all kinds, like nice Yankee allies, but actually taking sides with the Sunni terrorists against the Shia terrorists. This is called realpolitik, I believe.

And meanwhile those United States, led by some guy doing a victory lap in Kenya, have manoeuvred themselves into a curious position. The Americans are now providing diplomatic cover for both Turkey and Iran, while from their opposing sides they, respectively, both attack America’s remaining allies.

Or rather, to keep up-to-date, they attack the few countries left in the region which are actually “on our side,” in the sense that they are unambiguously opposed to our common enemy, “Islamism.” That would be Egypt, Israel, Jordan — each getting pompous lectures from the State Department, whenever they try to defend themselves. I might have mentioned George Bush’s old Iraq, except, Iraqi Kurdistan is the only part of that country still unambiguously “on our side.” (As for the the Sa’udis, it depends which faction; they are feline and feminine and try to have everything both ways.)

But that is the bad news.

The good news is that the United States is no longer a significant player in the Middle East. The net effect of American ministrations, since Obama came to power, and initiated a consistent policy of insulting America’s friends, and encouraging her enemies — in an extended display of moral preening — has been to relieve this former “hyperpower” of any important rôle.

This is an aspect of the “Iran deal” that has been overlooked in the media; even by the “neocons” who are usually sharp to such things. On Obama’s instruction, Kerry freed America of her last consequential forward position: which was enforcing the embargoes that constricted the ayatollahs’ aggressive options. In effect, America has now abandoned Iran as she has abandoned Iraq and Afghanistan; abandoning Israel into the bargain; along with Egypt and everyone. There are substantial Fleet forces still in theatre, to maintain some “optics,” but they no longer have any serious business there.

While it is true that Kerry and company have now removed the remaining impediments to Iran’s development as a nuclear power; in a longer view, he has only hastened the inevitable. If the states that Iran targets (not only Israel) want to do something about it, they will have to act themselves. Paradoxically, this means Israel is no longer alone. She has friends now in Cairo, Amman, and even Riyadh, that she could not have hoped to keep had Iran been successfully isolated. So thank you for this mitzvah, John Kerry.

Also, thank everyone for the cheap oil. The Arabs are drilling it faster and faster, despite falling prices, because they desperately need the cash. And now with Iran back in the market, the Age of OPEC is completely behind us. For meanwhile, fracking has been developed, and even should the Persian Gulf become a radioactive wasteland, it will just be a hiccough in the oil supply.

Thank not only Obama and Kerry every time you fill your tank; but the big oil companies, too, for increasing their margins as the bulk prices fall, thus grandfathering their profits. They will need cash in hand for any future investments. To say nothing of the pension plans that are sustained in the equity markets for big oil, big banks, big everything. We can reasonably foresee a new era of abundant, cheap fossil fuels, ours for the burning. And if it weren’t for the impending demographic crash, and the proliferation of wealth-sucking bureaucracy, we’d have another Golden Age of Capitalism, with growth as through the baby-booming ’fifties and ’sixties.

As it happens, the world is going to Hell in a bullet train, but ho! The beauty is that it will not crash where we were expecting. But then, it never does.

In no strange land

I am very bad at remembering birthdays, dinner dates, anniversaries. Perhaps that’s why I now live alone. This week I set some kind of record, not only by forgetting the birthday of a good friend, which I suppose could be overlooked in some years. But this was a round-numbered birthday. Saint Philip Neri turned five hundred last Tuesday. By the time I realized, it was too late to attend the Mass. I have prayed to him, however, and promised to make it up.

Meanwhile I want to mention, again, the book on Saint Philip, by Jonathan Robinson of the Oratory, which is at last published. (I mentioned it previously, here.) Angelico Press has done a fine job, not only on the typography and design, but also in getting it out promptly, after another publisher (who will be nameless) made a hash. I am quite impressed with Angelico, a recent enterprise whose whole current list is superb. Good publishers are extremely rare. I’m not aware of even one in Canada, and Angelico may now be the best we have for the Catholic milieu in the English language.

A good publisher works exclusively with manuscripts he thinks deserve the light of day; he never publishes shoddy work to make a quick buck, hook a subsidy, swing a deal, or other low motive. This is because he is not sleazy.

On the other hand, because he believes in both the work and the author, he is tireless in promoting them. If there is any way to make the book sell (that is ethical), he will discover it. He must take risks, which he must judge shrewdly. He will be, invariably, both a man of letters and a business man, and he will thrive in the creative tension between these sometimes incompatible callings.

There is nothing whatever wrong with “selling” a worthy product whose benefits are real. On the contrary, it is quite wrong to miss opportunities, or be otherwise lazy, or unnecessarily shy, when one is a salesman.

And a good publisher is a Godsend to a good author: not only for dealing with the “stuff” for which few authors are equipped, by talent or disposition. They become friends, of great use to each other on multiple levels. And as always with true friends, however the relation started — usually, with a meeting of eyes — the entanglements develop into a loyalty beyond all material attachments. This is ultimately what Holy Church is about — a society of friends that extends through and beyond space and time, in Christ.

Saint Philip Neri is worth knowing, as friend. He is incidentally very charming and lovable. Father Robinson’s book is, I think, the ideal introduction to him, for an intelligent reader of our day. He has presented, with approachable learning and also with wit, exactly what it is about this man that has not aged in five hundred years.

The “embodied mysticism” mentioned in the subtitle guides to the Guide, as it were: someone to take us past the obstacles in our present environment, where what is meant by the word “mysticism” is not understood; where it is instead confused with a lot of jolly nonsense. For “mysticism” is not some experience to wait for. It is the way of life, itself, beginning now; the only way through the shutters of illusion. And it begins in a humble, earthy way.

The surtitle, applied at the last — In No Strange Land — is from the poem by Francis Thompson. It speaks of a realm that is invisible, intangible, unknowable. Yet which in grace we may view, touch, and know. Saint Philip is the remarkable guide to that “embodiment,” and Father Robinson will take you to him directly, here.

Chronicles of Gadara

That, “a gentleman never unintentionally gives offence,” is something I first heard from my mother. The barb was not placed unintentionally in the bait: a gentleman only gives offence on purpose. Taken not as a moral injunction, but as a sociological observation, there is, or there was, some truth in this. In higher British society, so far as I could be acquainted with it some decades ago, I saw this principle in action. It was what distinguished the hayseed old squires from the urbane young fogeys. The former could fire a shot across your bow that was unmistakable. They could do it in one sentence or less, uttered softly. The latter would blunder into you like an iceberg, and with as much thought.

And the loss of this ability — to send and receive warnings — has much to do with our current environmental decay. (I speak of the spiritual environment.) Let me employ the V-word now. We have all become impossibly Vulgar. I see this on the sidewalks in the Greater Parkdale Area; I bet it is the same in a conurbation near you, gentle reader. It is not that people want to be rude. Rather, they lack any other way of being.

It is the same among the criminal class, I am sorry to say. My Chief Buncombe Correspondent (it is a county in western North Carolina) was reflecting on this in email. He mentioned several recent, high-profile crimes, including general slaughters. In the old days, you’d have a St Valentine’s massacre in Chicago, and there’d be a reason for it. Perhaps the reason wasn’t good enough, but it was at least comprehensible. Even the pettiest crimes — shoplifting for instance — might be for food or some other household need. These criminals today are so lazy: sometimes they forget even to have a motive.

I don’t think we can blame it all on the Arabs (which is not to forget the Persians, &c), who have lowered the bar on terrorism. True, many of the body-bomb hits seem quite pointless. How are you going to win friends and influence people, with that? And what, pray, was the score you were trying to settle? And explain, please, the “symbolism” of the target; we just don’t get it.

If there were not one Muslim living today in America, or Europe, we would still have to class most violent crime, and much of the rest, as “senseless” below the Baghdad standard. Yet in a strange way, it is also “tolerated”: taken for granted that “things like that” happen every day. (There was actually a time when they didn’t; when even suicides were performed, discreetly.)

On this, I have spoken with a judge. It is something that bothers him, too. In the traditional courtroom, anywhere in the Western world, the malefactor had his day. Though guilty as charged, he had a chance to explain himself; to provide any possible extenuation. Perhaps he would be hanged all the same, but as a human being he had, before that, some mysterious right to speak, even in the face of his accusers. It was the right, somehow, to vindicate his own claim to a human status, even if all he could do was express his regret.

