Essays in Idleness


Curing apathy

It is difficult to read the murky reports of anti-Catholic bigotry which have become a feature of “the world as it is.” I do not mean that it is hard to read calmly, but even with cognizance of fact. In Canada, for instance, all news media of any scale are committed to an account of Catholic history, in which the motivation of all Catholic religious is consistently criminal. It is the kind of propaganda designed to create a seething hatred for any living Catholic, and to inspire crimes against them; or more practically to make believing Catholics shut up, and hide.

The burning out of at least four Catholic churches on Indian reservation land in Western Canada has been almost welcomed. The police have said they are unaware of any motive, and have made no arrests. The Indian faithful who have had their churches destroyed by arsonists have received no official sympathy (many remain among the few faithful Catholics); and indeed when one Mississauga priest dared to hint that positive things could also be said about Canada’s residential schools, he was quickly suspended by his archbishop.

But this is a token of what is happening all over the world. In Italy, for instance, a new “hate law” will put people who espouse traditional Catholic doctrine under fine or in jail. It isn’t necessary to go to Communist China to find examples of perverse tyranny against the Church.

Why am I so hopeful? The worst the authorities can do, anywhere, is to kill us, perhaps painfully, and this they have often done before. Indeed, Christ told us to expect this, and it would happen to him. And when they have tortured Christians, they have unintentionally contributed to a religious revival. Perhaps it is the very thing that will stir the Church back to life: putting us in memory of what she is, and what she means.

It is worth remembering that the great majority of people, Catholic as well as non-Catholic, are awkward, simpering cowards, who will sell out their souls to avoid inconvenience, let alone trouble. But they do not hate us. They are simply waiting for the winds to change, and then they can be friendly again.

The spaceship sightings

The multiplying reports of flying saucers, in formation around American navy ships and at other conspicuous locations, may be the key (though not the cause) of political developments in our time. The world only appears to have gone mad. In reality it is being surveyed by an irresistible alien, i.e. extra-planetary power, whose activities we cannot hope to understand.

With their impossibly advanced technology, they could easily sink those military vessels. But apparently they don’t want to. Neither, it seems, do they want to bother other high-tech facilities, at least visibly. Why do they molest only American assets? Or have they nothing better to do?

Gentle reader must imagine himself in command of an insuperable space force, capable at will of disobeying all or most of the laws of physics, to see what problems this will create. What is to be done with it? What earthly accomplishment would be in any way satisfying? What earthly scenery would prove in any way interesting?

This is a demonstration of Warren’s terminal law of progress. As it extends towards “infinity,” all technical progress becomes terminally boring. This also applies to more modest attainments. A civilization that has merely made itself comfortable, and remained so for too long, must find a pretext to demolish itself. Antifa, Black Lives Matter, and the various more advanced “human rights” campaigns, simply expand in a vacuum of irreparable ennui. Their revolutionary demands can only be answered with wilful destruction — until the offending society is erased.

It follows that everything on this planet, made with human hands, however beautifully, must eventually come to a bad end, even though the majority of its inhabitants have good intentions, and are simply trying to get on with their lives, and would if the aggressive would leave them alone.

For instance, the Portland, Oregon police estimate it took only 200 insurrectionists to turn that city into a revolutionary hell-hole.

Perhaps our alien visitors came to discover the secret of our self-destruction. Or they were bored with the place they came from, but decided to leave before they were tempted to destroy it.

Why did they choose Earth? Because, in their advanced judgement, they found it was too primitive to be worth blowing up.

A home somewhere

During my recent stay in hospital, with frequent anaesthetic dreams, I fully bonded with a house that I did not own, would not be owning, and had not visited in half a century. It was on a certain street, in a small town in Ontario, dangerously near Toronto but still technically independent of it. It was the closest I could get to a place called “home.”

Whether this label applies to house, street, town, country, I don’t know. The population of the town had climbed to just over 10,000 in my childhood (having doubled to accommodate a new subdivision). It now has another name, and after merger with every little town in its neighbourhood, and more subdivisions, it houses 60,000 souls.

