Essays in Idleness

DAVID WARREN

Passiontide

From the profane, to the sacred; from mere prats to holy fools: today we embark on Passiontide. It is the fortnight victory march to Easter, not around but through the enemies of Jesus. Father Hunwicke in his fine Mutual Enrichment blog set the beat in his post on Friday (“Strong women”): trochaic tetrameter catalectic, in its joyous truncation. He is discussing, of course, hymns such as the Vexilla  regis and Pange lingua of Venantius Fortunatus, composed for the Merovingian court at Poitiers in the sixth century; and the Pange lingua in which that beat is echoed by Saint Thomas Aquinas, in rhymed accentual, seven centuries later.

As Father Hunwicke explains:

“What is interesting here is that this metre was used by writers such as Menander in Athenian New Comedy for scenes that are pretty nearly slapstick — Aristotle called it kordakikoteron or ‘tending to a lively vulgarity’. Caesar’s soldiery chanted their ritual abuse at him (to avoid the risk of the Gods taking offence as he rode in triumph) in this metre. …”

Generally, we are sober at the approach of Death, and in churches the spirit of austerity is shown by the veils thrown on the altar Crucifix and all other images — until they are lifted in the Easter Vigil and the bells ring out. The fullness of Passiontide was alas suppressed in the Novus Ordo, but fortunately the Vetus Ordo is in course of being restored, and our hearts are free no matter what nonsense we must endure in the Bugnini chapels. The Death of Christ is certainly approaching, and observed, but with this signal qualification: He is going to defeat Death.

Hence that paradoxical joy in the battle as we, His soldiery, fall in behind Him.

Attention, please. In the Old Mass something else is happening today. The plurals that dominated the chants through Lent tip decisively to first person singulars — from the voice of congregations to the voice of Christ Himself. Lead, kindly light.

April foolishness

Though I grant it is a profane, not a divine commemoration, we who are fools have a special attachment to this date, and are bound to celebrate it somehow. The first fool was Adam. The second was Eve. More than one hundred billion have followed, by the best cumulative estimates. We are by now a biological force of some magnitude and antiquity. My own memory of some foolish pranks, timed for the first of April — together with the subsequent punishment for them — fills me with a contemptible pride. For the truth is, I am still capable of mischief.

As a sub-editor on daily newspapers, in years now long past, I never let the anniversary pass without an attempt to “craft” some item for publication, that would be false yet strangely plausible. Also, cruel in some way (short of physical injury), towards one despised entity or another: usually some fellow fool. Twice I came near to being fired, for my efforts. My last inspired an editor to warn all staff, that anyone who tried that again would indeed have to find another job. (Soon he was trying to ban smoking, too.)

The trick is in the elaboration. Be an industrious journalist, and invent more than one source. Accentuate the gravity.

The most ambitious essay in foolishness I recall, was most of my life ago, at the long defunct (and still lamented) Bangkok World. We (I had accomplices) ran a feature story purporting that Pablo Picasso would unveil a big mural in a local art gallery that day. The work, which could be interpreted as a sequel to Guernica, would be a protest against the War in Vietnam. In this pretentious article, full of art-critic jargon, signed by an imaginary French intellectual, we explained its aesthetic importance in Picasso’s unfolding oeuvre. We said it had been meant for a launch in Saigon. However, the Vietnamese authorities had denied Picasso a visa, and so it had been shifted to Thailand, the nearest alternative venue. The gallery we selected was a nasty little place in “Siam Square,” which sold factory-painted portraits to tourists — of bug-eyed children, and underdressed young ladies, done with acrylics on black velvet.

As a finishing touch, we then planted a paragraph of “breaking news,” in spot red ink, in a bottom corner of the front page. This simply stated that Picasso and his wife Jacqueline had arrived at Don Muang airport, on Air France flight whatever, amid a crush of reporters. Seeing this, and fearing they had missed a big story, we hoped the wire services would pick it up, and in the absence of any other information, plagiarize our spoof.

Sure enough, the morning of April 1st, a fairly large crowd was gathered outside the gallery. We booked a photographer to take pictures of all the fools, and a flatfoot to record their comments. Gentle reader may imagine the chief editor’s response; but it was nothing compared with the publisher’s.

Ah, the good old days, when fake news might have a humorous component. It is all so grim today.

