Essays in Idleness


Wha’ll be King but Cherlie?

[I’ve been fussing with this essay, which is much too grand.]


As an unreconstructed monarchist, and general reactionary, I have notarized several items of news lately touching on the British succession. Now, seriously, under Scots law, one cannot be a “notar” unless one is first a solicitor, or so I was once told. So perhaps I only noted, that the succession of Charles, not only to the Kingship of Canada, but also to the Headship of the Commonwealth of Nations, is already proceeding. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has, with her characteristic wisdom and foresight, been “pushing the envelope” on this one, internationally, lest the usual liberal-progressive fiends seize the opportunity to try something on, in the event (quod Deus avertat!) of her demise.

Of course, I am also a Jacobite, but my (Loyalist, Scotch Presbyterian) ancestors were able smoothly to transfer their allegiance from the Stuarts to the Hanovers, when a worse enemy came in sight — in their case, republican revolutionists in these American colonies. Gaelic dance requires feat footing, and the occasional exchange of partners.

It is best, in any realm, to have only one person on the throne at a time, and that person as legitimate as possible. Putting a committee, a party or, worst, an “idea” on the throne, instead, is no recipe for digestible oatmeal. And for sake of completeness, God leaves the construction of earthly thrones to the human chairmakers, and Christ the King is above them all.

The democrats of this world — and I am not one of them — are of the opinion that the only way to obtain a peaceful transition of power is by mass voting. This is nonsense, as will be seen in the impending civil war, between voting constituencies of the Left and Right that cannot abide each other. Princes of Church and State are meant to ride above mere factional squabbles; to embody wholes, not halves.

Yet peace is secured by neither monarchy, nor democracy, but by universal subscription to legitimate rule. It is in the hands of the people, finally, who alone can resist their Adamic inclinations to malicious idiocy, abetted by sociopaths and frauds, demagogues and imposters. The singular beauty of inheritance in a kingdom is that the instruments of succession hold relatively still. Mobs, by comparison, shift about. Their decision of one day is rued in another. They are combustible by nature.

(The USA revolutionists did finally frame an arguably legitimate constitutional order, that was mature enough to last fifty years. The Founding Fathers had views on democracy quite similar to mine. Came they back to see how their Constitution had fared “by the people,” and the politicians of DC, they would surely vomit.)

Nothing in our human world works smoothly for long, thanks to sin, and I wouldn’t want to overstate hereditary virtues. Moreover, the conflict with revolutionary forces is one that will exist in all ages, as we first discovered in Eden Pairc. For the devil never gives up, and won’t, until Time itself is concluded. The enemies of peace, order, and good government, may claim to have alternative organizing principles, but except Tyranny, they never do. Their real intention, under the sponsorship of the infernal power, is to undermine any order that exists, promote discontent, and turn it into violence.

Notwithstanding anything I may have said yesterday, the personal morality of the leader — whether she be Her Majesty, or Trump — makes no fatal difference. It isn’t a public matter, it shouldn’t concern the people, if the people are left alone. It is matter between the ruler and God. Even King David had foibles.

(Those Bible-reading Evangelicals understand this, among whom Trump’s popularity just soars.)

The issue with Henry VIII, for instance, was not that he was personally a rake, scum, adulterer, and overall sleazebag, like many other monarchs. Rather it was that he, by his actions, was overturning the political and ecclesiastical order of England, Wales, and all Europe — with terrible consequences that, incidentally, Saint Thomas More foresaw. For this alone, he was worth deposing. Alas, the Pilgrimage of Grace failed.

The crimes of the Borgias and Medicis fill me with indifference. They did not try to change the teaching of Holy Church. Only a pope who toys with that, ought to be removed from office.

One must not only have a legitimate ruler, but he must rule legitimately, leaving the office as he found it, having made no fundamental change. This, Her Majesty our beloved Queen, has been doing her best to assure, and as always, God Save the Queen!

Another sign of ye times

Continuing in my apocalyptic mode, let me consider the case of Meghan Markle, Greater Parkdale’s dubious gift to the Royal Family. And let me say that I have nothing against her, “personally,” and no objections to her impending marriage to sportive Prince Harry, beyond what any loyal subject should have.

It won’t be a real wedding; just a court masque with the full court media in attendance. Miss Markle (not to be confused with the admirable Miss Marple) is already married, to a Mr Trevor Engelson; quite recently discarded. Until very recently, in the procession of generations, the concept of “divorce” did not exist in Western Christendom. I didn’t say, “in the Church Catholick” — any congregation would have been scandalized. It was made to exist by the civil authorities, who at least required an Act of Parliament to effect a divorce in these British realms. In USA, it was a feature of Las Vegas.

