Essays in Idleness


Free the cows!

Politicians, even the relatively benign ones, think the public is stupid. It is a safe bet, becoming safer every year. Repeat anything a sufficient number of times, and among those who know nothing about a subject, a consensus may be formed; quickly, when fear can also be manipulated. For well over a century, this has been the secret for the rise of the Left. It is based on sloganeering. It helps, to start, if one’s slogan is plausible — liberté, égalité, fraternité, sounds nice — but it ignores what is specific. This is because, the moment it gets real, it becomes incoherent. It is a blank face, a portrait of nothing. And nothing can’t do anything at all.

Repetition is key. The rise of totalitarianism has roughly coincided with the rise of democracy. I do not mean “fake” democracy, but the real thing: decision-making by genuine majorities. As anyone with any knowledge may know, the majority in society will share some conception of right and wrong, and this may well be reasonable. We may count on it for our everyday survival. But when they, or we, are put in unfamiliar territory, we are lost. We depend instead on leaders and guides. Our freedom is quickly surrendered to them. We start doing idiot things, like everybody standing six feet apart, or worse, two metres.

Our recent Batflu experience has brought home to me the novel virus in our modern world. We are, more and more, in starkly unfamiliar territory. In consequence, we are becoming unfamiliar to ourselves.

Trust may come from experience, but in order to acquire any experience one must start from trust. This is so even with freshly-born children: we don’t know them yet. So far as they are to acquire virtues, we must beat them in. And they will generally resist, and often defeat us. Parents, for the most part, learn this groundwork, which the childless never learn. The idea that people without children, or even the prospect of children, are entitled to the vote, horrifies me. They do not know the groundwork of human life. Their desires must necessarily be whimsical.

Perhaps I oversimplify. Parenting takes many forms. We call a celibate priest, “father,” and I’ve known old spinster ladies who were mothers in their kind. A child has not only biological parents, but the world into which he is born. He is parented, to old age, by the heroes he has chosen; by neighbourhood and nation. He is reared by the Church, though indirectly; or, mostly for worse, by the equivalent of a church. I did not mean “parent” quite literally.

It is this modern freedom from “parentage” that concerns me. Everyone traditionally came from somewhere. No two came from exactly the same place, not even siblings; but some commonalities had always been conceded. The expression, “assume a spherical cow of uniform density,” &c, explains why all statistical “sciences” are false and inapplicable; and yet it remains true that “a cow is a cow is a cow.” But now we have a society that, increasingly, believes itself to consist of spherical cows. And we are sloganed to, about our round-cow “rights,” constantly.

This, at heart, is our “globalist” new territory.

Be afraid, be very afraid

Gentle reader may be wondering how many people are in hospital with the Batflu. Let us take North America’s “epicentre” of New York City, for our spot check. The experts guessed, with all the confidence of settled science, that 140,000 beds would be needed at this point in the pandemic, give or take a few thousand. By the end of last week, 8,500 were occupied. That’s about one bed for every sixteen they anticipated. (A hotelier who trusted their calculations would be out of business by summer.)

Those glued to the news may have heard about this shortfall. Their horror is now, that if we go back to work, and try to put our lives back together, some of those beds may be refilled.

Horrible things do happen on this planet, and from the accounts I’ve read, the Chinese Communist Batflu is among them. If you get it, you could indeed become quite ill. But this is unlikely, unless you are already severely immuno-compromised. In a world that could think straight, the old and weak would be the very people we were racing to shelter: not de-prioritizing because they’re going to die soon anyway.

Your chances of getting the Xi Jinping Batflu are slight, and falling, but not actually zero. Of course, it is in the interest of the media of entertainment (which is to say, all the Western media today, with their heavy Chinese investments) to sensationalize; and thus produce a sensation that every political operative may apply to his self-interested, political ends.

It is hard for people, especially while scared, to consider anything in proportion. And it is difficult to find contextual information: for we cannot expect the media of entertainment to tell us anything that might ruin the show, while they’re in the theatre business.