This is disappearing. The judge said a whole trial goes by, when the question of motive hardly arises. It doesn’t seem important. The accused himself has nothing to explain, and the accusers expect nothing of him. If found guilty, on the weight of (usually easy) evidence, he is merely “processed” into the designated high-tech dungeon; and barring some administrative error, the paperwork follows its parallel course.

Let me put this more plainly. The very idea of “justice” is abstracted from this process, no matter what the law says — written often in another time, by another generation, in other circumstances, back in the day: when the Fact of Evil was intelligently acknowledged.

And with it, so many other coherent things.

*

I do not expect people to be shocked by evil. I only expect them to see when it is there. The calm mind can assimilate the Fact, and still maintain its equilibrium. It is trained to harmony with a moral order, beyond itself. This hardly makes disharmony impossible. One cultivates the ability to sense when something is wrong, or perhaps, very wrong. Or one does not cultivate this, in which case one becomes, not in an “aesthetic” but a moral sense, more and more Vulgar.

Consider, as an example for this morning, the case of the abortionist “Doctor” Kermit Gosnell, mentioned in a (rightly) tasteless column by Mark Steyn (entitled, “I’ve got a crush on you baby”). He’d snip the baby’s spinal column with scissors, which you’d think would be enough. (The child dies in excruciating pain.) But then he’d suck out the brains, and smash the skull. And keep severed hands and feet in pickle jars. I will grant he may have been “mentally unstable.”

But here is the point: many, many people knew what he was doing, and did nothing about this “women’s health care provider.” All this came out before the Grand Jury: a serial murderer on an extraordinary scale (not dozens: thousands of butchered victims); a sadist killing babies who were, in fact, live-born. And so many people had let it pass.

Including the mass media — happy to report on other ghastly, “senseless” crimes; and blame them on such stuff as “guns” (which not only don’t, but can’t have motives). They, too, turned the other way, burying the story; focusing all their cameras, at the time, on the trial of a certain Jodi Arias, an odd woman who had killed only one man.

Not on Gosnell. A sick, serial murderer; and serial people, supposedly not sick, who let him get on with it. How does one explain these people?

It does not seem adequate to say that they are “typical liberals,” looking the other way, on a par with the “typical conservatives” in Hitler’s Germany who saw things happening to the Jews, but chose silence. For no, they are much worse. A German who stood up to the Nazis was probably a dead man. An American who stands up to the unspeakable evil of an abortionist will merely be ignored by the New York Times.

Ninety-seven percenters

A lovely term appears in today’s dispatches, new at least to me: “thermal machismo.” It is used to describe people who, like the Lord Denizen of the High Doganate, or the Pope, refuse to buy air conditioners, and instead, tough it through the heat of summer. Or at least, tell other people to do so. But I am prepared to share this new honour with all my fellow global-warming deniers, whether or not they own air conditioners. Let us all exhibit thermal machismo. Let me show the way.

*

Gentle reader may be aware — for it is repeated daily in the mass media — that “97 percent” of the world’s soi-disant “climate experts” support the “anthropogenic global warming” hypothesis. This is a “scientific consensus.” It corresponds, roughly, with the proportion of money paid out for research to confirm it. Less than 3 percent is available for its refutation; even the big oil companies find that PR requires them to follow the AGW mob.

Such numbers hardly impress me. Joe Stalin regularly polled higher in Soviet general elections. I believe his friend Trofim Lysenko also enjoyed a “scientific consensus” for his groundbreaking genetic ideas — even before the “deniers” were formally outlawed in 1948.

Am I comparing unlikes? No, I think it is perfectly valid to compare one massive scientific fraud with another. Alternatively, and more tediously, one might review the whole history of “scientific consensus,” and facetiously suggest that we reverse the odds on the hypothesis finally proving true, and give it that three in a hundred. But really, its chances are zero, as is the case with all tail-wags-dog theories.

The difference between “science” and “consensus” ought to have been taught in grade school. It is a source of regret to me that public education standards have fallen so low.

*

But here, for comparison, is an example of science where “97 percent” might count. It is a predictive model for solar activity which, unlike the atmospheric models for planet Earth, requires only modest computer time. The actual data from the last few solar cycles was used, leaving no room for virtual cartloads of vague estimates, convenient adjustments, and untested assumptions.

The Sun has, for many centuries now, been observed to have a (rather irregular) magnetic heartbeat — a cycle of about eleven years (it has ranged from less than eight to a little more than fourteen), during which it passes from a minimum to a maximum of magnetic activity, and then back again. A rash of sunspots, solar flares, and the like, are decorative features of the maximums, along with beautiful auroras here on Earth, and magnetic storms so glorious that they could potentially take out our electrical grids. As insolation rises and falls, so does the temperature of the upper atmosphere, which thus swells and shrinks dramatically — affecting the orbits of all our space junk up there, like the waves of the sea.

We will return to that in a moment; but first let me insert a meandering aside.

*

Given world enough and time, I should like some day to muse upon the astrophysical approach to meteorology. It is my suspicion that it will eventually supply extremely accurate long-term weather forecasts — by uncovering the curtain-rail mechanisms that successively steer the atmospheric pressure systems from the top, down.

Indeed, I know a brilliant madman who thinks the main tracks can already be read in an astronomical almanac, from the relative positions of Earth, Jupiter, and Sun, and thus the interaction of their majestic magnetic fields; that he can already anticipate the twists and turns of the frontal systems from them, then flesh out the weather on the ground from this; and that he can do it for any date in the future or past, with a free afternoon and a pocket calculator. (It is hard to judge whether he has been shunned by his meteorological colleagues for being weird, for being right, or for both.)

Meanwhile we might ramble on the ozone layer, and the curious way it thickens and thins, to let more ultraviolet radiation through at solar minimums, less at solar maximums — and from a wonderfully simple, testable cause. The UV rays themselves split the oxygen molecules to regenerate the ozone; thus the more UV, the thicker our sunscreen. The world works, and life is possible, thanks to innumerable happy little facts like that.

I mention this only by way of reminding gentle reader that good science requires an uncompromising faith in God — Who not only placed living creatures on this Earth, by an extraordinary sequence of irreproducible creative acts, extended over billions of our years; but foresaw what would be needed to protect them.

The ozone scare that the atheists tried on a generation ago — in the hope of crippling human enterprise with a pointless ban on nontoxic, nonflammable, extremely useful chlorofluorocarbons; at ultimate cost chiefly to the world’s poor — should be studied carefully to understand not only the present “climate change” fraud, but every other imposture that has preceded and will succeed it. The formula does not vary.

Public ignorance is currently being exploited with the witch-focus on innocent carbon dioxide, the ozone hole having had its day. But there are thousands, perhaps millions of other plausible substances around which the next planetary scare can be designed. The cynical seize upon each in turn to extend their worldly power. As all demonic agents, they rule by fear. And as all demonic agents, they are easily defeated, by withdrawing our fear, and suddenly substituting our laughter.

For in the end, they are not scary at all, but sad, grim, and pitiable; and in the end, Christ will defend His own.

*

For the moment, however, it is sufficient merely to grasp that the Sun is both direct and indirect source of our heat; that more radiation generally corresponds to more heat; and vice versa.

We are currently in Solar Cycle No. 24, of systematic record-keeping going back to the reconstructed Solar Cycle No. 1 of 1755–66. By now we begin to discern cycles within cycles (for instance, there seems to be a background ninety-year cycle, too), which correspond suggestively to our longer-term climate patterns. The sunspot cycles are understood to reveal a dynamo in the convective fluids deep within that fiery orb. This explains the overall movement or throb, but recent models can account for few of the irregularities.

By positing a second dynamic cycle, closer to the Sun’s surface, that interacts a little asymmetrically with the first, Valentina Zharkova (of Northumbria University, UK) may have unlocked the crown jewels:

“We found magnetic wave components appearing in pairs, originating in two different layers in the Sun’s interior. They both have a frequency of approximately eleven years, although this frequency is slightly different, and they are offset in time. Over the cycle, the waves fluctuate between the northern and southern hemispheres of the Sun. Combining both waves together and comparing to real data for the current solar cycle, we found that our predictions showed an accuracy of 97 percent.”

