Essays in Idleness

DAVID WARREN

A tale of two horrors

From New Age Rome, to New Age Paris; from the monkeys on the wall at Saint Peter’s, to the monkeys in the halls of Le Bourget, this week — what a parade of vanity!

Through those latter, Mother Nature was taking her stroll, with the world’s politicians and arrangers preening in her train. She is demanding sacrifices, as is her wont; and her hierophants were demanding countless billions of the taxpayers’ cash, and pledges of emission cuts, and generally that we stop breathing, in hope this will assuage her.

Children, likewise, will be sacrificed on the pyre of “global warming” under the population control programmes. (Or, “climate change” as it is now called, to cover all contingencies.) Conscience, too, must go up in the smoke, as the world leaders pledge also to renew their belief in numbers generated by the gnostic computer models — elaborate quantifications from unknown, and for the most part, unknowable facts. Including real whoppers, such as the average surface temperature of the planet at a point more than two hundred years ago — the imaginary benchmark — when we cannot reliably calculate this average even for the present.

And if we sacrifice enough, they think She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed will behave as Dame Kind, holding the rise of her Thermometer to only 2.0 degrees Centigrade, for the rest of this century. If She is not fully propitiated, however, She could shoot it up by 6.0 degrees!

The assembled leaders of 195 countries must all profess their faith in this risible junk science, or suffer the lunatic wrath.

We had “settled science” like this in ancient Rome — the spooky scientism that followed the decline of the older, pioneering, sceptical, Hellenistic schools of inquiry. In the attempt to express, with fanciful precision, the unknowables of cause and effect, we had the origins of astrology, and a hundred other trades, each founded upon “sciences” that were settled in public: legislated, enforced superstition, with omens read daily. Paradoxically, engineering and technology flourished, by the same spiritualization of nature. Meanwhile emperors and kings were deified, for men could now create new gods.

A thousand years passed (more than a thousand, from the dimming of the lights at Alexandria) until the true sceptics of the Middle Ages began to restore the hard principles of science — as a means to knowledge, not a means of control. And now, again, this is being lost, as our “scientists” have again become a hallowed caste of High Priests and Priestesses, whose whimsical prognostications determine the course of all public policy.

Which returns us to the Rome of our own generation, and the obscene spectacle to which I referred in my Thing column yesterday. (Here.) On the very day of the Feast of Our Immaculate Lady, the Mother of God was displaced by that gnostic Nature Mother, in a spectacle projected upon the façade of the first church of Christendom. And this after Catholics had been commanded by the bien-pensant inside to pay obeissance to the strange new gods: to make a shameful sacrifice of their faith and their intelligence, to the beat of the monkey drummers at “COP21.”

“The choice is clear,” as Barry Bafflegab loves to say. … It is between putting our faith in the Word of God, and putting it in the hands of miserable, deluded, vain little men.

There was never a conflict between the Church, and genuine scientific inquiry. There will always be a conflict between the worship of God, and the worship of “science” (which is the definition of scientism). The two Lords vie for the same souls, and for the world that only God created.

But in the battle with that devil, Christ will win.

Remember this, gentle reader I beg, through the Gaudete Mass of His Advent, tomorrow: that the high gnostic priests will die away, and Christ will reign triumphant.

On welcoming Muslims

The siren call of Radical Islam is more likely to be heard by Muslims than by, say, Christians or Jews. It will be even more audible to Islamic converts, or “reverts.” Pat Buchanan, always worth reading for a view dissenting from the political establishment he believes to have gone insane, says something like this in a column I just read. It is in a list with other points made, defending a certain Donald Trump’s proposal for a moratorium on Muslim immigration to the USA, while the political class sort out what they are doing. I think it is Buchanan’s most cogent point.

Trump I am happy enough to dismiss as a “fascist demagogue” — like all the previous U.S. presidents who declared or maintained such moratoria, to block one definable immigrant group or another. The United States would have ceased to be a Western country, generations ago, had these fascist demagogues not drawn a few lines.

Basic sovereignty confers this right on any national legislator. Trump’s proposal to “do something” about Muslim immigration, is thus hardly an innovation. Their failure to even consider such a measure is the single biggest reason “mainstream” political parties are losing their grip across Europe, too. I should think many of the people who declare Trump himself to be “a problem,” secretly exult in watching his rise. They want something done, and even if they don’t want Trump to do it, they enjoy his success in making elementary realities discussable again.

In fact, Trump is a typical liberal, and his moratorium a typical expression of asinine liberal thinking. That is to say: “Let us call a time out, while we find a way to fix this cock-up in our social engineering.” His views on everything are off the top of his head, but liberal premisses are the only ones he knows.

I think the chances he will become the next President are not high, but rising. He climbed another eight points after his moratorium suggestion. About ten more like that, and his bid is clinched.

Or put this another way. The “mainstream” politicians think the voters will swing back to them, when they realize how scary the “alternatives” are. One might describe this as the optimism of despair.

Or another. The liberal mind believes the present “Islamophobia” has been whipped up by demagogic politicians. The truth, as ever with the liberal mind, is the exact opposite. Demagogic politicians are, now as ever, exploiting what is already upwhipped. For after many tens of thousands of Islamic-themed terror incidents around the globe, Joe Public is not well disposed to Muslims, here or elsewhere. Verily, I would venture that in many places, even Muslims have become ill-disposed to Muslims.

The term, with the usual -phobia suffix, is misleading. I would go so far as to say that it is less fear, than loathing, and that it includes among many in Muslim countries a dangerously unpredictable self-loathing.

*

I have lectured my poor gentle reader before on the primary issue, which has never gone away, and is thus unlikely to go away in the foreseeable future. Read your Koran, and you will find that the claims made by Messrs Daesh and company, to “speak for Islam,” are not entirely unreasonable. This is why the term “moderate Muslim” might have some relevance.

The great majority of Muslims, like the great majority of Christians today, do not take their religion that seriously. They prefer it watered down, often to homaeopathic doses. And yet there will always be revivals and, contrary to the hopes of liberals, the “core teaching” of each religion remains, ever awaiting rediscovery.

At the Reformation, Christianity was not “reformed.” It was jarred and split, but then it reassembled. The Catholic teaching did not go away. With time, even the most radically schismatic sects returned to something like the Catholic teaching, or left Christianity altogether. By comparison, Islam was apparently shattered, when it came into collision with European modernity. But it has been reassembling, ever since.

