Essays in Idleness

DAVID WARREN

Alternative news

I am not a proponent of metempsychosis, whether in the Hindu or other ancient forms, though I do believe in former lives. Take me, for instance. I had a former life as a journalist. I can prove this with documents. The transmigration of my soul (to Parkdale) I consider to have been, in the balance, a blessed event; for there were moments when I thought my erstwhile colleagues might never find an adequate excuse to be rid of me. Suddenly, the downsizing of newspapers gave them the clew.

As I was just explaining to a fellow pariah (the estimable Faith Goldy), there are many advantages in this new estate. Not only is one free of the chattering monkeys with whom one used to consort in that jungle of “dead trees”; one is not even invited to their parties. There are additional advantages. For instance, much less accounting to do; and simpler domestic arrangements and cuisine. Verily, Friday this week will be Black Friday, the day of my annual begging letter, in which I intend to grab gentle reader by lapels, and plead for his (or her!) spare change.

My latest accommodation to the vita nuova, has been to eliminate the whole column of meejah “favourites” on my computer. This puts me to trouble should I experience the slightest temptation to consult the “mainstream” purveyors of “news.” In addition to saving me more time for book-reading, music, art, Latin Mass attendance, and so forth, I find that I am now much better informed. The same gentle readers continue to advise me of “breaking news,” often linking items from remote and interesting websites of which I had been unaware. I am grateful to them, for by their direction I am able to avoid so much repetitive filth and sludge.

*

One of my best informants, a lady in one of those Dakotas who signs herself Vespertilio Antiqua, drew my attention just yesterday to an item from Mauritius. Till then, I was largely unacquainted with current events in the République de Maurice. It seems the authorities on that island have “culled” forty thousand fruitbats in the last two years, and intend to kill thirteen thousand more in the year upcoming. And while these numbers are tiny in proportion to the number of human babies “culled” by the (immensely profitable) abortion industry, each year in this jurisdiction, the matter is a scandal in itself.

True, fruitbats are a competitor for the fruit grown in Mauritian orchards, but they are also a natural pollinator. The injustice of denying them their share of the harvest should be apparent to every reasonable creature. To do so by slaughter is especially obnoxious. The practice shines light upon the monstrous nature of modern agriculture. There are much better ways to manage an orchard, as centuries of tradition will attest.

*

Indeed, there are solutions to all our more acute problems, that can be discovered by conscious thought. It was no less than my (non-Catholic) Chief Texas Correspondent who drew my attention to an excellent suggestion from Monsignor Nicola Bux — prominent theologian and reliable consultor to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under Benedict XVI — already on record decrying the doctrinal anarchy that followed immediately upon his retirement. He (Monsignor Bux) demands that the Argentine gentleman elected by the subsequent (itself dicey) conclave make a clear and plainly Catholic profession of faith, then start to act on it.

But here’s the problem: What if he will not?

The proposed solution intrigued me. What if Pope Benedict’s “resignation” were properly reviewed, in light of Church History and Canon Law? What if having two living popes were found to be irregular? And this, even before (logically prior) to observing that one of them is persistently teaching something other than Catholic faith and morals. The question becomes: Which one is the antipope?

It was the idea of rescinding all of Bergoglio’s pronouncements, vacating all of his appointments, and sending him personally home to Buenos Aires (first class Alitalia, of course) that appealed to me. It was such an elegant solution to difficulties that have become unnecessarily compound and vexed.

For while I am no flaming Occamist, I do appreciate an elegant solution.

Instructions to educators

A useful tip for improving educational standards I will take from the great chef and nutritionist, Édouard de Pomiane. (It was in one of his recipe collections.) Under surname Pozerski, he had been a Polish refugee in France, age five or six. He remembered being always hungry. Life was hard, and the school to which he was sent bestowed no luxuries. The teachers were doing their best, however, and at the start of drawing class each child was provided with a stick of charcoal, and a morsel of stale bread for rubbing out. But the boys would all eat the bread, immediately.

According to Pomiane, having no erasers, they became excellent little draughtsmen.

The exercise would be good preparation for watercolour, or stonecarving for that matter. Every stroke right, or everything is ruined. The Chinese drawing masters were very strict (in the days before the destruction of their civilization). Any sign of an attempt to “fix” would be punished, audibly. Mistakes were punished, too; but trying to conceal them was understood to be the worse evil.

We have a fine principle, here, with many applications. Gentle reader will surely be imagining some. I tell my own “lit” students, when I have any, not to bring laptops or any other modern gizmos into class. They should make notes, even copious notes, by legible hand in bound cahiers instead (not loose-leaf). They must fight each temptation to replace, revise, amend. Leave margins for later comments. For the first thing is to think and write, without error, in the classical, linear way (staying “inside the box,” never straying). Later they may look back, and see all their stupidities clearly. This will make them less inclined to repeat them. Perhaps they might even discern some improvement, having become a little more coherent by the end of the year, than they were at the start.

(Often I wish that I would follow my own advice.)

We have become a society of oil-painters, laying everything on thick, assuming each mistake can be corrected, overlaid. That each of our crimes may somehow be covered. But God is in the details, as my father often said.

