Essays in Idleness


Back to normalcy

Like most politicians, W. G. Harding was only semi-literate, yet well above the average. The Ivy League types are still querying his use of “normalcy,” which the Natted States president used during his election campaign of 1920. Harding himself ranks low in the polls of “Great American Presidents,” though he was quite popular until his death. That mistake, committed after a heart attack in San Francisco, anno 1923, was the first of several. It was discovered that his administration had been rather corrupt, and himself guilty of an adultery. One might say he was “impeached,” posthumously. Today, they impeach Republican presidents for breathing.

Warren Gamaliel Harding is naturally among my favourite presidents. This has something to do with his “return to normalcy.” For the better part of a decade, his countrymen had suffered under the ministrations of progressive Democrats, such as the unspeakable Woodrow Wilson, and from such foreign entanglements as the First World War. The federal budget was being blown to heck, and society was on the verge of the Jazz Age.

Harding, who stayed home in Marion, Ohio, for most of his presidential campaign — rather than “pressing the flesh” and risking the influenza — won by a landslide, promising: “Not heroics, but healing; … not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality.”

Oh yes and, “not nostrums, but normalcy.”

The quote, which I have filched from the Wicked Paedia, is semi-literate throughout. Harding was a man who had an unhealthy relationship with a dictionary, and to his other sins, we must add an addiction to semi-colons. Still, “The Peeple” could guess what he meant. He wanted America to move backwards. He thought the whole country should forget about recent lunatic adventures, and return to her wonted calm.

Unfortunately, she would become further entangled in “events” — including very dicey economic ideas — and she was back to mainlining on Progress, and paying for it, after the Great Stock Crash. But in the meanwhile, Harding and his successors Coolidge and Hoover had succeeded in being relatively boring, which is all one can hope in a politician. (Trump could be criticized for being relatively interesting.)

It is the backwardness of Harding that still appeals to me. The task he set, of returning status quo ante the Great War, strikes me as an unattainable ideal. Ninety-nine years have passed, and we are even farther from it; I expect little from the centenary. But it remains movement in the right direction. More generally, we should honour the principle of non-participation in trends.

Much was wrong with the world before 1914. As evidence, it was “trending” towards that Great Conflagration. But then, there is always much wrong with the world. Rather than try to fix the problems, which largely fix themselves over time, in order to accommodate new problems, our ambition should be to not make them worse.

As Harding and his like distantly perceived, we should turn our attention to fixing ourselves, rather than the incorrigible world. Even in his case, there was room for improvement.

Insufferables v. Deplorables

The definition of a “no-brainer,” is a decision that requires no brains. Gentle reader will imagine what happens when decisions are made in that way. Or maybe he can’t, in which case I will imagine it for him. The results will be unforeseeable, if prompt; except by those using their brains to foresee them.

This is a problem with the zombie, or collective method of governing a country, or governing anything. It relies on luck. Sometimes, very rarely, it will get lucky. But the luck never lasts.

Perhaps one might observe there is no such thing as a “no-brainer,” even among fish swimming in a school. It is physiologically impossible, even for a human, to act without engaging his grey matter.

Let us take a decision that might be made by either — say, fish in the ocean, or a school of liberal-progressives. It is the principle, “Whenever encountering an obstacle, turn Left.” (Or the alternative no-brainer is possible: “Turn Right.”) No turning signal is necessary, for the rest of the school has been programmed the same way. Still, they must see the obstacle, and turn. This involves a dim intellectual process. It need not be applauded, however.

Let us posit our obstacle is a whale; and that we are its diet. It is large, so we can see it from a distance, or were equipped to detect it in some other way. Instinct kicks in, and we turn. “Left, left!” goes the collective signal. The whale’s advantage is that, with even less thought, he can make his own adjustment of course. It’s easy, because experience has taught him which way we will turn. We do so, and in a moment, we are all gobbled down.

The life of a sprat may be hard, perhaps; but it is mercifully brief.

Or  let’s say we are Democrats, in caucus. The predator approaching is a Donald Trumptruck.  We can see it coming a mile away; there is no subtlety at all in the creature. And yet we always get run over.

My example is perhaps too simple for words. Yet it applies to almost every situation where the bigger guy wins. The frustration is that we didn’t have to act as we did, we instinctively decided on a no-brainer. (Impeachment, for instance.) We could have put it to a vote, instead, but the result would have been the same. All votes confirm the no-brainers.

