Essays in Idleness

DAVID WARREN

General recovery

My item Monday which, unlike my item for Tuesday, I decided not to suppress, touched on the advantages of feudalism over e.g. socialism and capitalism. It has long struck me as the unexplored option in our ideological cold wars. That Left and Right are united in ridicule of the “feudal” economic system points me to its attractions. It was, after all, compatible with a very high order of civilization; whereas, Left and Right are compatible only with barbarity.

But now I am bombarded with what might be called the Penicillin Letters. These are from good-hearted folk who fear I may have overlooked antibiotics, vaccinations, anaesthesia, and other laboratory thrills. Alternatively they note that with the world’s present population, but without modern industrial methods of farming and distribution, there could be starvation issues. Some accuse me of the post-modern irony of using some of the devices that were not available in the thirteenth century. A couple of wits observed that I am myself published in an electronic medium.

Starting with the easiest, I reply that this last is an empty charge. For in the thirteenth century, this blog would not have been necessary. Had we world enough and time, I would respond in a more detailed way (as I have sometimes done) about the methods our ancestors used in place of the noisome contraptions we use today — to the same end, but with economy of means. It is possible to characterize the entire modern age as a make-work project. (There, I just did it myself.)

In a time study I read, some decades ago, modern housework was compared to that of a mere century before. It was found that the modern “housewife” (a category still recognized as late as 1980) spent more time on her domestic chores, than her great-grandmother did without the help of “modern conveniences.” (I’d guess the great-grandma also did a better job.)

The trick of the study was to count machine-minding and set-up times, which the advertisers are loath to do; and to discount pointless activities. Of course, great-grandma spent the time actually working; the modern housewife more time, but mostly in a fog. For exercise she might add more time still, going to a gym.

A case more effective could be made by piling on the time required to earn the cash to obtain the machines which our contemporary “domestic scientists” think they need; including the car to deliver and collect children who, in the olden days, could walk.

You’ve got me on penicillin, however. Until I confess that I find no reason to ban the stuff. Or to ban anything, for that matter, that has some defensible, specialized use. Even the back-hoe, for that matter: which one reader recalls having been used to dig the hole in which a particular great-grandma was buried. It was a nice touch: the family’s own back-hoe. Families used to dig their own graves, without back-hoes, back when. But at least the family tradition of cost-benefit analysis was kept alive. (It would have cost them much more to hire professionals.)

Few appear to understand that technological improvements are cumulative, not “progressive.” We sleep on the shoulders of giants, &c. But they accumulate only so long as the civilization remains alive. After that they are all lost, and the next lot start again from scratch. “Improvements” which reduce the life expectancy of the civilization itself may thus be seen in their true light.

By the way, there were continuous technological advances throughout the Middle Ages (from which all later ones extend). Gentle reader should go there sometime.

As for life expectancy at the more personal level, it is not generally appreciated that people in the High Middle Ages lived longer on average than their descendants from sixteenth until towards the middle of the twentieth century. This can be known by statisticizing European parish records, wherever they survive; but also from reason. The Black Death was, I admit, a setback, but for the rest people lived healthier, outdoor lives. (Even today, rural people tend to outlive urban.) An important point was that they bathed frequently. It is only quite recently in historical time that this mediaeval habit was restored. Penicillin doesn’t come into it.

The biggest error of my critics, however, is expressed in a glib misunderstanding of agriculture, both ancient and modern. It is assumed that high productivity, per acre, requires the surrender of farmers to machines. This is not true. Industrial farming only increases the productivity per farmer. It is one way to make food cheaper by proportion of income. (It hardly makes it better.)

Recent advances in productivity have come not from the invention of ever bigger and more powerful machines, but from the hands-on genetic advances of the “green revolutions.” That is what improves yield per acre, and if you add labour-intensive practices, the yield may be made to improve still more. In Japan, for instance, on tiny traditional paddies, cadastrally unchanged for centuries, with no room for equipment that is not miniaturized, they get seven times the yield of rice that is obtained in Thailand (long among the world’s leading rice exporters).

Indeed those (Japanese) islands, when I was walking around them, were like one unending Victory Garden, on the one-fifth of land that was not mountain. And it was beautiful, in ways that the “wheat-mining” quarter-sections of our North American West cannot be, which lack new vistas around every turn.

Our contemporaries value labour over materials. We’ve made commodities cheap, and put all emphasis on processing. (“Process” is among the chief liberal gods.) I am merely recommending that we reverse this process: enhance the value of materials and make labour cheap. By this course, it would be possible to restore some human qualities to our production, and verily, make the cathedrals affordable again. Hands to work and minds to God, as it were.

