Essays in Idleness


The temporal zone

A bumper day in the meejah: Trump about to be acquitted in Washington, Britain to formally leave the Euro Union. These well-publicized events must lead to something. Everyone will be given another chance, to tune out, and catch up on sleep, before the next political sensation. Since the Coronavirus too obviously came from the exotic meat stalls at Wuhan, Red China, there has been a slight delay in assigning blame, but I notice “Trump’s Katrina” has already been tried on.

From my lost years as a hack journalist, I know that most (unless it is all) meejah memes are manufactured. It is a collective process, as those still practicing this infernal trade look about desperately for a new “lede.” The distinction between Left and Right is real; these worldviews offer a magnetic repulsion; but the system of mutual recrimination is boring. Each side merely rebukes the other side, in the kneejerk way. There is no concession to debate, as each party (in whatever country) selects its facts, which if not false, will be misleading. Anything they wish to ignore becomes “fake news,” which it is, and in the absence of any good will whatever, the “crisis” continues until it is (miraculously) resolved.

Often this is done by main force, but sometimes by a secret accession of good sense. The losing side has become strangely convinced that it ought to lose. This is caused, I would guess, by the monotonous contemplation of its own position; or the discovery that one’s allies are seriously outnumbered, after those who don’t care about the issue peel away. “Democracy prevails.”

Then, after two weeks, the issue is forgotten. Time to start another round.

While the animus persists, the issues don’t. A correspondent in England who vowed to fight Brexit “until her dying breath,” will probably live longer than she expected. Some Tory crime worse than Brexit will soon occur to her. Ditto, a gentleman who is revolted by Trump, may never forgive him for being OMB. (“Orange Man Bad.”) He has the gift for inspiring people, both ways. It isn’t a gift he can dispose of.

Gentle reader should remember that not one set of propositions, in any public controversy, but both, are “fake news.” Those trying to dig out “the truth” are the quickest to be deplatformed. This is because they are of no use to either side. No one buys products that are unlabelled, any more.

While it is true that the sides are, invariably, unequal — depending on the venue — some balance can be found by looking around. (Balance is not necessarily truth.) The Left nearly controls commercial news reporting, but in doing so surrenders the most effective alternative “sources.” Too, because they feed more plentifully on artificial crises, leftists usually start it. They are also more likely to be atheist, thus unprincipled.

Nevertheless, it is nonstop blather from both sides, and the neurotic belief that we ought to pay attention keeps the flapperball in play.

Up here in the High Doganate, my Parkdale ivory tower, I have been trying to shut it out; unsuccessfully. As by my estimate less than one sensation in a hundred is founded on anything substantially new, ignorance might be strength. To have the courage and stamina NOT to check the news, is beyond my capacity. Even the weather has been juiced. Sports results, while fans still seem to agree on what they were, are seriously overdone.

But the day is coming. The dead show no further interest in breaking news. At least, none of my deceased friends forward items to me in email any more. Perhaps some have come to regret all the time they wasted, down here in the Temporal Zone. Let us pray for them.

Tweedjackets unite

That the world has changed radically, in the few days since I was a child, is not generally accepted. Nor is it frequently denied. Both statements are always true; nor do they contradict each other. That the world is very large, but also very small, came to my attention soon after I set out in it. That I could not control it, became evident soon after. It will be large and small on its own terms, and often when I least expect it. In many other respects, the world is just like that. One thinks one is used to it. One never is.

For among the world’s tricks is the capacity of a chameleon, to change colours, and fade into its local environment. Unless, as recently, there is a cold spell, and rather than change colours it falls out of trees. Certain octopuses can change both shape and colour, and don’t climb trees in the first place. If one trusts YouTube videos, which I am disinclined to do, they disappear entirely. Then instantly reappear.

Yale is a college in Connecticut, which seems to have expanded into a university. It was founded about three centuries ago, which makes it fairly old by non-Spanish American standards. Congregationalists started it up. It now admits students who are not Congregationalists — indeed, I wonder if there are any Congregationalists left. At some point in my youth I admired its art history department, even when I became suspicious of art history as a discipline.

