Essays in Idleness

DAVID WARREN

Unending descent

There is a wild, strange, exhilaration at the appearance of first snow; that generous Christmas feeling, and the glory of boots and greatcoats. Soon we will be skating and sliding. An end has been announced to autumn; the old year will be frozen out.

Rising all the way from the street, to my altitude in the High Doganate, I hear one of my neighbours cussing, and a fine old-fashioned car that chokes and won’t start.

In these parts there is relief from the anticipated “northern monsoon,” as I call it; for most years we have cold rain and drizzle through the month of November. But ho: the sky had some better reason to be overcast this year. Let it fill our streets with promise. Let it halt traffic for a moment of peace.

Gently falling snow, on battlefields and historical places, or on the receding memory of them — and now, this grace returns upon us. Again the world is being cleaned, the stage purified for the next acts and scenes in our play. A curtain of snow has deleted my view across the Lake, and Humber Bay. By God’s grace, across the water, the highrise settlement of Mimico has disappeared. Only the near neighbourhood is visible, the roofs white-on-white, against the white background. A gull cries, and in the echo Hilda Doolittle: “The walls do not fall.”

It is Armistice Day; our poppies are all fastened. The cannon will sound, in the inaudible distance; our clocks will soundlessly strike eleven. For a moment, perhaps, the dead look down upon their children, or upon the children they never had. The stillness binds us all together, beinglessly.

Thirty years ago the Berlin Wall fell. Of course I remember the occasion. It was like first snow. All history was being obscured by it. There was wild surmise in the offices of the Idler magazine, where I then worked; we gathered round a banner headline in the New York Times. What to make of this?

Was the monstrosity of Leninism actually collapsing, the Iron Curtain crashing down? Were the hundred million slaves of Communism suddenly walking free? Nay two, three, four hundred millions? It was a joyous occasion, yet too, a hollow one. For we had done nothing.

Had my generation escaped a Third vast war, that would have followed naturally upon the First and the Second? Were we really excused, so easily, from the horrors which had engulfed my father’s generation, and that of his father? Had we proved, somehow, not worth killing in a great cause?

Were all wars over? Was this “the end of history” as enthusiasts proclaimed? Were we the first of many generations, who would endure the unending boredom of peace?

But in moments history was starting up again, to our equally hollow disappointment.

The world is like that; we should have known. “Peace on Earth” doesn’t happen, except in the heart of a mystery religion, whose partisans fade away. The guns will blaze anew, or perhaps they will be lasers. The bodies will again be frozen, into the ice of time. And as it melts, the siren of Utopia will be heard, to signal the approach of fresh conflicts. Again, the war cry, the demand now for a Green Paradise on Earth — another murderous try at socialism.

Men fail — to learn the mystery of acceptance, the beauty of what they have. The soldiers will ready for battle again. Let the optimists despair.

And here we are, nearly twenty years into a new, violent century. The armies have reformed, into a “new world order.” Think of the armistices to come. And the snows will come, and with the snows, the silence.

On getting up

As Kipling said, one must keep one’s head, “when all about you are losing theirs, and blaming it on you.” He has other advice in the same poem, but I notice, this is where it starts. I think it is good advice, in general, though I would add a few whimsical qualifications, here and there. Too, the piece goes rather psycho, towards the end.

My late grandfather supplied me with the framed text; it was very kind of him. He was an illuminator, in his spare time from being a cartographer. The idea was, that I could read the text while shaving.

A lady friend suggests that I should shave more often. But as I’ve never let her inside the High Doganate, she couldn’t have been “commenting” on more than my appearance.

Nor have I drawn the inference, that men with beards are unwiser than clean-shaven men. Or, women for that matter. But no, I am not a pogonophobe. For not everyone is provided with an illuminated copy of the “If –” poem, to review at the start of his day.

I mention it for the sake of nostalgia, but also as a remedy against current ills. If, instead of didactic verse, one begins by reading meejah headlines on the Internet, it is less likely the day will turn out well. One might, for instance, go as crazy as the meejah. The day might then easily degenerate, from the motive of revenge.

From hard personal experience, I have discovered that I lack influence in the world. The insane things, that are insanely reported, would probably happen if I never got up. I could, quite probably, do more good by going first thing to Mass. Or even by giving a bottle of whisky to a “homeless person”; it might save him money for his other needs. As to the big problems of Society and State, nothing I do is going to solve them.

God might put me in a situation like that in which He put those Austrian boys: the two who tossed the “pachamamas” in the river at Rome. Though as a friend said, there are lots of bad things in the Tiber already. Perhaps toss a few liberal bishops in the Amazon. It might make for a better video; especially if you lucked into a school of piranhas. But now, perhaps, I’m getting carried away.

And anyway, I’m against providing clickbait.

Where Kipling goes wrong, predictably because he is not a Catholic, I think, is by omitting the one thing I could reliably do, to make the world a better place; however indirectly. It is to become Holy. This, truly, is “to advance one’s own cause” — in the highest sense, selfish.

