Essays in Idleness


What to do?

Judging if only from the contents of my email inbox, many Catholics are at a loss what to make of their Church at the present day, and what to do about it.

Monsignor Viganò’s testimony this past week has made clear to any candid and intelligent observer that her administration is — in Rome, as well as dioceses spread through the world — a kind of criminal shambles. The accuser is extremely credible; he has a reputation for honesty and integrity, among those who actually know him, and he is writing at first hand about many events, with assertions that can be checked. His self-explanation is likewise plausible. He is writing near the end of a long life in the hierarchy, in view of his own death. He does not wish to confront his Maker with a dirty conscience. He will not be a member of the “silent majority” of clerics who saw terrible evil, and let it pass. The eleven pages of his indictment are replete with references to dates and documents, to assist investigators; it concludes dramatically, by calling on the pope to resign. Moreover, it comes after years of partial revelations, and in addition to so many other known facts and reasonable suspicions. I, for one, found nothing in this “screed” that could surprise me, knowing what I already knew.

To my mind, revelations about sexual improprieties (extending to rape) are not the principal issue, although they are gravely important, and demand prosecution to the fullest extent of the Church’s own long-existing, and very impressive laws. Civil prosecution is no alternative: it will soon enough turn against the Church in herself, and upon all Christians. With the enthusiastic help of our rabid media, a mob will be raised against the guilty and the innocent alike. The worst perps within the Church will join the mob with alacrity, to save their own skins. Catholics who demand the intervention of the civil power cannot know what fire they are playing with.

Rather, the crux of this matter is the comprehensive subversion of the Church, from within, by her own bishops. The “cover-up” for these crimes is at a greater spiritual level than mere evasion of worldly justice. It involves an attempt to overthrow Christ, as the source of authority in the Church’s liturgy and teaching. Very cynical men have used His Church not only as their private club or brothel, but as a toy for their “progressive,” political views. The tampering with seminarians, and thus with their vocations, is a direct affront to God. But so has been each flight into heterodoxy. The Church, from her curial centre in Rome, has been invaded by something unambiguously demonic.

Many are leaving the Church in disgust. They are cowardly fools. By this act they can only intend to surrender the governance of the Church to devils. They abandon Christ on the hill of Calvary. Fools, because they will not find salvation in any other quarter.

Prayer, penance, fasting, may seem fey suggestions in present circumstances. Instead, they are crucial. We must let God know that we side with Him against His persecutors, and that we recognize our own failures, not just other people’s sins. We must not ourselves succumb to the agnosticism that preaches the ineffectuality of prayer. Rather we must purify ourselves for the battle, and raise our prayer with the faith that moves mountains. To the conflict with a faithless enemy, personal faithlessness brings nothing. Live with disappointment, and not for it.

In addition to this, each Catholic man and woman must examine — with the love that enables clarity — his own parish and diocese, and learn what can be done, positively, to restore the Catholic order within each. Withholding contributions makes sense in many cases, but the money must be saved for a later day, or spent the more generously in private (and mostly invisible, not self-seeking) acts of charity and devotion.

Before each decision ask yourself, and never lightly: “What good will this do?”

Get to Mass — the most reverent Mass you can find. Do not be shy about going to Confession. Do not afflict yourself with speculations about the worthiness of the priest, who personifies Christ. (All of them, always, are unworthy, as we are unworthy to receive the Host.) Open your heart, naïvely, to Christ, and let Him do the work only He can do. Do not assume that He has been defeated.


(I wrote on this today also at Catholic Thing, over here.)

For whom?

For whom do I write? It is a question for any stenographer or hack, who takes up a pen, metaphorically. Usually, he will have a ready answer. Among the best I have heard is, “I write because they pay me.” It can be a job, like basket-weaving. Do it every day and you may get good at it. All you need is a supply of straw.

There are poets, and journalists. They write for different markets. I count the novelists with the journalists, as I have previously confessed. This is not to say there are no good ones, or that in moments they do not rise to the condition that only poetry can reach: that of fine art. Yet poets are also journalists at their very heights and depths, reporting, as Zbigniew Herbert said, from “the beseiged city.” Or Dante, celebrated journalist of the underground, from whom we were able to learn that Hell is full of bishops. (Few readers follow the rest of his journey — the upward portion.)

Art may happen anywhere, like murder. It is shocking, though the crowd turns away. They’ve seen murders before, they want something better. And while it is true that art, “creation,” is the opposite of murder, they think they’ve seen that, too.

Do not speak to us of the greatness of poetry,
Of the torches wisping in the underground,

Of the structure of vaults upon a point of light. …

Day is desire and night is sleep. …

So wrote Wallace Stevens, who told us in prose that, time and again, we are told that poets must not write for an elite. But no, he says, they must do so. The poet must write for a gallery of his own, “if there are enough of his own to fill a gallery.”

This has nought to do with poetry, in itself, but with the manner of address. There are those who write for “the people,” and they are plentifully available to the people, on the Web. And there are those who write, like teenage girls keeping diaries, only for their friends. Please, God: keep me in the latter category.

Trudopia & the Trudope

There is a saying my mama would use, to describe some of my childish and youthful posturings. It was, “Cutting off your nose to spite your face.” It is self-explanatory.

