Essays in Idleness

DAVID WARREN

Bells & whistles

I have been doing my best to antagonize my Chief Texas Correspondent by forwarding media items to him on tomorrow’s Royal Wedding. The latest had the subject line, “Only 24 hours OMG!” and flagged this item from the BBC. I had already sent him a countdown timer so he could set his clocks to it.

As a postscript I mentioned the nice reply of “one of them heavily-dressed full-colour guards” to a media ditz, who asked how he would be coping with the very hot weather predicted for Windsor tomorrow.

“It was warmer in Afghanistan and Iraq, ma’am.”

My CTC is a dogged Republican of the old Yanqui school. Over the years since Vietnam or whenever we have been discussing politics in light of this fact. He is under the illusion that hereditary monarchs are responsible for all the foibles of the world, which aggregated into Twisted Nanny State, and led to The Obama that Makes Desolate, playing King.

I’m afraid these Americans still don’t get it. Some things have nothing to do with each other, except that they may be found within the same Universe, dating from the Big Bang. Twisted Nanny Statehood has prevailed in every single country in the West, and now the World, regardless of its constitutional status. This even includes Natted States Merica. It is not the work of kings and queens. Rather it is the work of the Devil.

It wasn’t the fond idea of those Protestant royals, when they hatched the Divine Right of Kings; for when they tried that on, the power of Nanny was inconceivable. We had not yet had the Industrial Revolution, let alone the French and Russian ones. The Divine Right of Bureaucrats knows no practical restraints.

Had Obama only been a constitutional monarch, he would have been harmless. Indeed, he would have looked good in that rôle. Ditto Pierre Trudeau, of unhappy memory. They knew how to dress the part, and utter occasionally mischievous platitudes. They were comfortable at the centres of their respective courts, and that is all we require. Put their portraits on the coins and spend them. Even Justin Trudeau would be harmless, were he properly supervised by adults. If not, we need arrange only one accident.

As I was explaining to my CTC, I don’t propose to increase the power of our Queen; only to reduce the power of the Guvmint to the point where she looks like something. Parliament can stay, too. So long as it is deferential to the Queen, and keeps the Royal Navy funded and floating. Princes may still fly helicopters, as before. Army, Air Force, and Marines, stet. And the Ordnance Survey, perhaps; and the Heraldry College, sustained by rich sods who like that sort of thing. And some bobbies and Common Law judges in wigs. But the Home Office will be for the bonfire, and the Department of Environment for the fishes.

Won’t this leave the power of big nasty corporations unchecked? The heck it will. They depend on Twisted Nanny. They could not exist without the complex regulatory apparatus that is blindly imposed over entire nations, and without which they would have to seek permissions for each franchise, in ten thousand municipalities; in each of which local businessmen would have the mayor’s personal phone number. And no welfare state will flourish, when taxpayers can see where their money is going.

But everyone loves a parade. God Save the Queen! Cheers to Meghan and Harry!

___________

Sunday morning clarifying footnote. I’m not saying the marriage was valid, of course. The Windsor wedding of our lively junior prince to a divorced, nominally-Catholic commoner could not possibly be, any more than Prince Charles’s last wedding. But it was perhaps the most impressive display of elegant ladies’ hats of which I have ever seen pictures. And the grand procession of Hollywood celebrities and sports stars into the once-Catholic pilgrim chapel of Saint Edward the Confessor (former Patron of England, and still of difficult marriages) made a merry show. Indeed, the English now have a five-century tradition, of spectacular celebration of invalid rites.

A blessed Pentecost to all my gentle readers!

A health warning

I seize with alacrity upon “studies” that confirm my long-held beliefs and prejudices. One of those was, and remains, my belief that physical exercise, especially in the form of vigorous gym workouts, jogging, and lane swimming, are a leading cause of physical illness, dementia, and premature death. Indeed, all my old friends who were exercise phanaticks have predeceased me, except for a few who have gone quite mad. The very desire for this kind of activity I take as an early indicator of mental disequilibration, and a possible death wish.

Now, the study I will flag this morning — here — I take as merely the tip of the iceberg. It only affects to show that exercise for the demented makes their conditions worse, and does that much with statistical moderation. My own vastly more comprehensive anecdotal observations consider the matter in its full scale and range, and explain it coherently.

Be it noted, the exercise phanaticks will often claim — perversely in their own defence — that they get a physical “high” from their labours. I do not doubt they are telling the truth. Rather, I suggest they have a grave addiction. Heroin users of my previous acquaintance — I never rejected them, they simply died off — could claim the same for themselves.

The Darwinists, notorious for mistaking their evolutionary causes, explain any human propensity to quick running and swimming by a just-so story about our ancestors’ lives. They imagine that in our primaeval state, we had often to outrun the beasts of land and sea, or climb trees to escape them; and that over time our gene pool was filled exclusively by the survivors.

But no. The same phenomena can be explained more plausibly by the recurrence of human eccentricities, in defiance of philosophical wisdom. (In theology, this is known as the Fall of Man.) It is my contention that the men of the Stone Age sought exercise more credibly by throwing rocks, and dodging moving objects. Hence our vestigial, urban delight in professional sports, which the great majority would rather watch than play. (In a more natural, country environment, everyone mucks in.)

Man did not, and could not, survive by outpacing the fiercer large animals, themselves designed for speed in the capture. Rather, he flourished by learning how to trick them. My suspicion is that the Darwinists have overlooked this point, and mentally enfeebled themselves, by their own inordinate indulgence in callisthenics and running.

The human body was itself designed for other purposes. At the centre of the scheme we find head and hands. See any proportional model of the human sensory and motor functions. (A “cortical homunculus,” I think this is called.) We are all mouth, bug-eyes, ears, and fingers extending from very big hands. These are mounted on indifferent limbs and connectors. We use what we have when we are on our game. Running is for lizards and leopards; and even they are wiser than to be running all the time; most of the day they just sun themselves. We have much more in common with the elephants, from whom, I speculate, we may have descended.

Nor, if gentle reader insists upon the monkeys, can they run very fast. Nor are all of them such efficient climbers; and those who seem to take workouts in the trees, are adapted to that function. Mostly they just sit about, or hang there. The monkeys can be clever, I own, but are hardly ever wise; perhaps our liberals are descended from them.