It was George Bernard Shaw who observed that (we) Americans were unique — in having passed from savagery to decadence without an intervening period of civilization. I wouldn’t say that of the Yale that grew famous. Once upon a time, its savagery was devoted to defending Greek and Latin as features of American life. There were people who would pay to send their children there, even after the invention of sociology.

They still do, but for reasons that are “evolving.” While it is true that the “Ivy League” schools still attract many smart students, they specialize in parents with money. Yale, like Harvard, is prejudiced against Orientals, but even the crème de la crème get in, for enough marks and cash. Other races are, overall, subsidized, but not only by the American taxpayer. Yale, for instance, seems to own much of New England, though given their political obsessions, the return on their $30 billion of equity might be shrinking. Still, they remain filthy stinking rich, and have the connexions to regularly supply their own country and several others with élite figures, and win lots of prizes. The Yalies’ snobbery and arrogance are legendary.

I mentioned art history, which caught my attention because their department is in the news. According to its own current inmates, it is too “straight, white, and male.” Actually it isn’t. Women, I noticed, took over art history a while back; and provided that you are not white or Chinese, the force is with you. But more fundamentally, the administrators have decided that the school exudes the Western Canon of High Culture and, in the interest of self-repudiation, this must end. Their (immensely respected) survey course will be the first to go.

Let me applaud, albeit with donkey cheers. My own view is that “art history” overvalues my grandpa’s rosy view of the Renaissance, and is too self-consciously “modern.”

Yet I do not think the administrators propose to devote more resources to the T’ang and Sung, nor to our own neglected mediaeval heritage. Their priority, in statements, is purely destructive. Skin pigmentation, which has seldom counted for anything in art, is their new guiding light, and absurd “theories” of cultural hegemony are now, in union terms, working to rule.

The background against which Yale is operating is itself changing hue, however. Nothing in its present backdrop can last. Will the chameleon turn back? Can it do so as quickly as an octopus?

High cultural values tend to reassert themselves, where people of intelligence are present; but what if they are, as it were, being bred out of the gene pool?

In that case, we’ll have stunned chameleons, falling out of trees.

Cui bono?

Are you anti-social, gentle reader? I know I am, at least in principle. There are some people I like, and some I detest — but we aren’t discussing Christian love at the moment. Love doesn’t notice demographic groups, only beings. Do I like blacks? No. Do I like whites? No. Do I like earth-moving machinery? Depends what earth we’re moving. By and large I like a kaleidoscope of butterflies, or a murmuration of starlings.

This last was an attempt to trick myself. In some sense, a flock is a thing, and it may make pretty patterns — even a mob of humans, when viewed from a flying machine well above. But here we enter realms of aesthetic judgement, well removed from the moral judgement we were implying. We are considering patterns, which exist in nature, and are, like individual peacocks, among the proofs that God made the world. When they were closer to nature, i.e. “pre-industrial,” even cities formed patterns, and may still do so when they are farther away. But this has nought to do with city planning.

A dance may exhibit such patterns. Here I mean a real dance, not a chaos of unskilled persons shaking themselves lasciviously. (As ever, I condemn the modern.) In music, in art and architecture, in poetry, in crafts and ultimately in everyday life, we have it in our gift to enter the dance; to echo the divine. But if you call that “social engineering” you must be among the persons I dislike.

Rather, I am considering the word, “social,” specifically, and its usages since Bismarck’s time. It is by now the most successful weasel word in politics, to advance destructive, revolutionary causes. I am taking it of course as an adjective; as a noun it is often harmless and tame. But put it before any of several hundred other words, that once had content, and it will hollow them out (as weasels, by legend, did with eggs).

“Social justice” is a good example. We may argue all afternoon about what justice demands in a single case. We could even argue about what the law is. But at the invocation of a vague whole society, all of our talk becomes nonsense. Nothing — absolutely nothing in this world — can apply justly to every living soul. We are feeding, or lashing, a fanciful monster, but the blows land on real people who bleed, and the benefits scatter randomly; except to the administrators, who will consistently gain.