But I can see why this course wouldn’t win elections. One must lie to do that, as all our modern “environmentalists” have discovered.

Recovering feudalism

We live in a demanding age. That is to say, an age in which people make lots of demands. That is, a consumer age. I look on ours as a demand-side culture. This goes with a supply-side government and economy. We get what we think we want, until it kills us. Unless, of course, what we want is good, in which case it is no longer available. Because good things tend to make us independent.

Cars do not make us independent. You have to buy them, fuel them, park them, and so forth. Sometimes you have to fix them or replace them. You need “insurance.” None of these things can be done on your own; nothing you have to pay for is like that. You go around the city, or the country for that matter, in a metal box, insulated from experience, but utterly dependent upon vast networks of “suppliers.”

Your mediaeval knight was much more approachable, and interactive in live time, even when wearing his armour. Often he would take the metal off, and walk about like me, in the sun. And he could only kill people one at a time.

Walking about in the sun today, even along city sidewalks and back lanes, I had a marvellous sense of my freedom. It was constricted only by motorized vehicles. Not one other thing threatened my life. (I still limp slightly from one of my encounters with these infernal machines, a decade ago.)

If we have democracy, we will have cars. Most of the people do not know any better. They are easy marks for salesmen. They do not see the implications; or they do not want to see them.

Now, under the feudal system, we have carts, and horses, and a great variety of other modes of transport. (Think mule trains, for instance; think dog sleds; think barges and canals.) These immediately make the world much larger. Suddenly five miles is some distance away; and thirty miles, to the county town and back, would be a day’s journey. (Mennonites in buggies. Who does not love them?)

Would gentle reader rather the world larger, or smaller?

(“Let’s make America big again.”)

One’s thoughts turn to improving things, around home, in the way God intended, by hand and eye. For what is there to buy on a feudal estate? And why should speed be needed?

No: a thousand acres arable, a few hundred more of woodlot and commons, and Everyman in his own garden. We can have pretty much everything we need for a couple hundred families. And with a priest to remind us which way is up, and a lord to remind which way is sideways, everything should tick over nicely. All the work is seasonal and has variety. All the food is fresh. All necessary skills can be acquired by emulation. We needn’t learn to read, unless we are genuinely interested.

The bureaucrats of business and officialdom are always trying to impose literacy. Their authority depends upon it. No communist regime ever came to power without launching a literacy programme.

Signage, with symbolism always trite, spreads everywhere. Each must read his (boring) orders. Stop. Go. Faster. Slower. No entry. Turn left. Smile. Pay here.

“Do not cross the tracks. It takes hours to disentangle them.” (This sign once encountered in the London Underground, at Covent Garden. Someone must have rebelled. Ditto that in the men’s lavatory, Piccadilly Station, circa 1975: “The City of Westminster is not responsible for the opinions expressed on this wall.”)

Literacy is not merely overblown, as a means to understanding. It is principally a means to misunderstanding. It is a dangerous affectation in the common man. He gets into his head all kinds of ideas that he cannot wisely absorb. It beats him down. It makes him the prey of sophists and word-manglers. It cancels his memories, overrides his instincts, enfeebles his will, subverts his judgement. It damages his eyes. Soon he is wearing spectacles, and driving a car. Wildly.

Flaring red necks on tiny points of contractual detail. Otherwise docile and complacent.

Aristotle was quite clear on this. See his Metaphysics, somewhere in book VI and/or XI, as I recall. Or if not there, in some other book. It is possible for a man of culture to acquire letters, says the master of those who know. But it is not necessary. It is an accident. For most people it is a bad accident.

Yes, I think, we must find a way to return to the feudal system, and discard all this socialism and capitalism that has been imposed on us.

Incendiary observations

Not only my Canadian, but my foreign readers may be aware that Fort McMurray has been burning these last few days, along with vast tracts of woodland around it. This is in the north-east quadrant of Alberta — about the middle of that if you are still looking — in the heart of oil sands country. One calls by instinct “a city” any place that houses tens of thousands of people, and “Murray” (as its denizens called it, when there were less than one thousand of them) did attain that municipal dignity some years ago. Now it is, together with its farthest outlying subdivisions, designated an “urban service area.” The Province of Alberta, with characteristic poetry, called it the “Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo,” and put it under unified bureaucratic command, when it graduated to cash-cow status.

Two brothers of my paternal grandpa pioneered in northern Alberta, not very successfully, but stayed until they died. (Typical chain-smokers, both made it nearly to one hundred.) The trace of their homesteads could be described as somewhere between “little” and “no.” Man’s mark on this world, when untended, quickly diminishes to the point where only wizened archaeologists might spot it.