But let me consider only the shadow of that little house: three bedrooms, living and dining and kitchen, workshops in the basement, gardens front and back. The neighbourhood had children in most of the homes that did not contain old people; I remember at least two dozen in a one-block radius. Each is vivid; I can recall adventures. I liked some more than others.

We (my parents) sold this house in 1970, coincidentally just when my father took a new job in another town, and I went off to Asia on my own. It fetched $14,000 and change. They bought a bigger and more solid house in their new town, for the same price.

The people we sold it to were “young professionals” — childless, upwardly mobile, double income (no kids). Never having moved, now they are retired in their seventies. The house became their “nest egg,” as it swelled to one hundred times the value (a million-and-a-half); socialized medicine will spare them ruinous last-minute expenses. Their heirs needn’t fret.

I could, of course, fill a bulging scrapbook with recollections of this Edith Street, and the families who lived there; and this, although it was a typical, perhaps even boring, middle class town. My love for it, even in memory, is intense, and in my imagination I can still visit innumerable secret places, and former hiking and bicycle trails, made holy in my childhood.

From the Wall Street Journal, I gather that there is a “new generation” of real estate operators, who are buying up what were previously owner-occupied houses, transcontinentally. These will thus become trading commodities, to be bought and sold on the “free market,” in competition with those who want to own a home, in a neighbourhood, and perhaps remember their own childhoods. These people must become increasingly “tenants,” as prices continue to “rocket” (unless they suddenly collapse).

The tenants will risk less, invest less, and have the government to decide their rights. There will be far fewer complications, especially sentiments, when they decide to move on.

It  is a variation on the theme of “destroying our ancient edifices to make ready the ground upon which the barbarian nomads of the future will encamp in their mechanized caravans.”

Vivat academia

I am not radically opposed to letting smart people into universities, though I think the process has got out of hand. That to the “best” universities, only the smartest should apply, is now generally accepted. The flip side of this is that self-styled “smart people” are uniquely welcome in these universities, which become, as it were, ghetti of the sciences.

Up to the beginning of the 20th century, and slightly over, universities in all parts of the world tended to be venerable, and conservative. They were in effect clubs where the aristocracy could send their male children (females usually required tutors). Occasionally a poor boy, of real promise but from a commonplace background, would be admitted on some sort of scholarship. So long as there were not too many of them, there was no harm done.

There was always a place for reprobate youth, and indeed superior quarters in which to keep them — if they came from good families. They were an important part of every university’s oeconomy.

Here in America, I associate the corruption of universities with Woodrow Wilson, a man of bottomless arrogance and a strange belief — in “progress.” He brought smart people into his government, in the perverse conviction that they were uniquely qualified to solve the problems of the world. There are, a hundred years later, still those who believe this fatuous nonsense. But finally, it is dying away.

The challenge of the university today, is to recover what has been lost to a century (and sometimes more) of “reform” movements; in the course of which the whole tone of “higher education” has been lost. Smart people have, by now, taken over, to the regret of most others.

“Smarts” is the lowest form of human intelligence. It is what is measured with SAT scores and on IQ tests. It can be predicted and detected in the newly born. It is a medical condition.

By contrast, universities are places for persons of quality to collect, and where another generation of them can be formed. This is done while their elders teach, and while the best traditions are inculcated. It is of the greatest importance that professors be underpaid, and carefully underadministered; that they should look to the students for most, if not all, of their income, with no prospect of getting vulgarly rich.

Researches (sciences) may also be pursued, and financed, within the schools and without, by enthusiasts of all kinds. And the students may also drink, and compose drinking songs.


I have found, with discs and recordings, that although they are good for something, and seem to follow the music accurately enough — at whatever volume you have assigned — they are frustrating and inadequate. This is true even of a superior performance, carefully recorded. Compare it to an inferior performance (though not an incompetent). Not a recorded, live performance, but an actual live performance, coming (inevitably) from a specific place. Indeed, being able to move it is one of the flaws, and playing it over, it sounds exactly the same. This is a terrible flaw. One is bored by this repetitive trick. Give me a living show every time.