All “social policies” conceal bad intentions. They are the means by which illusory rewards are promised to the greedy, in return for immediate power. Something imaginary is part of the transaction. For instance, a “social market economy” may be sold to the gullible; it is a contradiction of terms. Or a “social democracy,” ditto. Each policy must inevitably hurt some, while it pleases others; though for the most part it will be pointless waste. The solidarity it assumes is fictitious: a method of intimidation at best. “Social action” assumes society is a single Leviathan or Beast, people mere cells in its body. All sacrifice is ordered to consolidate power.

Some, to be charitable, don’t know any better than to succumb to this imposture. They would not go so far as to demand “social justice,” but “social values” sounds plausible to them. Often it starts as light as a feather, but what is it? “The jackboot scheme to impose socialism on your human face.” Those who have endured Communism can spot it quickly; those who genuinely love their neighbour cry out in warning.


I think of my very dear reader and friend, Jaromir Kouba, from up Ottawa way. A Czech exile, he understood these things. He was also very kind, generous, Catholic, and anti-social in wonderful, incorruptible ways. He has fought the good fight, and may he now rest in peace.


Not drowning but waving

Let us suppose a child, floundering in the water. He looks apt to drown and you, gentle reader, are the only person in possible reach. What should you do?

Hint: there is no time to reflect upon, “How did the child get into that unenviable position?” Nor on, “Where are his parents or a supervisor?” Nor on, “What is the world coming to, when children so young are left unattended in dangerous places?” Nor may dramatic, nor other aesthetic values, be entertained. Really, you have only two choices: dive in (good), or have a trauma. Well, I’m sure a progressive person could think of other options, such as, pretend you can’t swim, or blame Trump.

Children drown every day, though compared to scraping their knees it is not statistically significant. The loss of one more will not much alter the ratio, however. The kid could just as easily have been aborted; or fallen off a cliff. (You want me to jump off the cliff after him?) I am trying to think like a progressive.

But no, I have no modernist tendencies. I’m a quality over quantity kind of guy. Too, a bit of an instinctivist, if that is a word. I think a person who is not a scientist can instinctively understand an urgent moral calling, not all the time, but let’s say in 99.8 percent of cases. You do the right thing, or you feel deeply ashamed. It’s true you may have suppressed your “useless feelings” of shame and guilt, to the point where they don’t bother you any more; but later on, when you weren’t noticing, they contributed to your suicide. You couldn’t take the pain of living any more.

I give this commonplace example — the initial one of the child splashing — as an analogy to our modern situation, viewed from the shore. We are inclined to panic. Several notes have reached the High Doganate, criticizing the author, in terms I would characterize as hysterical, for having said (most recently here) that we shouldn’t “get our knickers in a twist” because the world is imperfect. I stand accused of quietism. My self-declared moral superiors upbraid me for panicking too little about global warming, the disparity between rich and poor, scandals in the Vatican, vulgarity in the White House, the high price of cheese, looming asteroids, &c. But these are things over which I have no control, and moreover, would be unlikely to get control, even if I expended considerable effort, in the foreseeable future. The universe is in God’s hands, according to my theory. Let Him take care of it, in His own time.

Whereas, I have some influence over that child who is drowning. It is the sort of thing I should act upon. And did I mention there was no time for scientific, philosophical, or even theological analyses? Either you know what to do instantly, or you are genuinely useless. If you didn’t know, there could be only one cause: bad living.

There are times when, oh dear, you may even have to surrender your life — not possibly, nor probably, but certainly — without any time for thinking. Let it go without saying that, in an entirely human view, this is rather unfortunate. But now that I have said it, let me add, that a Christian may sense the paradox. He might, if properly instructed, realize that apart from saving the life of another, it could be his last chance to save his own. He might suddenly get to Heaven, when the odds didn’t look very good before.

But again note: all the time spent on the “big issues” was wasted. It all came down to the little one — thrashing about in the waves. Unforeseeably.

So don’t worry, be happy. And like a good, traditionalist Boy Scout (or Girl Guide, to remember the other sex): Thou shalt be prepared.

Cancel culture

As the latest reports from our universities confirm, we live in an age of juvenile anachronism. So far as the past is acknowledged at all, it is to be judged, by the incredibly narrow standards of “social justice,” itself two words of a lie. Anyone who tries to resist this — even tenured professors — will be demoted, fired, or “placed on probation.” In Soviet universities, this was enough to keep most dissent secret. There is, after all, at least one mouth to feed, and not everyone is equipped to become a martyr. Among the better academics, some particles of truth can be snuck into lectures, past the inquiring minds of ignorant thugs.