The problem with writing every day, is that there are always things to write about. A quick glance through the morning news, and I find about a dozen topics on which I’d be prepared to rant or squabble. But beware, my wee writer angel says to me, for that is too easy. Within weeks one will have degenerated into a meejah pundit again; another sock-puppet for the Zeitgeist. Not a pretty sight. Worse, one’s audience may start growing. It may grow to an unmanageable size, once your opinions become tired and safely predictable, and the usual two galleries have formed, of your friends, and your enemies. The conservatives all love you; the liberals all hate you; or more commonly, vice versa. All will be reading at half-attention, or less. Your job is to flatter your friends (who indirectly pay you), and insult your enemies (who don’t).

I worked in the meejah for years.

But I’m stuck. I’m not a conservative or a liberal. I’m a reactionary, and that is off the chart. My mama, though we had many views in common, including ripe examples of Reaction on her part, might nevertheless warn of my nose-slicing tendencies. “Why not write something people can understand?”

At a cottage on the weekend I was asked to explain the difference between a “conservative” and a “reactionary,” by a mild liberal who seemed genuinely curious. I found the task relatively easy.

“A conservative is a person who thinks nothing should ever change. A reactionary is a person who thinks nothing ever changes.”

A liberal, note, wants change, for its own sake if no better reason comes to mind. A lunatick, to put it in one word. The issue only became complicated when conservatives noticed that they were always losing. So today, conservatives and liberals are interchangeable. Both claim to want “progress,” which neither can conceive except in purely material forms. Mostly they want the very same things — more money, more pleasure, more leisure, self-esteem — but keep each other in a state of irritation by using different euphemisms. Conservatives want a little more, liberals want a lot; it is merely a question of degree. The liberals are of course still winning. They set the agenda, and the conservatives drag after, leaving knuckle ruts behind each innovation.

“But how can there be no change?”

“Because the conditions of human life are changeless. All progress is an attempt to escape the inescapable, or when that becomes impossible, to distract from it. In the end you still die. And then what?”

You don’t have to be a religious nutjob to become a reactionary. But it sure helps. For if there is to be a glorious future, it won’t be here.

I say this by way of providing some context to the NAFTA negotiations, in which Trompe’s Natted States Merica just signed a deal with Meh-hico, leaving Canada noseless. The little Trudeau boy, our current prime minister, and his pert young foreign ministrix, had their kicks at Trompe’s expense, and succeeded in making him quite angry. Now we all share in their reward.

We get to keep our softwood subsidies, and our dairy “supply management,” and our monopolistic banks, and our investment restrictions, and everything — except perhaps our auto industry. And Trompe gets to nail us with any tariffs that occur to him while he is watching Fox News.

Or, we deliver our unconditional surrender by Friday.

I hate cars. Naturally, I hate auto parts, too. Banks have always annoyed me. I say everyone has too much money. I like forests, and will be glad to see so many trees preserved. I think most people have stupid jobs, which they should have quit years ago. We’ll be free to do more virtue signalling than Venezuela. Our whole economy will be DOA at the next election, and Trudope will be creamed. What’s not to like about the new arrangement?

So let me admit I’ve been unfair to Trudope, and his smug little sidekick. It would seem they have been doing my bidding all along.


I am, let me confess, no expert on dolphins, nor on any other member of the cetacean paraphyly. Nor, for that matter, on anything at all, in my current recollection. I do however know that dolphins can swim very fast, can leap high out of the water, can be as long as thirty feet, and that even small dolphins, no longer than a man, are very strong. I would not mess with one in the water. Before assuming that their behaviour, in the state of nature, is entirely benign, one should ask some fish. Even a porpoise could tell you: they have their dark side. Especially a porpoise: for dolphins have been known to murder hundreds of them, for no apparent reason. They can take a dislike to each other, too; and for reasons that we may darkly surmise, act upon what we take for their emotions.

Example: when they throw each other’s children in the air, they are not being playful.

On at least one occasion I have had to explain to an environmentalist that the sob-story he was telling, about dolphins found dead or dying on a Virginia beach, had nought to do with capitalist perfidy. On forensic examination, all the beached dolphins were found to have suffered severe blunt-force trauma — administered by other dolphins.

They have also been known to dislike humans, for instance pulling them under the water until they stop making bubbles. Brooding, “loner” dolphins are particularly noted for the sort of conduct that we might be inclined to characterize as evil.

Smiley-face, bottlenose dolphins, of the Tursiops genus, are among those sexually dimorphic, which is to say, the males are decidedly bigger than the females. They are very smart, in both sexes, but not nearly as sentimental as our New Age propagandists have advertised. I cannot imagine a feminist being pleased with their courting rituals, which closely resemble entrapment and rape. I take an unsentimental view of the dolphins myself, though I am prepared to admire their skills. I cannot believe male dolphins are gentlemen.