Now, that 97 percent is an actual correlation; not a vote by climate “experts” for their next round at the public trough. Something that works on 97 percent of the past is more likely to work on 97 percent of the future, than something that has been pulled out of a (very sophisticated, empty) hat.

And if it does, we now know what is coming: another extended “Maunder minimum” of the kind that was enjoyed by Londoners, from 1645 to 1700, when the Thames formed the habit of freezing over, the rich could travel about in sleds, and the poor learn to skate or slide.

Solar Cycle No. 25 will peak in the year 2022, already weaker than the one before, if Prof Zharkova is right. (And, No. 24 was weaker than No. 23.) The dynamos, by her calculation, are so aligned to cancel that the solar minimum from the beginning of Cycle No. 26, about 2030, will mark the beginning of another mini-ice age. There will be very few sunspots for a very long time — at least three more solar cycles. And lots more pretty ice and snow.

We will be able to test whether she is right, conclusively, over the next few years. Compare: the carbon dioxide hypothesis which can only be tested by a judgement call — this ongoing vote by the “experts” in whose livelihoods we have all become tragically over-invested.

Little Tibet in Parkdale

“Do not commit any sins. Practice all the virtues. Subdue your imagination. This is what the Buddha teaches.”

This English tag is painted in small capitals, red on yellow, under a line of Indic abugida which I take for Tibetan. Though if it were Dzongkha, Drendjongké, Ladakhi, Balti, or Purik, you could have fooled me. Rotating prayer wheels provide another clue. (Whipping and whirling in a Lake Ontario breeze.)

Let me go out on a limb and declare it to be a secluded Tibetan temple — tucked away on a side street in what was once a nice middle-class Parkdale house, and sure doesn’t look like one any more.

I passed it just now, returning to the High Doganate with some groceries. (Plums: gorgeous soft yellow plums. And blueberries, fresh from the bushes: very cheap. It is July, and Ontario’s foodlands are exploding!)

Actually, I was being coy. I know it is a Tibetan temple, from a Tibetan girl who prays there. She is a nurse in the “home” where my late mother resided: Kelsang, let us call her. There are several Kelsangs in there; and even some Tibetans with other names.

An enchanting girl: ridiculously young and pretty. Modest, soft-spoken, cheerful, attentive. Went to Saint Joseph’s, at “Ooty” (Udhagamandalam), where many Tibetan refugees had gone before her. It is in the Nilgiri Hills. (Some day I will tell you about the tea they grow there.) Speaks better English than I do. Also kinder, more intelligent, and harder working.

As an old Saint Anthony’s boy, from Lahore, I’d met girls like her before. They raised them, in considerable quantity, over the high brick wall, at the Saint Anthony’s girls’ school. You might see one if you went into the Cathedral. They were all so enchanting.

There would be no point in trying to convert Kelsang to Romanism; no point at all. She had already been taught by Catholic nuns, back in south India. They were very strict; and she adored them. She knows the Catechism inside out. She described it as her “second religion.” Catholic Christianity is “very wholesome,” she conceded. But Tibetan Buddhism “will remain my first.” Notice the modal verb.

“And your third religion?”

“Nursing.”

A quietly fanatic opponent of abortion, incidentally: “All Buddhists are opposed to murder, in that or any other form.” Also opposed to contraception, divorce, sodomy, … you name it. Says Canada is a beautiful country. “But full of crazy people, with no morals, no faith, no manners, no reason.” Fears young Tibetans are being corrupted by them.

Which takes us back to the temple:

“Do not commit any sins. Practice all the virtues. Subdue your imagination. This is what the Buddha teaches.”

We may or may not have other matters to dispute. But so far as this goes, I think the Buddha teaches correctly.

The daily forty-five

God bless Mollie Hemingway, who had the patience to list forty-five irreproachably relevant journalistic angles on the Planned Parenthood baby organ harvest story — in case some major gliberal media outfit, with the budget to gather news directly, should decide to cover it. She delivers at the outset the gorgeous conceit that, maybe they just don’t have any ideas. Whereas, in the compared Confederate flag story, they have so many; and follow up on each, no matter how ludicrous and gratuitous; and blow a nothing (“psycho had Confederate flag on his web page”) into a national rage, with real consequences. (If gentle reader is lost, go to Mollie, here.)

Through the decades of my own — admittedly firsthand — experience of modern media, I acquired a certain phlegm. Nothing my colleagues did, could surprise me. While I could characterize the typical graduate of a journalism school as a devil in human flesh, I found that this was not always juste.

Instead, a profound stupidity — both moral and intellectual — was the decisive factor in the overwhelming majority of reporting decisions. I found the average newspaper or broadcast editor is actually less intelligent than the average reader or viewer; but that he compensates by specialization. He lives in a bubble: a society of his own, wherein he does not fear being contradicted. He can easily shut out anything that might tease his brain. He develops an instinct for ignoring any potential source of moral or intellectual substance.

He follows the movements of his peers. For reasons perhaps invisible to the observer who is not a fish, the entire school of fish turns promptly. Or when invisibly threatened, they disappear, simultaneously, into the reeds. Too, they are cold-blooded, like fish. And none of them believe in the existence of water.

It is forty-five years (and some months) since I was present in the newsroom of the Globe and Mail, as a “copy boy,” in the moment when the managing editor changed the hiring policy. Previously it had been, “we will never hire a graduate from a journalism school.” Now it became, “we will only hire people with academic credentials.”

Which is to say, graduates from journalism schools.

Some decades later, … I had a curious conversation with an administrator at a certain university in Waco, Texas. He asked my advice on the management of the university’s journalism school. He had been impressed by some talk I had given; and it seemed to me, from the questions he was asking — “What would you do if?” questions — that he was proposing to offer me the job of that school’s retiring “head.” (Except, the man did not know he was retiring, yet.) This administrator was dreaming of a major overhaul; of creating America’s very first, and therefore leading, “conservative” journalism school.

I told him it was a dumb idea. For once the school had that reputation, no one who graduated from it would be employable. That, journalism schools are a big business like any other, and profit comes from supplying the market with an absolutely standardized product. There might, as today, be falling prices for this commodity (warm bodies to fill newsrooms), but those still buying want the same old thing. The watchword is “reliable.” Anything resembling curiosity in a graduate, or other indication of independent mind, would lead directly to a costly scandal.

Now, it is true that there is Fox News, the New York Post, and the Wall Street Journal. Rupert Murdoch discovered that he could become even richer by supplying news and entertainment to what Charles Krauthammer mordantly called the “niche market” — of half the USA. These were the “conservatives” who despised the monopoly “liberal” coverage of … everything that fits in the category of “news and entertainment.” Give the rednecks something to watch and read. And supersize that with an order of “tits’n’bums,” and a deep draught of patriotic kool-aid.

In fact, I told my Waco man, that his scheme might work if he got Murdoch interested. But that would involve hiring a Murdoch flunkie, not some royalist, religious nutjob from the Far North.

But really, it still wouldn’t make any difference. For in order to flourish, in the mass market, the media of the Right must become the mirror of the media of the Left. That is to say, they must be thoughtless and knee-jerk; they must be morally and intellectually obtuse. For nothing else works in a mass market.

To its credit, I noticed the other day, Fox News briefly led with the Planned Parenthood body-parts-for-sale story, thus bringing it to the attention of some millions of people who might not otherwise have noticed. But those will be millions who, even if they puke, cannot do anything about it. For it is just “news,” confirming their (perfectly reasonable) prejudices. They already know themselves to be numerous and powerless — for if you can’t stop abortion, how do you stop this? (Republican congressmen, ditto.)

There is a deeper glibness, that embraces both Left and Right, and cannot be overcome by glib media. For short, I call this “democracy.”

Like Pope Francis, I like to invoke the Devil. We may not share many policy prescriptions, but on that point we’re as one. In my pathetically humble opinion, the glib society is easily ruled by the Devil. This includes demonic characters in high offices, and running departments and agencies (such as Planned Parenthood) all down the line. But that is incidental to what I mean. It is just a staffing issue. There will always be people advancing their careers, by seeking management positions in, say, Auschwitz.

Even if you replace, say, Barack Obama with, say, Donald Trump, you do not defeat evil. At best, you give it a chance to kick with the other cloven hoof.

