Essays in Idleness

DAVID WARREN

Vacating sense

That the “personal is the political” was a piece of leftwing bafflegab that was first presented to my ears in High School — now more than half a century ago. It is what I would call, awkwardly no doubt, “a revision.” The word will be generally misunderstood, and might be taken as a revision itself. To revise something sounds like a harmless activity, and carries an implication of improvement. To tamper with the meanings of words and common phrases is to be “progressive” in some way.

Yet what one is doing is not. One is not replacing one definition with another, that has for better or worse a new meaning or nuance. (This may be necessary when circumstances change, and what one is describing has itself changed, however subtly.) In such cases, the old meaning survives, as a kind of ghost within the new machinery. Rather, one is negating the old meaning; sabotaging, or cancelling it.

Let it not be replaced. The word itself comes to mean anything. Slowly it is transformed not only into the opposite of its “narrow” previous meaning, by linguistic habit with a memory of what it meant, but a neurotic compulsion to turn it over. But eventually it assumes the opposite of meaning, altogether. It now means “whatever.”

By linguistic habit, the “personal” was previously the opposite of the “political.” This could be easily grasped, by the sane. The opposition of the two terms created a barrier between them; it was an invisible wall or border. Tear it down, and you don’t have a wall in a different place. You have no wall.

Most of our modern innovations are like this, even in manufacturing. Where once we, more or less, universally subscribed to contrasts and oppositions between things, reinforced “by nature,” we are now just as universally at sea.

Consider “male” and “female.”

These two categories are still accepted by most people who understand English, or other languages; but they are accepted as meaningless or (another word that has been “revised”) “controversial.” The distinction is being actually suppressed. But it isn’t being revised to something — new and strange — but instead erased. Girls, for instance, continue to be girls, but aren’t, simultaneously. They have become “whatevers” — something else. But nothing specific. The same sort of thing happened to boys. For that matter it goes for mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, daughters, sons, and so forth — distinctions now formally taken out of laws.

Feminism is often blamed for this. But while I would not endorse feminists in any way, I don’t think they can be held responsible. After all, feminists were ideologues who favoured women; but this is a movement that erases women.

I wouldn’t speak with confidence about intentions. If the definitions were being replaced, even systematically, I would suspect a “revolutionary” movement. But it is easier to have a revolution — which is after all something purposeful — without tampering with such phrases. It leaves everyone confused about what you are demanding.

The intention of “revision,” in my limited sense, is deeper. It goes towards the bottom of human experience — indeed, beneath the bottom — and touches on the insane.

The visitors

My mother visited me in the hospital. I was delighted to see her, but not what you would call surprised. This was soon after my by-pass operation, when the anaesthetic had not worn off. Mama had died eight years before, as I was vaguely aware. She was with my aunt, Mildred, who died thirty-two years ago.

The nurse, Harvey, came to say they were here to see me. He would clean me up first, for I was rather a mess. In fact, I seemed to be in a giant wheelchair, with bedding, my hands pinned; and I was at the edge of a steep tunnel. All the people below me — doctors and nurses and “support staff” — were moving about busily, but walking sideways as if the walls were floors, or upside-down as if the ceilings were. Those in my vicinity were correctly oriented, however.

Eventually I was wheeled to my mother and aunt. They were chatting cheerfully with each other; almost ignoring me. But then mama turned to me, with words of advice. These didn’t make sense to me, for I’d asked to have my hands released, and perhaps for a sip of water; not for what sounded like passages from Origen and Augustine. Could mama get me out of here? Apparently not.

There were so many questions I would have liked to ask, but I could not think of them. For instance, how did they get in?

The episode was made the more plausible because the staff were all wearing the muzzles, headbands, and plastic face covers of hospital gear in the Batflu regime. My mother wasn’t, nor was my aunt. Yet, they were not self-conscious. Upon leaving, they seemed familiar with hospital corridors that puzzled me.

Age of Revision

Reading Jacob Burckhardt at my leisure (enforced by physical and mental decline), together with other idle writers of history. I seem to have drifted to the view that we live in an Age of Revision. Not an Age of Revolution, as previously advertised, or at the forefront of Progress, as optimists continue to aver. Indeed, Burckhardt could be said to have partially predicted it.