Mere separation was scandal enough, but this could be assuaged by disappearing into a monastery, for instance, or by emigration. There are true incompatibles, who cannot be made to live together, and from whose parting we may look the other way; but it does not follow from a failed marriage that either party should be permitted to marry again. The opposite approach would be dictated, by reason.

Whatever gentle reader might mention about the monstrous King Henry VIII, the Church of England did not formally accept remarriage after divorce until 2002; by which time the whole institution of marriage was anyway a joke. The principle of “till death do you part,” at the very heart of our civilization, is still recognized by a tiny minority of churchgoers, mostly Roman. But for the population at large, mired in filth, it is now so much spit on the floor.

In my humble and possibly uncontroversial opinion, Royals are public figures. They are exemplars to that general population, so strictures should apply to them with double force. How are we to effect repairs, to the heart of our civilization, while the “cool people” are still twisting the knife?

Again, nothing against this Markle woman, though I think Prince Harry should have known better, and might well have done had he been better raised. He is brave and good in many ways, and I don’t doubt that she has talents. For instance, after examining a photograph in the Daily Telegraph, I am convinced that she is capable of walking in six inch stilettos. Or else they are four-inch, and she is very short. But let me frankly admit, that is quite impressive.

I am not impressed by her (media celebrated) mixed race, however. Countless millions have accomplished that, with no effort on their own part. The insinuation behind the blather — that the Royal Family was previously racist — is so far beneath contempt as to constitute a typical media smear.

It is true, I was not invited to the wedding. But it would take more than an invitation — it would take a fabulous pension from the Crown — to buy my silence.

More happy

My Chief Christchurch Correspondent (that would be Christchurch, New Zealand, where they get earthquakes the way we get snow) writes:

“Maybe I’m a pessimist — would like to earn the tag ‘realist’ but I see things being resolved by a repeat of twentieth century violence to the power of ten combined with famine and a pandemic. Out of that will rise the Church purified by the new saints.”

Au contraire, I find that pretty optimistic. It ends well, which makes it a Comedy, as I’ve been teaching my seminarians.

Certain readers, enmired perhaps in their earthly concerns, might dispute this jargon. War, Famine, Pestilence, Death — and other things of that kidney — have never enjoyed a good press down here. In a way, I understand it. I flinched myself this morning, merely because the hot water ran out while I was showering. Though I must say, I did not find the experience “unthinkable.” Within seconds, the phenomenon made perfect sense to me. Even my own death, from any number of causes, unlikely to include a cold shower, is comprehensible. We were all born with the ability to catch on.

I got in trouble once for saying something like, “Nuclear war would be a bad thing, but it is not the worst thing we can imagine.” I’d added that going to Hell would be worse, but the journalist who quoted me left that part out.

Stalin had some things right. In the event, I had also quoted his old chestnut that, “Nuclear weapons are only a problem for people with bad nerves.”

I was thinking of him this morning because I dreamt of him last night. I had gone to interview him, and was surprised to find him still in charge of Russia. He was surrounded by these big tough greatcoated gentlemen, in his inner sanctum, but was himself easy-going and fairly charming, in his silk pajamas, cross-legged on an Oriental dragon throne. In this dream, there was a kerfuffle with the outer office, where several American stenographic ladies were yammering. They were telling us we weren’t allowed to smoke in there, and so Stalin and his “boys” fell into confusion, wondering where we could go with our cigarettes.

Now, this would be a Tragedy, by the classical definition: it didn’t end well.

War, famine, pestilence, death. Hope I’ve got those right, I fear one of them was conquest, implying rapine. But only four horses. “Whatever,” as we say.

The modern man has lost track of an important comforting thought, with respect to his life in this world. It is that you can only die once. Prolonged and painful as the whole scene might be, the fear of death itself should not be exaggerated. Statistics can’t “improve” it. And as my little sister once explained, “If you knew that you were going to die tomorrow afternoon, you could be philosophical about it. After all, you can still do things in the morning.”

We mustn’t get over-excited about death. It’s just a phase we go through. It’s the going to Hell that would be the real problem.

The vulnus

Today’s new word self-explains in a passage from an essay written by Roberto Pertici, a history professor in the university at Bergamo:

“One cannot effect a formal recantation of the faith believed and lived by generations and generations, without introducing an irreparable vulnus in the self-representation and widespread perception of an institution like the Catholic Church.”