Recently I noticed, in a 12th-century book of Treasury instructions (the Dialogus de Scaccario, by Richard, Son of Nigel), the same principle, raised to law. The young accountant must enter all figures carefully, on the wrong side of the sheepskin. This will make any attempt at erasure obvious; and as we ought to know, dishonesty loves to hide. Should a mistake be made, it must be flagged, then corrected in the margin, in plain view. No tricks.

If a moment of nostalgia will not be condemned, I have my own memory of being five or six, and in Mrs Abassi’s kindergarten at Lahore. It is a two-fold echo of Pomiane’s. In the first fold, there is being hungry. We were issued a single biscuit at recess, by when we truly longed for it. (We would also steal fresh peas and beans from an adjoining market garden; they were delicious.)

The second fold contains the learning of the Persian alphabet: how to reproduce it in brush or feather pen from chalk models drawn on a slate board. (Right to left, which makes more sense for right-handed persons, who would otherwise block the light with their hands.) Mrs Abassi did not tolerate fussing or hesitation: every writing stroke rhythmic and whole. “Purity” was her word. A boy could repeat the exercise all afternoon, until he got the hang, or rather the sweep of each precious letter.

So to review: the pedagogical practices that simply must be restored. One, keep the children hungry. Two, detain them until they get it right.

A problem in higher education

A growing problem in higher education — actually it has grown, and matured — is that of the proliferation of aggressive, semi-literate morons. One could write a tedious book on how this came to be — it is one of those effects that has multiple causes — but the problem would not be solved if one did. It would have to be “another” such book; by now it is a genre.

Perhaps the qualifier, “aggressive,” could be relaxed. From my own experience of university campuses, visiting libraries, museums, sometimes auditing a lecture; knowing more than my share of perfesser types, and a few exceptional students; and reading; there is not that much aggression. As Jordan Peterson has usefully demonstrated, when you make a stand the Enemy usually runs away — even when it has you hugely outnumbered. Not all modern university inmates are moral and intellectual ciphers, to be sure, but at least nine in ten. They can be stirred into a mob on special occasions, by a few stupid slogans from a “bad mouth.” But left to their own devices, the great majority are apparently harmless. I write “apparently” because most harm in contemporary society, on campus and off, is invisible to most participants. It is casual vice, by spreading example — behaviour that is vicious, but in no way exciting.

My late friend George Jonas, in conversation and in his writings, too, reserved the phrase “sub-literate moron,” cautiously (using “imbecile” sometimes, for elegant variation). Hitler’s, for instance, was a case he mentioned. Nietzsche, quite certainly, would not have been. But, “Nietzsche and Hitler created an explosive mix. …

“One can easily see the dangers of a Viennese flophouse inmate like young Hitler fancying himself a Superman, belonging to a master race, possessing the Will to Power, shedding the slave morality of an enfeebled Judaeo-Christian ethic, taking the place of a dead God, and when going to woman, like Zarathustra, not forgetting his whip. Ideas have consequences, one of them being that semi-literate morons may read them.”

Parse these remarks attentively, and it will be observed that the list of idjits will not be restricted to the Führer und Reichskanzler, though I daresay he was among the more aggressive. Most are followers, however, not leaders.

Returning to contemporary university life, the question arises: “Should we ban Nietzsche?” Or anyone else that Hitler tried to read? Or Marx, for that matter, to provide some balance? Or Shakespeare, or Dante; or other white males? Starting perhaps with Moses, and Homer? I am not going “over the top,” incidentally. These are among “serious” views sported on campus by semi-literate morons, today; including a young white male I spoke with recently, to cross purposes. (He is on his way to an advanced degree, in one of the latest sociological “disciplines.”)

And let me say, he cannot be confuted, for in pointing out that as a white male himself, his views are eminently eligible for suppression, I got no response; not even an ironical shrug. It was a point he could not hear, let alone reason with. Guess why?

Where do you start with these people? I should think in the cradle, were it possible to go back. But since it is not, we might pray for angelic intervention. There is certainly no public policy I can imagine that would deal effectively with the issue, except a partial one. It would be to cancel tax-funding, and make the universities beg. I should think they would return to their original “elitist” function fairly quickly, just to raise money; and that meanwhile departments of no conceivable value would be obliged to close.

Yes, I think money is an answer. All kinds of evil can be reduced, by withdrawing the money that supports it. But that is only a makeshift. The real solutions begin at the cradle. New parents should bear this in mind.

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CHRONICLES OF THE UNFORESEEN. — My Chief Pittsburgh Correspondent (if I am not mistaken) writes to warn that if the universities were cut off tax money, we might expect such as Lord Zuckers (of Facebook), Lord Bezos (of Amazon), Lord Soros (of Euromoney), or Lord Gates (of Hell), to step in with their zillions. I would welcome the bankruptcy of any of these, and as a bonus the loss of their respective enterprises. For the amounts of money that are currently absorbed by the four thousand six hundred and twenty-seven “accredited” Title IV colleges and universities in the Natted States Merica alone, could eliminate their entire wealth stratum. Merely making them the dispensers of student loans would do a world of good.