The idea of spreading Islam through violence is not a deviation. Indeed, the founder of that religion preached violence against all “infidels,” and set a personal example in spreading Islam through Arabia, by the sword. His successors continued thus, spreading the new religion from Morocco to India. Later Caliphs have honoured this precedent through fourteen centuries. Islam is not and has never been a “religion of peace.” It is a religion of war, and peace through conquest. Liberals may deny that anything in history really happened, but this is what did.

They may on the contrary insist, like the delusional Barack Hussein Obama Soebarkah, that Christians were sometimes violent, too. Darn right, but if he ever gets around to consulting his New Testament, he will find that this is not doctrinal. A Christian could remain doctrinally sound, and go through his whole life without killing, or even promising to kill should the opportunity arise, a single person. He might even proselytize, without uttering mortal threats. So could a Jew, for that matter; a Hindu, Buddhist, or Confucian — so far as I can see from my modest forays into comparative religion. The criticism is Islam-specific.

Which leads to the third liberal argument: that we are prejudiced against Islam. This is quite true in my own case, and that of every other observant Christian. But we also observe the Christian distinction between sin and sinner.

*

Muslims, as all other humans, should be loved (which is not the same thing as “tolerated”). They should even be respected, as autonomous human beings, and left in peace if they do not threaten the peace. Those already in the West have rights, that must not be stripped without cause. To legislate retroactively is to behave like the Daesh. Christians must not go there. But if it was a mistake to let so many in, it does not follow that we must continue to do it.

Note moreover that I am not, as most pundits, trying to tell liberals and atheists what to do; or Muslims, for that matter. I think all these people should convert to Christianity, in its definitive, Catholic form. My current political thinking is directed to what Christians should do; or to what Christian governments might do, if we still had any. All others may go to Hell, if they so choose. If Jesus did not compel them to choose Heaven, how can I?

It is the religion, Islam, that we have always condemned, so fulsomely; not our Muslim brothers in the flesh. I have met many fine Muslims, especially in those countries where I lived or travelled among them. I have heard or read many noble attempts to interpret Islam in a Sufi, spiritual way. I have observed that, “We have a religion that is better than we are, while they are often better than their religion.” I have admired the many, extraordinary feats in science, philosophy, and the arts, done by great Muslims in centuries gone by. I have also noticed that these accomplishments were sooner or later disowned, within the civilization itself, as being in conflict with Islamic teaching.

We have seen this happen among Christians, too — bold acts of cultural self-immolation — when puritanical and iconoclastic factions have risen to power. The Catholic teaching has often been overthrown; sometimes restored; sometimes overthrown again. This tension between creative and destructive urges exists, likewise, in every other religious tradition. What makes Islam “special” among the world’s great religions is the puritanical and iconoclastic impulse, at its very core.

*

Now, the difficulty for immigration departments at the present time, when vast numbers of Muslims are pouring out of the Dar al-Islam, and into what was formerly Christendom — mostly because their own countries are dysfunctional, and the West is an accessible honey-pot — goes like this. We want Muslims to be free to come, but on the condition that they do not take their religion seriously, and that neither they nor their descendants, once arrived, will ever be tempted to do so.

But again, we are governed by a liberal mindset, both post-Christian and post-logical. It thinks such a commitment could be guaranteed, or anyway should be taken at face value, whether or not sincerely professed. It thinks religions are capable of changing, even retroactively. No genuinely Christian mind, or even a moderately intelligent one, could abide such nonsense; and the whole idea of a “moratorium” is wrong. The ban should not be temporary.

Permanent settlement should be denied, though “safe passage” should be regularly granted to those visiting, or passing through. Long residence should also be granted, for purposes such as trade. There are precedents for all these things, after all (on both the Christian and the Muslim sides), and courtesies to be restored.

However, we should never have dreamed of letting probable followers of Mohammad settle in any significant numbers within the West. It could never end well, especially in a time when our own Christian civilization is weak, and their religion will encounter little resistance from our defenceless chicks. One does not invite the cuckoo to leave eggs in one’s nest.

Note that this view implies no animus towards Muslims, whatever. The Christian opposition is to Islam itself. I repeat this because, simple as it should be to understand, it is not understood by the liberal mind which, thanks I suppose to original sin, is extremely murky. People are born in Muslim lands, and into Muslim families; this cannot reasonably be held against them. And most people go with the flow; we should all know that. Our task cannot be to convert them at gunpoint. It is instead to inspire in them, by the use of reason and example, the realization that Mother Mary points not to Mohammad as the embodied saviour of mankind — but to her Son. If that is called proselytizing then yes, we are guilty as charged. But trying to save people involves no necessary “hatred” towards them.

These most recent refugees have made a claim upon our charity, in present and not past circumstances, and I for one do not hesitate to recommend the use of irresistible military force, to secure their safe return to their homelands. Most, anyway, express a desire to go home, and insist that they cannot do so. Indeed the majority, who are single, young, able-bodied males, might wish to volunteer as soldiers to help liberate their respective homelands. They could be enjoined to do so. (Under competent Western officers, of course, and after thorough Western training, with pay.) I would imagine them especially eager to do this, after the alternatives were explained to them. Those being: to be returned to whichever country they have claimed to be from; or to live permanently confined under guard in a camp at an obscure location.

These “armies of the displaced” would also include Christians (and others) who had continued to live, from time long before, in the lands of the Islamic conquest — and whose ancestral properties have now been taken away. In their case, too, I think decency requires us to annihilate their murderous oppressors, with their young, single, able-bodied males leading the charge. By such means, their lands could be recovered; and some Christian witness remain, in what were once Christian heartlands.

We have, after all — supposing that “we” to be Christian — the sheer military power to correct much serious injustice. For instance, beyond replacing evil governments, or quasi-governments, we could establish that there will be no more dhimmitude in the East, for Christians or any others; just as the Royal Navy once established that there would be no more slave trade on the world’s high seas. They did not accomplish this good work by “moral suasion,” to be sure — that only works on men who are moral — but by decisive military action, in the spirit of our old Crusades. By all means, let us revive that spirit.

But we are not sufficiently Christian; just post-Christian nancies; and so we allow terrible injustice to be done to the world’s most defenceless folk. Rather we should be real Christians, and real men.

Mercy and charity alike demand, however, that we look to the safety of our own, first. And Christianity requires that we should do what we can to convert those not already Christian, while we have their attention in our refugee camps — and this not only for the safety of Christians, but for the immortal good of their own souls. If these converts will be endangered on their return, then we have an obligation to protect or shelter them.