I found the essay translated (here) in Sandro Magister’s blog. It is worth reading with ripe attention, at least twice, if only for what it attempts: to look at the current worldly fate of the Church in a modern context, not restricted to the time since Vatican II. Rather, in a context that helps to explain that Council itself. Yet it is not some general historical essay. Pertici is writing specifically about the intentions — the stated intentions — of our present pope, against this background.

Having invited gentle reader to consult it, I will not confuse him with my own “summary of the summary.” The essay concludes well, with the historian’s refusal to predict the future. It is sufficient for him to give a better understanding of how things came to be as they are. (In other words, he is a real historian, and not a media flake.)

Bergamo, in northern Lombardy towards the Lakes and the Alps, is two cities. The ancient one, of extraordinary beauty, sits upon a hill, nominally defended by its old Venetian walls; a city of continuous inhabitation from pre-Roman times.

On the plains below and surrounding is a sprawling, shapeless, hideous industrial estate, engulfing half a million human souls — “modern life” in all of its electrically pulsating obscenity. This in turn dissolves into the conurbation of Milan, which houses eight million more. Unfortunately, the beautiful part is a “tourist magnet,” so that it infills with the commercial facilities required by daily waves of the fat, bored, and vulgar.

A comparison cannot be made to the Two Cities of Saint Augustine. He could never have imagined our “cities of the plains.” The earthly city, more like Bergamo’s hilltop, was instead contrasted with the heavenly city.

Let me add that, in light of Professor Pertici’s essay, Martin Luther cannot be blamed for our post-modern sprawl, to which his tenets, and those of the Church against which he rebelled, are equally foreign. My question for today would be, can any form of the Christian religion, however heretic, appeal by its nature or be made “relevant” to that endless twinkling ant colony, which an ancient visitor might mistake for Hell?

The answer is of course, yes. But not without an effort by the worker ants to rehumanize themselves.

Fire & forget

Though I flinch at much military jargon, because it lacks either euphony or wit, there is good meat lurking in the alphabet soup. At the moment I’m abuzz with the poetry of, “fire and forget.” These are missiles of modest size and weight with good dexterity, and a range of a few hundred miles. They are programmed to find a destination, much as the gizmos in gentle reader’s car. There are almost as many species of these missiles as there are of bats, and once launched, they are almost as hard to hit with any sort of ordnance. Tucked nicely under the wing of a fighter jet, they may be flown within range of the target and — ping! — off they go. Bit of a roar, too; though the pilot doesn’t see or hear the — bang! — when they arrive. That would be even more satisfying. Boys love this sort of thing, and these days girls get to play, too.

It is an expensive hobby, however; even the little fire-and-forgetters, so light they can be lifted by a girl, come in kits with launchers that will cost jolly taxpayer back home an arm and five legs. The bigger ones, that need lifting by a powerful aeroplane, cost much more. (Twelve arms and forty legs, I’ve heard.) I often wonder if, in the Middle East or elsewhere, it is easy to find cost-effective targets. Which is why, I suppose, when our air forces are in perfect control of the skies, we’re inclined to drop less sophisticated bombs. They give more bang for the buck, as it were.

We don’t count the cost of the administrative bureaucracy; that would come from another budget. I remember, from my own dreadful experience as a media hack, trying to get a more “inclusive” picture of the price involved in taking out a camel; or a chemical plant, for that matter. If you have a proper war, it might almost ruin you. But what can you do, on a planet like this?

There is also the question of blowing people up, including innocent bystanders, if you can find any. (Bystanders tend to be plentiful, but innocence is rare.) And of course, the inconvenience of being blown up oneself. All in all, the pacifists are right, for the more inclusively we look at it, the less sense war seems to make. But surrender to an enemy who is even worse than you are? Somewhere in the middle, we just muddle through.

History is like that. There are downsides and upsides, whichever way you turn. Prudence can hardly guess the half of them. There is usually a large constituency for “action,” once the media have done their job, to inflame us. (Later they can tell us how foolish we were to believe what they said.) Their deadlines fall every minute or two. The longer it takes to set the missiles up, the more impatient their audience becomes.

The results of action are invariably a mix. That’s why I’m generally against it.

