Essays in Idleness


Crime without punishment

What is the difference between an “old-fashioned” liberal and a “modern,” or “post-modern” one? I have thought about this question much, over the years, as I have myself migrated towards what are called “reactionary” positions on most subjects, beginning I think with poetry and art but gradually encompassing politics and religion. So far must I have wandered, that I cannot account for many of my youthful views. They strike me as having been not so much wrong, as they were asinine. Yet looking back I see that I was never a hard-boiled progressive. Rather, a liberal like my father and grandfather: what would count as a libertarian today, and traditionalist in manners and morals.

The two things went together. A man (and a woman, to be clear) must take personal responsibility. It is not for “guvmint” or “society” to meticulously regulate his thought, speech, or behaviour. A man, particularly, must adopt a trade, make a living, marry once at most, support a household, raise children to be upright, kindly, and responsible. He must also be ready at all times to lay down his life when it is asked of him in a valid cause. (Both papa and grandpa volunteered in the World Wars.) He is answerable to legitimate authority with respect to laws, modelled essentially on the Ten Commandments. If he is accused of crimes, he should be fairly tried, and if found guilty, punished — from fines for minor traffic violations, to the death sentence for wilful murder.

But in everyday life, where there was little crime, and houses did not need to be locked, prudence ruled. Whatever you intended to do, you first thought through the likely consequences. And if there were unpleasant consequences to be faced, you faced them. Views might vary between religious sects, on this overwhelmingly Protestant continent, but without doubt, there was God, and one of His attributes was Justice. Moreover, “God is in the details,” as my father (not a church-goer) often told me. “Go with God,” he always said on departure. (He died with a Saint Benedict crucifix in his hands.) Until quite late in life, he continued to vote Liberal.

When you see real injustice, you make a stand. When you see crime, you intervene to stop it. When you see human suffering, you do what you can to alleviate it; or even animal suffering, for that matter. Your duty is to be harmlessly benign, and in all transactions, honest and reliable. Nor were these considered heroic virtues. They were duties incumbent upon all.

All of this became “dated,” as I grew older. My first shocking discovery about the “modern” liberal is, that while he might give lip-service still to some “antiquated” ideals, and gratuitously pose as virtuous, his first instinct when faced with serious responsibility was to cut and run.

My second was to find that he was now brainwashed by ideologies and slogans; that it was impossible to argue with him from reason or fact; that faced with any difficulty he would present himself as the helpless victim of forces he would not even try to define coherently.

My third was the discovery that he was now, instinctively, on the side of the criminal; that he identified with the lawless; that he admired “the transgressive,” trespass, violation. Without acknowledging it to himself, he now had a conception of “human rights” which consistently excused the wrongdoer, and consistently ignored the consequences to those who had done nothing wrong.

This “modern” liberalism, I came to understand, was the development — not over months and years but over centuries — of a mortal flaw in the “classical” liberal worldview. It was avoiding God. The liberal mind was persuaded that humans must “make their own beds.” Its great strength was that it took responsibility; its great weakness was that it had no reason to do so. Faith and reason are mutually dependent; when one goes the other eventually goes, too.

Or put this another way: the Devil gets in when we make room for him.

Over at Catholic Thing, my piece today (here), is about the latest outrage from that very “modern” liberal, Pope Francis: he has now taken it upon himself to begin rewriting the Catechism of the Catholic Church — to change not merely words, but doctrine.

It has been an extraordinarily bad week for Catholics, with major revelations of the profound corruption in our hierarchy: by no coincidence, almost entirely among the most outwardly “liberal” of them. I invite gentle reader to read that column, in light of what I have written above.

On fake news

I don’t do “breaking news” in this website. I mention this in boilerplate reply to those kindly readers who continue to supply me with news tips on the latest outrages — unreported, not accurately reported, or not adequately presented in conventional news media. I am more a former journalist than a present one, but from experience I know that, to do the job properly (“without fear or favour”) takes detailed, and usually expensive, mostly thankless work. By omission of this plodding we spread rumours instead, which is wrong even if many of the rumours might be true. You can’t take “maybe” to the Confessional.

Worse it is, when the bias is carefully managed, and the hearsay is almost certainly untrue. As a long-time consumer of “the news,” familiar with how it is generated, I am more and more appalled. I have elementary “editor’s questions” for almost everything I read on Internet sites, and what I see in print is seldom any better. This applies to all sides of every contested issue; though it is obvious that the bias runs Lefterly, to an overwhelming degree. One comes to believe only what one has seen with one’s own eyes, and that is necessarily little.

It is a matter to regret, that in a country the size of Canada, or one the size of the Natted States, there is no market large enough to sustain even one reliable news agency. That is to say: even one that stakes its reputation on methodical checking of fact, unhurried collocation, and dispassionate articulation; which consistently eschews emotion and sensation. Nor, if such a thing briefly existed, would it be likely to survive long. It would require heroic vigil, against efforts to subvert it. Scrupulous editors would, for instance, never hire any graduate of a journalism school, or with a commonplace humanities degree. They would rather employ strictly specialized correspondents, with genuine expertise, writing within carefully delineated “beats”; whose honesty is above suspicion. They would grant the space that is required to report significant matters thoroughly. Which is to say, something like the remarkable Swiss daily, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, used to be. (I think it was the last to crack up, in the 1970s.)

Even in the past, there were few newspapers or news agencies like this; and going back to the sixteenth century (the Fugger newsletters and the like), the few that have existed were invariably “business” papers, cultivating a readership of traders and investors who “needed to know” what was actually happening, far afield, because they had money on the line. But in a modern economy dominated by the capitalism of hype and fashion trends, such businessmen no longer exist. Money is risked, but no market or currency is stable. One reads the media only to know which way the wind is blowing.

At the moment I sit on at least five Toronto-based “stories,” about which I cannot write. But in each case I am aware that the accounts from all “mainstream” media are seriously incomplete, and on crucial points, wrong. I don’t know anything resembling the whole truth in any of these cases (hence my reticence to weigh in). I do know that I, and all other news consumers, are being misled, both intentionally and unintentionally. Scratch any surface and I find an “agenda.”

The fault lies largely with us. We are easily angered, but we are not curious. We grasp at what straws are offered, and if they fit our preconceived views, we are content to repeat the half and full lies. We choose news sources to suit our preconceptions: to provide ourselves with the emotional comfort of being told what we already know and expect. The news outlets don’t dare to contradict us; they make their money on our credulity.