It is the selfishness that is distantly reflected, as it were in mudwater at the bottom of a pit, in The Fable of the Bees. (In that, the ideology of Capitalism was foreseen: “private vices, publick benefits.” The author, Bernard Mandeville, was our English Machiavelli. He preferred selfish vices, to “virtue signalling.”)

Alternatively, as Newman suggests, the path to sanctity begins even before shaving. Step one is to get out of bed in the morning, … promptly.

I’m still working on step two.

Our Kingdom, where?

We cannot know, and perhaps should not presume to know, whether the election of our current pope was a good thing or a bad thing. The matter will not be decided by historians, who for the most part are as useless as journalists in getting to the bottom of anything, and are often as riddled with bias as the worst of them.

There can be no doubt that the Church was in a bad way, before Jorge Bergoglio took office. That a conclave in Rome, made of cardinals appointed by the two preceding popes, were capable of electing such a man, is superficially distressing. We have had bad popes in the past, however, and Lord, bad cardinals, too. Rarely are they the majority, but the world is the world. To each generation, the Church appears to be made of men, but by now we should have noticed what wretches men are.

Some become saints, and ought therefore to be trusted, but the very question of who are the saints is being confused by the current practice of creating them wholesale. If, for instance, every pope is to be pronounced a saint as if it were a gold watch on his retirement, we can look forward to a Saint Pope Francis when the conclave he has stacked chooses his successor. Unlike many “traditional” Catholics, I do not look forward to when Bergoglio goes. I can easily imagine the worse that could follow.

A great deal of responsibility is being passed down the ranks, to individual Catholics, whose difficulties mount. Is superstition not encouraged, when the individual at prayer is distracted by conflicting accounts of what he should be praying?

Is he really supposed to adore Mother Earth? Has he omitted comminations against oil and gas companies? Should he be wearing feathers?

Since Vatican II, if not before and during, the Church herself has been broadcasting mixed messages, so that even plain questions of good and evil are frequently in dispute. We have now reached the point when the Vatican communications officer tells us a pagan ceremony filmed in the Vatican garden, thus witnessed by millions, did not happen. He is then applauded by stolid Vatican bureaucrats sitting along his panel.

Had George Orwell been a Catholic, he could have written a satirical novel about this; though I think Wyndham Lewis could have done better. Evelyn Waugh would have been too discreet. Our contemporaries must be content with ill-written newscasts, and a discouraging diet of lies, lies, lies.

But the question I began with was not, do we have a bad pope, but is that a bad thing? The jury is always out, down here on Earth. As an old-fashioned Catholic my view is that authority descends from Heaven. My guess is that today’s quasi-socialist, radically political church will survive, but in Hell.

It has occurred to me, and several others, that the prevailing “post-Christian” mess in Rome might have good consequences. Even without using the word “schism,” I can see that a new devout, underground Church is emerging, just when it is needed. Those still obedient to the conception of the Church, adumbrated by our Founder, are being inspired to new and more heroic acts, and deeper prayer, in defence of that tradition.

How this will work out, down here on Earth, I have no idea. Yet when evils coalesce down here, resistance is also coalescing.

The means by which the Truth may be disseminated, still, are experimental and uncertain. I am thinking, for instance, of unofficial religious sites on the Internet, which bring comfort to those horrified by Rome. This is a dangerous thing; but as long as there remains a will to orthodoxy, good things can result.

Let us be martyrs: “witnesses.” Let us revive the old habits, contra mundum. In particular, let us recollect that the future we seek is no earthly, political utopia, but a Kingdom not of this world.

A conceptual thing

There is no such thing as “unaided human reason.”

Reason itself were not a machine. The thing itself cannot be sped up by artificial intelligence with quantum computers. This should be evident to anyone who has tried to think something through. There is human reason, but it requires concepts, which exist outside of us.

Time and space also do not exist, as most Neoplatonic philosophers were aware. This is because their parts don’t exist, and how does one construct something very big out of non-existent parts? There is nothing so materially wanting as “a moment” in time, “a location” in space: the one quickly invalidates the other. And yet they are.

Don’t take this lightly: brilliant men in Arabic, and Latin, wrestled with this. The pagan, technocratic Romans made fools of themselves trying to reduce space alone to just two practical dimensions. Alexandrian Greeks had already foreseen this would get them nowhere. Had they slide rules, they would have worn them all out.

The Alexandrians had better concepts (Euclid understood three dimensions). Even the Romans acknowledged this at times. Yet concepts are also made from non-existent parts, unavailable to the technocratic mind.

Nevertheless, as they were sometimes wise, philosophers in what we call the Dark Ages “moved on” from e.g. trying to co-ordinate a determinism that could explain themselves to themselves, from what they had not realized were horizon lines — another visible non-existent.

Or so I vaguely determined in my youth, when struggling with ancient commentaries on Aristotle. (Note the direction of this activity: I was determining, not being determined, by my time and location. The pagans had real problems with free will.)

It is a good mental exercise to try, by the projective imagination, to see the world as others see it. This frees one, in moments, from the tyranny of one’s own being. It is part of what made the Christian missionaries great anthropologists, from the first centuries: their attempt to grasp pagan ways of thinking, as part of the project to convert them. It involved showing others, used to being treated as subhuman, some unaccustomed respect — even the primitive tribal types, such as they were then meeting in Europe. (And in the course of that, coming to a better understanding, themselves.)

