Essays in Idleness

DAVID WARREN

The de-cluttering chronicles

The first step in Warren’s new de-cluttering programme, is to get Marie Kondo out of your life. This is the underfed-looking, perpetually smiling, ridiculously cute young Japanese fashion gurvi who, after taking a course in how to write a self-help bestseller, wrote, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Now, we are alerted, she has written an illustrated coffee-table version, under title, Spark Joy. According to my informant, this latest instalment includes instructions on how to fold underwear and shirts.

I will not buy it, however. Coffee-table books are exactly the sort of clutter we do not allow in the High Doganate.

You see, I was born and raised as a de-cluttering expert, myself. My father was an industrial designer, after all. He gave me my first tips in how to make things disappear, the way they did in the Bauhaus. He was a spatial organizer of the first water: “Ship shape and Bristol fashion!” he would call from the bridge. Anything that fails to “spark joy” in the High Doganate is already gone by sundown. This includes vital bureaucratic forms and court summonses, or would if I did not have an ancient oak cabinet as a depository for all such things as spark the opposite of joy whenever seen. (The folders that contain them are filed in the graphic art drawer.)

Few shirts and little underwear clutter the High Doganate, because wall, floor, and closet space is reserved for books. (Ceilings are left clear, for sorting.) Among the proposals of this “Konmari,” as she is called by her followers, is to jettison all books that have not been read. Too, all those which have been read already. The one you are reading may be kept, but only till it is finished, lest it create a temptation to re-reading. I would certainly apply this principle to self-help books.

But every book I have retained, sparks joy; and their spines alone may trigger an imaginative recollection of the contents, and the times and spaces among which it was once read. As Coleridge said, books are corporal, living things; at any moment their wings may re-open, for another flight into one’s soul.

A correspondent in western Massachusetts was recently married. She moved in with her new husband, together with fifty cartons of books — an amount he may have deemed excessive. My advice: any number of cartons that can be counted, is too few.

“Have you read all these books?” I have been asked by visitors, so many times, that I have run out of clever replies. Among them: “Are you insinuating that this is all I’ve ever read?” … Or, “Dear me, yes, good point. All my other flats are like this, too.” … Or: “No, I can’t read, but I hired a highly literate interior decorator.”

The other day I was asked this by a policeman. He was gathering information on a burglar who had happened to pass my way. I hope he doesn’t report me for hoarding. Apparently there are now laws against that; Twisted Nanny State never sleeps.

I wish to be fair to the Japanese wench, however. Simplicity of life ought to be encouraged. Her idea, before tossing old nostalgic items, to conduct a little ceremony over them, is hereby endorsed. And I feel for her, in the clutter of money and fame that must come with her bestsellers. But really, my father knew best: “It doesn’t matter how much you own. It matters that you can find what you are looking for.”

A Catholic view must be largely pro-clutter. A man at his joyful work will be surrounded by the projects he is working on. And in the evenings, surrounded by his joyful family. Or for Mass, hustling them all over to a church that is full of joyful equipage.

*

[I have proposed an addition to the world’s clutter at Catholic Thing today, over here.]

A minority view

“Truth in advertising” isn’t good enough. We also need honesty and candour. The more familiar one becomes with products one is using, the more clearly this can be seen. Love also comes into the calculus. Regardless what they claim, do the makers actually love what they are doing? This will show in their works. Are their staff loyal, and proud of what they make, or the service they provide? Have they that joy in craft which lifts their occupation from the contemptible towards the noble?

Or are they only working for a buck, quick to cut corners to improve their margins, in a market that cares only for price?

Shoddy dollar-store goods (and like services) are what we think fit for the poor, because the poor, to us (the “middle class” and upward), are of little value, or none. They are defined by income, which is ludicrous. Often they think of themselves in the same way, preferring quantity to quality. They fill their high-rise hovels with cheap stuff, having surrendered their minds to advertising. The alternative would be to live simply. What you can’t afford, you do without, substituting not with an inferior pastiche, but by your own wit and labour. It is a moral imperative not to live beyond your means; and every penny saved on buying garbage contributes to that good end.

I am taking a position commonly dismissed, even mocked, as “naïve,” but I am taking it knowingly. The opposite in this instance is “cynical.” A world full of tawdry junk, is taken to be inevitable. To resist moral and aesthetic laxity is foolish to the crowd. The garbage-makers puff themselves with an inverted moral code. They claim to side with “the people” against “the elite.” They put on inverted airs. Anything done properly and joyfully is considered to be niche-market, for the hoity-toity types, and thus “impractical” for the masses. Craftsmanship itself is condemned as an imposture.

