Essays in Idleness

DAVID WARREN

Spaemann

The combination of clarity and charity is rare enough in this world; add courage and a wonderful weapon is formed, on behalf of the right and the good. This was my impression of Robert Spaemann, the German radical Catholic philosopher, of whose death this week I just learnt. Be not mistaken about my use of that word “radical.” All true philosophers are so. They return again and again upon first principles — upon known and unalterable truths — and never let them out of view. This is the very thing that makes them tedious to undisciplined minds: their ability to hold focus.

“Ruthless charity” is a concept I have toyed with. The contradiction is superficial. It can be understood when we consider the quality of a great surgeon. His blade is attacking not the patient but the disease; the cancer, not what it has attached to; not the sinner but the sin, as it were. The intention is actually to save the patient, though it be at the unavoidable cost of pain. Spaemann’s investigations into the history of philosophy may first seem a series of assaults, yet what one acquires from each operation is greater respect for its subject. Even a thinker such as I abhor — let me give the example of David Hume — is provided with a context in which he has valuable things to say, and to qualify; perhaps even some beauty in the pattern of his thought.

This is not to be confused with “open-mindedness,” or the fake virtue of “tolerance.” There is no smarmy “live and let live.” Rather, the mission is to discover what may be of value to us, but lies concealed in our enemy’s possession. From its beginnings, Catholic philosophy has always raided the pagan in this way; and accorded to their best the honour they deserve.

In his recoveries and restatements of Catholic thought — always conscious of contemporary needs — Spaemann’s capacity for focus made him an exhilarating thinker in himself. In his accounts of Happiness and Benevolence (translated 2000), and on what constitutes Persons (translated 2006), he is among the permanent contributors to “anthropology” in the old sense (that could never be detached from morals).

With Spaemann’s close friend, Joseph Ratzinger, too, one touches what is so genuinely impressive and worthy in the German mind and tradition: an aspiration to precision and depth which does not lose sight of the humane. Both men, as explicators and interpreters of the Catholic faith, exemplify this fine German “attentiveness” (as I call it), even to an almost naïve kindliness towards all fellow teachers and scholars.

There was no vituperation towards the man Bergoglio, in any of Spaemann’s criticisms of Amoris Laetitia, and of the pope’s other schismatic writings, now roiling throughout the Church to the detriment of souls. For any Catholic, to criticize the pope — should he depart from Catholic teaching in a way that one can understand and articulate — is not so much a “right” as a duty. And Spaemann has been consistently dutiful, on matters which in the long view are more consequential than sex scandals, horrific as many of those have been. Sin is in passing, and can finally be absolved; Error is for keeps.

From the beginning, it was not the function of the Church to accommodate the world. Rather it is the world’s task, to accommodate the Church, and thus the Christ Who Is — its saviour. Spaemann was never confused on this, nor avoided any issue in cowardice. He was and will remain that sort of Churchman, who has things the right way around.

Of eggs & baskets

[Trigger warning: The entirety of this Doganpost was written in a bad mood.]

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I had, when I moved into this place, a lovely globular wire egg basket, of the sort in which the French collect (or once collected) snails. It had a handle, and could be hung from a hook; and wire paws, to stop it rolling off a counter. Its one flaw was: too big. I acquire chicken eggs six at a time (though am often compelled to buy a full dozen); this basket could hold nearly twenty. Foolishly, I gave it away. Wire egg baskets used to be common in the flea markets. I expected to find another, soon.

Indefensible optimism on my part. I should have learnt: from my unwelcome habit of giving books away (to people I think ought to read them). What was once readily replaced, in the used bookstores, is no longer. Books may still be found for almost nothing, in bulk, but any specific book becomes a “rarity” to the Internet merchants, who will price it for “collectors,” after googling to find the highest amount an idiot ever paid for it. Then add “shipping.”

“They don’t make them like that, any more,” an elderly lady discovered, after giving away her last typewriter ribbon, some several years ago. (Beloved old stenographer who, refusing to be defeated, then mistress’d the art of respooling.)

We live in a time when hoarding is necessary. Of course, it has been identified as a compulsive disorder, by the same sort of people who have made it necessary.