Talks with grandpa

My grandpa (Harry Roy Warren, 1896–1978) was one of those vets from the Great War; a cartographer by later profession and in every spare moment, an illuminator. How he lived to become that, get married, have kids, then grow into the paterfamilias of an immense brood of grandchildren, is hard to explain. His diary is consistently matter-of-fact. Though capable of sentiment, he would not record it. But knowing where he fought — pretty much every major battlefield in France to which Canadians were assigned — the fact he came home at all was remarkable.

Dozens of grandchildren; but as the eldest son of his eldest son I considered myself special. He had the time of day for me, too, and I often asked about his experience of war. He would then fall silent. Getting exciting, boy’s-own anecdotes from him was pulling teeth. He had, as it were, been there, done that, and didn’t want to talk about it.

On art and particularly on calligraphy, draughtmanship, engraving, he was full of words. His views on “modern art” were deliciously unrestrained; though he went to lengths to avoid knowing anything about it. There were the “great masters” of the Renaissance, and after them, nothing. A Methodist from the farmland of Ontario, who made careful notes on every Sunday sermon; he wore the apron of the Freemasons. He was not in the habit of befriending Catholics and yet, I noticed everything he loved was essentially Catholic, and near to mediaeval. (Among his heroes, I discovered, was Savonarola. I’m still trying to get my head around that.) I daresay he is Catholic, now, but I will stick to history.

He was a patriot of the kind I can understand. He thought the land of his origin, holy. He could not exist without it; could not be what he was. More abstractly, he thought our British connexion — “One Flag, One Fleet, One Empire” — a gift. We were part of a family, extended round the world. When the war in Europe broke out, Canadians answered the call of Mother England, promptly. Grandpa was eighteen, but one had to be nineteen to sign up. Therefore he lied. He was on the boat by Christmas.

In the diary he refers casually to the enemy by “Fritz,” “the Bosche,” “Heinie Hun,” and some livelier epithets. His neat tiny finical entries mention great and famous battles as passing, workaday events. Perhaps the biggest event the diary records is the day in the spring of 1917 when his horse broke legs in a mortar hole, and he had to shoot it. (This horse had been his stalwart companion through more than I can imagine.) And there is more, but it requires close attention. In the same diary, from that day forward, he now refers to the enemy as, “the Germans.”

Cheerful he remains, through every adversity, and to an album he assembled of diary excerpts, souvenirs and photographs, he affixed the happy title, “Up the Line with the Best o’Luck.” There are moments when it reads like an appointment book, so well does he conceal dark matter.

I said little sentiment and yet, towards the end of his five-year European tour, I sense a terrible pity. He was among those who advanced to the Watch on the Rhine, expecting guerrilla attacks and possibly larger surprises from a defeated and embittered foe. But there were none. No one had the stomach for fighting any more. He was now among the occupiers of a smashed Germany; among people desperate and starving; women and children begging for scraps. His heart went out to them. Late in his life, when I asked him again to tell me about the War, he spoke very movingly of this.

And of the War itself, he would only say, that it wasn’t worth it. That it was the stupidest thing men had ever done. That he was speaking for himself, but also for all of his comrades, standing and fallen. That they had descended into Hell, for no reason.

One hundred years later, what is there to add?

Saturday rescript

A rescript, according to my feeble understanding, was a written document from the Emperor at Rome, clarifying some legal point upon which direction had been sought by an Official. It was not an edict out of the blue, rather something like a bit of proofreading. By extension, or temporal succession, it became such a document from the Pope at Rome.

Being neither Emperor nor Pope, but merely Lord Denizen of the High Doganate, my own rescripts only clarify pronouncements previously made in these Idleposts. Please, gentle reader, do not take them for edicts in themselves. I am responding instead to queries that emerge from reader mail.

Lately, a lot of comments and queries about my edict to stop watching meejah news. I think by this method we could at least disempower some part of our rival authority, who as every Catholic must know, is the Prince of This World. His agents blather away with “fake news” and “infotainment” (the latter a malignant refinement upon the former), against a background of ambulance-chasing and pornographic, illustrated “features.” They do this from both Left and Right.

They present an image of the world that foments wrath; a wrath designed to draw the viewer in. Angered, he wants to “do something” when there is nothing he can do, for by degrees he has been placing himself in the power of the Devil, who manoeuvres to make his subjects powerless, and to feel their powerlessness, until it extends to their consumer behaviour and every little aspect of their lives.

Since the latter part of the nineteenth century, it has flattered itself with the title of Democracy. Most recently it has spawned the Social Media, an expression of individual powerlessness writ even larger.

This has everything to do with the anniversary we darkly celebrate tomorrow: the centenary of the Armistice which formally concluded the 1914–18 Great War, setting the stage for endless wars to follow.

I will hardly review the whole history of its causes, except to repeat my constant point: that it would hardly have been possible without the preceding triumphs of Democracy and Nationalism and Mass Media in all the major European realms.