Saint Francis of Assisi could tell you all this. Genuine love for one’s Muslim neighbour requires us to seek his conversion, not merely to prevent his wrongdoing. And then, should he sincerely choose to convert, to welcome him joyously into the common safety of our homes, our Christendom. For he will now be a refugee, truly.

The idea of hummingbirds

These Idleposts are rapidly descending into a dream journal, in which the dregs of night from one day become the fresh material for the morrow. Birding comes into this, too, and hummingbirds are among the littlest, so small that I haven’t actually seen one in waking life for several years now. But they are easily discouraged by our northern climate, and only three species — rumours of four — ever make it to the Greater Parkdale Area (and those among the plainest looking). Or rather, past the GPA into “cottage country,” farther north, for I’ve never seen even one in the city.

In my slumbers of the night before last, I had “awakened” to discover the High Doganate full of them. One had lodged in my back trouser pocket, and I was struggling to free, without harming him. More, I was panicked because, I recalled, it is illegal to keep hummingbirds as caged pets in Ontario. (“But who said they were caged, officer?”) Nanny State might suddenly break in and bust them all. Along with me, for all I could expect. Too, I feared that with so many hummingbirds humming about, the chance one might get out the hall door and be trapped in a stairwell concerned me deeply. They need feeding every few minutes, you know. Alas, the genuine bird-lover must be more laid back; but darn if I wasn’t totally out of wingless fruitflies.

Well, perhaps I should explain about those. Most hummingbirds love them, in the culinary way. But they are more trouble to raise, as pet food, than gentle reader might think. A small jar of banana-flavoured infant moosh from your nearest baby-food store can launch a fair colony. But when confined they suddenly start breeding wingless, and shrink in average size. Your hummingbirds will still take them, I allow. Released, they soon start sprouting wings again, and bulk up a bit. The hummingbirds like them better that way. (And they can’t just live on sugar, any more than we can.)

Most fruitfly-gobbling hummingbirds can eat hundreds of these even smaller critters every day. They may be little batteries of energy, but they (the hummingbirds) need frequently to recharge. That is why it is so odd that one species (I’ve forgotten which) follows a migration route from Central America to Florida that involves continuous flight over five hundred miles of the Gulf of Mexico. This is of course, like so many things that happen daily in nature, that are quite impossible, and no one, not even Alexander Skutch has figured how they do it — although he did observe them truly pigging out before they departed. (Give up, gentle reader: for doubled in weight, they then present an insuperable aerodynamic problem.)

Yes, nature is full of stuff like that. We might smoak the trick, in one case or another. But in the course of discovery we are apt also to find a hundred other gobsmacking tricks, within design complexities formidably layered. (Yes, you heard me right, gentle reader: I wrote “design.” But not, “intelligent design,” because the works of God are infinitely beyond mere smart.)

That Skutch I mentioned (1904–2004), my hero among ornithologists, though his style gets hippiesque at times, was a great hummingbird enthusiast, having a selection of many more species to watch in the obscure jungle valley that was his own habitat in Costa Rica for much of the twentieth century. In one of his works (alas misplaced years ago) he describes their conventions in choral song. Not only different species, but different tribes, had, to his direct observation (he had some musical training, too), “evolved” wonderful systems of plainsong and counterpoint. Skutch was a great chronicler of things done in nature, especially by birds, that confer no survival advantages, whatever. Indeed, many of their joyful little games are rather the opposite; but so much fun that the birds just wing it anyway. Humans, by comparison, are probably much more averse to risk.

Skutch described, from his tireless self-concealments in shore and forest “blinds,” shockingly unexpected examples of inter-species cooperation, to that survivalist end, also. He found birds looking out for other species’ predators, and sounding warnings when they appeared. (Themselves being at no risk from the predator in question.) He watched them combine in “multicultural” migratory groups, to benefit from each other’s sensory specializations. He saw them bring comfort and food to each other’s injured. Of course, some couldn’t be bothered to offer any help; but it’s the same with humans.

And sometimes they egg-sit each other’s nests; or bring food they don’t themselves eat to feed their neighbour’s young; or mind them while their mommies are out shopping. And rather more than that. Our mental picture of nature “red in tooth and claw” is highly selective. Most of what we find in nature, if we look intently, is cooperation. Even creatures who sometimes eat each other will be found in affectionate relations — birds of prey, for instance, protecting the song birds in their own territories, from other birds of prey who don’t know them personally.

Skutch is a fine source, too, on avian aesthetics. They seem to enjoy each other’s songs, and often try to mimic or join in. Species at large, but also individuals, develop partialities to colours, shades, textures, compositions. (I had a purple finch on my balconata this last summer who was studying to become an art historian. He became quite censorious when a seed dish was set out for him, of a new colour. Clearly, he was offended by loud cobalt green, preferring ivory and off-white in a ceramic.)

“Proper” academic ornithologists often wondered if Skutch had all his marbles correctly sorted, but generally they had less field experience, by a factor of more than one order of magnitude. What bugged them most was his seeming indifference to (exhaustively pointless) statistical studies. He preferred careful observation, which the academics consider to be “unscientific.” Instead they do “experiments” on their captives, often sick and cruel.

Skutch did, however, scatter evidence of prodigious reading through all of his hundreds of papers and books, which included comprehensive “life studies” of more kinds of birds than, I should think, by any other animal born human. One might go to his volume on The Life of Hummingbirds (1980-ish) to discover rather more than I will ever offer on the mind-scoffing range of hummingbird behaviour. And that book was only a light overview of a topic he pursued through many large, thickly-printed, formal tomes in which he went, case by case, into much greater detail about his Costa Rican feathered friends. (An ideal observation post, because such an extraordinary variety of birds pass through, in the course of their hemispheric migrations.)

Ah yes, physiological and behavioural “adaptations,” as the Darwinoids call them. … Skutch, incidentally, never wasted an afternoon, contradicting these purveyors of dull pseudo-science. He was too busy with his birds. What he observed was sufficient contradiction.

Now, I don’t think I observed very much in my dream, my mind being occupied only with “the idea of hummingbirds.” But I think that was a wonderful idea, in the mind of God.

Auden

“The reading public has learned how to consume even the greatest fiction as if it were a can of soup. It has learned to misuse even the greatest music as background noise. Business executives can buy great paintings and hang them on their walls as status trophies. Tourists can ‘do’ the greatest architecture in an hour’s guided tour. But poetry, thank God, the public still find indigestible.”

Anyone who says he has chosen a random passage is lying. I picked this one (from W.H. Auden, Prose, volume V, 1963–68, ed. Edward Mendelson, just published along with volume VI) because it was on page 119 — the last I was reading before passing out last night. It is thus my “reasonable facsimile” of a random passage.