Of course, it is difficult to know any history, and impossible to grasp universal history, for we would have to know where it begins and ends to say anything intelligent about it. As we depend on “outmoded” religious conceptions of why we are here, “theories of history” are the best we can do. These are uniformly silly, and more so as they become sophisticated. They are woven into the Age of Revision: the constant fluctuation of meaning. We can be “freed” of this only by accelerating the change of which we have an unwanted surplus.

Burckhardt pioneered the conception of our collective life, as consisting of three principal entities: the State, Religion, and Culture. (“Science” is a cultural thing, like pop or Gregorian music.) The more lively and recent historical sages (I think of Christopher Dawson) have largely worked within this scheme. It is serviceable, for it includes almost everything, and these are independent strata. None is permanently dominant.

In our Age of Revision, all three are in flux. Nothing can be relied upon. The task of making even transient sense of events, or facts, is sabotaged when even these become “relative,” or a matter of opinion. I have or had a general idea of what was going on in the world, but my scepticism even towards trusted sources has been growing, as I learn more about them.

For a fortnight or so I had the experience, in hospital under powerful drugs, of an Age of Revision in myself. I had dreams such as I had never had, including some which were frankly paranoid (though most contained comic reverses, which were fairly entertaining). Little fragments of real events and persons were worked into the narratives, often rather cleverly by my plot-composing mind. These dreams were different in kind from most, that are forgotten after waking. I still remember them, vividly, including those so plausible that I am still at pains to dismiss details and anecdotes.

This seems to me analogous to our present social (political, religious, and cultural) situation.

Things to do

My prospect of living to be sixty-eight looks very good at the moment, for tomorrow will be my sixty-eighth birthday. Granted, I continue to be quite weak, and somewhat addled, from my recent experience of cardiac surgery, but my son and sister have resolved to take me on a modest outing, which my son has described as an “adventure.”

I have decided, on balance, not to rename these squibs the “Essays in Addleness,” but my intention to add to them waits until I become more coherent. This, I know, will be a judgement call, but I postpone until I judge myself capable of even typing without gross errors. For instance I have noticed I had to correct several typos in the last sentence, and I have probably left more as a favour to my critics.

Reading is my preferred ambitious hobby. The books are my older inspirations, for instance Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, which previously enchanted my childhood in Lahore. And I have re-read the Tsurezuregusa, or “Essays in Idleness” (more exactly, “Nothing Better To Do”) by the 14th-century Buddhist recluse, Kenkō — in those moments when I have found the Breviarium Romanum too taxing. Also, Dobson’s translation of Mencius, which is an almost exact transciption of my political opinions, albeit dated.

From other dippings into Oriental history I have constructed a universal account of the fate of this world. The poets and philosophers sometimes rule, very briefly. But they will be displaced, inevitably, when they create an opportunity for power-hungry thugs. Those who seek a worldly Utopia, do not understand this.

Latest news

David Warren continues — got back to the High Doganate yesterday; such a joy to be among the jackhammers again, the summer heat, and the jungle music from across the street. My son and sister continue their heroic work on my behalf, together with those doctors and nurses and physiotherapists who have improved my opinion of Canadian healthcare.

I continue to improve, but slowly; at least another two or three months of shameless leisure. Thanks for all letters and emails of encouragement, and reckless gifts of money. Very tired, and still in the mental fog appropriate to my condition, so I shan’t try to be acrobatic just yet.

Very sad to learn of the death of Fraser Sutherland, the splendid poet never sufficiently acknowledged; a less satisfactory cardiac outcome; my good friend through the last forty years. Yet all I can say is, aheu!

Supplementary

David Warren writes to apologize to the many correspondents he has apparently ignored. I’ve read them all now. Since my heart attack, triple by-pass, stroke, &c, I have been a bit under the weather. I expect to be down for another few months. God bless my doctors and nurses, and dear son, sister, and helpers.

Progress

I know it’s been a while, but there’s been very little to report. I finally got a chance to see David this afternoon, after a few weeks of COVID-related visitors restrictions. He’s still doing well — improving a bit more every day. His strength is back well enough that I’m going to bring him a laptop next week so he can start replying to everyone’s emails.