In praise of half-measures

Though an earnest pro-lifer, who believes (knows would be more like it) that abortion and euthanasia are forms of murder, and that no murder can be justified, I am sometimes driven nuts by my allies. I think of those who will not make any political compromise, that would “merely reduce” the number. They insist on the full restoration of our old laws, or they will feel themselves complicit in each act that remains legal. Thus they will sabotage any promising half-measure. And thus, they become actually complicit in any killing that could have been prevented.

(The “Freedom Caucus,” in the USA, also comes to mind.)

My point is ultimately theological. It touches on the question of the “lesser evil.” Catholic, if not all thoughtful Christians, understand that one may not justify an evil means by a good end. More profoundly, one may not intend an evil. And some things are intrinsically evil (see above); there can be no argument for them. Yet in “real life,” as people fondly call it, we are sometimes presented with a circumstance in which, if we do not do the grisly thing, a grislier must follow.

An example which amused me was in a journalistic “ethics” quiz I wanted no part of, many years ago. (“Ethics are for people who have no morals,” as I have sometimes observed.)

You, gentle reader, are the engineer of a railway train. You have just learnt that the bridge over the deep gorge ahead, has collapsed. Your only chance of saving, not only yourself, but five hundred harmless passengers, is to brake as much as you can, and try to shunt onto a disused siding. You go for it, no?

But then you notice there is a sweet little girl on the siding, standing right between the rails, with a beautiful bouquet of daffodils. She wears a pretty satin dress, in blue, has freckles, and is smiling beatifically. (Yes, I have parodied their emotionally loaded question.) If you succeed in performing the shunt, she will be … pancaked.

“That’s easy,” I replied. “Ace the little girl.”

But this turned out to be the wrong answer, according to the journalistic sages. Why? It is wrong to kill sweet little girls, they informed us, in their unctuous way. (“What if it were the terrorist who just blew the bridge?” I asked, mischievously.) You must never do things like that. Not ever. To them, the fact of five hundred on your train, was irrelevant.

(Guns are necessary, I reflected. And moral absolutism is necessary. But neither should be left in the hands of small children, journalists, or the insane.)

Let me be clear. I have never extirpated a little girl. Not even one. Thought of it, once or twice, when I was a little boy, but never acted upon it. Wouldn’t cross my mind, under normal circumstances.

And that is the key to the question. The engineer does not intend to liquidate the sweet little thing. He intends to save the lives of five hundred passengers. And she just happens to be in the wrong place, and at the wrong time.

I will admit that my calculation was statistical. Consider that, however dressed, and whether with daffodils, or without, there will be, by close to demographic certainty, more than a dozen sweet little girls on the train. My preferential option is for saving as many as possible.

Most likely result if, unlike a journalist, you know anything about trains: this one will be moving too fast to make the turn. Blame the fog of war. It derails, killing a hundred people, starting with the engineer. But the little girl on the track survives! (Perhaps traumatized for life.)

Still, you saved four hundred, and should get the (posthumous) gold star. But probably won’t, because, life’s like that.

Excuses, excuses

Let me preface today’s whining with an apology to the several readers who have sent me gifts of money over the last three months. I thought donations had dried up entirely, since I hadn’t been notified of a single one, in all that time. Upon investigating with the help of my brilliant son, I found that no, Messrs PayPal had simply changed their reporting procedure (yet again), requiring me to visit their website to get such vital information. The same son has now taught me how to get into my own account, by computer (the only possible way). I now find that I owe thanks and acknowledgements to many kind souls. I am also, as usual, fallen behind general email, which never abated. (And snailmail, too.) There are queries in there more than a month old, which I couldn’t think how to answer when they first arrived. Forgive me, gentle readers, for as you must have reasoned already, I am a clown and an … idler.

Meanwhile, rich or poor, I will continue to upload these strange Idleposts to my anti-blog almost every day. It may be noticed that I failed the last two days. To those interested or amused, let me explain that I try to write something every day (but Sundays), and when nothing appears, it is not necessarily because I am lazy. More likely, I wrote something ill-humoured, or exceptionally stoopid, and decided to kill it. Then couldn’t write something else.

I also like to kill old Idleposts, when I happen to re-read them.

Perhaps I am not alone in another foible. I mentioned car horns, back-up wailers, and fire-alarm testing in my previous post. I could add the constant excruciating noise from construction sites, including counter-productive home improvement schemes. And then, what comes from the current iteration of ghetto blasters. And, angry people, shouting obscenities at each other in the street below me. I have excellent hearing, but a mind that can be arrested by loud, viciously ugly, sounds. I’d be useless as a soldier.