Among the demands of Progress is that any provision against future want be obstructed, made illegal, or at the very least condemned. For the risk, from Twisted Nanny’s point of view, is that the desire may lead to independence of mind, and other “rigidly conservative” behaviour. “Democracy,” as currently understood, requires extremely low information and intelligence on the part of its supposed beneficiaries, and so the slightest manifestation of individual judgement points towards “antisocial” tendencies, such as trying to leap from the pot before the water is boiling.

This includes the use of a broad vocabulary, and instances of humour — indicators of racism, sexism, homophobia, and a three-figure IQ. The principle is the same as that imposed by modern supermarket packaging. A good citizen will never do startling things, such as transfer eggs from plastic foam cartons into wire baskets. The technology is now available to alert the authorities when eccentricities occur.

The municipality of “Beijing” (Peking in China) has introduced computerized filing, so that all information on inhabitants of the city can be coordinated, and each person ranked by obedience, for the purpose of doling out Twisted Nanny’s favours. Here in the West, that system is advancing through rules on recycling, and laws to enforce “environmental awareness.” One must not only buy eggs in a guvmint-regulated package, but dispose of that package in an approved way.

In many cities, garbage must now be placed in guvmint-issue transparent bags, to facilitate not only user fees and taxes, but guvmint inspection of what one discards. (There was a time when an accuser riffling through your refuse would himself be considered barely human trash; today he is given wages and a pension.) People accept this “for the good of the planet,” because they are intellectually retarded, and freedom means nothing to them.

Personal savings, or refusal to become indebted, is another target of the State. I could curl gentle reader’s ears with my own story of how I was driven into debilitating debt without ever having borrowed, by the openly malicious, compound operation of tax auditors, and “family law.” Most volunteer, however, to run up debt on their credit cards, and remortgage themselves periodically.

Others, more clever, are able to get rich by mounting their debts beyond the possibility of repayment, on the ancient principle that I have a problem if I owe a hundred dollars, but if it is a hundred million, the bank has a problem. Though I have met quite a few apparently wealthy persons in my adult life, the “apparent” qualification is necessary. I may never have encountered even one with net assets. (The State smiles on this, because it keeps the rich in line.)

The prospect of living modestly, earning one’s living honestly, and being left alone, has been methodically swept off the table. The history since when this was normal, lies on the floor like so many broken eggs.

The concealment

If one has ever looked for a lost sheep, or perhaps lost spectacles or lost fountain pen, one will be familiar with the sensation that it is hiding. But sheep seldom have that purpose, and household objects (arguably) never. In truth, one is looking in the wrong place. Nor may one conclude that the item has ceased to exist, from the fact that one cannot find it. Contemplation may soon yield the answer; or else it will enhance the mystery. How was I to guess that a mechanical pencil, without the capacity to disappear, but with the capacity to jab, had actually made a hole in the pocket of a jacket, and worked its way to the bottom of the lining? I condemned the pencil and not myself; I attributed volition when it stabbed me in the backside.

Science is at a loss to explain many a thing that could be easily explained, were it looking in the right place. The presumption that it must be somewhere else is the means of its concealment. In the example I gave, the knowledge that the sharp thing had been in my pocket was sufficient clue; by defect of intelligence, I read this clue wrongly.

The genius of Sherlock Holmes was not in the development of brilliant theories, but in his ability to ignore them; his refusal to be led astray. Likewise, the remarkable cosmological deductions of a Georges Lemaître (“Big Bang”), or of a Francis Crick (the “sequencing hypothesis” of 1957) came from spotting the obvious, then following it home. … (“Come and see!”)

The obvious lies concealed in a field of distractions. The quarry is, as it were, “hiding in plain view.” This is the secret, I was told by a detective novelist, to writing a detection novel. Start from the solution then add the distractions. The same method may be used in the construction of a joke. These are idle pursuits, but gentle reader must not expect me to condemn idleness.

