Essays in Idleness

DAVID WARREN

Selfie deaths

This week’s plunge into the mass meejah has yielded more obvious things to say than any since last week. Consider, if you please, the phenomenon of selfie deaths. According to a “global survey,” which I will believe if I’m in the mood, there have been hundreds of them. Personal biological extinction may follow from trying to get a picture at cliff edge, in proximity to waterfalls, with wild voracious animals, from moving vehicles, &c. A distinction is made between events that were foreseeable; and those which were not, such as the selfie-taker in Lebanon who got blown up by a car bomb that had been contrived for another cause entirely.

A young lady who is depicted cavorting atop the Pedra da Gávea by Rio de Janeiro — about half a mile of sheer drop — is the Twitterish heroine of the moment. She was able to creep down the steeply sloping side an improbable distance, then wave her arms. But many in her Instagram audience were able to post photos of themselves doing exactly the same thing, while they were in Rio, so we may have to yawn. At first glance, the story seemed to report that 259 had died in this way; but on more careful reading the number declined to zero. It was that “global survey” — apparently done by Google search, then dressed up to look “scientific.”

Still, who needs to master mountain-climbing if you can risk your life without any skills whatever? All you need is a toke of marijuana and a “smart phone.” You can even omit the weed, if you have no brains at all. The mean age of a selfie death is 22.94, it says here, and most accidents visit the 18-to-24 demographic (“millennials”). The overwhelming majority of defunct selfie-takers are boys (i.e. cisgender males), and India alone hosts one-half of fatalities. (America, however, proudly leads in selfie firearm accidents.) Most selfies — or koolfies, restaurantfies, musclefies, dentisfies, &c, to use the latest terms of art — end uneventfully, we learn. So much for our statistical overview.

There appears to be an international effort to reduce selfie deaths, by banning access to almost everything. It is probably led by a Canadian.

When an acquaintance leapt off the Bloor Viaduct (this was before selfies were a thing) the city fathers and mothers spent, I think it was, seven million dollars to put a tall, high-tech fence on the bridge, which would seriously delay the next person to try it (though give him some extra height). This figure would not include the cost of their endless studies and committee meetings.

Had I been in charge, we would have put up a sign, requesting those committing suicide to avoid traffic, underpassing in the ravine. In English and French. Total cost, derisory. But then I would be criticized for heartlessness, when in fact I was guilty of heartless black humour. The funny thing is, the sign would have worked, most likely. For laughter precludes suicide, in most instances. And if they don’t see the humour in it, well, we tried our best.

Contagion out of China

Surely, gentle reader is against printing. Although it may have some legitimate uses, it contributes to literacy in irresponsible ways. Generally, I’m opposed to making copies, whether we are stamping out car fenders or restaurant menus today. It even looks like cheating.

Blueberries are also produced in volume, along with corn cobs and mice, with some human intervention; it is true that, from one moment to the next, we want one thing or another. And it is true that I have felt somewhat paganized by a bowl of blueberries (plus maple syrup and thick cream). But never, to my knowledge, by a single blueberry; whereas, a single sheet of printed book may cause all kinds of mischief.

The Chinese noted the difficulty, not so much from inking stone in the Han Dynasty, and pressing cloth over it; nor when woodblocks were first employed in the T’ang; but later among the Sung elect. From laziness, I assume, they introduced moveable characters in carved wood or clay. (In a dangerous innovation, the Koreans soon cast type in metal.) Learned books were printed in runs of one hundred copies or less. They would (at first) find their ways only into the studies of reliable, backward-looking, Confucian scholars.

But the impartial observer would notice that thousands were printed from some of these blocks, for “pop lit” including Chinese novels. In cities, especially, whole populations were at risk of becoming prosaic. Outside entertainment had invaded previously innocent minds. Within another eight centuries or so, there’d be radio, television, Internet, fake news; to say nothing of repeating floorplans in skyscrapers.

A Chinese sage who came out of a book on my shelf, had warned of the consequences even at the time. It was like gunpowder. The Orientals had discovered that, too, but had the decency not to use it (at first). Printing was also a kind of explosion. People’s lives were seriously disturbed. Primary schools became commonplace, and literacy was spread, recklessly among the urban masses. As books became very numerous and cheap, they were read quite casually. Soon there were catalogues and advertising flyers. Trade manuals encouraged wild, do-it-yourself attitudes. The artisan class bought in heavily; many set up print shops to advance their own wealth and prestige. Men of humble origin would rise in society. Spoilt, discontented children would trail in their wake. Printing has much to answer for.

Europeans are slow, and more centuries would pass until the Catholic Church made perhaps her greatest error. This was to allow Gutenberg and others to spring moveable type on Europe, and actually to encourage it. Within mere decades we had the Protestant Reformation on our hands. By now we are almost used to this chaos.