Really, there is no choice, but to infect once again the entire civilization with a Christian conception of what is and isn’t “news.” One in which, for example, abortion in any form, and prior to any sale of baby body parts, would be, quite simply, a crime story.

On the other hand

A cow writes, that I have been unfair to her and her kind. The cattle are a benign race, she claims. They are not nearly so manipulative as Perfesser Fleischkopf has alleged. They are not, certainly not, like the white lab rats who delight in getting the white lab-coats scurrying about, by such simple devices as running through doorways, ostentatiously twitching to shocks, ringing little bells, and so forth. And it is true enough, that between lab rat, and behaviourist, there is an intellectual chasm — the Rattus norvegicus wins every time. Which is why, I suppose, the behaviourists treat them so cruelly.

Cows, my correspondent writes, are not so sportive. And she reminds me that they are not only milked, but sometimes slain and eaten: think of that! Hardly anyone eats rats any more, at least in the West (I have a recipe from Malawi); and they are seldom milked, either, even though the protein in their milk is ten times that in the human lactation — a matter that has surely been brought to the attention of the Nestlé food company, famous for its nutritional research, and innovative approach to baby formulas.

(Now let me confide, that while this email was signed “Elsie the Cow,” I have reason to believe it was written by another.)

True, there is some evidence in the Internet of progress on the rat-milking front. But here it should be plainly said, that the story is a hoax. Though more modest in its claims than those for “climate change,” it exhibits the same propensity to manufacture evidence.

An article in Modern Farmer points to the inconvenience of milking 674 largish rats, to match the daily output of one healthy Holstein. While it would not be impossible, in principle, to make cheese from rat’s milk, there is no truth to an account of the invention of an automated rodent milking machine by a Copenhagen Institute of Agriculture (neither exist); and even at the suggested retail price of 139 dollars, one cannot purchase (the imaginary) “KG Blue Cheese,” made from the milk of the (non-existent) “Siberian Udder Rat,” and (never) advertised as the “nectar of the gulags.” Nor should we believe that George W. Bush is among those who favour it.

Though if you put a product so packaged and priced in a specialist section at Whole Foods, with some earnest (if fictive) testimonials, I think you might find a few customers in the Greater Parkdale Area.

*

A great deal of modern science and technology is of this sort, as we learn from multiple recent sources. I celebrate the original paper on rat cheese, because it was a joke, and because it provided sufficient internal clues to debunk itself. Unlike the sceptical Modern Farmer, I would not condemn it for being a joke. I would rather condemn works in which more effort is taken to make the falsehoods plausible; where there is no joke, but instead a little humourless agenda to entrap the gullible.

I daresay more is written than is attentively read, in science and technology today; and what is read is often to a questionable purpose. It is good to seed the literature with parodies, to demonstrate the truth of this assertion.

As Richard Horton, editor of the British medical journal, Lancet, wrote after a secretive symposium last spring on the reliability of biomedical research:

“The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness.”

But he thinks this is a recent development; and he thinks something can be done about it by spending more money on research. To my mind the evil of scientism is older than that; and the excess of money paid out for “results” contributes powerfully to the corruption.

This is an old story; I taught a course on it once. The same thing happened in the ancient world, to dismember an earlier development of empirical science in the Hellenistic age, centred finally on Alexandria. By the time of the Roman Empire, it was quite dead. The focus of all work was now on applied technology; scientific thinking had, not in contrast to this, but by the same oppressively practical habits, turned to astrology, alchemy, and other fanciful researches. Science had succumbed to scientism, and its results were now the product of “consensus.”

It took more centuries than ten for the idea of demonstrable scientific truth to slice back out of the cocoon of superstition — a large, still mostly unknown history that, in turn, connects the renaissance of the twelfth century with the baroque renaissance that led to such as Newton, and Pasteur.

Yet no sooner had that been achieved, than the gnostic impulse was re-asserted. By the nineteenth century, the “just so stories” (of Marxism, Darwinism, Freudianism, &c) were back in play, masquerading as empirical science, and we began again weaving our way into a sack of darkness, under the direction of scientistic high priests, girded about by “consensus.”

“Go, go, go, said the bird,” as T.S. Eliot put it in Burnt Norton. “Human kind cannot bear very much reality.”

A new model for society

Whatever you might say against European imperialism and colonialism, it was good for the dairy industry. Ditto the railways which, beginning with the Great Western, made a fortune delivering rural milk supplies to the Great Wen of London, using methods soon copied by entrepreneurs in Paris, New York, Bombay. We forget, don’t we, that before 1860 or so, almost all dairy farming for urban consumption was done within the cities; to say nothing of other animal feedlot operations, including poultry and eggs; market gardening, horticulture and so forth. I’m with the hipsters for bringing it all back.

I cast no aspersions on the milkers of buffalo, goats, sheep, camels, donkeys, horses, reindeer, yaks, when I recognize that the Holstein/Frisian cow was the great cause and inspiration for the rise of what Max Weber murkily called the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, emanating from the north-west of Europe. Instead, as will be seen, I champion them.

Neil Cameron interviewed the learned Professor Gerhard Fleischkopf, in a cover piece for the Idler magazine, more than a quarter-century ago, to publicize a thesis that still hasn’t been taken seriously enough by the historians. Contra Weber, Fleischkopf showed that it wasn’t the Germans, Dutchmen, Normans, English who launched this cultural revolution. Rather it was their cows, who forced them to rise very early every morning, lest they be kicked upon finally approaching the engorged teats with their milk-stools and pails; forced them otherwise to adopt patterns of behaviour entirely in the interest of the cows. Their philosophical and theological outlook — a dramatic break from the mediaeval scholastic synthesis — was not in any sense original to them, but instead an artefact of their cultural and intellectual manipulation, by cows. And so, too, their adaptive pushiness towards those of other lands — those lesser breeds without modern dairying techniques — whom they subjugated in turn, as agents of the cow.

Professor Fleischkopf proposed a post-Marxist vegan materialist analysis, but was happy to explain his insights in lay terms:

“Who has not quailed and shrivelled inside, when confronted with the cold hatred in the eyes of a Siamese cat disturbed from rest? Who has not winced and turned his head when faced with the sad, reproachful stare of a basset hound? These feelings of unease are as nothing when compared with what happens if you spend hours locking eyes with a cow. That steady, unceasing watchfulness, that awful solemnity!”

Yes, it was at the root of the Protestant Reformation.

As one who has returned to the mediaeval Catholic outlook, I am an enthusiast instead for a Canadian elk dairy industry, whose animals lactate a milk that is superior to that of your standard Holstein (“Frisian” to you Euros) in butterfat content, milk solids, and trace minerals from aluminum to zinc (including iron and phosphorus).

Let me specify the elk, Cervus canadensis, also known in these parts as the Wapiti; and not the moose, with its more palmate antlers, slightly larger size, and solitary disposition. One may no more herd moose than cats; I have considered and rejected both propositions. Readers abroad could easily fall into confusion, however, from their eccentric habit of using the terms interchangeably (i.e. moose and elk; foreigners can usually tell the difference between either and a pet feline).

For that matter, elk meat contains more protein than beef, and has that game venison edge to carry it beyond the beef glibness; though I have to admit it is a little on the lean side. The antlers are a spring shedding bonus, and until we find a better use for their bone and velvet, we may export them to China by way of settling our national debts. A glover once told me the hides, too, are more than a match for the common cowhides; at the very least they make excellent teepees. The animal itself stands about a foot taller than a Holstein at the shoulder — before we measure the male antlers — and their booming, operatic, basso profundo voices are of potential use in any barnyard choir.

But they are the females and their milk that more immediately interest me. Verily, should some gentle reader see clear to send me a few million through PayPal, I would be happy to invest in elk cheese factories, which I find at present too thin on the ground. (There are none in America, by actual count; the closest is at Bjurholm, in northern Sweden.) I have access to an Ontario cheese-making specialist still in the pink of youth (from the Forfar family, and a little shy of eighty, which is young for a Forfar these days); and the outline of a winning promotional strategy. Surely, billions could be made.

It is true that elk carry an uncommonly broad range of infectious diseases, but I gather they suffer little themselves, seldom communicate them to humans, yet pass them along readily to cattle, thus conferring a significant competitive advantage on our elk dairy farmer.

