Essays in Idleness

DAVID WARREN

Of close-run things

Trump lied. He predicted the Patriots would win by eight. They only won by six. And anyway the result of the game should be overturned by the courts, for the Falcons clearly won on yards rushing. (I stole this from some Comments thread somewhere.) And Brady, the Patriots’ quarterback, is a friend of Trump’s. He should never have been allowed to play. And Edelman’s pass reception should not have counted, because it was too good to be true. Ditto for White’s final touchdown. Or his previous one. Or the one before that.

Notwithstanding, the Patriots won.

Yes, I was watching the game, having found a livestream that worked on my laptop, though not until late in the third quarter, when the score was New England 3, Atlanta 28. I don’t usually watch American football; or any other kind of football; or any other professional sports. I especially don’t watch a game that’s not close. I can’t exactly say what glued me. My prejudice on behalf of the Patriots was mild, founded in a long dislike for the city of Atlanta, going back half a century to my hitchhiking days. Too, in my belief that of the two sides, the Patriots were less politically correct. But Sherman burnt it down once, and now Brady has burnt it down again. (Sorry gentle reader in Atlanta; the rest of Georgia I adore.)

I am wilfully biased by nature; I don’t need much to get me started. By the beginning of the fourth quarter, I was a New England Patriots fanatic; and by the time the score was 20 to 28, I was muttering prayers and reaching for my Rosary.

According to an American proverb, it ain’t over till the fat lady sings. (And this Gaga lady wasn’t fat enough.) To other counsels against ever giving up, I now add Tom Brady.

As he said himself, after the game, there were thirty plays that could have gone either way. If even one of them had not gone right, the result would have been different. That’s what Wellington noted after Waterloo: that it had been a close-run thing, “the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life.”

Should we ever be saved, gentle reader — you or even me — I think it might be a close-run thing. And as the next lap could be our last, remember to ask for divine assistance.

Nothing in this world is perfect (except Our Lord and Our Lady). But we wouldn’t even be here today, were it not for many million close-run things.

Granny dumping

From some newspaper or other, found on a trolley seat, I read the latest on granny dumping. This is when your granny has Alzheimer’s, or a similar dementia, to the point of forgetting family names, and needing a lot of unselfish attention. You take her to England on a family vacation — or any other welfare state will do — and leave her at a bus stop somewhere. (Or grandpa, as in the item I was reading.) But should your budget not go that far, you might just “lose” the inconvenient progenitor, over a few county lines. With luck, no one will recognize the face when some busybody posts it on Instagram or Snapchat. Having legal guardianship, and most likely low intelligence, you might even continue to cash granny’s cheques.

Let us not be too harsh. This is better than “euthanasia,” as the progressives call it; or senicide, or homicide, or “whatever.” And it probably puts an end to the physical abuse that granny was experiencing back home. By emerging Catholic standards it might count as merciful and merit a gold star. From Rome we are after all now hearing that the perfect is the enemy of the good. Why do the journalists reporting such stories sound so judgemental?

In Japan, according to the paper I was reading, the operation is called ubasute, and involves carrying granny up a high mountain, or to some other remote place. A quick check on standard references indicates that this custom is associated with the distant past; but then, a further electronic search indicates that it may be reviving. It is a country whose welfare and tax authorities recently discovered did not have almost a million centenarians, after all. More like 65,692; and some laxity in reporting bereavements.

I recall many similar legends, on the topic of senicide, circulating in my youth: Eskimo grannies floated off on ice floes, for example. As I grew, I learnt that such accounts were not necessarily true. Later, that they were not necessarily untrue, either. (Last known case in 1939, according to the Wicked Paedia.)

Whichever, and in defiance of political correctitude, my darling children were able to acquire this last detail of Canadian lore, in the form of a modern urban trope; the elder one especially. Hence a memorable remark, when his father admitted to age and mental enfeeblement, by way of explaining some eccentric act. I believe the lad was being droll. Nevertheless, I resisted his subsequent proposal for a family vacation in Nunavut.

From Procopius, we learn of the eugenic practices of the Heruli, a Germanic tribe, who assembled their sick and elderly in woodpiles, mercifully stabbing them to death before setting the piles alight. The Heruli were, incidentally, quite democratic, as were most if not all pre-Christian tribes. Everything by majority decision. (Electronic voting makes that possible again.)

A more thorough review of the annals of anthropology would yield a fairly thick dossier. We are reminded that in pagan cultures, including those of urbane Athens and Rome, Christian ideas about abortion, infanticide, suicide, senicide, were not yet in place. Today, we observe that they are slipping.

Under an Executive Order of a former German chancellor (also 1939), the Aktion T4 programme provided a one-size-fits-all solution for the incurably ill, the physically and mentally disabled, the emotionally distraught, and the irretrievably old. Soon this was extended to assorted Slavs, and all identifiable homosexuals, Gypsies, and Jews — entirely without what our liberal intellectuals call “informed consent.” The sort which might today be at risk of granny dumping would be accommodated under one category or another; and with Teutonic efficiency, house calls were arranged.

Did I mention this wasn’t Christian? Oddly, it became labelled as unprogressive, too; for while eugenics was all the fashion with the Darwinian avant-garde, before Hitler, after it went briefly out of style. I say “briefly” in the deeper historical context, for after only a few decades it is coming back in. Indeed, granny dumping might be given as an argument to make these policies more efficient and hygienic. It is (exactly) like demanding state abortion, so that women don’t have to make more hazardous arrangements to free themselves of their unwanted children, and go skulking about in fear of getting caught.

But of course, we now have “informed consent.” (Try getting it from an unborn baby.)

I have noticed that the truly doddering aged will agree to almost anything. For they are no longer following the plot. And some I have met in the oldie homes, even among those who recognize their descendants, may be so glad to see them again. And after such a long time! They’ll do anything for a smile.

We can make a law to permit something, or remove a law that gets in the way. We could also make a law forbidding it again, or restoring the status quo ante. We could have a lot of discussion about this, and the sort of Burkly riots that become easier to imagine, as a national entertainment, every day. For it’s not a pretty sight when the progressives stop smiling, because they haven’t got their way.