Mea culpa: I early formed the habit of reading books myself, and by the age of five had acquired an addiction. It hardly improved my behaviour; in fact it put all sorts of ideas into my head. Compounding this, I also learnt to write. And I continue to do it, day after day, because, quite frankly, I cannot help myself.

A killjoy writes

Who knows what the bankruptcy point should be in public accounts? (I am trying to write a “lede” that will shake off all my readers.)

Certainly not oeconomists. (That first “o” was inserted out of euphoria.) The old-fashioned, “classic” ones, who wrote on this topic in ways that could be understood, and thus disagreed with, had the notion that when a person, human or corporate, reached the point where he could not pay his debts, he was bankrupt. There were laws to formalize this, so that customers could avoid being cheated, investors ditto, and creditors might grab what they could. The bankrupt entity would cease to have a good trading reputation. This is because it would be extinct.

Or perhaps we might backtrack to the term “insolvency.” This is a condition even poor people can participate in, without the ponderous intervention of the law. Poor person goes to corner store, tries to buy something on credit. Proprietor says, no. The police only come if the scene gets out of hand. (Or, used to come. The withdrawal of police protection from “little people” is a sign of our times.)

What interests me at this moment, and some others, is the bankruptcy of huge national states. Play with such words as “unfunded liabilities,” or even compare revenue and expenditures, and one is soon in wonderland. At what point do the “service costs” on public debt reach the point of no return? Why does nothing happen at that point? (It seems to still happen in private companies.)

All my adult life, in Canada and the other English-speaking countries, our political masters have been running up debt. This is true of all parties. There were laments about this, many years ago, from the rightwing parties, but at the moment they are, as it were, leading the charge. And while it is true that several countries still publish annual budgets, they don’t mean anything. In Natted States Merica, they may not even be published.

Now, gentle reader may be aware that my career in oeconomic journalism lapsed nearly forty years ago. But there was a time when I had the fondest clue. I used to look at the published figures, and try to make sense of them. It was a joyless existence. Still, I was able to provide myself with the illusion that there could be a responsible government. Just none that I examined.

Recently I wrote an Idlepost in defence of materialism. Granted, it was paradoxical. Today I would like to add a word in defence of money. We should ignore it at times, and I often do. The proud Aristotle says the magnificent man “does not count the cost.” Yet I’m in favour of having something real to ignore, rather than having to ignore things that are imaginary anyway.

Years ago I advocated a return to the gold standard, or some equivalent basket of commodities, for the same reason I still advocate the former (though distrust the latter). I don’t like money to be abstract. And my reason for this is moral rather than practical, or practical, but in a moral way. I should wish people and governments alike to endure consequences from going bankrupt, and therefore to avoid it more often.

In a similar way, I would like morality not to be abstract. I should want it to be fixed, like old-fashioned money, when Kings or Parliaments weren’t tampering with it.

Current Canadian example: when you block the railroad on purpose, you go to gaol. You pay, so to speak, and since you know that you will pay, you are less likely to do it. But now that all you fear is “negotiations,” it is like bankruptcy. It becomes a question of how big you are, and whom you can intimidate, with the help of such demonic powers as “the meejah.”

True love

Though I’d hate to criticize a holy father, I’m not sure Pope Gelasius knew what he was doing when he declared the Feast of Valentine, towards the end of the fifth century. For one thing, it would never be clear which Valentine we should celebrate. We had so many Roman martyrs by that name, and two centuries had already passed since we could have gotten to the bottom of it. Even at the time there was confusion between Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni; although they might have been the same. A previous pope (the first Julius, scourge of Arians) built a basilica on the Flaminian Way, at the place where whichever Valentine was martyred, and this was a popular site of pilgrimage (it says here, in my St Andrew’s missal).

Perhaps we will discover that the two men were indeed one, should we have leisure to investigate in the hereafter. For worldly purposes now, it doesn’t matter. I am content with the legend of his miraculous gift of sight to the judge’s blind daughter — that judge who had condemned him — sending her a note signed “Your Valentine” as a farewell. This would be a fine act of Christian retribution.

For Christian love is a strange thing. One might almost call it paradoxical. How are you to get even with him who has done you an ill turn? With those who hate and curse and despitefully use you? Who persecute you? Saint Valentine shows the way.

As weapons go, it is extremely efficacious. I’ve had it used on me, and gosh does it sting. Years later, I am still feeling painfully guilty.

I even tried it on one occasion when I was feeling uncharacteristically pure. But not being a saint — as gentle reader may have noticed — I added a nasty little barb. I pretended that I hadn’t noticed what my “persecutor” had done, when doing him a big favour. He would now be condemned to wondering about me; to wondering if he could cover his traces. He’d be thinking that he owed me, in the moral bazaar of life, when really I owed him. For his ill turn proved to be, for me, a net benefit.

