Essays in Idleness

DAVID WARREN

On an African note

“Your mission is not to save a dying world. No civilization has the promises of eternal life. Your mission is to live out with fidelity and without compromise the faith you received from Christ.” The quote is from Robert Cardinal Sarah, and jumped to my attention while examining a Twitter thread this morning.

The gentleman is sometimes mentioned as “papabile” (a candidate for pope). It is observed that he has all the qualifications. He is a human male, with Catholic beliefs. Apparently, this last is no longer insisted upon very strictly.  That Cardinal Sarah is a practitioner of the old liturgy (which is conventionally sung in Latin), and an advocate of traditional marriage, &c, makes him controversial. He is also opposed to miscellaneous violent, tyrannical creeds, thus making him unpopular among the Woke.

A product of rural French Guinea, the son of Christian converts from animism, Cardinal Sarah enjoyed a remarkable education as a Catholic seminarian within “third world” institutions constantly threatened or being terminated by Marxist anti-colonialists; ending more peacefully in Rome after a year in Jerusalem, where I think I may have caught a glimpse of him in 1971. In the field, as priest, he earned his way onto Sékou Touré’s death list (an African dictator who was once the embodiment of revolutionary coolness), but miraculously outlived him. He is old now, has survived a prostate operation, and been retired by Pope Francis. Still, he is lively.

His “African” qualities appeal to me. These are evident in many of his common-sensical rejections of the fashionable nostrums that the modern West tries to impose on African countries, by making them conditions of aid programs. The African response is, marvellously, not to engage in convoluted ideological resistance to them. It is rather to call them “stupid.” By this means i.e. abortion and homosexuality are simply dismissed.

This is what peasant Africans have in common with middle Americans and the European working class. They are out of tune with the bureaucratic chorus of progressive, Western elites. Old-fashioned Catholicism and native African conservative values overlap. They are approximately the same in outlook, to an apex in God. These are the principles of civilizational order recognized by all known religions (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindoo, &c). The human animal was wired for them, “from the beginning.”

It is because the Church gives the highest “liturgical” expression to the poetry of this order, that Christianity has spread “like wildfire” across the African continent — within memorable time. It would do so here, once again, given the freedom. For it once did, right across Europe, then America.

(One thinks of the freedom of the Gregorian reform.)

Cardinal Sarah: “There reappears a new struggle between priesthood and empire. But the empire is now the relativist, hedonistic, and consumerist culture that has infiltrated everywhere. It is time to reject this, because it is irreconcilable with the Gospel.”

Into the blackness

A gentleman who signs himself “Elvin” writes this morning, offering to disclose the security vulnerabilities of my Essays in Idleness website. He would, however, first like to know what we would pay, for such a generous service.

I may be misgendering Elvin. She does not reveal her favourite pronouns. Perhaps I should imagine her as a powerful, big-shouldered aquatic maiden, dripping with Olympic medals. Or as an adept percussionist in John Coltrane’s jazz quartet, in which case he would be a dead non-white male. Which, or whoever it is, I did not appreciate the menacing tone, and have resolved to ignore the warning.

For this morning is Black Friday, the originally American heathen celebration, honouring everything omitted from Thanksgiving on the day before — starting with coarse vulgar greed, but including all of its relatives. It is a day when the dignity of modern life is shown not to exist; when God has officially expired.

In the spirit of Black Friday, let me darkly ask, as I do once in every year, for donations to my pathetic blog. My pitch is concealed behind the Donation? button, top right. I can tender only one bright, breathless new encouragement:

Think what you will save, if I die before you do!

Mary, Mary

From Calais to Leith is a five day journey, by sailboat, I am given to understand. I think of Mary Stewart — Mary, Queen of Scots — who made this passage at the age of eighteen. She was assisted by sailor-courtiers, however, and did not have to handle the sheets and anchor by herself.