God, I have sometimes reflected, is not hiding from us. We look for Him in all the wrong places (for instance, not in the Mass), often knowingly because, like Adam, we are hiding from Him. We blame Him for not being there, when He is standing right in front of us, silently and immovably. His presence could be known if we returned His gaze, but instead we are looking through and around it. Christ Himself will wait to be recognized, silently and patiently. He is not a screamer. Nor can He be “in the mood” to trick us, to sneak up and catch us out, for as we learn from the most reliable sources, he is not a trickster of that or any sort. Ask, and He will answer.

Now suppose one had the intention to trick, to conceal, to make Our Lord invisible to those genuinely in need of His assistance. In practice, this is easy. All one must supply, is distractions; to change the subject, as the seeker approaches; to raise a noisy protest, somewhere else. It seems to me the chief tactic of the Devil, in this or any age, is not to “deny Christ,” per se. That won’t work, for He is undeniable. Rather it is to keep him unseen, by putting ever more distractions in His way. By studying one’s customer, one learns which distractions he prefers.

The Devil and his agents can be stupid, as mediaeval man was aware. Their mistakes consist of becoming too cocky, too visible themselves; of slipping into a direct contest. This only contributes to Christ being seen. And when He is, the game is up for them. How many little devils have blown it in this way!

Vallis Hortensis

My campaign to assert the independence of Vallis Hortensis (better known as Parkdale) has yet to bear any fruit. But we must be patient in the work of centuries.

Parkdale naturally descended from the Village of Parkdale, located dangerously close to the sprawling and gluttonous City of Toronto. Before that, it was market garden, dairy pasturage and farmland, adapted to the heavy clay of our promontory, happily set to receive delicious Lake breezes.

An Indian portage, used over time by at least five distinct tribal “nations,” had once skirted our western side, and the French Fort Rouille marked the east, at the Lakeshore. We were a prosperous fur-trading outpost for the French and for the natives, from the 1600s. Alas, rather than surrender them to the British, the occupants torched their fine little bastion’d properties in 1759.

The fort’s first commandant having been Pierre Robineau, Chevalier de Portneuf, I suggested adapting his arms for our own anti-modern heraldry, but failed to get anyone’s attention. Ditto, I am sorry to say, with my proposal to recognize seventeen official languages, including French, Latin, and five dialects of Iroquoian (as a scheme to encumber our political busibodies).

I wrote “gluttonous,” and won’t take it back. The City annexed us in 1889, in its quest for Lebensraum, and bestial lust for cash cows.

Well managed, as it had been, by its Reeve and Council (low taxes, nary a deficit), the Village had provided itself with all necessary services (fire, water, gas, police, public health, schools, library, markets; churches including a huge, now-departed Methodist “cathedral”; charitable institutions such as the populous convent of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, now disappeared under welfare housing, &c). But it was filling up with too-visible mansions, owing to excessive wealth.

After annexation, these services were quickly merged into the urban bureaucracy and mostly gutted or removed. Property taxes were raised, to reflect the need to pay the parasite classes, and the decline from Toronto’s richest district to among Toronto’s poorest has been our more-or-less continuous story through the thirteen decades since.

But it is delightful to examine old photographs of the modestly glorious public, private, and ecclesiastical edifices that once decorated our municipality, the demolition of which, and replacement with buildings somewhere on the scale from mediocre to obscene, peaked around 1960.

As parliamentary constituency, Parkdale remained among Canada’s most fiercely Tory through the half-century after amalgamation, but with Liberal governments in Ottawa and the Province, and the usual commies at City Hall, it was eventually ground down. Today, it provides reliable voting fodder for the more advanced progressive factions, its residents trained to vote in fear that they might lose their pogey.

Now, to be reasonable, Parkdale is not such a special case. Similar things have been done to many thousands of small municipalities across Canada, Merica, Europe, which have similarly descended into squalor. “You can’t live in the past,” as the progressives say, you are only allowed to live in their present, and what will be worse, their future. No local government enjoys constitutional protection in this or any country but Switzerland, and therefore local government ceases to exist. Under “democracy,” the amount of say a citizen has in his own immediate environment approximates to zero. All planning is under the control of credentialled experts, themselves accountable only to the Devil.

The more reason we should look to the future. For as this world becomes uninhabitable, and we powerless to defend anything we love, we might as well focus on the world to come.