This is not so surprising. Those capable of candour, with themselves, will acknowledge many such unintended boons. They begin with graduation from the school of hard knocks, and may continue until God has determined that martyrdom is the only way to save you. Those who said “please” and “thank you” along the road, had no effect upon you at all. Those who actually took the trouble to hurt you did favours that you could not have received in any other way. Why shouldn’t you bless them?

But still we haven’t got near to the strangest factor, Love, itself. It makes a mess of everything. It disturbs every routine. It is, I fear to say, revolutionary. We do things, out of Love, that no one enjoying a comfortable life would dream of doing. Enduring Love is a splendid form of enduring madness.

And it is not a Valentine’s card. Those, for the most part, are self-interested. Flowers, too, are often just contractual. Nothing wrong with self-interest, in itself — our very Salvation is in our self-interest — but it mustn’t be in conflict with an incomparably greater interest, that ought to delete the craven. A plan of seduction, for example, isn’t intended to do another any good. Rather it is meant to enslave another person, for one’s temporary pleasure.

This is why chastity till marriage is so important. My younger gentle readers are invited to think this through. And to consider how often the true Valentine is a gesture of farewell.

Sceptical thoughts

Why did the Romans decline and fall? Well, there’s an easy answer to begin with. The Romans declined because they spoke an inflected language. They declined because they had nouns, pronouns, and adjectives. They also conjugated, but we won’t go there. Ablatives and “locatives” were challenge enough (they promised me sex, but here was a seventh declension), and while I can hardly speak for gentle reader, the irregular nouns used to drive me squirrelly. Still do.

But why did they fall?

For the same reason everybody falls, is the easy answer. No one is biologically immortal, and nations, empires, are just like them. Sooner or later something fatal hits them. Some, like the Egyptians, live to a very great age, and some, like the European Union, are stillborn. Wipe your tears.

Lead plumbing can be a killer, it is said: people might hit each other over the head with the pipes. A number of other “environmental” causes have been adduced on the Internet. Decadence is often cited. The possibility that there was no single cause has yet to be examined; for it would complicate the question. Whether the Romans should be defined as an Empire, or a Notion, might be spilled across the table. The Empire is almost certainly gone, but the Notion survives in the world of Notions, vaguely mixed with other ones. For years now, I have been living in the Roman Church, which has been in ruins. But she is used to that.

It was the Empire that went, because Empires go. One dynasty succeeds another, until we get to the last. Then we have new management, usually savage. I am, as it were, a fan of empires, for within their territories there is often peace, and a desire for order. Those who have experienced the contrary, savage arrangements, may pine for the old imperialist days. A little nation may be safe within an empire; on its own it is likely to be eaten. Whereas, semi-voluntary assimilation is a less painful fate.

My own theory, presented in public bars, is that the pagan Romans fell because of rationalism. They had too much, and it gradually poisoned them. Glibness is lethal, according to me, and it sneaks up on you. Confidence in “reason” leads to taking things for granted. Eventually, even the irrational have to pay. The Romans thought anyone in his right mind would want to be a Roman; the Americans get like that sometimes. They didn’t realize that most people are in their wrong minds, including them.

Take, for example, the old pagan Roman religion. A cliché tells us that they were legalistic. In their worship, they made elaborate contractual arrangements with the gods. “We do this” (worship the gods correctly, down to the most tedious and finical details), “and you do that” (bring a fine harvest, or whatever). But all societies are legalistic in this way, from the least to the most sophisticated. It is one of those things hard-wired into the human brain. We all hope to control what is beyond our control, except a tiny minority of the wise. The worst fools believe in technology.

What made the Romans special was that they believed in law. They did not follow formulae irrationally, and blindly out of stubborn tradition; but rationally, out of calculation. Rationalism makes madness really stand out.

You wouldn’t have caught the Greeks doing this. They always knew they were done for, no matter how clever they happened to be. Unconscious prejudice was good enough for them. For the Romans, the end came more as a surprise.

Was this why the (western) Roman Empire collapsed? Partly, I think: a certain cocky over-confidence in their ability to handle and regulate things, that they should leave alone; an incipient quasi-socialist powerlust. A lot of empires went down that way, and the more rational, the quicker.

The other reason was snapping turtles.

Now granted, all European snapping turtles were extinct long before the Romans, but you know what I mean. For as a child hiking along the western branch of the Credit River, I learnt not to mess with them. So maybe it wasn’t snapping turtles, precisely, but the Romans liked to mess.

In defence of materialism

The cathedrals were useful in their time; by human standards, for quite a long time. The works of Homer were also useful. One might argue that both still have some use. I mention the latter because I’m a perfesser of literature — a “tweedjacket” — in my spare time (or not, in my spare time). This activity encourages me to think about things. Being alive also contributes to this process. The question, “What is the use of this?” often occurs to me. Too, I ask this question on other occasions: What is the use?