The voyage was comparatively shorter, and thus technically less impressive, than that of Laura Dekker, who, some centuries later, circumnavigated the globe, solo, at the age of sixteen. But Miss Dekker, as she then was, had not been Queen of France, as the “Miss Stewart” had been, at that tender age. And the Stewart girl was already a widow, through no fault of her own. I would give her extra marks for seamanship, given this handicap.

Scottish-born Mary was already Queen of that northern realm. This was because her brothers and father (James V) had all, as we say, suddenly “passed on” — perished — leaving the then six-day-old Princess Mary as their sole heir. The Scotch Reformation was coming, and while Protestants have associated our Mary with distasteful schemes, I don’t think even John Knox accused her of plotting murders in her cradle. Still, he was among the many things that made Scotland inhospitable for Mary’s return. (I’m sure the reader will find this matter mentioned in the Wicked Paedia.)

I was instead idly reading Mary Stewart’s beautiful farewell to France, written on shipboard in August, 1561. (Some Puritans doubt her authorship, of course; but the young lady was quite cultivated.) She wrote:

Adieu, France! adieu, mes beaux jours!
La nef qui disjoint nos amours
N’a cy de moi que la moitié;
Une part te reste, elle est tienne.
Je la fie à ton amitié
Pour que de l’autre il te souvienne …

Dreaming of counterfactuals, as I often do. Mary Tudor was the last legitimate Tudor monarch of England. She was called “The Bloody” by heretical historians (because she sent a few hundred heretics to the flames). Alas, she died childless. This was a pity, for she was an excellent queen, who should have been installed earlier, instead of her silly half-brother, the Prottie “Edward VI.”

Then, she should have been followed by Mary Stewart, rather than by the unqualified Elizabeth, daughter of one of the not-yet-beheaded floozies of King Henry VIII. For the House of Stewart and the House of Tudor were already linked; it shouldn’t have been a problem, as it wasn’t for James VI and I, Mary Stewart’s son.

England, the gentle reader will recall, was Catholic, before the sex-addicted Henry Tudor messed up. It should have remained sublimely Catholic.

Bluster signalling

The difference between bluster and a lie has been confused by political commentators, including, I think, most of those on the Left.  Yet the distinction itself will require bluster; it does not have the neat surgical or street-knife precision that lies have always had. For a lie can be eliminated with a single sharp incision. That is what makes laws and lawsuits possible, in our constitutional, legalistic world. What cannot be exposed and removed, is therefore not entirely a lie, and only in a tyranny are non-lies “actionable.”

Bluster is a rhetorical device that is employed quite universally. For the Left employs bluster, too. (But humourlessly.) And right-wing people — God forgive them — also lie sometimes.

Hockey players (on both left-wing and right-wing) also behave deceitfully. In their case, the device is not rhetorical. A hockey player will, for instance, fake left and shoot right, among several other tricks.

As a scarcely competent cricket batsman, once upon a time, I was intent on distinguishing googlies from chinamen. (Surely these are explained on the Internet somewhere.) As a spin bowler, my one skill was that no one could guess which side my deliveries might break upon. I, myself, could never guess.

Likewise, animals use tricks, playfully; or less playfully, with the intention of using each other’s bodies, for food. However, they don’t use words, any more than the hockey players. I mention this to establish that words are just a frill to a lie. They are — to bluster scientifically — a recent evolutionary development (assisted, no doubt, by the intervention of Satan).

Animals also bluster, as one may quickly learn from hanging out with them. Even fruitflies seem equipped to fool us. It is, almost invariably, a defensive posture, to avoid being sprayed, or swatted; whereas humans have the wit to use bluster on offence.

Take Trump, for instance. From the bad habit of attending politics, I have noticed this character. He can be very charming; or not. He can be exceedingly clever; or not. He can be unusually lucky; or not. Those who would characterize themselves, as “Democrats,” do not understand, let alone tolerate, Trump, because they have become obsessed with his (merely verbal) manner of play.

Perhaps he is not too fat, nor too old, to become a spin bowler. He can make all the moves. He tempts batsmen to swing at where the ball isn’t; he tempts them to mistake where the play is. Trump is most adept at government policy, in which he was more successful than any American president since Reagan. But remember, Reagan was also full of bluster, enough to drive his enemies wild. I get bored, rolling off Trump’s actual achievements. He seldom lies, because he does not have to; bluster will normally see him through.

