“This week has been fantastic for German public diplomacy. All that was missing was Merkel making refugee children cry,” wrote some journalist quoted in this morning’s BBC.

Of course, the remark was facetious. The German chancelloress had been confronted in a public forum (and thus on camera) with one Palestinian girl (university aged) whose refugee-claimant family could have been evicted from Germany (but weren’t). Had they been, they could have wound up in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon (or not). But Germany can’t take everyone in, Merkel explained. The girl cried. Merkel went over to comfort her, and said politics is tough sometimes.

The hashtag #Merkelstreichelt is now all over Germany. It means “Merkel strokes.” She is blazoned as a heartless hypocrite.

Public business is now done this way in “democracy,” thanks to media that can capture emotional moments, usually posed and contrived. A successful politician, such as Barack Obama, exploits them with genius, and a cool confidence that the public has a very low attention span. They will only remember emotional moments. Angela Merkel herself usually does a better job, but nothing much can be done about an ambush. She did her best to diffuse it. She’s a pro: I’m sure she knew exactly what the game was; that she’d been set up. From working in the media, I have seen such set-ups many times: all the cameras flashing on cue. Tricks of editing and camera angle are used to enhance the “teachable moment”; to condense the narrative into a hard rock of emotion, aimed directly at the boogeyperson’s head. For the media people are pros, too. They know how to adjust the “optics.” Pretty young woman crying: that will sway everyone except the tiny minority who know something about the subject. And they are now tarred with the same brush.

Huge changes in public life can be effected with big money, careful organization, and ruthless attention to “optics.” The genius of the “gay marriage” campaign in Ireland, for instance, was to recruit conventionally good-looking young gay “couples,” train them to exude charm and wholesomeness, and send them around to knock on Irish doors. Their job was to be sympathetic and appealing, to present themselves as attractive, and “normal” — and persecuted, “for no reason at all.” Every door in Ireland was the target. Millions and millions were raised to support the campaign, mostly from gay lobbies in America. They would put their prettiest faces forward, while demonizing their awkward and underfunded opponents with guilt by many associations. The Church, for instance, was against them. (In fact, many Church liberals were not.) Sexually deviant priests and nuns were — thanks also to tireless media efforts — now part of Irish legend and lore. The other side would be made to appear the face of unnatural sexual attraction.

And of course it worked, among Irish people who are, by now, like the great majority in every Western country, untethered from their moral moorings. They do not think, they feel. Here was a campaign, brilliantly conceived, to manipulate their feelings.


Returning, now, to our “Benedict options” (see last few Idleposts), the question arises, how to escape from the mad house that Western society has become? How, ideally, to escape with our children — who are subjected to emotional manipulation, assisted by high “production values,” for hours every day; and then to the peer pressure that follows, as the tsunami follows the earthquake. How, for instance, to be cured of the “consumerism” that enables this manipulation, by putting its tools into every young hand, and every old hand, too. How, in this mad house, to dissever not only them, but ourselves, from the tyranny of “trending”?

You cannot tell people to throw their hand-held devices away, with any hope of obedience. You cannot, for instance, reason that doing so will save them both time and money, on an ever-increasing scale. They are perfectly addicted, and too, perfectly accustomed to a world where — to use one little example I noticed recently — a simple meeting of four people for a beer “after work” can be rescheduled six or seven times, so in the end more time was spent negotiating the hour, date, and the venue, than drinking. (At no point did it occur to anyone but me, the guy not carrying an iPhone, that this was farcical. Instead I was criticized for not being equipped.)

Anthrax, botulinum, cyanide, ricin — these substances are not evil in themselves. It depends what they are used for, and the emotional argument can be made that instant communication has many good uses. All day I hear the ambulance and fire sirens, dispatched thanks to the miracle of modern technology. Let’s find someone whose life was saved, and put him on camera. I know old people who carry their little bleepers about, in anticipation of their next heart attacks. Including one who hits it whenever he feels stress. It is a great relief to him, living as he does, like so many old people today — alone.