My motive is, however, higher than that of enriching myself and my friends. It is instead to substitute for the bovine, a new model of social organization, based instead on cervine attitudes and behaviour. The elk bulls (I prefer to call them stags) are more manly, the elk cows (I prefer to call them hinds) more feminine, and both in their nature less smug. Neither has the cattle-cow’s aggressive ideological propensities; and so long as you aren’t messing with their calves, the females are more deferential. The males, too, outside the rutting season. And I believe the hinds are less Germanic when it comes to being milked; they will let us sleep in most mornings.

I’m not sure whether to count this as another “Benedict option.” But gentle reader will appreciate that I am trying to think “outside the box.”

Strait up

The parable of the unjust steward, in Luke 16 and today’s (Old) Mass, presents “difficulties” to the interpreters, we learn. One giggles when one reads that. Jesus is commending a shyster who, about to lose his job, cuts deals with his boss’s debtors. He still has the legal power to write off debt, but won’t have it for long. He uses it to make good friends, for his own future.

Now, Jesus is assuming an audience intelligent enough to grasp that he would not be preaching dishonesty in business. He is also showing a side of Himself that tends to be downplayed: His sense of humour. More, I would say: He is acknowledging, hardly for the first time in the Gospels, that sin is actually quite common. He knows how the world works. The parable gets its colour from its plausibility. Jesus seems almost to be relishing the cleverness of this unjust steward; and by telling us he cuts one bill to 50 percent, another to 80, winking at the craft. This is a guy who deals within deals: a genuine “wheeler” dealer.

The good, experienced priest in the Confessional will never be caught by surprise. He’s heard it all. He is even aware that whited sepulchres are capable of hypocrisy. He’s guessed that the unmarried aren’t necessarily virgins; and that those who chafe under the rest of the Church’s various “unmerciful” moral commands, are not aggrieved because they are obeying. That there are crooked timbers in business, too, will not come to him as a revelation.

Pretensions of innocence often make me giggle. They do not, however, present me — or anyone else with half a brain, I should hope — with intellectual “difficulties.”

Now, the point is, today’s shyster has “prudence” in a very worldly way. He is looking out for his own future when, unemployed, he will need a few rich friends; having rejected the alternatives of hard labour, or begging in the streets. Not only sharp in business practice, but accustomed to wasting other people’s money, we might say that this steward meets the criteria for “shrewd as a serpent.” He falls, however, somewhere short of “harmless as a dove.”

Perhaps, Our Lord is suggesting, we should be as shrewd, or more, but to a different purpose: the business of assuring our own future in Heaven, where they do not need a knock-down on barrels of oil, or even quarters of wheat.

“No servant can serve two masters.” We have got that far by verse 13.

En route, we have been told that faithful in small, is faithful in large; that faithless in large, is faithless in small. Elsewhere this is expounded further, so that from many angles we can gradually perceive something in common with respect to the good, the true, the beautiful. They are indivisible. Truly, there is no way around strait dealing.

Ah, “mercy”: it strikes me that the same principle applies to other servants of the Master. I’m thinking here not of commodity traders, but — hypothetically — of priests and bishops. Suppose, for sake of argument, that they made it a practice to write off the debts owing to their own Master. Suppose, say, they decided to forgive what He in His Justice had not so decided, merely to win friends and influence people. This would certainly help their standing in the world. But I wonder if it would improve their standing in Heaven?

Darjeeling tea

Among the happiest memories of my childhood, was my initiation into tea-tasting by our family servant, Bill.

This at Nedous Hotel, in Lahore — thus spelt, and not an hotel but apartments in my time. Which, with its gardens, towers, arches, porches, domes, … back quarters, kitchens and allotments, … was among the wonders of the world. All since demolished, and exchanged for the usual architectural obscenities, in the hope of making a faster rupee.

The occasion was a small tea party my parents were hosting. I remember it vividly. Three pots had been brewed, and set on a long silver tray. The large one in the middle was an Assam tea. It was flanked by a Darjeeling, and (most likely) something green and Chinese.

Bill poured samples into three small white porcelain cups, and invited me to study their colour; then to sip from each at full attention, gargling water in the intervals. Later, we graduated to blind taste tests, and I began to assimilate arcane information. I was six years old at this time, then seven. By the age of eight my views on tea were settled, and they have never been altered. I hope, and even expect, to die a Catholic (like our servant, Bill); but let me add with some confidence that I will die longing for another cup of Darjeeling tea.

It is not, however, the only tea I drink, or the one I drink most often. Rather, I “drink around.” At this moment, in the tea caddies of the High Doganate, one will find a choice of four, including a fine mountain-grown Taiwan wulong, a muddy but delicious Pu-erh from Yunnan, and my regular: a strong, masculine, upper-working-class Assam, that would be too bitter without a shot of skimmed milk, and small lump (in the pot) of half-crystallized buckwheat honey, or cane sugar — to bring out the softer, background notes.

By happy chance, I obtained a half-pound pack of Lopchu estate Darjeeling from a good grocery in the “Little India” neighbourhood, last week, at a reasonable price for its GFOP grade (12 dollars). For two dollars less I could have settled for the FOP, but then, were I willing to cut corners like that, I’d be the kind of man capable of signing an arms inspection agreement with Persia.

Let us be clear. There are six grades of Darjeeling, and the highest, Special Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (SFTGFOP), will never reach the Greater Parkdale Area. One will need not only money, but contacts to obtain it. Perhaps, fly there, and start networking among the estate managers. You can’t buy it at Harrod’s, because they don’t sell to Harrod’s: it would be beneath them. The Queen might obtain some, but then, she has a staff.

Each grade lower drops a letter off the front, so that my fine tea is of the fourth grade, just short of “tippy,” which refers to the abundance of flowering buds. “Golden” means that in the process of oxidation, these tips will turn a gold colour. “Flowery” is the term for high floral aroma. “Orange” has nothing to do with fruit, but refers to the Nassau family of Holland, whose most creditable accomplishment was pioneering the importation of tea into Europe, four centuries ago. The term insinuates, “good enough for Dutch royalty,” perhaps. “Pekoe,” or more correctly pak-ho, refers to the white down that gathers at the base of the bottom bud, an indication of the plant’s mood, its susceptibility to plucking. (Tea picking is an art; one does not strip the tree bare, but selects each leaf as it is ready.)

Now, survey your local supermarket shelf — let us suppose it is an “upmarket” emporium — and you will find in the tea section nothing but sludge. The teas will all be “blended” — which I esteem as blended whisky, or blended wine, delivered in tanker trucks. This will be especially true of the expensive boxes with whimsical names for the blends — that say nothing of date, terroir, or the specific variety. The tea inside the boxes will be packed in irritating little bags, probably with the absurd claim that they are “organic.” Once cut open, they reveal that the tea was ground by a Rotorvane, even before being stirred in a diesel-electric mixer. Various chain tea stores have sprung up, posing as effete, to separate fools from their money. Their pretensions are risible, and they annoy me very much.

I won’t comment on the “herbal teas” they also sell; except to recommend, to the women (including nominal males) who want herbal remedies for their malades imaginaires, that they take up smoking.

Rather, let us focus on the words, “Orange Pekoe.” They attach to most of the Subcontinent’s black tea supply, as to that of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka (the former paradise of Ceylon). I have explained what the words mean in a series — not much — but standing alone, they mean less. They guarantee that the purchaser will receive, at an inflated price, tea of a low, coarse, common quality, processed by the method called “CTC” (crush, tear, curl), introduced in the 1930s by a ravening industrialist named McKercher (“Sir William …”), and now spread around the planet.

The machinery was designed for volume at the expense of quality. It makes no sense to put good tea in, and what comes out might as well be bagged. This is tea for the masses, who have no prejudice or taste, and do not aspire to the humane. Like so much else in our fallen world, the best argument would be that tea of this sort is “better than nothing.”

Here is where we must come to blows. Tea is by its nature a labour-intensive production, and the “orthodox” method from the 1860s was already industrial enough. The successive stages of spreading and withering the leaves; of rolling them under slight, fluctuating pressure; of bringing out the oils by enzymatic oxidation; then gently drying to arrest; finally, sorting through grids (to match leaf size, and thus infusion times and characteristics) — produced teas different in kind from the parallel, entirely manual, Chinese methods. But that educated instinct — skill, art — was still required at every stage. To eliminate these is to dehumanize; but it is also to impose sharply lower standards of quality; and is therefore barbaric and evil.