Ditto the bears and beavers for that matter, or the trout in the depths of Lake Athabasca, which can grow to the weight of a large child.

I have no figures, for the purposes of pseudo-science, but would guess that the emissions from that forest fire have dwarfed the achievements of the oil industry. Wildfires require oxygen, fuel, and heat, and the region offers an accommodating landscape. The native trees all make good kindling, and Fort McMurray itself, though at 1200 feet, is in one of the concavities of Alberta, and thus a natural hot spot. It gets dry, it gets warm, and anything can ignite it, as something did the other day; and up it goes, as it has been doing at frequent intervals since the last Ice Age. As even our young prime minister observed — perhaps the first remark he’s made that I agree with — you don’t need “global warming” to explain it.

And nature, bless her heart, makes quick recoveries in such parts. The forests are “designed” (love that word) to rise again, phoenixes from ashes. Nature does not, however, re-grow towns, and the poor people who have been living there, trying to make an honest buck, and now made into refugees, will be needing our money along with our prayers. (By all means send them.)

Canada, oh Canada. We have settlements like that cast far and wide, some growing big as Fort McMurray, then growing suddenly smaller again when the local commodity has been sucked out. The price of oil also shoots and falls, lately taking other chunks of our economy with it. Wander from the Greater Parkdale Area for a hundred miles, in any vaguely northerly direction, and one might form the impression that the whole country — all two-point-five billion acres of it — is occupied by a few “urban service centres,” with hundreds of miles between.

Walk from Edmonton to Fort McMurray, and you won’t get there. Walk from Murray to anywhere else and the result would be the same. But then, everybody drives.

“The land God gave Cain” was Jacques Cartier’s description of this country, when he first caught sight of it back in 1534. For all our natural (plus unnatural) catastrophes, we quote that with a titter of pride. For just between us, it is incomparably beautiful.

Of a candle

At Mass yesterday, after the singing of Mark’s Gospel, the Paschal Candle was quietly extinguished. Christ has ascended into Heaven, and the flame in the Sanctuary, which through the forty days since Easter had symbolized the presence of the Resurrected Lord upon this earth, itself “ascends.”

We would now be on our own — were it not that Christ remains throughout the Church He gave us, in the Sacrifice of the Mass, until His coming again.

This is the teaching, from the highest source, and it must never be confused or toyed with. The symbolism is precise. Yet there is great liturgical confusion, as great moral, intellectual, and spiritual confusion, today as through half a century or more of lewd ecclesiastical convulsion. In time, however, it will pass.

In the space between now and Whitsun, novenas will be prayed, “for the return of our separated brethren to the Roman unity.” This was a practice inaugurated by Pope Leo XIII. It becomes the more poignant when men are separating even within Holy Church, and Rome is in disarray. But we have witnessed such chaos before; and the faithful have fasted and prayed for resolution.

Over the last three years, as I have heard or read so many threatening to leave in protest (abandoning the Church to the men they think are her worst enemies), or predicting an inevitable schism, I have come to think it the most horrible crime. To cut oneself off from the Body of Christ; to turn “universal” Christians against one another; to split God’s people into rival factions and “make a lio” before the Cross — surely these things should be unthinkable.

Yet there is nowhere to go but back to Christ; the alternative being “forward,” to Hell.

What is the method to change what Christ taught? Which mortal man can we elect as our Reformer? Who, but Christ, can fix the mess that foolish men have made?

We act as if the Church were some purely human institution that needs us; which depends for her existence on our support; that must therefore answer to our demands. This is not the truth. We need the Church.

In the very symbol of that extinguished flame, we have Christ’s word that His Church will always be there. Count on it, and stay resolutely with Him.

Ugly & truly ugly

I am a man obsessed, and wouldn’t be if I didn’t have something to blame in myself — a phenomenon of the human psyche which helps explain why so many women in the pro-life movement once had abortions. It becomes the King Charles’s Head of all their opposition to the manners and mores of the age; not always to the advantage of the movement. But nothing can be bigger as they look around. In my case, the current obsession is instead about Donald Trump; who afflicts my imagination as a Trump Tower, installed at the edge of my mediaeval village. I was a craven Pragmatist once, and look at what it got me.

Read this (here), and you probably need not read my Idlepost today. It was ping’d to me by Kouba the Czech, another old reader of the National Review. The author says that, as a “social conservative” who found himself working in the Tea Party movement, he has finally and definitively gagged. The piece is about the concept of “allies.”