Which is not to say I am a utilitarian, for I’m often able to distinguish broad from narrow. There are people, for instance, and I’ve met them, who find use only in things that contribute to making money and, in particular, for themselves. In my view, Trump’s toadies are a little broader than those who imagine well-paid administrative positions, making, for instance, the regulations that will impoverish others but enrich themselves, and others like them. But I have probably expressed my views on socialism adequately.

My ambitions for influence consist of making things. A cathedral, to give a good example, is or can be an important agent of influence. I may first think of Chartres, but next perhaps of Nidaros in Trondheim, where King Olav is buried; or several hundred others. All of my examples remain splendid, though much altered over the centuries, even when only by wear, or when reduced to ruins. One may calculate only approximately how many devout and pilgrims have passed through or, more recently, how many tourists. Some of those might still be influenced, at least to take selfies that prove they were there.

The purpose of my little sermon this morning is to defend materialism. Modern man has no taste for it. He is thoroughly spiritual, in one sense of the word. He prefers abstractions to real things. He does not build in stone. His works are almost invariably shoddy, and will be soon cleared away. But this does not mean we should build for the ages. We can’t.

Consider, if thou wilt, eggs, wrapped in the traditional Japanese manner, dangling in a chain of five, ingeniously, indeed securely bound in rice straw or hemp twine. This string is as transient as a cherry blossom, supposing the purchaser intends to eat the eggs, rather than have them carefully sucked by his weasel. Each egg itself is, as surely everyone has noticed if only “subconsciously,” a masterpiece of non-industrial design. It is true, one must crack it to make an omelette, although there are people (socialists for instance) who simply enjoy smashing eggs. Note, however, that both egg and omelette are physical objects, whatever they are made to embody. They come and go.

In Kipling somewhere, the suggestion is made:

“Eat, Sahib, eat. Meat is good against sorrow. I also have known. Moreover the shadows come and go, Sahib; the shadows come and go. These be curried eggs.”

Now, I could try to explain that cathedrals last longer than curried eggs, but I’d wager gentle reader already knows that. For balance I might cite my motto from Baudelaire that, “A man can go three days without food, but without poetry — Never!”

We live in a world of embodiment. The spirits are not visible here, unless they take a material form. The form requires a body to exist. My father’s body, to give just one example, does not exist any more. That he still exists I believe — and do embody in declaration of faith — but in what form I cannot imagine.

To be in the world is a material function, as any Zen bonze could tell you, in a brush painting. It serves a purpose. Every material thing does. Let us therefore embrace these things, sacramentally.

Kakistocracy

At my age, you don’t learn anything, according to current fashionable wisdom (which is always wrong). It also denies that memory is, or can contribute to, learning. (My “always” will cover that, too.) Things which made no sense when they were happening, gain clarity of explanation, after years of experience and thought. We all start in ignorance, complete except for the little instinct with which humans are endowed (as compared to, say, flies). To the modern mind, however, that is where we end.

This is one of the principles that underlie what Pope Ratzinger called, “the dictatorship of relativism.” No idea, and no single culture — verily, no fact — is to be preferred. But since inconsistency is another of its underlying principles, the opinions of the kakistocracy are generally exalted.

The word, of which I was reminded by its use in a rightwing blog, should be revived. It was first employed in the 17th century, against those “sanctimonious incendiaries” who spread the political “ideals” associated with puritanism. (“Political correctness” has been with us for a while.) Formed from the Greek, it means “government … by the worst, least qualified, and most unscrupulous.” (The Wicked Paedia has this right for a change.) Or to bring this up to date: by the progressive factions. The word was ab initio meant to serve as the opposite of the aristocratic principle.

Democracy is not kakistocracy, necessarily, but tends to lead towards it, especially where universal suffrage is imposed. The blind lead the blind, and seldom to a good place. The credulity of the masses is easy to exploit, at least for the short time until that place is reached. “Social media” are wonderfully designed to clinch it. Whereas, those with experience and historical understanding often find themselves in a small minority, shouting their warnings in vain. Their very shouting tends to get them surrounded, by the kakistocracy who, because they are indefensibly stupid, are allergic to debate.

The political policies of the kakistocracy consist, fairly consistently, of repeating programmes that have never worked. Socialism is a good example, in any of its forms. It can be made to appeal to a large audience which, through youth or mental defect, has no appreciation of socialism in practice, and thus judges it from its rosy claims, rather than from its murderous history. The “AOC” phenomenon — those who received their moral and political formation on contemporary college campuses — who may or may not be articulate by the gift of nature — is the “cutting edge” of kakistocracy today. But as, for instance, Bernie Sanders demonstrates at great age, the condition can be incurable. Not only has nothing been learned through the years but, thanks to perversions of the human will, nothing can be learned. The appeal will invariably be to youth.