The “beauty” of computer projections, working from speculative data by theory, is that it won’t be off by double, or half. It will be off by orders of magnitude. This will even help the researchers wet themselves. Whereas, mere common sense will fail every time.

Leafing through an old Idler magazine, during my own compulsory isolation, I was reminded of the scary age of Reagan. If my reader is old enough, he will remember nuclear annihilation. Did I know, I was then told, that the superpowers had enough A-bombs to vaporize everyone on the planet ten times over? — provided they were efficiently deployed, and we all held still. But as I argued then, there were other terrifying threats to human life.

“There is, for instance, enough water in the planet to drown everyone four thousand times; there are enough matches to set fire to every wooden building; enough kitchen knives to murder all the husbands of the world; enough hairspray (if drunk) to poison all their wives; enough pillows to smother the entire population of Asia; enough pencils to put out everyone’s eyes; enough fishbones to choke the combined population of France and Italy; enough ties, belts, suspenders, and pyjama draw strings to hang everyone over the age of forty; enough cigarettes (if eaten) to make everyone in Africa south of the Sahara throw up; enough stairs for all the toddlers in the world to fall down; enough statues to crush the inhabitants of the fourteen largest cities in the American Midwest; enough piano wire to garrot three-quarters of the population of Roumania; enough frozen lamb chops to club to death the entire Scottish aristocracy.”

Granted, the weight of human suffering. Granted, that we all progress to biological death, after a brief illusion of invincibility. But would it be entirely irresponsible, to dance our way through the interim? Even while the vultures are circling in the sky?

Insurance adjustments

“Things will get worse before they get better; but then, they won’t get better.”

This morning’s happy thought is from Neville, an insurance broker who was among my drinking companions in Bangkok, forty years ago. To this day, he remains my standard-bearer for a certain kind of pessimism — the conventional kind — and I have often thought of him recently. Surely I have mentioned him before, in one scrawl or another. He was so perceptive.

One could walk down a street with Neville and, having been warned of the pedestrian dangers — many more, and less predictable, than one realized — he would call attention to faults in the design and construction of the buildings we passed by. All, so far as he could see, were doomed, and ought to be condemned frequently. At best, they might survive until engulfed in some large natural catastrophe: fire, flood, earthquake, volcano or whatever. In war, they might fall before they were hit.

I should mention, too, that Neville had the most delightfully dark sense of humour. The idea of a disaster filled him with good cheer; even little setbacks pleased him. He would giggle at the upshot from a memorable act of stupidity, then carefully constrain and collect himself, in order to express his condolence. But he knew what to do and say in an emergency, because he was so well rehearsed: dear Neville. (British, of course.)

Like many of my readers, I have become over-informed about the Batflu. Naturally, much of this information is knowingly false; most of the rest is wrong. By now, I even know that the pandemic was unlikely to have originated among the bats sold in the Wuhan wet market. This is because they don’t sell bats there (according to an old Hankow resident); whether for soup or for any other gustatory purpose. They do sell other interesting animals, however: especially fish.

That it was, as it were, a bat virus, follows naturally from whence it did come, in the same urban district. But rather than cultivate a reputation for paranoia myself, I will leave this to the historians.

For as Neville would say, you mustn’t blame anyone, unless you are willing to blame everyone, and apportion this blame justly. And you will never have time for that. You will only have time to do the sums on the insurance chart, and pay the indicated amount, provided that the total is small enough. If it isn’t, you might as well forget the whole thing.

“But surely someone should be blamed,” I once suggested.

“Good point,” he acknowledged. For he had also thought that through.

“You should do what the professionals have always done. Choose a plausible scapegoat, hang him, and then get on with your life.”

I pass along this advice, gratis.