Wallace Stevens touched on this, circa 1935:

Poet, be seated at the piano.
Play the present, its hoo-hoo-hoo,
Its shoo-shoo-shoo, its ric-a-nic,
Its envious cachinnation.

If they throw stones upon the roof
While you practice arpeggios,
It is because they carry down the stairs
A body in rags.
Be seated at the piano. …

In adolescence, I read somewhere (probably in the biography by Aldington) that D. H. Lawrence could write in any environment and circumstance at all. No amount of noise could distract him. I have since decided that Lawrence is the sort of writer who should have been dissuaded; but learnt that Mozart had the same capacity. And many others, of whom I am not one.

But the world is the world. “Adapt, or die,” as a boss once told me.

He hated whiners. In theory, so do I.

Of third ways

Often I wish the lads in my neighbourhood, and the lasses, for all I know — the non-consensual products of a ruinously progressive education system — would either stop trying to steal cars, or learn how to do it. From the evidence of my ears, they are inept. They are constantly setting off the alarms, without managing to break in. The cars remain, in situ, their horns bleating. It is a sound worse than vacuum cleaners, or the back-up wailers on omnipresent trucks.

And tomorrow, the authorities will be testing the fire alarms, again, in this building. These will be blaring at short intervals for about two days. We must wait till the inspectors leave, to remove all the batteries, or endure false alarms through the coming year. Then remember to replace them in time for the next inspection. Meanwhile, as life will become unbearable in the High Doganate, find somewhere else to be.

Though not an enthusiast for post-modernity, I do experience appreciative moments. I draw my inspiration from other quarters. For instance, newspaper headlines. Here is one for the ages:

“Alone in the Wild for a Year, TV Contestants Learn Their Show Was Cancelled.”

I must have chortled five minutes at this. Another giggle, each time I think back. Ah, the vanity of human wishes: one imagines the suckerhood on their faces. No need to read the article, for it was in the New York Times, which graciously puts up a pay wall to warn you off reading more than would be safe for your health.

Back to Drudge for more headlines; it offers a daily survey of events that are contra naturam. … Breitbart is also good, but for my tastes, too engagé. … Small Dead Animals is all meat. …  Maggie’s Farm is for the connoisseurs. … They help you keep up with the Devil’s agenda. He has servants in high places, who every day try to push a few more “progressive” lumps, down the collective oesophagus.

We might call these “signs of the times” — mere road signs, really, not to be obeyed. But one may titter, privately. God gave us this means to cope with absurdities, and as a useful weapon against the demonic, in close-quarter rumbles. We know the Devil is tortured by laughter. So let us exhibit a mediaeval sensibility, and have some fun with him.

The world turned upside down; the fools’ festivals; pride parades are the current manifestation. April Fools is coming Saturday; make sure you are ready. (Earth Day, later in the month.) It is a day rich in anniversaries. We commemorate the first legalization of same-sex marriage (Netherlands, 2001); the accidental bombing of a Swiss city by the U.S. Air Force (1944); the foundation of the Reserve Bank of India (1935); the patent for an internal combustion engine (1826); … each, a celebration of unintended consequences, and thus amusing, in its own way. Digging deeper, we may recall the elevation of Maximian to Roman co-emperor (286). Or the crowning of China’s first female monarch, in 528. (She was deposed the next day.)

Painful as the consequences might be to others, or for the participants themselves, none of these occasions should be taken too seriously. All are eventually cancelled, in time. They are typical of the things that happen on this planet, which get into the news. More edifying events are hardly ever recorded. Goodness has never been newsworthy.

Contra naturam, or contra mundum: those are your options, my gentle reader. Don’t let anyone sell you a “third way.”

Mother of God

The expression, cited in my title, got my attention long before I became a Christian, let alone was received into the Roman fold. I found it a rather thrilling assertion, whether or not “true.” The idea that God could have a mother fritzed my little neurons; but it was better than that. For there is a second, Trinitarian punch coming, when the corollary follows, that “Christ is God” — and thus no “prophet” as I was raised to think of Him in my highly secularized milieu. It seemed to me that the Catholics had knocked the wildest Evangelicals into a cocked hat.