For this reason, in stable societies, there has always been, in addition to the respect youth owes to age, the hallowing of tradition. Departure from inherited “norms” will be received less with excitement than with horror. Proposals to reverse settled customs, or the definition of virtues that have guided us, will be met with proposals for prompt and severe punishment. Letting such innovations out of the bag, the box, or the closet, will be condemned — perhaps in a thoughtful way, but more likely in the spontaneous kneejerk manner, which should be discounted because it might not succeed. But if it works, fine.

Up here in the High Doganate, we have an aristocratic disposition. We would prefer “government … by the best, most qualified,” and genuinely virtuous, not only by inheritance but by arduous training. In this sense we are Platonic; in the desire for breadth, Aristotelian. To the kakistocratic factions, that currently dominate our politics, we are fanatically opposed.

Aesthetic economics

Must a commercial culture be vile?

One thinks of Venice, Florence, Genoa; of Suzhou in late Sung Dynasty China; of many cities that were unquestionably commercial, from what we can reconstruct of them in the (educated) imagination. They were celebrated for their beauty as well as for their wealth. Now, if we could return to them, we would probably complain. No Starbucks; plumbing issues; can’t find a bank machine. All this useless beauty, and the smell is intolerable. Or “natural,” I would reflect, stepping out of an aeroplane that had just landed in tropical Asia.

Being a weird person, and possibly unAmerican, I loved the scent of this accelerated rotting. “I’m home,” I felt, recalling childhood in what Mao used to call the “Third World.” This was when Calcutta was my favourite city and, monster that I am, was thrilled by utterly unWestern juxtapositions of rich and poor. I felt comfortable in the raw, human, “capitalist” environment of the bazaar with its bargaining. For back in the day before micro-regulation, bargaining was normal, everywhere. Today it is concealed.

Death was also normal, regardless of age. There were always people who lived superbly long — into their nineties, for instance — though infant mortality brought the average way down. Today, if we counted those who were aborted, we would see that, statistically, not much has changed, although an appearance of longevity is credited, to modern medicine. (It should go to soap.)

Although it had been decaying, the splendour of Calcutta could still be detected, and seen in postcards from a century before, when it was the second city of the British Empire. Alas, built more of plaster than of brick or stone, it wasn’t going to last. It required what today would be ruinously costly maintenance.

Well, a lot has changed, and the middle of Calcutta is now glass, concrete, steel. At one glimpse it is interchangeable with many thousand other cities, and the streets are clogged with cars instead of carts and tongas. Dominance belongs to new professional classes. The worst, most painful forms of poverty are ending, as millions from the countryside come to find jobs, and live in miniature, electrified apartments. All the old splendour is being restored, with air conditioning; or in most cases, demolished and cleared away. Rah! Rah! for the new Raj of micro-regulated capitalism!

I once watched a man, almost naked in a scant, filthy cotton dhoti, prevent an arch from collapsing in my hotel suite, with a single, bent nail. A hammerhead was apparently his only tool, and the nail came from a tiny, precious, collection. He looked embarrassed when I offered a five rupee tip, as if he were more used to whippings. If I’d bought him a saw, his life would have been destroyed. One thing would lead to another. Instead, I was amazed by his transcendental focus on the problem: how to fix it without using a second nail.

This is, I think, the first thing to know about the economy of the past. Labour was cheap, but materials were expensive. Tyranny was different from what it is today, when it has been transferred more from nature to men. Goods become disposable as income and technology “improve.” The chief environmental problem becomes: Where to put all the garbage?

For note: it was made to be disposed of, and much of it won’t rot on its own.

Whereas, in older times, when there was much less stuff, people were more jealous to keep it. They would live with their modest possessions, and the question of beauty was therefore asked from the first day. Wealth was not expressed in convenience, but in marble.

The temporal zone

A bumper day in the meejah: Trump about to be acquitted in Washington, Britain to formally leave the Euro Union. These well-publicized events must lead to something. Everyone will be given another chance, to tune out, and catch up on sleep, before the next political sensation. Since the Coronavirus too obviously came from the exotic meat stalls at Wuhan, Red China, there has been a slight delay in assigning blame, but I notice “Trump’s Katrina” has already been tried on.

From my lost years as a hack journalist, I know that most (unless it is all) meejah memes are manufactured. It is a collective process, as those still practicing this infernal trade look about desperately for a new “lede.” The distinction between Left and Right is real; these worldviews offer a magnetic repulsion; but the system of mutual recrimination is boring. Each side merely rebukes the other side, in the kneejerk way. There is no concession to debate, as each party (in whatever country) selects its facts, which if not false, will be misleading. Anything they wish to ignore becomes “fake news,” which it is, and in the absence of any good will whatever, the “crisis” continues until it is (miraculously) resolved.