But as technology has now blessed us with portable, and easily concealed recording devices, teachers must stay constantly on guard. A slight ideological slip could end the most promising career, apart from surrounding the speaker with shrieking Antifa blackshirts who, if they manage to injure him, will not be prosecuted by campus or municipal sensitivity police.

Am I exaggerating? Probably. I have also seen evidence of little islands of sanity, where happily irrelevant scholars continue as before.

Too, after family breakdowns and the re-education of a generation of public school teachers, the crop of new students are so dull and docile that, unless they are radicalized, they will sit there aloof, like zombies. There are “conservative” students, whose complacency can serve any mission. Many have “common sense” enough to play along. They are only there to acquire the minimum credentials for paid work on the outside. It is a prison term. Once graduated, they will then adopt the customs and tone in their workplace environment which, except for “professions” like journalism, are unlikely to be radical. The feigned “social justice warrior” is transformed into a feigned enthusiast for capitalism, by self-interest, almost overnight.

Leftists knows this. To know the Left is to know that it isn’t motivated by ideals, except in those who are abnormally stupid. It dreams of power, on the large scale, but also on the small. (Once they have power, they can take things like money.) This involves manipulating people, whenever their consent is needed. A mildly intelligent leftist doesn’t really care what people believe, only that they are useful and obedient. He may frankly deny being an idealist. He is a practical person, after practicable ends, and often patient as he works to their attainment. His motto might be, “Try, try, and try again.”

To some degree, the leftists can control what people think, thanks to their progressive infiltration of media and education in all their many forms. The programme, however, is not to enforce slavish thought — that would be an ideal — but to inculcate slavish behaviour. As the Left knows from its long, post-Enlightenment history, and as all tyrants have always known, the key to this is not dialectic, but intimidation. It is not to eliminate politically incorrect thought — which simply can’t be done. It is to limit “incorrect” speech, so that it will only be spoken among one’s most trusted friends. The rewards for those friends, if they rat you out, are always substantial.

How does one resist this? It can be done.

The strategy is to speak up, and face the consequences. The enemy, being morally vacuous, will often back down. Even if he doesn’t, he is shaken. As veteran dissidents in the Soviet Union discovered, sometimes the authorities don’t know what to do. They must call meetings. The most devastating subversion was, not to lie. The very survival of the system (“politically correct” was formerly a Soviet term), demands protection of the big lie with supporting ones. It is the bodyguard principle. But suppose they crack.

So my instruction to resisters is to make cracks, with the sledgehammer of Truth.

Aside on beuks

My intention was to write a long and learned treatise on the Islamic concept of “People of the Book,” but after a sip of tea I forgot about it. My classical Arabic is not up to requirements, and my understanding of Islamic jurisprudence is, quite frankly, slow.

For instance, I am easily defeated by the question, “What is a Sabian?” Having been told that Christians, Jews, and Sabians were “people of the book,” I wanted to meet a Sabian. According to the (safely dated) sources I consult, they might have been some gnostic, middle-eastern sect, but according to the Hadiths, they were all “converted to Islam” anyway.

But I’m still curious. Can I see their Book?

Or, “Beuk,” as I like to spell it, to imply a Scottish brogue. Rhymes with “neuk,” “nook,” or “nuke,” depending on one’s state of civilization. Presbyterians do not, so far as I know, admit to being “people of the beuk,” even if it is the Institutes of Calvin. But most other Protestants seem happy to use the phrase, of themselves. They would be referring to the Bible, though in point of fact, the older sort of Muslims (say, 10th century), would be indicating the Gospels alone, as distinct from the Psalms, the book for the Hebrews.

There are liberals in all religions, and eventually even the Sikh Adi Granth was accepted, by India’s Muslim conquerers, as a bona fide “Beuk”; and this although most Sikhs deny that it is scripture.