In traditional societies the “open markets” our economists defend were understood well enough, but usually rejected. The trade guild would enforce standards. These would not be conceived as “minimum standards,” such as a bureaucracy might enforce, but as essential standards. The product that fails to measure up is not put on sale. Rather, it must be destroyed, and be seen to be destroyed. The baker who sells stale bread at half price is not celebrated as a friend of the poor. Rather he is placed in a basket, and dipped in the pond, to freshen him up a bit.

The guild would of course look out for the interests of its members, but had not yet been reduced to a blackmailing racket, as modern trades union have become. It would restrict competition by establishing “fair prices,” to be neither exceeded nor undercut. The focus was upon the goods themselves, and the reputation of the trade. Modern “individualism” rejects this approach. The right to lie, cheat, and steal, is accepted as a fundamental liberty. Discipline is received as arbitrary punishment, and analysis reduced to whose side you are on.

My own, traditional, belief, is that morality and aesthetics are intertwined. Men are shaped by heredity, but also by environment. The making things ugly is an evil, because it damages the souls of men. Conversely, bad or obtuse moral principles are ugly in themselves. The notion that all work should be judged by cost-benefit in terms of money alone, is something every decent man must condemn.

This has nothing to do with government regulation. Instead, it has to do with custom, which governs through every human heart, and is founded not in legislation but in faith, reason, family and religion. It can develop only organically, over time, and only in a location; it will never benefit by abstract intervention, from the top, down. It actually requires subsidiarity: to be organized from the bottom, up. And from bottom to top, not agenda-driven lawmakers — power-hungry tyrants, impatient with the good, the true, the beautiful. Rather, the scintillating grace, of God.

Breaksit

I found more encouragement in the result of the Brexit referendum than in any other recent poll, and before changing my mind, judged it more significant even than the election of Mr Donald Trump. I always doubt an electorate (any electorate) has the courage of its apparent convictions, or can hold a course, so while I’m sometimes pleased, it is never for long. A few thousand examples could follow. Yet the mere indication that the British might still have life in them, on some days of the week, and the ability to distinguish “sugar from shit” (colloquial English expression), was rather thrilling.

That the bureaucracy, including amateur politicians like Mrs Theresa May, would move quickly to sabotage their own stated commitments, was hardly surprising. Such people “know,” instinctively, that anything the public wants must be wrong. I, by contrast, only know that it is usually wrong.

Enough cannot be said about the black heart of the European Union. By providing a single-size straitjacket for countries so various in size and shape, that they don’t even fit elasticized pajamas, the EU is a monument to modern monumentality. It is also, as Peter Hitchens put it, “A continuation of Germany by other means.” Yet to my mind, the Germans are as strangled by the straitjacket as any of their client states.

As a proposition in political economy the semi-defunct European Free Trade Association was a much less bad idea. The OECD remains as a clearing house for practical trade arrangements, as the EU dissolves. There were and there are international fora for other cross-border agreements, and while “it would be nice” to walk across Europe without a passport, just as one can across the Natted States (or Canada, if you don’t mind freezing to death), in this age of terrorists and refugees, nation states need borders.

These are general considerations, but Britain is a special case. Her deeply mediaeval traditions of Crown-in-Parliament, and personal liberties defensible in Common Law, were never compatible with the pagan, Teutonic, jackboot traditions of “Enlightenment” Prussia, whose aggressions launched so many Continental wars, and again contribute to lethal tensions, by their embodiment in the EU. That said, it should be mentioned that each of the other twenty-seven member states is a special case, too.

Of course, the gliberal commentariat do not care for such things as history or religion, and are exclusively focused upon macro-economic questions — which in turn blind them to actual economic questions, in a world where huge, faceless, indeed ruthless multinational corporations cannot provide for all human needs, and the human being himself is not reducible to pure consumer. As we are often reminded, the consequence of homogenizing vast populations is never what the Procrusteans expect. People want space to enjoy their own, and to be themselves, without alien invasion. They will always want this. It is why vast supranational aggregations such as the Soviet or the European Union always fall apart.

From the other side, attempts at essentially municipal legislation on the continental scale — without regard to local history and culture — also fail. Free trade itself only works when it is not imposed by a Colossus, but simply allowed to take place.

The original (1951) European Coal and Steel Community was conceived as a regulatory body to enable gargantuan economies of scale, though sold as a free-trade agreement. The tendency of any regulatory body is to extend and increase regulation. The course of “European unity” was predictable. It would get bigger, until it collapsed.

A majority of the British wanted out. And while they may have been successfully subverted and dishonoured by the Euro ruling caste (including those in their own government), they will eventually get their way. For the EU cannot last, as even its functionaries are beginning to understand.

