Essays in Idleness


Artificial imbecility

I have a friend in another country who has a sister who can be a real problem. This is not because she happens to be insane. The doctors have put her on Clozapine, which is a popular anti-psychotic medication. Tests say that it discourages suicide, though I, a non-enthusiast for Big Pharma, wonder how the tests are tested. Its chief value, according to my friend, is that it makes the subject incapable of saying no to anything. So if she isn’t specifically asked to commit suicide, I imagine that she will put it off.

In the meantime, she will obey all orders.

Her recent acts of obedience have cost my friend not only his peace of mind, but also much of his property. I won’t go into it.

We, by which I mean I, should not mock such people as this sister. They live in a world that might resemble Hell, in some of its particulars. Had I such a sister I would, like my friend, endeavour to protect her, especially from her doctors. It is frustrating, however, when the girl is asked to sign on to some fraud. While one may argue, smugly, that fraud is illegal, and could surely be reversed by a court, the person who argues this is in the same position as a Clozapine user. He simply believes whatever he is told, and I daresay votes accordingly.

He is, in short, the portrait of a Canadian voter, or to be more fair, an urban voter in Ontario, for I understand that there are different propensities among voters in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and other remote places. I myself live in a neighbourhood of Toronto where I have noticed that most of my fellow residents are mad, prescribed drugs if they are not self-prescribing, and vote very reliably for the Liberal Party. They simply cannot say no, and believe everything they are told by their political masters. (Alternative messages are administratively suppressed.) Indeed, I wonder if Clozapine is now in the water supply.

Consequence of voting

The essence of democratic capitalism is theft; the essence of revolutionary socialism is murder; and then there is democratic socialism which is approximately halfway between theft and murder. Given the choice, I am partial to being robbed.

The (“democratic”) Canadian government has published its annual fiscal showpiece, in which spending will be increased by $67 billion and taxes by $12 billion. Both numbers may be considered “conservative” estimates.

Mr Stephen Harper, the last formally Conservative prime minister, noted that the current deficit is in excess of his last entire budget. (He was thrown out of office in 2015.) In other words, had he eliminated the income tax, sales taxes, customs, excise, and every other source of revenue, and merely spent what he proposed to spend, he would still have run a smaller deficit than his much-photographed successor, Mr Justin Trudeau.

Some similar observation may be made on behalf of citizens in most other “democratic” states. This is what happens when government is put in the hands of persons of cruelly limited intelligence, but narcissistic charm. We have no reason to envy the Americans, or the British, or the Dutch, or the Germans, or the French, &c. I currently except the Italians and Hungarians, but only until their next election.

Spending is out of control throughout the West, with inflation following, and economic self-destruction has been redoubled by phanatic environmental legislation. This is not a summary of the deceit that underlies all liberal politics: I merely indicate where our hopes should not lie. The old Churchillian argument, that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others, prevails chiefly among its elected beneficiaries.

Money & power

As today is Lady Day, there must be about 280 shopping days left until Christmas. Thanks most recently to the Internet, however, it shouldn’t be such a rush, for by almost any website you will be bombarded with shopping suggestions, and provided with the instantaneous electronic means to order the advertised products — for yourself, or perhaps for delivery to another. The current very high inflation rate need not discourage you, for consumer credit is available to practically anyone, and legally to most.

Clearly, any difficulties that could obstruct a thoroughgoing materialism have been confronted, by our political and economical masters, and eliminated. That is why governments — working through captive media on frightening environmental contentions that are almost entirely false — are able to justify their rôle in placing restrictions. (Nature used to do this without government help.)

The world is not, in fact, running out of any key commodities; nor is it threatened, at least in the West, with any significant pollution issues (unless we count general vulgarity as an issue). But through their pretence that only they can save us (a claim previously monopolized by God), comprehensive regulations are now placed on everything we used to buy and sell. The invention of the Wuhan Batflu provided the last link in the chain of our biomedical dictatorship.

Now, not everyone will agree with my characterization of recent modernity; indeed, some might argue that I am exaggerating. To make my argument in telling detail would require more time on the Internet than I am prepared to spare; and so I will be satisfied with the mere gist of an argument.

One material innovation more than any other has perhaps been responsible. I’m inclined to demonize sliced bread. Or perhaps it was computer digitalization — which I regret because I am an analogue kind of guy. Whichever the case, the advance of technology has made possible an incomparable decline in the quality of our lives, if the human soul is entered into the equation. An inverse correlation with material progress may be observed across the cultural spectrum; for instance the consistent decline of educational standards when spending on schools is increased.