A story forwarded to me this morning from the London Telegraph tells a commonplace tale. A bottlenose dolphin has been terrorizing swimmers off a beach in Brittany. A loner male, with a marked preference for human females, has alas “progressed” from being a source of entertainment. The theory is that he is sexually frustrated. This strikes me as possible, but possibly narrow. I have read several stories before — from different continents — in which just such a loner male dolphin graduates from public entertainer, to public nuisance, to public danger, around a specific beach. In every case it seems the dolphin is believed, from some of its behaviour, to be sexually aroused. I would not be surprised to learn that the same symptoms accompany other psychopathic acts by dolphins, as they often (if not always) do in rogue humans.

That is to say, certain manifestations of sexual desire in dolphins, as in humans, could be described as “twisted.” They are deflected from sexual reproduction to other, unrelated, ends. If the mere presence of sexual desire is taken for an excuse, and humans are taken as atheists understand them (i.e. mere animals without unique souls), then in the end we must excuse serial murderers. After all, they get “aroused.” While I see no prospect of regulating the behaviour of dolphins by human laws, humans might still have the capacity to regulate themselves. For, “twisted” human sexual behaviour was, until only a few decades ago, more or less universally outlawed.


When a rogue bishop — Theodore McCarrick comes to mind — gets in the habit of terrorizing a seminary (which from his point of view might be equivalent to a beach), one would hope that observers would react with the astuteness of the mayor of Landévennec, France. Which is to say, close the beach until the dolphin in question has been sequestered, then permanently remove him from human society.

Alas, we now learn — from a source with first-hand knowledge of the facts, whose integrity is unimpeachable — what our own Catholic “mayor” did, in the analogous circumstance. Every Catholic should read, with full attention, the eleven pages written by the recently retired papal nuncio to Washington, Carlo Maria Viganò, that was published Saturday. (Start here.) It gives a very clear view of how our Church has been governed since the 13th of March, 2013; and in too many respects, before.

I would rather discuss dolphins, than defective cardinal archbishops, and the pope under whose aggressive patronage such shameful men have flourished as Maradiaga, Coccopalmiero, Danneels, &c. Though I am no expert on canonical jurisprudence, I see no alternative to facing this down. (The baseless calumnies now pouring on Viganò, from the pope’s own minions, were to be expected: they are a very ugly entourage.)

I was arrested by Pope Francis’s own reply, on the plane back to Rome from Ireland, when a journalist asked him about Viganò’s testimony. It was, “I will not say a single word.”

It brought Iago to mind, from Shakespeare’s Othello:

“Demand me nothing: … I never will speake word.”

Wang An-shih

Among my heroes is a Chinese statesman of the eleventh century. Gentle reader may not immediately guess that this would be the famed, or infamed, Wang An-shih, whose reputation is sullied when viewed through the eyes of his chief contemporary political opponents, especially those of the statesman, Si Dong-po, and of the historian, Sima Guang-shan. The former, now more often styled Si Shu, had the benefit of some poetical translations by Arthur Waley. In the last century I noticed that the conservative and admirable Lin Yutang characterized Wang An-shih as a kind of revolutionary nutjob, precursor of totalitarians; and if I’m not mistaken he was praised as such in some whimsical Maoist propaganda. One might expect me to be of the anti-Wang party.

But in my frankly amateur way, while I must accept that he was a reformer, and I have seldom credited “good intentions,” I am inclined to take Wang as a loyal servant of the Empire, on the estimation of the then-young Emperor Shen-tsung, who brought Wang out of obscurity to a station that we might call “prime minister” — because he was a radical thinker, and the Empire of the Sung was in a bad way. Too, he was anathema at Court — as much socially as politically — and the Emperor wanted to “drain the swamp,” as we say today. Wang had accomplished marvellous things as governor of his native province (the later Nanking), and was popular at least there. “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” (I believe that was one of Hippocrates’ refrains.)

Inflation was raging, the economy collapsing, infrastructure disintegrating, along with law and order; and at the frontier, none other than those pesky Mongols. For a decade or two, Wang managed to keep the ship of state afloat. He realized that the great mass of peasants were sullen and oppressed, alike by the bureaucracy and their landlords. He wanted to put some spring in their steps, and engage their loyalties on behalf of the Empire, rather than indifferently against it. His scheme of reform was to break monopolies, to spread effective land ownership more widely, to back the currency by making it more an expression of goods and services and less of a paper-money “bank rate.” He worked on decentralized schemes for infrastructure repair, including that of eleemosynary institutions, and changed the nature of the Chinese army by building it upon local militias. This last was also a device to oppose warlords and mafiosi.

I count him thus as a pioneering Distributist.

Or so I do from my admittedly shallow reading, in a subject much concealed under layers of modern, ideological posing, in which commentators both Western and Chinese reveal their anachronistic approaches to ancient civilizations. It is hard to understand anything through the haze of twentieth-century inanities. Perhaps I succumb to them, myself, in my unwitting way.

But my chief argument in defence of Wang An-shih is that his critics have failed to look at him backwards. That is, we should view his earlier life through the lens of his later life, when he retired from the Court decisively, ignored all recalls, and took to the mountains to write poetry of no political significance whatever. He became a devout Chán/Taoist (“Zen” as we know it, through Korea to Japan), wandering from monastery to monastery. He rode everywhere upon a donkey, refusing the tall horse to which he was entitled as a retired panjandrum.