And yet as I realize from a clump of stray newspaper on the seat of a trolley, they are probably quite opposed to granny dumping. For it adds a fiscal burden to the state’s already mounting healthcare costs. Perhaps we’ll get new regulations against it; but I shouldn’t think anything too serious. For as I have elsewhere observed, the only “pro-life” position that progressive legislators are willing to support is on behalf of the convicted perpetrators of what were traditionally capital crimes.

To my mind, such laws are a secondary consideration. We can argue and riot until the pigeons come home to roost, in our dense intellectual smog; we can watch young, “politically aware” faces contorted with rage, carrying signs declaring their opposition to “hate,” and calling for assassinations. That is all quite irrelevant. The choice is really between a cultural reconversion to Christianity, and continuing our slide into murderous savagery. Meanwhile everyone has an opinion, and everything is up for grabs. We vote.

Civilization is oppressive. It makes certain acts unthinkable. You hardly even need laws, once that is established. But they are kept on the books, all the same, and the hangman’s noose still stands as a paradoxical reminder of the sanctity of human life. As Doctor Johnson said, it helps to concentrate the mind.

That was the “dead-white” Euro thing: oppressive Christianity. Before that we were like the Heruli. Now we are becoming like the Heruli again — albeit with much improved technology.

On knocking

How do we know that the Earth was created by God? Because it exists. The same can be said for the universe in which we are located: our little universe, quickly expanding but still less than 93 billion light years wide, at the broadest estimate. It exists, and continues to exist, even when we close our eyes; or die, for that matter.

This naïve little “proof” first occurred to me about forty years ago. Or rather, first occurred to me then as an irrefutable proposition. It may not satisfy gentle reader, to say nothing of Saint Anselm in Heaven, but it pleaseth me. I found Descartes too subjective. I was trying to get behind cogito ergo sum. You may think you are, but what about a machine that thinks, but has no consciousness, and has parts that can be switched on and off? A Cartesian machine that has nothing but brains, and thus no way to anchor? How could it ever know? How do earthworms know? Why are humans privileged?

We are, if we can ask the question. Animals may be problem-solvers, too, but I rather doubt even those clever (and sometimes vicious) dolphins spend time on problems like this. They know what they know; had they the philosophical capacity, they would have walked out of the water by now. For that matter most humans don’t, until there is some tease, such as looking into the face of death: one’s own in particular. Does this universe continue when I check out?

“Well, what do you think?” I asked myself, sardonically. Of course it does. I’d watched other people die. The “fact of life” was ineluctable; clinched, as it were, in the fact of death. There it lay before me.

It struck me, in the darkening London twilight, on the steps of the V&A Museum, that the choice between is and is not had likewise been made before me. Consider: the universe “ought” never to have existed, and nothing ought ever to have been. This would be sensible. It would solve all metaphysical quandaries. But as in fact there was something, not nothing, one must deal with a miracle. A rather large one. Modern men do not care for miracles, but there’s a whole chain of them to contend with, and we might as well start here. The “IS” just where we look for an “is not” provides, if nothing else, an outrageous scandal; for with that IS we have the unavoidable authorship of meaning. We have Being, Life, things that Exist. Even an atheist is stuck acknowledging them, and suicide can provide no escape. We might have some Becoming, too, but in the face of such truths, it is an homeopathic dose; I wanted my Reality straight up.

That it all “just happened” is no explanation; that one thing led to another is lame. Being does not come out of nothingness. It eradicates nothingness. It establishes for fact that nothingness never was. One cannot even aspire to restore what is unrestorable: for it is nothing, not something, that never was. One might preach that “God is dead,” but it will be just words. That IS, is prior, and it seemed to me then that I could see where even “godless” Buddhism, and very godful Christianity converged — in an undeniable immortality. Or to take this to the Upanishads, something that “neither is nor is not” unmistakably IS. He might be prior to male and female and neuter, prior to many other distinctions, but too, He is prior to prior.

One might even say, with Jean-Luc Marion and the cutting-edge theologians, that there is “God Without Being.” Notice one must say that this IS.

“Live with it,” as they say. Or as Isaiah put it, “Choose life.” We are stuck with IS for as long as we should live, and infinitely before, and after. We might as well start coming to terms, with the elephant in our cosmos.

Thoughts like this began to afflict a young man not quite twenty-three, who had done his best to be “an evangelical atheist,” with whatever bells and whistles came to hand; to deny everything that could not be proved. My intellectualism had defeated itself, and now I would be prey to the suggestions of the greatest poets and philosophers, saints and doctors — whom I had previously noticed were never on my side. My unconscious lie had become a conscious one, which meant, sooner or later I should have to abandon it, and tuck into minds greater than my own.

Add a few more thoughts, some time in a hospital with a collapsed lung, and a great deal of intellectual and emotional confusion, ending in a question asked ever less sarcastically, ever more candidly, to wit: “Christ, if you exist, why don’t you just show yourself to me?” and answered finally with the most personal sun-burst of unearthly Love, accompanied by the words, “I will cross this bridge with you.” The story of my conversion and subsequent development into a “born-again Catholic” has been told elsewhere. I don’t like to repeat it, because I cannot do justice to the experience, only awkwardly report my inadequate response to it. But if gentle reader is looking at his watch, let me add that from IS to Christ took about three months, and a half.

As I think back, I realize, one must start somewhere, in this universe full of starts and finishes. “If you came this way,” &c. (See: The Four Quartets.) One must try to get behind what is, to what IS. One must find one’s way out of the “box” of time; walk through its walls. There is no door, no material key to be found, and yet, knock and it will be answered.

Extra extra

Several readers of the hard violent Right are disturbed to find Mr Trump so aggressive; I’ve been chatting with them on current news. Let me continue with a footnote to what I wrote yesterday.

Trumpf, but also Steve Bannon and a few lessers, are civil warmongers to be sure, and adrenaline junkies. (Bannon a former Benedictine choirboy: they’re the toughest.) My own instinct is not to provoke people gratuitously; except on a battlefield. The general wants to provoke the opposing general into doing things that are stupid, by making him very very angry. But of course he must remain cool-headed himself, to exploit the mistakes. For this the Trumpflings may need heavenly help. For they are themselves a little too easy to annoy.