There had been relative peace across the Continent continuously since 1815 (the end of the Napoleonic Wars), with irruptions of violence successively contained by the machinations of the old aristocratic order. But as the lordly whig Asquith said, as the clouds gathered in 1914, suddenly he felt trapped in a lunatic asylum. He was referring specifically to the extraordinary power of manipulated mass movements, which restricted the diplomacy of the statesmen, and compelled them to persist on courses they knew to be unwise and potentially catastrophic, under the impulse of national (as opposed to personal) “honour.” To do otherwise would mean losing power themselves — to be trampled under the mob, as it were — which was of course unthinkable to them. For they were no longer statesmen, but had become politicians.

Well yes, I have shed a lot of detail, but what strikes me most forcefully when I read the histories was the inevitability of the catastrophe that was approaching through the Edwardian era, once “power to the people” had prevailed. Which is to say, power to the least informed, most irresponsible factions. By increments, responsible government disappeared; for it requires the “honour” of actual individuals. “Historical forces” have no honour at all, only appetites.

My rescript for today is to the question, “But how can we become better informed?”

The answer is by religious obedience in the received Faith: the truest of enlighteners. Practically, it may involve broad reading, and serious contemplation of spiritual as well as material things. “Direct action” must be taken, unexcitedly, upon one’s own soul — by invitation to the Grace of God. One’s vote should be transferred to one’s better angels.

In all these areas one has power, and power for good. On the battlefields of France, and elsewhere, the power is only for horrendous destruction.

As Simone Weil said, we must identify with the victims. And this means identifying with the victims on every side.

Book merchandising latest

There is a new junque shoppe in Parkdale, or rather it is an old one under new management. The previous owner and his young collaborators were charming, thoughtful, sincere, and a delight to drop in and converse with. They loved old books, which they acquired by the cartload (usually for free), then sold very cheaply. If I bought one, the lad behind cash would ask me about it. He would listen with ears and eyes focused, if I could tell him something of the author and his times. The store being seldom visited by customers, I would often find all hands intently reading.

There are still some young people like this, even today in Parkdale; the Seminary where I sometimes teach, is swarming with them. They are a joy to be with.

I must bite my tongue, however, ere I call the new proprietor a “junk-shop dog.” (Ouch! that was painful.) Instead, one is now greeted by a sneering face, which one might immediately identify as that of a liberal or progressive person. Alas, since he took over, I have made the mistake of going into the shop, twice.

“Books by the foot!” was the draw, for my second entry.

This was truth in advertising. He was clearing the large inventory he had found in the cellars by arranging all the books in stacks, by size and colour, then using such substances as packing tape to fuse each pile together. Perhaps, for fear of discounting his intelligence, I should explain that the tape was applied vertically, so that only outside covers were destroyed. The spines would still show, relatively undamaged. I noticed that when marked, the bundle prices would be an astronomical multiple of what the most valuable book in each pile would fetch in a “normal” second-hand bookstore; and that there was a premium on white spines. They were selling fast, I was told.

I can provide a simple explanation for this. The principal buyers of old books are now interior decorators, and the designers of movie sets. They will sometimes clear second-hand shelves like locusts, not caring what they must pay, for the bill is passed along to their “clients.” Indeed, the movie-set people are likely as not to donate the whole load back to the store, when they are finished with them.

Why am I not thrilled by the booksellers’ good fortune?

Because I’m a blue meanie, I suppose. Too, a fanatical, antiquated bibliophile, who looks on these objects as precious things, and cannot bear to see them treated in such a way. (Unless the books are heretical or immoral, in which case they should be burnt, of course.) And because, in this environment, the single soul seeking specific books must become a public nuisance. But then, I have been accused of holding an unmercenary attitude; one in conflict with the spirit of our age.

I told a (fellow book-loving) priest of the packing-tape fiasco. His response was more cheerful.

“Fortunately people don’t read books any more anyway,” he assured me.

He thought he might do colour schemes on the bookshelves in his own quarters: black for All Souls, purple for Advent, though darn, he would have to pay extra for the whites through Christmas and Epiphany. But what a good idea, to tape the books shut, lest he be tempted to read one and disturb the decorative scheme.

Indeed, he would recommend to the Librarian that all the books in his religious house be rearranged by size and colour, now that all the best people are doing that.

“The Dewey Decimal system is Hegelian anyway, and God only knows what Enlightenment ideology lies behind the Library of Congress system.”

____________

POSTSCRIPT: On the burning, not of books but of witches, I have a piece today over at the Catholic Thing (here).

Within the Octave

One looks through the drizzle on a day like this (we are passing through what I call the Northern Monsoon) — upon the glories of this world, from the incomparable height of the High Doganate, above magnificent Inner Parkdale, diadem upon this Fine Province of Ontario.