An update

This is Jonathan, David’s son. David is doing well – he’s had heart surgery and is now in recovery. From a heart health perspective, he is already doing much better, and was very lucky to go in when he did. I’m sure he will be posting again very soon with much more detail! Thank you for all your kind wishes and prayers.

Writerly thoughts

I may be absent from this space for a few days; we’ll see. Just an old-fashioned medical issue; nothing to do with the Batflu. Unless, of course, they are giving it out at the hospital.

Always write your Idleposts with melodrama. That is my principle. Compose each one as if it were your last. Eventually, one will be. Oremus.

The secret strategy

“Live by the gun, die by the gun,” I imagine the second-best gunslinger thinking, as he relaxes into the dust of an imagined Wild West town. This is an image, not an argument; for anyway he will not have the time for further philosophical reflections; or perhaps even for remembering Hamlet’s observation, that death is a fell sergeant. Nor comes it up in the Spaghetti Westerns, nor the Macaroni Westerns of Japan, where by some happy coincidence, the superior moral agent is invariably the quicker draw.

Or let us adapt this to a more Christian theatrical experience. “Live as a Saint, die as a Martyr,” we might say. In this scene, the missionary is being prepared for the cannibals’ stew. With luck, he has been saying his prayers beforehand, and has thus had time to consider the matter in its philosophical implications.

The priest, whose penitent I was, said that we imagine a cheering section. But if there is one, it is more likely to be back home in the cinema. God, said Father, often lets us die alone, friendless and in pain. The faithful shouldn’t feel surprised, or disappointed. This is the world, and it is the way of the world. “Suck it up,” as the more annoying sort of Catholics like to advise.

Yet in the least edifying circumstances, we find a moral written, into the dusty texture of the universe. He who seeks the credit, and the bragging rights, for his little accomplishments, generally does not get them, even from the world. Rather they go to one’s rivals, or to people who have accomplished nothing, that was not manifoldly counter-productive. They are the ones whose overheated egos needed to be made “cool,” and if Christ’s analysis can be trusted, “They have their reward.” (I am partial to Christ’s analyses in these Idleposts.)

The converse of this is also interesting. Not only in the Bible, but in the Tao Te Ching, he who does not seek the credit can accomplish more. He can do quite miraculous things, if he is adept; such as write out all the secrets of success in five thousand Chinese characters, and let another man sign it.

It is a brilliant tactic, if you think of it, and makes a brilliant strategy, if you stay the course. By avoiding the applause, we do not excite envy, or mark out an existential position that the Devil’s henchmen are bound to oppose. Our clever tricks, on behalf of goodness, are likelier to come off. The chiefmost trick is when they are not tricks.

And if no one is watching, who is not supernatural, it is not even necessary to disguise one’s virtue. We can rely on it to stay invisible. For sometimes, in the days when I was “following the politics,” I would notice a politician trying to do some good thing, but having to mask it as a bad thing, in order to get it through. He gets the applause, but for the wrong reason. This is because the public usually prefer the wrong thing. They are all descended from Adam, after all.

Doing good, secretly, would seem to be indicated. Or doing it publicly is fine, too: but only if you are prepared to accept the consequences.

A backward glance

One cannot retrieve people from the dead: not family, not lovers, not friends. This will not come as news to most of my gentle readers, though some (me, for instance) may be infected with romanticism. The Greek myths and legends are ruthless with people like us. It is why I respect them. For centuries before the Judæo-Christian traditions both conquered and melded with theirs, they were the West’s torchbearers of truth. They told us of the impossibilities, and they prepared us for irretrievable death. They could not tell us of the conquest of Death by Love, because they could not know it yet; but they did know what it was not. They — the Greeks with their legends — were not just pessimistic. They were heroic pessimists.

Orpheus descends into Hades to retrieve his bride, Eurydice. In the account we read in Virgil’s Georgics, the point of the tale is already slightly smoothed, blunted. Orpheus has made the mistake of looking back on her countenance, when he is almost home. He has emerged in the sun, but she is still in the shadows. As he looks back, she recedes, disappears; she is now lost forever. In modern “education” we used to weep for the tragedy. He almost succeeded. It is a tragedy, strictly in the Roman pagan sense.