Still, I would not speak invidiously of monkeys. For even they know better than to participate in marathons and the like.

On idle godliness

The problem with God is that He’s not a problem, and more, that He refuses to become one. He can only be a problem for us, and in that case a problem of our making. The denials we attempt create nothing but confusion — for us, and for those who listen to us. We spend whole days fussing with denial, when we could have been doing better things — things that include eating and sleeping. We are to my mind insufficiently Idle, in my preferred sense of this term, which is not to be confused with Sloth, a mortal sin.

Rather I think Idleness is more like Silence.

Sloth is misunderstood, when it is confused with mere laziness. Laziness is venial, though unchecked it will accumulate into mental coma. But few are the slothful who are lazy. They fill their heads with problems, lions in the way. This is among those Proverbs of more than superficial depth: we should more carefully consider the lions. A real lion would be a good excuse; but we fill our road with imaginary lions. These include the composition of unanswerable questions — a hobby for more people than you could shake a stick at.

A fine lady in Australia copied to me this morning a meditation by Simone Weil, which I in my turn copy below. Weil, to my mind, was a great idler, as the quotation will explain. She was also, to my mind, something like that Maid of Orleans, whom I so treasure as a Catholic woman: soft in the heart, not soft in the head.

*

In my contemplations on the insoluble problem of God, I did not anticipate the possibility of real contact, person-to-person, here below, between a human and God. I had vaguely heard tell of things of this kind, but I never believed them. … Moreover, in Christ’s sudden possession of me, neither my senses nor my imagination had any part. Through my suffering I only felt the presence of a love analogous to that which one reads in the smile of a beloved face.

I had never read any of the mystics, because I had never felt called to read them. In reading, as in other things, I always attempt practical obedience. There is nothing more favourable to intellectual progress, for as far as possible I do not read anything except that for which I am hungry in the moment, when I am hungry for it, and then I do not read, … I eat. God mercifully prevented me from reading the mystics, so that it would be evident to me that I had not fabricated this absolutely unexpected contact.

Yet I still half refused, not my love, but my intelligence. For it seemed certain, and I believe it still today, that we can never wrestle God too much if we do so out of pure concern for the truth. Christ loves that we prefer the truth to him, because before being the Christ, he is the Truth. If someone takes a detour from him to go towards the truth, they will not go a long way without falling into his arms.

Missing day chronicles

The reason I do not upload Idleposts every day (apart from Sundays) is more defensible than some gentle readers might suppose. On days like today, I spend the whole morning (or some other part) composing something which, upon careful rereading, I judge to be worth rendering extinct; to be, in my sober secondary estimation, counter-productive to the cause it would advance. I agree with Pope Francis on many things — we only seem to disagree on crucial catechetical nuances — and one good point he makes is that we mustn’t “go on” about subjects like abortion, every day. We should, as he has yet to advise, save our fire for when we have a ripe target. (Then, I should think, use both barrels.)

At the heart of Christianity is a great joy — a great, and inexplicable joy to the unbelievers — and thanksgiving for the same Life we are defending must take its primary place. Whether in our choice of garlic bulbs for cheese bughetti (see yesterday), or in chant and song, we should not always pick the “moody.” (Lovely Irish expression for garlic past its prime, no?)

Nor should violence be our first resort, whether physical or verbal. Even in the most discouraging circumstances, we should consider other approaches. And better yet, learn in our bones what they are.

There is a young woman, a very effective TV personality — so good that she is now permanently off air — who once did something quite impressive. She was (still is) frequently insulted by liberals, both behind her back and to her face, with words like “bitch,” “whore,” “fascist,” &c. She has the hide of a rhinoceros, however, and these bullets bounce off; almost unladylike in her emotional armour. I sometimes think she doesn’t even hear them. But once, she suddenly heard such an insult, for Our Lady. And what did she do about it?

She burst into tears. It was something I had never seen her do before. It struck me as the most beautifully Christian response to a stinking, savage blasphemy. She spent the next hour trying to recover her poise. I thought, Joan of Arc was like that.

A certain Cardinal Archbishop of Greater Parkdale — a man whom I think too timid, but whose heart seems consistently in the right place — put this into words last week. He reminded an audience of committed pro-lifers that they were not “social justice warriors.” They should not behave anything like those people. No slogans, no cussing. And when they are surrounded by the cussing sloganeers, they should not respond. Our task is to carry some Christian light into the contemporary darkness. It is not a demonstration, but a pilgrimage. Alluding wonderfully to Cardinal Sarah’s works, he advised us to maintain our “Silence,” outwardly as well as inwardly.

My own reflexes do not run that way. When the enemy is outnumbered, I should very much enjoy a streetfight. But rare are the circumstances in which this would be edifying.

There was joy, too, in the acts of the Knights Templar; in the glinting broadswords of Charles Martel. But these were for special occasions; and the joy was nothing to compare with the contemplation of the majesty of Our Lord.

The macaroni chronicles

It is beyond me why these North Americans buy little boxes at the supermarket, labelled “macaroni and cheese.” I saw one yesterday loading her cart with the things, while I was innocently fetching milk for my tea.

Once I bought one from curiosity, and found that it contained little macaroni elbows and a pouch with a powdered substance that would have alarmed me, had it arrived in the mail. I do not know what chemicals it contained, but when the instructions on the box were followed, it began to smell of processed cheese. In Canada we call this “Kraft Dinner,” and I assume it is fed to prisoners. In the USA, where they take branding less seriously, they call it generically “mac’n’cheese.” Until I experiment, I cannot know if cats will eat it.

Now, the Kraft company has a special place in my demonology because many decades ago, when Ontario was applauded for her cheese factories, making cheddars good as or better than any in the British Empire or world, they bought up and closed as many as they could. Or so I was told, by some commie, but he seemed to have documentary proof.

European readers may not be aware that, prior to the World Wars, every region of North America, and every imported ethnicity, had its own distinctive and rich culinary traditions, and the range of goods in our markets was substantially greater than it is today. Across the board, our food was not the bland muck that emerged in the middle of the last century, with the final triumph of state-regulated industrial capitalism, with its tireless search for a lower common denominator to suit astounding economies of scale.