On doing things

I was “called,” as we say, to Christian belief and faith, but can’t say that I was called specifically to membership in the Catholic Church. That took some time to work out, for I am a slow thinker. To my reasonably certain knowledge, I was never called to the priesthood, nor to monastic life. Nor do I think myself suited to it, for obedience has never been my principal virtue. Prayer itself is a struggle for me; I blow hot and cold. When cold, I may whip myself to do what I ought, but if I then face one of these irreverent “New Masses,” the spirit of holiness does not quickly engulf me. I look at my watch if the homily strays over ten minutes; even if I’m not wearing it. The thought forms: “Look, I am here on business, I’ve been summoned into the Presence of Our Lord. Please don’t try to distract me.”

What I think of the Church, most mornings, in her aspect as a human organization, could be summarized in words I often quote from Hilaire Belloc: “The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine — but for unbelievers a proof of its divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight.”

And yet I am, like any faithful Catholic, drawn short by any priest, acting in persona Christi. Confronted with the long history of Christian monasticism, and mystical works, I cannot possibly be dismissive. Rather, I am in awe.

While a superficial distinction can be made, between holiness in prayer and holiness in action, the contemplative life does not answer to it. Of course, a monastic profession is not free from “work”: nothing that gets you up before five in the morning could be. But by a trite modern notion we have come to understand that prayer is, even if work, effectual only in some “psychological” way. If there is a God, thinks the unreflecting modern, then praying might improve my standing with Him, and make me behave a little better. The Christian idea that it can move mountains is not something we are inclined to entertain. And this because, when push comes to shove, we are utterly faithless.

Holiness, as Freedom and a few other things — everything, actually — is indivisible. We have categories, but should not be under their spell. Though not called to the eremite condition myself, I am not prey to the modern superstition that the silent religious within their enclosures are “irrelevant” to the life of this world. Without them, I think, we are for the boilers. For not only is prayer “real” but — in flat contradiction of modernist individualism — the prayers of others also have effect.

In my piece at Catholic Thing this morning (here) I try to apply this to our current situation. We are passing through a time when, from our organizational summit in Rome, we are darkly warned against the many sins to which we are not tempted.

We are not, so far as I can see, in an age of all-encompassing monasticism, tithing to a Church that is fussily intruding into every aspect of our private lives, and preaching oppressive brimstone from every pulpit. (Nor were we ever, notwithstanding modern myths.) If we were, perhaps some of the latest Apostolic Exhortation would make sense.

Rather, we live in an age of irresponsible glibness, and oppressive faithlessness, towards Christ but also towards our neighbour. This is the circumstance the Church must address, if she is to have any influence on the sordid passage of human events. She must call us to worship, which means prayer. And what we should “do” about the mess around us should emerge from that prayer, not vice versa.

Questions, questions

A journalist hiding behind a “Premium” pay wall, one Margi Murphy of the London Telegraph, noticed something I did, too, during my brief video reconnoitre of yesterday’s congressional hearings. It was about this Zuckerberg fellow who, with friends who have since been suing him, launched the appalling Facebook social media site, from his Harvard dorm room in 2004.

Did I mention that the whole idea of the thing is appalling? Or that it should be eliminated for reasons of good taste? Or that the “softball” questions the lad is being asked by the Merican Senators should be supplemented with spinballs, knuckleballs, spitballs, rocks, and the occasional guided missile? No? Well, sometimes I run over my self-imposed space allowance, in my tireless efforts to be “fair and balanced.”

What this Murphy lady noticed, with the help of some “body-language expert” — and I could spot without — was that young Zuckerberg is a computer animation. My words, not theirs, but they flagged the robotic delivery of prepared answers to prepared questions, and the facial gestures corresponding to the keystrokes in an emoji chart.

Now that we have seen him in action, an inquiry should be called to establish whether Zuckerberg actually exists. In his Wicked Paedia entry, for instance, his pre-college claim to know French, Hebrew, Latin, and ancient Greek is stated. Surely that is a giveaway. Many questions need answering, for instance: Was his height-enhancing seat-cushion real? Or was it part of the holographic projection? How many of the Senators were real? And how do we know the camera slips were genuine?

I do not accuse “Z.” of working for the Russians. Rather, I wonder if he was invented in the same Moscow simulation studios that came up with the characters of Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, and Pope Francis. In which case we should worry: for Trump is able to simulate spontaneity.

Will the missile smacks on Syria that Trump has telegraphed be real? Was Putin’s promise to shoot them down part of the arrangement? What if there was no arrangement, or some gaffer accidentally deleted the script? Will more or fewer people be killed as a consequence?