The glories, and the glorious of this world, which a retired signals officer just listed for me — Lord Zuckerberg of Facebook, Lord Bezos of Amazon, Lord Gates of Microsoft, in their sparkling might — Lord and Lady Celebrities of Hollywood and #MeToo — Dukes, Duchesses, or equivalents; Buffett Captains of Industry and Investment; the Marquesses and Marchionesses, in their Nikes — all the great and marvellously incomed! King Donald, Master of the Reality Show, to his grand courtiers, and jesters from Hannity to Acosta — what a splendid cast! How fortunate to live in such a democratic age, when even the talking heads in the box reach out through the screen to lick us! The Poets singing in the Supermarkets, immortal in their recording loops, or gathering for their Grammy Awards! The unemployment numbers down, ever down; the GDP up, ever up; and in the world at large, “Peace, peace!” Surely we live in times when giants walk the Earth; astride the giant of The People, the Leviathan!

Yet there is truth, too, in what Mephistopheles says:

Brief is the noise of Fame, the passing guest.
They all must die, the hero and the knave.
The greatest king goes to eternal rest,
And every dog comes pissing on his grave. …

(Or rather, Mephistopheles said, until Goethe decided that the lines had better be deleted.)

I gather there is some sort of election today, in the Republic of the American Dream. All very well, quite wonderful, unless it should happen that some party wins.

Don’t watch; don’t vote. Don’t eat Pringles, either.

The art of crazy-making

On some Saturday evening recently, I gently suggested what I believe to be the most effective meejah strategy: “Don’t watch.” I was writing, of course, mostly to myself, as I often am. Since childhood I have been addicted to “the news”; by age ten was gobbling down the contents of two or more newspapers every day, engaging anyone fool enough to listen, in debate on “current events.” (Truly, I was an insufferable child.)

Though I mostly missed participation in the TV generation, I fell right into the Internet trap. This was on the 4th of December, 1999 — I remember and grieve the day. It has been downhill since.

Now, in the olden time, I also read magazines, to the point of subscribing to several. I also visited library periodical sections. I was a little policy wonk — many young things used to be. Though already leaning to the “conservative” side of the policy spectrum (absence of bias may be a sign of brain death), I read the “facts and arguments” from both sides. This is essential, to have any idea what is going on, for each side has an interest in telling only half of the story. But this was old-fashioned, as I admit. The Internet search algorithms quickly deduce what side you are on, today, then feed you only what their programmers think you will want to see. This they imagine to be good business: for when a contemporary sees anything he does not agree with, he tends to have a wrang.

Whether you are hooked into CNN, or Fox, you will be made crazy. Each selects and packages its “fake news” to provide a constant diet of wrath, and direct it to specific demonized targets. This is not exactly new in democracy — the daily newspapers were once party-aligned like that — but the son-et-lumière of technology has magnified it.

Canada is slightly different, for as David Frum once observed in the Idler: “Canada is a country where there is always one side to every question.” (And this was apparent in last week’s “great debate” up here in Greater Parkdale, when he took this side against the much-demonized Stephen K. Bannon, while our local Antifa types rioted against Mr Bannon’s having been allowed to speak at all.)

As the USA is progressively Canadianized, we get the same sort of thing down there: the Left casually adopting Brown Shirt tactics, to enforce the fluctuating decrees of “political correctness,” in the spirit of the Sturmabteilung (in the days before they “evolved” into the Schutzstaffel). Though on the other side, the Trumplings have mastered the Kundgebungen, or huge political rallies.

This is what the Scholastics predicted, when they considered the arguments for democracy: that while it looked plausible enough on paper, it could only lead to gang warfare, pulling apart each nation where it flourished. They could not, however, imagine the contribution of mass media. They were more concerned with the effects of politicization on the individual human soul, thus instinctively defended Church and Crown (or Republic, so long as it was not democratic).

Unlike us, they cared about freedom; but about “equality,” not at all — the concept itself being too ridiculous to consider.

My belated advice (to myself), not to watch “the news,” now that it has become a largely pornographic horrorshow, might be taken “literally.” It is the occasion of sin, but not sin itself. More vital, whether watching or not, is to be unmoved by it; to not let its crazy-making make you crazy. If there is nothing one can do about what is “breaking” — whether in Pakistan or around the corner — do nothing and be content with that. (Petitions and commenting campaigns don’t work, and are a pointless distraction from important household tasks, such as darning your socks and washing the laundry.)

Of course, should God suddenly provide something one can do, to defeat obvious madness, just do it in a calm and reasonable way. For He isn’t interested in your opinions, either; only in what your opinions are doing to you.

All Saints & All Souls

A correspondent in Alberta — Baggins the Pharmacist — writes on the subject of Joy. It has perhaps been overlooked, in the media and elsewhere.

He does not try to analyze Joy, in our modern manner, of formula-seeking. The subject is too simple for that. Everyone knows what Joy is, including those who deny knowing. I have written myself about this flip side of arrogance and wilful ignorance: for we not only claim to know what we don’t know, we also claim not to know what we do know, in this world around us. Examine the inside of your own head, and you may distinguish true Joy from its surrogates and proxies; quite easily, in fact.

Baggins is concerned with Joy in the choice of attachments. By attachments he might include everything from friends to consumer durables; to ideas and opinions and beliefs and commitments. His criterion for judgement is, “Does it spark Joy?”