It was an international phenomenon, and the Americans did not even start it (the “spirit of progress” hatched during the Reformation). But as the English-speaking peoples proved the most complacent and incapable of resistance, we acquired the principal killjoy reputation.

Well, I am wandering off topic. I am so old that I can remember from childhood when “macaroni and cheese” might still imply a baked casserole, with other ingredients than macaroni elbows, industrial margarine, homogenized milk, and the mystery powder. To be fair, the box, as I recall it, offered a recipe for making something like this by adding more expensive ingredients, and radically extending the preparation and cooking time; but I reflected that if one were to do this, the contents of the box would sabotage it.

Now it happens that, up here in the High Doganate, where we have only one prisoner to feed, and he does all the work, extremely simple cookery is often permitted; and even encouraged, on Fridays. Among the dishes is what my younger son once dubbed “cheese bughetti,” and this is how it is made.

In a pot of heavily salted water, boil the pasta, along with as many garlic cloves as your heart may desire. When both are reasonably soft, dump into a colander, rinse and drain. Then flip this back into the pot, and lightly braise in a small pond of actual butter. Having grated an appropriate quantity of a fine, sharp, seriously aged Ontario cheddar (from goat milk if available), jumble everything together and grind blackpepper over the top.

There you have it: four ingredients not counting salt and pepper (or three, as there are people on this continent now who won’t eat garlic even after it has been transformed by heat, but my beloved son was not one of those). Fifteen minutes of time, for an organized person. The result is quite addictive.

So, I suppose, is the stuff from the box, but God knows what they put in the powder to make it so, and whatever it is, He cannot possibly approve.

A furious aside

It is amusing, or alternatively it is desolating, to learn from some silly poll that four in five Canadians believe there are some laws on the books somewhere that limit abortions in some way. And yet they have the vote in our free elections.

No, Canada is unique, in having no such laws whatever.

Or perhaps we are not: it is possible this could also be said of North Korea, though I find the assertion impossible to check.

Soon, perhaps, it will be said of Ireland, where the vote to remove the constitutional restraint on baby killing will be held on the 25th of May, and the Irish will or will not take a decisive step down the road to perdition. (Not the first: the journey begins with open contraception and easy divorce.) It could also serve as the final, irretrievable betrayal of Ireland’s Catholic heritage; of that Ireland which was once the beacon of Christian civilization; which sent her missionaries into the heart of barbarous pagan Europe in a very dark age — foreshadowing universities, hospitals, cathedrals, and other Catholic inventions; Dante and Shakespeare and all that.

There, as here, the proponents of abortion argue that it is just a small step, a “baby step” as one of them said without thinking, to cancel a part of the Irish constitution and thus remove some “unnecessary paperwork” from the “decision-making process.” They wish to reassure sceptical voters that “there will be no big change,” only a slight “modernization.” They know this is a lie — a big black obvious lie — the point of which is to baffle persons of small brain.

Once the lock is blown off, the door is open.

The big lie has a further purpose, in spreading confusion and conflict among those who should surely have the brains to know that murder is murder, even when the victim is defenceless; and that the guilt of it, which cries to heaven for justice, cannot be reduced by tossing a few euphemisms around.

It is a strategic error not to fight these people with everything we have. Even if our side should lose, no one should be left in doubt what the stakes were. Or ever allowed to forget, until they discover the grace of repentance.

Ottawa’s annual March for Life was yesterday — Holy Thursday, the traditional Feast of the Ascension; now shifted to Sunday in liberal Catholic churches so it won’t interfere with the work week. There is some hope in the fact that this march grows year by year. For a brief moment today, passers-by may see what 100,000 pink and blue flags look like, around the Human Rights Monument: one for each Canadian child sacrificed since last year’s demonstration.

The liberal media, including the newspaper in that town that used to employ me as its “token conservative,” do their best to ignore what are by far the largest demonstrations that have ever converged on Parliament Hill; but the traffic chaos this year got the news in, contradicting their own “extremely conservative” estimates of the crowd size.

To the contemporary liberal mind, killing unborn babies is a matter of private conscience for pregnant women alone to decide, having been protected from “pro-life propaganda.” But a traffic jam is a real public evil. How they howl when delayed for work!

Or when someone shows a picture that plainly displays what abortion is. Such poor taste!

Heaven, Hell, & Alder Hey

Atul Gawande, MD, made what I consider a devastating point, though in passing, during some recent podcast (here), called to my attention by an article in Crisis (here). It was a tale of two nineteenth-century inventions that changed the practice of medicine, unquestionably for the better: anaesthesia and antisepsis.

The first demonstration of the ether gas was performed at Massachusetts General Hospital in October, 1846, by a Boston dentist, William T. G. Morton. For the first time, surgical operations could be performed painlessly. Within two months, the invention was known and being applied in every capital of Europe, and in little more time it became commonplace internationally. The number of surgical operations vastly increased, as it was no longer necessary to hold patients down, and act very quickly.

Joseph Lister first used carbolic acid (phenol) to perform sterile surgery at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, in August, 1865. This would have the effect of vastly increasing the survival rate from these now commonplace surgical operations. But the news took years to circulate, and by the twentieth century surgeons were still working with infected equipment in filthy environments. Indeed, I have read accounts of the horrors of battlefield medicine in the First World War: men with survivable injuries, lost by the hundred thousands from ignorant, unnecessarily unhygienic medical procedures.

As Dr Gawande points out — in passing — both advances made life easier on patients. But the second saved lives on a — vastly — greater scale. The first was unique, in making life easier for doctors, who no longer had to operate on screaming, writhing customers. This also, incidentally, hugely increased their trade, and thus their income. Washing up, effectively, only added nuisance.

I already knew this history — my mommy was a ward matron, after all — but until the comparison was spelt out, the full significance was lost on me. I had read the “official” versions in several standard medical histories. They assume the slow spread of antisepsis was a problem of communications. Gentle reader will note that this is a lie. Methods of communication did not slow in the generation between the two inventions.

And I mention this with some animus, having read a few outraged emails from doctors defending the staff at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, who in their “disinterested, empathetic” way were eager to terminate the existence of the baby, Alfie Evans, “to ease his suffering,” in defiance of his parents’ plainly expressed wishes. (The child was comatose and not in pain.)