And it is because they can’t distinguish bluster from a lie, that his rivals tend to be defenceless against him. They sue him frequently, but pointlessly. On the other hand, Biden and company tell lies because they haven’t another practical choice: the truth just demolishes them. This, because they have made the humourless mistake, of taking “democracy” seriously, and worse, “human rights.”

The sale of souls

A certain Douglas — may he rest in peace — was a frequently welcome visitor at the Idler table on our Thursday nights, back in the day. On the other occasions, he might be the cause of “an incident” — owing, perhaps, to his over-consumption of fine French wines. I well remember an incident that followed one of his misunderstandings, when he believed that Gerald, a learned companion, had called him “a Communist” to his face.

Gerald had not, however. Had Douglas’s hearing improved, he would have discerned that Gerald had accused him of being “an Economist” — a more reasonable charge, especially as Douglas had just defended some imposition of the free market. The misunderstanding was then enhanced when the table agreed that “a Communist” and “an Economist” amounted to much the same thing. Both were in need of suppression.

We did not like table-clearing brawls at the Idler (the defunct pub, also of that name), and so were not phanatic in opposition to error. We were, however, opposed to enduring Douglas on a rant, and this was one of those occasions when gentle irony would prove inadequate. Further controversy arose when another of our drinkers began to sing the Internationale, mockingly, in French. One thing leads to another.

Jovan-Marya Weismiller (T.O.Carm.), who styles himself “the Old Curmudgeon,” reminded me of Gerald’s point in his blog, yesterday. This sage of South East Nebraska cited a report on the relentless growth of whisky production on the island of Islay, by Scotland. Islay now has not only Laphroaig and Lagavulin (both owned by giant liquor conglomerates), but some nine industrial distilleries, and there are applications to install a few more. But the island is small, and the poor, long-settled population, which once developed these splendid whiskies as an expression of their Caledonian genius, could be driven from their homes, as their ancestors were by the sheep clearances of the old days. And this, just so that the outer world may tipple, now that it has acquired the taste. Islay is being built over with dark satanic mills.

The former inhabitants may also be made immensely wealthy, with all the moral corruption that must follow from that. And worst, the peace of their beatific inner world will be sacrificed — torn up, no doubt by deafening mechanical processes, together with the rich, peaty soil.

It is an acute example of the way modernity supplants quality with quantity. It is a terrible, viciously insensitive, abuse of arithmetic. To “an Economist,” or course, the quality of Scotch whisky is actually preserved. For he will also quantize everything that is lost. (I continue to oppose the physicians of quanta!)

The Old Curmudgeon describes himself as “just your average reactionary, anti-communist, anti-socialist, anti-fascist, anti-capitalist, distributist, monarchist, integrist, Traditional Catholic.” He is thus among the few who can be trusted.

Final sale

Among the few attractions of the Parkdale neighbourhood, over the past century or so, has been a large art store. I could spend at least as much time in such an art store, if I had the choice, for since childhood I have been acquiring art materials; and while there is a proverb in effect, that one cannot become a great artist by buying a lot of art supplies, I’ve been out to prove this proverb wrong.

While riding a trolley east along Queen Street (I am a monarchist, still) I realized, yesterday, to my horror, that Curry’s Art Store had “packed it in.” This was especially disappointing, as the Curry’s in question, which had become their central franchise, was the product of several mergers or other capitalist condensations. The store was once, under the management of generations of independent artists, perhaps the largest art store in the region; and since the region contains the conurbation of Toronto, with its five or ten million souls, it was fairly busy. Indeed, I was disappointed when the (obsequiously commercial) Messrs Curry took it over, several years ago, for I anticipated the end.

I could go on tediously about how Batflu restrictions had killed the store. They certainly made fetching art supplies from independent dealers a less plausible proposition. But really there are deeper reasons.