Now, God works in mysterious ways, and through unlikely agents, and His grace — as theological experts have observed — is not always comfortable to those who’d prefer the quiet and luxurious life. History, too, is not always nice, and the ways in which what goes around, then comes around, can also be rather inconvenient, from what we like to think an “humane” point of view. “Go warn the children of God of the terrible speed of Mercy,” is a phrase that comes to mind from my Lit classes.

And God is in this somewhere. He always is. See: The Battle Hymn of the Republic. (Here, in case you can’t find it.) The sudden conversion to, then enthusiasm for “pro-life” is striking. Perhaps God has given the thick flesh of Trumpf a specific task: such as, bring down Roe v. Wade. Reagan was a poofter on abortion; his successors were not even that; this guy seems to mean “bidnis.” (That’s a Flannery O’Connorism for what one goes about, day to day.)

Of course that could mean war, and tremendous suffering. While the defenders of “the woman’s prerogative” over the life of her unborn child are now sinking into the minority, it is the central rite or “sacrament,” around which the whole Culture of Death revolves. That is why even progressives who feel badly about abortion, defend it to partial and post-birth: because so much else depends on it. (Verily, it is the reason Southerners who felt uneasy about slavery, were willing to fight and die for an institution on which their whole culture depended.) It is hard to imagine a peaceful surrender.

One might say, that in their Civil War of 1861–65, Americans both North and South paid off their cosmic debt for half a million slaves.

I can’t imagine the debt on sixty million babies.

Chronicles of frothing hysteria

I love phrases like “frothing hysteria.” They are so frothing, so hysterical. Over the weekend I heard this one from both sides of the current American Civil War. It hasn’t got to uniforms, yet — you can’t get people to dress properly, these days — but it has become obvious that the line is drawn between the Red and the Blue. I have mixed colours in my paintbox to produce to my satisfaction what might be called a “Trumpf Red” and an “Alinsky Blue.” Blood red was incidentally the old Tory colour, before the Communists stole it; Whigs were often sky blue; Yankee colour schemes are thus stuck in the eighteenth century. (Bravo!)

The breaking news is that the Left are freaking out. But this is an old story. They’ve been doing that for decades, whenever they don’t seem to be getting their way. It is part of the power formula, not only for them but for the average three-year-old. … “What do we want?” … “Goo-goos!” … “When do want them?” … “Now!”

Rather, the curious development through the recent American election is that the Right are freaking, too. The Left may not follow this because it isn’t covered in their electronic newspapers. They have really no idea what is going on, or has been going on — what bugs these people in the broad space between the several Left Coasts. Ever gracious, I told them that Trump was going to win, even though I didn’t much like the man myself; but they didn’t believe me. (Perhaps they don’t read my Idleposts!) They couldn’t imagine such a thing: like that great genius Pauline Kael, sainted expositor of leftishness and Hollywood movies, who could not understand how Nixon had won when everyone she knew had voted for McGovern.

Who got Trump elected? The short answer is “Obama,” that wonderful man (from a Republican point of view) who, during his time in office, filled more than a thousand Democrat legislative seats with Republicans, right across America. With continuing popularity in all the big cities, he pushed the rest of the country a little too far. And that is why this time the simpletons in the sticks did not get behind a polite, pussy-footing McCain or a Romney. They got behind some real estate tycoon from Manhattan who appeared to understand them. Who — now this is a delicious tiny fact — consistently dressed in his sharpest boardroom suits, to convey his respect while he harangued them. (Professional politicians instinctively dress up for their colleagues; dress down for their more “rural” audiences, hoping they’ll appreciate the inauthenticity.)

There are lots of little things like that of which my gentle reader may be perfectly aware; especially if he comes from a Red State. In addition to novelties, there are little continuities in national character, that show from one generation to another. “Middle America” was never, exactly, isolationist. Rather, before 24/7 media, these people were a long way from the coasts. They were small town and laid back and slow to anger. Sometimes they’d turn up three years late for a World War. But when they got there, they got there.

Here’s another little thing. On his first few days in office, President Obama flourished numerous Executive Orders. The traditional number for new presidents was zero. Trump has nearly matched his predecessor, and indeed, most of his simply reverse Obama orders. The one notable exception was the modest, temporary (ninety days) item on inbound travel, which made so much news over the weekend. Those who have actually read it — apparently no one in the mainstream media — will have noticed that it does not contain any of the features they frothingly and hysterically condemn. It does not even mention the few terrorist-infested Muslim countries whose nationals were flagged. That list was helpfully supplied by the Department of Homeland Security. It came from the outgoing Obama administration. The nefarious Trumpfists had taken strictly Obama-era materials and recycled them into force. I think they did that purposely, to set their opponents up and make them look foolish.

What they have now learnt, is that clever tricks like that don’t work in an environment where “facts” are mostly “alternative.” You cannot argue with the (frothing, hysterical) mobs that were hosed into the aeroports by the same social media that got the Arab Springs going. There will be no opportunity for a civilized debate with people in a state of psychiatric meltdown. If this state were temporary, it would be unwise to excite them. But what if, thanks to Pavlovian indoctrination, it has become permanent, and the mere uttering of the monosyllable “Trump” will set them off? Straitjackets, anyone?

It was an unnecessary Executive Order, and from what I understand, nothing Trump has done so far has required one. All could have been accomplished with a few quiet phone calls, and perhaps one discreet written memorandum. But he wanted to make a splash.

His reasoning, and that of his remarkable Benedictine-educated chief strategist (Mr Bannon), is that you have to make a splash. You must fulminate and tweet to get around the guardians of the portals of information, and be heard by the folks “back home” — the ones who think you need to have a war sometimes, and why not now?

Too, they reason — and gentle reader may mark my words on this — that they are up against the leftist tactic of concentrating all available forces on one target at a time. This always wins, against a dispersed, purely defensive enemy. Now the Bannon Brigade are counter-attacking on nineteen fronts, and counting. Let’s see how those, who haven’t played defence for a long long time, will handle it. My guess would be through an extremely incoherent Long Hot Summer.

Risky, risky, any counter-attack strategy. Capitulation is much safer. But sometimes you get sick of always losing, and resolve to try something new, by way of experiment; or in this case something old, that hasn’t been tried for a while, against opponents who have grown smug and self-satisfied.