Those who have indulged in politics — and I gag easily so haven’t indulged much — will know about this concept. You put up with behaviour in your allies that you would condemn in anyone else. “For the good of the cause,” you try to make excuses. Or else you become so hardened, that you do not bother to excuse.

Most people fear ostracism — I rather like it myself, but then I am weird. They cannot bear to be “called out” for breaking ranks. So they don’t, no matter the provocation. Wait until you have lost the election to turn on your leaders with that reptile lash. Meanwhile, fair or foul to get them elected.

But this is on the personal level; on the political, the genuine reactionaries of the Right — the so-called “social conservatives” — have for half a century agreed to make common cause with both the economic libertines, and with the sleazier sort who borrow their rhetoric until the primaries are over.

Against sleaze, there is no remedy but Dettol. Against the “fiscal conservatives but social liberals” there is nothing but the memory that an ally is not a friend. He will drop you the moment he no longer needs you; but if you are wise you will drop him first.

“We” — I refer to the kind of people who read Idleposts and things — should have known better. Which is to say, I should have known better myself, whenever in past years I silently agreed to bite my tongue, for the sake of some party cause.

For as Blake said, in an aphorism I have seized for my motto collection: “Always be willing to speak your mind, and a base man will avoid you.”

Trump (did I mention him already?) is now the uncontested party standard-bearer in the USA — that “proto-fascist grotesque with zero political experience and poor impulse control,” as Ross Douthat describes him. But let me tell you what I think.

There is no point in discussing his policies or his promises, for those “evolve” quickly. (Populism has never been constrained by principles.) Even the capitalist types will find he is an invoice. I look at a man of dramatic vulgarity, whose life has been invested in “triumphs of the will” — in crass enterprises on which he puts his own face by way of branding. A man who makes megalos look modest. He brings out the worst in his supporters, as I have been reading in email: a brownshirt nastiness towards any dissenter. Were I some Republican in the polity to the south, I would sit on my hands through the next election.

Or perhaps I would be inspired, as a fool, to help in the creation of some Third Party, with the word “Christian” somewhere in its name, and no prospect better than electing a few congressmen from the backwoods here and there — who might mouth off against most government legislation, and toss spanners into all the political machines, while getting themselves thoroughly hated — not only in DC town. It would be the party of “pox on both your houses.” For “let us be clear,” as Obama Soebarkah (who is clear about nothing) likes to say. An unChristian America is not an America worth preserving; it has nothing left but geography.

They tried that in Europe, after the last World War: all those “Christian Democrats,” resolved to restore the old Europe, and decency in public life, who still survive in name only. Power turned them all into “professional politicians.”

Hidden things

To revert to one’s own childhood is to creep back in history only a little way. Better to leap and bound through the centuries, with the help of a mature education. Though as condescending gliberals like to say, each journey begins with little baby steps. To my mind, which is not gliberal I pray (“Pharisee! Pharisee!”) — childhood was not a little baby step, but a formative experience.

We need to keep alive, even through senility, the childhood of the world; for in the light of Eternity we will still be young in another million years. The awe and wonder, with which we all began, must somehow be renewed or recovered. With this, an unfolding sense of simultaneity in Time, as we proceed like snails, inscribing our route through all dimensions; perhaps drawing our own faces.

Upon the arrival of spring, as too the other seasons, my memory reverts to seasons past. Gardens have been in my mind much lately, and the gardens of my childhood uppermost. The miracle of them comes back to me, with the shade of an old gardener. This was under the mangos and darbelas (which flower in the rains); the bottle-squat baobabs and shimmering tamarinds; the purpled bauhinias and the undulating palms of the gardens and borders around “Nedous Hotel.” … Demolished, destroyed, nearly half a century ago, in obedience to the Rupee God.

And the sausage tree (Kigelia pinnata, from Africa; fruit sausages hanging from it). And the goldars (with the macaques in them), over a wall where I was never supposed to go.

Let us call this invisible man Muncie, for that was his name. I think he was the head gardener, tall in his turban; a friend of all children. He would give you the tour; he would put you to work, even if you were a white pasty-faced boy, with freckles. Like an august member of the British royal family, he would talk to his trees (but in Urdu); and they, keeping still, would listen, resuming their growth as he turned away. One might even overhear what he had told them. (“Shukria, shukria.”)

I say “invisible” because I think only children could see him. To adults he faded into the garden itself, a figure who called no attention to himself. He was always working.

The notion of that City of Gardens I touched on in a Thingpost the other day (here); of gardens, and the converging emblematic garden.

In the country we have farms; in the city we have gardens; or so it used to be. In the country we had gardens, too, but they melted into farms. In the city they melted into brick and joinery, shaded avenues and wandering lanes. For so it once was. From the gate of Eden we were told: each must now cultivate his garden.