This comes back to me, naturally, each year at the Annunciation. From the same milieu, I knew that word as a term of art. Quite literally, an “Annunciation” was a painting of the angel Gabriel coming to Mary, to declaim a famous passage from the Gospel of Luke. I was once fairly well-educated, by Canadian standards, I will have you know. I knew that passage from a fairly early age. I’d read my Gideon New Testament, which in those days was distributed to schoolchildren. (If the schools tried that today there’d be trouble.) I had it from both post-Christian parents that one ought to read the Bible, in order to become an “educated person.” This was not the Holy Bible they meant, rather, “the Bible as Literature” — another book, of identical text, but much different meaning. (Borges once wrote a good story about that: “Pierre Menard.”)

“Mother of God.” Well that just takes the cake, my wee mind thought. Having been pupil in a certain Saint Anthony’s School in earlier childhood (the one in Lahore), I was already prepared to accept the proposition that Catholics are, as a species, crazy; though not necessarily crazier than the rest. Indeed, they seemed so easily to attract persecution (not only in Lahore), that I tended to identify with them. At some point in early adolescence, the notion that those believed most crazy might be the most sane, was consciously formulated.

It took me till fifty to join up, but as God is my witness, I’ve been pro-Catholic all my life; never more so than in a Canadian high school when I was an “evangelical atheist” and a spiky debater. I noticed the school’s few Catholic kids were the butt of much smug, bad humour. I decided, for instance, to defend Humanae Vitae, on purely secular, rational grounds. All my crushes were on Catholic girls; but that was only indirectly because of their religion. Really it was because they wore their hair long, and were not tomboys.

This eccentricity got me inside several Catholic homes, where I saw the statuary. Mother Mary invariably made an appearance, as she did not in nice Protestant families. They had pictures any Protestant would find in bad taste. They had crucifixes with “the little man on them”; which looked as they might drip blood on your shoe. They framed biblical texts in weird translations. They were tribal, largely because they were excluded from respectable society, and their fathers worked in places like the brewery. Their surnames could end in vowels. One might call it an anthropological fascination; I was also partial to Armenians, and Jews.

“Mother of God.” A little girl called Liddy, who informed me that I was going to Hell, because not a Catholic, once used this expression. I found it as enchanting as her pigtails.

The mother of God, and by extension, the mother of everything, as nearly as I could make out. My mind was not ready for the Virgin Birth, the Immaculate Conception. That is for older boys. But these Catholics had things called Rosaries — you know, the beads — and I gathered they addressed prayers to Mother Mary, fifty times.

Now sixty-three, and doing this sort of thing myself, I continue in amazement. The Annunciation seems to me, still, too much to take in. The conception of the universe comes into it.

Per impossibile chronicles

Dear Mister Trump. After a couple of months of him in office, I have come to the conclusion that while he is reckless with his “facts and arguments,” hair-trigger in his responses, given to hyperbole at the expense of other rhetorical figures, and proud almost to a fault, he is basically honest. Even naïve. He is not the sort to commit criminal acts knowingly. He is verily a bull in the Washington China shop, if not a mastadon, and a simpleton (compared to Reagan, for example) in his understanding of how the world ticks — an authentic populist. But his schemes for “fixing things” is so innocent in juxtaposition with the policies of his predecessor and rivals, it would be nice if the congressional vermin could find it in their hearts to half play along.

“Please, Mister Trump, do yourself a big favour and don’t tweet that before you’ve shown it to one of those high-class lawyers,” is a thought I have perhaps shared, with many. Mister Obama, whose advice came invariably with scorpion whips, said the presidency is not a “family business.” Nonsense. Rulers are in great need of family advisers, to spread their tentacles wider, and provide the kind of criticism whose loyalty they might trust. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, seems to have her head screwed on symmetrically, and now has an office in the West Wing. She is a steadying influence on the old boy, and let me humbly suggest he put her in charge of his Twitter account. Not to edit, of course, except for grammar and spelling; just to selectively delete. If she is selling her cosmetic line while she is at it, I have no objection. Everyone in politics seems to come out rich, and this is among the least craven methods for amassing a White House fortune.

The Obamacare fiasco in the House of Representatives, now come to a head, is a reminder that the “administrative state” cannot be peacefully dismantled. The plan was set up, as all progressive measures, to be unrescindable. It did not merely create a vast new class with vested interests; it tipped the scale on medical expenditure (soon one-fifth of the USA economy, thanks to demographics and bureaucratic regulation) from personal to public responsibility. Government is now answerable for anyone uncovered by health insurance, and may use this to routinely demand totalitarian controls. You can’t take Obamacare down (or anything resembling) without replacing it with a more egregious system, or rather, you can’t take it down without tanks.