For decades the Left have been playing for keeps. The Right have been playing for mercy. With Trump, those Red State types — “progressively” deprived of elementary freedoms, of their dignity, and even of their livelihoods — have voted to play for keeps, too. They were used to shrugging and taking their lumps, from politicians they happened to despise. The politicians were used to administering the lumps, to their own fabulous enrichment. Suddenly the simpletons — or deplorables, as they now prefer — decide they’ve had enough. (Americans can be like that sometimes.) Elitist and anti-populist that I am, anti-nationalist and anti-tribalist, I kind of understand it.

The media think only the Left can get angry, and that it is their exclusive right. They are making a splash of how angry they can get, on the old assumption that it will intimidate the simpletons. Yet this is the very assumption they have pushed too far. For Middle America is in one of those Clint Eastwood moods. And the cameras are rolling, on frothing and hysteria; versus “make my day.”

Schall at eighty-nine

“To be at peace with the absurdities of the world, which he knows to be part of a divine plan he doesn’t presume to grasp fully.” (Weigel on Schall, echoing Saint Peter, quoted by Deavel in Catholic World Report.) By a happy chance I discover that today Father James V. Schall enters his ninetieth year. I thought he was a bit older than that, actually; after all, he formally retired as a university perfesser nearly five years ago. I hadn’t expected him to do that till one hundred; but perhaps at Georgetown University they have an early retirement policy. And I have been reading him for what seems like a century, though it turns out only forty years or so. He writes, I think, more than I do; still does from what I can see. But what I seem to do as a way of life, he does in his spare moments. Dozens of beuks and still counting, thousands of essays year upon year, each impressively learned, and not one sentence pretentious. Moreover, he never loses his temper, in territory where one’s temper is usually the first thing to go.

If you asked me where I got my politics from, I would always say Homer, but in justice I should add that the rough edges were largely sanded down by this young Jesuit writer and thinker, whom I first discovered in the pages of obscure journals. He is still sanding, for I was very rough. Both directly and through later contemplation I would say he taught me that politics are incomprehensible unless well-founded in a worldly understanding and a reasoned faith. He has been like a good boxing instructor, who shows when to deak and when to pounce; when to pull punches and when to let fly. He speaks for a Christianity that can be gentle and muscular at the same time; balanced and inwardly still while constantly in motion.

I was a freshly-minted Christian when he came into my ken, in the later ’seventies; though already from my slight experience of life a fairly robust soi-disant “conservative,” stirred by the loss of Vietnam, and by friends who had come in exile from the wrong side of the Iron Curtain. What I needed was some tactical sense, and by this I mean some divine guidance, through a world very much under Caesar’s control, which it was not my calling simply to ignore.

So in wishing Father Schall a happy birthday, across the thousands of miles to Los Gatos, California, and the years that have passed, I find that I am writing only of myself. This is the mark of a great author — that he is absorbed into one’s own flesh — but also evidence that I have never met him. I must know a dozen people who know him; but have been too shy to bother him, and aware he must be very busy. I was astounded to find he sometimes reads these idle Idleposts (a proof that he has read everything), and was proud like some former pupil to find him quoting me, one place or another. And it is with the thought that this little squib might reach him that I want to say, to Father Schall himself: God bless you for all you have done, and God give you many more years, if only for the benefit of my own slow wit.

Of numbers & mendacity

The way to estimate crowd size that I was taught goes like this. Go to the highest place you can reach, create an approximate mental grid with the help of fixed objects, count the people in a few squares to get the approximate density, then multiply by the number of squares that look filled. You will need to know the principles of perspective if you don’t have a helicopter. You will get a number so rough that any two people using the same method are likely to give vastly different estimates. But you could get a large number of people to provide estimates, then average those. This will produce a number no more reliable, but slightly more plausible.

You want accurate? Carefully fence and patrol the perimeter, and sell tickets to get in.

Photographs can lie, and can be made to lie shamelessly, as I learnt from practising print journalism, which sometimes involved travelling in a posse with the other hacks, the photographers and TV cameramen (under intense peer pressure). Almost everything presented pictorially has been staged. The exceptions, too, have been carefully selected and cropped by professional editors (under their own intense peer pressure). They are trying for some emotional edge.

That is among the reasons photographs replaced engravings in the papers, more than a century ago. It was not a mere technological advance, as the sweet young things are taught in the J-schools. At the start, reproducing photos cost more money. Technology is developed for a market: to supply what people seem most likely to buy. In this case, the press lords wanted photography: it made what they were selling seem more immediate, more “truthy.” The improvements in technology followed.

Here is an example of journalistic fraud, more egregious than usual, but not by much. The CNN television network juxtaposed two aerial photographs from the same angle, one showing the National Mall full of people, the other showing most of it empty. They explained that Picture A showed the crowd for Obama’s first inauguration, Picture B for Trump’s. They didn’t mention that Picture A was taken while Obama was being sworn in, Picture B three hours before Trump was. It was the “proof” that Obama had outdrawn Trump, picked up and enthusiastically hustled by all other liberal media — and a knowing misrepresentation. But it achieved its purpose. Not one in a hundred who saw it will ever learn that they were had.

I fell for it myself, at first, and had I been on air as a talking head, would have explained it by mentioning that the inaugurations are held in Washington, DC, which votes overwhelmingly Democrat. How could Trump possibly match Obama’s crowds in that town — even after he had outdrawn Hillary Clinton by huge undisputed margins at election rallies across the rest of the country? (Of course, Trump didn’t waste any time in California.) When Trump’s press secretary disputed the comparison, I winced. “Why are you bleeding credibility, Spicer?” I mumbled to myself. The media he was disputing with, hooted him down. Yet, now that CNN has been exposed (with almost no press coverage), we find that the inauguration crowds were, by their own later footage, somewhere in the vicinity of equal.

The replacement of the truth with a plausible lie is “normal” among interested parties. Truth — even minor factual truth — requires a certain chastity, possible even to an interested party, but requiring intelligence and character. I could explain why the media have no interest in truth, but it would be tedious. In the end, the argument would come down to chastity: they don’t have any. And in the further absence of intelligence and character, they are unlikely to grow some.

Other media stories breeze by. For instance, rather than show the crowds at the March for Life, today, the Washington Post was reporting that the Metro showed no exceptional ridership spike. (It was simply at capacity.) Or we’re told of the “mass resignation” of (four) staff in the State Department. (Immediately after they were fired.) And so on. There are days when I have looked at the front page of the New York Times, and known enough to see that every story on it is an intentional misrepresentation.