Muncie showed me once two leaves. They were from the same deciduous tree, perhaps a badam or almond. He was a collector of colours. Instead of a photograph he had the thing itself. The older leaf was from the previous season: an unforgettable pinkish red. The fresh one was a waxen green. The two colours complemented strikingly: perfectly selected “from Allah’s palette.” Yet no one would ever notice, until across time they were brought together.

To see it whole, through all seasons, might be to see the tree that God sees. We only see a moment, a part of the unfolding. Perhaps that was what Muncie was explaining: for I think he was a holy man.

Titles

As a special bonus today, in addition to the usual short Idlepost you are reading, I have recast the supplication on the “Pay!” page (here), so that it now includes its own special offer. It is also a little longer, which gives everyone who goes there more to read.

An expert in epistolary marketing (which he called something else) once told me that it is important to make appeals for money long and vacuous (not the terms he used). They must also be grave, earnest, and deadly serious, resisting every temptation to lightness or humour. (“Never make a joke at a cashpoint,” he told me again and again.) The “mailer” must also address the interests of the subject, to the exclusion of one’s own self-regarding interest in getting his money. (“Don’t tell me about your grass seed, tell me about my lawn!” he’d imagine the reader of the mailer imploring.) Ambiguity should be avoided, notwithstanding the convolutions, and a “unique selling point” constantly repeated until it is driven home. There should be no question what the recipient should do (i.e. reach for his wallet), and in addition to a plenitude of carrots, there should be somewhere a flourish of sticks. Flattery for the reader should be inserted here and there. And, never omit the Free Special Offer.

If the gentleman be reading this, in Malta today, I hope he will see how much I learnt from him, back in our magazine days.

Let me add, to those who complain that the titles I offer do not seem to come with plausible estates, that one may easily obtain the addresses of many suitable castles and ancient manorial houses, right across Olde England. These have been occupied by liberals and progressives since about the time of Henry VIII (along with parish churches, chapels, chantries, shrines, hermitages, abbeys, cathedrals, and so forth).

As the young daughter of a dear Catholic friend put the matter, upon being told that e.g. Westminster Abbey is now in the custody of Phyletists and Erastians: “Why don’t we storm it and take it back?”

My advertisement is to be ignored by several gentle readers, who have already contributed more than their share to this little enterprise.

That means you, Lord Jowls: you have enough titles already.

Mind over matter

During the Paris massacres last November, I saw video imagery of a lady clinging to a window ledge. She was trying to avoid, on the one hand, being shot by the terrorists inside the Bataclan theatre, and on the other, falling to her death. I note that she was pregnant, a condition that would tend to increase a woman’s weight, and make her tire more quickly. I am guessing she had no specialized athletic training. Yet she held on for a long time. Eventually she was pulled back into the building. My information is that she survived the ordeal.

How long can gentle reader cling to a window ledge? My guess would be, longer if he were several storeys up, than if the ground were a foot beneath his toes. Scientific tests may be conducted on the latter, but even with the advance of eugenic liberalism, there are objections to experiments that will kill people.

Likewise, there is difficulty testing miracles, for to do that one must reproduce events which, for various reasons, are not reproducible. Science is about what always happens, not what sometimes happens; yet when something odd does happen, the scientists are still curious about how it was done. They are, after all, our (global) village explainers, and as in other branches of entertainment, the show must go on.

A piece I saw on the BBC website looks, in the usual glib media manner, into “superhuman” feats of strength. Women, especially those protecting children, seem disproportionately represented in such anecdotes. Some, for instance, have been able to lift cars, and other objects beneath which little bodies find themselves pinned. The weight exceeds the maximum any professional weightlifter has ever essayed. But they try anyway, and sometimes succeed. We learn, as ever from BBC Science, that the labcoats are still working on it.

The physiological effects of faith are often discussed, without knowledge of what we are discussing.

In extraordinary circumstances, people can do extraordinary things. I know this at first hand, from e.g. the experience of clinging to a rockface when I was quite young, as the result of what I had judged, wrongly, to be an easy scramble. I survived because I was suddenly able to see microscopic irregularities in the texture of the rock, and wriggle like a spider up the last five feet of this poorly-selected climb. It wasn’t a test of strength, primarily, but of perception, and the utilization of skills I had never obtained by training. (I also acquired a fear of heights for which past experience had not prepared me.)

Miracles are not my topic, today; only faith. Saints, in particular, do many remarkable things, often before many witnesses. Non-saints can do them, too, when the issue is life or death. A mother’s love for a child, yea even an unborn child, can inspire “miraculous” behaviour. I think there is a parallel in some battle scenes I’ve heard about, where the inspiration is to save a comrade: true love in another form.