This is a “problem” with the entire Nanny State. Given 20 trillion of acknowledged federal debt (a small fraction of unfunded liabilities), common sense would indicate the need for economies. But they can’t be made. The federal budget, in USA as in all Western countries, is so dominated by the constantly inflating cost of “entitlements,” and those are so impossible to brake, that cuts must be made to services only governments can provide. There is no “democratic,” and certainly no quiet way out of this rat hole, which the cat of a corrupt jurisprudence now jealously guards.

Americans, as all other denizens of our decaying Western Civ, have become abjectly dependent upon Nanny, spiritually as well as materially, to our ultimate destruction. Individual self-seeking continues, however, and the common effort to game the system accounts for the insupportable debt.

The best excuse I have heard for the president, from Republicans and his international well-wishers, is that it takes a honey badger like Trump to grit in. I agree that vulgarity is often required. But from the outset, the gentleman announced he wasn’t going to mess with the welfare order, that he was just going to make it more businesslike and efficient. (“Businesslike” confers no political advantages.) In other words, from the outset he was totally defeated; and would never have been elected, had he been a genuine radical.

Ditto, for the “nationalist” parties in Europe.

The rest is silence

The world has lost a truly great entomologist, perhaps its greatest collector of beetles, with the death of David A. Rockefeller, on Monday at the age of one hundred and one, among the cabinets of his specimens at Pocantico Hills: each impeccably labelled and mounted. Rockefeller’s dwarfed the collections of Darwin and Wallace, the accumulated stores in Oxford University, the holdings of natural history museums in many sizeable European countries.

At the age of seven, this young David discovered his calling — or was called, by an elegant, an elongate Parandra, glittering dark caramel, the full inch long, with its formidable pinching mandibles. It was trespassing in the foliage on his father’s estate. Veritably, a Parandra brunneus. Bravely lifting it by its sides, the lad dropped it into a bottle, the first of his hundred thousand catches, by one means or another. For in addition to his personal pouncings, Mr Rockefeller was able to obtain many finely specialized collections, from the world’s great auction houses, to extend his own estimable hoard.

On his sixteenth birthday, while other boys might party, David found eight species of leaf beetle alone, on the same estate. In family visits to their rubber plantations in Liberia (where the prize was a three-inch Augosoma centaurus), their wine properties in Margaux (a memorable Caloclytus varius at Chateau Lacombes), he was able to find many beetles more. At Harvard, entomology was the only subject in which he scored an “A.” As an American soldier in Algeria during the last World War, he was able to amass more than a hundred of some forty-one species. Many hundreds, previously unknown, were catalogued on the expeditions he sponsored, and often accompanied, to the uttermost ends of the Earth. We can hardly look at a high-altitude scarab from Mexico today, without recalling that among the rarest is the Diplotaxis rockefelleri, discovered by, and named for, our hero. Indeed, more than a dozen splendid beetles now share his name.

This scion of the Rockefellers, youngest of the second generation to succeed the principal co-founder of Standard Oil — among the classiest of American robber barons and philanthropists — had advantages of birth over any of his rivals, but used them to laudable effect. And his collections will now migrate to the appropriate facility at Harvard, from whose Curator in Entomology (via the Internet) I have gleaned most of these facts.

David Rockefeller was in at the conception of many other things — Manhattan property deals including the sites for the United Nations, and the former Twin Towers; the foundation of the Trilateral Commission, and so forth. It’s all in the obituaries somewhere. But these were mere flexings of money and power. The discovery and entrapment of a new beetle throws all such accomplishments into the shade, and makes the life of a plutocrat worth living.

May he rest in peace, among his beloved bugs.

Pears

It is true I am a pirumphile, or lover of pears, as I am reminded by a plastic jug of excellent pear juice I have obtained from a farmer’s market. It is large, a half-gallon, but I cannot guarantee it will last very long, up here in the High Doganate. Fresh, it is very satisfying, but transformed into perry (poiré to you Normans or Angevins) it could become an exquisite mediaeval beverage, and would be among my tipples, were I able to find a source for it near this place and time. It is best as a still pear wine, or cider; please omit the modernist carbonation. Too, it can be distilled into a thoughtful, philosophical brandy. When the world contends that something has gone pear-shaped, I am all ears. Had I more enterprise, I would set out my orchards right away. For as the proverb declares, “Plant pears for your heirs.”