The technique proved incredibly successful, as we see today in places so diverse as Africa and China. We mastered how to translate our Christian concepts, through all the languages we encountered.

Missionaries could not start from facts, which their interlocutors had no reason to accept. The God Who Is Christ, for instance, was only a fact, observed locally and briefly, while He was biologically present; first one must conceive the historical possibility. One must find one’s way into “a vision of the thing,” for this precedes all facts.

Why is “scientific method” such a scandal? Everyone hypes it, nobody follows it. There can be no advance in understanding, scientific or of any other sort, without a prior metaphysical leap — as opposed to physical.

Let us revisit young Newton, home from Cambridge because of the plague. He is sitting in the orchard of Woolsthorpe Manor, where the apples are falling. I will not litigate the fact-checker’s question, of whether an apple fell directly on Newton’s head.

Probably not, however, for in order to learn from observation, he would have had to be watching, impartially. The point, or rather the line, was straight. The apples fell straight down. Everything was falling, unless something interfered, in straight lines towards the centre of the earth. … Aha, gravity!

Does gravity exist? This is a question like, does the Sun revolve around the Earth, or vice versa. Children are made to laugh at this today, but like me, they really don’t know. They replace one concept with another, and are taught to disparage the older one. Yet it took centuries upon centuries for anyone with the wit of a Copernicus, or a Newton, to entertain the possibility that ancient Alexandrians had been right about our planet — the same fussy Greeks that the children of pagan Rome had been taught to laugh at. … Har-har-har!

That “settled science” is a crock, I take for granted, as will anyone who knows anything at all about science, but it is not the issue here. Rather, that the world of concept is alive. It cannot be reached by the unaided reason. The brain itself had to be conceived, before all worlds.

A robot can be designed to pretend that it is Christian. But there will never be a robot who actually believes. And this is not because robots are by nature irreligious. It is because their concepts have to be installed. Whereas, for us, faith and reason are necessarily intertwined.

As sage Heraclitus said (in Diels fragment 40, I think), “Abundance of knowledge does not teach men to be wise.”

Only a man (a concept which counterfactually includes women) can become a Christian. It is a conceptual thing.

Derek Chisholm

Let me suppose gentle reader has acquired the rudiments of calligraphy. He has experimented with pens and inks and papers — eager to practise, but pressed for time, like my friend Derek, even through the long years before he married, and became a father, in fairly old age. Then after that.

In the evenings, say, or very early in the mornings, or on holidays, he had a chance. This, because he was extremely well-organized. He had other time-consuming tasks, too, for instance being an active elder in his Presbyterian church (one of his degrees was in divinity), a quiet but very generous patron of arts, a culinary expert, a (very) long distance walker, teacher of a bewildering variety of university courses, book-buyer and broad reader in topics he didn’t even teach, a theoretical economist who was always controversial, and disconcertingly impossible to confute.

I should also mention the dayjob from which he recently retired: high up in the Ontario civil service. Political appointees regularly abused him, for he was there on merit and “track record” alone. He didn’t cultivate political connexions. He did work they couldn’t do and wouldn’t want to: keeping the pension fund afloat, seeing off men who would break the bank, saving credit ratings in New York, and the province itself from what looked like bankruptcy. “Never complain, never explain,” he explained.

Through this Derek Chisholm (born 1948, died on Monday) I got the faintest glimpse of others like him, in key places within several government bureaucracies; honest and dedicated men, thanks to whom spendthrift politicians are guided and warned; or more frequently saved from the consequences of their (sometimes maliciously) stupid actions, through brilliant manoeuvres in the money markets. Without men like these, huge economies would come crashing down.

It was interesting that most if not all of these were serious Christians.

Calligraphy was just one of Derek’s hobbies. I saw one product of it in his study: binders and binders and thick binders in his elegant hand. He resolved to copy out the whole Bible, and make his own commentary upon it, between all the lines. It was a labour of seventeen years. It wasn’t for show, it was a spiritual exercise. It was a way to move himself, closer to God: a tireless contemplative effort.

I became Catholic in my fiftieth year, though I’d been leaning that way for decades. We wrangled sometimes, mostly about ecclesial history. Derek was one of several I’ve met whom I could call “mystically Calvinist.” Each was or is in life an artist of some kind: a poet, a musician, a painter, a metalsmith. Derek was an economist who understood his art in a religious way. As a young man, though acknowledged as very capable, he almost did not collect his principal degree. This was because his thesis was as far removed from Keynesian as he could travel. He challenged every cliché that had been used to slide Britain, Canada, and many other countries off the gold standard in the 1920s; and how the Depression had followed from them.

He believed God was behind the laws of supply and demand, and that they were written into nature as a gift. And he would say this to people quite bombastically unwilling to hear it. In the same study I saw a huge library of economic classics and studies; apparently all annotated.

