Essays in Idleness

DAVID WARREN

Fading away

My own thought, while being wheeled into an operating theatre of the Toronto General Hospital last year, was mildly political. It was, “There is about one vaguely conservative writer left in Canada, who hasn’t been completely cancelled yet; and this doesn’t look good for him.” In the time since I emerged, however, I have been cheered to see a few of the reactionary tendency, taking fairly prominent positions in public (“Internet”) debate, and not yet arrested. It appears that my survival was not as crucial as I had supposed. Jordan Peterson could even take the luxury of quitting his job at the University of Toronto — a nuisance he no longer needs to endure. (He is mostly liberal, but uncharacteristically thoughtful.) Between “true north” and south, which is to say, Canada and Australia, there must now be as many as five frightening writers, though I wouldn’t take the risk of naming them. If we add Britain and the United States, we quite possibly climb to twelve or thirteen dissidents, maybe more. I am not counting the blatherers on Fox News, and similar hacks, whose premisses are consistently liberal, but who deviate in superficialities, as Republican to Democrat. I am only counting the genuine reactionaries, who know all the prevailing assumptions are false, and do not waste their time picking and choosing. They are not dominated by the desire to concede.

In this time of the Batflu, the falsity of the prevailing view becomes increasingly obvious. The liberal knows that public safety is so important, that even our health must be sacrificed to preserve it. The most recent estimate, delivered under a response to a “freedom of information” request in the United Kingdom, tells us that only one-eighth of those reported dead with the Batflu lacked various other items on their death certificates, and that the average age of these deaths was decidedly greater than the national figures for life expectancy. I had already seen the revised numbers for Italy, and verily, it will prove everywhere the same. The fearmongering to sustain the (fading) universal panic required systematic manipulation of numbers — in a “scientific spirit.” That means that direct lies were avoided; the message was simply massaged until it conveyed the opposite of the truth.

Now that the “omicron” variety of the virus is universal, the number of deaths drops to approximately zero, but hospital admissions are still buoyed. In a country like Canada, where the number of hospital beds has been reduced by bureaucratic enterprise since the health system was nationalized, there is, and always will be, a crisis of overcrowding. The press, and other media, capitalize on this, for another pandemic of nonsense. Our politicians will gradually remove some Batflu restrictions, but hope to have us wearing useless masks, and observing pointless social distancing rules, until the planet freezes over. Given the popularity of their sensational “global warming” predictions, and their propensity to be ludicrously wrong, we should expect an ice age to descend upon us shortly.

A genuinely liberal order, such as our political constitutions used to guarantee, would have ruled all Batflu restrictions illegal from long before the spread of the current virus, allowing, at most, only voluntary suggestions. But as a genuine reactionary, I don’t believe in this. Even talk of voluntary restrictions is twisted. It was never the government’s job, but only that of legitimate medical authorities, outside politics. Governments should categorically step out of their arbitrary rôle of “advising.” It will always be a play for power.

The anger of John Ruskin

Ruskin’s illustrious career as art critic and cultural thinker begins when he is a teenager. The October 1836 issue of Blackwood’s Magazine contained an attack on the later paintings of Turner. Ruskin père was a wealthy and generous wine merchant who had raised his only son in awareness of art, and to be capable of the disinterest that is required to sustain a noble passion. Ruskin fils was from his beginning filled with an unselfish anger. It is an anger that is borne of love.

It applied to more than landscape painting, and his first series of books, Modern Painters, merely started with his beloved Turner. The five volumes, displaced through time, are also a chronicle of his growing sense of an entire civilization, hidden from us but looking at us from within art. By volume two, his range had encompassed the Old Masters of the Renaissance; and then “Christian Art” became his subject. Eventually, in essays moral and political — in talks to artists, craftsmen, working men — he went to war against what had failed within that civilization.

His dates become identical with those of Nietzsche; both died in 1900. Though Nietzsche is a generation younger, their public hectoring flourished in the same decades, but both complete the balance of their lives quite insane. But whereas Ruskin’s derangement tended to quiet and soften him, and turn his attention to harmless and cheerful memoir, Nietzsche’s best works were written in his derangement, until the tumour in his head retired him.