The business of cultivating, planting, growing and harvesting, flush by flush, I will touch on only briefly. Those who labour in the fields are, overwhelmingly, women — not because they are cheaper to employ, but for their smaller and more delicate hands. Children, once trained, can also be useful. Men find their natural place in management. Unfortunately, “industrial” (which is really to say, socialist) methods tend to corrupt these last, and complete industrialization corrupts them absolutely.

Let me use for my example here the habit inculcated by the goons of India’s state tea bureaucracy, who disseminate tea cultivars by grafting. This produces trees that are, in effect, cloned, and thus entirely predictable — quickly and stupidly. Thanks to this national programme, the tea industry has “benefited,” by volume alone, through the opening of gardens in parts of India where tea was never grown, and perhaps should never have been; and by the hastening of plants to maturity. (It could be worse; for the goons used to promote the most destructive pesticides available.)

But God never wished his tea plants to be grafted. He meant the trees to be raised, patiently from seed. A grafted tree can live, maybe forty years. The seedling can last much more than a century — there are tea trees in the jungles of Yunnan that have grown full out, to a towering height, and are several centuries in age. (And they present leaves that are fascinating, in their infused taste; but you must be a renminbi millionaire to afford them.)

In the magnificent Singell tea gardens in Darjeeling, there is a guarded corner planted from the original seeds, stolen from China by British botanists (masquerading as mere opium salesmen) far back in the nineteenth century. These trees, well over 150 years of age, are still yielding leaves of the classic, Darjeeling “pastry” aroma, with their silky liquid texture, and muscat undertones. No longer Chinese, but adapted through transfer to the fine soils, the superb drainage, the frequent mountain mists and seasonal variations of their new home. Moreover, seedlings (as opposed to graftlings) root much deeper, become hardier in themselves, and do not ruin the soil by pigging the nutrients at the top.

Unlike the lower-altitude teas of Assam, which produce a nearly constant harvest, the shoots and unfurlings of Darjeeling leaves are distinctly seasonal. There is first flush in March, second flush beginning in late June, and then an autumn flush after the monsoon, in October and November. Each has its own characteristics, and demands subtle variations in the processing techniques. The first flush is a spectacular affair, with a bouquet often described as “explosive,” and a sweet, fluttering and fading aftertaste that is sublime. The second tastes maltier and riper, and will appeal more to the peaty whisky connoisseur. The third combines these qualities, understated within a broader floral spectrum.

The plants hibernate in the winter season, rest dormant between each flush, and thus yield much less than their more tropical cousins. They are stressed by their harsher environment. But these are the very causes that account for their extraordinary flavour — for as they sleep they dream, and the richly developed aromatic complexity in the soul of the Camellia sinensis is held, sleeping, for sudden release as they wake.

It is for this reason that I call Darjeeling a prophetic tea.

*

A beloved friend has sent me photographs “before and after” restoration work on old Catholic statuary, that ended brilliantly well. In particular, one overpainted and much-abused madonna, abandoned “in the spirit of Vatican II,” has sprung back to most extraordinary life.

This is the constant Catholic cause: of Restoration. It strikes me that, while the world is so busy going to Hell, we should all as Catholics entertain ourselves by going idly about, restoring things. Even if tomorrow the devils come, to smash up everything we have done, we should not lose heart or patience. In Heaven, everything will be restored.

I take the same view, as a man of tea. Those who struggle to make the finest tea that can be made in this world, though outwardly they may be Hindoo or Musulman, Buddhist or Jain — or of any denominational persuasion — are in a sense secretly Catholic. Not in communion, be it plainly said, yet still in Christ’s mysterious company. They are reverent; guided by our Father Creator; tutored through His works. God will see them, and surely, find a way to save, when, in the fulness of time, they see and call upon Him.

This is, I should think, a “Benedict option” for our conduct in this world, in league with our brothers under the skin — to go about, patiently, in this work of restoration — of whatever is beautiful; whatever is true, and just; behovely; and of good report. To repair, patiently, whatever has been wrecked, with a will that is apt to disregard “market forces.”

The fiends, the Enemy, may come to afflict us, as he and his have always done. Never mind. Let us aspire to get on with our work, even in the shadow of the raised axe; or of the blade whose painful serrations will saw through our own necks. Let us not make too much of what we have lost, for in Heaven all will be regained; and in Hell, the devils will be vanquished.

Authority

“This week has been fantastic for German public diplomacy. All that was missing was Merkel making refugee children cry,” wrote some journalist quoted in this morning’s BBC.

Of course, the remark was facetious. The German chancelloress had been confronted in a public forum (and thus on camera) with one Palestinian girl (university aged) whose refugee-claimant family could have been evicted from Germany (but weren’t). Had they been, they could have wound up in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon (or not). But Germany can’t take everyone in, Merkel explained. The girl cried. Merkel went over to comfort her, and said politics is tough sometimes.

The hashtag #Merkelstreichelt is now all over Germany. It means “Merkel strokes.” She is blazoned as a heartless hypocrite.

Public business is now done this way in “democracy,” thanks to media that can capture emotional moments, usually posed and contrived. A successful politician, such as Barack Obama, exploits them with genius, and a cool confidence that the public has a very low attention span. They will only remember emotional moments. Angela Merkel herself usually does a better job, but nothing much can be done about an ambush. She did her best to diffuse it. She’s a pro: I’m sure she knew exactly what the game was; that she’d been set up. From working in the media, I have seen such set-ups many times: all the cameras flashing on cue. Tricks of editing and camera angle are used to enhance the “teachable moment”; to condense the narrative into a hard rock of emotion, aimed directly at the boogeyperson’s head. For the media people are pros, too. They know how to adjust the “optics.” Pretty young woman crying: that will sway everyone except the tiny minority who know something about the subject. And they are now tarred with the same brush.

Huge changes in public life can be effected with big money, careful organization, and ruthless attention to “optics.” The genius of the “gay marriage” campaign in Ireland, for instance, was to recruit conventionally good-looking young gay “couples,” train them to exude charm and wholesomeness, and send them around to knock on Irish doors. Their job was to be sympathetic and appealing, to present themselves as attractive, and “normal” — and persecuted, “for no reason at all.” Every door in Ireland was the target. Millions and millions were raised to support the campaign, mostly from gay lobbies in America. They would put their prettiest faces forward, while demonizing their awkward and underfunded opponents with guilt by many associations. The Church, for instance, was against them. (In fact, many Church liberals were not.) Sexually deviant priests and nuns were — thanks also to tireless media efforts — now part of Irish legend and lore. The other side would be made to appear the face of unnatural sexual attraction.

And of course it worked, among Irish people who are, by now, like the great majority in every Western country, untethered from their moral moorings. They do not think, they feel. Here was a campaign, brilliantly conceived, to manipulate their feelings.

*

Returning, now, to our “Benedict options” (see last few Idleposts), the question arises, how to escape from the mad house that Western society has become? How, ideally, to escape with our children — who are subjected to emotional manipulation, assisted by high “production values,” for hours every day; and then to the peer pressure that follows, as the tsunami follows the earthquake. How, for instance, to be cured of the “consumerism” that enables this manipulation, by putting its tools into every young hand, and every old hand, too. How, in this mad house, to dissever not only them, but ourselves, from the tyranny of “trending”?

You cannot tell people to throw their hand-held devices away, with any hope of obedience. You cannot, for instance, reason that doing so will save them both time and money, on an ever-increasing scale. They are perfectly addicted, and too, perfectly accustomed to a world where — to use one little example I noticed recently — a simple meeting of four people for a beer “after work” can be rescheduled six or seven times, so in the end more time was spent negotiating the hour, date, and the venue, than drinking. (At no point did it occur to anyone but me, the guy not carrying an iPhone, that this was farcical. Instead I was criticized for not being equipped.)

Anthrax, botulinum, cyanide, ricin — these substances are not evil in themselves. It depends what they are used for, and the emotional argument can be made that instant communication has many good uses. All day I hear the ambulance and fire sirens, dispatched thanks to the miracle of modern technology. Let’s find someone whose life was saved, and put him on camera. I know old people who carry their little bleepers about, in anticipation of their next heart attacks. Including one who hits it whenever he feels stress. It is a great relief to him, living as he does, like so many old people today — alone.