The books (V and VI both) I lucked out on. They are very expensive, but some professorial type must have got review copies and dumped them in the BMV, where I found them while out walking, earlier last evening. Or else they have already been remaindered. (I walk a lot, and cannot stay out of bookstores, even those like Greater Parkdale’s BMV, which specialize in glitzy, never-touched, radically discounted, mostly second-hand copies of upmarket paperbacks and coffee-table volumes for the urban booboisie.)

And they are a pressing reminder, of just how wonderful Auden was, not only as poet but in almost every sentence that he wrote, including a frightful bulk of book reviews, other journalism, discursive essays, obituary orations, forewords, afterwords, and — all the other stuff poets write because, since the High Victorian era, they’re sure not going to make a living from writing poems.

He is one of those writers who seems, like the greats of old, or all Italian architects to the end of the Baroque without exception, incapable of producing anything genuinely ugly. Indeed, for me as for him, one of the motives for occasional retreat into the Middle Ages, and other expired cosma, is that ugliness itself was an (unnecessary) by-product of the Industrial Revolution (which, as Auden eagerly averred, also produced plenty more “useless beauty” on the side, such as canal and railway tunnels).

By beauty I mean to include “meaning.” That is to say, one cannot write a beautiful sentence that does not mean something, although a given reader may not know what on earth it means. (The test case here is the poems Friedrich Hölderlin wrote in his madness. Consider, gentle reader: In lieblicher Bläue blühet mit dem metallenen Dache der Kirchthurm. … “In lovely blueness with its metal roof the steeple blossoms.”)

The world fits together in that way. The secret joins, or bridges, between the Platonic transcendentals (the beautiful, the good, and the true) carry traffic, and a writer of true genius as Auden, for all his (many and sometimes appalling) foibles, often and accidentally writes better than he knows. This is how he can read himself later, with admiration and thanks only to the grace of God, who has, for His own unaccountable reasons, spared him from the usual human ground condition of malicious idiocy.

Auden himself, in his exhilarating commonplace book, A Certain World, explained this by citing Lewis Carroll’s “Logical Exercises,” all of which I might be tempted to transcribe, were my wrists not aching. But let us make do with the first:

1. Everything, not absolutely ugly, may be kept in a drawing room;
2. Nothing, that is encrusted with salt, is ever quite dry;
3. Nothing should be kept in a drawing room, unless it is free from damp;
4. Bathing machines are always kept near the sea;
5. Nothing that is made of mother-of-pearl can be absolutely ugly;
6. Whatever is kept near the sea gets encrusted with salt.

Tota pulchra es

It took me fifty years to make it from live birth to reception in the Catholic Church. This, I admit, was slow. At the latter time, twelve years ago, I set to work on a little autobiographical essay, that quickly swelled to a few hundred pages. It was of at least partly a religious nature, under the provisional title, The Half Life: Fifty Years of Sin and Error. Wisely, I discarded this manuscript some nine years ago. Being no Augustine, I found that I could not raise the contents to the level of the morally and spiritually edifying. Moreover, those contents were “true, too true” — which is to say, often dreadfully embarrassing; and what made them worse, rendered in the correct chronological order. I would rather recount my life more selectively, and in a random order, distracting as much as possible from questions of motive. Not that I am entirely opposed to the spirit of Italo Svevo.

Nothing more can be made of this admission, than my own discovery on reflection, twelve years ago, that fifty years as a bloody fool, is a long time.

*

That was my aggiornamento — the pretty Italian word for “bringing up to date,” that we associate with Vatican II, and which has been imported into many other languages — mostly, I think, because it is pretty and Italian. Pope John XXIII used it in prospect, and Paul VI in retrospect, for what the Council was trying to achieve. Only as the 1960s progressed, did the word come fully to acquire its happy gas associations.

To the contrary, it began — so far as this non-expert can make out — as the more conservative alternative to such a term as the French ressourcement (“return to sources”).

Be warned, gentle reader, I am being counter-intuitive here. The idea of catching up with the times, and the idea of going back to origins, may not at first seem conservative, and liberal, respectively. Yet the latter is more radical. It involves more unknowables, and is Protestant by disposition. It is a war cry Calvinists and Lutherans could have raised in the sixteenth century: a means to turn not only the Scholastics, but the whole Middle Ages into “flyover country.” It peeled and scraped the paint off a vast mural, in comparison to the “reforms” of the Council of Trent, which could be described as merely touching it up. (All analogies are imperfect.)

To my own (imperfect) understanding, these were not exactly factions among the “reformers” embedded within the Council of 1962–65, though they sometimes looked like factions. They were instead reciprocating “category errors.” And one did not prevail over the other. Instead, they both eventually “won,” in the aftermath of the Council, becoming the two heads of “the spirit of Vatican II,” each dedicated to the destruction of whatever the other missed. Or perhaps my description is insufficiently polycephalous.

*

Yesterday was the fiftieth anniversary of Pope Paul’s address, closing Vatican II, and affirming the aggiornamento, declaring:

“Never before perhaps, so much as on this occasion, has the Church felt the need to know, to draw near to, to understand, to penetrate, serve and evangelize the society in which she lives; and to get to grips with it, almost to run after it, in its rapid and continuous change.”

The confident notion that the Fathers had been moved by the Holy Spirit, was conveyed in that address: itself a departure from “traditional” Catholic rhetoric, which is seldom so upbeat. We do not know whether we are saved. More broadly, we do not expect any new revelation to be vouchsafed to us, the old “Deposit of Faith” being sufficient. We follow Christ and do not “run after” anyone, or anything, unassociated with Him. We beckon the world to come our way, and yet, in the full knowledge that the world is not inclined to do that — having its own agenda, as it were, of sin and error.

Since, the winds have blown hot and cold. We are now in the thirty-fourth month of a new and “heroic” (or “appalling,” depending on one’s point of view) experiment in aggiornamento, into which the ressourcement has been infused, quite strangely. The casual way in which, for instance, our Pope redefines heresies, or words such as “mercy” with specifically Catholic applications, is unprecedented. The way in which these statements are “tweeted” compounds the effect. We are not returning to the teachings of the Fathers of the Church in the first centuries, but to something more free-form: a new “vision” of the Catholic faith in which we make up the teaching as we go along, under the inspiration of what we might think is the Holy Spirit, but is more likely the Zeitgeist (“spirit of the age”).