It is curious that Ruskin is routinely given credit for his own intellectual degeneration, by our Anglo-Saxon art historians. They see it, I suppose, as a consequence of his resistance to modernity. Yet from the beginning, he was equipped with acute self-understanding, and when you read him (which we don’t do any more) you discover a remarkable gift of humility, actually rising from the anger. At an early age, when accused of being cocky, he wrote a delightful self-criticism admitting the charge, and cataloguing his youthful rhetorical excesses. He was consistently polite, and kindly in person; generous, like his father. When the Pre-Raphaelite painter, Millais, stole his pretty young wife, he would not allow it to disturb his friendship, and he continued to write of Millais with esteem.

Indeed, the remarkable thing about Ruskin’s anger is the purity of it. He is appalled by the glibness of his cultural surroundings; by the aesthetic lies that are communicated through it. He must stand up to them. He must do so all by himself, and may be forgiven for mistakes of his era. (A few.) His prose is always graceful, and his production immense.

Ruskin astounded me, when I was a teenager myself and reading him, by his sharpness and directness. He pointed out that Sir Joshua Reynolds, and Thomas Gainsborough, did not paint madonnas. Blam! One caught a sudden glimpse of the spiritual poverty that had overcome England since the Reformation, and which had poisoned the English-speaking world. Ruskin had overcome it, single-handedly, as one must always do with England.

For Ruskin, “the seven lamps of” architecture could be seen as a species of poetry, having little to do with building technology, and the fact of unworthy building was apparent wherever the staleness of “efficient business” had prevailed. Today, it is not just the vileness and ugliness of our commercial buildings, however. The cancer has spread through every human settlement. A genuinely beautiful Catholic church has not been designed in several generations, or perhaps centuries. Our hands and minds have failed to provide us, with this crucial need.

We must cultivate a pure anger.

Passing news

“My God, guard my speech from evil and my lips from deception. Before those who slander me, I will hold my tongue; I will practice humility. Open my heart to your Torah, that I may pursue Your mitzvot …”

These words, from the Shabat service, were on the “Facebook” screen from the synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, when it was interrupted by an Islamic terrorist. I quickly noted them down.

The terrorist, who claims to have planted bombs in multiple locations, was armed and holding a rabbi and several other persons hostage at the time of writing. He has yet to be identified; seems to be speaking in Arabic, on behalf of Dr Aafia Siddiqui, an American-educated neuroscientist and technologist, known colloquially as “Lady al-Qaeda.” She lives, for the foreseeable future, in nearby Fort Worth Prison, having been arrested by the U.S. military after a bloody scene in Afghanistan. Various other crimes have been attributed to her. Back in her native Pakistan, she is celebrated by a large list of fans, and her release is often demanded. But she is not admired by everyone, we are assured.

I do not report news, and have no comments beyond the obvious. I only juxtapose the words of Jewish prayer against the demands, and acts, of radical Islam. These I will not even try to transcribe; suffice to say, they are numerous, ranting, and unambiguously evil.

Quarantine

One minor development in my Batflu experience: I have now been officially “quarantined.” We won’t go into the details, for to understand them one would have to be a simpleton, like our provincial premier, or otherwise gravely challenged. Whereas, my intellectual resources, despite cardiac setbacks, are still lively and copious enough to detect absurdity and what is called, “bullshit.” There may be a few cogent things to say about the Batflu branch of virology, but at this point in the show, two years into the howling nonsense, there is nothing that can inform debate. Anyone who says something will be immediately contradicted by a legion of mostly self-appointed “experts.”

Shut in, closed up, locked down, but not actually starved under current Ontario pandemic protocols and restrictions. In praise of my angelic little sister, she has remembered what her big fascist brother (voluntarily) eats, and fetched a fresh supply in her snazy sports car. Thus, he will spend the next few days in luxurious isolation, openly cooking. She included several state-approved, Chinese communist face masks, which will enable me to take out the garbage, even if community health officers are patrolling.

The Batflu Kerfuffle may be thought of as a dispute, within a tribe of monkeys — wearing diapers on their faces, and observing social distancing, vertically and horizontally in their trees. Most are glued to cellphones.

One could be frightened by this spectacle, but, putting the cellphone down, one could enjoy a thunderous belly laugh. Humans, in contrast to the apes, often succumb to waves of panic, and the totalitarian experiments that accompany them. On balance, most apes are calmer and more attentive (but not necessarily more courteous). They can only be alarmed when threatened by something plausible. They do not waste their time in hysteria, unless something is trying to eat them, and even then, they prefer to make their escape discreetly.