The wisdom of sheep

I’ve seen a sheep poked by a shepherd. It was on some video from the Hebrides: South Uist, a windswept, Gaelic-speaking, Catholic isle, under the protection of Our Lady. (I’ve lost the link; but I beseech gentle reader to believe me.) It was an appalling moment. I was outraged. It must have taken me a full minute to recover my serenity. It took the sheep, on the other hand, no time at all.

You see, I was identifying with the harmless animal. As sheep go, he was what the English call “unclubbable” — stand-alone, unsheeplike; a goat in sheep’s clothing. The rest of his flock had been collectively sipping their fill at the lochan; “Frederic,” as I shall call him, having also drunk his fill, though a little to the side of them, wandered a few hoof-steps farther away. He adopted what, for a sheep, seemed a philosophical pose: nose raised, as if to receive the celestial ambrosia.

Woolly thoughts. The ruminations, of a ruminant.

Perhaps I should mention there were water lilies on this lochan: among my favourite invasive species. I glimpsed one at the edge of the camera frame. The Darwinists hold them to be primitive plants. As attentive readers must know, I love a basal angiosperm (and am given to pteridomania, too). Frederic must also have noticed them.

The shepherd and his dogs (he had two of them) wanted the little flock to move off in a new direction. The others did not have to be told. (A silent video; the shepherd might have whistled.) Frederic was considering their request. A little prideful, I imagine, he would not be hurried. He’d had enough purposeful walking for the day, not nearly enough lolling about. The other sheep could go, he would stay. No democrat, he was not proposing a vote. He simply did not care what the others were doing.

So the shepherd pokes him one, with his staff; really hard. And right in the ribs. “Ouch,” I remember thinking.

Frederic takes the message now. He does not retaliate, as I would. Indeed, he sprints to catch up with his buddies. (Colleagues?) His reverie is over, and he knows it.

That’s how you do shepherding, I reflect. It isn’t a sentimental trade, as reported in the Arcadian romances, which the city folk read, back when they read things. And I am no proponent of animal rights. Yes, a ram’s gotta do what a ram’s gotta do.

Still, having been poked in the ribs myself, I empathised with the animal. Power goes to these humans’ heads. Sometimes they poke you gratuitously.

In which case, you get poked. That’s the end of it. Retaliation would only make things worse. And besides, if you’re a sheep, what can you retaliate with? Wisdom requires us to ignore most provocations.

____________

I STAND CORRECTED (chronicles). I am persuaded, by a couple of my correspondents, that my view of the inner life of sheep is naïve. They are quite capable of revenge, against a disliked shepherd, who would be unwise, after whacking a delinquent with his stick, to turn his back on the creature. Said delinquent may return at considerable gallop to head-butt the offending party, before slipping into anonymity again. Breeds may be diverse in behaviour, and individuals more various still, but as a general rule sheep have keen peripheral vision, and a formidably horned ram, from the top of the dominance hierarchy, in the rutting season, may weigh hundreds of pounds. He can make his opinion of a perceived rival very plain. By Internet search for “aggressive sheep,” gentle reader may obtain some illustrations.

Pipeline issues

Asked, no doubt by some ignorant journalist, for the secret of her ageless maternal beauty, Sophia Loren, the Italian movie star, proclaimed:

“Everything you see, I owe to pasta.”

(Really, there is no improving on an Italian girl; so long as she is pre-Vatican II.)

I gather she made this remark or something like it several times, in defiance of the voracious dieting habits of her younger, bulimiac, stick-figure contemporaries. She goes to lunch with them and finds herself the only one eating.

Well, she recalled, from her own desperately impoverished childhood in war-time Campania, “Someone has to survive.” … Starch is important.

In my case it was beans and wieners. I suspected the wieners, too, were made of beans. Pythagoras (also well-known in Magna Graecia) would have been appalled.

My culinary education began with my mother, though she was not present for it. This because, she was a nurse. At a time of staff shortages occasioned by the Baby Boom (remember? it really happened!) she was volunteering nights in the local hospital. My father, sister, and I (to say nothing of my cat, Boefferina), still had to eat, however, and my father — like many XY males — could not be trusted to boil an egg. Anything more elaborate, he would have killed us all. My little sister, an XX female, showed more presence of mind in a kitchen, but having reasoned that the person who makes dinner may escape doing the dishes, I volunteered for cooking. This was of further benefit to my wee sibling, for it helped her to develop her operatic skills.

Mama gave me hints, though, and set out the raw materials, before herself disappearing. “You take beans from this can, here, chop in those wieners, and make them hot in a pot on that stovetop over there.” By trial and error, I got the hang of it.