With practice one may read between the lines, as in the old days with Pravda, to guess what has happened. (Example: “There has been no riot in Gorki.” Translation: “There are huge and continuing riots in Gorki.”) If they say that “Trump is lying” about something, I can be reasonably certain he is telling the truth — at least on the point at issue.

I have no idea (yet) what were the comparative numbers for the March for Life today, versus the leftist Women’s March last Saturday in Washington, or parallel marches elsewhere. (We had a nice turnout of ditzy dames, of all sexes, shouting their obscenities up here in Toronto.) I do know that year after year, for more than four decades, the March for Life has been by far the largest public demonstration in Washington; that adults with their kids bus and fly from all over USA to be there; and have exhibited consistently dignified behaviour. Too, that it gets almost no media coverage; and that what little it gets is focused on a handful of noisy, often rude, pro-abortion counter-demonstrators. Whereas, the Women’s March last Saturday got wall-to-wall coverage on the networks; with camera angles chosen to suggest great numbers.

And yet, for all this, Big Joe is not confused. (Viral video here.)

What is a reactionary?

I have a confession to make to gentle reader. When I describe myself as “a man of the thirteenth century,” it is an “alternative fact.” In other words, it is not true. According to my passport, and birth certificate, I was actually born around the middle of the twentieth century. That may seem a long time ago, but it was not the thirteenth (or the late twelfth, had I been a “thirteenth centennial”). This is painful to admit, especially as one of my constant correspondents, a rather sarcastic and irritating Leftist, has frequently alleged that I am a liar; not only to me, but to anyone who will listen. I expect he will go to town on this one. Aheu!

All I can say for myself, is to remind that feelings trump facts in this day and age. I often feel as if I were a man of the thirteenth century, and that should be sufficient. By Canadian law, as I understand it, I am what I say I am, and in light of what I have said, should be entitled to the standard Canadian pension, backdated to the year 1293. With compound interest.

Let me add that I am not to be confuted, for I am also a woman of colour. I think this is established in the official record, for some years ago, I made a formal statement.

You see, I was hired on as scriptwriter for a documentary movie. It turned out the directrice had a subsidy from the National Film Board, which required her to hire only “visible minority women.” She’d apparently passed the test herself, on sight, being a reasonably dark Tamil, though lightened by parental miscegenation (with a Bengali). A beautiful woman, by the way, and a self-declared feminist; normally, whatever she wanted, she got. But I had to fill out this form, in which the question of my sex and pigmentation was directly raised. But not my ethnic origin: or I should have added that I was a red-haired Gaelic woman of (beige) colour from the Western Isles. (With antlers, born in 1228.)

The officer who received and reviewed this document expressed scepticism. She said I did not look like a woman of colour. (She sure did.) But I smoothly explained that it was my human right to be taken at my own word, and if necessary I would get a lawyer. Eyebrows were raised, but no action taken, even when I wrote a column about my experience in the Ottawa Citizen, and suggested that readers confronted with the same sort of apartheid balderdash from government agencies should use the same tactic.

But just between us, gentle reader, the statement was not strictly true. Really I’m just one of these pasty-faced white trashlings, with male heterosexual tendencies. And, what I call “a reactionary.” Who believes with the late Alexander Solzhenitsyn that if, without exception, everyone in the country got up tomorrow morning and told only the truth — refused to tell any part of a lie — the entire Nanny State would crumble, in time for the midday news.

On the other hand, let me observe that it may not be possible adequately to condemn the current state of society, unless one is aware how bad things were in the 1950s. I choose that decade only because there are many, even among my readers, under the impression that things were much better then. They are right, of course. But then they infer that things were somehow good, in that time prior to the ’sixties. In this, they are getting carried away. Things were bad, and the world was a shambles, in the 1950s, as also in the 1250s. People behaved abominably. Hypocrisy was rife, and tyrants were jumping up and down on the human spirit.

Nor would I propose we go back to live in the past, before we have considered all the metaphysical and ontological implications. Prudence demands this.

A point raised in my last (now slightly revised) Idlepost is worth repeating, in case anyone missed it. This is about the definition of a reactionary, or how he is to be distinguished from a “conservative” or “liberal” or “progressive.” All three of those are trapped in the time series. So am I, as a matter of fact, physically compelled to ride along in a world where time’s arrow does not meander or take coffee breaks. And on a planet that rotates at an inconvenient speed, to those who wish the days were longer. And hurtles through space on a revolutionary course, round and round getting nowhere, indifferent to the passage of asteroids.

The reactionary accepts this. He accepts the facts of change — birth, life, death, et cetera. When in good mood he doesn’t bother to whine. His criteria for what is good, true, and beautiful are however timeless: he actually seeks such criteria in the welter of our world. He does not judge something to be better, or worse, because of its place in the time series, assuming it is “better” because it comes later, or came before. Nor can he place any hope in “progress” for, as Don Colacho dryly notes, today is the past’s dream of the future.

My reason to prefer the thirteenth century to the twenty-first would be because almost everyone in Christendom was a reactionary then, and I prefer the company of my fellow reactionaries. I do admit the plumbing may be better now, though in my building it is touch and go. And I can see some arguments for electricity, though I think they are overstated.

It is true that we are prisoners of time, and of every other arbitrary thing that from birth defined us. No one got to choose his parents — not even the test tube babies — nor even his original name. Freedom, which cannot be achieved without hard-won religious faith (hard-won by us, hard-won by Jesus), requires that we accept what we are, not in the face of some government department, but sub specie aeternitatis.

That’s what Baruch de Spinoza says, and in this matter, I’m with her.

Escolios in Bogotá

The final nightmare of modernism, foreseen by Nicolás Gómez Dávila, seems outwardly to be upon us, but the fact it was so clearly foreseen speaks against its finality. Dávila, the great Colombian reactionary, so perfectly foresaw “the trend in world events,” that with all his gifts of penetrating reason he embraced a knowing reclusiveness, and buried himself in a private library (some ten times the size of that in the High Doganate). My Joint Chief Washington Correspondent having found a translation of what seems to be his longest epigram, I pass it along as a public favour. (Here.) Years, years, before names I will not bother to name, he captured that vain dementia which constitutes the post-modern mind, proving in retrospect its lack of development. Matthew Schmitz and William Randolph were, until last year, reposting Dávila’s aphorisms in English on Twitter, as a kind of tease. (Still archived here. I linked to a previous effort, here.) My purpose today is limited to reminding that almost everything I say, about the strange filthy world presented in our universally “fake news,” has been anticipated, and is better and more concisely expressed in Colombian Spanish.