Once you have the thing, you are going to use it. Not, despite the evidence of my ears, only to call ambulances, but to follow breaking news on CNN; or at home there’s a wide-screen to call up movies. People in this city buy powered lawnmowers to cut 100 square feet of lawn grass; it would have been quicker with scissors. … Well, I’m getting carried away.

And the truth is I own this laptop myself, and publish this Idleblog which tries to present itself as if it were on paper. Without it, I would have been successfully silenced by my media masters. I think certain “modern ironies” need to be exploited — but they are dangerous, and once you are in, it gets harder and harder to draw any line. Twitter I tried for three months; I found it was pure poison and got out. But it is hard to keep one’s chastity in a media whore house, let alone one’s mind in the mad house of our times.


The serious Catholic or other Christian, or for that matter the serious (i.e. “orthodox”) Jew, from his first perception that there is a God, and that God is there, has developed a notion of “authority.” For that matter, the babe first encounters this in his mother, though in time it may fade away. There is an order to the world, and to those in whom the first spark of faith has caught, and ignited, that order does not depend on us; it cannot be changed by our own will. Apparent randomness or chance may be as it appears, but will yield to a more thorough understanding. The very fact that heads and tails come out equally, suggests an order in which they are bound so to do. An order is an order is an order: the world is not a collocation of meaningless atoms, but a hierarchy of being and events — there is, as Mother Teresa said, life in it. Some things are more important than others, and as one reaches up the hierarchy towards God, the significance — meaning — in our lives increases. Though God we cannot see; only shadows and reflections.

We are guided — upwards, as it were — by authority. Men who are wise have this quality we seek; we select them with our trust. Their authority is grasped with the growth of our own understanding. One who paints, comes to learn that there are fine painters; one who thinks comes to learn that there are deep thinkers. For that matter (as I discovered when a child), one who plays cricket learns that there are great cricketers, from whom one may learn in the humility of attention. The teacher worth his hire is himself an exemplar of the discipline he expounds, and by humble attention one benefits from the authority, not only of the teacher but beyond him, of the greater masters on whom he draws. The acquirement of knowledge, as the allied acquirement of wisdom, is a profoundly undemocratic act.

Sanctity is taught, almost entirely by example, starting from a few simple rules. We have, I am convinced, different aptitudes for it, various strengths and weaknesses with which we were endowed — the strengths developed and the weaknesses repaired, or turned to our advantage. This is done by careful, humble mimesis, especially when young. Our own judgement, of what is and is not an authority, itself develops by mimetic means; and as we grow we learn whom to trust. For there are, below the saints, people who at least know that saints are possible.

Alternatively, our heads filled instead with self-esteem, and the Pavlovian slogans of “equality,” our capacities atrophy. We sink, by gravity, into the common mud, or to “the lowest common denominator” — and by statistical likelihood, we rest there.

We become, instead of free men, playthings of fate, and the man of power can lead us about by the hook of our vanity. Politics and business alike have come to depend on a form of “lifestyle advertising,” in which flattery is used to shape our behaviour in the interest of making a sale. His untutored emotions are the strings my which the human marionette is guided, in his wooden way: shown what to see, and how to respond to it; told when to laugh and cry.

All contemporary “progressive” efforts are directed to undermining any sense of authority, and therefore to “freeing” the subject from the cultivation of his own inchoate conscience — from the development of knowledge, and wisdom, on how things really are. The schools themselves are knowingly employed in this cause which I call “idiotization” — meaning it strictly as the etymology suggests: the atomization of the individual, the breaking of his bonds with true, demonstrable authority. He is taught not only to “question everything,” but never to wait for an answer; to think in slogans, and behave by rote.

The task before us is to undermine the underminers. It is to inculcate, by instruction and example, that sense of authority; to do everything in our power to light that light. And this task can begin anywhere at all, and be spread from topic to topic by analogy. It is, if you will, the task of “homeschooling” in this age of teaching by numbered batches: to show authority to the child, and to the child in ourselves. Learn to know who are your betters, and rise by emulation. Do not agree to membership in “the masses.”

I think this is, in quite practical terms, the most effective prophylactic against the authority of the Devil, operating upon the vanity within. For true authority has the power to smash that vanity.