It is forty years since the book, Medical Nemesis: The Expropriation of Health, was published and “progressively” ignored. The author, the thoughtful Catholic anarchist Ivan Illich, went to considerable trouble to document all of the surprising allegations he made against modern, over-professionalized, institutional medicine, and the phenomenon of Iatrogenesis (doctor-created ills) that followed from the “medicalization” and “pharmaceutical invasion” of modern life. I could tell first-hand stories myself to curl my reader’s ears.

The book is worth revisiting because Illich studied these phenomena with the breadth that is rarely accorded to them. He stepped beyond mere technical questions to the larger issue of how we deal spiritually with sickness and death, yet without once lapsing into bathos.

We hear clichés crediting modern medicine with the reduction of the death rate — such that by the mid-twentieth century life expectancy had been restored to what it had been in the parish records of the High Middle Ages. (It plummeted through the Renaissance.) Some of this was due to medical and pharmaceutical advances. But most of it was attributable to improvements in hygiene — to the tradition from Pasteur and Lister. The accomplishments of hospitals and “public medicine” have been relatively modest, though incredibly expensive; fundraising requires that they be wildly overstated.

Alder Hey was a hospital caught in a huge scandal over the sale of baby parts from abortions, only a few years ago. This is an extremely profitable business, conducted at the edge of the law. I’m sure many good and conscientious doctors and nurses have worked and still work in that hospital, and so many like it. God bless all who work tirelessly for causes that are genuinely humane. But please do not tell me that the well-paid agents of modern bureaucratic medicine are all saints. It spoils my breakfast.

Of midges & men

The High Doganate has been under midge attack these last few days, though I think we will survive. They mount two or three offensives each year, and the first is a mark of spring. The first spiders of spring, emerging on my balconata, weave glistening webs to welcome them. Few of these tiny upwinged dragons make it through my window screens, but if one in a thousand succeeds, there are further swarms around the lights inside. The life of a midge or mayfly is short, even without guns; Pliny gives them about five minutes, I think, after their elaborate double moult. They must swarm, for in this brief period each male must find a female, mate then perish. (A much longer and duller nymph stage precedes.)

Well, there are many kinds, with considerable differences in habits and size. I am, quite frankly, no midge expert, and stand to be embarrassed by some knowing reader. My numerous visitors would seem to be chironomids or “muffleheads,” common enough around these Great Lakes, in hundreds of subtly differentiated species. Under a glass, one may appreciate the male plumeux, the feathery antennae. It is said they don’t eat, in the adult stage, but a congregation around a tiny blob of honey that fell on my counter during yesterday’s coffee-making gave the lie to this. With such a “breakfast of champions” I wager that a midge might be fortified for a long day.

It happens I was reading, on my cot last night, while the midges buzzed about my ears, Fabius Planciades Fulgentius — possibly fifth-century bishop of Ruspe (in what is now Tunisia), and possibly not. His own editor says he is “decadent, involved, littered with wasteful connectives and rhetorical extravagances, pompous, inflated, pretentious, prolix, infested with Asiatic exaggeration”; that as a thinker he is “muddleheaded, dubious, graceless”; as a researcher, “suspect and second-hand”; that his “enormous sentences confront lucidity like barbed-wire entanglements.”

Darling of the intellectuals in the later Middle Ages and through the Renaissance. Author of five surviving treatises, including an exposition of Virgil, and an overview of the Ages and Man. Utterly forgotten by the smart set, today.

In short, my kind of guy.

Fulgentius looked interesting. I am no Latinist, either, but suspect from what I see that he is actually rather droll and ironical; that he is composing these grand rolling sentences while giggling and drinking way too much calda and mulsum. He seems to know Greek, unlike his North African contemporaries; and he takes us on tour of the back alleys, through that fascinating late-late classical, pre-Islamic place. He is Catholic Christian, with a love-hate thing for the pagan Romans, and no romantic illusions about Vandals; capable, I suspect, of some very sick humour, of the underground Christian sort, and their God-damn-them-all attitude towards the world. A Latinist ought to thrill at his witty etymologies, and revivals of defunct vocabulary. It is his editor and translator from Ohio or wherever who would appear to be the dry stick.

Which brings me to one more complaint about modern academics. They simply assume their own subjects are a waste of time. There is a mayfly (“ephemeropteran,” a Fulgentius might say) smallness about all but a few of them. They reach every conclusion before they start, and may be swept away after a day or two.

____________

My Chief Grand River Correspondent writes:

“Inspired by your post, I drop you a note this fine Spring morning in Western Michigan, to let you know that I, too, am enthralled by mayflies, and celebrate their emergence, and deaths, with fly rod in hand. Midges, at least in Northern Michigan, emerge somewhat late in the Winter, prior to the official start of Spring, calendar wise at least, and rarely bring trout to the surface in our locales. Currently, flyfishers in our Great Lakes state are keeping their eyes peeled for the Ephemerella rotunda, or Hendrickson, affectionately referred to as the ‘Hennie’ in polite fly fisher company, along with the Baetis tricaudatus, or Blue Wing Olive, colloquially referred to as the ‘BWO’, and the Brachycentrus americanus, which technically is not a mayfly, but a caddis fly, the ‘Little Black Caddis’.

“For a flyfisher, such as myself, who is passionately addicted to the pastime, mayflies are of intense interest. I maintain little preserved specimens of them, in small glass vials, and retain photos of them in various stages, from nymphal, to adult, along with a few photos of the mayfly itself emerging from its nymphal shuck in the surface film of a little crick I am intimately familiar with after twenty-three years of intercourse.

“I often think of the beautiful brevity of mayfly lives while sitting streamside, wondering at the majesty of El Shaddai’s minute tweaking of these wonderful bugs, whose lives reward not only hungry trout, but men such as those who are called to fish for trout. There is a magic to taking feathers and fur and tying them to a hook to imitate some mayfly, and then floating it over a rising trout and being electrified when it takes the fly. …

“This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it! And be very thankful for mayflies.”

Needlework

Saint Luke was a painter, by some accounts, and by others a physician. I think he was both, and more, from acquaintance with his writings. But certainly a physician. When Matthew and Mark recount the saying of Jesus, that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to pass through the gates of heaven, they use the Greek term for a household sewing needle. But Luke instinctively uses the term for a surgeon’s suturing needle. Case closed, to my mind.