By the time I had reached a riper childhood, I was delegated two recipes for fudge (dark chocolate, and blonde caramel, respectively), and given one for shortbread cookies (from the back of a baking soda box). Along the way I had mastered the mashing of potatoes, with abounding butter and cream; and how an English pork sausage called a “banger” could be substituted for the industrial wieners. Too, although my taste was not shared, I discovered that by stirring a scant tablespoon of Colman’s “mustard flour” into the beans, I could make them quite lively. By today, I am beyond Heinz Beanz (except on Fridays), and operating within a wider universe of Northern sausages, tinned gigantic Mediterranean beans, and additives herbal, oily, and miscellaneous.

But never too far beyond.

Once, gathered in a pub in Edinburgh with some engineering types, envelopes and pencils, we did some calculations from the known import volume of baked beans in tomato sauce to the United Kingdom, from the USA. The challenge: to calculate the diameter of a pipe that could be laid under the Atlantic Ocean, between Boston and Glasgow, to transport this substance more economically.

It wasn’t a professional job. Things like the flow-rate were merely estimated. The question of tunnelling through the Mid-Atlantic Ridge was dealt with in a most desultory manner. Indeed, we barely scratched the surface of the problem of pumping baked beans under a constant pressure for several thousand miles. But if you can do it with petroleum, it must be a breeze.

Hail Mary (pass)

Were it not for priests forwarding articles from obscure Internet websites, I’d hardly know what was going on in the world. The laity should be mentioned, too; but I have found the priestlie class to be the best-informed, and most adept at googlesearching.

Take, for instance, these two items ping’d to me this morning (here, and here). I had not been following events in Brazil with any consistency, and had, let me plainly admit, not even heard of that country’s new foreign minister, Ernesto Araújo. He was appointed in October, after the new “Trump-like” president, Jair Bolsonaro, defeated the latest avatar of Latin America’s incredibly corrupt, perverted and psychotic Marxist heritage — and by a wide margin.

In response to the usual commie hack bleating on television, how worried he was that the new president was “talking about God too much,” Araújo writes:

“So now talk of God is supposed to worry people. This is sad. But the people of Brazil don’t care. Bolsonaro’s government doesn’t care what pundits say or what they worry about: they don’t have a clue about who God is or who the Brazilian people are and want to be. Their worry is that of an elite about to be dispossessed. They are afraid because they can no longer control public discourse. They can no longer dictate the limits of the president’s or anyone else’s speech. The last barrier has been broken: we can now talk about God in public. Who could imagine?”

It was a remark that might rouse the sleepiest Catholic mind.

There are many kinds of populism, both Left and Right, and as gentle reader may be aware, I have never trusted The Peeple. It took me quite a few years even to trust God. Every electorate is fickle, as well as appallingly ignorant. But by creating a permanent underclass, dependent on hand-outs, the pagan liberal and progressive parties are able to maintain them as a permanent voting block, terrified of losing their pogey. Once in every tenth blue moon these victims twig to their predicament. In Europe and the Americas — throughout the scattered remains of Christendom — we would seem to be enjoying such a moment. Count me as a Populist, for as long as it lasts.

So everyone get busy. Talk too much of God. If nothing else, it drives the demons crazy.

*

For nearly half a century, Father James Schall (SJ) has been a light to lighten this gentile at least. I should think I have mentioned him before. Please read the dying man’s magnificent column in the Catholic Thing today (here). And join the rest of us in praying for this beloved man’s soul.

My understanding is that Father Schall declined further medical intervention, to let nature take her course — some weeks ago. I think of another kind old friend who, tiring of their ministrations, fired his oncologists a year ago. In both cases, the patient is still alive. This often happens. Killing off sick people is harder than most of the modernists realize. It takes a lot of technology.

Ditto, I would hope, for good old Western Civ.

Freedom versus security

Truth to tell, I do not expect the world to embrace the gargantuan “divestation” proposal I sketched yesterday. Nor will any other “distributive” scheme be wanted, to dissolve the power of vast, faceless corporations, methodically integrated with the vast, regulatory departments of Twisted Nanny State. Several gentle readers have written to advise me that any such plan is a non-starter, and if pushed, would merit the adjective “silly.” In the tradition of Plato, however, I continue to indulge mental exercises. His own were never very practical. The modern, university-educated reader, including the great majority of nominal Catholics and other Christians, are sentimental materialists. The moment these detach, the sentiment has to go.

Why do we, in various degrees of enthusiasm, buy into the “new world order” that emerged so triumphantly in the sixteenth century, and has been consolidating its authority ever since? And this so effectively that those who claim to be defending “Western Civ” are, in almost every instance, actually defending its avowed enemies? For we cite “reformations” and “enlightenments” that overturned the older order. That, we suppose, is what made us so great, in our power and prosperity. We rose above the “primitive superstition” that had governed all previous civilizations and cultures. By the aid of our Scienza Nuova, we were able to smash them all to pieces. And this so effectively that by now the foreigners rival and surpass us, in playing our own game.