All of which things are above my station. I do not doubt that the Holy Spirit is operating, continuously in all dimensions known to us. I not only doubt, but deny that we are capable of discerning these actions. And my best hope for the “Year of Mercy” that begins today, is that in the course of it we may return to the prayerful study of what this word “mercy” means, has meant and will always mean, in light of authentic Church doctrine. After which we may again rigidly embrace it.

*

It is more fundamentally, today, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Though instituted in its present form by Pius IX, only one hundred and sixty-one years ago, when he defined the dogma, it is really much older. It enlarges upon the Magnificat; it echoes the liturgical celebrations of that Conception through the intervening centuries both East and West; and it looks forward in Revelation to our Immaculate Lady, “Clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.”

It proclaims, “Thou art fair!”

This is something contemporary man has all but lost in his transactions: that ability to pause in amazement before unstained beauty. It is an “attitude” that goes beyond arguing the doctrine. It is something that we can only proclaim, because, no “analysis” can approach it. There is no agenda except the worship of this beauty, Immaculate and beyond the power of anything in this world to soil or corrupt.

May I propose that in preparation for the Mass gentle reader think on the words of the Epistle, which are from Proverbs (8:22–25). And then, from the antiphons of second vespers, this calling from the Song of Songs:

Trahe nos, Virgo immaculata, post te curremus in odorem unguentorum tuorum.

I.e., let us “run after” changeless Mary, in the height of her Wisdom. And not after the changing world, a mirage that isn’t there when we arrive.

Age before booty

Politics is an interest of young people, and perhaps older people who have not spiritually matured. This is why positions of leadership should be reserved, as much as possible, for geriatrics. We need an old man on his last legs, who has lost his intestinal fire and ambitions, except for a certain flickering resentment towards the young. It should be a man who longs for the quiet life. He should be a gentleman, with other hobby interests, and better things to read than state papers; he should be easily irritated by the distraction. Nevertheless, he must be from a good family, with some minimal sense of public duty, or he will not be willing to accept an office that has been forced on him — usually because the alternative candidates were too young and lively. The job will then kill him within a few years at most, during which his rivals will be growing older. Meanwhile his concern for the fate of his own immortal soul will be growing. He will fear taking any decision that might condemn him to Hell.

(It should go without saying that he will be a “rigid” Latin-Mass Catholic traditionalist. … The more rigid the better.)

Vanity is possible even in the old, however. Should he perk up, once in office, the answer is for his doctors to prescribe a course of vigorous physical exercise. This will hasten him along.

Some old men are sprightly, however, and almost unkillable, so the electors must remain always on their toes. Ideally, of course, there will not be so many electors: the seven of the Holy Roman Empire struck me as quite adequate. As a compromise, perhaps we could simply lift the minimum voting age from whatever it is now (eighteen?) to, say, seventy-six. At that age it might even be safe to allow the vote to women.

I should admit the flaw in hereditary monarchy, which otherwise I prefer to appointive systems. If the successor is doddery or suffering from one of the many dementias that come with age, very well: the forgetful are easier to ignore. But some of these kings and queens rise to a throne very young. They may not yet understand why they should avoid all the roads down which they are tempted. (Details are unnecessary once the main point is subscribed.) They are unlikely to have learnt, by cumulative observation, that nothing men propose is ever going to work. Therefore, seek only divine guidance.

There is a saying, “That government is best which governs least.” I find this too activist a proposition. Revise to: “That government is best which consists of immemorial custom.”

Old ways are best. In a pinch, should any revolutionary party appear, invite the leaders to dinner. Then have them all arrested and hanged.

There were a number of political issues and personalities I was eager to comment upon, while surveying the news this morning. But after a full pot of tea, I think, better to leave gentle reader with a vague generality. That, it is time for everyone to grow up.

Saint Sabbas

A note of apology to many readers as my “inbox” fills and fills: I owe many of you replies including notes of thanks; but at the moment am struggling to catch up. Be assured there is no one I have intentionally ignored, beyond the few who only spit poison; and that I continue to gain from reading so many good comments, ideas, memoirs, corrections, and kind messages of encouragement. And in particular, let me express my immense gratitude to those who sent (much needed) donations this past week, after my little hint last Saturday.

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There are at least six named Saint Sabbas (according to the Catholic Encyclopaedia of 1917, now digitally parked here). The last died as recently as 1237. But the one in our old missals for today was the fourth and greatest in this chronological succession. A hermit from Cappadocia, who was called to Jerusalem, this Saint Sabbas (439–532) founded several monasteries in Palestine and Syria, including the great lavra that came to bear his name. “Mar Saba,” as it is called in Arabic, is still there, overlooking the Kidron Valley, south-east of Jerusalem in its gorges opening towards the Dead Sea. Or at least, it was still there when I last checked, about eighteen years ago, and the couple of dozen monks remaining were still under the Rule of their founder — the 1,483rd anniversary of whose death we commemorate today.

His chapel at Rome, the basilica of San Saba, dates from more than a century later, when a flood of Christian refugees was arriving from the Mohammedan conquest of the Near East.

Those were days rather like today in Europe: the desperate hordes washing in (albeit then without terrorists mingled). And yet the paradox is that the little islands of Christendom which remained, to endure Muslim rulers, are being erased, finally, only in our generation.

Whereas, in our own realms, so many ancient and magnificent abbeys, cathedrals, chapels and churches — with their art, libraries, and other extraordinary cultural riches, and their careful records of the toiling generations — were destroyed in much less time during the Reformation, and atheist Revolutions in France, Russia, and elsewhere. Islam has proved, in the balance, an incredibly destructive religion; and yet Christian schismatics torched, smashed, desecrated, or bureaucratically dismantled, far more of the heritage of Christian Civilization, from within.

And this accounting overlooks the more horrible loss, of Christian souls, alienated from the source of salvation by those who appropriated not only their outward relics, but the very flesh and blood of Jesus in their Mass.

To me, Saint Sabbas, of whose life we know enough to write a fairly detailed biography, is a symbol of fortitude for our own times. Whatever is destroyed, we must rebuild; whatever is depopulated, we must repopulate; whatever is lost we must find again, and will, with God’s help if we pray and listen. Even in the days of Saint Sabbas — the later fifth and early sixth centuries — so much of the Christian mission consisted of recovering what had already been lost, or was being lost, to the devils. In fortitude we rededicate ourselves to build, and rebuild, better than the world can take away — not only in the externals of material culture, but more deeply in Christian hearts. For inscribed in them is the knowledge borne of Heaven in the Deposit of our Faith: that we, gathered in the Body of Christ, will never surrender.