Though close, I would not go so far as to call myself pomaceous, for while my love doth extend to apples, and hath often done to a fine Calvados — and I wilt happily embrace a succulent loquat, a bletted medlar, a fragrant quince — it is capable of finding an ideal contentment in a perfectly ripened pear. All these “pomes,” each in many kinds, were common to Europe, and also to America, in times before the modernist standardization. Now, most industrial apples leave me cold, and some cannot even be redeemed in a maple-syrup deep-dish apple pie.

Or let us dwell briefly on the pert, pear-related rowans (“dogberries” to my far eastern correspondents in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland). These, in their innumerable varieties, were revered in merrie England through past centuries, leading back behind the iconoclast Reformation, yet I doubt any would be recognized in cities today, even were gentle reader and I bombarded with them. We are “urbane,” after all, or as I like to say, “conurban,” for we live not in cities as previously defined but in broad sprawling deletions of the landscape. The extraordinary variety of the world, as presented to the imagination in cookery books from almost anywhere before the Great War, is now beyond memory and perhaps belief. I see the most ignorant things said of our ancestors’ diets, by the believers in “progress” and therefore supermarkets, with their narrow range of strictly branded goods, the same at all locations.

Read Shakespeare — from the Warden Pear in A Winter’s Tale, to the Popperins on which Mercutio suggests obscene play for tragic Romeo:

Now will he sit under a Medler tree,
And wish his Mistresse were that kind of Fruite,
As Maides call Medlers, when they laugh alone …

Read Chaucer for that matter, by way of recovering an ancient alertness to the scents of a cultivated nature, in times when botanical curiosity had more dimensions. But of course, we have scientific gardeners today, at work preserving the DNA of ages. It is only missing from our everyday lives.

A giant rabbit

One wonders, though not for long, how many Canadians were aware that yesterday was the Feast of Saint Joseph, the Patron Saint of Canada. (Transferred to today, this year, to preserve the Third Sunday in Lent.) Of course, this is also a feast throughout the universal or Catholic Church — of Saint Joseph, Confessor, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also Patron of the Church; model of domestic virtue and humble daily toil; embodiment of “confident docility”; entrusted by God with a difficult and glorious mission: to be a father. Entrusted, by the Father of fathers, to be foster-father to Our Lord. It is a feast of the First Class, in our liturgical calendar. Compare, if you will, the Feast of Saint Patrick on 17th March, which is of the Third Class.

Yesterday I was trapped on the east side of Yonge Street for much of the duration of Greater Parkdale’s annual Saint Patrick’s Parade — moved to the nearest Sunday. It is now a two-hour procession to celebrate pseudo-Irishness, and general multiculturalism. From my station next the window in a coffee shop I first watched circus swordplay and swirling Chinese dragons, then other leprechaun-free displays. But mostly there were stage-Irish demonstrations, such as wee bairns attempting “Lord of the Dance” moves on flatbead truck-trailers. Very sweet.

Canada, both French and English-speaking, is rich in genuine Irish traditions, many deeply religious, and all of which would seem to have been obviated. I have come to believe that dark Guinness was especially brewed to discourage North Americans from adding green food dye.

As recently as my youth, I remember associating the Republic of Ireland with certain Catholic inclinations. Except in the heraldry of the Irish counties — plenty of flags — I was unable to spot a single religious symbol in the long procession. The most “authentic” Irish element was a little cell under the Sinn Fein banner, in moth-eaten uniforms, and poor marching order, accompanied by the crackling audio track of some revolutionary song, with their characteristic mix of sentiment and psychosis. They in turn were trailed by a much larger military pipe band — immaculately drilled, kilted, decorated, and bag-squeezing, bellowing “Scotland the Brave.” Only to me, perhaps, did it appear that the latter were escorting the former to gaol. Then, “The Maple Leaf Forever” to rub it properly in. Then, big green recycling trucks, honking their deafening horns.

The most interesting thing was a giant rabbit. A young lady from the Ontario upcountry had it roadside on a prettily-knitted leash. All passing floats with children were delayed — the kiddies demanding to get a better look. It was a “Great Continental” by breed (a.k.a. “Giant German,” originally “Flemish Giant”). I learnt this by asking her. She was carrying it as a resplendant fur coat, and we exchanged glances (the rabbit and I). It did not look entirely happy. Tired, and world-weary, by only the age of three; unrecompensed by fame. When she put it down it scurried into its vet cage, for safety.

“A meat rabbit,” its mistress frankly explained.