Jesus did not stop at that observation, however. He added that what is impossible for men, is possible with God. To omit this, is to miss the point of everything.

The metaphor in this proverb was old, and some scholars think, Persian. It is also used in the Koran, but only as a threat. The apostle Luke adds something to the counsel of forgiveness by his medical allusion. For what we are discussing, after all, is the cure of souls.

Supplementary to yesterday’s effusion, everything I write in this website and elsewhere, touching on politics, whether in the narrower or in the broader sense that includes economics and what pass for the social sciences, must be qualified. In my portrait of present-day Canada I was of course inviting a reader in any other country to make comparisons with his own, for everything that is wrong with Canada can be found in every other country in Europe and the Americas, so far as I am aware. It may be worse, it may be better, in any given place, but our crisis is that of Western Civilization. There are no schemes for reform I offer, only ineffectual hints towards alleviation, and I quite intentionally doubled down on dismal in my last paragraph. We are in an “eye of the needle” situation.

But here is where the qualification comes in. At the centre of our crisis is our loss of faith, in the Trinity, and beyond this of good faith in everything else we are and do. We, by our own collective efforts, cannot possibly rectify this. Nor can we do so in our individual lives without Christ’s help. I write this explicitly, today, but meant it implicitly in yesterday’s dismal conclusion.

There is no human problem that can be solved by politics, and every human attempt at “solution” will, unfailingly, make things worse. The art and science in that field can only be safely directed towards alleviation of specific ills. It is like medicine: you are still going to die. The best any doctor can do is patch you up in the meantime. Alas that world of politics is full of quack doctors with their miracle cures, and electorates that are easy prey for them. The innocent are scooped up with the guilty, the rain it falls on the just and the unjust; but this has always been so.

An old lady I recalled in a recent Idlepost, polishing the brass in a parish church, was doing more to the good than almost any statesman. This is because sustaining and building the Church, in all of her many dimensions, is the best we can do when we get up in the morning. It is to pray and to make ourselves receptacles of grace. Let God do the work, and let us focus our energies upon being his obedient servants.

Forget about trying to fix the world. As my father used to tell me, and his father told him: “Go with God.” I have told it to my sons. It is the only possible way forward.

Tutti in coda (II)

[This is simply a continuation of the previous Idlepost. My “software” decided it was too long, so I’ve tricked it by breaking the thing into two parts.]

*

Canada, in my view — and I speak from no other — was the ideal target for the “long march through the institutions” that we associate with Gramsci and the “Frankfurt School” of latter-day Marxists. Rather than waste their time on incendiary rhetoric and bombs, like the ineffectual anarchists before them, they would infiltrate the state and the professions. Gradually they would create the conditions in which Communism could be achieved: a society of straw men, terrified by fire. Rather than invest in their own propaganda, they would appropriate the publicity apparatus of the very society they sought to control. Bloody methods were not going to work; people would see what they were doing and stop them. Instead they would try the vegetable methods.

And these work splendidly in a country of vegetables. A handful of Canadians may speak up sharply, the rest will behave like sullen carrots. They will turn their irritation, should they discover any, not on their assailant, but upon the source of the noise.

I participated in a delicious example of this on a Toronto streetcar a few years ago, when a driver, who had been short-turned, refused to give his passengers transfers, citing an absurd technicality. Cheated of their fares, twenty people filed quietly off to the sidewalk. I decided to argue the matter with the driver, who responded with passive-aggressive indifference. (“Public servants” in Canada could detonate nuclear devices without being fired.) But when I stepped down from his car, defeated, I saw that my fellow passengers were finally upset. This was not because the driver had cheated them, but because I had confronted him. I had created a scene, disturbed the peace. Imagine a whole country like that.

*

Well, I have got this far without even mentioning the name of our current prime minister: Justin Trudeau. As the name suggests, he is the son of the late Pierre Trudeau, who governed with attitudes close to sadism, winning four elections, and being accepted by progressives here and worldwide as a really cool guy. Trudeau père, educated by Jesuits, had several admirable qualities, such as mental clarity and courage. But he was, overall, a nasty piece of work. I would not say this of Trudeau fils.

We all knew the little Trudeau’s qualifications for office when we elected him. He had been a gym instructor, and a nightclub bouncer. It is said he once taught drama, briefly, to a Vancouver high school class. He also had very pretty hair, and was the son of the Übermensch. Justin’s only known policy position, was support for the legalization of marijuana. But the Liberal Party of Canada, which was in power through most of the twentieth century, has formidable back rooms. All they needed was a face on the posters.

Imagine their surprise, and ours, when the lad turned out to have some other opinions. Or rather, not opinions, which implies conscious thought, but the attitudes typical of his generation. He is not a thinker at all, but a product of educational inflation. It shows at every turn.

When he, for instance, introduces legislation requiring those applying for public subsidies to endorse a checklist of everything from gay marriage to transsexualism to no-questions-asked abortion; or puts the use of preferred pronouns into the criminal code; there is no one to stop him. His own cabinet is filled with kids of like mind, chosen statistically by colour and gender; they take such things for obvious. They do not vex their pretty heads by thinking through the consequences.

And when they are confronted by people trying to reason with them — older, though often enough on their own side — they are genuinely puzzled. How could anyone be against anything that is politically correct? They never heard of it before. Their opponents must all be Nazis.

I’m not kidding about this: they really have never been exposed to anything except the fatuous beliefs now inculcated in our campus cultures — not only in Canada, but throughout the West. That “long march through the institutions” passed through before they were born.

In President Obama we had a preview of this, but now we’re in the movie. Obama was smart, and had some notion that other worldviews exist. He’d go to the trouble of tricking his adversaries. Young Trudeau never does this. He is wonderfully candid. His ideas about men and women; about economics, history, God and Man; about natural and positive law, and so forth — are so many bubbles in his herbal bath. He doesn’t know that his views aren’t original, that they all soaked in during the brainwashing process in the sheep lavoir.

As we look to the future, we can only expect the movie to continue. For the truth is, our ridiculously immature prime minister is at the crest edge of that “Generation X” which must, inevitably, come to power in country after country. We in Canada only have the privilege of enjoying it first, thanks to our national habit of being supine.