Skipping forward, there seems to be a consensus among the scholars that Monotheism, not a book per se, was what would save the neck of an infidel, so long as he also paid the jizya. This confuses me because they eventually half-tolerated the Hindus (who had them seriously outnumbered); and in light of the Trinity, considered Christians to be polytheists, too. I often wish their phanatics would try harder to establish some dogmatic consistency, before they start blowing people up.

But I’m with them when they attribute a kind of magic, to Beuks in the abstract. In this, they were like all the simple, and complicated, peoples of the world, until the invention of printing. It was not only a question of labour. (It took time to copy a manuscript, legibly.) I think Prospero’s attitude towards his precious books conveys this ancient superstition. One could use a book to perform magic.

Nobody understands this today. Consider, if thou wilt, gentle reader, our modern distinction between matter and spirit. It was a Cartesian breakthrough. Ancient people could hardly understand a distinction they’d never heard of, and even if a slicker like Shakespeare had heard, he didn’t trust it.

Neither do I, and in particular, I strongly doubt that books are not magic. This naturally applies to books that contain falsehoods, or may be composed entirely of falsehood, as well as to books that are true. They all have magical properties, as can be demonstrated by the continuing influence of many from the past. They should be treated with reverence (which includes respect), until they are discovered to be evil, in which case they should be burnt.

This is, I confess, an unmodern view. It is not because a book is “useless” that it should be dispensed with. It is rather because the book contains the wrong sort of magic. It encourages, nay empowers, its owner to do wrong. It should not be burnt casually, therefore.

The reason no one agrees with me, is that they don’t take books seriously any more. Thanks to printing and further technical developments, they are turned out today very cheaply. The quality of printing and binding is low. I am myself disinclined to let any book printed after, say, 1970, into the High Doganate. This is because they are ratty. All will be pulped or landfilled, in due course, with the newspapers and magazines. (I once adapted a wood stove for this purpose.)

Instead, we should insist on fine paper, crisp typography, adequate margins, stitched gatherings, strong board covers, or better. This will make burning them an event.


A reader argues that the texts of beuks will survive on the Internet, but as nobody reads those, it is not a problem. Moreover, the Internet itself doesn’t last, and after a few years, it is the electronic equivalent of trying to retrieve old banana peels.

Simplicity itself

To fight with the enemy on the enemy’s own terms. I’m against this. I think it is poor strategy; what I might call the strategy of pre-surrender. While I might disagree with many, actually most of his policies, one thing I like about this Trump fellow, who seems controversial even in his own country, is his fixation on Victory. We should not be planning to lose. We should not be trying to “manage decline,” though in my view the stakes are not economic but civilizational. Our overall plan should be to win, and as for the demons who are getting in our way, to leave them in humiliated silence.

This is why I don’t call myself a “conservative,” although the word is sometimes useful as a collective for “everyone who is not actively resisting the good.” If I had a quibble with the late Sir Roger Scruton, it began with his failure to be Catholic, and thus a thoroughgoing Reactionary. (I loved the man, incidentally.) He was right about most practical worldly things, even when he had the context wrong. He was “instinctively right,” as it were.

By his Wicked Paedia entry, I am reminded of Sir Roger’s complaint against the modern university, which in the name of “relevance” seeks to replace “pure by applied mathematics, logic by computer programming, architecture by engineering, history by sociology.” That is how it has produced charmless philistines to replace men of breadth and learning.

Of course, to consult any Wickish article on a “conservative” writer is to ask for an insult. Their policy will be to present his life “warts and all,” with a strong emphasis on the warts, many of which will require invention. They will flatulate their “smelly little orthodoxies” (Orwell’s phrase for “political correctness”), in order to elevate something quite unexceptionable into a high crime and misdemeanor. The subject’s views will be labelled “controversial,” sometimes as often as the old Peking Review used the label “running dogs,” in case you hadn’t detected their bias yet.

But that is to be distracted by the dogs, or since I like dogs, by the termites. The trick is not to answer to their arguments, but to shut them out. Getting entangled with intricate malice wastes everyone’s time. Better to confront intellectual termites with the literary equivalent of boric acid, plus Trumpian bait stations.