The dogwhistle chronicles

The Left mildly disguise their anti-Semitism by substituting the term “Zionists” for Jews. Our pope does it by substituting “Pharisees” and like terms, in his daily homiletic attacks from Santa Marta — aimed chiefly against Catholic doctrinal precision. Our Saviour, who could hardly have been an anti-Semite, being Jewish himself, did make actual Scribes and Pharisees the butt of parables, and was very sharp on religious hypocrisy. But this was not to the purpose of disowning their religion; rather of showing how representative characters were disowning their own.

As many popes before him were at pains to explain, to Catholics and to others, we are Jews ourselves and our religion is not a contradiction of, but a continuation from, the Truth and truths going back to Moses and before. The Ten Commandments apply to us, too; the Great Commandment that Our Lord specified was itself paraphrased from Hebrew Scripture. He does not “invent” this, He shows it to be the structural and hermeneutic core of the Torah and the Prophets. Echoes of the ancient Scripture are everywhere in our Gospels.

Christ did not come to overthrow the Law, but to fulfil it. He said as much. He came as a scourge not to those who upheld the Law in their lives and hearts, but to those who twisted it. He preached Love, in all its mystery and toughness, not Climate Change.

We call this pope’s persistent heresy “Marcionism,” after Marcion of Sinope, who came to Rome about the year 140, after the Bar Kokhba revolt. Marcion taught that the revelations of Christ and the traditions from Paul were incompatible with what he thought the legalistic, bellicose, jealous and spiteful God of the Jews and their Torah. Gnostic not Christian, he may be found in the roots of the Eastern religion of Manichaeism, which spread through the declining Roman Empire in the fourth century, and flourished in competition with Catholic Christianity for many centuries thereafter.

Marcion’s heterodoxy was identified and denounced, in texts we still have by the earlier and orthodox Tertullian, and in texts, fragments, and allusions of other Church Fathers. It is encountered by the serious student trying to master the development of genuine Catholic doctrine, as it peels off errors and misunderstandings from the ancient pagan world — many of which are flourishing again, and again must be confronted and defeated. On this one our pope has yet again, in his fuddling and irresponsible banter, grabbed the wrong end of the stick.

A much better understanding of the Catholic faith may be found in the open letter Rabbi Giuseppe Laras, emeritus of Milan, has addressed to a conference of biblical scholars. (More detail may be had from Sandro Magister, &c.) He echoes and enlarges upon complaints from e.g. Rome’s chief rabbi, Riccardo di Segni, about the Marcionism issuing daily from Santa Marta, and the rustily-edged politics that go with it. Rabbi Laras is put to the trouble of explaining what the Catholic doctrine is, to our pope; while further noting the exclusion of Jewish biblical scholars from that conference in Italy, which included many non-Catholics among its eight hundred invitees.

The Jews are the last people we should be opposing. How often, in Catholic teaching and liturgy, we have found ourselves onside with them against glib reformers, who by putting the New and Old Testaments in conflict, adjust Christ’s teachings to their own (usually malignant) ends. They are callow, and in failing to plumb the continuity between Old and New, comprehend neither. For it is in God’s “messaging” to the Hebrews that we first find the light of our Messiah; and without it His Coming makes no sense.

Justicialismo

Peronism came to Argentina and never left. Not only have the Partido Justicialista and its avatars dominated Argentine electoral politics, through their various iconic husband-and-wife acts over the last seventy years, but they have contaminated the thinking of the whole country, which adhered to their arbitrary and contradictory doctrines even during the sixteen years they were banned, and adheres to the present day when once again they are nominally out of power. Actually it is a century, now, since Peron’s “Radical” predecessors first won election (dating from Hipólito Yrigoyen, 1916). Moral, intellectual, and material squalour is their chief legacy to a country which was once among the world’s most prosperous and most free. The spiritual equivalent has now migrated to Rome.

This, at least, is the impression I have formed from afar. “Justicialism,” so far as one can read, embodies every sort of rhetorical populism, across the political spectrum, but with a heavy and perfectly consistent bias towards centralized power. It stands for “social justice” — an absolutely imaginary and therefore unattainable ideal. It is on the side of labour and of management, it is Catholic and anti-Catholic, racist and anti-racist, isolationist and aggressive, leftist and rightist and dogmatically nationalist with all the contradictions nationalism entails. Yet it is not unique.