I have other questions. They occur to me whenever I check the news. Nothing makes sense, on the Facebook of things, and one naturally tries to find explanations. I see various attempts that I would call paranoid, but those are as likely to come from the news presenters as from the Facebook customers.

The human mind seeks order. Even hallucinations serve this quest. Placed in an environment where nothing is intelligible, quite wonderful things will be imagined. Notwithstanding, I am struck by a horrible thought. What if Zuckerberg is real?

The Zuckerberg chronicles

At the moment, up here in the High Doganate, or rather, inside my wee desktop communications facility, I am receiving requests from persons with names such as “Honey,” and “Alisha,” to do business with me. The sort of business was not mentioned; until Alisha hinted that it would be “long term,” and consist of me getting paid for advertisements on this website that would be automatically inserted so that I would never have to think about them. But I generally avoid getting into long-term relationships with people I’ve never met, who lack surnames. So, I hit “Spam,” as I have already done several times this morning, or “Report Phishing” for variety, and hope that if I continue hitting them, these “virtual ladies” will eventually go away, and I can get back to the more attractive business offers, that come from Nigeria.

The world out there is large, I have observed, in comparison to me. In the olden days, before the Internet was invented, and then Facebook and other obscenities, one had also to cope with the dodgy types; but only those in one’s immediate vicinity. Moreover, they had to show their faces. There was always buckshot, if they persisted in coming to your door. Now, thanks to technology, all the dodgy types in the world can come right through it, and the amount of effort that would have to be invested to give any one of them some much-needed pain, is beyond imagining.

I am not “on Facebook.” True enough, I tried a three-month experiment being “on Twitter,” several years ago. This ended in my freedom from the slightest temptation to ever be on it again. My problem was, the experiment was working. My “followers” were multiplying merrily, and my mind was becoming stuck in quick one-line responses to them and to my trolls. It was fun, in moments, the way battlefields are fun, for soldiers who enjoy heavy crossfire. And all of it “virtual,” and thus none of it harmful to the body; only to the soul. Ditto, I should think, for Facebook.

This kid called Zuckerberg is testifying to Congress at the moment, I gather from the news. People have been whining about how their privacy is invaded, and how he profits from the information he quasi-legally extracts. But the kid himself is only an “entrepreneur,” with proven skill appropriating anything that comes within his grasp. “You’re own bloody fault for opening a Facebook account,” I would say — if I did not know better.

Do you know that I was “banned” by Facebook, without ever having opened an account? This I learnt when I tried to read something unpleasant about me, which a friend said was on Facebook. He gave the link; cat-like I succumbed to curiosity. From the little I understand of the matter — yet it is more than I wanted to know — Facebook and other “social media” are able to “scrape” me algorithmically. Their machines, tipped off perhaps by some obvious cad, had guessed that I was not a liberal-progressive zombie, and was thus ineligible to participate in their “free service.”

It is in the nature of “post-modern irony,” however, that you must participate, or suffer consequences that the service can impose.

The analogy that comes to mind is driverless cars. We are told that these wonderful new computer-operated vehicles are perfectly safe and might even cut down on death and carnage from road collisions. That is good news for people in cars. The bad news will be an immense increase in death and carnage for pedestrians, who are harder than big metal objects for the machines to track. But those in cars won’t be criminally responsible, so why should they care?

In the reasoning of our progressive age, those who do not buy driverless cars will have only themselves to blame for getting “mistakenly” killed by them. Though I imagine we will soon be able to buy electronic implants, that will signal our location to the passing cars, and as a bonus to the authorities, allow satellite tracking of ourselves as we walk, sit, or sleep.

And then there is Sweden — in advance even of Canada in the movement towards the “cashless society,” in which, if you haven’t first bought the necessary high-tech equipment, you cannot buy even a loaf of bread. The intention is not to starve the elderly and feeble, of course. The Swedes already have elaborate social programmes for training these people like rats or hamsters. Rather, it is to provide the government, and the large corporations which interact with it (or vice versa if you’re Left instead of Right), with detailed information on your movements, and every transaction, no matter how small. The revenue offices need never again miss a penny of your taxes. And you get to pay for being hooked up.

Who could resist such a bargain, even were it not legally imposed? All these developments are good for the economy, and will contribute to an increase in our GDP.