Towards a Vigil

Jesus was a nobody. Every modern university student should know this. He came from the equivalent of “flyover country” — in an insignificant (and colonized) backwater of the Middle East. His disciples were all nobodies, too. His earthly father was a working-class stiff; Joseph’s wife would have counted for less. He had no university or higher education: nothing even resembling a degree. He received no assistance from “experts.” So far as He did, in fact, have some expertise in Holy Scripture, he was self-taught. He had no standing in any of the elites of Palestine; no wealthy relations. He’d never been anywhere else (except Egypt, as a child). Nazareth and district were less visited than the Guadalupe Mountains, and Jerusalem was not an important provincial capital. Even within Jerusalem, Jesus was somewhere between unknown and disliked. There was little in the way of media in those days, even in Rome or Alexandria, but by what there were, He was ignored. His publicity was entirely word-of-mouth. The sensation briefly caused by His Crucifixion — one of millions of judicial murders through the ages — was well contained. All of his disciples (except one) abandoned him. A few loyal women still kicked around. But even after his death on Good Friday, and all the events after His death, the word spread slowly.

He was not one of the “smart people.” The only thing you could say, He was the Son of God.

This, however, is quite a lot, and helps to explain, if it does not entirely, his emergence as also the Son of Man — the most significant man in history. That it is a matter of frustration for those smart people, might go without saying. They insist on their intellectual monopoly.

Among His disciples we later count Paul. Now this was closer to a smart guy, with a few social connexions, as were displayed in his role as an early Christian persecutor. My own “road to Damascus” was across the old Hungerford footbridge in London, which is why I can begin to understand the event. Amateur psychologists can, if they want, provide a retrospective analysis of why anyone would reverse his attitudes on everything, when he had been enjoying worldly success; why he would court death by doing so; why, in the end, he’d be willing to die. Some have tried.

There is no arguing with such people.

In general, people believe what they want to believe, including the most astonishing things (ghosts, flying saucers, or the carbon threat). In my judgement, we are all half crazy. But the phenomenon of Faith does not reduce to belief. There are people of faith who believe almost nothing; there are people of belief who will believe anything. I hope to die a Christian.

But in the meantime, if any remains, I should like to oppose almost everything that is currently believed. One might begin by opposing the received views on Jesus Christ.

Tonight, it is my slight hope that all the bells on all the closed churches will ring out — say, from midnight to dawn. For I could not think of a plainer contradiction to these received views. The message would be simple:

He is risen.

Jesus is going to die

True, I said that I wasn’t going to Idleblog this week, but today, Maundy Thursday, the 44th anniversary of the moment when I became a “born again” Christian, I will dispense a few more words.


This year, I am one of the world’s 7.8 billion coronavirus bystanders.

I arrived at this number by taking the total number of media-reported covid-19 infections, multiplying by ten, then subtracting the product from the UN’s current estimate of the world’s population. (Which is 7.8 billion.)

Were we instead to go by the death count, the number of non-bystanders would shrink. As we now know, the proportion who die from the disease is less than 1 percent, and it falls as testing increases. But as most of those victims are elderly, and enduring other life-terminative conditions, the published numbers still overestimate the toll. The conventional winter flu pneumonias would have carried many of them away, had there been no coronavirus.

For my sins, in earlier life, I acquired a fascination for “policy wonk” topics, and continue to suffer from that today. I am morbidly interested in the demographic questions, in the disclosures of epidemiology, in the economic ramifications of moral action on both large and small scales. It is an addiction.

Even before I became a Christian, I was curious about the social implications of Christianity in its various forms, and likewise about the other religions. (I lived in Asia a lot.) What are, or what would be, the fiscal effects of living with belief? What are, or would be, the effects on public health?

Add what we call “secularism” to the list of religions — in its mild “agnostic” or stronger Atheist modes — and a murky but grander picture emerges. The phenomenon that we call, vaguely, “globalism,” comes into play.

What is globalism? I define it differently from most avowed globalists, or those who accept it as an irreversible trend. It involves, according to me, the attitude that the world may be judged by numbers. It is post-godly “secularism,” or a thoroughgoing worldliness, writ on the largest scale its upholders can imagine — “world-class worldliness,” as it were. It is a universal reduction of moral realities to “value-free” numbers, and thus implies obedience to those who manipulate them.

Whether these numbers are gathered and applied by “socialists” or “capitalists” is not important. The mud-wrestle of power determines that, as to some degree it has always done.