But there were other rooms in his house, and these were filled with art and literature. I’d met him years before through a “secret society,” whose members were antiquarian booksellers and bookish lawyers: each an eccentric and Derek most of all. His hats were particularly memorable. His staccato laughter made one duck for cover.

He got people to do things. I seem to remember being put up to lecturing on Edmund Burke to a Korean audience. I was paid excessively: with a caricature of Burke by Derek’s wife, Ji Myoung, more acute than anything in my talk.

He spoke once to me in a very Caledonian way, about himself, as “a foetid person.” What an unusual word to apply to oneself! I couldn’t spot anything in him that was less than good and honourable.

Well, it is All Souls, and Derek Chisholm’s funeral was this morning.

Qui Lazarum resuscitasti a monumento foetidum …

All Hallows E’en

A dream I dreamt, four years ago, stays with me because it was so vivid, and perhaps because I wrote it down. It was of children with lanterns wandering the streets. They were of all sizes, the larger holding the smaller on their hips, or leading them by hand. Somehow I knew that all were orphans.

The children were dressed as priests and deacons, monks and canons, nuns and religious sisters. As I looked about, I spotted a wee bishop under his great mitre, an abbot standing in his oversized sandals, an abbess, a prioress; and many more, from curious eastern or perhaps ancient orders. And some were in sheepskins, and some in rags; a shepherd leading a little lamb; some dressed as brides, some dressed as grooms; some carrying tools, as carpenters or masons; and one a feudal lord, followed by his retainers, each with a cross. And they were carrying, too, many kinds of lanterns, and some of them staffs, and bells, sacks or purses; and one of them preceding a little group, swinging a censer. But all were children, come to beg alms.

They turned, it seemed, through every street, and in the manner of a dream I was both among them, and watching the sea of lanterns, from afar. On the ground, I could see them treading before, and around me. Try as I did I could not see the faces, uncannily shrouded in some way. I wanted to ask, “Who are you?” and “Who are you?” I wanted to hug the sweet little souls, but a voice was telling me, don’t touch them.

By many dark houses they walked, but at some there were adults, standing on their steps and porches, or in their open doorways. And when a child approached, each grown man or woman bowed, deeply and gravely. At which each child would solemnly bless him, and then be on his way.

*

From the start of modern, “American” Hallowe’en, the jack-o’-lantern was the reigning symbol. It originated in Irish folklore, and came to our shores with the poor immigrants. The tale is of quick-witted, drunken Jack, invited by the Devil to climb a tree, who first carves a cross in the bark so the Devil cannot get him. He’ll not go to Hell, but after a life of “sin, drink, and mendacity” he’ll not be getting into Heaven either. Dead, he is first refused there, then sent to the other place. But spotting Jack at the Gates of Hell, the Devil hurls a lighted coal at him, from the infernal fires. He was cold, our Jack, but being Irish and clever, he hollows out a rutabaga (the original for our pumpkin), placing the coal inside to keep it from blowing out. With this he to this day wanders about the cosmos, looking for a place to call home.

*

My dream ended in terror, as I woke, and my troubled mind began to interpret. These were not living children, I was somehow told, but rather the souls of the dead, walking in the costumage of holy saints. They were the spirits of all those little folk, massacred in the abortion clinics, restored mysteriously to flesh. And back from limbo they had come, prowling the city: in search of their own faces.

And so I had been watching their processions through the city, to the homes of their mothers and their fathers, asking to be recognized as their own.

Of love & marriage

Lechery is easily mistaken for love. This is a thought that afflicts me whenever my eyes stray into the pop tabloid reporting of current events; and when I review my own history of poor judgements, back in the days when there were two sexes.

Man is an animal. This has been known for some time. It could be known even in the Garden of Eden, from what I can make out, though science had not had the opportunity to advance at that time. He is more than an animal in the Christian teaching, not less; in particular let me mention he is higher than the monkeys. This could be taken for flattery, for there are monkeys who can be quite clever, including tool-users almost as adept as crows.

But the sex lives of the monkeys (I use the term broadly) is not nearly so romantic as we have been led to believe in e.g. documentaries of the BBC. I think of some nature documentary to which I was once exposed, and from which I learnt that bonobos “have sex all the time”; the females, indifferent to estrus, being more promiscuous than the males, and having sapphic tendencies in addition. Their communal life has been compared to that of California hippies in the ‘sixties; in contrast to that of the chimpanzees, who tend to marginalize their women. Er, females.

Perhaps I am unfair to the Beeb. As I recall, the documentary went on to demythologize the bonobo reputation, much though I was prepared to believe it from the appearances (of the bonobos, not the BBC presenters). I found them over-coiffed and prim. In human life, I try to avoid those who look like them; they seem constantly on the make, in one way or another.

Now, chimpanzees have a deserved reputation for “male chauvinism,” and for violence, which seems to come with that. But the bonobos can be quite violent, too, and it’s the women you have to watch out for. (Er, the females.) They administer beatings on each other, and especially on the males, according to my information. Their apparent lesbianism had a sociological explanation: they were actually competing for status.