In dispraise of enlightenment

My Chief Texas Correspondent, of all people, directs my attention this morning to an article by a certain Yoram Hazony, in the Wall Street Journal. It is entitled, “The Dark Side of the Enlightenment,” and is several cuts above the usual op-ed standard. It is worth busting in, for anyone who has the means to get through their pay wall. I would go farther than Mr Hazony, myself, but he goes far enough for the first mug of coffee, in dismembering the premisses under recent books by e.g. David Brooks and Steven Pinker. I noted, and was delighted by, a nice swift kick at Immanuel Kant — who, to my mind, was almost personally responsible for resetting the default of Western Civ to “agnosticism.” We must toggle it back, to “faith and reason.”

Reason belongs in all those areas to which reason can be applied. It is not opposed to, but complementary to, Faith. “Rationalism” is not reason, but its deification, in the same relation as “scientism” to science. It produces strange monsters, and a lot of bloodshed, and is paradoxically rife with superstition and the sort of priestcraft that comes in lab-coats. (“Science” says this and “science” says that, and we must run and do whatever Al Gore tells us because of “settled science.” In Russia they had seventy-five years of settled “scientific socialism.”) Mr Hazony’s opposition of genuine scepticism to the posturings of the enlightened is right on.

Many so-called “conservatives” are enlightened. Brooks is a jackass, and yet he counts as a “conservative,” at least for the purposes of tokenism in the New York Times. Pinker is a jackass, too, I say, though from another stable: reason and rationalism all jumbled together. (Or mule, if you prefer, in light of cross-breeding between Houyhnhnm horse and pack asinus.)

As gentle reader may know, my view of Darwinism — a key component of modern, enlightened, progressive thinking — is not favourable. In thinking about it recently, I remembered that while I’ve been anti-Darwinian since about the age of twelve, I didn’t come to it by my own genius. It was a remarkably impressive biology teacher, a certain Mr Henry (American), who got me started, in the (very backward and British-colonial) Bangkok Patana School. Apart from what seemed an encyclopaedic knowledge of every living creature and how it works, he was contemptuous of textbook evolutionism, saying we cannot prove descent from the mere fact of chronological succession. And indeed, the DNA revolution is still toppling the “settled” family tree, and shredding all its branches.

I mention this because, contrary to the teaching of Enlightenment, we do actually depend on teachers and precursors to get at any knowledge. An important conceit among the enlightened is that they alone know everything from scratch and experiment. On closer inspection, they don’t know squat. From Mr Henry, among other sources such as my father, I acquired that “scepticism.” It is not the same as doubting everything you are told, except what you are told by the cool people.

You know there is such a thing as Truth, and will not be put off it by bullshit. You know that the truth is not something that changes. What was true yesterday, stays true today. The task is to discover what the truth is, not to gauge which way the wind is blowing.

Mr Henry was, incidentally, sacked for teaching that the biology textbook was full of … whatever. He knew his subject inside out, and he was dead right. He was a quiet, rather timid man, but he wouldn’t knuckle under. Nor had this anything to do with his religion: I don’t think he had any.

That’s just Darwinism. The project of the Enlightenment is larger. It is totalitarian in nature, was from the beginning, and will be until by God’s grace, it ends.

In praise of rigidity

My Chief Buncombe Correspondent (from the county of that name in the Carolinas) writes:

“An odd analogy presented itself while I was in the state between wakefulness and sleep. It came to pass that in youth I spent many Saturdays at a road course race track. It was a two-and-a-half mile course. I often chose to view the action from corner two. I would be looking down a short high-speed straight section that fed into a tight right-hand turn. It was an excellent vantage to see both the skills of the driver displayed, and the way the machine responded to his inputs, on the undulating surface of the track. I was a Ford man in the day, although I drove a VW Bug for economy’s sake. Being a Ford man, I took special interest in the Mustangs.

“The Mustang had uni-body construction. There was no frame. The members of the body acted as frame to carry tension, compression, and torsional loads.

“It worked well enough for driving to the market. …

“On the race track, however, the design was flawed. Coming into turn two, decelerating as hard as the brakes and tires would allow, and riding over lumpy asphalt where thousands of previous racers had braked, on much stickier tires that had rippled the surface, the Mustangs would dance and skitter. They would leap sideways, buck, shudder and chirp. One could plainly see the driver slashing the steering wheel from side to side — while still on the straight section, not yet into the turn. He fought to save control before entering the turn, where the real test of man and machine would be encountered.

“It was exciting to watch, but also upsetting. No one really wants to see the tightrope walker fall. The more obvious the danger, the less the enjoyment for the non-ghoulish.