The aquatic ape

The Prince of Pessimists, Joseph Arthur, self-elevated Compte de Gobineau (1816–82), put it this way against the Darwinians: Nous ne descendons pas du singe, mais nous y allons. (“We do not descend from the ape, rather we are going there.”)

One may read a hatchet job on him in the Wicked Paedia, based on the ravings of his Canadian biographer, the half-wit, Alan T. Davies. Or one might dig for a rounder picture in long forgotten, pre-Internet sources. Or one might even condescend to read Gobineau himself, starting with his delightful travel sketches, and continuing with his rather joyous attacks on the degeneracy of the post-Mediaeval world. True, he could be read as an outrider of Nietzsche, with half-baked racial theories that anticipate Heidegger and Hitler. But that is to read him anachronistically. His preferential option was for art and aristocracy, not for low-class thugs.

Suffice to say Gobineau did not think well of democracy, and more or less correctly predicted the course of world history through the century after his death. For that, he may never be forgiven.

Indeed, the only reason I can think of to read him today (and one will not often find him in print) is that he is coruscating, luminous, dazzling, transformative, penetrating, incredibly funny, and wildly entertaining. Try to defend him in the academy, however, and you are a dead man.

Now here I am wandering astray. (Gobineau’s asides are extensive and wonderful.) I had intended to comment today on Evolution, as a matter of conscience, having not taken a good kick at the Darwinoids for some time. Let’s see if I can get this Idlepost back on track.

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The notion of Evolution is very old; all of Darwin’s and Wallace’s ideas were discussed among the ancient Epicureans. Anaximander of Miletus anticipated the whole argument for “natural selection” twenty-four centuries before the publication of The Origin of Species. Indeed, he delved much deeper into that cosmology with his hypothesis of the apeiron as the boundary condition of this and all worlds: our origin within “the indefinite.” (Darwin was no philosopher, as howlers throughout his works reveal.)

What Darwin added was the cheap veneer of the Victorian idea of progress: the undefended (and indefensible) assumption that evolution was moving onward and ever upward. A trained philosophical mind would hardly take this for granted. As Gobineau points out, “descent” should instead be visualized as a movement downwards; as a true descent from the primary and original, through fissure, into the chaos of multiple competing species; and in the case of the philosophical monkeys, down from the trees.

Of course there are “causes.” Everything has “causes,” till we trace back to the singular and irrefutable Fact of God.

Take bipedalism for instance. True, there is a post-modern school that has advanced the “endurance running hypothesis,” which holds that various human characteristics developed from what they imagine to be the advantages of marathon running — which we can do better than pretty much any other species. Those others may often run faster, but we have stamina. (So have the four-legged horses, but put that out of your mind.) This developed, along with our gangly long legs, out of bipedalism. Meanwhile our freed-up arms “evolved” the capacity to throw rocks with telling accuracy.

Like all evolutionary arguments, and other just-so stories, it is circular. Man developed marathon running skills because he became so adapted. We can prove this because, look, he developed marathon running skills. Another way to describe this form of reasoning is, “fatuous.”

Ditto the timelines. According to the experts, using their expert reasoning, we have a coherent, “progressive” series. It goes something like this. … Primates, 70 million years ago. … Apes, 30 million years. … Homonins, 2.5. … Homo sapiens, 0.5. … Homo sapiens sapiens, 0.2. … Artists, 0.05. … Farmers, 0.02. … (Jews, 0.005; Christians, 0.002; Hippies, 0.00005; et cetera.) … This does not show that things are speeding up. Instead it displays the logarithmic, slide-rule mentality, gradually converting to the metric system.

But we might get somewhere by turning this backwards and upside down. Our hairy quadruped ancestors, in my view, must have been running fast, being the pointy-head sort of quadrupeds, who don’t notice predators coming at them till it is almost too late, then must tear off so suddenly as to become half-airborne. This is how bipedalism developed. The stamina followed, because they were so terrified they didn’t know when to stop.

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Now, my favourite evolutionary theory emerged only in the last century. Technically it begins with some German pathologist, Max Westenhöfer, inhaling fumes in his surgery back in the 1920s. He was I think the first to propose that man evolved from some sort of “aquatic ape.” But his dull Teutonic colleagues eventually talked him down, and so he exits from the evolutionary picture. (He also had the cool idea that bipedalism preceded quadripedalism in mammals, as in reptiles — before he ran off to reform the public health system in Chile.)

Instead we turn to my childhood hero of marine biology, Sir Alister Hardy. (His two volumes on The Open Sea, from the late ‘fifties, are mesmerizing, boy’s-own classics.) He also came up with this clever and highly amusing wet-ape idea about 1930, independently, but kept it to himself for another thirty years, in view of his need for professional advancement. By the time he mentioned it, he had managed to make it sound tediously Darwinist. And besides, he had already copped all those honours that universities are shy about taking away.

Hardy’s version is the best, because when it comes to oceans, he “knows everything that can be knowed.”

You see, our ancestors from the primitive ape-stock were forced out of the trees by competition from other, tougher monkeys. They wandered, homeless, down to the seaside, to live on clams, oysters, sea urchins, and various intertidal species that are notoriously easy to catch. This must have been in the tropics, where it doesn’t get so cold, for he soon found himself out there in the water, with perhaps the tougher monkeys hissing from the beach. … Take it from there, labcoats!

The academy politely ignored this hypothesis. Hardy himself, after feyly attempting to defend it in the pop-science press, moved on, as we say.

But meanwhile Desmond Morris, with his tabloid eye, picked up on it in his bestseller, The Naked Ape (1967). And then the feminist, Elaine Morgan, saw the sisterhood angle, and followed it through The Descent of Woman (1972). She continued, dragging it from there to her death, a couple of years ago — more welcomed in the academy than her predecessors who had been, to put a fine point on it, white males. Homo sapiens, you see, evolved the way we did thanks to our dusky, female qualities.

Her presentation of the hypothesis, somewhat less sophisticated than Hardy’s, is nevertheless as plausible as any in the “evolutionary biology” field. And it is more attractive than most. Just think: Mermaids!

And the environmentalists could buy in, too. Just think: Littorals! Wetlands!

And the sociologists: How we love to take baths!

And hooo, there were a lot of galleries to which she was playing.

The palaeo-anthropologists had some trouble; still have some objections to the hypothesis in light of innumerable awkward facts; but given the times, they went easy on her. She was after all a big hit on TV.

Proboscis monkeys! (They always get my attention: the ones in Borneo with the funny noses.) I’ve forgotten how they come into it, except, they like to hang around mangrove swamps.