I am not, I must warn the reader, an expert on the sexual activity of monkeys, but this much I will state confidently. They have much less fun than we assume. Whether they are inwardly joyous, is another question. They are certainly less imaginative than people, even those you meet in, e.g., downmarket pubs.

Except in season, they are not very lecherous. The economy of monkeys depends on hard work, for seldom is food in plentiful supply. Nature requires of her creatures a kind of working-class solidarity, for the desire of nutrition, and for survival, puts demands on them class by class. I notice this with e.g. the finches and sparrows that I sometimes feed. There are collective impulses, such as swarming a new source of food, but within that behaviour, notorious individualism. Some get to eat more than others, and in the competition, the shy seem to have no rights. But compared to the feeding frenzies, the sex lives of the animals are, overall, more discreet. (Well, I will make an exception for the mayflies.)

So it is with humans, even today. Promiscuity is common enough, but I doubt it is dominant, even in an orgy. Truth to tell, I’ve never been in an orgy, but outside, privacy is observed. Humans, being imaginative, also like to exhibit emotions, and the words “I love you” are flaunted about, at least until their object is secured.

What we have, and the other animals lack, is the capacity to imagine the future. I don’t mean mere instinct, to avoid a bad fate, but a conscious motive for discipline towards the far future. This, one might say, helps explain the ancestral custom of marriage. It is why lechery loses out to sustained, not-necessarily-gymnastic love, over the longer term.

The widening schism

Once, there was a cashier. She was very charming, pretty, talkative, and almost pruriently “caring.” Her one little foible appeared to be: no good at arithmetic. A small transaction she was likely to get right, but if it were large, or there were many items, a mistake was inevitable. A complicating factor was, she’d forget to print receipts.

Few people of generations after mine count their change (now they use cards) so there were few “issues” at the cash register. In the one memorable “scene” I witnessed, she apologized to the customer even before recounting, with a torrent of self-deprecation for her poor math skills. The complainer was boorishly suspicious; so much so, that he was berated by another customer, for being rude. Also, he was old, and ugly.

Being of the Scottish genetic persuasion, I always count my change. I am willing to correct even small mistakes, and as a consequence, soon found this young lady’s arithmetic improving. But before it had improved, I had noticed a pattern. Every mistake was in the store’s favour.

Myself characteristically suspicious, I began to think the girl was actually quite good with numbers — especially if she had to keep in her head a running tab of the amount to subtract from the till, at the end of her shift.

Does this sort of thing happen a lot in our commercial culture? I’m inclined to think, no, because thanks to technology, we raise kids who are genuinely innumerate, crippled without a calculator (sometimes even with one) and, because they are semi-aware of their limitations, not ambitious to cheat anyone. The exceptions, as I see from the meejah, are on the very large scale. (Perhaps those perpetrators were home-schooled.)

*

Sadly, I have developed the same suspicious attitude towards the Vatican, and the incumbent Bishop of Rome. He makes little mistakes in Catholic doctrine, and sometimes berates himself, or has a department “clarify” his statements. A dear old man, as we are frequently assured, some essential of Catholic teaching may have skipped his mind. But I notice that the errors, whether major or minor, are consistently on one side: the “progressive” one.

Perhaps he forgot that we do not pray to, or through, pagan idols. I am giving just one instance here, I could fill this antiblog with others. Wooden statues of something called a “Pachamama” — an old fertility goddess of the Inca from the Andes, now mass marketed in Latin America — somehow wound up in a Roman church. They had appeared in a pagan garden ceremony described (by an emeritus bishop of the Amazon) as a “demonic sacrilege.” There was toying with sacred “symbolism” throughout the egregious “Amazon Synod,” which ended yesterday. Further, perhaps forgetting that he is the “symbolic” head of the Catholic Church on Earth, our Roman bishop defended his Pachamamas, and apologized for the behaviour of the boors who had taken and dumped them in the Tiber River.

Surely gentle reader has read the whole story. As meejah reports go, it was fairly simple and straightforward, not complicated like the reasons the Roman Church insists on the unmarried chastity of her priests, on the maleness of them, and on the fact that the Church “phased out” anything resembling priestesses in ancient pagan Rome (where they were quite common, almost standard among the pagans). On each of these questions, it seemed to me, it was the solemn duty of a pope to defend the Church, and repeat the powerful biblical condemnations of pagan idols — even if that would make him unpopular with progressives.

Yes, it appears two men removed the Pachamamas that had polluted the Carmelite church of Santa Maria in Transponte, in fulfilment of divine law. They made a video of their intrepid operation. They did indeed push the statues off the railing of the Ponte St. Angelo into the Tiber. But the police quickly recovered them, alas.

*

Several correspondents have asked my opinion whether the theft of these idols was wrong. (Five of them by most reports.) Of course it breached human law. I reserved the weekend to think about it, and I have concluded that the thieves ought to be criticized in one important respect. I think, in future, before disposing of such pagan idols, they should be fed into a wood-chipper. I am open-minded on the question of whether the chips, thus produced, should be burned, or if it would be sufficient to recycle them at a composting facility.