Whale, or Truck, makes no difference. Both were merely metaphors for Reality.

Today, in this age of Insufferables v. Deplorables, with no-brainers on either side, the clashes might be even less predictable than in our monarchical past, when it was Us v. Them. Our politics consist of two schools of fish, not one. But they think alike from their opposite positions, changelessly.

There might be no serious threat at all. And thus there will be slight consequence to our action. We see, for instance, a World Climatecrisis coming, so we are all compelled to turn Left. But the predator was an artefact of our collective, neurasthenic imagination, invariably supported by statistics. All it did was make us swim in circles, and live in a state of emotional disturbance.

In this state, which has been our lot since about the end of the First World War, we have executed innumerable no-brainers. We’ve been “Woke” in one way or another, many times. We have, on as many occasions, foreseen the end of the world. And we’ve been gobbled, but hardly ever by what we expected. We are, to this day, very easily trolled, the way a whale trolls a school of fish, to roll it into a ball, more compact and digestible.

For one hundred and one years there has been no solitude. Or more exactly, solitude only for the few, who are able to detach themselves from the world of the “news cycle,” and large schools of fish reacting as they will. Now we have “social media” to roll us up tight.

Yet it remains an option to think for ourselves, in that time-tested solitary way, in which we recognize no leader who is not an authenticated agent of God.

Meanwhile, the masses will be following their asses, as the old saying goes.

Remembering humanism

Erasmus makes an adequate hero for the adolescent boy. He was mine, for a time, even more than his friend Thomas More, who was forced on our consciousness in the late ‘sixties by Robert Bolt’s play-cum-movie (A Man for All Seasons). We were all herded from the High School to the Cinema, and rolled home in our yellow schoolbus full of something — youthful idealism — that could then be applied to various dubious causes. There was this Penguin with the title, Utopia. Without reading it, even in this pop translation, we became wise in our conceit, which is to say, conceited little wiseacres. I don’t “look back in anger,” however. That was for the ‘fifties. I look back through a fog of marijuana smoke, from the Age of Hippies.

Drugs saved us. Had it not been for them, we might have accomplished worse horrors. By the ‘seventies, when a new nadir was being established for Western Civ, another, visibly duller generation was coming along. Ours was the first to be perpetually schooled (I would not say “educated”). I left high school, home and Canada, in the year of grace 1969, now half a century ago; and when I returned to settle in the 1980s, I found my old schoolmates still in college. To be fair, at least some were homemakers by then, or garage mechanics. It was so long ago that this word, “homemakers,” could still be used without feminist “irony,” if you came from a small town.

But the Erasmus who had appealed to me, as teenager, was the author of the Colloquies, and the Praise of Folly (a keepsake from his friendship with More). I imagined him gentle, humorous, wise, yet full of righteous fire. Too, apparently, a bit of a whiner. I was dazzled by his production of the first printed edition of the Greek Testament, and did not yet realize that it was a slapdash performance, rushed to beat the version of Cardinal Ximenes, already set in type but not yet bound — a proof that there is nothing new under the sun.

Erasmus’ obsessive struggle against the reputation of Saint Jerome, whose central rôle in the history of our Vulgate he tried to deny, and whom he presumptuously corrected on innumerable points — himself straying in and out of heresy — ended in repeated embarrassments for him. But to my adolescent mind, he must always be the hero, beating furiously against the hidebound.

The very image of prestige: the great Humanists of the Renaissance, including that extraordinary Franciscan friar; the Golden Age of Spain; reformers and pedagogues from Vives to Comenius; that cosy circle in England, painted — almost photographed — by Holbien. It was where Erasmus had mixed with More, Fisher, Colet, Mountjoy, Archbishop Warham and the young fellow who would be his successor, one Thomas Cranmer. In my imagination, I saw them gathered in a pub: pewter mugs and a grand blazing hearth.

There was a woman in the background. There always is. She was Catherine of Aragon, exported from Spain as a royal child, and beloved by her English subjects whenas she became their Queen. She’d earned this for her tireless works in poor relief, and for a memorable appeal to English courage before the Battle of Flodden. She was also patroness to the Humanist scholars, herself the impressively learned companion of More and Erasmus and all their kind.