Perhaps it is because they, and most other creatures in nature, spend less time than we do, brooding over biological death — even though it might be more significant for them than for us. They seem, relatively, comfortable with it, and take more risks in the cause of loyalty. But humans, even when safe within the shell of our own stupidity, seem never to escape this anxiety thing.

Batflu tidings

There is a fortune to be made on Batflu vaccines — perhaps the most profitable department, currently, of the pharmaceutical industry. I knew this when a company executive said he thought a fourth booster would be necessary (even when some doctors said no), and looked forward to mandated boosters — every autumn in perpetuity. He is in what marketers would call an enviable position, for the government — whether Trumpian or Bidenesque — undertakes to foot the whole bill, in addition to its own bells and whistles.

We should not expect honest accounting for the cost of whole Batflu, in the many currencies of money or in the lives abridged in a thousand different ways, any more than we should expect a figure for sand molecules from the world’s beaches. If we had a number, it would defy comprehension.

Big Guvmint and Big Pharma — two of the richest and most powerful obscenities in our public life — are allied in the cause of the medicalization of society. For the cynical, it is an easy matter to assemble the supplementary moral arguments. These great agents are, they will claim, on the side of good health and longevity (against unknown agents on the other side). They are the processing bowels of science. If they didn’t exist, we wouldn’t know what to do with our freedom. Think how our freedoms are diminished, as Big Guvmint absorbs Big Pharma.

The very cynical judge that the medical establishment seeks, like a virus, to make everyone sick, but ideally no one die while they can still sell them medicine. It “evolves” with the times, until everyone lives well past one hundred, and can be prescribed emergency life-saving drugs from just prior to the moment of birth.

A million dollars

My father was of the opinion, when I was little, that if I would have a shower I would “feel like a million dollars.” I did not believe him, but was willing to try the experiment. I was a dutiful child. In truth, I did not want a million dollars that badly, and anyway, it was in the time of Diefenbaker, when the Canadian dollar (“Diefenbucks”) was thought to be overvalued. Also, it was winter. Papa preferred cold showers. Surely some discount should be applied, for all-round discomfort. After all, to feel like a million dollars is less likely when one is cold and shivering.

“A million dollars” was, in light of these qualifications, and more that I could enumerate, to be taken as just a phrase. It was that kind of phrase known as a cliché, and therefore to be avoided in sophisticated adult conversation. There was a suggestion of vulgarity about it, as if one might stoop to pick up a million dollars, if it was found lying in the street. I once stooped to pick up a dollar bill that I found abandoned (on a sidewalk), but that was exceptional: I was a child.

The idea of “a million dollars” came back to me just now, while consulting a news website. I shouldn’t wish to embarrass the proprietors by revealing which one. It happened that every single advertisement at the bottom of the scroll mentioned “a million dollars,” in one connection or another. Two asked, I suppose not rhetorically, if a million dollars would be adequate for one’s retirement, another if it would at least be useful, and several more sported investment opportunities.

I am distantly aware, from life in the big city, that a million dollars will hardly buy a house, though perhaps it will purchase a flashy car. You could also perhaps pay the plumber, should you discover that your shower had run dry. In general, if you somehow earn a million dollars, then you will owe two million in taxes.

Suzy Creamcheese examined

Everyone has met her, I gather, because there is a flash of recognition in every face when her name is mentioned. My own memory of her goes back to the ‘sixties. She was the original Valley Girl — from whatever valley — eloquent, indeed musical, in an illiterate, innumerate way. She was not unkindly; but neither was she intentionally generous or obliging; neither saintly, nor ruthless. One could enjoy the whole afternoon with her, and be sure to accomplish nothing at all. Not even sin.

She was by nature a friend of a friend — many times removed, and then many times multiplied — upon herself, without being conspicuously selfish. The world was filled with the Creamcheeses — after Frank Zappa invented the first one. (Did each contain a rib of Frank Zappa?) They were “immortalish,” from that day to this. They were legion.

“Always a freak, never a hippie.”