*

But there’s a flip side to that. We are, characteristically, very easy to embarrass. It seems the same young Trudeau has been making quite a fool of himself on the international stage. His “Mister Dress-up” performances in India and elsewhere have been making the news. He has become a butt of international humour.

To be fair, he couldn’t help this. A victim of the peculiar arrogance of his generation — moral shrillness whizzing from a bag of air — he is unable to take advice. He does what feels right to him, and when it all goes wrong, he is honestly confused. I wouldn’t put it past my fellow Canadians to flay him at the next general election, just to stop the pain.

For that’s another side of Canada that one might never guess at. We are secretly, for the most part, fairly near to sane. We may do stupid things (such as elect the Liberals, federally or provincially), but we do tend to notice when they charge us for it. It costs a lot of money to pursue ludicrous schemes in social and environmental engineering, not only directly in taxes, but also indirectly through carnage in trade. And when we start to notice, we frown like any aggrieved bourgeois. Moreover, Canada has the secret ballot. We might vote for a less progressive party, and no one would ever know.

The test is coming in the Province of Ontario, where the same ruling Liberal Party (provincial wing) has run up debts proportionally higher than California’s, and in much the same way. Their last provincial premier disappeared under a cloud of fraud suspicions, and was replaced by Kathleen Wynne, a very progressive lesbian on the Scandinavian model. She has put Ontario at the cutting edge of the “gender revolution” with sex-reorientation classes beginning at age five. (The man who designed this programme is now serving time for child molestation.) She has wind-farmed her way to quite alarming increases in everyone’s electricity bills. And she has done so much else. I notice her approval ratings are a small fraction of President Trump’s. And we have a provincial election in June.

Watch for it. I expect her to get clobbered by the Conservative opposition, whose new leader is naturally detested by our Liberal media. But they may not have the time to smear him properly. That leader, Doug Ford, is the brother of the memorable Rob Ford, Toronto’s illustrious, crack-partying mayor, who stormed the city with tax-cutting charisma. Doug was the brains behind the late Rob; he lacks the charisma, but probably doesn’t need it in the present circumstances.

Still, that is only a blip. When the media are finished with Ford, after a term or two, Generation X and successors will still be. It is demographically inevitable.

*

Europe, as one of our former prime ministers observed, suffers from too much history; Canada from too much geography. It was an astute observation, which pointed forward to another hard fact. From the top of Toronto’s highest communication tower, on a clear day, one may see almost one-third of Canada’s prime agricultural land — all of it now built over with suburbs. There is a lot of “nature” in Canada, that will be less arable, till the permafrost melts. But along our habitable strip, it is almost getting crowded. Even our cottage districts look like urban sprawl. This is not city life, but rather conurbation: there is little in the way of centre to it, except the high-rent skyscrapers and apartments downtown, where polite Canadians, who never meet their neighbours, don’t have any children.

Their knowledge of what lies outside their bubbles comes exclusively from within; their voyages outside are strictly recreational; they have no connexions to that nor, with the breakdown of family life, with the experience of other generations. As voters, they can only make decisions from what they see, carefully packaged for them by the progressive media. It is no wonder that the progressive parties have a near-monopoly on the “urban” vote, more or less everywhere, for there’s nothing to compete with the progressive messaging, reinforced by modern methods of crowd control.

This is another dimension of the post-modern phenomenon, worse in Canada than elsewhere because we are proportionally more urban. We may look like an empty country, from space, but the overwhelming majority of “the people” are strung through the superhighway maze. They spend much of their lives in traffic jams, tapping on iPhones within their metal cages. To say they are deracinated — a nicer word than “zombies” — would be to the point. But it’s worse than that, for within their virtual space they lose the precious intellectual links between cause and effect. They vote Liberal, not out of spite, but because they are mentally disabled.

Canadians thus find themselves in the vanguard of something happening throughout the West, and indeed, around the world. We don’t go out because it’s cold outside. The average Canadian, more than, say, the average Italian, is trapped in a centrally-heated interior. More and more, we live inside our computers. In a larger, cosmic sense we go stir-crazy.

But no revolutionary impulse follows from this. We’ve all come a long way, since 1968. Instead there is a growing disconnexion, from reality in all its known human forms. Canada may be a little more disconnected, but the direction we are travelling from our former orbit is much the same. We have the illusion of being at the front of a social revolution, when really we’re at the back of beyond, merely witnessing our own social dissolution.

Now, add in the evaporation of Christianity, and a further difficulty appears. We are without the moral or spiritual means to make a recovery.

Tutti in coda (I)

[An Italian editor, of the magazine, Tempi, recently asked me to explain Canada to his readers. How did this most timorous and bashful of nations come to be at the cutting edge of the international “gender revolution,” and related monstrosities of social engineering? My answer was published, here. Should any of my readers feel uncomfortable in Italian, I publish an English version, below.]

*

With a French Canadian friend, and a talented portrait photographer, I once contemplated writing a coffee-table book about Canada. The idea was to travel coast-to coast — from the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland to the farthest rock on Vancouver Island — seeking mischief, and taking pics. There are plenty of coffee-table books on Canada; ours, of course, would be different. It would tell wayward histories of places, including the element of farce; dig into ancestral culture and cuisine; and interview the saltier characters, while maintaining a tone of backhanded affection. It would subvert various national clichés, and shoot some sacred cows.

But we fell out quickly. I found my proposed co-author too forgiving of English Canada; he found me too forgiving of Quebec; the photographer found us both naïve about the Indians. I was allergic to the picturesque and romantic (which sells). Nor did I wish to echo the pretension of depth in the title of a once-famous journalist’s survey, Canada: The Unknown Country. In fact I proposed, “Canada: The Stupid Country,” in an effort to appal everyone.

Years have since passed, and far from having been completed, this project has yet to start. Perhaps I am writing the introduction only now.

*

It would be easy to say Canada is not a country at all, or not a country any more, but a quilt of a few spare American regions, stitched whimsically together. It has no organizing principle that any of its inhabitants could articulate. On the one hand, the dominant ethnicity, speaking English by birth or convenience, is itself merely a northern extension of English-speaking North America, otherwise known as the United States. Most of our people live within a short drive to the USA border. There are climatic reasons for this, and they are unanswerable. Our own regional differences, east to west along this thin strip, are greater than those of any with its adjoining American region. When our nationalists assume their opponents want Canada to become “the 51st American state,” I contradict them. No, we would become the 51st through 60th states.

