On coal mining

Coal could be the symbol of the “Industrial Revolution,” and by extension of the “Enlightenment” — King Coal and the Almighty Dollar. It was the lump of coal in the stocking-gift of Santa (Saint Nicholas offered a fist instead) that was the engine of our late modernity, or post-Christianity, or whatever we are to call that part of the Western world that turned its back on God, and took up the worship of mammon, instead.

Yes, I am trying to sound like a Bible-thumping preacher from the Old South, that old Christ-haunted South which Flannery O’Connor depicted. There is not room in one brain for two obsessions, or as Jesus said Himself:

“No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will stand by the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

Jesus Christ, hater; non-founder of the Church of Nice. There you have it in black and white.

Coal is at the heart of our niceness; coal and mammon. Yet coal is something I love, and will defend, against the environmentalcases. My mother came from the coalfields of Cape Breton, whose miners and fishermen went out daily to risk their lives, for no reason better than to feed their families — including the children who descended into “social justice warriors,” serving mammon in new and imaginative ways.

I get a certain amount of blowback from writing these Idleposts, and more yesterday than average when I light-heartedly dismissed the political judgement of coal miners, by saying that even they could see (from a mile underground) that a certain Corbyn were an unpleasant idiot. Mea culpa, for while I did mean to disparage Corbyn, the coal miners were “collateral damage.”

Even practically and politically I should not have. In the new and latest political world of Trump and Boris, with parallels on the European continent, the wheels are turning. In Britain, for instance (I speak for a correspondent in Yorkshire), the Conservatives used to represent snooty, college-educated folk, pleasure seekers, “Capital,” and public vested interests; whereas Labour was for The Workers. Now everything is turned around. The interests of The Workers are more and more represented by the Right. On the Left we have the Party of Privilege, the overmonied, dweebs and marijuana smokers.

This is all theatre, however. Every faction represents only itself, and is likely to do so poorly. A more significant divide is between the sane and the crazy; the latter so-called because the cracks run everywhere. The men and women who stand to gain or lose from politics are not philosophers; but they are whole, indivisible moral entities, whose souls are consequential. All are sinners, and (inconveniently, sometimes) we are called to love them, even if we cannot possibly like them. We are to hate their sins.

Morally, a lump of coal is fairly neutral. It is the coal miner we should celebrate, for the heroism of his life. His political opinions (mostly leftwing through the years) are no important part of him. A golden rule, according to the aphorist Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, is to judge a man not by his opinions, but by what his opinions have made of him. If socialism has made a man charitable, then socialism was good in his case. I have actually met a few coal miners. I found them not nice, but kind; instinct with decency; absolutely sane.

Lichtenberg also said, “Wit and humour, like all corrosives, should be used with care.”