The “virtue of irrelevance,” as Sir Roger advanced it, is in some limited sense a key to the worldly version of the reactionary view. We may see a distinction from conservatism, with its wearisome emphasis on economic growth. To pretend that the GDP will improve, as a result of our cultivated irrelevance, is to live a lie. Of course it will not. I am not against economic activity, but it can take care of itself. Apart from the need to criminalize certain kinds of economic activity, and put the perpetrators in gaol, “trade and investment,” per se, should be no part of a government’s mandate. Let those who want such things as money, shill for it themselves.

What concerns us all is our salvation, and here the distinction between “conservative” and “reactionary” comes immediately into play, along with the unarguable transcendentals — the good, the beautiful, and the true. What we call “the arts” barely describes the art in what we do — that is positive, not passive or negative. The good, even at its most general, has nothing to do with the gymnastic contortions of “tolerance,” for human action will always be intolerable to some — even the high activity of contemplation. The building (not destroying) of a civilization is a by-product of all efforts, though it is not the end we seek at all. God is that end.

What leads towards Him is good. What leads away is evil. It’s as simple as that.

Sir Roger Scruton

The loss of England’s last conservative thinker makes a new addition to our chronicle of death. Sir Roger Scruton had been quite ill, from a cancer, submitting to chemotherapy and the like, yet nevertheless stayed in the news, always with a new book (he wrote around eighty, according to one obituarist, on about as many subjects), in addition to being an accomplished pianist, enthusiastic fox-hunter, and so forth; and most recently in the news from a vicious, deceitful attack on him by a leftist thug, “interviewing” him for the New Statesman (where he had once been the wine columnist).

This cost him, for a while, his remarkable work as (unpaid) chairman of a British commission to promote better-built and more beautiful housing. Fortunately, a recording was found of what he actually said. This did not resemble what the leftist thug said that he had said, so the paper apologised. But in the course of the (widely publicized) “scandal,” Sir Roger was able to discover, hardly for the first time, that the “conservative establishment” are gutless pantwets. Their first instinct was to abandon him for their own personal safety.

I remember Roger Scruton (as he then was) from the start of The Idler magazine, in Toronto. He was editing The Salisbury Review, in London, where some of the people can read. Both were reckless start-ups. Naturally we corresponded, and taking each other for fellow “young fogeys,” were mutually helpful. I was surprised by his command of detail, including subscription and distribution arrangements. He was operating on a shoestring, as I was. Incredible application and industry made him a success, so that his name was soon known across Europe, and even in the United States.

His name is best known in Central Europe, and especially in former Czechoslovakia (which he loved), from the “activist” part of his life before, and then after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In such parts, everyone not a criminal was anti-Communist, but he was thinking in larger terms. In the end, with the ideological degeneration in the West, I thought of him as an English dissident.

The word “conservative” has been used here before. Sir Roger was unashamed of it. He took it to be a philosophy, but finding its adherents somewhat dim, worked heroically to instruct them. He was not a man of one idea, nor as I have mentioned, of one book; he was habitually a teacher. His cause, in a word, was Civilization: its preservation. He was quite unpretentious about it, though his attention to modern “Enlightened” thinkers and use of their vocabulary made him seem, often, to be learnedly dense; but never so much that he could not be followed by a reader who remained conscious. He was exact: something that “perfessers” don’t bother with any more. He was, methodically, independent of mind; and unexcitable. Those who’ve read broadly have, in effect, seen it all before; and he was willing to explain it.

A Burkean conservative, I suppose we could call him, though I favour the term, “reactionary.” Edmund Burke reacted to the French Revolution, grasping that it was evil. Sir Roger’s reaction was to the Paris streets in 1968, a later explosion of “self-indulgent middle-class hooligans,” with an ambitious agenda they can’t articulate, except in gobbledegook and slogans. He realized, on the spot, that he was a builder, not a destroyer. He must get to work, defending things. He did, and paid each price in full.

From the start, he was “obsessed” with beauty. His first books were on art and architecture, and from these objects his interests spread. I won’t go into my disagreements with him — this would take eighty books — but we agreed on most things. We are, or were, both proponents of the “Endarkenment,” in opposition to the Lords of Misrule. Let us say the parting prayer and continue: Backward ho!