Indeed, he had always preferred donkeys, and had been notorious at Court for dressing poorly, for his tangled hair, extreme frugality, not bathing enough, and failing to attend grand parties and banquets. Though it was generally acknowledged that the man was brilliant, he showed no respect to the most respectable, and in the days before becoming prime minister himself, was very free in his criticisms of his superiors. His “mission” was to make life easier for the “common man,” and let him take his own initiatives; he assumed the rich and powerful could look out for themselves.

David Hinton is the admired recent (2015) translator of a broad selection of his poems, which deal with the metaphysical concepts of Presence and Absence, showing their ultimate relation in unity:

A pauper married a ravishing woman and lived out a life of
Wealth and renown, all in a dream while the millet cooked.

Life’s ten thousand events vanish like bird-flight empty in sky.
Why insist on clinging to what little you can still remember?


Necessary angels

I am persuaded that no system of government — democratic, oligarchic, aristocratic, monarchical, tyrannical, oriental despotic or worse, liberal-progressive — can deliver anything resembling justice in this world, unless it is under the direction of angels. And not just any angels, but the good ones, as opposed to the fallen angels — “all the evil spirits who wander through the world seeking the ruin of souls” — also known as demons. Alas, in our modern world, no one (excluding a very few saints) can see them, and they go unacknowledged.

This was not true of any traditional society of which I am aware, Christian or non-Christian. I stress this last point having read an awful lot of comparative religion in my time, and having lived for extended periods some considerable distance “abroad.” These foreigners may have different words for angels and demons (this is generally the case with foreign languages) but it is dead obvious they are referring to the same things, and if you read your Pentateuch with attention you will notice that angels were not only sent among the People Israel, but among all peoples.

As Baudelaire said, of an earlier iteration of this modern world: “Everyone believes in God, but nobody loves Him. No one believes in the Devil, and yet his smell is everywhere.”

Not only Saint Augustine of Hippo, but also Blessed John Henry Newman, mentioned angels as matters of fact, and in both cases I gather were in touch with them. I do not mean this in some Jungian, mythopoiec way, wherein universally good things are acknowledged, but as abstractions. I mean this in a “touch the earth,” very literal way, as live entities with names and personal characteristics, no two interchangeable; and not creations of the human imagination but, like us, of God Himself. Saint Thomas Aquinas, temporally in the middle, wrote the equivalent of a whole brilliant book on them, which I eagerly propose that we read. Turn to the first part of the Summa Theologica, questions 50 through 64. Surely every Catholic has that on his shelves.

Among modern treatises on this topic, I especially recommend Jean Danielou, SJ, Les Anges et Leur Mission, published 1953, and available in English from one little Catholic press or another since 1957 under title, The Angels and their Mission. Danielou is anyway an author worth discovering, when the younger modern Catholics have moved on from C. S. Lewis and Tolkien. I bless the day when Danielou first fell into my hands.

Angels, for instance, are capable of surprise; of joy and of sadness. From my reading, most were caught entirely by surprise when the Son of God came down from Heaven; and perhaps still more when He returned to it, in human flesh.

Our guardian angels grieve when we are bad, celebrate when we are good, and rejoice upon the salvation of a poor sinner.

But again, not all angels are themselves good. Verily: envy of the higher station given to man in God’s cosmic order was a cause of rebellion. The demons have had a score to settle — on God and, too, on us — ever since. It is important to grasp this firmly, or a great deal of the evil in this world will be incomprehensible to us, and we will go about waving our hands like idiots and shrieking, “Why, Santa, why?”

Now, to be plain, no angel has ever taken a government job. They are disqualified by their invisibility to the people who dole these jobs out. Nor, for that matter, are demons employed in government service, though we might sometimes suspect that they are. At most, the department heads hire the demonically-inhabited; because they are thus inhabited themselves.

Therefore no earthly government of angels can exist. (I include, as always, the governors and agents of all outreaching “corporations,” including the earthly component of the Church herself, now operating so much like a defunctive corporation.) But whichever is currently in power, we pray that the better sort of angels will prevail, upon the manipulators of administrative detail. And that the worst will be caught, and severely punished, for the good of their own souls. (Beat the devils out of them, as it were.) Charity demands this of us.

The demise of Blockbuster

I learn from the meejah that a last Blockbuster franchise, gone somehow independent, is still functioning in Bend, Oregon. The chain was founded to rent video-cassette movies in anno 1985, and was once very large. There were nearly ten thousand franchises, back when people were asked to rewind the things. They rented those cutting-edge DVDs, too, until they, too, died under the computer cloud, and such creatures as Netflix who inhabit it. The parent company has been bankrupt for years. It is now remembered fondly by a generation appropriately lettered “X,” who grew up with it; though not by me. I used to sneer in execration at the sight of these vile stores, and would mention them in connexion with the Decline of Western Civ. On a drive into Quebec, I once noted the number of old abandoned parish churches that had been converted into video rental outlets. My reaction was dismissed as “harsh.” Being also allergic to kitsch, and “camp,” I do not sympathize with any nostalgic flea-market revival of Video Age equipage. I like vampires and zombies to stay dead.