The truth is, that the modern world of totalitarianism and material advance, is genuinely popular. It answers to that part of human nature which corresponds to animal nature. We want food, sex, indolence and sleep, and the less we must work for it, the better.

Modern men claim many things that were better ignored; in fact they are allergic to risk. We have no use for freedom in our zoo; we want security. Some of us do attempt a breakout, occasionally, but the majority would return to their cages were the doors left open. An impulse from our forgotten past might inspire us to slay the occasional zookeeper, even when he is bringing us dinner, but for the most part we accept a life in which none of our anxieties are real.

Humans are more sophisticated than the other animals, and our economic arrangements are thus more subtle. We have an open-plan zoo. It works well enough on indentured labour. We are secured by our debts and our paycheques. In order merely to obtain the credentials, that our world demands for the most trivial jobs, contemporary youth must obtain an “education,” that will leave them deeply owing. At a most impressionable moment of life, they must go straight to work in the silicon mines, and stay until they become accustomed to them.

“Wage slavery” involves working for a master (women obey bosses, not their husbands; men love bosses not their wives). This is the historical new normal. The very definition of a job, is working for someone else. If 100 percent of the able-bodied are wage slaves, we have full employment. Not everyone is able-bodied, or mentally capable, but even some who are can be carried by the pogey. We have a “social safety net” to prevent anyone being exposed to risk, or left with consequence of a human mistake — lest he learn, or become an example of, something vital. We even have the means to eliminate all pain, thanks to the recent legislation of euthanasia. By the centralized transfer and manipulation of debt, we can become a race of perfect zombies.

True, I exaggerate. That’s what caricaturists and satirists do. The zombies can’t cope with this, however, so their masters have made humour “politically incorrect.”

“Look at all the rugged individualists lining up for their Big Macs,” I once observed. My companion told me to keep my voice down.

Restoring risk

Were I to declare myself an opponent of collectivism, I do not think it would occasion much surprise. My horror of socialism in all its many forms — Soviet, Maoist, Venezuelan, and so on — is not a secret I have tried to keep. My use of the term “Twisted Nanny State” (for decades I just said “Nanny State,” until I offered the new, improved version) extends my pathological hatred to “guvmint” in all contemporary forms. I love to mock the pretensions of “democracy,” snowballs at which I am pleased to hurl. Some have rocks in them. I deny being an anarchist or libertarian: implausibly, to some readers. Yet as “A Man of the Thirteenth Century” (TM) I am, after all, a moral authoritarian, and a papist so strident that the current pope never invites me to tea. My preference for science over scientism further marks me as a creature of the dark lagoon.

So yes, from all this, it may be concluded that I am not a collectivist, nor a semi-collectivist. Did you know I am not an individualist, either? For sometimes I drop lead on that toe, too. The idea of perfect individual autonomy strikes me as the Sin of Adam. Let Everyman, before God, take responsibility for everything he has done, including those things that no court could try.

But within the little realm of politics, and after all those who think themselves anti-collectivist have sent their regards, I will mumble my objections to usury, and limited liability.

It seems to me — a man who has read Adam Smith with admiration, but wonders if anyone else has — that the modern corporation is a collectivist enterprise. It begins with first ownership, often enough, and gets worse after takeovers and mergers, further compounded by the leverage and debt. What we call “capitalism” today is an incomprehensible jumble in which the legal fiction of “corporate persons” creates the dominant players on every stage. Joint-stock companies own companies that own companies in a parody of the Great Chain of Being, and only in tiny corner stores will one find a sovereign human being who can answer a question with a straight face.

Anything that requires “public relations,” or a “human resources department,” is Stalinist by intention.

But, “small is beautiful” is not my theme. (A sub-theme maybe.) I do not despise large companies, per se. I despise large companies that are owned by even larger parent corporations, pension funds, or other ontological shadows and geists. They behave as, because they are, collectivist entities.

Let a man (or a woman, if she has charge of her own purse) put down his golden ducats (or florins, should the vendor agree), and take possession. Should a partnership be formed, it will not vex me. Let the man, or the very same partners, by similar device, take possession of more than one company, in their own names. But let no abstraction invest, and should the owners acquire more than they can handle, let them rue the day. For in my view they should be personally responsible for business practices in any company they own, as they would be for the behaviour of an incisive dog. Let the rich be rich, and bankrupts be bankrupts, as the direct consequence of risks they have freely assumed. Let those who have broken clearly-written laws themselves be broken on the wheel of Justice. And let the taxes, too, be made plain and predictable, applying not to aggregates, but by transaction.