Take, for instance, only this aphorism, apt to the present situation in Rome:

“Concerning himself intensely with his neighbour’s condition allows the Christian to dissimulate to himself his doubts about the divinity of Christ and the existence of God. Charity can be the most subtle form of apostasy.”

All one can add, is that it has ceased to be subtle.

I differ from “Don Colacho” (as he signed himself), only in this respect: I think that we should be slightly more interactive, through any media available to us; show the naked for what it is, with a little more aggression and insolence; and where necessary, accept the consequences. Never miss a chance to proselytize. Nonetheless, in defiance of the principles of mass advertising — on this eve of the Conversion of Saint Paul — I know that people can be reached only one at a time. And that imbeciles are by nature unreachable. That sandals need dusting sometimes. Strive to inform the last surviving reader (and “the soul you save may be your own”).

What is true was always true, and what is now false was always so. Though everything seems to change, nothing really changes, and the essence of the reacción we espouse is to acknowledge what is actually immortal. Hence the preference of poetry to politics; for personal liberty over the activism of slaves; and the teaching of the God-man Christ over the trite and malicious slanders of the fashion coolies opposed to Him. The rewards for this can only be in Heaven.

Don Colacho does not stand alone, although he is unique in his genre. Without exception, all the great human minds were reactionary, or rose to that state in moments of inspiration, in none of which they ever pleased the crowd. Or that is my earnest belief, after sixty years of reading. Earthly power, rightly apprehended, is a tinsel that will soon blow away, and let us take contentment in its passing, for everything that it pretends to offer will also pass, and the powerful today are the dust of tomorrow.

Orpheus descending

[Updated irresponsibly, overnight.]

*

Poetry should “make the visible a little harder to see” (Wallace Stevens), and should provide “a bombardment of proofs that the world is one” (Richard Wilbur).

This much is obvious, but there are more subtle services poetry should provide. It should afflict alike the comfortable and uncomfortable; shock in a sudden, startling music; it should violate privacy and mess with all routines; it should be generally invasive, racing through the reader’s cautious defences. It should take flight, as the falcon, while maintaining a profound coherence, embodying truths beneath the everyday.

It should be godly in this way. It should be elevated.

The decorator is mixing his plaster:
He’s lit an oil lamp on top of the step-ladder.
     It is the moon.
          It moves like an acrobat.
               Wherever it appears it causes panic.

(Vítězslav Nezval: some Czech commie, who wrote persistently better than he knew.)

Of course poems should always be in some recognizable metre, and remind us of that by their winking in the turns, while quietly breaking all the rules to preserve the appearance of the accidental. Overtly through metaphor, and subvertly through every trick of language, poetry should wash the reader’s sense of earthliness away. Whether rhymed or unrhymed, it should be repetitious, as the waves in the sea; but in the repetition, never exact. In should evoke common speech, almost as a parody, but no poem can pretend to be poetical that cannot be either sung or chanted.

Here, by way of example, is a cossante (a form invented for Gallician weaving women in the twelfth century), in which every rule is invisibly broken, by W. H. Auden in 1952. Notice that it is the perfect mediaeval cossante:

Among the leaves the small birds sing;
The crow of the cock commands awaking:
     In solitude, for company.

Bright shines the sun on creatures mortal;
Men of their neighbours become sensible:
     In solitude, for company.

The crow of the cock commands awaking;
Already the mass-bell goes dong-ding:
     In solitude, for company.

Men of their neighbours become sensible;
God bless the Realm, God bless the People:
     In solitude, for company.

Already the mass-bell goes dong-ding;
The dripping mill-wheel is again turning:
     In solitude, for company.

God bless the Realm, God bless the People;
God bless this green world temporal:
     In solitude, for company.

The dripping mill-wheel is again turning;
Among the leaves the small birds sing:
     In solitude, for company.

To revert: poetry should be heard not seen; so that if it must be read, it will be read as music, and played internally in the singing mind. But better it should subsist in the memory of the blind, and advance the cause of what I will call a holy blindness.

Art, on the contrary, illustrates the poetic, waiting for us to open our eyes again.

*

From the beginning, God so arranged the world to make poetry absolutely necessary. This is why it has existed in all cultures since the divine allocation of human speech. Before the paintings were added to the walls of Lascaux, our brutish ancestors were declaiming. And when, at the forefront of technology today, we are deprived of poetry, it reasserts itself, often in monstrous ways.

The poet Dana Gioia, whom I admire for dressing in a business suit when he goes to work every morning (or leaving that impression if he don’t), stressed this last point in some lecture I was auditing, probably on YouTube. Brilliantly, he mentioned the over-genre of hip hop. Into the vacuum for poetry it exploded, in English and in Urdu, and every other global language, from its abstruse origins in the South Bronx — with an insistence that left all of its detractors (me, for instance) powerless to deny. It answered to a terrible hunger, in the way that false religion fills a void of true.

Yet God sheds his grace on the worthy and unworthy; there is poetry, hip hop and rap, that is astounding and beautiful. Mostly in Spanish, I think. (It may help that I don’t really understand Spanish.)

Now Gioia, who is a model for openness and kindliness and public charity, is not responsible for my further observations.

The poetical is the political in an age like this. (So is everything.) Soon hip hop, in its developments, will have ruled for half a century, in the place behind the mind. It was the genius of, for instance, a certain ex-president to ride to power on its magic carpet; and all the tribal factions of identity politics may coalesce as variations on a single dance theme. He mastered all the aesthetic principles of em-ceeing and dee-jaying, of bee-boying, beat-boxing, and graffiting, with ineffable charm, and without any rational ideas, adapting or appropriating a background ideology from what he’d half-learnt at Harvard. Had he been a neo-con, it could not have worked as well, for neo-con is a hard, realistic, bean-counting religion. “Hope and change” works only with magic beans; it cannot hear arguments, or rather, is allergic to them. (The new guy hears arguments but, as we observed at the inaugural ball, has dance feet of lead.)