Morbid insecurity

Among the advantages of illness, is the opportunity for contemplative thought. One may think of a subject, for instance deaths — by my age, I have encountered plenty. Or just about one’s own death, a non-statistical fact. Or displace this, by thinking of, say, the death of one’s father.

A famous Welsh poet told his father to “rage, rage, against the dying of the light.” I would not make this suggestion to gentle reader. My own father, who had lost most of his marbles in the course of events, went quietly. He was seraphic towards his (biological) end. But he had thought of death thoroughly, before, back when he was fully equipped for intellectual adventures. He was impressively courageous, and took the view that, “Death is exciting. One wonders what comes next. There will be something, I’m quite sure.”

His daughter once told me that the fear of death is overdone. “Suppose you knew that you were going to die tomorrow afternoon. You could still do stuff in the morning.”

To which I would add, forget the expenses. Either your papers are in order, or they’re not. If not, they are a problem for other people. And lo: death puts an end to taxes, at least for you. As to your worldly goods, why worry? You won’t be needing them any more.

I am taking a “practical,” rather than philosophical view. I was discussing this matter with an Atheist, recently, and found we were, neither of us, worrying at that moment. If your consciousness becomes extinct in perpetuity, there is nothing to think about at all. If it continues, transformed, one is nevertheless free of this planet. In many ways that would be a good thing. But even if one is a “clinger,” towards biological life, it is still over. No matter how shamefully one has lived, there will be no biological consequences. You left your life as an author leaves his book. The book itself has no “feelings.”

For the Christian, of course, one’s life is just beginning. One’s reputation is on a different thread. One had, from the beginning, a much different Reader. But for either Christian or Atheist, what people say either no longer matters, or never did. Anxiety becomes as pointless as it was before. Your biological death was on the cards, all along.

Should everyone around you also die — from instantaneous climate change or whatever — it won’t increase the drama. No one will be checking the news, next day. Those who looked forward to a dramatic martyrdom will be disappointed, but the disappointment won’t last.

It was all in the prospect.

Everyone believes in God, even when they are in denial. (I am quite sure of this.) They can’t help it, they were wired that way. Atheists suffer the most. This is because their theological opinions are the most primitive. The kindergarten God is petty. He is ruthless, basically, always out to get you. One way is by killing you off; though another was by making it rain today. The joy in existing is muted, at best, because Something would have to take credit for that. For even Atheists secretly realize, they did not create themselves.

To my observation, the triumph of the “Nones” (i.e. people without religion, the large majority today) is revealed less in statistics than in this joylessness. And behind it, a very real pathology, based on a theology in which God, though apparently powerful, is small and somewhat mindless. He likes to punish people, often for no reason. We are anxious about what he will do to us today. Maybe He will give us cancer. Maybe He will make the stock market plunge. If He’s in a mood, He may shoot down our aeroplane.

But God is not petty.


Is gentle reader secure? I would hope not, for it must be a terrible curse.

Speaking recently to an elderly gentleman, who had once however been much younger, I was told how he envied the young today. He spoke especially of university students, of whom he had formerly been one. This was about the time I was contriving to be born, or very soon after — towards the middle of the 1950s. He came from a rural community in eastern Ontario, or rather two such communities, but in the same location. One was Scotch, the other French, in our county of Glengarry.

More completely, one was Scotch Highland Orange Lodge Presbyterian; the other, slightly more sophisticated and poorer, French Canadian Peasant Catholic, with a church somewhere. (Nobody knew where it was.)

They got along well. The French spoke English, and the Scotch spoke no French. This helped them to understand each other. (Had the Gaelic been retained, there might have been fights.)

Perhaps I have given too much background, already; but gentle readers in New Zealand must picture the scene. My informant is old enough to have come from somewhere. It was from a little village that was more like a crossroads, where all the buildings (houses, barns, &c) were painted grey (except those which had never been painted).

The Canadian pianist, Glenn Gould, once commented on this. He said if you had a house in the suburbs, where all the doors were painted grey, and a neighbour was painting his door red, you would be under a moral obligation to plead with him.

Now that is one sort of security, which can be powerful when it is community-enforced, or as we say today, “a community value.” But Frederic, or Fred as I shall call him, assured me that the rural place he came from, and of which he had the fondest memories, was catatonically boring.

