Young gentleman of my acquaintance refers to the Beatles and the Stones as, “nursing home music.” I remember the undying “swing era,” in the generation of my elders, and know what he means. The music seemed fresh, once upon a time, when “we” were all young, and easily entertained. Now we are old, and it is just as easy. The popular music of my youth had more breadth than the popular music of my parents’ age. Theirs was shallow and sentimental. So was much of ours; but ours also ranged to shallow and obnoxious.
Today’s effusion is not meant as a commentary on popular music; nor even on the sadness of nursing homes, and of the poor refugees washed up there, past their sell-by dates in commercial reckoning — no longer able to buy things for themselves — but not yet eugenically disposed of, owing to the prolongation of ancient taboos. It doesn’t seem right to put old mom and dad out with organic recycling in the new green bins. We can’t remember why (biohazard, perhaps?) — but we still don’t want to. It’s an emotional thing.
How many of the moral principles of the past survive today as sentimental adjuncts. They are that which feeds the feeler’s “feelgood,” or helps him to avoid the “feelbad” pain. The state, we thus feebly reason, should fund homes for the aged, and animal shelters for cute abandoned puppies. Alas, mom and dad have no chance, in there, of being re-adopted.
I am in rebellion against the fake, at all levels and in every aspect of post-Christian society. This theme is carried through many of these Idleposts. I do not like cheap substitutes for goods, and sentiment is a substitute for the good of a genuine moral conviction, so powerful that it will be acted upon. I think we should “pay extra” for the real thing.
Those pictures of Aylan Kurdi, the little boy dead, washed up on a beach in Turkey: I don’t trust them. Not that I think they were staged, like several of the big-impact images that have come out of Palestine. From what I can make out of background accounts, the scene was real enough — the poor little boy had actually drowned, after a dinghy capsized, along with his siblings and mother. Still, I am suspicious of any media presentation that looks too good for its purpose. Not staged, but nevertheless framed, carefully.
In this case, the pictures have quickly found their way to the centre of the Canadian election campaign. Apparently the surviving father had made a refugee application to Canada through his sister here, and it was not promptly approved. Therefore the prime minister, Stephen Harper, is being held personally responsible for the little boy’s death, by Harper’s political opponents, who include most of our journalists. Knowing what kind of men these are — the calculating mindless — I am hardly surprised.
The modern, mass-man, bereft of moral or intellectual substance, is left to operate entirely on emotion. The refugee crisis is thus presented in highly loaded emotional terms. Journalists who, only a generation or two ago, would have hesitated to roll with a scene that played on emotions in such a crass way, do not hesitate today. Being incapable of moral judgement, they ethicize mechanically in these terms: “If I don’t publish this, someone else will.” (Ethics are for people who have no morals.)
Were they at least partially Christian, as most were in the past, they would reason differently. “Even if another man may benefit from this evil, I must not.” And they would join to ostracize the journalist who had seized his opportunity, to make sure he did not come out ahead on the transaction. Today, it is a tip of the hat to the quickest operator.
But of course, the great majority will “justify” the sensationalist, by emoting on cue. Readers and viewers will rise to the bait, and consequences will follow. In approximately 100 cases out of 100, some new injustice will be perpetrated, to assuage our “feelings.” In almost every case, those who were trying to deal with the issue, to the best of their limited abilities — often at personal sacrifice, and under constraints far beyond their control — will be selected as the scapegoats. And seldom will the truth be sorted out, later, for the news cycle runs on, ever on.
True justice, as opposed to fake justice, requires the taming of emotion. It requires patience, and thinking things through. It refuses to jump to conclusions, however obvious they may be at first sight. Justice, where crimes have been committed, requires minds deeply tutored in principles of natural law, not shallowly briefed in the “how to” of “fix it.” True justice, as true charity or love, will not be rushed. Moreover, it is prepared to be tested.
Europe must take the refugees in, and we, in Canada and USA, must take our share, for a very simple reason. They are there, and they are desperate, and they have washed up in our view, and we have the means to help them. No Christian who has understood the Flight into Egypt can be confused about this. Nor can we, as Christians, choose whom we want to save. Our religion is radically different from Islam; we aren’t allowed to “prioritize” our own.
What I have just written goes beyond emotion. It is in the realm of duty. There are things we must do whether it makes us “feelgood,” or not. We cannot watch people perish, when it is within our ability to save their lives. We cannot let people starve and thirst, when we have food and drink enough for their succour. We cannot look away. Or rather, we must not look away, hide our heads and our wallets, or we will deservedly go to Hell. Our “feelings” on this are beside the point: this is a moral imperative.
And yet these refugees have no “rights.” Indeed, one has little of anything, when floating across the Mediterranean in an open dinghy. We have duties. The whole situation is quite opposite to that presented by the talking heads, when they try, so feebly, to reason. We do not “owe” these people citizenship or anything of the kind. They are refugees, not immigrants: we do not have an obligation to confuse these categories. They are “entitled” to be grateful for what they get; and to wait, peaceably, for legal status, wherever they have landed, according to our laws. We do, however, owe them succour. Why?
Because they are Christ, washed up at our feet; because they are the Holy Family; because they are Joseph, and Mary, with their Child, fled from Herod.
At the moment, facing millions (actual, not rhetorical millions), all we can do is feed, clothe, and shelter. For the catastrophe has happened. The opportunities for hypocrisy are huge, and we will avoid them only by acting intelligently, in good faith. Those who demand action by the state’s emergency services are wasting their breath: of course these agencies have gone into action. The question for each soul is rather, What can I do? This does not depend in any way on “collective responsibility.”
Should we want to go there, we will, as I have argued recently, look plainly at our own collective role in creating this crisis. As I explained, several days past, “we” in the West have played the most significant role, except the Daesh itself, in creating the conditions by which it has flourished. We scotched, but did not kill the serpent. I think it is morally incumbent on us, collectively, to go back in with boots unambiguously on the ground, and finish the job we started. And this, even if we don’t want to.
For the cause of the refugee crisis must be addressed, and that is the Daesh; and only by annihilating the Daesh can the crisis be eventually resolved. Alternatively, it will continue to spread. It is on our heads that we allowed it, and on our heads that it will ultimately fall.
But in addition to American, I should like to see Canadian, Hungarian, Greek, German, Swedish, French, Italian, and many other styles of boots on the ground. For the Yankees are still carrying most of the water, and they are not our servants.