But though it be fleeting, there is hope in their demise. Things like Blockbuster come, then they go. I was making a list of once gigantic corporations that are no more; but tossed it out upon realizing that my task would require some Internet “research.” I leave gentle reader to recall once ubiquitous commercial signposts and logos, that have disappeared. But which were multinational corporations, and which mere brands, I leave to the battalions of unemployed fact-checkers. I don’t want to remember.

I mention this in connexion with my piece, “Too big to succeed,” in yesterday’s Catholic Thing (here). I’d been thinking about the life and death of vast corporations. What a Marxist might today condemn as an example of imperial capitalism, is tomorrow’s scattered corpse. This has been a feature of the “creative destruction” of our economy since the Industrial Revolution. There are companies that do survive for many generations but, more or less invariably, they are makers of specialized, quality goods, not for sale in the mass market. When a mass market is discovered for what they make, they are immediately bought out. The buyers are then eaten by larger and larger fish, until the fashion passes, and the biggest fish dies from what it has eaten. Let’s call this Multinational Capitalism 101.

And now, let us turn to “Catholic Church Inc.” — which has been struggling to hold its competitive position in the mass market for spiritualism that emerged post-War. Most memorably, as a friend who is an aged Catholic deacon recalls from the 1960s, that is when the spiritual combat with the World, the Flesh, and the Devil, was mostly given up. It was replaced with a double-horned attack on Life, as we had previously understood it. That is to say, in parallel, attacks on the Eucharist, and on “old-fashioned” sexual morality.

This happened both consequent to, and following from, the transformation of the Church into a huge corporation, wherein the function of bishops unsubtly “evolved,” from leaders in prayer into business administrators. Sin we have always had with us, including sin in high places. But the adaptation of the Church to sin, as something we must “work with” to increase our market share, I would count as an innovation.

Corporations come and go. As Joseph Ratzinger said in 1969, the Church that will emerge, from what I would call our experiment in marketing, will be much smaller. It will have to return to the religion business. I think a time will come when we are down to the very last branch of the Novus Ordo, as a curiosity in some such place as Bend, Oregon — something kitsch, and camp, for a select group of oldies.

But that won’t be the end. The Church, in her old rôle as The Church, will survive, just as Christ has promised. It may well be the laity who sustain her, in despite of all the movers and shakers (and fornicators) at the top. It is only the “Catholic Church Inc.” that will have downsized, to approximately zero.

The constant standard

One thing leads to another, in the summer heat. From reading a memoir by an auld acquaintance (see here), I began to dig for other materials on my hack-writing, and hack-editing youth, until I could be credibly accused of nostalgia. I try to keep it clean. That is, I try to avail myself of my own memories, and correct them by the surviving evidence, not only to re-live past events, but to understand how things happened as they did. It is the hack-journalist in me, that aspires to be a hack-historian.

A topic among the others has been, the technology-driven history of typography, from the 1960s. The question: How much of it was inevitable? On first glance it all was, for the history tends to be reported that way — as a story of “progress” towards the present day. This “Whig version” of everything, supposedly long abandoned along with the idea of necessary progress, remains demonically alive and well. But the truth is a history of very consequential human interventions, not always for the best.

“Because, 2018” is still considered a clinching argument for any change to the way we do things, no matter how ignorant, stupid, and obscene the proposal happens to be. Our current prime minister (here in Cahnahdah) won the last election on the argument, “Because, 2015.” (His father once won with, “Because, 1980.”) I should think dear Andrew Scheer, leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, should try the slogan “Because, 2019” next year.

But let me return to typography, and the abandonment of typographical standards that made possible the over-quick replacement of hot metal with cool film in the world of half-a-century ago.

Among my heroes in that trade is a man now octogenarian, a certain Donald Knuth, author of the multi-volumed Art of Computer Programming, and of the great mass of algorithms behind the “TeX” composing system. A life-long opponent of patenting for software, and still not on email, he is one of the finer products of the Whole Earth Catalogue mindset of that era, though as a devoted Christian, he had it from older sources. (The mindset of: forget politics and do-it-yerself.)

Perfesser Knuth’s life journey was somewhat altered when a publisher presented him with the galley proofs for a reissue of one of his earlier volumes. They were, compared to the pages of the original hot-metal edition, a dog’s breakfast. In particular, even when technically correct, the mathematical formulae appeared to have been set by monkeys. He resolved to “make the world a better place” by doing something about this.

Knowing (pronounce the “k” as we do in this author’s surname) that computers can do many things that humans can’t — or can’t within one lifetime — he set about designing the computer processes to calculate beautiful letter and word spacings, line-breaks, line spacings, marginal proportions and such. He understood that civilization depends on literacy, literacy on legibility, and legibility on elegance. Ruthlessly, he recognized that things like “widowed” and “orphaned” lines of text are moral evils, and discovered algorithms that could exterminate them by complex anticipation. Too, he contributed to the counter-revolution by which the letters themselves could be drawn not pixelated.

I will quickly lose my few remaining readers if I go into the details. But here was a man (and still is) who discerned that nature herself is built on aesthetic principles, which men can investigate and apply. It is when something is ugly that we can know that it is wrong. Mathematicians, like poets and other artists, can embody the Faith at the root of this.