But as Red China has been proving (I hope for not much longer), the two systems — totalitarian dirigisme and crass wealth-seeking — are perfectly compatible. Scientistic numerology is their common language, and its opposition to the humane and religious becomes more and more explicit, everywhere. (Even in the Vatican the pope speaks in the “globalist” bafflegab.) It is the “trend,” verily, and in the world of numbers, trends have replaced God. The current pandemic has provided it with an unprecedented breakthrough. For the first time in all human history, the whole world can be “locked down,” and religious activities globally suppressed.

The “covid crisis,” to choose a label, might have spread gradually from a wet market in China under any system. We did have pandemics in the low-tech past. Once, they took longer to travel the Silk Road, cross the Sahara, float shipboard or (in the case of the Spanish Flu, apparently) come from Kansas.

But war, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts have been with us for some time. To the mind of the religious of almost any persuasion, they are facts of life, and quite possibly a poignant indication of the displeasure of the heavens.

To the “globalist” mind, however, they are a technical problem. The modern, progressive, habitually liberal mind can’t imagine a catastrophe as anything else. Its first instinct is to put a Dr Fauci on the job, and appoint a Dr Birx as Chief Nanny. This is also its last instinct.

I have nothing against either Dr Fauci or Dr Birx, by the way; nor against any of this world’s technicians. I am generally pro-life, and in the habit of granting breathing rights even to technocrats; even when their explanations of everything are in the habit of proving radically incomplete, or more simply, wrong; and even when they pull at the heartstrings of our empathy to engage our cooperation with their orders.

For these are true believers in the messages they project: a belief so sincere that they are willing to provide false and misleading information to clinch a point — such as reclassifying death certificates from the factual “pneumonia,” to the speculative “covid-19,” even when it hasn’t been tested for, to inflate the numbers. This is done almost without thinking, for to the modern almost unthinkingly, “the end justifies the means.”


The giving of comfort is a more complex thing. It takes us from statistics to their opposite, Love.

Saint Teresa of Calcutta was sometimes criticized (by Christopher Hitchens and others who considered themselves, like Trotsky, “on the side of history”) for her ministry to the very sick and dying. While her nuns provided medicines, whenever they could, their approach was not essentially pharmaceutical.

Perhaps most scandalous, to their critics, was their acceptance of the fact that people are going to die.

Jesus, too, was going to die, and among the most powerful and moving statements I find in all literature are the words Mother Mary addressed to Him along the Via Dolorosa:

“I am here.”

This is not what the high-pressure ventilators say, within which the dying patient is segregated from a nurse, or his family, or from anyone. Within all the expensive equipment that contains him, he is left to die alone and unblessed. The priest for whom he might have called, for last rites — administered, we imagine, from outside the machine — may not even be admitted to the hospital, unless he is seriously ill himself. Perhaps he is in another ventilator.

Context is rather important here. We can see this from the fact that church services, Masses, are closed by the public hygiene officials as, usually, their first step. While the coronavirus was merrily cavorting through the high-class shopping venues of Milan, its churches were already sealed off. Those who think the presence of Christ is more important than their very lives, are not indulged. After all, they might become living vectors for the virus. (“Statistics have shown.”)

That testing, contact tracing, and the quarantine of likely cases should be done, I take for granted. The quarantine of everyone is an innovation, however. In the past, people needed not even to be told about social distancing; they figured it out for themselves very quickly. (Read Thucydides on the plague at Athens, &c.) Such obvious points, as that crowding speeds infection, have been grasped since time out of mind. That cities tend to host contagions has been known since cities were invented. That travel is dangerous is not a new discovery, either.

When they do not have a cure, the “experts” do not have a cure. The best they can do is try to find one, or a way to reduce pain, failing that. But despair is not something that technocrats can “solve.”

I think of Mother Teresa and her nuns, going into the leper colonies. They took whatever precautions they could, but as their saintly mistress herself had said, “I wouldn’t touch a leper for a million dollars. I do it willingly for the love of God.” (She lived to age eighty-seven, incidentally.)