My scheme could be drawn out in tedious detail — I’ve hardly started — but let me jump to the conclusion that it would not increase any nation’s paper wealth. Indeed, it would have a condensing effect. But I think it more important that our relations be just — and investigably seen to be just — than that they be remunerative.

Down with capitalist collectivism!

Reflections on Thomism

“Yes, these days all the live-in girlfriends are Thomists,” I was writing this morning, to my Chief Buncombe Correspondent. (The county is in North Carolina.) I was commenting on his account of an Uber ride, with a nihilist doctoral candidate, who lives with a fan of Saint Thomas Aquinas.

“Someone in the household has to deny that effects precede causes,” I added.

“Indeed, someone has to put the kettle on,” my CBC replied.

Meanwhile, up here in the burglary-prone High Doganate, I gather that the superintendress has been sacked, and her son arrested. This is the consensus of various accounts from my fellow tenants, some dozens of whom had also been burgled over the past year or so. The downside: no one to open the laundry room in the morning. The upside: no one to collect our rent. And, security may actually have improved, now that no one is protecting us.

Inside every cloud, a silver lining.

Nothing was learnt from the two policemen (well, one of them was male) who visited, to ask if I could supply additional details, when what I was looking for was more of an exchange. This was surprisingly prompt. Only six months had passed since the crime was committed.

Had I noticed anything odd? Yes, that my nest-egg of cash had gone missing. But the good news was that the burglar, who must have had ample leisure from the knowledge that I’d gone out of town, had left all my books.

It could have been worse. Had the burglar been accompanied by a Thomist girlfriend, my Summa Theologica might also have been lost.

The news is often a mixed bag. Life, generally, is like that.

Take Trompe, for instance. Good news and bad news, all in the same package.

An avid selfie-taker explained to me on the weekend the advantage of keeping a record of where he has been. I suppose it was because he was taking selfies that he hadn’t noticed, himself. I bet if I lifted his iPhone, he would notice. For that would give him a direct human experience; he wouldn’t like that.

He also drives for Uber, I learnt. Thus has a live-in Thomist girlfriend, I assume.

“Has the world gone mad?” I wondered, recently, while observing street events from my balconata. A gentleman was shrieking obscenities, to no one in particular. Another was doing the same, but in a different direction. Surely, I thought, they should be shrieking at each other. Keep up appearances, you know.

But “look on the bright side,” as my mama used to sing. (Ironically.) No bloodshed, at least while I was watching. For if there were — oh bother! — I’d feel as if I had to do something. And I have no live-in Thomist girlfriend to tell me what.

Nanjinganthus

It must have been about 7 a.m.
when a shrew-like mammal stumbled
out of his dark burrow
and peered nearsightedly
at the first flower with
an expression close to amazement
and decided it wasn’t dangerous …

The late beloved Canadian poet, Al Purdy, here describes the invention of flowers — by plants — “In the Early Cretaceous.” He was off by several periods, and a whole era. According to fossils recently found in China, they had already been invented fifty million years before that.

Nanjinganthus dendrostyla! … This is the name now given to an angiosperm, or if you will, flower. What is it doing in the South Xiangshan Formation? Minding its own business, I would say. But in finding it we toss yet another brick into the hornet nest of evolutionary theory. Instead of “just popped up in the Cretaceous,” flowers now pop up in the Jurassic; and in fossil slabs so abundant, it would be hard to hide them all.

We take one thing as precursor to another, and well it might be. Or not be. For if the precursors keep jumping around — fully formed with all necessary parts taking backward leaps of half a million centuries — what can we know of our family tree?

We have no way of knowing, and no prospect of ever knowing, and the evolutionary presumption (the “idea of progress”) is simply read into the evidence. New species “just pop up” there, where we thought we had everything covered, and in the living record, too, every day. Some ancient species known to be extinct just pop up in a fisherman’s net, or are trapped wandering about in the bush.

Better yet: some creature we’d never seen ever, leaps straight from non-existence onto the “endangered species” list. How do we know it wasn’t created, at 7 a.m. yesterday morning?

We can’t check if our “molecular clocks” are working, or our carbon datebooks are correct, or the red shift of the stars has not been entirely misunderstood. I do think we have grasped the general idea, of our descent from a singular cosmic egg of infinitesimal size, and yet it wouldn’t surprise me, as a half-blind shrew, to learn that our temporal depth perception was dysfunctional, and that in fact the world began on the 11th of August, 3114 BC, as the Mayans calculated, or that The Flood happened in 2137 BC, as Varro the Roman explained.

Alternatively our world is much older. My Scofield Reference Bible gives it another thousand years.