While subsidiarity may be presented as the opposite of extravagant central planning, it can also be misunderstood as the parsimonious material alternative. The general diffusion of property, such that each may own three acres and a milch cow, does not quite represent it. The spiritual dimension must be considered. It assumes that humans let more into their brains than prospects for material acquisition.

It is this fashionable drive for money and power that makes us — both capitalists and socialists — inferior to the animals.

Mother Mary, pray for us.

The joy of vinegar

One of the incomparable advantages of being overweight, about Shrove Tuesday, is that you have acquired enough body fat to last through Lent. And one of my personal advantages, as your nutritional adviser, is that I have myself received enough unsolicited dietary advice in the last two years to rotate a horse. I’ve been told all about keto, and “pre-diabetes,” and a dozen more technical terms, and have listened involuntarily to some of the dullest credentialed specialists in our (surprisingly mediocre) healthcare system, who got my number from a hospital directory and won’t leave me alone.

I was reduced, during open-heart surgery in Lent 2021, to skeletal dimensions, and whimsically diagnosed with whatever disorders the doctors find most commonplace in their rounds. Oddly, notwithstanding what they had concluded, I did not have a sugar addiction (as my oldest comrades will attest), nor other alimentary self-abuses going into surgery; and have only developed wicked cravings since I came out.

But my combined proficiency in the principles of religious fasting, and pagan dieting, can now be drowned together in a glass of vinegar. The trick, according to the wisest of my nutritional examiners (who came from Sri Lanka, where everyone is now starving by government policy), is to mix a shallow ladle of pretty much any kind of vinegar into enough water to be able to swallow it, and swill this back. Frequently repeated, it will cover for a host of dietary sins.

This lady had other hints, for instance a counsel against nudity. You’d be wiser to eat what you instinctively want, from the list of attractive starches and carbohydrates, after they have been dressed in virtuous clothing, such as healthy fibres, fats, and proteins. This will prevent scandal in your digestive system — the most judgemental, Puritanical part of your physiological order.

But vinegar is my chief recommendation, for the days preceding Good Friday. Not only will you lose weight. You will be reminded, every day, of the Passion of Our Lord.

Smell testing

Though I have never acquired credentials as a “development economist,” for the same reason I did not acquire Grade XI, the field has sometimes mildly interested me, and I did once teach the stuff to university students (in South-east Asia). Indeed, my father and I took jobs, in our respective generations, in what Mao Tse-Tung called the “Third World”; and these jobs involved fussing in economies (on of course the infinitesimal scale). We both came to the conclusion, partly poignant and partly tragic, that as “Western advisers” we had been giving the most destructive and counter-productive advice. We were contributing only to the Westernization (or, “modernization”) of Eastern societies, and like the much-criticized imperialists of old, we were parsimonious in our gifts.

At least I, if not papa, concluded that the great colonial masters, especially the English and the Dutch, did not bring Christianity to the natives, if they could possibly help it. It got in the way of their economic transactions, including the frequent frontier wars. The natives were left mostly to extract the Christianity for themselves. Recall, if you can, that for the most part Sub-Saharan Africa was converted by native African evangelists, both Catholic and Protestant, not by missionary white men. It is to Africa that we now turn to be converted ourselves.

Development economics has followed a path similar. We do not export the example of our better angels. The marvellous traditions in the West of freedom and aspiration to holiness might as well have stayed home: our adventurers were almost exclusively concerned with getting rich. The many colonial administrators were expert in laying down bureaucracies, that would survive their departure and continue to oppress the general population, indefinitely. It is an irony that “globalization” has come back, as it were, to bite our ass.

But there are exceptions in the theatre of development. One of them is my hero, Lant Pritchett, from Utah, if you know what I mean. (By way of MIT and Oxford.) He is perhaps best known for proposing “smell tests” on foreign aid policies: simple statistical measures to test their actual effect over time.

He has made old-fashioned, Adam-Smith arguments for letting things happen. These include allowing the tired, huddled masses to emigrate, and therefore to immigrate, where they can make new and happier lives. This, as an alternative to the introduction of evermore sophisticated technology, both here and there, to exclude human beings from the processes of production, thus creating unemployable masses. It is not wrong to allow people to feed themselves, through their own labour, or even to live unharried; and I might add that simplicity is an aesthetic improvement on vroom, vroom.