Nativity scenes

“The things that we love tell us what we are,” according to an aphorism of Saint Thomas Aquinas, flashed before me the other day, and in a public place. (Also: “Whatever is received is received according to the nature of the recipient.”) The simplicity of these sayings bespeaks their author, who was unlike the modern philosophers, who sneer at anything that can be understood.

And what we love, we can defend.

I love a crèche, even one that is rather tacky, though I draw a line to exclude those designed to subvert the Catholic faith, such as recent displays at Madame Tussaud’s, and in the Vatican. They were said by some to be “in bad taste,” but that is not my objection to them. It is inaccurate, because such displays are satanic, and in our continuing Age of Enlightenment, the satanic is fashionable. The idea of “taste” itself has been twisted, to reflect the “coolness” factor, which once was exactly what good taste rejected.

Perhaps this begins farther back, with a misunderstanding of Horace. He did not write, de gustibus non disputandum est, which was an older Latin adage. (“No accounting for taste” is the English parallel.) But if he had, he would have sung it mordantly; which is to say, with bite. The pagan Romans strike me as obsessed with good taste, and its correlatives. It was a decadence in them from the beginning, and it reveals their “inferiority complex” towards the artistically self-confident Greeks. From the earliest Christian art, through Baroque, to nativity scenes, the Catholics never suffered from this.

Saint Francis of Assisi would never have thought of it, when designing his crèche. The intention was to convey the “infancy narrative” in terms any child could understand. The plan is still working.

A Crucifix that looks like it will drip on your shoes: this is Catholic, and as an Anglican I sometimes thought such items a little “over the top.” But I’m not an Anglican any more. Verily, I have come to think that Christianity itself may be in bad taste, and that Christ showed this by his own dripping. It is in the worst possible taste to explain this, which is why I often try.

But again, taste comes only tangentially into the heads of the proprietors of shopping malls; if anything does get in there. They all had nativity scenes through Advent — their Christmas shopping season — until quite recently. These helped put people into the “Christmas spirit,” of reckless spending, reconfiguring guilt for doing bad things, to guilt for not buying enough stuff for your “loved ones.”

Today that is trumped by “the spirit of the age,” and businessmen will endanger their own sales statistics to conform with the coolness that the satanists demand. By the Catholic Herald I was just apprised of the latest ban in Scotland. Messrs Thistle Shopping Centre in Stirling “prides itself on being religious [stet] and politically neutral,” they announced, in having their crèche removed; a reminder that Pride is a mortal sin.

And Messrs Facebook blocked a picture of Santa Claus, kneeling at the crib of Baby Jesus, on the grounds that it was “violent or graphic content.” There is no accounting for sanity among such people. We are increasingly under the keystroke of Internet censors who are — if I may use a colloquial expression — batshit insane. Happily, they still get sporadic resistance; but not the more powerful and constantly escalating resistance that could put them out of business.

When a department store in this town cancelled the crèche in its most prominent display window — as quietly as it could, twenty years ago — a friend noticed, and wrote to the boss. When he received the usual slimy, boilerplate reply, he chopped up his “Hudson’s Bay” credit card, and mailed the pieces back. He was able to persuade many friends to do likewise.

I do not dispute the right of the capitalists to make their own corporate decisions. But we have the right to drive them into bankruptcy, and should use it more robustly.

Devices of enslavery

“Without acknowledging how pernicious and far-reaching liberalism’s reach really is, there is little hope for upending it.”

I love a man who will use the word “pernicious,” and not care who hears. Thus I love Richard Greenhorn and the other gentlemen (are there no ladies?) who contribute to the website, American Sun. Our reading today, for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, will be this one, here, forwarded to me by a priestlie correspondent this morning. I applaud this piece because it is just what I would say, were my talents and skills not so cruelly limited.