Of course, there is something else she is remembered for: being discarded by her husband, Henry VIII, so he could marry that gorgeous young tart, Anne Boleyn, and incidentally appropriate the resources of the Catholic Church. But she should also be recalled as one of the great women of that or any age, and as the pioneering figure in the Humanist campaign for the education of women.

When we say “Humanism” today we are invariably talking blithering nonsense. The actual Humanist tradition was, like Erasmus himself, a mixed blessing, and finally a disaster. Our modern, atheist, “humanist” creed is, by contrast, unmixed: a contumacious disaster from beginning to end. It carries none of the sincerity and well-intended zeal of the late mediaeval reformers, who were dedicated not to the overthrow of the Church, but to her renovation. They were more, not less, eager to enforce her morals, her faith, her splendour; to exalt her Christ. Only their vanity stood in their way.


Golf with firearms

My title this morning is lifted from Maggie’s Farm. The writer is referring to “preserve hunting with pen-raised birds,” or, “Disney hunting,” as he also calls it. I had no idea what he was talking about; but the phrase “golf with firearms” cheered me. One of the items in his “Monday morning links” tells why you should always travel with a fire extinguisher and a narwhal tusk. (That I already understood.)

An intriguing link is to studies claiming a steep decline in male testosterone levels (and fertile potency, too) through recent decades — which, to my mind, helps explain why women instinctively like us, less and less. But then, there may be corresponding reasons why we less like them, and why, generally, there is no blood left to be shed in the battle of the sexes. Verily, everything has an explanation, and when it’s not wrong it is absurdly incomplete.

Among the reasons for this is that God, who created the universe, delights in paradox, and can easily cope with detail on both micro and macro scales. Too, I would note that He is not a Leftist. And too that, at His leisure, He could utterly smite them. This would be, I suppose, a kind of divine “golf with firearms.”

I did want to plug (in the nice sense) Maggie, and also Instapundit, … and there are several more which I needn’t mention because gentle reader will find them soon enough through these two. For instance, the wonderful website Spin, Strangeness, & Charm, to which I was pointed over the weekend; and hundreds more I cannot keep up with, so that I find myself binge reading when I finally get back to them.

Now that I think of it, mentioning such fine competition is not necessarily in my objective short-term interest. But all these websites are essential remedies or antidotes to the weltanschauung broadcast constantly by the “mainstream” (Left) — which is fanatically opposed to intellectual diversity, and (via pacts with the Devil) committed to rewiring our brains — in opposition to all that is holy.

There are two groups to which this “mainstream,” or Culture of Death, is most actively opposed. They are men, and women, respectively. They are being progressively sterilized, by law and through mass-market persuasion. A great deal of political policy serves this “advance.” While at first sight, men are the primary target, on closer examination, women are, for they are the ones capable of pregnancy. Their joy, happiness, and humble pleasure in their own being is systematically undermined. They are set against their men, to their cost, and even murderously against their own children; whereas men are only systematically demeaned.

Each side can be got at through the other, then both polished off through the promotion of new, imaginary sexes. Even old-fashioned homosexualists and sapphists are now under attack, through the invention of the “trans” concept. Farm animals, too: which would all need to be immediately slaughtered to accommodate the “vegan” campaigns of the Father of Lies. And “climate science” proposes to cut off a rich source of carbon dioxide, needed for the life of plants.

Another label that could be applied to the Enemy (of Life), is “corporate culture.” Every large corporation — even a chicken sandwich franchise — must pursue uniformity thanks to economies of scale. All, without exception, soon embrace Leftist drivel, to level obstacles to their mass-market spread. This is because, in present conditions of dollar worship, it is essential for management to be morally gutless. To oppose any trend might slow their cashflow.

The Devil knows this, and will always assist in the promotion of gutless people, right to the top. Those who resist “the politically correct” will be sidelined. They will be persecuted by their social superiors, inevitably. This is because they are perceived to have guts.

Nature accommodates our decisions, by such measures as the diminution of testosterone, and natural fertility rates. Even before making us extinct, it fills the world with men who are not really men, women who are not really women.

This is not something to worry about, however. A small minority, of the politically incorrigible, will survive and rise to repeople the Earth. And some of these will be Catholics, I believe.