What does it matter to us? For as the famous Shakespeare actor said, it’s not just the number of words, no, you must get them in the right order. And we don’t seem able to do that. Look microscopically into the human cell — into any cell for that matter — and you see that in order to work, things that must have come earlier depend on things that must have come later. To which one says, “Ho!” For our assumptions were all built on assumptions, that disappear as we move along.

God, like Obama, says: “You didn’t build that!” Only He who built it can remember when. It is not actually necessary to read evolution, or anything else, into the fossil record. Science is knowledge, and it is enough to accumulate what we have seen and can demonstrate. Leave science fiction to the specialists.

(Richard Feynman: “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”)

And long live angiosperms!

I wonder which myopic shrew-like mammal made the first bouquet?

More populist than thou

Let me take a moment to agree with all spinmeisters and talking heads, linked in my inbox this morning. Mister Tucker’s monologue on Fox News t’other evening (which I have now “watched” in video and transcript) was a “game-changer.” That is what we (present and former hacks and pandits) call a speech that outclasses the background noise. It makes listeners wonder, however fitfully, whether their sense of current history is right. It “galvanizes” those who, though they agreed with every proposition in advance, ne’er heard them so well expressed. (Gentle reader will find the thing on the Internet soon enough.)

As text, the speech is not so much argument as evasion of argument, with frequent appeals to the gallery. But as delivered, it is “fine talk,” and I was impressed by a sterling performance.

Gallantly, Mister Tucker has articulated the desire of the Right and Left-wavering to raise the tone of American politics to that of Bhutan. His most striking expressions called attention to the fact that material prosperity does not make people happy. Perhaps we should instruct the statisticians to replace their calculations of Gross Domestic Product, with Gross National Happiness, as they now do in Thimphu. The figure would still be meaningless, but might provide some modest, transient uplift.

In my humbly contrary view, material prosperity — i.e. getting filthy rich — does actually make people happy. Those who win the lottery do not cry from despair. But within a few months of scoring, and often within days, they have a new set of personal problems, to pile upon the old ones. Happiness, from material causes, does not last; not even for the poor. It is emotional catharsis. Something makes you happy; and then it fades away.

Only drugs can keep you happy, until you die. But the downside there is that they kill you.

In view of the current opioid crisis, I would observe that happiness is as fleeting as wealth, and should not be sought as an end in itself. I would rather refer to “a crisis of optimism.” People want happiness, seek it, win, then lose, and are left “more unhappier” than ever. We discover, if I may use an exceptionally rancid cliché, that “money can’t buy happiness” (it can buy spiffy yachts, however); and drugs only work while they are in your bloodstream. Were it not for the afterlife, drugs would be the better bet.

However, Mister Tucker is using the H-word (“happiness”) in something like the sense understood by those Merican Founding Fathers. Perhaps we might translate it “satisfaction” today, so to re-include the association with “contentment.” For there is a form of happiness that is not giddy, and comes with living well, regardless of income or other treats.

Politics can oppress people, but it cannot make them wiser or more sensible, independent of mind, or just. Happiness in the older sense has never required “political action.” Instead, it takes joy in friendship and community. One could be happy in a prison camp, or facing painful death. This has been done, I insist, though we are unlikely to have read about it in the MSM. A joyful happiness of this sort exists in a confident, i.e. faithful relation with God, and thus clarity in one’s prospect of a life that is eternal. Without that, the number of things to moan about grows and grows.

But prison camps and painful deaths are not good, in themselves. To want them, for ourselves or for others, would be a sign of psychic disorder. To this end, guvmint should at least be on the side of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That will not take us to Utopia, but is as close as we should go.

I notice that Mister Tucker, in his eloquent “take” on populism, turns instinctively to politics with his plea for relief. He, like the rest, thinks there is something the guvmint should be doing, other than what it is doing now. So do I, for that matter: I think the guvmint should be leaving us alone.

Rather than the State, I think the Church should be getting its act together, to instruct us once more on how not to be mendacious, self-destructive clowns. The worst thing about ecclesiastical scandals, sez I, is that they block Christ’s messaging. Indeed, that is more or less the definition of a scandal.

But politics is a game that everyone can play; an exceptionally nasty one. Rather than play, we should just grow up.

*

[My fortnightly Thing, on sanitary engineering, may be found here.]

Review & outlook

“Call me a Reactionary, but I will make common cause with all those who have been unpersoned then murdered by the stinking satanic soft-liberal establishment.”

That, for what it’s worth, was what I gave when asked for my New Year’s resolution.