To my mind, or I would rather say K-nowledge, there is nothing wrong with technology, per se. We can often do things better with new tools. But we must be guided by the uncompromising demands of Beauty. Everything must be made as beautiful as we can make it: there must be no wavering, no surrender. All that is ugly must be consigned to Hell.

On national unity

Women are always in the right. Men are always in the wrong. This is the basic tenet of feminism, and the theory behind modern family law. It is justified by empirical research, in which it has been found that, indeed, women are often abused.

Similar conclusions have been reached on questions of race, ethnicity, economic class, linguistic preference, religious affiliation or non-affiliation, immigrant status, et cetera — and the laws adjusted to reflect the latest discoveries of “human rights.” The intention is to achieve “equality.”

Employees are always in the right. Employers are always in the wrong. Surely everyone knows this. In particular, employers are wrong to expect people, other than themselves, to work, in the time before a social wage can be established, by the agencies of the State, to end this oppression.

Tenants are always in the right. Landlords are always in the wrong. More generally, creditors must defer to debtors. The principle is expounded on posters around Parkdale, which call persistently for rent strikes. How dare the landlords impose their gratuitous fees on persons who would otherwise be “homeless”?

Now, I have exaggerated a little. Many of the old laws remain on the books, and the police still do (selectively) enforce them. They have been given “sensitivity training,” however, lest they enforce with too much zeal, matters of no grave importance. They recognize that the only real crime is to possess the means of self-defence.

Moreover, it is possible I misrepresent the State. It may seem to have a radical policy agenda, when in fact it is content with absolute power.

We have a democracy, after all. Tenants have more votes than landlords. In every big city the politicians of the Left have rivalries, but only with each other. “Affordable housing” is in every manifesto; and “equality” on their every lip. The odd “Conservative” who gets himself elected has successfully demonstrated that he is really a “Progressive.” Or he has found a new constituency of whiners, usually among the denizens of the suburbs — where there may be a plurality of home-owners.

Home-owners are an inconvenience. They tend to engender biological families. These have always been a challenge to the State, especially when enflamed by religious beliefs. Their loyalty to the State falls short of absoluteness.

Democracy is built on, “Us versus Them.” Parties represent the contending interests. As Thomas Aquinas noticed, democracy is naturally divisive. As he didn’t, because it hadn’t happened yet, it is a means to advance the cause of violent revolution, peacefully. It is a way for the counter-revolutionary elements to negotiate their surrender, in a piecemeal fashion. As the Leninists used to say, the bourgeosie have rights. Specifically, “they have the right to become extinct.”

Out in the country, it should be said for balance, the shoe is still sometimes on the other foot. But the cities, or conurbations, grow, and rural populations are in decline, the world over. Technology has made this possible. In this sense it is the guarantor of progress.

And yet, advanced technology is not strictly necessary to create a Cuba, a Nicaragua, a Venezuela. A monopoly of arms is sufficient. Technology is there at best to create a China: a modern, centralized Surveillance State in which the proles get food, clothing, shelter — on the one condition that they keep their mouths shut. The Maoists began by killing tens of millions. These days obedience is secured by killing a few dozen, here and there. And prison camps work just as well.

Democracy works the other way around. The Surveillance State can be built without terror. The Internet provides all it can require, and its users volunteer information on themselves, in return for their economic treats. The mega-corporation and the mega-state gradually coalesce. It remains to be seen whether the Amazon method, or the Politburo method, will prove more durable.

For “national unity” was the object all along.


“Sir Vidia” is dead, at the age of eighty-five: one less magnificently cranky old man. To one of twenty years less, he has been around forever. I thought he might be a hundred by now; apparently time moves more slowly. The obituaries are long and plentiful, in the British press, which excels in that genre. Their profiles of the living also read like obits. Too, they do “rude” more elegantly than we know how, here in the Americas.

To my mind, he was among the greatest journalists in English. He wrote novels, too; indeed started with them, and his earlier novels won many awards. They were calculated to do that, in their place and time. Naipaul cashed in on Trinidad, brusque and curmudgeonly beneath a glittering comic surface. His career worked backwards, starting where most writers end. Each novel I started seemed a kind of memoir; an accounting for loss. I never finished one; not even A House for Mr Biswas. (I count A Bend in the River, with its African setting, as not really a novel.) Sometimes I got as far as page fifty, before admiring the developing structure, and deciding that I could see where it was going. In the ’sixties, the literati wanted to hear the Third World speaking. He gave them a little more than they wanted, but he filled the order.

Later he moved beyond these “memoirs,” and became a focused journalist, writing pointedly about other people, with his trademarked motto, “The world is what it is.” I think his books on his ancestral India, and on the world of Islam, are unquestionably his best. They are journalism; they are not “travel books.” With tremendous energy, and unfailing curiosity, he travelled and observed. I got easily to the end of his epic, India: A Million Mutinies Now, of Among the Believers, and Beyond Reason — his later and most mature accounts of realms with which I was familiar. I remain in awe of the enterprise of his reporting. I cannot think of better preludes to the refugee world that we live in now.

He was a fine “racist,” in the best sense. He presented the spirit of failure, that animated post-colonial life in so many newly independent states, while capturing the flavour of each. He did this without exculpating, but also without demonizing, the old colonial powers. His accounts of Pakistan (country of my early childhood) and of other Muslim polities tells truths that other visitors cautiously avoid. Yet all he does is describe what is before him, with the sharpness that requires artistic genius.