But it was a tragedy in the Greek sense, first. If we go instead to Plato, and listen to the aristocratic Phaedrus in the Symposium, we learn that Orpheus was thoroughly in the wrong, in his attempt to retrieve Eurydice. He was bound to be punished. His mistake was not a technicality. His living descent into Hades was a challenge not only to the gods, but to nature, and to the truth of things. His love for Eurydice, so affecting in his mournful dirges — moving everyone to tears — was not true love. A coward, he would not die for it.

Hades has presented him with a wraith, in Eurydice’s outward form. Inevitably, this illusion would dissolve in the sunlight. And the fate of Orpheus was now set — the fate of an eloquent softie, who loves an imaginary woman — a woman he had created from the start. He will die at the hands of the real ones he rejected. He will be torn apart by the Maenads, as by wild beasts. His lyre will be destroyed. This is the fate of our shallow romantic star; the pretty boy whose lyre and whose voice had once been an enchantment.

Boethius deals with that backward gaze, in the Consolations of Philosophy. We who seek to lead into the light of the upper day — we triumphalist philosophers — are bound to look back into the Tartarean cave. And when we do, the clarity of our “vision” will be obscured; then ruined, totally. To guide we must be guided; or all will be lost.

Rilke, the “German Orpheus,” in writing his “mystical” Sonnets to Orpheus — as a grave-marker to a beautiful young girl — tries, I think, to recover the romance from Plato’s wonderful wreckage. Can poetry be divine?

Yes, he seems to answer, yet he cannot escape the No. Robert Musil somewhere tears Rilke apart, for his very accomplishment: an achieved perfection, that nothing underlies. Rilke is a magnificent modern (“the Saint Francis of the will to power,” another of my heroes called him). He creates the fabulous appearance of a “there” where there is no there. (I love Rilke, incidentally.)

We use Greek myths to escape from Christian reality. The Germans have been doing it since Goethe and Hölderlin; and yet, to my mind at least, without a final conviction. Goethe went Apollonian, Hölderlin went mad. Rilke brilliantly hovers. For when we look back upon the Greek imagination, we should see something that oddly anticipates the revelation to come, in which “true love” does, actually, triumph over death.

The Greeks said everything that could be said, short of this paradoxical revelation; Saint Paul brought them the key to it.

Repeat after me

Here is a fun fact for gentle reader. Without “fossil fuels,” Canada would be uninhabitable.

This is not a “rhetorical” assertion. The human body cannot endure, below a certain temperature. It varies between individuals, but when it stays below freezing for an extended period, the depopulation becomes universal. True, winter coats can help to delay the inevitable.

And true, our Indians and Eskimos could live here, in very small numbers, with wood fires and other technology of that sort; and bully for them. But thanks to coal, oil, and natural gas, there are probably more of them today than when the white man (boo! boo!) arrived. You see, even in Iqaluit they are now living in heated buildings.

Well, I am on record speculating that God put the polar bears here for a reason: to warn migrants off. And then he gave us Justin Trudeau, in case anyone hadn’t got the message yet.

But He also put extraordinary quantities of “fossil fuels” under the ground, in case we insisted. And we could all pray, that Justin Trudeau’s hair will fall out. When he looks in the mirror, his narcissism will take such a hit, that he will retire from politics and go into hiding. (I owe this suggestion to a gentleman from Nebraska.)

My Chief Texas Correspondent, who likes Canada for some perverse reason, quotes a piece by David Yager that he found somewhere:

“In the past twenty years, millions of Canadians have chosen to mentally leave Canada and relocate their minds to a fantasy northern country that can somehow wrestle the global climate change monster to the ground singlehandedly. This will be accomplished by a genius combination of virtue signalling, carbon taxes, renewable energy subsidies, expanded government, important conferences, passionate retelling of the enormity of the challenge, and ensuring that pension funds, mutual funds, and universities don’t own shares in fossil fuel companies.”

Down Stateside, a new president is taking a deep draught of this “climate change” kool-aid. Granted, it is usually warmer there, and people may survive in states like Texas. But let me guess they won’t be driving electric cars.