If one drove through that intersection today, which still has arguable remains, though not of the highest archaeological standard, one would not remember one had been there. This is because one would not notice passing through. Today it has no commercial enterprises, and the Orange Lodge is gone. Does it still have Frenchmen? No one knows.

Now, Fred was a bright ambitious boy, who learnt how to read. He got good marks in school, and in the course of time, went into a university. This was in a town, where he met other university students, and professors, though no one as smart and well-informed as his first grade teacher. Finally, he graduated. (The subject wasn’t important: English or whatever.)

This was the big event of his life. After that, he could get a good job, and did, here in the big city. He could make a good multiple of what his income might otherwise had been — easy work, regular hours, no heavy lifting. There were annual vacations.

The next big event in his life was his retirement. After this he could collect a pension. Decades have passed, and he is still collecting it. There was something about a wife and family, but they seem to have gone away.

Well, I wouldn’t want to tell you more; I’d feel I were invading Fred’s privacy. My one point was going to be about security. Fred himself said he had a lot. And he was envious of “the kids today.” He was referring specifically to the university students.

“When they graduate, they might not get a well-paid job. They might not be able to find any job at all, or will have to find a new one every few years, or weeks. They won’t know what comes next, or even if, forty years from now, there will be a pension.” Fairly certainly they will start and end with a mountain of debt, &c.

For sure, they live interesting lives. They have been freed from the curse of security.


Still lifes

The Twelfth Night of Christmas, wherein I am writing — the Eve of the Epiphany — is another of those evenings when the ghosts walk. The date is my father’s birthday. He would be ninety-five, were he with us still. Through the day I have felt as if he were present, and whether my eyes be open or closed, moments from what I saw of his past recur to my apprehension. Vivid still pictures that were never photographs — appear before me unbidden.

I can’t know other minds except by acts of the projective imagination. I don’t know if others, or how many, have my ability to recall scenes. I mislead by calling them “stills,” for often they include motion, especially characteristic gestures. It is as though I were looking at the living person, as he was, or as she was, with all intervening years cut away. My old feelings towards that person are aroused, even when they are in conflict with my present feelings. I am able to describe the picture, though not with the detail to draw a portrait, or move around the frame.  Nevertheless, the image has power, to reproduce scenes long forgotten. Always, the subject is someone who was close to me, if only in the moment of my recollection. When it is my father, there are many, many scenes, some of which I don’t “remember having remembered” before. I can’t summon such an image at will, however.

My mother described these experiences, and like her I could, with the aid of them, produce checkable facts. She could summon the memories, and had an extraordinary ability to do so. Were she still alive, she could give demonstrations.

Because I live alone, these days, I have more time for drifting thought than most people. Too, I have been quite ill lately; some seasonal flu I assume. Fever explores parts of mind usually unvisited, or so I guess. Beyond this, there are several kinds of idleness, at which I am proficient. And I am nostalgic, by nature, although what I see from the past is seldom accompanied by nostalgic longing. It is like being back, however briefly, in a previous present. It is usually some long-ago, for instance today my father driving a car when I must have been two or three. I have never had a prognostic “epiphany,” as some claim to have had; nor have I dabbled in past lives.

Or perhaps I have, for with eyes closed, towards sleep, I sometimes vividly “see” a face that I have never seen before. It is the face, as if of a living person, but no one I could name; sometimes in rather dated clothing. Or a succession of strange faces pass quickly by.

On the Day of Judgement, by Christian consensus, we will be able to remember everything; simultaneously, I suppose, or anyway outside time. We will not need an accuser, being so perfectly placed to judge ourselves. That will be when we need an advocate, if I may use temporal terms for the timeless. Better that we start preparing now.

But even in this world we proceed with “flashes,” of recollection, to remind us nothing that has happened can be scrubbed, though we might wish. Not scrubbed, at least, by us. Guilt in our own failures and purposeful misdeeds return to haunt us. But this is not the whole of it.

There were times when it seemed I glimpsed paradise, in some earthly moment of incomparable beauty and peace. I imagine that others, perhaps all, have known such things, and they are not deleted, either.