“I knew that I could do it, because I knew that I could do it, so I didn’t have to think.” The line is remembered from an incident in Vietnam, some decades ago. It strikes me in retrospect as a confession of faith. Some agency within takes over, because it has been asked to take over.

The scientists may be right. If a human being has been proved capable of performing some act, then human beings must be capable of it. We have large unexplored inner reserves, of strength and perception and motor skill.

I take miracles for granted, but also for granted that God was not such an awkward designer that He could not intervene in nature without breaking His own rules. Creative foresight would have been employed to anticipate all circumstances. Grasp that, I think, and any potential conflict between “science” and “theology” disappears.

Faith can move mountains, or at least cling to ledges, and lift cars. And we could do it ourselves if, like the Saints, or like certain pregnant mothers, we developed the faculty. “Do this O Lord,” one requests, not because one can’t in theory do it, but because one doesn’t know how.

Suppressing the erotic

One of the grimmest activities in this world is that of “sex” (i.e. copulation) without eroticism. This would pertain to all sterile forms of the exercise, which is the crown of modern commerce and advertising. It is true, much disease is spread along with the depravity, but the real costs are steeply higher. For we are dealing with a profound denial: a refusal to acknowledge the breadth and depth of the human domain; a determination to live only in one sordid corner. This reduces us to parity with the other animals — the rats, for instance — a demotion that should be pointedly avoided.

For a man, it turns a woman from a mystery, into a cheap puzzle. I daresay less, the other way around. When we come to the genital interactions of any supplementary sexes, which fanciful human minds are capable of projecting — I don’t want to know.

I learn, from a question asked me in a public place, that the world is now “debating” who may use which toilets in North Carolina. The progressives, with support from major American corporations, demand that men be given access to the ladies’ plumbing chambers throughout that State. But not all males: only those who would have been characterized as “perverts” by almost everyone, everywhere, before this generation. Progressive women must pretend to be pleased; the rest are being taught to stay quiet.

The issue is nothing like “the last straw”; only another stick in the bundle of progressive theatrics. To my mind it cannot be understood except in the context of a far larger public campaign to suppress the erotic. This becomes clear when one realizes that it is the latest strange twist in the long ideological descent from the puritan iconoclasm of the Reformation — a kind of “permanent revolution” to reverse the Catholic sacramentalism of the Middle Ages. In the absence of creative capacity, this necessarily involves the institution of new, parody sacraments, like the old ones but turned upside down: “rights” for “rites” as it were.

Ultimately, this goes back to the rebellion of Lucifer; but I must try to limit the historical overview.

The project to de-eroticize “sex” (in both the current and former usages of this word), was implicit in feminism and the “sexual revolution” of the 1960s. Copulation has since drawn level with barbells and jogging: something you gotta do to get your endorphin high. The usual liberal inversion of terms has masked this operation; e.g. the habit of describing pornography as “erotic literature.” This is false on both counts, for there is nothing erotic about pornography; and in so far as it may contain written words as well as ghastly pictures, lubricity cancels every literary effect. Currently we are surrounded by cynical tradesmen in this worthless “art.”

Why do they bother to attack Eros? Because it is godly, an aspect of Divine Love; the thing itself, in relation to the Creation. The degradation of Love, to synonymy with “sex,” was the underlying, and undermining, purpose of that sexual revolution. It has so succeeded that the words are now used interchangeably in the mass media.

Yet the effect is temporary. It is another bold assault on ein feste Burg, which in the end must fail — for God will not be mocked.

Genuine eroticism has slipped for now beyond reach of our mass culture. It is the reason most marriages end in divorce, whether or not legally notarized; why children are almost invariably “planned,” with the use of de-eroticizing technology; why the old are now encouraged to die.

It is the reason musical appreciation has decayed, so that there are men today who can hear the Prelude and Fugue in A-minor, and not know that it resounds with the leaping spiritual eroticism at the heart of all Creation.

Saint’s day

Saint Catherine of Siena and I share a birthday, as I like to mention at least once a year. In my own case it was a birth into creaturedom, in hers the heavenly natale. We may lack much else in common — I fear the admiration goes only one way — but at a crude level we are both scrappers, and both on record for criticizing popes. Her own remarks were more excoriating; she had a gift for getting right to the point, which one reads not only in her hundreds of dictated letters, but also in her spiritual masterpiece, The Dialogue of Divine Providence, and in the Prayers transcribed at the end of her relatively short earthly life. (About as long as that of Jesus.)