I am reminded of my discovery of T. E. Hulme, in the library of the Victoria and Albert Museum, a long time ago. Among his works was a “Critique of Satisfaction.” Hulme tries very hard to be vulgar; in some ways he succeeds; while breaking through various intellectual, verily philosophical, obstacles or alternatives to Joy. Each he confronts with the question, “In what way is this satisfying?” I (then an atheist) could see that his argument was leading straight to God. And that it was irresistible.

In the end we can’t do with half-measures. They are not, anyway, where we began, which was in an absolute state of Being. Birth itself is no half-way: we already Were. And the capacity for Joy was within us. We grind away at an indestructible whole; it is still there for all our grinding.

Baggins looks back in his mental closet, to his stacks of old shoe boxes, containing “the little trash and trinkets of past lives and past modes of thought, past judgements, and past sins.” Is it time to dispose of them yet? Need he continue to carry them along? Do they spark Joy?

For instance, the accumulated daily wads of his “spin and opinions”?

“So months ago, I unhooked from Satellite TV, and all news programmes because they were all a near occasion of sin. I simply no longer accept any form of “streaming” infotainment or fake news — which is almost everything that passes for ‘news’ these days. Yet I am no Luddite by any stretch.” … He now finds fairly joyful things, even on the Internet.

The young Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, Albanian as one might guess, felt one day that she was drawn to God, perhaps called to be a Catholic nun. Intelligent and sceptical, she went to an intelligent nun for advice, on what to make of her “feelings,” on how “a calling” might be discerned. She was asked a simple question, which might be translated, “Does it spark Joy?” (Off to Ireland, first. Later she became Mother Teresa of Calcutta.)

We live, most of us, the life of Hallowe’en, “secularized” or desanctified from ancient religious practice, with results that may be seen. But now All Saints and All Souls have arrived. There is much to put behind us — so much “Hallowe’en” for the trash — but looking forward, how shall we be guided? What of the criterion of Joy?

The poppy chronicles

“You must work harder on your choice of targets,” I vaguely recall overhearing in Vietnam, from a young officer noted for his dry and deliciously black sense of humour. It was directed to a fresh draftee, inclined to shoot at anything that moved. Let me identify with this latter, who might himself have been targeted by the World Wildlife Federation, great friends of the spindle-horned Saolas.

If it is any comfort to my vegetarian readers, the animals (especially those hard-to-hit snakes) took their toll of the draftees, too; though disease-carrying insects probably took more; and the Viet Cong most of all. I can easily understand why so many, who did not fly in body-bags instead, returned to America traumatized. It is so from all modern wars. The human psyche is not well adapted to unrelieved horror; though oddly it is the contemplation of this that does the damage. The episodes of participation are comparatively brief, and almost exhilarating.

As we approach the centenary of the Great Armistice, I see the plastic poppies circulating from the little boxes in the liquor stores. My thoughts turn to war qua war. Though sometimes necessary, it is not a good thing (“bad for children and animals” as the peaceniks say); and given the ambiance of our high-tech weaponry, little heroism is left to raise the tone. Contemporary battles are not confined to the soldiers, as once they could be. The devastation of cities and towns, the routine destruction of infrastructure, the civilian suffering that follows from that, may match or even exceed ancient measures of conquest and rapine.

While I’ve never thought war should be avoided at all costs, I recognize that the cost is very high. Opportunities for peace should not be overlooked, even while the carnage is in progress.

When, for instance, the newly-enthroned Karl I — Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary; “fanatic” Catholic Christian — discreetly proposed a separate peace to the allies in the spring of 1917, his agents were rebuffed, outed, and mocked. The Americans were coming to tilt our fortunes, the Germans were distracted overrunning the Russians, and while the Western Front was in catastrophic stasis, our nationalist politicians could now hope to utterly crush the foe. They would demand unconditional surrender.

This all-but-forgotten diplomatic event haunts my historical imagination. It was a serious opportunity to restore something close to the status quo ante, while resolving casus belli (very much plural) from Belgium and Alsace to Serbia and Constantinople on the principles of sweet reason. Drowned in the gunfire was this Blessed Karl’s expressly Christian plea. In an instant the decision was made, in the West, to persist till millions more were slain, and the conditions assembled for international violence and totalitarianism through the next seventy years.

The gentlemen I call “the three stooges of the apocalypse” — Wilson, Lloyd George, Clemenceau — were all modern democratic politicians, whose nationalist ideals were now buttressed by the vast constituencies of countries at war, goaded on by the screaming headlines of a paper mass media. They wanted a New Europe, a New World Order, in which antiquated empires and all the sleepy old aristocratic polities would be smashed and replaced — with modern, ethnically homogeneous, democratic States. The consequences were unforeseeable to them, wrapped in their flags and the rhetoric of liberté, égalité, fraternité.

It was a war to end all wars! … Both the malice and the naivety were astounding.

Yet this takes nothing from the bravery and stamina of the men like my grandfather (and his horse!) who fought in their trenches, went bloodily up their hills, and who far from exulting in their final victory, sailed home heartbroken by all they had seen. We are right to honour them.

And we’d be right to despise all political ideals.