But too, we have consciously discarded our old British, “Crown-in-Parliament” political identity, which did make a difference. For what formerly distinguished us as a nation was the fact that our ancestors had lost the American Revolutionary War, to those frisky “Patriots.” We were the “Loyalists” who, in 1776, violently refused to rebel, then marched into the northern wilds to free ourselves from the tyranny of popular government. (“Better one tyrant, three thousand miles away, than three thousand tyrants one mile away.”)

Indeed, both sides were cantankerous, wilful Yankees; ours was more racially varied. But we have since copied various USA institutions, from the Supreme Court, to the lamentable sport of baseball, while abandoning our old enthusiasm for the Crown, and replacing it with democratic cant and blather. The vestiges that remain of our distinct identity are thus now foreign to us. We’re apt to apologize for them.

Margaret Atwood, the American-style feminist, once wrote a book (Survival) in which she got the history of our country prior to her adulthood precisely backwards. She presented us as victims of Imperialism. But we had always been perpetrators: Imperialists ourselves, and quite proud of it. Our one frustration was that aged English granny was still clinging to the reins. And then, when it was our turn to run the Empire, the silly old woman gave it away.

Until recently Americans, like Europeans, were taught their national histories and mythologies in school. Present-day Canadians have no clue about ours. The younger graduates think it began in 1982, when Pierre Trudeau declared independence, and freed the slaves. If anything happened before, it must have been shameful, as our authorities confirmed last year, when we were supposed to be celebrating the 150th anniversary of the actual foundation — of our fair “Dominion,” as it is no longer called. (It’s now a “federal government,” just like USA.) It was a grim, year-long festival of liberal-progressive virtue signalling, through which we apologized to the Indians, for having apparently stolen their land.

This yielded many unintentionally comic moments, that were typically Canadian. We love to apologize, and are good at it. Apologizing for crimes in which no living person could possibly have participated, is what we do best.

We are also world leaders in queuing. We like to form polite and patient lines, for everything from bureaucratic forms, to Tim Horton’s coffee. A “cultural difference” may have emerged in this area, for Americans still don’t like to wait. They would much rather shoot you. But Canadians like to organize themselves in long, winding, respectful lines, for which, alas, there is no Olympic medal. And unlike Americans, we don’t talk to strangers, so there’s none of the socializing you get, south of the border, if a bus is late. Talk to the next Canadian in line, and his first impulse is to call the cops.

Rather than boast about this accomplishment, we simply radiate smugness and self-satisfaction. Recent immigrants learn: how, for instance, to walk like a Canadian, and apologize to a lamp post, should you happen to collide with it.

I am making this point because it is crucial — crucial to understanding what we might call the Canadian “atrophy.” We are a people going nowhere in particular, and thus, unhurried. We have a few pushy capitalists, to be sure, but they are a product of nature. The rest are accepting, even of the weather; for these days we can fly to Florida when it becomes insupportable.

An American friend, after a long visit, told what would happen if you drove your car right over a Canadian, dividing him in two. The top half would drag itself up to your car window. It would say: “Excuse me, sir, you should watch for pedestrians.”

This is crucial because it explains why Canada seems, to distant observers, to be in the vanguard of progressive “human rights,” drug toleration, and the “gender revolution.” It is not because Canadians are exceptionally depraved. The average Canadian would die of boredom before participating in an orgy. We’ve had “gay marriage” here for fifteen years, but hardly any takers. We have human rights tribunals, reminiscent of the Star Chambers in centuries gone by, and now laws governing our use of pronouns, but no one pays them any mind. And should they run afoul of them, they will go quietly, and write apologies to everyone. We have had legal abortion, seemingly forever, without even nominal restrictions, and sure enough we also have a few “pro-life” activists; but nobody likes them because they’re so unCanadian.

*

Perhaps I should mention that what is true today, wasn’t in the past. Canadians certainly did their share of the damage in two World Wars and Korea. From German memoirs, one learns that our troops — Methodist farm boys from Ontario and the like — filled them with terror. They’d be psychopathically aggressive to a fault, then suddenly stop for tea. The same was generally true through my parents’ generation. They would make scenes when they weren’t being served; you didn’t want to cross them. Our feminist tradition was from pioneering women who cleared rocks and tree stumps before planting wheat. You wouldn’t have had to explain their rights to them. But all that faded.

The story of post-modern revolution is certainly not a Canadian story. As befits our ancestry, centrally Norman English and Norman French, we were for God, King, and Country, and if English-speaking, extremely quick to sign up for wars. The French of Quebec were famously defeated on the Plains of Abraham in 1759, and have sometimes moaned about that. But there was continuity at the heart of their experience, too. From their first landings to the present day, they have lived under one monarch or another; his ethnicity didn’t matter much. Only in 1960, suddenly and almost unaccountably, they awoke from their mediaeval slumber and overthrew … their own Catholic Church.

Since that “Quiet Revolution” — nobody hit, even by a snowball — they have entertained a Separatism that is paradoxical and odd. Having destroyed their own heritage, they demand that it be protected from immersion in the “Anglo” culture all around them: the very one they so eagerly embraced. Hence oppressive language laws, with bureaucrats who actually measure the point-size of any English that may be visible on a sign or label; and other unbelievably petty impositions, instantly waived for American tourists.

That is how it came to be, that in the vast reaches that speak English only, public services are bilingual; but in the bilingual areas, they are French-only. The national capital, Ottawa, speaks English in the streets, but French in all the government departments. This is very Norman: England was like that, too, in the twelfth century. And it is very Canadian: for people here take everything lying down. Or more precisely, we line up for it.

And this is why Canada has advanced, to the “cutting edge” of contemporary depravity: because no one — French or English or assimilate “multicultural” — would think to complain. I am of course exaggerating. It is not quite everyone. There are a few exceptions. But I think I know them all.

[Continued in next post, above.]