Often this is done by main force, but sometimes by a secret accession of good sense. The losing side has become strangely convinced that it ought to lose. This is caused, I would guess, by the monotonous contemplation of its own position; or the discovery that one’s allies are seriously outnumbered, after those who don’t care about the issue peel away. “Democracy prevails.”

Then, after two weeks, the issue is forgotten. Time to start another round.

While the animus persists, the issues don’t. A correspondent in England who vowed to fight Brexit “until her dying breath,” will probably live longer than she expected. Some Tory crime worse than Brexit will soon occur to her. Ditto, a gentleman who is revolted by Trump, may never forgive him for being OMB. (“Orange Man Bad.”) He has the gift for inspiring people, both ways. It isn’t a gift he can dispose of.

Gentle reader should remember that not one set of propositions, in any public controversy, but both, are “fake news.” Those trying to dig out “the truth” are the quickest to be deplatformed. This is because they are of no use to either side. No one buys products that are unlabelled, any more.

While it is true that the sides are, invariably, unequal — depending on the venue — some balance can be found by looking around. (Balance is not necessarily truth.) The Left nearly controls commercial news reporting, but in doing so surrenders the most effective alternative “sources.” Too, because they feed more plentifully on artificial crises, leftists usually start it. They are also more likely to be atheist, thus unprincipled.

Nevertheless, it is nonstop blather from both sides, and the neurotic belief that we ought to pay attention keeps the flapperball in play.

Up here in the High Doganate, my Parkdale ivory tower, I have been trying to shut it out; unsuccessfully. As by my estimate less than one sensation in a hundred is founded on anything substantially new, ignorance might be strength. To have the courage and stamina NOT to check the news, is beyond my capacity. Even the weather has been juiced. Sports results, while fans still seem to agree on what they were, are seriously overdone.

But the day is coming. The dead show no further interest in breaking news. At least, none of my deceased friends forward items to me in email any more. Perhaps some have come to regret all the time they wasted, down here in the Temporal Zone. Let us pray for them.

Tweedjackets unite

That the world has changed radically, in the few days since I was a child, is not generally accepted. Nor is it frequently denied. Both statements are always true; nor do they contradict each other. That the world is very large, but also very small, came to my attention soon after I set out in it. That I could not control it, became evident soon after. It will be large and small on its own terms, and often when I least expect it. In many other respects, the world is just like that. One thinks one is used to it. One never is.

For among the world’s tricks is the capacity of a chameleon, to change colours, and fade into its local environment. Unless, as recently, there is a cold spell, and rather than change colours it falls out of trees. Certain octopuses can change both shape and colour, and don’t climb trees in the first place. If one trusts YouTube videos, which I am disinclined to do, they disappear entirely. Then instantly reappear.

Yale is a college in Connecticut, which seems to have expanded into a university. It was founded about three centuries ago, which makes it fairly old by non-Spanish American standards. Congregationalists started it up. It now admits students who are not Congregationalists — indeed, I wonder if there are any Congregationalists left. At some point in my youth I admired its art history department, even when I became suspicious of art history as a discipline.

It was George Bernard Shaw who observed that (we) Americans were unique — in having passed from savagery to decadence without an intervening period of civilization. I wouldn’t say that of the Yale that grew famous. Once upon a time, its savagery was devoted to defending Greek and Latin as features of American life. There were people who would pay to send their children there, even after the invention of sociology.

They still do, but for reasons that are “evolving.” While it is true that the “Ivy League” schools still attract many smart students, they specialize in parents with money. Yale, like Harvard, is prejudiced against Orientals, but even the crème de la crème get in, for enough marks and cash. Other races are, overall, subsidized, but not only by the American taxpayer. Yale, for instance, seems to own much of New England, though given their political obsessions, the return on their $30 billion of equity might be shrinking. Still, they remain filthy stinking rich, and have the connexions to regularly supply their own country and several others with élite figures, and win lots of prizes. The Yalies’ snobbery and arrogance are legendary.

I mentioned art history, which caught my attention because their department is in the news. According to its own current inmates, it is too “straight, white, and male.” Actually it isn’t. Women, I noticed, took over art history a while back; and provided that you are not white or Chinese, the force is with you. But more fundamentally, the administrators have decided that the school exudes the Western Canon of High Culture and, in the interest of self-repudiation, this must end. Their (immensely respected) survey course will be the first to go.

Let me applaud, albeit with donkey cheers. My own view is that “art history” overvalues my grandpa’s rosy view of the Renaissance, and is too self-consciously “modern.”