Adam, meet Eve

A civil war begins, as I understand it, when there are two competing nexus (yes, that’s the plural) of governmental authority; two countries sharing the same space, if thou wilt. Since this is physically impossible, the space is soon divided between the warring factions. This can happen in any sort of commonwealth; it doesn’t have to be not a democracy.

Let me note, in a neighbouring country, the emergence of what appear to be two massive criminal investigations, both of which could be constitutionally legitimate, though only one has been made so. One is impeachment proceedings against a certain President Trump. This is being done in an entirely partisan spirit, by the majority party in the nation’s lower house. The other party has been shut out of the proceedings, which are being held in secret. There has been no formal legislative vote for this impeachment, and no criminal charges (“high crimes and misdemeanors”) have been legally substantiated. Nonetheless, subpoenas are being attempted, or in the jargon of our times, “tried on.”

Under normal circumstances, fanciful charges are either dropped, or themselves tried and, where appropriate, punished. But this kangaroo court is supported by a large section of the public, according to highly unreliable polls; and by almost all of the national media, which have gotten into the habit of publishing wild speculations as if they were proven facts.

On the other side, there are now formal criminal investigations into the characters who are the ultimate source of those rumours (search “Durham”), which began circulating even before that Trump gentleman took office. The media will try to ignore those proceedings, but will soon discover they can’t. They will then try to demonize the investigators, and declare their efforts illegitimate, “because shut up.”

Having myself worked inside newspapers and the like, I know how to make safe predictions about them. They implicitly accept the old Marxist dictum that nothing is true, except insofar as it advances the interest of The Party.

What began as a perpetual electoral contest between two political parties, is quickly degenerating into something else. I noticed one poll in which 70 percent of respondents from both parties anticipated some kind of civil war.  I should think that, unless the next presidential election is a landslide, their prediction will be tested.

“Mommy, daddy, please don’t fight,” as some little girl once pleaded. She didn’t care who was in the right. She only wanted a return to what Warren G. Harding called “normalcy.” As I understand, normalcy involves accepting decisions, when they have been legitimately made (in an impartially-conducted election, for instance). It becomes impossible when neither side accepts the legitimacy of the other.

Humour me. Accept my right to the opinion that the Trumpistas have the weight of legitimacy overwhelmingly on their side. It does not follow that they will win the battle. It never does on this planet, once passions are engaged.

In my increasingly Catholic view of the matter, we cannot know the future (although in retrospect it will seem to have been dead obvious). We can only know some aspects of the past. In the present circumstances, the best we can hope is that this “ongoing past” will be properly recorded, but given who is recording the first draught of this history, I doubt that can be assured. Both parties now have a motive for toying with it.

But why should we want security? Insecurity seems to breed more Saints.

Coffee or tea?

Let us love them both, as Baudelaire said of Delacroix and Ingres. Coffee and tea are different beverages in kind, and our modern mental habit of mooshing them under the banner of Caffeine, is like all our other pharmaceutical excesses. Coffee will admit cream and honey, or so the girly boys (like me) insist. It is, I say, really a bitter dessert, analogous to chocolate (which real men of the Aztec age never thought to sweeten).

Whereas, tea in its splendour is sipped with an attitude less buzzcut Merican than anciently Sinitic. The only exception I can countenance is when the tea is brewed in the Punjabi or Bengali manner, very strong with hot skim milk, cardamom and other southern Oriental spices, and even cane sugar may be dumped in (if you are girly). To apply the term chai, to this, is criminally misleading, for chai means “tea,” almost everywhere. It is “spiced tea,” and only thus described can bear any relation to the fecund choco-coffee-chicory family, to which I will happily consign bubble and matcha.

Now, coffee is a bean, roasted and crushed; quickly mulled, not infused. Tea is rather an angelic leaf. What sinks in the cup should resemble autumn.

Some kindly soul has provided me, as a curiosity, a “black-face” tea grown in the Portuguese Azores — “the only tea plantation in Europe” they claim. It reminds me of my beloved Keemun, from the west of China, just over a few mountain folds from Darjeeling — a tea whose perfume is innate and sublime, not crass and wickedly exaggerated.

I am a tolerant as well as adventurous person, and am actually enjoying this tea as I write. God bless Portugal; God bless the Chá Preto dos Açores.

*

My Chief Texas Correspondent, who shows an unhealthy interest in Canadian politics, wrote this morning to say I would like the result of our election because, with a hung Parliament, “progress” would be slow. He, and his Fellow Mericans, have been underestimating the ingenuity of the Westminster system, these last three centuries. It took more centuries for lowlife, such as Blair and Cameron, to come along and spanner its essentials in Britain itself — to the degree of the current Brexit mess, in which all the traditionally impartial offices (with the possible exception of the Monarchy) have been politicized into stupefaction.

The wise have always left Constitutions alone; or at least tried not to molest them. They should be avoided like the polar bears, up here, which since the intervention of “well-intended” environmentalcases, have increased in number six times. There is an allegory to be written on this.