Once you have the thing, you are going to use it. Not, despite the evidence of my ears, only to call ambulances, but to follow breaking news on CNN; or at home there’s a wide-screen to call up movies. People in this city buy powered lawnmowers to cut 100 square feet of lawn grass; it would have been quicker with scissors. … Well, I’m getting carried away.

And the truth is I own this laptop myself, and publish this Idleblog which tries to present itself as if it were on paper. Without it, I would have been successfully silenced by my media masters. I think certain “modern ironies” need to be exploited — but they are dangerous, and once you are in, it gets harder and harder to draw any line. Twitter I tried for three months; I found it was pure poison and got out. But it is hard to keep one’s chastity in a media whore house, let alone one’s mind in the mad house of our times.

*

The serious Catholic or other Christian, or for that matter the serious (i.e. “orthodox”) Jew, from his first perception that there is a God, and that God is there, has developed a notion of “authority.” For that matter, the babe first encounters this in his mother, though in time it may fade away. There is an order to the world, and to those in whom the first spark of faith has caught, and ignited, that order does not depend on us; it cannot be changed by our own will. Apparent randomness or chance may be as it appears, but will yield to a more thorough understanding. The very fact that heads and tails come out equally, suggests an order in which they are bound so to do. An order is an order is an order: the world is not a collocation of meaningless atoms, but a hierarchy of being and events — there is, as Mother Teresa said, life in it. Some things are more important than others, and as one reaches up the hierarchy towards God, the significance — meaning — in our lives increases. Though God we cannot see; only shadows and reflections.

We are guided — upwards, as it were — by authority. Men who are wise have this quality we seek; we select them with our trust. Their authority is grasped with the growth of our own understanding. One who paints, comes to learn that there are fine painters; one who thinks comes to learn that there are deep thinkers. For that matter (as I discovered when a child), one who plays cricket learns that there are great cricketers, from whom one may learn in the humility of attention. The teacher worth his hire is himself an exemplar of the discipline he expounds, and by humble attention one benefits from the authority, not only of the teacher but beyond him, of the greater masters on whom he draws. The acquirement of knowledge, as the allied acquirement of wisdom, is a profoundly undemocratic act.

Sanctity is taught, almost entirely by example, starting from a few simple rules. We have, I am convinced, different aptitudes for it, various strengths and weaknesses with which we were endowed — the strengths developed and the weaknesses repaired, or turned to our advantage. This is done by careful, humble mimesis, especially when young. Our own judgement, of what is and is not an authority, itself develops by mimetic means; and as we grow we learn whom to trust. For there are, below the saints, people who at least know that saints are possible.

Alternatively, our heads filled instead with self-esteem, and the Pavlovian slogans of “equality,” our capacities atrophy. We sink, by gravity, into the common mud, or to “the lowest common denominator” — and by statistical likelihood, we rest there.

We become, instead of free men, playthings of fate, and the man of power can lead us about by the hook of our vanity. Politics and business alike have come to depend on a form of “lifestyle advertising,” in which flattery is used to shape our behaviour in the interest of making a sale. His untutored emotions are the strings my which the human marionette is guided, in his wooden way: shown what to see, and how to respond to it; told when to laugh and cry.

All contemporary “progressive” efforts are directed to undermining any sense of authority, and therefore to “freeing” the subject from the cultivation of his own inchoate conscience — from the development of knowledge, and wisdom, on how things really are. The schools themselves are knowingly employed in this cause which I call “idiotization” — meaning it strictly as the etymology suggests: the atomization of the individual, the breaking of his bonds with true, demonstrable authority. He is taught not only to “question everything,” but never to wait for an answer; to think in slogans, and behave by rote.

The task before us is to undermine the underminers. It is to inculcate, by instruction and example, that sense of authority; to do everything in our power to light that light. And this task can begin anywhere at all, and be spread from topic to topic by analogy. It is, if you will, the task of “homeschooling” in this age of teaching by numbered batches: to show authority to the child, and to the child in ourselves. Learn to know who are your betters, and rise by emulation. Do not agree to membership in “the masses.”

I think this is, in quite practical terms, the most effective prophylactic against the authority of the Devil, operating upon the vanity within. For true authority has the power to smash that vanity.

Towards wisdom

Do what you can, now, and keep doing it without the permission of God’s adversaries; do what you can, and discover what you thought you couldn’t along the way. That was my first (muted) instinct, in this discussion of the “Benedict option,” conducted these last few days. It is like the “New Evangelization”: a phrase, a hashtag floating among thousands on the Internet currently. I am mildly allergic to such phrases, which I associate with tarting up the same old, possibly beloved product, in the hope of catching a few new buyers. (“New improved!”) It is an old, tired marketing strategy, that seldom works, and then not for long. Often, if unintentionally, it suggests: “We have tampered with the thing you love!”

The phrase, “Benedict option,” now associated with Rod Dreher, was drawn from Alasdair MacIntyre — his remarkable book, After Virtue, which surely every gentle reader has read. He tossed it off in a particular context, and not as a call to arms. MacIntyre is himself full of reservations about calls to arms. Shorn of that context, the term takes on an utopian flavour, and soon inspires dreams of little “orthodox” communities, which we may also imagine to be “green,” co-operative, or feudally semi-collective in a neo-mediaeval way.

But here is the rub. The original “Benedict option” — presented by Benedict of Nursia, first at Subiaco, then at Monte Cassino in the mountains of southern Italy — was unambiguously monastic. As one may discover by perusing The Rule of Saint Benedict, it bespeaks a carefully ordered and tightly disciplined community, peopled exclusively by avowed monks. It is expressly not a model for Catholic secular life: for monks are not permitted to breed, and need a constant supply of immigrants from “the world” to stay in business. (Not that The Rule lacks useful hints for life outside.)

We, who do not take such vows, live down the hill in that world, in the valley of the shadow of death, and have always lived there. We bear the children. Little gated Catholic communities (or Orthodox, or Evangelical) are by their nature porous. In Christian history they grew out of pagan settlements, by the gradual conversion of the people (there were many stages). These were not utopian experiments; they partook of the vagaries of history, and centuries passed before they were transformed; as more centuries have passed in their descent into pagan communities again.

“Communism is only possible among friends,” as my Czech drinking buddies used to say. The convents offer variations on this kind of communism. They don’t work on any other terms than those which are consciously stated in defiance of sinful human nature. The membership is voluntary; no one is born into monastic life.

Just as no one is born Catholic. We are made, or make ourselves, into Catholics, by the grace of God, but we are all born as little pagans, rife with original sin.

I emphasize the obvious because the obvious is no longer obvious: we dream about things that are not physically possible. All secular utopian experiments fail. It is only possible to sustain them by tyranny, until the tyrants themselves crack up from one natural cause or many. Some, like the Shakers, die seemingly peaceful in their sleep; most perish in conflict. Vast ones like the Soviet, or our liberal-progressive-atheist Nanny State, collapse under their own cumulative dead weight, after the destruction of souls by the millions.

Monasteries have only worked, and flourished through time, because the “problems of communism” have been addressed in them with holy candour. Where these have not, they have also failed — and the implosion of a monastery (or nunnery) is, as we saw again and again in the ’sixties, and since in the utopian “spirit of Vatican II,” quite something to behold. A tipping point is reached when the inmates all go crazy, and from a domain of tranquillity and peace the place turns suddenly into a lunatic asylum, in the brief moments before the inmates fly out to wreak havoc back here in the world. (I have long looked on “liberation theology” and the like as mental conditions.)

The wisdom of the Catholic Church has been, from time out of mind, “don’t go there.” Don’t try to create, or even preserve, a monastic environment without the constant invocation, and quiet reception, of the will of God. Give up on the half-way house of “dialogue” and “dialectic”: Christ is all or nothing.

Outside, the whole world is our dar al-harb. Every parish church is in mission territory, and stays in mission territory, fighting an uphill battle against its own parishioners, often including the priests — who are reverting to paganism twenty times a day, and can only be retrieved through the faith, communicated chiefly through the Sacraments.