For it is a little-known fact — among progressive environmentalists and urban-dwellers generally — that batteries do not generate power. They have to be loaded, as it were, and after huge government subsidies, the solar generation of power has yet to reach one percent. There is hydro, but we’ve dammed everything already, except our toilets. There is clean, improved nuclear, but progressives are too superstitious to touch it. The amount of nuclear waste is already far exceeded by the landfill of solar panels, which contain a witch’s brew of rare, poisonous chemicals, and need replacement every few years.

In order to make these “sparky cars” move, we must generate huge amounts of electric power — overwhelmingly from coal, oil, and natural gas. And this is less efficient than using “fossil fuels” directly. Net of transmission losses, we will have to burn a lot more.

High-tech windmills also increasingly scar the countryside, killing off our bats and birds at an unconscionable rate, while generating landfill on the solar scale for a power supply that falls to zero when the wind isn’t blowing.

Perhaps I have overused the term, “batshit insane.” I need to research some elegant variations.

And did you know, that carbon dioxide is an essential constituent of our planet’s atmosphere? It is at historical lows, if we consider the long history of this planet before yesterday: a fraction of what it was in prehistoric times when the world filled with life. The Amazon rainforests need it to grow. Ditto for other plant life. We hose it into greenhouses to make our tomatoes grow bigger and faster.

One could know these things; or think that soymilk and quinoa grow under the pavement out behind the brightly-lit Whole Foods supermarket, while we are guzzling our fair-trade Starbucks. Good luck to the people who are “following the science” to the latter conclusion, and have forgotten to factor in the petrochemical styrofoam and shrink-wrap.

The sad thing is that these virtue-signallers are numerous in cities, and most of them have the vote.

Chronicles of hirsute

“I don’t want a covid vaccine. I just want an effing haircut.”

The speaker is a dear man, once a tax accountant or something awful like that. Well, try to think of Saint Matthew. And like the Apostle, my correspondent has come around. Now, at the respectable age of eighty-seven, he hates the gummint as only the knowledgeable can hate it. Slightly deaf in his advanced maturity, he is blessed with half-Maltese descendants who speak very loud; and in the face of our seemingly perpetual, and mostly contrived, “crisis,” he observes that, “The Rosary is the only way out.”

For the irreligious, there are other, partial remedies. Telling the truth is highly offensive to the liberal, progressive types. It won’t do you any good to annoy them, but it is fun all the same, and sometimes they forget to punish you.

I’ve never met this correspondent, although he lives not far away. But as I have indicated, I love him dearly, and eagerly turn to his emails for each new instalment of diary and memoir. Indeed, I am blessed with other correspondents who “keep me in the loop” of their lives and adventures. I am a wretched correspondent in return, but a voracious reader, and quite touched when anyone trusts me. When quoting, of course, I do not give their names and addresses. But by now I’m sure the RCMP has files on all of us, which they share with the FBI.

Most are optimistic, in the sense of mildly indomitable; but also optimistic in the sense that they think the Batflu will end, whenupon things will return to “normal” (whatever that was).

A priest forwarded a link that alarmed him. It was from Israel, and explained that international travel will not be deemed safe until some time in 2024 — by when the whole world (including Antarctica) may have reached “herd immunity,” by multiple redundant tests. This, according to bureaucrats in Israel — who are not among the world’s most anal-retentive.

Sir Priest asks: “What is the point of living in a crumbling imperial civilization if the goodies are no longer within reach?”

My own sense is that the Batflu will “just go away,” like other plagues, at its leisure; probably quicker than the Spanish Flu, which was forty times worse. (Another year of it, slightly more or less; possibly less with the dangerous vaccines.) But the lockdowns and restrictions will not end. Our gummints love them so much, that with the help of the “health nazis” (no apology) they will extend them indefinitely, on one excuse or another. There is always a Doktor Fauci for hire.

Did you know he is paid better than the President of the United States? Though if you count perks, the President comes out ahead. For instance, Fauci still lacks a fleet of helicopters.

“Climate change,” too, while it is B.S., offers endless opportunities for the control freaks. And vast populations have proved they can “adapt.” Natted States Canada grow every day more like a less successful Red China. (Our “social credit” system is already coming in, courtesy Big Tech.)

So yes, no more goodies.

But, I assured him, the Catholic Church will survive — the way it does in China.