Beyond this, the facts of life continue to obtrude. Our medical experts cannot account for the ways bacteria and viruses disport themselves, often even in retrospect. They are constantly taken by surprise in sudden outbreaks: the where and why and intensity of them.

The hygiene authorities are actually trained to discount the power of a human soul to resist afflictions. The extraordinary efficacy of placebos demonstrates this narrowness again and again. That people are more likely to live, when they want to live, is shown in diminishing life expectancy in the most technologically advanced societies. Opiates announce this. In the West, suicides still outstrip “covid” deaths, defining suicide in the strictest, most immediate way. (Check the numbers; the hygiene specialists count it as a disease.)

Yes, covid-19 is a killer. It is one of many, and they all work. Death is almost unique in our world, in being 100 percent efficient. Perhaps that is why, at some level, we worship, propitiate, and appease, death.

But Christ not only died. He died for us, on Good Friday. For, having descended from heaven to earth, He then went farther, down into Hell. And was raised — Resurrected. And was dead, and behold, is alive for evermore. And has the keys of Hell and of Death.

For this is the Truth that, in defiance of the technocrats, we must shamelessly proclaim: that in light of these unalterable facts, death shall have no more dominion.

Flevit super illam

Has anyone noticed that the darkest days of our pandemic, if the epidemiologists are right, will coincide with Holy Week, the darkest days in the Christian calendar. And these are now upon us. The first statistical indication that the pandemic is lifting, having done its worst, may well coincide with Easter.

But the churches are “locked down.” A week from now, they will still be closed, by order of the civil authorities, for a good hygienic reason. Perhaps on some South Sea Island there is one still open, under the palms. We aren’t allowed to travel, or even be out of doors under the virus-bleaching sun in places like Italy. The spring itself we may still glimpse, up here in the Northern Hemisphere; through windows.

Or I from my sumptuous concrete balcony, to which my sweet housefinches have returned from the far south. They must have heard the news, about social distancing, for they fly off if I come within six feet of them.

From the Internet I learn of sheep, and other farm animals, seen wandering into towns and villages, puzzled about where all the people have gone. They probably assume that someone will still feed them: there is no rebellion in their blank faces. But their pasture has been indefinitely enlarged, thanks perhaps to some keeper who left a gate open. At first they didn’t surge through the gate; they are not, after all, libertarian by nature. But there is always one sheep to find the gate open, and he will have many followers.

Another picture, from one of those countries which lives closer to nature, shows a jaguar taking his paces. I’ve never seen a real Jaguar on a high street, only fake motorized purring metal ones. But give it time, and all the world would be closer to nature. And then we would be wise to stay indoors.

Except for the sirens of some first responders, out there somewhere, the world is at peace. The Son of Man, descending from the Mount of Olives, has come to be glorified.

Astride farm animals, comfortably saddled upon disciples’ cloaks, he will pass through Jerusalem Wall. He will be greeted by the palms, from those who now have reason to suspect that He is exactly who He says. The news has been circulating. There were witnesses. Bodies so advanced in decay as that of the entombed Lazarus do not normally rise from the dead, as they know. Not even when they are told to.

Something remarkable has happened; the occasion for Lazarus Saturday to the Orthodox, and through the Eastern Churches; where they have read the Gospel of John.

The season of death and resurrection is upon us. It has come, from Bethany. That donkey and that colt — they have now entered Jerusalem Town. Oddly, they carry Christ. If it was through what later became Saint Stephen’s Gate that they passed, then they passed into what later became the Via Dolorosa. But who can know about these things, before they have happened? For all the rich symbols that are converging, the world cannot yet know.

I saw a man on the steps out in front of Holy Family, here in Parkdale the other day. He was saying his Rosary. I’d often noticed this man at his devotions in the church itself, through all the various seasons of the year. I imagined him for a moment as the last Christian, in a world where the streets were empty, and a fresh spring breeze was blowing dried rubbish about. A sorrowful statue of Our Lady was his last companion.

There is more than anyone can say; through the coming week I shall keep my silence. I have anyway said too much over the last several. Let us wait and pray.

Are you spaced correctly?