Thanks largely to the deletion of history from the Western public mind, and its replacement with leftist gibberish and hogwash, there is little appreciation today for what journalism has been, or could be. It is a “first draught of history,” to be sure, but to deliver this it must free itself from “theory,” and try to depict what is really going on. The J-school emphases on the factitious lead us farther and farther away. Naipaul gives us a return to the methods of the eighteenth century, when the essay and prose fiction had not yet been surgically separated; when fruitful exchange between the general and the particular had not yet been disallowed; before imaginative powers had been foresworn on the side of the reporters. For this alone, he would be invaluable: for the example of a journalist using his whole mind, and not only the desiccated bits.

He was a truth-teller, even about himself. His account, in interviews for his authorized biography, of the history of his relations with women, has that ring we associate with the dentist’s drill. It is bravely candid. Naipaul reveals himself as a ruthless man devoted exclusively to his trade, who uses all those most closely around him, and abuses their loyalty. He admits to having been “a shit” of the first water, and his refusal to excuse himself was taken by many as proof that he never cared. But again: he would not deviate from the truth, nor refuse his penitential lumps for it.

Another irreplaceable man, for the overpopulated graves.

Death by technology

A commenter and queryist on yesterday’s effusion makes the brilliant and original suggestion that technological progress is inevitable. (Droll alert.) It makes no sense to resist, he says. With some background in the printing trade, he averred that the replacement of hot lead with cold film, in the world of half-a-century ago, entailed such large savings of time, money, and clatter, that only fools hesitated to buy in. (He overlooks the overheads.) Ditto the next revolution, less than a generation later, from film to digital, in which the newly-acquired skills of the paste-up artists followed those of the metal typesetters out the window. What use are skills that have been obviated? What use are Luddites?

In the case I cited, he fully missed my point. Yes, the revolution was happening, and soon great masses of heavy metal would be melted down as scrap. But why should we be in the forefront of that revolution? The New York Times, of all grey ladies, would not make the changeover until 1978. (There is a lovely documentary in the Internet somewhere, on the last day of the linotype machines in the Times composing room.) The little Bangkok World was rushing in where angels fear to type, in 1970. Why not take our time, and get it right? Let others who enjoy such things experience all the pain of pioneering. We can do our buying into the new machinery after the stupidest mistakes have all been made, rather than be among the first to make them. At least be conservative.

By some chance I know more about typography than printing, and have done since childhood. The first thing I noticed during the typesetting revolution was that all standards in typography had been relaxed, to accommodate the new procedures. To this day, cut metal type remains normative: it allowed human precision in the cutting, the font size gradations, the kernings and spacings, that computer algorithms can only approximate, having nothing to match the aesthetic faculties of the human eye and hands. The sublime beauty in the slight irregularities of craft production cannot be delivered by programmed machines; it can only be faked. Thus we “advance” by increments — not only in print — from the hard, unforgiving art that assists our rise to Heaven, into the soft homogeny of computer simulation.

Then followed the new slapdash sparkly effects, in both typography and writing. The notion of fussing over quality had lapsed.

Yet all this aside, we have the issue of whig-historical rush, in itself. Why, when the mythopoeic lemmings are rushing, ever quicker to the cliff, should we struggle to outpace them? Why not play the wise tortoises, instead? For as my son, the electronic engineer, tells me, they are the Luddites who force all the genuine improvements. Verily: why not experiment with moving the other way?

Granted, the “market” shrinks in that direction — where we find that the great plurality of the lemming-men have “moved on.” But still, we might enjoy the open spaces. They used to be so crowded.

To the point: why should human beings, created by God in His own image, agree to form such herds? Why should we emulate dumb animals in migration? (The actual animals have reliable signals, and every intention to return.) God made men to be Artists, like Him; to be “co-creators.” Each was endowed with his unique talents, and most, the time to discover and cultivate them. Each has his place in the mysterious, whole, Body of Christ. We aren’t interchangeable.

I will admit this thinking is counter-cultural, as well as uneconomic. More, it is philosophical; we stop to ponder as the herd rushes by. It is true that we will die, just like all the others. But the instruction from our Maker was to choose life.

Chronicles of defunction

Once upon a time, when I was younger (seventeen), I became interested in a specialized area of economics. This was, why companies fail. The math was of no interest to me; it was the human side of defunction that aroused my curiosity. This was because I was working for a small, but humanly sprawling daily newspaper called the Bangkok World, that was never going to make a significant profit, but had limped along for thirteen years and could, to my mind, have limped along forever. Unfortunately, the management got Big Ideas. Within six months of acting upon them, the paper was dead. (The title was sold to its inferior competitor, which fired everyone in the subsequent “merger.”)

The big idea was to take in American investors who would replace the backward (hand-set hot metal) composing and printing equipment with spanking-new state-of-the-art photo-offset technology (then in its incoherent infancy), flown across the Pacific Ocean. A hyper-professional MBA-styled managing director was also flown in: a nice man who’d never been to Thailand, never seen a similar publishing operation, and spent his short tenure learning elementary things before fleeing back Stateside.