But we were discussing the politics in Canucktituck, were we not? In my characteristic tone (to my CTC) I replied:

“Little Trudy will need votes of the NDPee (which also lost seats) to pass anything; but they promised in advance to service him, so long as he lurched to the Left. …

“A Canucktituckian observation. Saskatchewan is now Alberta: every seat Tory, even in Regina. Also sprach Manitoba, outside auld commie Winnipeg, and Bee Cee, except Funcouver and up the Left Coast. The Gliberals, as ever, swept Toto, Tottawa, Montreal Island, and all the pogey-imbibing districts of Newfishland and the Maritimes. …

“Note that the Tories retain a near monopoly on all the parts of Canucktituck that produce food. …

“The Gliberals, by contrast, control all the parts that produce hype. …

“Our hype-r-sonic Meejah are beside themselves with relief.”

My fellow Canucktitucks …

How should I vote on Monday? Several Canadian readers have asked me this question, verily several times several, and rather than be tedious with each of you in turn, let me present this boilerplate. For I, too, will hesitantly vote. It will be for a candidate of the Conservative Party — even though I find that Party, as usual, spineless and disgusting.

By some absurd coincidence, the Conservative leader, Andrew Scheer, is the son of an old buddy of mine. I’ve seen enough of him since childhood (not so long ago), and followed his career in a desultory way. I would declare before a court of law that I don’t believe he stews in corruption (alas no payoff to me if he wins); that he is not pathologically dishonest; and whether or not robust in temperament, he is good-willed. (Another old friend reminds us to consult Augustine’s “Grace and Free Will” on this.) Scheer is also a quick study, impressively well informed, not so easily intimidated, emotionally uncommunicative, capable of dry humour, calm and of sound, common-sensical judgement. He has no “charisma.” (I can swear to that.) God save us from politicians with “charisma.”

Readers of my Idlepost last Saturday may be assured that it was entirely fanciful. I was not actually proposing to launch a “Christian Party,” myself. Notwithstanding, several promised to support me if I did. Not only am I not the type, I would say the wrong thing on every public occasion — what I believe as opposed to what the zombies came to hear. For my inclination is not to flatter an electorate. Moreover, the life of a politician in a democracy, while perhaps happier than the average station in Hell, doth still displease me. I don’t get a thrill out of being the football; I get all the abuse I need just by writing this antiblog.

If nominated I will not run, if elected I will not serve, &c.

So that leaves Scheer. All the other party leaders are, to my mind, obviously unsuited, to the laughing gas extreme. My only pleasure is to watch them split each other’s votes, riding by riding. Imagine, someone like Justin Trudeau being given a serious job? The mind reels. In addition to the Greenies and the NDPee, there are other little parties. Most are Left-Lunatick, including the separatist Bloc-heads, and besides, none of them could possibly win. There are really only two choices — Scheer or Trudeau — and anyone with a Troy Ounce of brains, or even an Ounce Avoirdupois, will know which to pick.

So why vote at all? Out of public duty. It is our public duty to keep mudwater creatures such as Trudeau Junior out of power, together with his self-serving Liberal Party. This is the only purpose that the Conservative Party serves: to bounce them out whenever possible, thus slowing the national descent into barbarism. We may not know what we have been spared, during a term when the Liberals are not in office; but we’re better off not knowing. The Conservatives will meanwhile feed the Zeitgeist the minimum it will take — but I’m for feeding fewer Christians to the lions. It is beyond our power to stop the process entirely, in immediately foreseeable generations. This goes for several dozen policy areas that gentle reader may list for himself.

I will feel sullied by the experience of voting. I always do. I fear that I am encouraging the politicians in some way. But sometimes we must make contact with the mud; then go home and shower. We have a moral duty to remove the current government if we can, and shouldn’t miss the chance.

Be brave, be water, be ready

The motto of the resistance in Hong Kong is on my lips much lately, though often I am not applying it to Hong Kong. Nor am I not. I look at this “Oriental entrepôt” (as we used to say before political correctness), where once I lived for a couple of months, from a great and widening distance. The people there are quite another generation from that which I remember; of course they seem much younger. The idea of the inhabitants of Hong Kong nearly closing the city with demonstrations, week after week, was not formerly possible to imagine. But their enthusiasm for the personal freedom they once enjoyed (under the aegis of British imperialism and colonialism, descending from opium wars), hardly surprises me.

The British approach was finally, live and let live; but it had an administrative basis. From the 1950s, Hong Kong was an experiment. What would happen if they deregulated almost everything, and cut taxes to match? If they consciously de-politicized the colonial administration? If they shrank police functions to what was needed only to direct traffic, and defeat crime? The result was, as ever, unprecedented prosperity, but more: a people who forgot the habit even of kow-towing to men “dress’d in a little brief authority.”

People were transformed, from indifferent parts in a rusting machine, to free agents. (Unfortunately, in a broader view, prosperity also kills, as people use their freedom only for material gain, and a new jackboot state grows around the need to protect against the consequences.)

Hong Kong is a city now of seven million souls. It has, as it had, economic and social classes — plenty of them — yet the present “troubles” have nought to do with class. Opposition to the Communist government is as broad as it was in all ex-Soviet states, as we discovered when the Berlin Wall fell, and nearly discovered across China in the moment of Tiananmen. Rebellion, to start, is an urban phenomenon; it begins with a sudden collective sense that “we have the numbers.” The fear, upon which all tyrannical regimes depend, evaporates. What happens next is anyone’s guess, except, we can know the regime is doomed.