On a walk I took yesterday (you still can’t be arrested for that in Ontario) I passed the nearest licker store (or, “liquor” as some people spell it). The line to get in was spaced, I estimate, at one Roman pace between persons. (That’s five Imperial feet.) Two policemen rode by on bicycles. The more garrulous of the pair saluted this single file, congratulating its members for, “Good spacing!”

This is what it has come to, I thought. He spoke as if they were kindergarten pupils, waiting patiently for their licker in the approved way.

My own supply is ample, incidentally. Kind visitors have brought me several bottles of single malt, over the last year, and I don’t quaff it. There are several tins of beer left over from the last meeting of the Borborygmatic Society. I’ve just checked, and have two bottles of wine. As a Christian Survivalist, I like to do inventories of these things.

That the policemen should be on patrol, is a shocking development. Normally, police are not seen in Parkdale (perhaps it is too dangerous for them) — except in squadcar convoys with ambulances and fire trucks. Bicycle patrols are for the tourist parts of the city, currently closed down. Sometimes, rarely, a pair of policemen may intrude into a far section of Parkdale, mounted on horses, which leave their “calling cards” for souvenirs. I saw such a marchpast in 2017. Made me think of India and the Raj.

There are two things in life, at least. One of them is Freedom, and the other is Comfort. The second is more popular than the first. Often, one must choose between one and the other. I generally choose Freedom, which makes me unpopular, too. Even so, I like to obey laws, so if the authorities tell me to space myself in the queue outside the Liquor Control Board, I give it a miss. I would rather do without licker.

Lord Sumption comes into this somewhere. Britain’s high justice (retired), he is also a distinguished mediaeval historian. He is a controversial figure just now, because he gave his private opinion of the Derbyshire police, who now use drones to film people who may have overlooked the “stay home” instructions, by hiking in the Peak District. (They also have hotlines, so citizens can rat each other out.)

His Lordship’s whole interview on Radio Four has been much criticized. His point was that tyranny is usually imposed, not because some tyrant decides to go for it, but because a frightened public demands it. In such moments, by tradition, only snooty old aristocrats like Lord Sumption and I are apt to resist. And I don’t give interviews to Radio Four.

There are people who declare, “Give me Liberty or give me Death!” I find them irritating, but that’s beside the point. Instead I have a question. Where have they gone during the Batflu Crisis?

Those who think they know

We (not in the sense of “I”) may know something about the transmission of the Red Batflu (TM) towards the end of this month, when we have the results of serological surveys. These are done with blood or saliva tests, conventionally, on a representative sample of the population, statistically extended to the population at large. They will tell us what portion of the general population, by arbitrary class, has developed antibodies to the virus, and are presumed to be immune. This is a different kind of test from the one now popular, which is only good for telling who has got a fresh infection; a method of triage. By now, or if not within a few weeks, much of the population may already be “home free” — but of course we do not know that yet.

It is a pity that we don’t, for by the end of April, events may be sliding out of hand. It is no use to have answers if no one is listening to them.

What we do know, at present, is numbers that are posted every day in the media for their sensational value, but are irrelevant. The numbers of infected and dead in mainland China, for instance, have been made up, for propaganda purposes, themselves inconsistent. They are nevertheless taken by our media at face value. But the numbers for such countries as Italy, Spain, Canada and the Natted States, are merely anecdotal.

The Trump Team has trained, experienced, capable epidemiologists, as do the teams in other developed countries. But they are only guessing from such fleeting (and often wildly inaccurate) field reports; and adapting while those change dramatically overnight. Their projective charts and graphs are like those which support “climate change” theories; which is to say, a terrible waste of print-out paper. Only their assumptions are fixed. While it is demonstrably true that “social distancing” will slow any pandemic, it does so in the same way that mud will slow a car. It does not point us to the road home.

And in the meantime the economy — our livelihoods — are being destroyed. While I might facetiously say this is a good thing — we all had too much money — April Fools’ is now over. With economic collapse we lose social order, and all plunge into hell. It is said that crisis brings out the best and worst in people. This is quite true, and I have seen good, virtuous, even heroic behaviour. But from my close analysis of Parkdale, and judicious remembrance of other locations, I have concluded, mostly the worst. There are certain observations of Thomas Hobbes that remain permanently valid.