Let me be clear: I love this hypothesis. Please don’t put it down! … There may be no fossil evidence, whatsoever; but don’t be so negative. For this is all soft-tissue stuff. Hardly ever makes it into fossils.

A hairless monkey, flopping about like a sea otter, were it not for those groovy prehensile ape limbs and toes. And with a brain developing like a dolphin’s, from the high nutrients in a seafood diet. Soon we are far ahead of our old neighbours, the brutish chimpanzees, through encephalization (rising brain-to-body meat ratio, and thicker synaptic density, too, as in the case of the clever squids). One might argue that not all fish-eaters get so smart. But as a Catholic, I don’t want to ruin this story.

It explains, for instance, why our larynx descended, from nose to throat. This was needed to close off the trachea, while diving. Helps, too, in gulping air when returning to the surface. And we can hold our breath way longer than any ape. This made our rivals so much easier to drown.

Did you know a human baby can hold its breath underwater for nearly a minute?

That’s where I bought in, at the end of the ‘eighties. You see, I had a human baby with me at the time, and took him to a pool to teach him what water is like, and maybe how to float. Matthew, let us call him; my “wiggly worm.” (Multiple double-jointed thanks to Down’s syndrome.) Carried him gently into the shallow end of the pool, but then he broke free. Squirted right out of my arms, then surfaced twenty feet away — in the deep zone, giggling and rather pleased with himself. Meanwhile I had been panicking, of course. Took me quite a while to catch him after that, as he jetted about, like a merry octopus. Decided I’d have to learn swimming from him.

Consider, gentle reader: the buoyant adiposity, or chubbiness of babes. And then, this cheesy varnish on their newborn skins, like the pups of certain pinnipeds. And then, the many delivery complications that could be neatly avoided if mommy would only agree to give birth in a water tank.

Slam-dunk, I would say.

Yet it gets better. We can explain our bipedalism by this buoyancy in the water. … I can’t, perhaps, but there are others who can. For Ms Morgan was joined by other researchers, once funding was raised: old pros who could supply “the gods in her gaps”; master craftsmen of the just-so story; people with degrees in biology.

Go for it, gentle reader. We are all secretly aquatic apes. And this is great news, now that rising sea levels have been identified as our most pressing planetary concern. Hardly a problem for us, surely. All we need do is go back: … Weee!

(It’s true, I am like Gobineau. But more optimistic.)

On San Bernardino

Perhaps the most useful public policy, in light of the latest “homegrown” Muslim terror hit, in San Bernardino or wherever, would be to offer free police firearms training to a large civilian constabulary. Not to everyone, of course. That would be too expensive, and besides, there should be background checks to make sure members of this constabulary were not insane, delusional, Democrats, or whatever. Too, there should be some minimum age: seven strikes me as about right. (It is roughly the “age of reason” for the reception of Communion in Catholic teaching, as I understand.) Of course, parental guidance should also come into play.

Gun range training helps to mature people, too; though this is just a bonus.

The alternatives are all worse: we must continue expanding “Homeland Security” or its cumbersome likes in other national jurisdictions. This is both expensive and inconvenient. Police, ambulances, the National Guard, are all very well, but it takes some minutes for any to arrive on a scene where seconds are important. Whether or not the killers are Muslim, we need assurance that they will be cut down within a handshake of initiating their rampages. (Dead within two seconds is the Israeli ideal.) The psycho, in turn, needs to be assured that if he has more than, say, one target, there is a strong statistical likelihood that at least one of them is not only armed, but trained to extinguish him without delay. This way the police may concentrate their efforts on profiling the more sophisticated bombers.

Perhaps I should explain, especially to non-American readers, that the idea of an armed citizenry did not originate in 1776. The right to defend oneself is twinned with the right to life itself. The Catholic Christian culture has been aware of this all along, as were the Hebrews before us (to say nothing of the cavemen). “Police” were the bureaucratic invention of the eighteenth century; self-defence begins with the self to be defended. The police, as security guards, firemen, ambulance crews, soldiers and sailors of land, air, and seas, are simply people we hire to serve the same purpose and let us sleep sometimes. But so far as we are adults, we do not need nannies. Nannies are for kids.

Swords were effective in the old days; handguns are more practical today. Cross-bows and sling-shots are awkward for use in tight indoor spaces. My argument for “concealed carry” is to improve the odds against the criminal. Let him not be entirely sure who is carrying, and who is not. Let others, contemplating anti-social behaviour, reflect on the same.

We need also to restore a pro-active approach towards the psychotic and other “mentally ill” — which sympathizes with their afflictions, but keeps them under close surveillance. The alternative — close surveillance of everyone — is not only too costly, but a demonstrable moral evil.

Apart from this, my recommendation would be, “as you were.” We need to restore a society in which we can, indeed, go about our business without spot checks, or other intrusive security arrangements. I may be generally opposed to the use of aeroplanes, as a means of public transport, but airport search queues are a ridiculous way to discourage their use.

We need further to restore a society in which the odd massacre, that happens anyway, is taken in stride. “Bad things happen,” as they say, and it is foolish to get so emotional about them.

“Let me be clear,” as the USA’s delusional president likes to say, as prologue to his many public hallucinations. You can’t ban guns, or even register them, without a means of enforcement; and no such means will be found that is not implicitly totalitarian.

Moreover, his vapouring on the topic is logically incomplete. Shouldn’t he also demand the registration of pipe bombs and IEDs?

Sumptuariae leges

Montaigne, who idleblog’d back in the 1570s and ’80s, has a post on the sumptuary laws with which I can only partly agree. He argues that they defeat their own purpose, as a check on extravagance, especially in food and clothing. They do not in fact much reduce vanity and insanity among the public at large, nor discourage emulation of the high-born and well-placed. Rather they encourage the great evil that Plato identifies in his Laws, among the young and the pretentious. These errants disdain tradition and good taste. They chase trends in dress, diet, dance and song. They are conspicuous consumers, who beslaver the fashion gurus and entertainment stars.

This, according to Plato; and Montaigne is inclined to agree that change is a bad thing in itself, unless it is away from evil. Customs should be maintained, and laws honoured, particularly those “to which God has given some ancient duration, so that no one knows their origin or that they were ever different.”

All wise men are conservative, of course, but the wisest are extremely reactionary, and profoundly religious — Plato even more than Montaigne. All, in principle, oppose extravagant posturing, but there may be disagreement on how to suppress it. There is little sense in making exceptions for kings and lords, Montaigne thinks. This only encourages envy in the lower born, who then put value on whatever they are denied: turbot, for instance; or velvet and gold braid. They begin to associate such shallow things with rank, as if superiority could be reduced to flash and ostentation. And thus, by small increments of impudence, in defiance of all sumptuary laws, they set themselves on familiar terms with their betters.