Yet I do not think the administrators propose to devote more resources to the T’ang and Sung, nor to our own neglected mediaeval heritage. Their priority, in statements, is purely destructive. Skin pigmentation, which has seldom counted for anything in art, is their new guiding light, and absurd “theories” of cultural hegemony are now, in union terms, working to rule.

The background against which Yale is operating is itself changing hue, however. Nothing in its present backdrop can last. Will the chameleon turn back? Can it do so as quickly as an octopus?

High cultural values tend to reassert themselves, where people of intelligence are present; but what if they are, as it were, being bred out of the gene pool?

In that case, we’ll have stunned chameleons, falling out of trees.

Cui bono?

Are you anti-social, gentle reader? I know I am, at least in principle. There are some people I like, and some I detest — but we aren’t discussing Christian love at the moment. Love doesn’t notice demographic groups, only beings. Do I like blacks? No. Do I like whites? No. Do I like earth-moving machinery? Depends what earth we’re moving. By and large I like a kaleidoscope of butterflies, or a murmuration of starlings.

This last was an attempt to trick myself. In some sense, a flock is a thing, and it may make pretty patterns — even a mob of humans, when viewed from a flying machine well above. But here we enter realms of aesthetic judgement, well removed from the moral judgement we were implying. We are considering patterns, which exist in nature, and are, like individual peacocks, among the proofs that God made the world. When they were closer to nature, i.e. “pre-industrial,” even cities formed patterns, and may still do so when they are farther away. But this has nought to do with city planning.

A dance may exhibit such patterns. Here I mean a real dance, not a chaos of unskilled persons shaking themselves lasciviously. (As ever, I condemn the modern.) In music, in art and architecture, in poetry, in crafts and ultimately in everyday life, we have it in our gift to enter the dance; to echo the divine. But if you call that “social engineering” you must be among the persons I dislike.

Rather, I am considering the word, “social,” specifically, and its usages since Bismarck’s time. It is by now the most successful weasel word in politics, to advance destructive, revolutionary causes. I am taking it of course as an adjective; as a noun it is often harmless and tame. But put it before any of several hundred other words, that once had content, and it will hollow them out (as weasels, by legend, did with eggs).

“Social justice” is a good example. We may argue all afternoon about what justice demands in a single case. We could even argue about what the law is. But at the invocation of a vague whole society, all of our talk becomes nonsense. Nothing — absolutely nothing in this world — can apply justly to every living soul. We are feeding, or lashing, a fanciful monster, but the blows land on real people who bleed, and the benefits scatter randomly; except to the administrators, who will consistently gain.

All “social policies” conceal bad intentions. They are the means by which illusory rewards are promised to the greedy, in return for immediate power. Something imaginary is part of the transaction. For instance, a “social market economy” may be sold to the gullible; it is a contradiction of terms. Or a “social democracy,” ditto. Each policy must inevitably hurt some, while it pleases others; though for the most part it will be pointless waste. The solidarity it assumes is fictitious: a method of intimidation at best. “Social action” assumes society is a single Leviathan or Beast, people mere cells in its body. All sacrifice is ordered to consolidate power.

Some, to be charitable, don’t know any better than to succumb to this imposture. They would not go so far as to demand “social justice,” but “social values” sounds plausible to them. Often it starts as light as a feather, but what is it? “The jackboot scheme to impose socialism on your human face.” Those who have endured Communism can spot it quickly; those who genuinely love their neighbour cry out in warning.

*

I think of my very dear reader and friend, Jaromir Kouba, from up Ottawa way. A Czech exile, he understood these things. He was also very kind, generous, Catholic, and anti-social in wonderful, incorruptible ways. He has fought the good fight, and may he now rest in peace.

 

Not drowning but waving

Let us suppose a child, floundering in the water. He looks apt to drown and you, gentle reader, are the only person in possible reach. What should you do?

Hint: there is no time to reflect upon, “How did the child get into that unenviable position?” Nor on, “Where are his parents or a supervisor?” Nor on, “What is the world coming to, when children so young are left unattended in dangerous places?” Nor may dramatic, nor other aesthetic values, be entertained. Really, you have only two choices: dive in (good), or have a trauma. Well, I’m sure a progressive person could think of other options, such as, pretend you can’t swim, or blame Trump.

Children drown every day, though compared to scraping their knees it is not statistically significant. The loss of one more will not much alter the ratio, however. The kid could just as easily have been aborted; or fallen off a cliff. (You want me to jump off the cliff after him?) I am trying to think like a progressive.

But no, I have no modernist tendencies. I’m a quality over quantity kind of guy. Too, a bit of an instinctivist, if that is a word. I think a person who is not a scientist can instinctively understand an urgent moral calling, not all the time, but let’s say in 99.8 percent of cases. You do the right thing, or you feel deeply ashamed. It’s true you may have suppressed your “useless feelings” of shame and guilt, to the point where they don’t bother you any more; but later on, when you weren’t noticing, they contributed to your suicide. You couldn’t take the pain of living any more.