So now Orpheus is gone in the final serenade of a March for Death (an inversion or involution of the March for Life) — a kind of hip hop demonstration, repeated around the world, among crowds of batty people under pink pussy hats. Beyond any individual practitioner, this hip-hopsomeness is at the root of the phenomenon of “flipping” by which anything that is noble in a culture can be inverted, then rhythmically transformed, into something glittering and empty, if not poisonous.

*

We have seen this before, in the Orphism of the ancient world, which “flipped” the religions of the old Hellenic cities, and became in short time “the religion of the people.” Curiously it produced no lasting poetry, music, or art, and only a rather depraved architecture: sanctuaries that were holes in the ground. But it answered to the demand for the mysterious against a desiccated formalism in temple and state, overthrew reason, and retained its power until defeated by the “poetical dogmatism” of Saint Paul. One might say that with a greater, divine magic, he broke its spell; and by a finer poetry, re-inverted its precepts, returning to Hellas her confident sensation of up and down.

This, I think, is a chapter in the history of religion that needs to be more carefully examined. In history as in poetry there is recurrence, though never exact. For the moment, perhaps all that can be said is that modern man decided he could live without poetry, and poetry has had its revenge.

The morning after the night before

Doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink. Admits to a germ phobia. Works twenty hours a day. This might be a crazy man.

Or possibly an android. But androids aren’t vain. And besides, he admits that he is vain, unlike the previous android. Prides himself especially on his “common sense.” He also seems to have a sense of humour, and to be capable of self-deprecation. But hasn’t made a habit of it.

Extreme self-confidence; comfortable among strong-willed people.

He is very smart, very sharp, with that kind of intelligence that was made for survival on a stage. Quick on his feet; knows when to duck. And unlike a politician, when not to. (As I mentioned in a recent post, the public are good at judging pretty faces on their TVs; not so good at estimating intelligence.)

Remarkably candid. Doesn’t mind if you don’t like it.

Likes people in uniform, from generals to hotel cleaning staff. Knows how to wear a tuxedo; or a babe on his arm. Decidedly heterosexual. Likes strong women, too. (Women are discovering that sometimes a man is okay, for a change.)

Can do business with anybody, both in his imagination and in fact.

Bit of a temper on him: retaliates for slights. Can recall, but does not nurse a grudge. People who have actually known him for a long time say he is a warm, loyal, generous friend, who remembers birthdays. (Certainly well organized, in that way.)

And I have seen interviews with him from years ago, in which his political views were solicited, before he became a professional politician. (Once a hack, always a hack: I can’t stop myself inquiring into “background.”) Those views have not changed: a “populist” then as now.

Doesn’t like wars. Knows they cost a lot of money. Would rather that no one got hurt.

Given to overstatement and wild exaggeration, but with enjoyment. Needs coaching on the understatement side.

Basically honest, in a businesslike way. Unlikely to commit crimes, once he knows what they are.

I have no reason to believe he is a gangster, apart from the fact he’s been in real estate, and often talks like a gangster. Also looks like a gangster, and dresses like one, and has a wife who looks like a moll, but I don’t think it’s fair to dwell on appearances. (Too, she looks absolutely gorgeous in powder blue.)

For that matter, most gangsters are refreshingly honest, when the stakes are low. Gratuitous dishonesty is for the general population, who never take big risks.

As protection rackets go, one is probably better off with gangsters than with minor-league bureaucrats, looking for something to enforce, if only to assuage their minor-league bureaucratic egos. Gangsters are happy to overlook the small stuff. They get big by focusing on the “bigly.” We get small by focusing on the small change. Fortunately for us, gangsters create employment, and don’t make a scene unless they have to. (However, little-league gangsters can be a pest.)

Moses gave ten commandments, by the way. Only three are currently enforceable, and those only in carefully specified cases.

But there are more than 10,000 felonies on the U.S. books today (I saw an estimate somewhere, of nearly 17,000) — from dwarf tossing (in Florida) to slow dancing (in a national park). They are currently increasing faster than 1,000 a year: a few by statute, the rest through regulatory codes. Goodness knows how many misdemeanours. Nanny State can always nail you for something.

Nineteen in twenty convictions are by plea bargain; 97 percent of charges stick in some form (approximately the level in Stalin’s Russia). And this despite sometimes slovenly police. Tens of millions of convicted felons; about 7 million currently in gaol or on parole; well over a million busy lawyers. Just think if they had proper trials.

So yes, the people in the inaugural crowd who shouted that Hillary should go to gaol, had a point. And Donald should surely go there, too. So should everybody. Indeed, it is conventionally Christian to observe, that we all deserve to hang.

I listened carefully to the inaugural speech. You had to be a foreigner to appreciate it. To such an one, it sounded as if the new Chief Executive conceives of Natted States Merica as one yuge protection racket. As I said: better to be in than out.

And on reasons hinted, I think this is for the best. The previous Chief was a fusspot, a nickel-and-dime man, lacking the strategic vision. He was never sure whose side he was on. He set some sort of record for new laws. High time to simplify things.

On victory

“Go with God,” my father used to instruct me, at each parting. This, he once told me, was what his own father had often said to him. Yet papa was lapsed from his family’s Methodist church-going past, and not externally even a Christian, let alone the Catholic his son became. Until, I think, his very last hours. But the phrase appealed to him, and so he kept it in his heart. Do good, and be on the side of good; be brave, and never deviate from the good cause. Be a soldier, as the knights of old.

He’d had firsthand experience of war (had been, for instance, a Spitfire flyboy), and thought that at some level life is war — a Crusade, through which we are called to be happy soldiers. He was invincibly cheerful. (“We may not win, but they will wish they never met us.”) An officer and a gentleman by disciplined habit, he could give as well as receive orders, and had trained himself to “be British” — it is a variation on Romanitas — and rule instinctively by example.

But to the point, I recall his principal standing order: “Go with God.”

The mass media have prepared us for some chaos in Washington today, to go with the Trump inauguration. It will thus be the opposite of spontaneous. They will play innocent on air, while reporting in loving detail any violence they can find, and conveying dark hints from the “anonymous sources” with which they are consciously conspiring. Their challenge is to present everything — including everything that went wrong in the preceding administration — as the consequence of Trump, and retroactive proof of his illegitimacy. To call them “biased” is exceedingly droll.