The same is true of buildings. A photograph of a great building wears even before it ages. It cannot be improved. Even a lesser building, actually before one, stands out. A painting or architect’s drawing may at first dazzle us with relations, shapes and spaces, even light and colour. Then it becomes tedious. Soon one is willing to move on. But a real building is immense. It does not stop moving. We stop to take parts of it in.

Misfortunes of Elphin

Aristocracy is government by the best, once we recognize them. The opposite is not democracy but kakistocracy — government by the worst. That the worst are the least suitable, most corrupt, unscrupulous and shameless, is generally conceded. But I read this Greek-founded word, kakistocracy, in a political blog, and guessed that some things might not be conceded.

Thomas Love Peacock revived the term in his marvellous novel, The Misfortunes of Elphin (1829): a recreation of the Welsh mediaeval past, from its poetry. A learned and patient man, notwithstanding his friendship with Shelley — and well-acquainted with Greek as well as Welsh — he used the term thoughtfully. But in more recent revivals it is used to be merely clever, by, for instance, those who wish to demonize Donald Trump. The word is flung out of places like Twitter. It is just a word.

When it first appeared, it was in a sermon to Parliament during the Civil War — the English one of the 17th century. It was part of a long meditation on “the peace of Jerusalem,” and why we should pray for it. The preacher, Paul Gosnold, did mention “sticking and medling,” and being “stung with a perpetuall itch of changing and innovating,” among the political characteristics he disapproved; and naturally he touched upon the deteriorating  scene of 1644. But his interest was with prayer — collectively and nationally — not with advancing a programme.

“It is the greatest torment to be depriv’d of Heaven, so it is not the least of pleasures to be freed of Hell,” he said, in repeating the wise Richard Hooker. His homily is full of literary echoes.

It is hard for us to imagine a world in which “the peace of Jerusalem” could be conceived in such a divine, cosmic way; in which men had more, much more, to fear than death. Public safety could not be reduced to public health.

Egerton Ryerson

I see that the statue of Egerton Ryerson has been desecrated and toppled from its plinth at the front of the “Ryerson University” campus. Since the Black Lives Matter riots last year, it had been covered with pink paint, and since the reports of extensive burials on the grounds of the Indian residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia, it had become a specific target of Woke demonstrators.

Ryerson was among the most distinguished educators in Canadian history. He is worth looking up. As a “youff” I once threw a snowball at the same public monument: that symbol of the Upper Canadian establishment. Yet it was a reminder of how impressive, enterprising, and courageous that establishment had been. It had created a society in which, once upon a time, people were free and could express themselves.

Ryerson was also a figure in the development of Canada’s “residential schools,” which took Indians from (mostly) dysfunctional homes and gave them an education with priests, nuns, and respectable Protestants. Not all denizens of an orphanage are happy, and by attaching the word “colonialism,” and giving simplified accounts, full of libels, “progressive” Canadian politicians have made this period of Canadian history into a scandal. Those who know better have been silenced.

Some years ago I tried to defend the “residential schools,” more or less alone in the Canadian “meejah.” I received many, many letters from former students of them, who said their memories were happy. They had been inspired by teachers of real Christian faith and conviction, and had been equipped with the rudiments of sound learning. “They saved my life,” was a frequent comment.

I could understand the residential schools because I am familiar with Canadian education before it was taken over by barbaric hordes; and also because I am myself partly a product of “British colonial” private schools in Asia, decades ago. They were brutal towards their boys, sometimes. I was myself beaten, and their teachers were sometimes tyrannical.

As a young man I thought this was the way of the world. Now that I am old, I look back on the teaching I received with great pride. It was vastly better than what I would receive in a Canadian high school; and that was much better than what we get today.

But of course, I am not a political whack-case. In another country, perhaps, there would be a few sceptical journalists, backed by historians, who would look into the claims of the leftwing savages, and provide some much-needed context. Today, and here, there is just the one tedious point of view, and that febrile and ignorant.