I doubt even a high-tech “surveillance state,” as Red China now is, or countries throughout the West are becoming, can survive a general uprising. This is not merely a question of numbers. The surveillance state must necessarily depend on data processing and artificial intelligence; human beings (“citizens”) do not. They think conceptually. At this level, machines cannot “think” at all, and will never.

This is important to grasp, tactically and strategically. While the obscene, glassy-eyed technocrats who rule Red China can, as Xi Jinping boasts, “crush bodies and shatter bones,” they can only give orders. The orders, however, must go to people, which is why the tyrants, also, live in fear. If they had only automatons to rule, there could be quick fixes.

We forget this, partly because we are no longer Christian. I mean this very seriously. For two thousand years, people have been “conditioned,” directly and also indirectly, to realize that death, pain, poverty and all other distresses, need not rule them; that one may “know the truth, and be freed.” Few have the courage to step forward at the start, but those few can be tremendously effective, because they are surrounded by others who know that this courage is good. From the tyrant’s view, it is like the plague: in remission for a long time, but suddenly, explosively contagious.

Restricting the contagion to the streets of Hong Kong is Xi’s current mission. This will require him to isolate the Territory, with radical measures. His only other option is a general massacre, on a scale to re-instil fear, but that might not work either. He can be feared; he can never be respected. He will never be voluntarily obeyed. And his slaves — more than a billion of them — have had a chance to see the fear in him, too.

A saint for our times

In the wee hours of yesterday, at Rome, John Henry Newman, who had been elevated from “Cardinal,” to “Blessed,” was further elevated to “Saint.” Gentle reader who is not a Catholic may nevertheless vaguely intuit what is involved. Saints are neither born, nor made, in human terms. By granting this title, Holy Church declares that she has come to recognize a fact, and must acknowledge it from this time forward. By miracles she has, so to say, got the memo from Heaven. There is a bureaucratic process down here on Earth. It will normally take many years to get through the paperwork. Benedict XVI, whose interest in Newman was never casual, began the formal process in 2010. Newman’s “cause” is now completed.

It can be argued that Newman was the greatest theological and philosophical mind since Thomas Aquinas. (He considered himself neither theologian nor philosopher.) As English-speakers, we may notice that he was among our greatest writers of prose, and also, like Thomas Aquinas in Latin, of verse. He was instrumental in reviving Catholicism as a living, thinking force throughout the Anglosphere. But beyond it, he decisively influenced men like Ratzinger — among the most brilliant in Europe and beyond.

Far from revealing or contributing to a breach between ancient and modern, his Development of Christian Doctrine perfectly reconciled them — to that development from acorn to oak, in which we do not find contradictions. In each of Newman’s many other books (I count thirty-four currently on the shelves in the High Doganate), he wrestled with the beast of our “modernity,” which can only embrace “reason” by eschewing depth and faith. Newman’s own conversion extends beyond its moment in time. One might say his whole life was Conversion, implicating that Anglosphere.

For in the dance of history, taking the long view, it may even be the English-speaking turn to lead a return to the faith of our far Catholic ancestors, now that we have exhausted the possibilities of our schismatic spirit.

One might instead observe Newman’s many continuities: that, for instance, through decades when he was for all practical purposes banned from the place, he remained the quintessential Oxford man, the perpetual earnest scholar under her dreaming spires. He was, at his core, citizen of an England not national but timeless.

He was a man who aspired to Truth, and lived it. The man’s courage in exchanging all of his dignity and social standing as a treasured member of the British establishment, for the title of “traitor” and the wayfaring life of a despised Catholic, equivalent to a peasant Irishman, inspired others to take courage. He was creating a path, through his own person — a temporal wormhole, as it were — back to behind the premisses of the Northern Reformation. Yet he was no mere curmudgeon or controversialist. He desired to recover Christianity, whole, for himself and for others. With genius he found what he was seeking, in a renewed understanding of what, with all her newsy, passing flaws, the Church … Is.

In person he was shy, and hated fame and spectacle, and only his high sincerity could move him to play his crucial worldly rôle. I am struck by accounts of his demeanour; by memoirs of his style in delivering Oxford homilies, celebrated later as if they were oratory. He would write them out, carefully, then read them at the pulpit in a monotone, for up to an hour, while fidgeting with his glasses. Their splendour is better appreciated by the leisured reader.

For many years I did not read him, because I was afraid. I “knew,” to use no stronger term, that he threatened my own comfortable life as an Anglican. Simply glancing, through the book mentioned above, had already damaged my complacency. I avoided contact, though leaving several of Newman’s books to torment me in plain sight. I invite others who may not be Catholic to surrender as I eventually did. Read them and stop pretending that they can be bracketed.

To me it has by now long seemed quite obvious that Newman was (and is) a Saint. But I do not like getting ahead of the Church in these matters. As of yesterday, the Church has caught up. Yes, Newman has come home.