I give this commonplace example — the initial one of the child splashing — as an analogy to our modern situation, viewed from the shore. We are inclined to panic. Several notes have reached the High Doganate, criticizing the author, in terms I would characterize as hysterical, for having said (most recently here) that we shouldn’t “get our knickers in a twist” because the world is imperfect. I stand accused of quietism. My self-declared moral superiors upbraid me for panicking too little about global warming, the disparity between rich and poor, scandals in the Vatican, vulgarity in the White House, the high price of cheese, looming asteroids, &c. But these are things over which I have no control, and moreover, would be unlikely to get control, even if I expended considerable effort, in the foreseeable future. The universe is in God’s hands, according to my theory. Let Him take care of it, in His own time.

Whereas, I have some influence over that child who is drowning. It is the sort of thing I should act upon. And did I mention there was no time for scientific, philosophical, or even theological analyses? Either you know what to do instantly, or you are genuinely useless. If you didn’t know, there could be only one cause: bad living.

There are times when, oh dear, you may even have to surrender your life — not possibly, nor probably, but certainly — without any time for thinking. Let it go without saying that, in an entirely human view, this is rather unfortunate. But now that I have said it, let me add, that a Christian may sense the paradox. He might, if properly instructed, realize that apart from saving the life of another, it could be his last chance to save his own. He might suddenly get to Heaven, when the odds didn’t look very good before.

But again note: all the time spent on the “big issues” was wasted. It all came down to the little one — thrashing about in the waves. Unforeseeably.

So don’t worry, be happy. And like a good, traditionalist Boy Scout (or Girl Guide, to remember the other sex): Thou shalt be prepared.

Cancel culture

As the latest reports from our universities confirm, we live in an age of juvenile anachronism. So far as the past is acknowledged at all, it is to be judged, by the incredibly narrow standards of “social justice,” itself two words of a lie. Anyone who tries to resist this — even tenured professors — will be demoted, fired, or “placed on probation.” In Soviet universities, this was enough to keep most dissent secret. There is, after all, at least one mouth to feed, and not everyone is equipped to become a martyr. Among the better academics, some particles of truth can be snuck into lectures, past the inquiring minds of ignorant thugs.

But as technology has now blessed us with portable, and easily concealed recording devices, teachers must stay constantly on guard. A slight ideological slip could end the most promising career, apart from surrounding the speaker with shrieking Antifa blackshirts who, if they manage to injure him, will not be prosecuted by campus or municipal sensitivity police.

Am I exaggerating? Probably. I have also seen evidence of little islands of sanity, where happily irrelevant scholars continue as before.

Too, after family breakdowns and the re-education of a generation of public school teachers, the crop of new students are so dull and docile that, unless they are radicalized, they will sit there aloof, like zombies. There are “conservative” students, whose complacency can serve any mission. Many have “common sense” enough to play along. They are only there to acquire the minimum credentials for paid work on the outside. It is a prison term. Once graduated, they will then adopt the customs and tone in their workplace environment which, except for “professions” like journalism, are unlikely to be radical. The feigned “social justice warrior” is transformed into a feigned enthusiast for capitalism, by self-interest, almost overnight.

Leftists knows this. To know the Left is to know that it isn’t motivated by ideals, except in those who are abnormally stupid. It dreams of power, on the large scale, but also on the small. (Once they have power, they can take things like money.) This involves manipulating people, whenever their consent is needed. A mildly intelligent leftist doesn’t really care what people believe, only that they are useful and obedient. He may frankly deny being an idealist. He is a practical person, after practicable ends, and often patient as he works to their attainment. His motto might be, “Try, try, and try again.”

To some degree, the leftists can control what people think, thanks to their progressive infiltration of media and education in all their many forms. The programme, however, is not to enforce slavish thought — that would be an ideal — but to inculcate slavish behaviour. As the Left knows from its long, post-Enlightenment history, and as all tyrants have always known, the key to this is not dialectic, but intimidation. It is not to eliminate politically incorrect thought — which simply can’t be done. It is to limit “incorrect” speech, so that it will only be spoken among one’s most trusted friends. The rewards for those friends, if they rat you out, are always substantial.

How does one resist this? It can be done.

The strategy is to speak up, and face the consequences. The enemy, being morally vacuous, will often back down. Even if he doesn’t, he is shaken. As veteran dissidents in the Soviet Union discovered, sometimes the authorities don’t know what to do. They must call meetings. The most devastating subversion was, not to lie. The very survival of the system (“politically correct” was formerly a Soviet term), demands protection of the big lie with supporting ones. It is the bodyguard principle. But suppose they crack.

So my instruction to resisters is to make cracks, with the sledgehammer of Truth.