Socialism is leftwing Fascism; Fascism is rightwing Socialism. Other than that, they are the same. They vie for the same voters, and politicians may move comfortably back and forth between their symmetrical (i.e. identical) extremes. The principle underlying both is that the government should control everything, for the government’s idea of the common good. Whether the government technically owns everything is neither here nor there. Indeed, Socialism/Fascism works better, for the government, if private actors can be made to take the blame and the losses for all of the government’s goon-show mistakes. Any “excess” income on which they fall in their government-assigned monopolist stations can then be impounded.

Mussolini tried the same tactics in Italy, and Peron hugely admired him (as did Roosevelt and many others at first). And had it not been for the embarrassment of having to choose an ally in the last World War, Fascism would probably still dominate conventional Italian electoral politics. Rather it does, notwithstanding, for as the Argentines have shown, you cannot oppose a bundle of statist contradictions without falling into contradictions yourself, and being lured incrementally into a reflection of your enemy. Italy as all Europe now reposes under the direction of a Euro-justicialismo of nested bureaucracies, and in North America we have “evolved” our Nanny States along the same lines. Everything is regulated, and with that signature clumsy incompetence that is inevitable when something very large and ham-fisted tries to micromanage things very small, such as human beings and their families.

How to resist? Not by “proposing alternatives,” which can only be implemented from the top down, through participation in the established political order. That has been tried, repeatedly, and has anyone noticed it has repeatedly failed?

Rather, I think, one resists by creative personal non-cooperation: rendering justice not “socially” to the abstract mass, but individually to your neighbours. With love.

That was from the beginning the “political” genius of Christianity, which undermined dirigiste authority simply by ducking under its radar sweeps; emerging when, under its manifest contradictions, it finally and totally collapsed. Casualties — martyrdoms — must sometimes be taken, but to the ends of Heaven they are all good. Live a free Christian life, in defiance of the modernists, but without telling them.

Spread it by example.

Benzedrine options

We use “option” to mean “alternative” today, especially inversions of the established order, and yet by the disappearance of any established order the word is returning to its earlier use. There have always been different ways to live, and different routes to Hell, as well as ways “home.” Rod Dreher’s latest instalment, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, formally published yesterday, again sounds the horn. I haven’t read it, and probably won’t, for while I have a high opinion of Dreher, he is still just a journalist like me, not to be taken too seriously. His book must sell in the very market for “trends” he condemns, and that involves forms of discretion I happen to despise. He is alarmed; it must make a point. Current books are much narrower than casual essays in that regard. They have become homoeopathic expansions of single aphorisms. They dare not range off-message. The point must be hammered in the manner of “direct mail”: lots of words but the same “unique selling point,” over and over. By now we all understand that he isn’t recommending we take to the hills, that it is sufficient to disengage on location. And whatever one’s circumstances, the “option” of a consciously Christian life is always there. Okay, okay, I’ll buy.

To my mind, we need a better understanding of the “options” that led us astray, to conduct our resistance. Too, I should like to defeat the enemy, wherever possible, by creative engagement. It must be assymetrical warfare, however, because we don’t have the weapons for a more conventional Armageddon, and shouldn’t play to the enemy’s strength. The enemy wants excitement, we must defeat him with stifling calm. For the world he has delivered, through the twentieth century and in preparation through centuries before, is hepped up on amphetamines. I think Benzedrine makes a nice symbol, for the inhaler of the ’thirties proved useful in war, to keep soldiers awake and alert in their land, air, and sea trenches. The general destruction of contemporary youth by more powerful substances reflects the evolution in Western society to the condition of permanent psychic warfare. Euphorias kill. Pain-killers, ditto.

It takes only three days away from the sources of anxiety to free one from their iron grip, though much longer to quench the fire they leave burning. I was reminded of this over the weekend, in Ottawa to attend the obsequies for my remarkable friend, Mary Scheer. This took me away from my computer, in which I find the daily news, and upon return to the High Doganate, Monday night, I discovered in myself a decided indifference towards catching up. When I did get around to checking, I saw that there was nothing new in the news: only more “dog shit,” if I may lift a term from a recent Joseph Epstein essay. Why do we waste our consciousness on it? More precisely: why do I?

Yet there are dangers even in the withdrawal from worldly interests, because the mind has become so accustomed to the false adrenaline drive. We return to religion, or take it up, in the same spirit we think we have abandoned. We also find in the Church, today, a substitute for the politics we mean to leave behind, because she has become so worldly. Father Rutler of New York quotes Pope Benedict to advantage on this matter:

“Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labelled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be ‘tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine,’ seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”

Gradually, calmly, must one learn to identify and flush one’s amphetamine options.