“By contrast, the cars that were purpose-built for racing, were completely stable under hard braking. The driver’s hands were still as the chassis damped out the undulations, and the rigid steel tube ‘space frame’ kept all useful parts in their correct relations. Making time through turn two was still a test of skill, judgement, and feel, but it was not the existential threat faced by Mustang drivers, who rode random forces into the turn, like a bronc buster in a jackpot rodeo.

“And so it came unto me that rigidity has its purposes. Pace our current apostolic spiritual leader, rigidity is not an inherent evil. When man and his constructions are put to the test, rigidity is what allows for clarity of action. Instead of reacting to random fluctuations made worse by complex and unforeseeable rebounding, one may concentrate on the matter at hand. …”


One finds this principle, too, in wild nature. Creatures including men have spines, and a skeletal arrangement, whether it be internal or external. Bones do not bend. They are flexible in the joints, true enough, but within limits. The turtle has his carapace, the beetle his shell, neither of which benefit from cracking. And every creature, without an exception, is endowed with structure, finely adapted to his tasks. Not one can afford to be compromised. They are rigid and stable when it comes to the test, and not likelier to survive when broken. The Intelligent Designer made them that way.

For sure, there is a place for worms, whose design is well suited to slithering from sight, but I think the celebration of invertebrates has been overdone. Let us also celebrate the rigid.

More merciful than Jesus

Asked once if he were a happy man, Charles de Gaulle replied, “I am not stupid.”

It was a direct reply to a direct question, and it was superb. For the French general and president would not diminish the concept of happiness to what it has become in our modern world; to what I would call the “happyface” idiocy. The burdens of state are not happyface, and the jollying rhetoric of cheap politicians does not lighten them. I love Charles de Gaulle, by the way, in the same way I love Winston Churchill: the man for the job in each case. But I have never mistaken either for a saint.

Gethsemane, to be plain, was not a happyface story. Neither was the Crucifixion.

The Gloria is not a happyface proposition. Nothing that is bottomless could be so.

The moral stench of our contemporary, “progressive” worldview is not founded on anything. It floats in an air of glibness — the very glibness that denies the existence of Hell. It presents itself as more merciful than Jesus, more tolerant than the madame of any brothel. Its happiness is a false posture, shallow and neurotic; a mask over something unspeakably grim.

What troubles me most is not our current pope’s repeated contradictions, of the Catholic doctrines that are his duty to uphold. This troubles me a great deal, but even more, his refusal to answer direct questions about what he has said, or is reported to have said. Instead he leaves his staff to issue “plausible denials” — sophistical obfuscations — then goes back to playing conventional pope again, for the conventionally faithful, until his next irruption. He is playing a game with us — a game with the heart, mind, and soul of every Catholic. By now I am convinced that he is not an honest man.

He is not even a sincere heretic. The venerable heresy of Apokatastasis, attributed to proponents of universal salvation, from Origen to Teilhard, is not what he is selling, contrary to what several intellectuals claim. That doctrine is not glib. It does not involve denial of the existence of Hell; it rather affirms that the souls in Hell will be, somehow and eventually, brought to salvation. It further contradicts the pope’s Peronist notion that inconvenient souls can be made to “disappear.” For however we imagine Hell, or its duration, the idea that God did not make every human soul immortal is actually more offensive to Christian teaching.

I have been accused, by several correspondents, of being a bad Catholic, for showing the office of the papacy disrespect. This is upside down. It is exactly what the pope is doing — forcing us to choose between himself and Jesus Christ.

The modern post-heretic

It will be the thesis of this Idlepost that there are no heretics today — not even in Rome, alas. The classical heresies are alive, and repeated, but not with the virulence of old. We are protected from them by a secret not yet discovered by medical science: that you can’t get the plague when you’ve already got a cold. Modern error is like the common cold, or drunkenness: a condition which afflicts so much of the human organism simultaneously, that there can be no cure, no elegant diagnosis. We are enwrapped, or enfogged, by all the symptoms. Some may die from the development of effects — from pneumonia, perhaps, or cirrhosis of the liver — but most experience only general debilitation.

The attempt to define the heresy of “Americanism” — a noble effort on the part of Leo XIII, in his Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae (1899), developed from the noble effort of Pius IX in his “Syllabus of Errors” (1864) — is indicative of this. There was, by those days, no “silver bullet” for the modern condition, nor even a spray of silver bullets: the Enemy was already too heterogeneous for that. Scholars debate what the “real targets” of these documents were (was Leo badgering the Americans to get at the French? &c) but cannot agree among themselves. The first thing we see in reading them again is that they seem dated, since Western society has since “moved on” — though precisely in the directions predicted. (The great encyclicals, including Humanae Vitae, have this prophetic quality. They seem “dated” today because they were so true.)