Many years ago, having returned to Greater Parkdale from fairly extensive travels, and having rented quarters, in Chinatown of course, I renewed acquaintance with several Canadian friends. They looked saddened when they visited these quarters. Unaware, perhaps, that I was then floating in Hong Kong paper gold, they noticed the absence of distractions. Within several weeks, not one but two television sets were delivered, semi-anonymously to my door. The halls being unlit in the evenings, I returned from fairly extensive drinking one night to injure myself over one of these. I hadn’t expected it to be blocking the entrance to my little suite. The problem of getting rid of first one large television set, and then another, was a puzzlement for weeks. Finally I decided to store one of them on a dresser, in the plainest view, so visitors in future could be persuaded that I already had an idiot box of my own.

Now, thirty-something years later, I gather the TVs are “improved.” While you are watching them, they are watching you. Indeed, I am told, even the toasters are tracking your movements, and will only stop if you minister to them with a sledge-hammer. Liberalism is far ahead of where it was in 1984.

“When we argue about liberalism, we are not arguing about politics per se. In the present context, we are arguing about the acquiescence to technical changes which ultimately go to the very definition of man.” (Greenhorn.)

A further motive, in offering the link, is to explain to several somewhat obtuse readers what I could mean by yesterday’s virulent attack on refrigerators. Especially the one who confessed that he loves his refrigerator, and added intemperately that he would never part with it.

A third, is to qualify my own aspirationally gallant attempts to advance the cause of Catholic Integralism. A fourth might be to extend my survey of the inevitable modern alternative to it: Twisted Nanny State.

Then what are we doing on the Internet, one might ask? Trying to be a Fifth Column.

Chronicles of outrage

The young: they are fools.

I was lucky, I learnt this at an early age. It began with the discovery that I was a fool myself. This foolishness had several dimensions, and applied to many things. Not knowing anything was only the beginning. Dependence on technology (even then) accelerated the process of mental rotting, so that by the age of thirty one’s mind was pure, refrigerated compost. Hence our saying, “Never trust anyone over thirty.”

Everywhere I look today, I see the results of youth.

I was very lucky, having, back then, some advantages not shared by most of my contemporaries. For instance, I was poor, and lacked connexions, and had the wit to drop out of school. Too, I was wandering about in strange places. Moreover, having learnt how to read, I had access to the wisdom of the ages.

Let us start with the importance of not owning a refrigerator. This was my good fortune for years on end (in an old workman’s cottage in merry London, which lacked other “amenities” as well, such as electricity, after I disconnected it). I loved that place, my nest in the big city. It was better even than the High Doganate, if that is not blasphemy.

I am utterly appalled — outraged, if thou wilt — to meet people today who put apples in refrigerators, to say nothing of the pears. Do they not know better? Or potatoes, carrots, even onions. Even garlic. Or tomatoes, and other things that rhyme. And that is just scratching the surface of public ignorance.

The list of things ruined in refrigerators, or stored there pointlessly at best, is long. It includes bananas, melons, mangoes, limes, and anything that came from the tropics. But the list also includes apricots and peaches, berries and all quasi-berries such as raspberries and strawberries, indeed, all the fruits of the temperate zone, too. God made winter to remind us of that.

Eggs do not belong in refrigerators. But neither do butters, nor cheeses, nor yoghurts, nor milk with any reasonable fat content (and “skim milk” is a fraud). Olive and vegetable oils must be kept out, together with nuts and anything made from them.

Pickles, ketchups, other condiments, belong on dark pantry shelves, along with anything shot through with the vinegar that already preserves it. This goes not only for hot sauces from the tropics, but for the peppers themselves, and all herbs and spices, whole or ground, fresh or dry. And soy-sauce.

And this goes, too, for all flours and cereals, jams and marmalades, chocolates, dried fruits or any other confection, coffee, and tea. Other foods were packed in tins for a reason, or were “canned” in sealed bottles by fair country maids.

Finally, do not keep live animals in a refrigerator, nor let your children sleep there on hot summer days. (That, traditionally, was what fire escapes were for.)

The only thing I can think of, that might benefit from refrigeration, is ice. If you insist on making ice cream, ice is a desideratum, along with lots of salt. But our clever ancestors invented ice boxes, which could operate entirely without artificial power.

I suppose an unwanted, unplugged old refrigerator could be adapted for this purpose, but it’s an ugly solution that will expose one to ridicule, if persons of sound mind suspect that it is working.