We, who are not monks and nuns, are out in the world, and stuck here, among all the temptations, until death moves us along. We are, in the main, incorrigible: we fight over petty things, play nasty tricks on each other, lie like rugs, grab at both spiritual and material comforts that do not belong to us. Our neighbourhoods are like zoos; the best only better kept than others. (This was also true in my beloved thirteenth century.)

My own special pleading for the devolution of government, on the subsidiary principle, is not based on any utopian hope that people with be “nice.” There will always be wars: I would prefer them to be smaller. There will always be tyrants: I’d prefer them to contained. Little governments will fail as big governments do: I’d prefer smaller failures. The world could be made quieter, but it will always be a mess.

Something might possibly be achieved, for a time, but nothing can be achieved with a people unable to comprehend that the world is radically imperfect, that it will remain so, and that this can’t be fixed by grand schemes. Only very specific problems can be fixed, and then only when they can be placed in some degree of isolation. The bigger the polity, the more it is removed from causes and effects that individual people can see with their own eyes; and thus the more that attempts at problem-solving must necessarily make things worse, under a cascade of unintended consequences. For our fundamental problem is sin, and there can be no human scheme to fix that.

This is why my own conception of “Benedict options” is plural: things we can actually do, now, in our imperfect world. There is one in particular on my mind at the present, which I fully intend to leave until tomorrow.

*

For today is the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (see missals) — of this Lady who is the Seat of Wisdom; before whom we should sometimes shut up and listen (as we can, through our Rosaries).

Not “Mother Earth” but sister Earth; not “sister Mary,” but Mother Mary.

Our Lady, pray for us; reach into our lives, and help us to order them.

Send us more Carmelites, calced and discalced.

Bring forth your rain, upon our desert.

Live not by lies

On the eve of his eviction from Communist Russia, in 1974, Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote the essay entitled, “Live not by lies.” It was dated 12th February, the day the Soviet secret police busted into his flat in Moscow, and arrested him; the day before they bundled him on an aeroplane for Frankfurt in West Germany. One vividly recalls such days; and the newspaper photograph of the German writer, Heinrich Böll, receiving my hero with flowers at the airport. (More than forty years have passed; I was then twenty, and a Cold Warrior, with no interest in Solzhenitsyn’s religion.)

Finding himself surrounded by newsmen, and pestered with their questions, Solzhenitsyn said that he was tired, and confused, and worried about his family. He wanted only to phone his wife in Moscow. He would not be doing interviews in the foreseeable future. Böll took him to his country retreat, where they pleaded with the newsmen to go away.

Everyone I knew thought this was great news. Solzhenitsyn was now free; he could speak freely. The man himself did not see it that way. He did not associate exile with freedom. He probably understood his situation much as the Soviet thugs who had pushed him onto the plane: as the best punishment the Soviet State could think of. His citizenship stripped, he was now a “foreigner,” no longer a Russian but a Western voice. Had they instead shot him, his voice would resound the louder within Russia.

His popularity in the West quickly diminished. In his Harvard and Nobel addresses, he began to tell the West, too, things the West did not want to hear; for instance, that we were shallow. He settled into a house in Cavendish, Vermont, which he fenced like a fortress against casual gawpers. He made no concessions to the demands of the mass media, when they were more than willing to “mike him up.” He did not appear on Johnny Carson, could not arrange his statements in sound bites, shared no chit with the chattering classes, would not perform as their dancing bear. Journalists, who imagined themselves quite well-intended, were surprised to discover that he felt for them something like contempt. Worse, it was mild contempt. Two by two, their eyeballs began to roll.

By the time he returned to post-Soviet Russia in 1994, Solzhenitsyn was “yesterday’s man” in the West. He had devoted most of his time in exile to writing and research, in rural seclusion; but the book publishers, who had sold millions of copies of The Gulag Archipelago (written in the 1950s and early ’60s), until it piled up in the remainder stores, had not the stomach to publish much more. To this day, little of the best and most mature writing of this major novelist, playwright, historian, and thinker, is available in English. For decades, old novels such as Cancer Ward continued to be sold only in their first, heavily censored versions. Neither the earlier nor the later works sell terribly well in Russia, I am told. There, too, he became “yesterday’s man,” whose writings were on topics unpleasant, and quite out-of-date. He is by now a mouldering shrine, not an author.

*

For the last two days I have been discussing “Benedict options.” Yesterday I provided some for grocery shopping. Today, I should like to add further ideas on “the custody of the mouth.” For in addition to eating, the human mouth can be used for speaking. We are, in that sense, marvellously designed: so many of our organs have more than one function, and an appropriate use in each. There is also the custody of the fingers, as we type, and for today’s purpose, since I can do no better myself, I will merely transcribe an excerpt from Solzhenitsyn’s “Live not by lies,” sent along by one of my crankier American correspondents, on whose backwardness I can always rely. (That was a compliment.) It arrived, as if on deadline, just when I needed it.

Several other correspondents have been asking me lately for advice on what they should do, given the gathering darkness in public life; the spread of malicious lies all around them. Should they “lead with the chin” as some (usually failed) boxers do, saying publicly things that may invite retaliation? Should they instead stay quiet and pray? How should they respond, each in his place, as the demands for “political correctness” grow, as they are now doing, incrementally towards Stalinist proportions? How to cope with those spreading lies, from small matters to large matters? What to do, when the perverse is presented as normal, and the normal is presented as perverse; and the most common, simple, ancient words are being “redefined”?

We may try, like men before us, only to avoid trouble. Keep your head down, and your thoughts to yourself. Say and do what is asked of you (not only for yourself but for your family). This is, after all, what most of the Apostles did, in the approach to Christ’s crucifixion. They arranged not to be there. Later, however, as we read in the same Scriptures, both Christ and the Devil caught up with them. In the end, there is no hiding from God.

It may be wrong, foolish, to go looking for trouble. I don’t think that was ever the command. But trouble may come looking for you: the Devil puts you on the spot, and God lets him. Like good scouts, we must be prepared.

What follows is the advice of a fine “scoutmaster”:

*

Our path is to talk away from the gangrenous boundary. If we did not paste together the dead bones and scales of ideology, if we did not sew together the rotting rags, we would be astonished how quickly the lies would be rendered helpless and subside.

That which should be naked would then really appear naked before the whole world.

So in our timidity, let each of us make a choice: whether consciously to remain a servant of falsehood — of course, it is not out of inclination, but to feed one’s family, that one raises his children in the spirit of lies — or to shrug off the lies and become an honest man worthy of respect both by one’s children and contemporaries.

And from that day onward he:

— Will not write, sign, or print in any way a single phrase which in his opinion distorts the truth.

— Will utter such a phrase neither in private conversation not in the presence of many people; neither on his own behalf nor at the prompting of someone else, either in the role of agitator, teacher, educator, nor in a theatrical role.

— Will not depict, foster, or broadcast a single idea which he can only see is false or a distortion of the truth, whether it be in painting, sculpture, photography, technical science, or music.

— Will not cite out of context, either orally or written, a single quotation so as to please someone, to feather his own nest, to achieve success in his work, if he does not share completely the idea which is quoted, or if it does not accurately reflect the matter at issue.

— Will not allow himself to be compelled to attend demonstrations or meetings if they are contrary to his desire or will, will neither take into hand nor raise into the air a poster or slogan which he does not completely accept.

— Will not raise his hand to vote for a proposal with which he does not sincerely sympathize, will vote neither openly nor secretly for a person whom he considers unworthy or of doubtful abilities.

— Will not allow himself to be dragged to a meeting where there can be expected a forced or distorted discussion of a question.

— Will immediately walk out of a meeting, session, lecture, performance, or film showing if he hears a speaker tell lies, or purvey ideological nonsense or shameless propaganda.

— Will not subscribe to or buy a newspaper or magazine in which information is distorted and primary facts are concealed.

Of course we have not listed all of the possible and necessary deviations from falsehood. But a person who purifies himself will easily distinguish other instances with his purified outlook.

No, it will not be the same for everybody at first. Some, at first, will lose their jobs. For young people who want to live with truth, this will, in the beginning, complicate their young lives very much, because the required recitations are stuffed with lies, and it is necessary to make a choice.

But there are no loopholes for anybody who wants to be honest. On any given day any one of us will be confronted with at least one of the above-mentioned choices even in the most secure of the technical sciences. Either truth or falsehood: towards spiritual independence, or towards spiritual servitude.