Circling

Whether the Sun goes round the Earth, or the Earth goes round the Sun, wasn’t the issue. At least, it wasn’t to start with. Ask Copernicus, that mediaeval Pole, and a man of broad learning not only in mathematics and astronomy, but in classics and the humanities; a Latinist of sublime style, and a polyglot, fluent in five other languages; doctor of Canon Law; diplomat, mediator, statesman; defender of traditional civic freedoms against the empire-building Teutonic order; economist, even monetarist, and pioneer of Gresham’s Law; student of medicine, too; Chapter Canon (for which he surely had to be ordained); diligent guardian to his sister’s orphaned children; and more that we might list, were this morning’s Idlepost about Copernicus. (There are books on him, though none I’ve seen that give justice to his range, or his depth; most only celebrate the poster-boy of heliocentrism.)

I have asked Copernicus what his motives were, in pursuing the extraordinary work behind his famous and little read treatise, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium. Listen as he answers: “To clean up the Ptolemaic mathematics, which gave inexact accounts of the movements of moon, planets, stars.”

The heliocentric inversion was not original: Aristarchus of Samos had preached that eighteen centuries before, and we merely assume the conception was original to him. Copernicus the scholar was well acquainted with the Greek authors, both Ancient and Byzantine. Claudius Ptolemy had himself reversed Aristarchus, adding an astrological flavouring, in late decadent Alexandria.

So much of science, properly so called, consists of housecleaning. Things are discovered in the course of that, including, as in this case, things that had gone missing a long time ago. The astrological, or dare I say “gnostic” mind, is forever hiding things, that disappear under the dust of the centuries.

Science as a whole was receding, in Ptolemy’s time, from its earlier Hellenic splendour. The Romans, with their engineering or technological bias, had no taste for it. They preferred “settled science” with its rules of thumb. They were practical people, like our computer technicians today.

Indeed, we are descending into another dark age of “settled science,” whose adepts dress in labcoat robes, claim a priestly monopoly on scientific reasoning, and are applauded chiefly for the gizmos they assemble. It has become a parody religion, for the god and doctrine of material Progress; a return, on this circuit, to the pagan Roman condition. Of course, we know how that ends.

Now, a practical man, with two feet on the ground, can see that the Sun circles the Earth, as too, the great bowl of stars. He never thought that the world is flat (a ridiculous smear circulated by the Darwinists), because he has seen the sea, and ships’ masts sinking below the horizon, then rising again as they return. And besides, the heavens themselves are revolving; it makes no sense for them to revolve around an anchored disk. Ours must be the round stone at the lowest point of this celestial machinery, tiny in comparison to the stars’ vast distance. (Mediaeval man, as the Ancients, had no doubt that the stars were very far away.) There can be no point lower than the centre of our globe, deep underground, towards which we are mysteriously, we might say hellishly pulled, as everything in our sublunary sphere. Yet there are men on the surface of our planet, greatly in need of salvation, and that is where its significance lies.

Things move back and forth; around and around; nothing ever changes. In the cosmology of our modern “scientific” age, now passing, we began to glimpse how the Earth and its inhabitants remain central to the overall scheme. Our uniqueness requires the adumbration of the entire universe to comprehend — having completed which, we are then no closer to God.

A man like Copernicus could understand this. Those who shout “Copernicus!” cannot.

Don’t watch

All week we have, up here in the High Doganate, been not consulting “the news.” This was the result of some vow we took the week before, into the autumn winds: “As God is my witness, I don’t want to be a news junkie any more.”

Nothing is perfect in this world, however, including my vows. By mid-week, curiosity had killed my cat, and I surreptitiously checked Drudge to find what this pipe-bomb business was about. This led to a shameful act of punditry, against a pressing deadline. (You may read it here.) Carefully I nuanced my vow, to allow such exceptions. But within these Idleposts, no punditry allowed. We’ll see how long that lasts.

My reasoning is straightforward. For many years now I have noticed that the meejah — resolved everywhere to embody the tabloid spirit of depravity and filth — hold their audience by making them angry. The leftward parts exist to make the Left angry, the rightward to inflame the Right; the whole industry dedicated to inciting civil war. Materials are always to hand, to be simplified and inflated with provocative headlines. The formula works. Their trade is selling eyeballs, and if they have enough, the advertisers stay; until an outrage touches them, in which case, they cancel all contracts, and immediately explode in self-righteous pomposity.

Why, anyway, would one wish to be exposed to their flashsome and distractive ads? Any product that needs heavy advertising should be added to one’s private boycott list; why become a rat in their marketing maze? The money savings can be quite substantial, to say nothing of the health benefits.

Now, this is hardly some opinion at which I’ve suddenly arrived. I have hated ad-agency bait and hype for at least forty years, dating to a proposal I once made for the launch of an eccentric daily newspaper.

This paper would be eight broadsheet pages, with no ads. There would indeed be a methodically organized summation of “breaking news,” from the top of the front page, under title, “A Chronicle of Current Events”; plus a thoughtful leader in boldface down the left-most column. That “Chronicle” would meander onto page two, most entries condensed to a single paragraph of fact without comment, beyond droll wit.