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I also write on outrage in the Catholic Thing today. (Here.)

Rolling home

My Chief Texas Correspondent has ping’d me the link to a local TV station down there, giving live coverage of the last ride to College Station of President George H. W. Bush. Their camera is mounted on the train, and as it rolls one may glimpse ten thousand faces along the track, standing in gloom and rain, as they have apparently been doing for hours; their cars parked everywhere, their children and their friends around them; their umbrellas and their Merican flags.

From a helicopter, we see the train itself, and I notice that a freight door is wide open on one of the cars: so all may see the draped casket as it passes.

I think back over half a lifetime, of the Bush family, and the Bush presidents, the father and the son who learned from his example. I had no more knowledge of them than a passing journalist can acquire, but a strong impression from their works and words of both “41” and “43.” They were, in recollection, decent and honourable men, who did their best in good conscience, with prayers.

In all the heat of politics, through all efforts to drag them into mud, I recall nothing either of them did or said that I would characterize as cynical or sleazy. Both were in the best sense patriots, who knew they’d been elected to serve their country, and every national interest; and not a partisan faction therein. Neither lacked courage, nor when events called, the boldness that leadership often requires. I could not say this of many politicians. It has nothing to do with whether I agreed with them on one judgement or another, or whether this or that policy succeeded.

Already, Bush Senior seems a figure from another age, when the concept of “mom and apple pie” could still be imagined as uncontroversial, and formal civility in public life had not yet perished, though one could see it was in rapid decline. This is not a veiled criticism of Trump, but of the times that have produced both him, and his opponents. While I am no enthusiast for “democracy,” my gut tells me that at least among those old enough to remember, people ache for the restoration of dignity. The death of this old man reminds us, that the present carnival of malice was never inevitable.

But history is littered with dishonourable leaders, populists and demagogues, petty criminals and very ambitious criminals in high places. My look back is not mere nostalgia for a better time, or a better generation. Nothing is inevitable in our divinely-freed world, which by turns accepts and rejects the grace of our loving Creator. We have better and worse angels, to obey or disobey.

May the old parachutist rest in peace. (A sport he first tried over the Sea of Japan.) He really did “serve his country,” to the limit of his ability and understanding — a gentleman, of consistent good faith and good cheer.

We will need character ourselves, to find character in our leaders again.

Of mangles & battledores

Some ladies of my perilous acquaintance have formed a gymnastic “club.” That is to say they exercise together, upon the machines of a local commercial gym.

“A Gymkhana?” I asked, with my usual obtusion, wondering if the officers’ sports clubs of India were now admitting women. You know: anything can happen these days. A Gymkhana in Parkdale would not surprise me, though members without waxed, handlebar moustaches might strike me as odd.

“No,” my informant replied, cutting off a fruitful line of speculation and inquiry.

To make the short conversation shorter, I proposed that they found a lavoir, instead. Or perhaps a bateau-lavoir, for the shore of Lake Ontario, should the spring I had in mind within the former Village of Parkdale prove to have been permanently sealed. For though I’ve noticed that in our now conurban district, there are plenty of coin-operated laundries, I can’t find one free, old-fashioned wash-house. And this, notwithstanding plentiful immigration, and all the cultures we are supposed to have absorbed. What I had in mind was something like what they had in Europe, before all this modernity set in. Some of these lavoirs, built in the 17th century, were gorgeous beyond words.

A long, shallow, slightly raised stone tank, fed by a clean spring, then draining into purposeful ditches; the tank’s edges and dry levels designed to accommodate the washing and beating of clothes. Perhaps an elegant slate or pantile roof set over, as a matching hat. And the ladies of the community all gathered around, in their communal joy, merrily washing and beating away, in a place where they might gossip and no man overhear. (Men were strictly verboten.) Moreover, excellent exercise to keep them trim.

Well, that is just one of my suggestions for municipal improvement. Once built, a lavoir would require little maintenance, thus no need for fees, nor bureaucrats. Indeed, lots of money would be saved, if both coin-laundries and gyms could be obviated. Alas, North Americans are nothing if not non-communal, these days, so we might return to mangles and battledores instead. I find beautiful examples of these devices on the Internet, and see no reason why craftsmen should not resume their manufacture.