Implicit in modernity from the beginning was what we call post-modernity today: something irretrievably irrational and post-Christian, though from a host or legion of causes; a swamp within which we cannot trace any single spring. Mud, quite impossible to drain; though as ever we remember that God could do it.

Some tidsear sgoile (Scots Gaelic for “schoolteacher,” I hope) once told me that modernity consists of two poisoned streams of post-Christian thinking, one of which can be traced to Descartes, the other to Hegel. And that we are the fish carried along by them; not actually dead, but close to it. It was, I thought, the beginning of a brilliant clarification. But then the mud infills on every side.

When I call myself a “man of the thirteenth century,” I am not really claiming to be eight centuries old; only expressing an aspiration. It has seemed to me from the beginning of my journey into Christianity, towards Catholicism, that the challenge is to overcome — if only in one’s own mental outlook — the catastrophe of the Reformation. And by this I mean the Reformation in the broadest sense, not merely as the origin of Protestantism, for the Catholic realms were almost equally altered by it. As I once put it, the Protestants had walked off with some of our silverware; getting it back would require getting them back. But the analogy isn’t good enough; for the whole (“Catholic”) vision is larger than any sum of its parts.

What entered on all sides was a “rationalism” that irrationally denied the mystical, the miraculous, and the boundaries of reason; which finally denies reason itself, and leaves each man in utter isolation. Our saints in their visionary experience could get it back; but our people were being taught not even to look for it; to reduce the visionary to optics, as it were; finally to discount everything divine as forms of superstition. Progress was conceived: towards some point at which God could be eliminated entirely.

The task of righting what seems capsized in the Church is of course beyond any human capacity, individual or aggregate. We can only turn to Christ for that. But that turning is, in itself, a challenge beyond the reach of modernity. To follow Him, we must verily give up everything we have.

Of ducking & plucking

Methinks I am a prophet new inspired, and do foretell the use of ducks in rice fields. More precisely, I am reminded of this clever practice by an item on the Beeb this morning. It is what that BBC is good for, by the way. Skip immediately over their canting and pernicious news pages, and go to their earth and nature pieces. They are endowed with a huge budget, and one way that they spend it is on these mildly informative and passably entertaining “features.” Often I am slightly uplifted by them.

Their piece this morning on a French rice farmer, whose son happened to visit Vietnam, was in that class. There are pretty pictures of the now duckherd farmer, leading his flock through his paddies. The more paddy, the better for the ducks; the more ducks, the better for the paddy. God is bountiful.

The ducks, you see, do not like rice. They eat everything else while the rice grows, at all of its stages: weeds, insects, and many wee creatures which the moderns would restrain by truckloads of pesticides. They also replace the fertilizer truckloads, having been designed by nature to distribute their wealth evenly and lightly. This saves the expense of fuel, in a waste of heavy engineering.

On the other hand, it requires some art, and prayer whenever, as sometimes happens, the time is out of joint.

With eager feeding food doth choke the feeder; or once he gets the knack of gobbling, it makes him fat. By end of season, it is true, your ducks become so heavy, that they would trample the delicate seedlings for the next crop. This would be a problem were there not a simple and elegant solution: duck paté. Thus have we two full crops, in the space of a single beleaguered one.

Three, once we draw some fish into the picture. For the farmers in the wet monsoonal downwinds of south-eastern Asia take them at the flood; encourage them to stray from the swollen rivers into their rice fields. Fine, free-range fish these would be. Your children can catch them with their hands for dinner, or supplement the supply from dip nets in the streams and klongs. Such happy memories I have, of rural Thailand: delicious fresh fish, with the appropriate sauces.

And how I love to see small children, joyously at work. (Schools only make them sad.)

Now, before gentle reader abandons his good sense, to take up rice cultivation, he should consider whether the parking lots around him would be so easy to adapt, or if the local climate is tropical enough. He should also know, or perhaps does already, that the life of the traditional farmer on all our continents was never quite continuous Arcadian bliss.

Who, now, seeing Her so
Happily married,
Housewife, helpmate to Man,

Can imagine the screeching
Virago, the Amazon,
Earth Mother was? …

(Auden, 1965.)

Still, we might rethink our politics, our economics, and the other dimensions of our complacently destructive ways. And this before, in addition to our own sorry spectacle, of yammering and slammering and hammering and grinding, we get the screeching Virago back.