Page three would present a longish literary essay; and a poem or excerpt (often in translation); with a feuilleton (serialized tale) running across the bottom.

The centrefold pages (four and five) would be “from our correspondents,” often in remote places, or on highly apolitical topics, such as archaeology and natural history.

Page six, “breaking” arts and books and kulcha.

Page seven, a survey of business reports, with sports results tacked on the end; except Sundays, ecclesiastical, and Mondays, all sport and leisure (there having been no markets open the previous days).

A selection of the liveliest and most informative letters-to-the-editor on the back page, above a calendar of events upcoming.

No bleary halftone; absolutely no soggy consumer “lifestyle”; everything cut sharp. Mostly diagrams, sketch maps, caricatures, pastiches; and “mugs” engraved at postage-stamp sizes. No headings over 24 points, and most a modest 12. Crisply printed on book paper (not newsprint); colour where appropriate, but never glitz. The type (9-point less a little leading of a revised Garamond font) in fairly wide columns; I think it was 15 picas in my mock-up (five columns across the page). Generous outside margins, to an overall page-breadth of 15 inches (from a full sheet 30 by 45).

Alas, the plausible media tycoon to whom I was pitching, promptly rejected the idea. Without ads, the price per copy would be too high, and only intelligent people would want it. Though the paper were thin, the staff cost would be exorbitant. (I insisted they would all be underpaid.) Unnecessary production values (i.e. too much quality). He thought there were too few readers to sustain such a paper: “Maybe I would subscribe, but no one else would.”

I argued that one ought to invest in, and tirelessly promote, something one believes to be good; leave the “lowest common denominator” to the cynical. It is a view that has lost me a lot of money over the years.

Still, I wait patiently for such a paper to appear. If and when it does, I will consider reading “the news” again; meanwhile, value my serenity.

On Robin Hood

I suppose it should have served as a warning to my kindergarten teacher, that I did not approve the behaviour of Robin Hood. (This was “High Kindergarten,” age-equivalent to North American Grade II.) Today, I’d be at risk of a report to Children’s Aid. For I was opposed to highwaymen; a proponent of law and order; a shill for the landed and the wealthy, as it were — though it took years, and “events,” for me to fully realize that God had made me not a Whig but a Tory.

The ballads we have are from the fifteenth century — the beautiful decadence of the Late Middle Ages. The character may or may not have been an historical figure from an earlier epoch. There were actual Sheriffs of Nottingham, however, and I’m sure some of them were corrupt, for that is often the case with humans. I trust sheriffs almost as little as I trust highwaymen, though at least they don’t dress in Lincoln green. (It was once high fashion; give me shepherd’s grey.) The political subtlety in the legend is lost on most modern children: that Robin Hood, returned from the Crusades to discover that his property has been impounded, becomes an enemy of the rich, but a friend to “the people” — and loyal henchman for the King.

We might call him a Disraelian, “two nations” Conservative. It is a formula that will always appeal to the romantic: the King as champion of the People; the very top of society in alliance with the bottom against the self-interested middle-men. Our own NDP in Canada (the “Nastily Demented Party,” representing populist socialism) was, at its start, instinctively monarchist, as well as cloyingly Methodist. Or in Catholic fantasy, the Pope and the People against the high-living Bishops. Whereas I, a more traditional mediaevalist, am for a unified hierarchy: a place for everyone, and everyone in his place. (Shakespeare is on my side, incidentally; see his Histories.)

My childish disapproval of Robin Hood, however, was not from opposition to “equality,” per se. Rather I was against crime. It is not right to take things not voluntarily offered, whether by stealth, or by force. Redistribution to “the poor” does not justify the crime, but compounds it. This undermines the whole concept of Property, to the ultimate disbenefit of rich and poor alike. I note that Mr Hood also became anti-clerical, in the Protestant developments of the legend. To my mind the Merry Men were a bunch of thugs, Friar Tuck a lickspittle, and Maid Marian a ho.

I’m opposed to the “welfare state,” or as I call it, “Twisted Nanny,” not because I oppose helping the poor, but because I’m against theft and robbery. And theft is not improved by moral unctuousness, or “virtue signalling” in the progressive mode. The fact is that the State, whether or not it actually gives to the poor (and most “social spending” goes to those who control them), demands enormous taxes to pay for this dubious generosity, and invades all our lives to collect.

Robin Hood, by comparison, was limited at least to what he could obtain as a talented archer. A moral evil is not made good when imposed by massive force, hyped by incessant propaganda, or procrusteanized by sadistic auditors.

Though simple, this point is easily misrepresented. I have never been in an argument in which my opposition to the Income Tax was not depicted as heartless indifference to the supposed beneficiaries of the State’s largesse. Nor have I heard the slightest curiosity about alternative means to charitable ends, that do not involve jackboot procedures.

The poor themselves are robbed by State lotteries, by hidden taxes on all their little comforts, by regulations that drive up the cost of such necessities as food and rent. But most important, they are deprived of their innocence by being made the receivers of stolen goods.