The nature of art, and its material fabric, has radically changed from the tradition that began in the caves of Lascaux, or earlier. The technology has been transformed. Apparently, no one paints any more (or sculpts, &c), just as no one writes letters. They do their scribbling on computer tablets, and ping their creations about, electronically. Any materials discovered still to be required may be ordered from Amazon.

The clever modern artist has no need for talent or skill.

Most Parkdale shops are currently being replaced by marijuana dispensaries. But I think our former art store is too big a corpse for this purpose. It will have to be subdivided into various, smaller, marijuana dispensaries, and perhaps a sex-change clinic.

Good work, Yankees

I do not often praise elections, and tend not to delight in the results of them, but last night’s “Midterm” in the United States was unusually satisfying. As usual in America, there were (except for a few freakish “independents”) only two contesting parties. Neither party won, by media or any other standards; neither party fulfilled their most modest expectations; and verily, neither can claim a mandate. Neither could win even a technical victory, by the time of writing. It was like an interminable baseball match, gone into extra innings.

The politicians in Canada long ago ruined our preferable ancient electoral system, in which the voter was permitted to formally return his ballot, thus indicating “none of the above.” If this was chosen by the plurality, the election was thrown out, and a by-election called from which all of the original candidates were disqualified. In principle, we could continue rejecting all candidates for the whole term of the Dominion, Provincial, or Municipal assembly in question, though in practice no electorate was ever clever enough to do this. As I say, self-serving politicians, of all parties, removed this constitutional gem before it could be used.

Americans have not benefitted from a British system of government, for the last quarter millennium or so, but I see they still retain some instincts. Rather than have a “democracy” (government by sleazy politicians), they established a “republic” (government by miscellaneous madmen), but this reduced to the same thing. Mr Donald Trump should be praised for jeopardizing it. When his successor claimed that Trump and the party he previously controlled were a threat to democracy, I think he was giving us false hope. (Trump may go down in the record as the last partially honest man to occupy the imperial office.)

Monarchy is not on the ballot. It shouldn’t be, however, for there’s a chance it might not win.

Compressor technology

“Imagine you woke up after the 2024 U.S. presidential election and found that Donald Trump had been re-elected and chose Rudy Giuliani for attorney general, Michael Flynn for defence secretary, Steve Bannon for commerce secretary, evangelical leader James Dobson for education secretary, Proud Boys former leader Enrique Tarrio for homeland security head, and Marjorie Taylor Greene for the White House spokeswoman,” … &c.

Yes, this would cheer me up.

It was how the (risibly sub-literate) Thomas Friedman greeted the victory of Bibi Netanyahu in the New York Times. Israel supplied Friedman’s latest threat to democracy; because the more conservative (and possibly saner) faction had won an election there. I had not been exposed to “Mr Flatworld” for some time. Alas, my earnest attempts to censor my own Internet feed have proven unsuccessful. An exuberant mess of garbage continues to seethe through.

While I do not “support” any politician, my dislike of the species (and their servants, in journalism) is neither equal, nor constant. The more a politician is despised by the Left, and the pompous thespians of smugness, the more easily I can endure him. My suspicious nature does not cease to be watchful, however. For what is this gentleman (or God help us, lady) doing in politics? Mr Trump and Mr Netanyahu can blame only themselves, for descending into such a trade.

Nothing good is likely to come of their best efforts. They only inspire their enemies, to opposite policies, unambiguously destructive of public order and security. The odd “great man” is invariably succeeded by a Biden.

On the eve of yet another cataclysmic election, in which the inhabitants of the United States will admit the disastrous mistakes they made in the last one, the media are distended with vacuous rhetoric. This is the compressor technology of our (false, imaginary) collective soul; and like every other form of technology, it exists for a purpose, and that purpose is bad.

Thomas Aquinas was right. Evil is rooted in nothingness.