But the “heat” from Caterina di Giacomo di Benincasa (as she was known at the start) was a blaze of love I find unimaginable, though I have tried to imagine. Her relationship with Jesus Christ was extremely intimate: read her account of His foreskin as her “wedding ring”; or rather, don’t read it until you have thrown off the cloak of post-modern priggishness.

Her way of living, including the disconcerting habit of taking Christ’s commands as given, was a scandal sometimes even to her own generation, consisting as it did of humans like us who like to avoid directness, and would rather delegate their acts of mercy.

“The admonishment of sinners” is the act of mercy least appreciated in our age; and probably, too, in Catherine’s. In my own condition, I would shudder to receive a letter from her. In her own time, Princes of the Church shuddered to receive her letters. (She also went to Avignon herself.) As I said, she gets right to the point.

I like to beat around it for a while. I like to avoid direct confrontation. I would rather take a walk — go shadow-boxing — and remember eventually that I am in no position to mount a high horse.

But Saint Catherine of Siena was a knight in this respect; and put the fear of God into the Devil’s yes men. It is to the credit of her age that so many recognized the authority with which this frail young woman was speaking; who, after their initial shock, were inclined simply to obey, and thus change history. Who understood she was speaking for her Husband.

May she from Heaven pray for me, on my little birthday; and pray for all of us worldlings, so easily lost and confused.

Wednesday morning

Well that’s it then, the last Super Tuesday for which I’ll stir myself to check the news. We’ve lost, as we usually lose. More precisely, we’re down ten goals with minutes to go, and I feel confident in my prediction. Trump has won. The current practice is to find someone to blame for this, other than ourselves; but really the whole team stinks, and their fans were just watching. To persist in the hockey metaphor, they should have been throwing their octopuses on the ice from the end of the first period.

I refer, of course, to Team Conservative, which took the battering from this glitzy goon, who didn’t need a “ground game” for his strategy was viral. The great majority of Americans, like a larger majority of Canadians, will actually vote for a Clinton or a Trump; even for a Trudeau. Who cares which huckster they choose? A gentleman like Cruz, who employs reason, and tries to complete his passes (ice hockey again) has no chance with such opponents. They aren’t playing the same game. They are playing instead some game in which winning (let’s switch to American football) is not the most important thing. It is the only thing.

No advice to Ted Cruz this morning. I have it on good induction that he does not read these Idleposts, and that will be my retaliation.

Guvmints come and go, not only in “democracies.” Replacing them by violence instead of elections appeals to me at this moment, but in the longer view, legitimate inheritance is best.

There is a photograph of our Queen, taken by Annie Leibovitz for her ninetieth birthday last week, showing her serene, and surrounded by a selection of her great-grandchildren, all properly washed. (Try here.) It broadcasts civilization, right down to the Hogarth touches (the one on her lap has Her Majesty’s spectacles, and the one to the left has her purse).

Now, I mention this to a constitutional purpose, but not the usual Loyalist one from up here in the Monarchy of the Far North — that the United Statists were wrong to rebel. (As my ancestors explained: “I choose one tyrant three thousand miles away, over three thousand tyrants one mile away.”)

Rather, I should like to advertise that our Canadian sovereign — for Elizabeth is she — has just the right amount of power, over me. It is limited by the fact that she does not know me (another non-reader, I’m afraid), and does not care if I live or die, provided that she isn’t obliged to endure the funeral. Better, she has no need to bother me with paperwork, in the meantime. I therefore hold her up as an example of good government: the very best.

Rather than ask if we continue to be worthy of her — the Jamaicans, for instance, like to flirt with republicanism, but a recent poll showed the great majority there would rather return to colonial status — we should give our attention to the rest of the executive. Are they necessary?

We need a military, to be sure, given the ways of this world; and police and prisons for the most obnoxious; but any competent caudillo can supply that, and the best caudillo is force of habit. (“Unalterable custom.”) I’m sure the Queen can appoint generals and admirals of a higher grade than any prime minister, wet behind the ears; could choose able and superbly-dressed men, to sit in her Star Chamber; and plumed servants to perfect her ceremonial. It is the rest of the bureaucracy we could do without.

So now the Yankees will get Trumpcare or Clintoncare on top of Obamacare, and a phalanx of other new jackboot “good intentions” by which to prove they can’t govern themselves. The common man will get farther and farther from taking responsibility for his own acts. Ridiculous suggestions will be put interminably to the vote.

I used to sign off, “bring back Franco,” but am reliably informed the man is dead. So let us instead restore the Queen to her proper office, or rather strip the ugly accretions from around it; say adieu to the tyranny of relativist politicians; continue to suffer their impositions, of course; but wherever life still happens to be permitted, get on with it.