The idiots (i.e. self-identifying “smart people”) who wish to launch rhetorical broadsides against Wall Street, for instance, should be polled again when their retirement funds vanish, for that is what they are actually advocating. The smart people who would seize on the crisis, to advance social policies only they want, should be removed from our vast regulatory bureaucracies. This would empty them out. (The overwhelming majority of politicians are smart people. Worse, most of them are personally quite charming.)

Unfortunately, however, even the stupid people are playing along. The majority, as it gets more and more frightened, agrees to shut down almost everything, in the belief that if they don’t they will soon find themselves needing a non-existent ventilator — and then rebel against the closures when they don’t. But while people are scared, it is easy to manipulate them, and politicians of every complexion are hugely empowered, to do what they have always done in an emergency: create a larger, more consequential, emergency.

Should we live long enough, we will watch this play out. No one can predict what will happen, and as the churches are closed, we had better pray at home.

Revolutionary aside

The present is seldom (if ever) a guide to the future; except, that part of the present which never changes. If he is reading this antiblog, gentle reader is probably able to accept this proposition calmly, though he might resist some of its corollaries. One of them is that we can’t predict future events, even though, in retrospect, none will be surprising, and with time, fewer and fewer will actually surprise us. That “bad things happen” certainly should not startle anyone; or bad things out of good intentions; or good things out of bad — are platitudes of the sort that invariably catch us off guard.

They are a confutation that anything in politics can be achieved, for longer than the moment. What was made will be soon destroyed: even if what replaces it is given the same name. We hear this, for instance, in the sarcastic tone used to repeat proud old slogans. “Mom and apple pie,” for example. It was intended to describe something utterly uncontroversial. For this very reason it is controversial now, and a person can be “triggered” simply by the phrase. (Never miss a chance.) The little trolls on campus will freak right out. But even for a person who is sane and intelligent, the concept of mom and apple pie needs serious revision, to bring it “up to date.” Often it is a good, if uncomfortable thing, when what was once obvious needs rethinking through. It is a recapitulating operation, like sharpening a knife.

The reason I have been writing so much lately, about what I’ll call today the “CCP Bat Virus,” is that once again everything is changing, without changing. New platitudes emerge, that were once old. After however many months of “social distancing,” or whatever else is imposed, things will go back to “normal.” This will be so no matter when or if the virus returns, after whatever number of mutations.

But the bubonic plague, as noticed in London, returned in much the same form, seventeen times between 1348 and 1666. It had already visited Europe in the time of Justinian, and returned frequently between 541 and 750 AD, each time carrying away thousands and millions of those late Byzantine-Romans, and bystanders throughout and beyond the Mediterranean. We still have no vaccine, incidentally; and it is still not dead. Only Communism can approach the aggregate body count.

Have we learnt anything from either? The question is rhetorical: it answers itself.

That the world was transformed by the greatest of Black Deaths, is a banality of the historians. More than half of the population of Europe was erased; in some parts most of it. The archaeologists have tracked so many villages wiped out, but it was worse in the cities. The economic historians gleefully review the advantages. A lot of property was inherited, and wages went up. Many overcrowding problems were solved. As an environmentalist recently put it: “Coronavirus is the solution, humans are the problem.” That our most profound ecologists are devils in human flesh, I take for granted.

But nothing changes. Had there been no bubonic plague; had the bacterium never travelled the Silk Road; had this or that not coincidentally happened, other things would have. Think of all the pestilences that, in the course of history, never got properly started. Think of all the asteroids that never hit.

My own impression of the 14th century — regrettable in various ways — is of continuity. The dramatic social changes after the Black Death were visible before. Boredom with the stable Christian order (which was always more fragile than appeared), would have led to other, essentially parallel disasters. (Perhaps the Reformation was the least of these.) People always get bored at some point, and then they do something revolutionary, and incredibly stupid.

Get used to it.