Context is sometimes important. Mention had been made of the unknown number — more than one hundred million, but there is no precise total — of those killed at the hands or on the orders of utopian irreligious ideologues, in the time since the Armistice of 1918. These were in addition to those who had died in wars of any description, or otherwise under arms. I wish to count only the defenceless. And in deference to my interlocutor’s soft-liberal views, I was not at first counting abortions and infanticides, although the victims were quite defenceless, and had surely been “unpersoned” in the prelude to each crime. Add them, from around the world, and the toll rises, to more than a thousand million.

The word “murdered” was queried. Why would I accuse comfortable soft liberals and miscellaneous progressive types of such dastardly deeds? Because, by their silence and inanition, in their tolerance and their diversity, they had participated. For under old principles of common law, those complicit in murder may be fairly charged. Malice must be proved, to get a conviction, but all those who had played along, from the stage of “we didn’t know” to the stage of working for the beasts, were accomplices in the demonic malice, and remain so. (Immortally.)

A pose of naïveté, as a cover for indifference, is the defence usually offered. Who could guess that the rise of a Lenin or a Hitler or a Mao would end in such vast, pointless carnage? Who could foresee that the modern, inverted ideals of materialism, from Marx and Darwin through the many convolutions of eugenics, would make the triumphs of such men inevitable? For it must be admitted that only intelligent and perceptive people, with decency and the courage to stand their ground, would oppose them: a small minority in any polity. The invincibly ignorant have their excuse.

Yet the characters named hardly killed anyone with their own hands. And the executioners they employed — also in the millions — were “only following orders.” One might even say that the woman demanding that the child she is carrying be brutally destroyed, is only giving orders. Or that the doctor giving the final injection to a patient so old and confused and unwanted that she has ceased to want even herself, is only doing as instructed. Like Dr Mengele’s nurses, or the prison camp guards, they go home at the end of each shift, to their bourgeois lives; and some have violins to play Mozart.

I do not share the happyface view of a world from which Christ has been extracted; in which responsibility for one’s own acts is boundlessly diffused.

My hope for the New Year is that all who are complicit — finally every one, of course including me — will recognize their sins, confess them, and seek absolution. And that, having done that, we will all change sides.

New Year’s FoMo

Even before the spread of social media, I recall being aware that I was missing out on some of the excitement of New Year’s Eve. Actually, for the first so-many years of nominally adult life, I wasn’t missing out at all. For six or seven of those year-ending nights, I was swept into something, in a place I’d never been before, among people I had not previously met. At least two of these involved physical danger; though I didn’t realize how much trouble I was courting, at first. (Never flirt with the mistress of a Thai army general!) I should think if I had been connected to social media in those days, I might not have lived to thirty.

Then came the year I decided to stay home and read. This was when the FoMo began, though it eventually subsided. In retrospect, I blame women. To this day, I find them attractive, and am more likely to do stupid things in their company than elsewhere. It is the classic male propensity towards risk-taking, for no higher purpose than to impress a pretty girl. One enters the room, spots the pretty girl in question, and an alarm sounds at the back of one’s head. “Time to make a fool of yourself,” it announces.

I do hope I am using this neologism, “FoMo,” correctly. I gather it stands for, “Fear of Missing out.” A very large part of the postmodern economy seems to depend on it. The marketing professionals know that it is easy to manipulate, and always was. The social media have radically increased anxiety among the young; but there was always something there to work with.

From a demonic point of view, social media are a godsend, or “devilsend” as it were. But the demons were hardly sleeping through previous generations, when a bit more effort was required of them. (I notice the animals have mating instincts, too, though happily for them, not the fear of embarrassment.) And Lust is not the only driver: there are six more Deadly Sins to choose from.

A significant purpose of religion, in former times, was the cure or alleviation of FoMo. To the mind oriented to a continuum, that extends beyond this world, passing events can be taken more calmly. Conversely, the fear of missing out on anything but Heaven will infallibly disorient the religious sensibility. It is more effective than the fear of Hell (the fear of God is quite a different thing), or the perfectly material fear of death, which can itself be negated by that fear of embarrassment. I should think many acts of heroism owe their lustre to the desire to avoid shame; though others are rooted in the call to sanctity.

There are many dimensions to the “here and now” that asserts itself each New Year. One’s location in time is seldom so apparent. One makes New Years’ resolutions in acknowledgement of the fact. They will mean nothing — the unaided human will is powerless against temptation — but the sense of a new beginning stirs briefly within.

Fifteen years have today passed since, on the Eve of anno MMIV, I was received into the Catholic Church, and after many years of hesitation, finally became a Dogan. That really was a new beginning for me: a kind of surrender, after half a century of sin and error. For through all the sin and error since, my anxieties have been fundamentally altered. Worldling I have necessarily remained, but there is no better place I could wish to be.