Pied-de-vent

“To make injustice the only measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.”

The line is from the front poem (“A Brief for the Defence”) in the late Jack Gilbert’s Refusing Heaven, and was brought to my attention by an Idlepost reader. It distils a point I made yesterday, against the adepts of “progress,” and would go well with a beer chaser.

Of this poet, Jack Gilbert, I should say too little. I’ll have to read him now, I suppose. I had successfully avoided him till yesterday (though I knew vaguely who he was), and now I see from the Internet sources, and a few of his pieces electronically purloined, that he was some sort of reprobate, like the rest of us. But let us read one poem at a time, and then verse by verse:

We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil. …

That, I would say, showed genuine inspiration, and a sudden, stumbling, theological depth. The line-breaks expose an astute argument, and the shameless didacticism could also be praised. For what I already take as his little foibles, and what looks like narrowness of range, Gilbert has taken poetry seriously. This is seldom done today, when poets so easily satisfy themselves with near approaches to cleverness, choose only among the popular vices, and flee beauty. They desperately jiggle for anyone’s attention; they position themselves for academic advancement; it does not occur to them to say, “Listen, for this is important.”

Turned another way, we omit the Gloria. We look only for where the Gloria is not, and flinch if by accident we see it.

Our world is rather ugly in certain respects, but as I saw from my balconata this evening, in a moment of cloud-break from an overcast day, there is indisputable backlight from Heaven. And on the streets this morning, a most happy scene, with a mother and a child.

We do not want to be always scolding, but sometimes showing the way. But if we must scold, we should scold the scolds, whose fingers are pointed incessantly downwards.

Wattle-and-daub

Having been called, in the very recent past, a “wattle-and-daub conservative” (and really, gentle reader, I prefer “reactionary” for my noun), I was put to the pain of responding.

My first reply was, naturally, “Yes, if we understand the framing is of oak, and the daub capillaried by the finest horse hair.”

My second was to explain the history of wattle-and-daub.

Properly mixed, by a correct recipe (including the purest bullock dung available), and adeptly applied to a basketry of willow or acacia, itself set into grooves in the wood, and then patiently cured, this is among the finest and most durable building materials. And when the exposed oak is allowed to breathe (not tarred, which seals in moisture), the well-maintained timber-frame building will outlast as many generations as one can supply with responsible descendants.

Now, here is the interesting thing, which I have learnt as I have grown.

In youth, I was told that, like everything else in our built environment, wattle-and-daub had “evolved” from earlier and more primitive practices, starting for instance from the sun-dried mud hut, and progressing through the admixture of hay, &c. And that it had in turn “evolved” into our modern building materials and techniques.

That was a lie.

Consult an archaeologist if you do not believe me, gentle reader. Across Eurasia, and beyond, the spade-wielders have discovered wattle-and-daub remains of extraordinary antiquity: decisively pre-dating the alternatives. It becomes obvious that the simpler frame fillings were selected in the absence of better materials; or that the builders were trying to cut corners.

As anything, poorly composed wattle-and-daub will soon disintegrate. Unlike the reactionary, who seeks excellence in every kind, the progressive mind fixates upon what is badly done, and unworthy, hoping finally to attribute mistakes to God. The instinct of Darwinism — the cosmological creed of the Enemy — is to see everything as a lesson in progress, from the more primitive to the more sophisticated creature, or method. He sneers at wattle-and-daub; he praises e.g. industrial drywall.

My father and I discussed this matter at length during my childhood. He was an industrial designer who, more honest than his contemporaries, could be made to admit that the “economic,” mass-produced item was never as good as the product it replaced. It was just quicker and cheaper to manufacture, once economies of scale had been conceded.

Yet even in mass production there is better and worse — in materials and design and habits of work. Papa preferred the better (and would decline much-needed contracts in the moment he discerned that his patron lacked moral dignity). In the end we agreed that even the best-made things in our environment were, almost invariably, the best of a botch.

The “almost” is an acknowledgement that one cannot make jet aeroplanes of wattle-and-daub. Side-stepping the question whether one should ever make them, I note this exception proves the rule. For those who make jet aeroplanes are compelled, from fear of ruinous lawsuits, to observe extremely high standards of craftsmanship and precision, whatever their machines. The human mind and hand is conscientiously involved at every stage.

But that is to distract us from wattle-and-daub, or rather the moral of this modest post.

There are right ways of doing things, and wrong ways of doing things, and the proponents of the wrong ways are anathema. Those who preach cut corners — and consistently prefer the new to the old only because it is newer — must be condemned.