The prognosis

No predictions are offered in these Idleposts, or if gentle reader is able to find one, he is instructed not to take it seriously. The question, “Where does this lead?” is often implied, but since matters must be considered one track at a time, or at most two or three, no safe predictions can be offered. Only facts can be attested (sometimes). When I look back over the “evolution” of any A into any B, this impossibility becomes obvious. Too many seemingly irrelevant factors come into the mix, and change it. One may say the whole trend was for the good or for the evil, but this involves blather.

Does anyone understand this? (Do I?) In colloquial speech and writing, we easily assume foreknowledge, and intentions that began as no part of the story. Even if we could understand what one of the characters intended, we cannot understand the combinations. It is hard enough to read one mind, retrospectively; and minds change, so that prospectively, we have no information.

Who, for instance, could guess that a girl (and if so, which one) would “trigger” mass hysteria in a Malayan high school, with her own sudden onset of what we used to call “the vapours”? (Some piece I was reading on the BBC.) We know that such events occur; that they are more frequent in some places than in others; that the hysterics are overwhelmingly young and female; but sometimes they are male. The hysteria starts explosively, the contagion is immediate; then like most things, it fades. Meanwhile, hundreds or thousands have participated, showing real symptoms for what had no medical cause. For no accountable reason, normality returns, and people have leisure to construct their explanations. But no one saw the irruption coming.

The same with mass shootings, knifings, and other violent acts. No policeman, nor any psychologist can see the crime coming, even if he has been tipped off about unstable persons. We will have to arrest everyone in advance. Even Comrade Stalin would be at a loss. We can however say that some places are more likely than others to provide a spontaneous “terror” incident, or that the overwhelming number of perpetrators will be young and male; though some will be female. (An incident that is planned can sometimes be interrupted by diligent police work, but the plan itself was spontaneously conceived.) In some circumstances, wild rioting may follow, but in most cases, no. “Copycat” killings, including suicides may happen, but again, who can guess where?

Social conditions contribute to such acts, but who can fully understand them? Who can consider them impartially, for each explanation must contain presuppositions, any of which can be made controversial. Often, I think, those who analyze the batty event are themselves batty; and sometimes a microphone is more dangerous than a gun.

Among our modern “myths,” or imaginings, is the notion that we can know what, in reality, only God could know. We assign motives, and judge, to suit our own convenience, at a given moment. We cannot judge the way God would judge, assuming the Christian revelation is true. (This is the presupposition of Faith, which I have certainly bought into.)

But if there is anything resembling a traditional moral order, as in all known pre-modern societies, we can easily know what is good or bad. We can make sense of the moral order, especially if like the Catholic one it is intellectually coherent; and we may praise or blame according to it. We can distinguish what is sane, from what is quite crazy.

The alternative to moral order is disorder. This becomes inevitable when conventions of good and bad are refounded not on reason and tradition, but on our messy, contradictory “feelings.” Things become bad not because they are demonstrably bad, but because we personally find them icky. We make ourselves the judges, and of course our judgements will vary, from day to day. We may not be mad, but will be able to mimic madness effectively this way.

What follows from this can be prognosticated, but only vaguely. A society will fall into warring, emotional factions. But this is not a specific prediction, rather an observation, of how things are, today.