For as Montaigne knows, equality is the enemy of civilization. The careful preservation of class distinctions requires stronger buttressing than any sumptuary laws can provide. We must find better ways to diminish the young, and undermine middle class pretensions.

He suggests the best way might be actually to reverse the sumptuary laws, as they were in the France of his day. He cites, for instance, Zaleucus, the Locrian lawgiver from the seventh century BC, who forbade gold ornaments and crimson to the common people — but with an exemption for mountebanks and “tumblers.” (Courtesans?) He allows the free woman to be accompanied by one chambermaid at most — except when she is drunk. She may not wear gold jewellery or a lace dress — unless she is a registered whore. A man may not wear a gold ring, or dress in too fine-woven a robe — unless he is a pimp.

And so forth.

Yet in a broader view of history, let me humbly suggest, the conventional sumptuary laws have proved reasonably effective. We find them in the rise, and at the peak, of all the higher civilizations. We find them abolished or ignored in all periods of decline and decadence. (The Roman novelist, Petronius, to my mind, is a subtle and ingenious observer of these connexions, though as this day is winding down, I must leave him to another.)

Whether the imposition of sumptuary laws, or more daringly, their re-imposition, could effect an improvement in public manners, is a more open question. Correlation is not causation, it could be said. Gentle reader may however wish to help me draught a model sumptuary code, that would be appropriate for times like these.

Looking about me in this pseudo-Christmas shopping season, I think it would at least be worth a try.

Latest from the death cult

Sad news from San Francisco, today. It seems Mark Zuckerberg, who has by age thirty or so amassed a fortune of some forty-five billion (thousand million) electronic dollars with his “Facebook” obscenity, intends to loose “99 percent” of this holding. He and his paediatrician wife, Priscilla Chan, announced this in the most sick-making, sentimental way they could think of: framing it as a letter to their (presumably illiterate) newborn daughter. Their huge fortune is now earmarked (if they are telling the truth) to “advancing human potential and promoting equality” — i.e. the usual smug liberal and progressive stodge. I stagger to think of the harm so much money may do.

And yet hope springs eternal, even in worldly affairs. Perhaps, when the stock bubble finally bursts, Facebook will implode. The company could go bankrupt and its shares fall to nothing, in which case the “philanthropic” scheme evaporates, too. Or even if some of the money can be expended, we must compare the scale. The income from, say, 44 billion will be at most a few billion a year, which is an amount the USA government already spends every hour or two — almost all of it in ways destructive of public morals. We must keep our sense of proportion.

On the other hand, much “leveraging” is got by devoting most of the private money to lobbying for specific, massive, social engineering schemes, that will further empower our liberal elites, while burnishing their already blinding self-regard. It costs comparatively little to line the pockets of the few, rather than the many. An expert once told me that a dollar of lobbying will typically leverage one hundred from the tax revenues, plus another hundred in government borrowing. A little can be made to go a long way.

America’s present “open borders” immigration policy is a good example of how focused lobbying can get results (i.e. more Liberal-slash-Democrat voting fodder; more inexpensive nannies), even when an overwhelming majority of the general population are appalled by the idea. The Zuckerberg lad is already a big contributor to that cause.

Lobbying works, and here’s why. No senior public official could want to retire on a state pension, however large, when he can have more millions by playing the game well. Look at the “before” and “after” accounts of almost any prominent politician. He goes into office very charming, and comes out very rich. It is a far more lucrative trade than anything in business or finance — even in such specialized forms as bank robbery. Better, by modern methods of mutual back-scratching, for there is much less legal risk.

But let us suppose all Zuckerberg’s cash spills into the usual media-promoted “good causes” directly. Even foundations that raise money for the victims of well-publicized natural disasters have been known to spend as much as 5 percent of their takings on the needs of the victims themselves (when photo ops are needed). The Zuckerbergs’ sop letter mentioned education and medical research as possible targets for at least some of their largesse.

In the case of schools, there is an increasingly obvious, inverse relation between positive academic results, and spending. The higher the teachers’ salaries, the lower their standards, thanks to unions and the like. But most of any fresh load of sugar will be “invested” instead in administrative expansion, where only negative results can be achieved.

Medical “research” does similar direct damage. Huge foundations are created to “fight” every imaginable human ailment, and find new ones on which to build fresh fundraising efforts, should any of the old ones go stale. Grand sums are expended on “public awareness” campaigns, to encourage hypochondria and psychosomatic disorders. (I suspect, for instance, that the chief cause of lung cancer today is grisly health warnings on packets of cigarettes.) Money is raised in billions to “find a cure” for whatever. (Snake oil sales were on a much smaller scale.)

At the most elementary level, people should try to understand cause and effect. Vast numbers come to rely upon the metastasis of these soi-disant “charitable” bureaucracies. And if a cure is ever found, they will all be out of their overpaid jobs. Moreover, it is almost invariably some isolated, eccentric, unqualified and unfunded tyro, who makes the fatal discovery. That is why one of the principal tasks of any large medical foundation is to locate these brilliant “inventor” types, and sue them into surrender.

Does gentle reader know that almost all the increase in human longevity, over the last century or so, can be attributed to people washing their hands and taking showers? And most of the rest to better sewage disposal? Or that it took until almost the middle of the last century for life expectancy in the West to rise to levels last seen in the parish records of the Middle Ages? Which was when “modern” hygienic practices were last observed. (Large, centralized hospitals are the most efficient spreaders of infection today.)

Painkillers are nice, and I’m inclined to keep them, only if we realize that the blessing is mixed. They turn our minds away from futurity; they displace faith in God, to faith in doctors. They create the mindset that embraces “euthanasia.”

Of course, the main focus of contemporary liberal “philanthropy” is not on saving lives at all; rather on killing off babies — in Africa, by first choice. It is what the proggies used to call “population control,” until they invented better euphemisms. That is what truly gladdens the peons in the foundations of all the Bills and Melindas; and lights the corridors of the United Nations. That and the (still historically recent) “climate change” agenda.

A last word on statistics. It depends how you count. Count all those aborted as “dead,” and it will be seen that life expectancy is once again falling; that infant mortality has been steeply on the rise. The international toll is unbelievably high; far higher than from the plagues and genocides through all previous history. And this without anticipating the possible effects of divine retribution.