It is a matter of regret, to me, that my washing board went missing after my last move. For years I have been intending to replace it. I have laundry pail and blue bars of soap, but the job would be easier if I had that washboard back. Alas, in my small urban washroom, there is room to swing neither cat nor battledore, and I’m reduced to mangling and squeeging by hand. The architects of our apartment complexes did not think of this, did they, when providing such tight spaces.

In view of their ventilation arrangements, I hardly think them rational. One design flaw after another, and I can’t speak for the building standards either, in carpentry and joinery, plastering and much else. The plumbing used to work, however, until the environmentalists specified toilets that use only 80 percent of the water, but need to be flushed five times.

Still, the biggest scandal of waste, in my view, is the laundry disposition. People laze about doing nothing all day, except sitting in chairs in front of computers, often munching on Pringles. Then in a panic they realize they need exercise, or else they will die. They lay out hundreds or thousands for membership in a gym. Or take a car and pay twenty dollars for parking, when they could briskly walk a mere three or four miles, and probably arrive quicker. In the morning I see them jogging — to nowhere, loaded down with expensive gizmos when they could as easily be carrying heavy bags. I see them paying for nasty little decorative salads, yet ignoring the traditional rules of fasting and abstinence.

Sometimes I think they have all gone mad.

Of riots & rioting

It is the policy of the High Doganate to discourage rioting, even in France. My acting Chief Paris Riot Correspondent reports a lot of property damage recently; I daresay the meejah have covered it lovingly. The cause appears to be the government trying to put its books in order. “The peeple” are unhappy because they are deprived of some entitlements, and charged closer to actual costs for services. They are getting what they voted for, and of course this makes them violent.

Under pretext of environmentalism, for instance, they will be taxed more for fuel. This was unimaginable to them, and the “reforms” are overall broad enough that they are now being goaded from both Right and Left. The usual searing envy has them marching into the better neighbourhoods, torching cars, spray-painting, smashing windows, and so forth; looting, very earnestly, the upscale stores.

Tear gas, stun grenades, water cannon. The police get to have their fun, too.

For many of the older citizens, this must bring 1968 to mind. I know that I felt a twinge (ah, to be fifteen again, and wiser than those passing through their “terrible twos”). Indeed, Paris — where I once learnt the cobbles are numbered on the bottom so they may be put back in place after they’ve been used for missiles — has been unusually peaceful this last half-century. There used to be a revolution every ten or twenty years, and lesser annual uprisings over this and that. I can understand nostalgia.

But, according at least to me, the French are not unrepresentative of humankind. Give people something they cannot afford, and they may be grateful, briefly. Stop giving it, or reduce the subsidy, and they will combust. This is the fate of all politicians’ promises. It happens the faster when “the peeple” in question have been raised in a state of post-Christian barbarism, with no conception of Hell. A scant thousand years ago it was the Norsemen we feared; now it is ourselves.

Among my eccentricities is the habit of reading histories. (Shakespeare’s are wonderful; but even Voltaire’s have their moments. Thucydides, hooo!) Let me assure gentle reader I seldom research to any great depth; it is mere curiosity. By now I am convinced that nothing can be fixed. Even in Christian times, people behaved atrociously, and those with power were as bad as the rest.

I used to indulge counter-factuals, the “What if?” questions. What if some kindly and intelligent soul, with a knowledge of the consequences of human stupidity, were parachuted into an earlier time, with a remit to alter the course of history for the better. It would be like insider trading. He would probably use his knowledge to get absurdly rich, and be utterly corrupted.

But suppose he didn’t, and instead did what he could to avert some pending catastrophe. Suppose, for sake of argument, that he succeeded. In that case, I am now fairly sure, there would be an alternative catastrophe. Thanks to his good intentions, it would probably be worse. Which is sad, when you think of it, for the world could be a paradise if everyone behaved. They will not, however. It’s that “Fall of Man” issue.

For you see, gentle reader, men are what we are. Our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked. I have this from the Prophet Jeremiah (speaking through the liturgy), and ain’t it the truth?