The sun & the mind

During my minor ischaemic breaks from productivity, I have made it my habit not to “follow the science.” Of course, in this ischaemic condition, which I unscientifically call a “mini-stroke,” I cannot actually follow anything; and my perpetual dizziness limits rambling; but I have certain estimable advantages. What better time to observe the properties of mind and body, than when both are in process of slipping away? For once they have slipped, they will be in their most permanent condition, and static from the worldly point-of-view. Whereas, prior to this, they are restless and unpredictable.

Indeed, I would recommend my technique for time passage to Mr John Fetterman, as a better method of rehabilitation than by running for the U.S. Senate. For one is slightly less likely to make a fool of himself on national television, when one never appears on it. However, those who literally “follow the science” also obtain a reputation for foolishness; so as Voltaire would say, each to his own garden.

The sciences I don’t follow are the study of mind and, broadly, the weather. This is because neither of them can be shown to exist. Instead we have, as substitutes, brain surgery, and the collection of climate statistics.

This latter may seem a plausible subject for inquiry, until my reader notices that it excludes serious consideration of the sun. Various technocratic devices are proposed against the accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere, and fertilizers in the soil. Gigantic, bird-slaughtering fans are erected in formerly attractive places. But the sun is ignored, except by those who think they can impound its mysterious photonic energies, by vast, quaintly temporary, solar panels.

We do not look directly at the sun, from fear of being blinded. We turn away from it into the dark, or seek enlightenment over our shoulder. We might call this the speleology of Plato, although, I am told, this is also not a science. (Hardly anything is.)

Brain surgery is, today, a technocratic art (as opposed to a -logy), which flourishes even in the absence of mind. The mechanics of brain operation is studied with indifference to causation. That aspect of life is inaccessible, except to the blinking eye of faith. But if one could assemble precise inorganic copies of every particle that is needed to make up a human brain, or even less ambitiously that of a salamander, it almost certainly wouldn’t work — even if you powered it with wind and solar.

More downsizing

The reader with an eye on the Catholic Thing, this morning, will have learnt from Mr Randall Smith how to distinguish the mediaeval reductio, from the contemporary reduction. The former is, from its Latin etymology, a “leading back” to sources and causes; the latter is instead a simplification, or reduction in size and complexity.

He (the reader) will have learnt from another Catholic website, or from life, the importance of his Latin lessons, when he was (or is) preparing himself for the Catholic experience. For as a Catholic, today, he will be increasingly on his own; and surrounded by a culture that is radically in opposition.

For philosophy, as well as religion, speaks Latin, albeit philosophy in translation from Greek. It is the wonderfully quick and well-steered getaway vehicle for our reductio.

My own current thoughts have been rather on downsizing, reduction, “less is more,” &c, in our modern sense. We should be wary of bigness, that is not of God. My own practice is to note this quality, “bigness,” but to run from it rather than approach it and be squashed. For only what is of God will not squash you.

Created nature (and all of it was created by Him) must be smaller than He by comparison, no matter how large it may be in relation to us. I refer only to the quality of sizeness; of course, the quantity cannot be measured. We should never be trying to make the big bigger, when it is not of God. Rather, in our reductio, we should follow it back, for all things finally originate in God. This is the heroic backwardness I have been advocating in these essays; the unity of a worldview that leads reliably from the small and smaller, to the large. We should not be distracted on our journey by objects which are big and empty, like politics or empires. We shouldn’t be satisfied by imitations.

We should ourselves be imitators, of Christ. For that is the one sure way, the positive reductio, by which our lives can make sense. Getting rid of the trash that we have assembled around us is merely the necessary housekeeping.

Downsizing, cont.

The Russian forces are big, but this does not mean they cannot be defeated. Nuclear weapons and the inheritance of socialist bureaucracy gives them the formidable power of intimidation, but it is wrong to fear them because they bring death. Russian empires have always brought death, and have prevailed among those who fear them, but as the new nation of Ukraine has discovered, this is only a conceit. The empire, like all other empires, will contract, from the moment the proper contempt is shown to it. As the contempt “evolves,” more and more of it disappears. The task of the free citizen is to effect this disappearance.