You can run but you can’t hide

The Carthusians, an eremitic order a few decades short of their one thousandth year, provide a model for retirement from the world. They do not proselytize; they do not mess with the world at all, except by prayer. They don’t beg for money; they refuse even to make cause for any of their own suspected saints; only others may speak for them. In the descent through the centuries from St Bruno of Cologne, they have consistently minded their own business, stayed clean of politics, and got on with their tasks in daily work and worship. Only a few hundred remain, in a couple dozen Charterhouses around the world; yet they shrink and grow unaccountably.

Well, short of death, no complete disengagement is possible. The Nazis massacred them because they were sheltering Jews, and a few Communists, too. (There is a good book on this, La Strage di Farneta, “The Farneta Massacre,” by the Italian journalist Luigi Accattoli, compiled from the extensive materials Pope St John Paul II was assembling on the martyrs of the twentieth century.) After the war, Carthusian survivors were compelled to publicize that their sanctuary was disinterested. The fact that Communists had come to them for shelter in no way implied sympathy for their cause.

Indeed, they had been massacred by the Republicans and Communists during the Spanish Civil War.

They were massacred during the French Revolution.

They were massacred during the sixteenth-century Dutch Revolt against Spanish Catholic rule.

They were massacred during the English Reformation after Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries.

They were massacred during the Hussite Revolution in fifteenth-century Bohemia.

And so on. I mention these things not to jerk tears, but to make a point confirmed through history. If gentle reader thinks he may retreat to a place where the world will not follow him, he may think again. The very act of retirement to prayer is an excitement to the devil, and murderous mobs of nominalists, enlighteners, liberals, progressives, and others inspired by Satan, have been with us since time out of mind. Do not assume that you are safe in South Dakota, or wherever else the Latin Mass is sung.

Holiness, more largely, is an incitement to the demonic forces, as Christ not only taught, but demonstrated. It is a grave theological error to present Him as naïve. One is safer in this world to avoid holiness, if you are capable of believing that Hell does not exist. How Christ will save you, when you have done no good, I leave up to Him; for it is beyond my imagination.

It happens that my Joint Chief Washington Correspondent has forwarded a brilliant short piece by Dr James Patrick, in which he advances the “Newman Option” for Catholic life in these difficult times. (See here.) As it states realities in a learned, elegant, and very concise way, I shall merely endorse it. Moreover, it appears to be a tract for what I might describe as Christian Idleness.

There is a place for political works, to my mind, including especially works of self-defence when something can be accomplished by them. But these are transient acts. In any longer scheme, and even in the shorter, God and not man is the author of Salvation.

____________

I have received a protest from a South Dakotan, who writes:

“The home of the B-1 Bomber, one of the more desirable nuke targets, is in a big, open field that I look out on from my picnic table. … People call their neighbours in downtown Rapid City when a cougar is walking down the boulevard. (No, not that kind of cougar.) … Children are minced up with farm equipment, though never for profit, unlike other places in the USA. … South Dakotans do not imagine that they are safe; they are simply intent upon preserving what they love. In the case of the Latin Mass, they built their own chapels, flew in priests and bishops for Sacraments, and stared down more than one Novus Ordo bishop. … South Dakotans can cut their own trees and build their own churches. They can spin and weave their own vestments and altar cloths, take their own wheat and grapes and make hosts and wine. … Some of their children become priests and monks and nuns. Others become scientists and teachers who know what creation means and what salvation requires, and pass that information along intact to the next generation. … By the way, Mr Warren, we also write and bite.”

But, but, I reply, I do not say that South Dakotans have illusions about the safety of South Dakota. Rather, beleaguered Catholics of the Eastern Seaboard have the illusion that they’d be safe in South Dakota, and I would edify them.

Respice finem

Call me a rootless cosmopolitan, but (you could feel that “but” coming, couldn’t you gentle reader?) the wide world would be lost on me without a sense of place. In the moment of space and time, there is location, and it follows us about. In starting upon any journey there must be a point of departure, and in life itself one must come from somewhere. Perhaps we have forgotten.

It might be a place you despise. Many of my friends come from places like that; I love hearing them trash their own origins. Always, there is love at the root of it; but how well it can be concealed!

Some Hebridean I have come to know through the mixed miracle of email has it just right. He was born in South Uist, but has hardly been back. His love for the place has grown in his absence from it, in the usual Caledonian or Hibernian manner. Yet it expands. His sense of being from a croft or blackhouse, a long time ago; from an island, from an archipelago, from Scotland, from the British Isles, from Europe, from the planet Earth, is telescoped in a single soul on what we might call the Aristotelian focal principle. True love is something that cannot be escaped.

Among the dangers of travel is homesickness. I was myself, as a once-girlfriend put it, “kicked around the globe” in childhood and youth, and in a moment of fury, she described me as an empty can, shaped by this experience. A man of dents and creases. I had to acknowledge the truth of her observation, for as a consequence of my wanderings, I already felt nostalgia for many different places; and that sense of loss that comes with many deaths. Persons to whom I was once so close — when we were young — removed over seas of space and time. And now I hear of the death of someone in his seventies, whom I had not seen since he was thirty, and weep for all the lost years.

There is an old Japanese Buddhist quatrain I once carried around in my heart, and in my shoes on the open road. It is a prayer of pilgrimage; perhaps a pilgrimage to nowhere:

Really there is no East and West:
Where, then, is the North and the South?
Illusion makes the world close in,
Enlightenment opens it on every side.

All roads lead to Rome, as once was true throughout the West, and continues true in the Catholic chest. And in every Christian: to Heaven’s Gate in Jerusalem Wall. (Roman Catholics are Christians, incidentally.)

Once I was on foot in the north of Spain, following what I did not fully realize was a pilgrim route to the shrine of Saint James the Great: the Camino de Santiago. That was in my pre-Christian state; in fact, I never got there. It is among my regrets that I did not carry on.

From here to there we go, in time, even if we don’t in space. Our own home may become unrecognizable; if we returned as a ghost in a thousand years, we might be dispossessed of our last illusion. There is no here, here, on which to rely, and everything crumbles in the passage through the ages. All change is for the worse, as Father Faber said, including change for the better. But, “those are pearls that were his eyes,” &c. Everything will be transformed.

We can know of our beginnings, but in the old Roman proverb, respice finem, we must “consider the end.”