The remark applies to Mr Zappa, not Miss Creamcheese. It was his proud declaration, that he would never be a hippie. He went so far as to not take drugs — except those that could be classified as food, such as aspirin and cigarettes. He was an innocent, a fanatic innocent, for he believed in the United States Constitution, and was a faithful composer of quasi-classical tunes. Marvellously free, he was — of romantic notions. Little to conflict with his honesty. He had strange liberal tendencies, but all of them, completely out-of-date.

He found his fame, with an absent mind. He rose to it carelessly. It was his pleasure to become Suzy Creamcheese in reverse. He was a non-rock star.

But this Essay is entirely about Suzy Creamcheese, considered in the abstract. I look back to a time before she ever became a Valley Girl. Her origin was equally American and European, and her nationality was unimportant. She simply was, and her existence gave comfort, to those without wants. And she persists.

Y2K22

The “millennium bug” is back to plague those who own computers — who, as these Essays are broadcast only on the Web, must include some of my readers. The problem is a product of the cybernetic mindset, which feels compelled to reduce whatever it touches to jargon, abbreviations, and “protocols.”

As clocks passed midnight for the New Year, this latest glitch appeared. It could not be fixed immediately, because the computer techies at the Microsoft corporation, and myriad others, didn’t see it coming. The company’s system for dating and thus prioritizing its anti-malware programs did not become more incomprehensible than it ever was. But it slipped over its 31-bit space allowance, and thus went poof.

Customers must now instal a new system, but first, the techies have to invent it. Meanwhile, emails pile up invisibly and irretrievably, and those attempting “workarounds” are exposed to the malware.

Many of the world’s problems, I have concluded, were not given to me to solve. Being shut down by a corporate decree, or a viral disease, or a moronic computer glitch, is no worse than death; and having these problems solved, by anyone, is little better: for they condemn us to go back to work, picking cybernetic cotton.

Except, better than death, is to watch the scenes of chaos, after the experts get their way. And besides, if you are charitable, you might volunteer to help some of the experts’ other victims.

There is however a partial solution to the botheration of modernity. It is to give up on progress, now that it has revealed itself as unmistakably demonic.

To do anything worthwhile, or well, requires time, and space. The progressives demand that we make everything smaller and faster, and quite unfixable: warp-speed interplanetary rocket rides, and little wee implants to control us.

But the world is large, and moving fast enough. By ignoring the experts, we can be happy.

Which witches?

Should witches be strangled and burned?

The question had not been raised for a while, but the issue once again rises to the surface of at least the Scottish consciousness, since a legislative campaign began to pardon various condemned witches (or, “karens,” to use the fashionable term; “buidseach” the Gaelic). As typically in Caledonia (which is like Canada in this respect), little thought has gone into the management of witchcraft since the Witchcraft Act was abrogated, by the united Parliament of England and Scotland in 1736.

This Witchcraft Act had been formally introduced by the Parliament of independent Scotland in 1563. It became illegal not only to be a witch, but to consult with witches. I try to bear this latter point in mind, in case the act or something like it is ever revived, for it was once quite common across the north of Europe. The great age of witch-hunting was the Reformation, and as a potential Catholic victim, I try to remain alert to “Protestant,” “Progressive,” and “Scientific” trends. Certainly, the handling of the Batflu epidemic by progressive western governments serves as a warning that nothing is finally off the table.

Myself, I don’t “believe” in witches, or rather, do not subscribe to conventional ideas about them. That there may be “something in it” seems possible, as there is something in many other Protestant beliefs; and it is true that I have subscribed to “the supernatural” as part of my Catholic Faith. But certain supernatural propositions (not in the Catechism) strike me as superstitious, and most pop demonology fits into this category.

Nevertheless, if the majority in any society wants to believe in witches, and to torture and murder the candidates they accuse, who am I to oppose democracy? Within a century or two they may change their minds, and now disbelief in witchcraft will be pursued with the same glibness and self-interest with which witchcraft trials proceeded before.

“Going along to get along,” in this matter and all similar, is the mark of the well-instructed citizen, who stays on top of the news.

Actually, I’m boasting emptily, and somewhat sarcastically, for my actual position is now that of a reactionary Catholic. Half my ancestors were Presbyterian, however. Many of them were lovely people, and of those who weren’t, many of them were male. Don’t ask me for my views on Scottish independence.