Lest it be thought I am showing my prejudice against the Russian, exclusively, let me add that there are many more empires I would like to make extinct. Largeness, in human affairs, is itself an evil. Every large secular organization that I have encountered, over almost seventy years, is by its nature monstrous, chaotic, and obscene.

Religious organizations have easily relaxed into poisonous secularity. It is a particular affliction of modernity, though the threat often appeared in previous ages. It is the essence of tyranny. As organizations, including the “capitalist” ones, become bigger, they embrace evil. Who can stop them?

Leviathan — he makes himself large. We make ourselves large to resist him. It is our counter-productive instinct. The ancient Babylonians conceived of the cosmic defeat of the great monster whose slain body became heavens and earth. Judaeo-Christian mythology advanced on this, towards the still, small voice. For what is gigantic, and not of God, is of the other persuasion, necessarily.

This is because there are two, and only two, cosmic forces out there: the smaller and the larger, as it were.

Downsizing Satan

Critics of these belligerent and pugnaciously blameless, idle essays, have warned me, that in my low enthusiasm for the war in Ukraine, I stand to lose my carefully cultivated, decades-long reputation as a war-monger. And, not just for war in the abstract, as one of them argues. For if I won’t support a battle against Russia, what country would I go to war with? In the long view of history, would I have given a pass even to the Infidel Turk? Will I make a stand when we are invaded by Martians?

Well, I do like to pick my wars wisely. Some aren’t worth winning, and some (a smaller number) may not be worth even delivering a meaningless threat.

Was reading last evening, Sigurd the Dragon Slayer, by La Motte Fouqué — the glorious Prussian war-monger. I thought it might lift my spirits from this wan recumbent posture. Heinrich Heine wrote of Sigurd that he is “as strong as the rocks of Norway and as impetuous as the ocean that dashes upon them, he is as brave as a hundred lions, and has as much sense as two donkeys.”

Yes, there are great beauties in Fouqué’s little tales, and great humour though none of it is intended. One enjoys him as one enjoys an ice-cold shower. It was Chesterton, I believe, who pointed long before the Second World War, to the earlier modern Prussians as the proto-Nazis. As I recall, he didn’t even use the clinching argument, that they were Protestants. He did mention their Puritanical disposition, however. And like Puritans, everywhere, they loved to dress very smartly in uniform, beat drums and so forth. With some imagination, you might convince yourself to march along.

But also with Chesterton, I favour defensive wars, and discountenance the offensive variety. Wars of conquest do not appeal to me at all, and never did. You must fight, and die, for love of what is behind you. Hatred, even of Prussians, will not do as an excuse.

I thought my “soft power” views on Ukraine’s current predicament would be apparent. By all means, they should blow the Russkies away.

Thanksgiving in Canada

Thanks are usually given for something positive, not something negative, like not being a toad, or not being a woman. This is because we live within limited perspectives. We cannot really know how joyful and satisfying it might be, to hop with the Bufonidae, especially the female ones, covered with gorgeous, wart-like bumps above their paratoid glands, secreting neurotoxins. Indeed, no one could want to eat us, were we a toad.

But the toads must have their own prayers of thanksgiving, that we know nothing of, and having avoided the scandal of humanity, must pray with every heartbeat. It is a permanent thanksgiving for them. So, I came to think long ago, through all nature. The animals are joyful from the moment of their creation, to the moment of their cessation, in the wild. Grim humans assume that they feel pain and other inconveniences as we do. But I had it on authority of my balconata finches (who did not return after works on my building) that life is one long continuous feast and adventure.

In particular, they do not experience fear as we do. A fright to them is a delicious thrill, as it can be sometimes to us watching movies. Death, to them, is incomprehensible. For all we know, they are immortal by way of “metempsychosis.” Their souls transmigrate.

They will be reborn as other finches, or perhaps may slightly “evolve.” For as nature abhors a vacuum, so too does the spirit of life refuse the blankness of extermination. It pops up somewhere else.

No animal is capable of despair, I think. Humans alone are “deep” enough to approach the proximity of Hell, in their free will. And yet we need not go there; it is up to us.