I have known this Fifth Estate from the inside, and through it, the Left mindset of academia and all their captured bureaucracies. To my disgust I have watched it spread among opponents, as media on the Right adopt the same malicious tactics, an eye for an eye. It is difficult for the bystander to avoid becoming engaged in an increasingly globalized contest between the forces of darkness on one side, and the forces of darkness on the other. So long as the electrical grids hold out, we may expect escalation.

As I argue elsewhere today (here), the solid ground of moral and intellectual authority is itself beginning to liquify, outward from an epicentre at Rome. We have the incredible scandal of a pope, actively undermining the foundations of Catholic faith and reason; after decades of similar “modernizing” efforts in the Church and all other Western institutions. Those who earnestly defend civilization itself, in all of its charted and uncharted fields, find themselves marching through mud and quicksand, and being shelled from their own rear.

War, too, is on many levels, and the Christian conception of its essential form (see the Spiritual Combat of Lorenzo Scupoli; or the interpretation of it by Jonathan Robinson of the Oratory) is more likely to eschew than to embrace violence; though it is never pacifist. Our war is against principalities and powers, and the front line strings through every human heart.

It is presented by the Prophet Nehemiah, as the condition of life on this earth, as he rebuilds the walls of Jerusalem: with sword in one hand and trowel in the other. Or as rephrased in Eliot’s Choruses from the Rock: “The trowel in hand, and the gun slightly loose in the holster.”

“O Lord,” we read, “deliver me from the man of excellent intention and impure heart: for the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.”

Our world may seem to be crumbling around us, our purported friends our actual enemies, but it is important to remember that this is nothing new. Verily: one purpose in reading the Old Testament, with creative attention, is to allow this lesson to thoroughly sink in. To “go with God” is to go into battle, now, as always. It is to restore what is constantly being taken away,

Civilization is the action of building, barbarism a tearing down. Even in the most worldly terms, this is so. God, who made man capable of faith and reason, made him capable through those qualities of high civilization, as we may observe in our surveys of the past; made us capable not only of building, but rebuilding.

Therefore, Rejoice! … For seen from another and higher angle we have the spectacle of the false, dissolving in its own acids. The Devil can destroy, but cannot build. The same extends to all his earthly agents. This is why, in the end, our victory is assured, even if the whole world dissolves into chaos. For still, we may go with God; and in the words of the old flyboy song:

Oh Death, where is thy sting-a-ling-a-ling?
Oh Grave, thy victory?
The Bells of Hell go ting-a-ling-a-ling
For you but not for me.

Roll up, roll up!

Several correspondents who berated me (in fairly colourful language) for opposing Trump through the Republican primaries now congratulate me for “warming to him.” I find this odd, since most had said they wouldn’t be reading me any more. Too, I’m not aware of warming to Trump. Nor has my pleasure in the defeat of Hillary Clinton waned. (I did say from the start that Trump would win.) One of the two had to win the election, and while I was willing to concede Hillary’s particular merit — for corruption is a humanizing force, that works against leftish ideology — I could find no other. Perhaps the thought of having to look at her for another four years was another paradoxical plus. She might cure me of any remaining Internet addiction. There might also be peace and quiet, or at least quiescence from the progressive media, who only report on the scandals they invent.

Whereas, I have come to enjoy Trump’s turbulence: fat man waddling on the high wire. He may not represent anything resembling the sort of policies I could sincerely endorse, but he is hated by all the right people. Their gasps of horror suspend him aloft. And while he gives no promise of turning the clock back, in the manner I should wish it turned, his approach to the management of the Nanny State cannot be ham-fisted enough for me.

He is vulgar and offensive. That is my best argument for him. And while I am opposed to the existence of Twitter, I do appreciate his tweets. A surprisingly high proportion of them are true, which is what makes them so outrageous. He has found a way to get entirely around the “mainstream” newsmongers, thus hastening their extinction; and as a bonus he scares the bejeezus out of America’s enemies around the world. This is a happy change from Obama, who scared only America’s friends. As I once had the honour of explaining to one of George Dubya’s senior aides, I have nothing against appeasement: so long as your enemies are appeasing you.

The idea that Putin and Trump are in league is deeply frivolous. One has only to put oneself in Putin’s place to understand this. By all means tamper as well as you can with the Natted States electoral system — one must settle scores for Merican tampering in Ukraine — but it seems he failed to stealthily enter the Republican machine. Whereas Mrs Clinton, Mr Podesta, and friends, left the Democrat gates wide open. I have no idea who got in first — it wouldn’t have required much skill — but if the Russians did, they should have settled for blackmail. By exposing exactly what the U.S. media should have been exposing, for the last many years, they only helped Trump win.

And it wasn’t in the Russian interest to have America “made great again.” Far better to have four more years of Obamishing: of thrilling incompetence, mental enscramblement, and general retreat. Now they must deal with a man who can quite possibly do thuggery as well as they, and with better equipment. Trump they will not want to anger.

His cabinet comes from all over the map. All are big rich power players, who will pull confidently in quite various directions. We’ll have lions jumping through hoops, both ways! His government may not even need an opposition, being able to generate that service within. The Left, bewildered by their own bafflegab, think everyone on the Right is the same. But Trump’s cabinet is all on the Right, and its members sport at least sixteen distinct sets of priorities. My liberal-progressive readers (I seem to have some, weirdly enough) risk missing a chance to enjoy a spectacle that comes just in time to replace the Ringling Brothers; and in which there are still elephants, notwithstanding “animal rights.”

Of course it will all end in tears, but then, it always does. That’s what politics are for: to warn people away from the trite notion that human nature is adaptable. But with the Left determined to repeat all of their characteristic mistakes — such as blind, violent moral preening — Trump may still have a good run through Congress. (The sort of opponents who e.g. reflexively smear you for anti-Semitism, when you are the best friend Israel ever had, are a gift from the gods.)

Trump is a true American thinker, dedicated to the only philosophy we in North America were ever able to conceive. It is called Pragmatism, it denies all paradox, and given the naïve optimism with which it is gassed, real entertainment is fully guaranteed.

The greatest show on earth!

Gleaming and glittering with gold and wondrous surprises for young and old!