I have been reminded of all this by reading a memoir by the paper’s then-editor, a certain Denis Horgan, a young ex-serviceman who had arrived in the job on a train of accidents. Naturally, everything took him by surprise. His account of “the end of The World” was quite affecting. A liberal, progressive soul (but with a lovable regard for quaintness), I think he has yet to guess what hit him.

Through the half-century since, I have been privy to essentially the same scene repeated, many times. A small company is doing passable work in a small market, adapting to the requirements for survival through trial, error, and multi-dimensional collusion. There is a hierarchy within that has developed organically and bears no relation to any organizational chart. Everything works at a low but constant level of efficiency. In my example, the newspaper did come out every day, in fact twice a day, morning and evening. And for all its eccentricities, it was beloved by its few thousand readers. Had the flown-ins spent their whole time drinking iced Mekong in the noodle shop across the street, making themselves too blotto to move, all would have been well.

Alas, they had the Big Idea. Too, they were exemplars of temperance — workaholic instead, and probably incorruptible, in that sterile, short-sleeve, Puritan way. This is of the essence of liberalism and progress. It is a matter of stolid conviction, in opposition to all human experience. Everything is done consciously, nothing by instinct. Statistics are gratuitously gathered, and constantly reviewed. Everything must be managed, to the end of eliminating anything that smacks of a living tradition, spontaneity, or morale.

The (ancient) Greeks, who knew a thing or two about tyranny, felt that no decision should be made until it had become unavoidable, by when it would have been discussed, in a leisurely and therefore thorough way, sometimes drunk and sometimes sober. If the same conclusion is reached by both methods — by the coffee method and by the whisky method, as it were — then, and only then, should we dare proceed.

Meanwhile: “live and let live.”

In my example, a company that was barely meeting its payroll, but somehow meeting it every month, took on a tremendous load of unrepayable, indeed unserviceable debt, which promptly sank it. The paper would probably be alive today if, instead of “investing” in a white elephant, they had bought a couple of second-hand linotype machines, to speed up the composing room a bit, and put the big-idea men back on an aeroplane. (Preferably in the hold.)

My memories involve intense affection. The Bangkok World was the best little newspaper imaginable, for its time and place. It was overstaffed with talented, mostly very young people, of innumerable nationalities. No one was paid well, nor should have been. It was a glorious place to work. All such institutions should be left alone.

On killing people, cont.

In one of his enchanting letters of travel, the English convert to Islam, Marmaduke Pickthall (1875–1936), defends the Oriental practice of casually killing people. He tells the tale of a bag of lentils, purchased in the market at Damascus by his host, Rashid, and left unattended just inside the door of a modest lodging. In a corner, on a heap of cushions, Marmaduke is trying to sleep off the midday heat.

A gentleman of eccentric dress and turban — which is to say, a gypsy — notices the bag and steps inside to take it. While he looks about for other spoil, Marmaduke stirs, and asks the man what is his business. The gypsy flees, disappearing into the city crowds.

Rashid returns, and Marmaduke tells him what happened.

“What?” Rashid exclaims. “The man stole our bag of lentils, and you watched him do it? And you had a good revolver at hand, and did not use it?”

“Why should I shoot a man for such a trifle?”

The debate between them continues on the stools of a coffee vendor across the street. All the idlers gathered there agree with Rashid. The thief should have been shot. Marmaduke, then young and still fairly English, insists that it was “just a bag of lentils.” He stands corrected: that is not the point. The man did something wicked. What if, encouraged by his escape, he goes on to steal a bag of lentils from a poor man who owns nothing else? One must be practical about these things. What kind of world will we live in, if thieves are not shot on the spot?

The “Franks” (Europeans) are criticized for their habit of encouraging both the good and the wicked, indifferently. They are condemned for their lack of religion.

Finally, an old bearded gentleman, venerated for his learning and wisdom, sums up the case. He is gentle and indulgent with this foolish young Englishman, but feels he must speak plainly.

“The Franks have lost belief in Allah and the life to come. They deem this fleeting life the only one vouchsafed to man, and death the worst catastrophe that can befall him. When they kill a man they think they have destroyed him quite. But when we kill a man, we know it is not the end. Both killed and killer will be judged by the One who knows the secrets of men’s hearts. The man who is killed is not deprived of hope.”

It was worse than that for the Franks, in the old man’s estimation:

“For us, death is an incident in life; for them, it is the end of the story. They have no idea of sacrifice. They can only imagine killing a man out of hatred.”

He goes on to explain how, for instance, it is necessary sometimes for a ruler to kill all his brothers and closest friends, lest later they conspire against him and disturb the peace. He doesn’t want to kill them: they are after all the beloved companions of his childhood and youth. His sympathies are entirely with them. But he mustn’t be sentimental. He kills them all for the public good, and they, if they are at all manly, meet their deaths with fortitude and understanding.

I would not go so far. Perhaps I am too soft. But in recent discussions about the death penalty, I take this Mussulman argument to heart. We must shake off the atheist notion — now prevalent even in Rome — that death is simply The End. For truly, we shall all die, and when we do we will learn that it is more like The Beginning.