Too, Pritchett (notoriously) recommended the export of our most polluting industries, along with our mountainous waste and trash, to the poorest countries. This will unfailingly cause an economic renaissance in each place, as each is provided, for free, with new raw materials. Those who have lived in some of the most impoverished environments will have observed human inventiveness at its finest, which invariably follows the most trying circumstances.

But among Pritchett’s creative suggestions (some as part of the “Copenhagen Consensus” of Bjørn Lomborg and associates), perhaps the one most exquisitely clever was his insight into demographics. He argued that the most accurate way to predict trends in childbearing by the average woman, was to ask her how many children she wanted. For better or worse, men get what they want, when they are allowed to pursue it; and it turns out that women have this power, too. The means by which they achieve it may vary, between good and evil; but women, like men, are not universally naïve.

Time-saving devices

It will perhaps be easier to list things, sold to the world with fraudulent claims of efficiency, than to find more delightful examples of inefficient things. One might include (for proposed retirement) almost everything that has been invented over the last five centuries, starting with sliced bread.

Looking up from my balconata, I would continue with aeroplanes. The amount of infrastructure that is required, to support just the few aeroplanes we see littering our skies, is astonishing. A glimpse may be had in any large airport, or small one, or aerodrome as it used to be called. There are a thousand, mostly grounded, human slaves and processors for every one who gets to be a pilot.

It is the same in the air force; and the excitement of flying these planes aggressively into each other, and dropping glamorous big bombs, takes up just a few moments of the average air force’s time. Plus, even when they are doing nothing in particular, these civil and military aircraft are noisy; and according to the environmentalists — well, I don’t care.

At a more mundane level, we should consider housekeeping. In one of these amateur science magazines (I think it was Scientific American), I read, a few decades ago, that an old time-study had been repeated. It compared how much time the “average housewife” (a creature known only to America) spent on household cleaning and chores, around (I think) 1972, with the aid of i.e. washing machines and vacuum cleaners, versus the amount she spent in 1872, with brooms and elbow grease. To no one’s surprise, or at least not mine, she was now more occupied by these trivial pursuits, which had come to include various mechanical preparations.

The dwellings, one could argue, might be marginally cleaner, and the work easier even while taking more time, but these are additional downsides, for they make the housewife more neurotic and lazy. This might be apparent if we repeated the study in 2023. It might be an efficient way to depress ourselves.

For this statistical woman had more free time in previous centuries. And when we add the hours she must now spend holding down a paying job, as a cog in someone’s efficient bureaucracy, we begin to see why she should become sterile. For feminism and the income tax require her to waste her days in this way.

Perhaps these three examples will serve for this morning. Or I could go on and on. For we would have more leisure, in addition to more children (and much happier, too), if we would give up our efficiency obsessions.

Taking one’s leave

God, according to Josh Alexander, and sundry others including all Roman Catholics for the last two thousand years (excepting a few heretics recently), created man in male and female versions. These two sexes may also be found elsewhere in nature, indeed in all those creatures visible to us; and even attempts to name some hypothetical third sex has resulted in much unintentional comedy.

Mr Alexander is (or was) a Grade XI student in the publicly-funded St Joseph’s High School in Renfrew, Ontario — by reputation one of the more conservative and rural parts of the country.

The lad gained the quiet admiration of many of the girls in the school, and I should think many of the townfolk, too, by protesting the admission of biological males to the girls’ washroom. These would be soi-disant “transgendered” males. Several of the girls had told Josh that they felt uncomfortable, being displayed before these intrusive voyeurs.

The school board, however, took a different view, and told Mr Alexander to stay away, in November. When he continued to report for classes, they had him arrested — apparently for bullying, which, in their view, is identical to expressing an opinion. It is a low-intelligence environment. They have cited a policy statement by the Ontario Human Rights Commission, to complete the absurdity.

Mr Alexander explained to media inquirers: “They encourage anything that goes along with the woke ideology that they’re pushing in the education system, but if you dare speak out with anything contrary to it, there will be consequences.”

I recall my own experience of Grade XI, in a low-quality (but extravagantly funded) Ontario high school, more than half a century ago. I tried several times to get myself expelled, by skipping classes, &c; but failed, apparently because I was too polite to the administrators. The truancy laws prevented me from leaving until my 16th birthday. When that came, I promptly left not only the school but the country.

Of course, in those days the majority of teachers, students, administrators, and even members of the school board were at least partially sane. My departure thus required a “judgement call,” which, in retrospect, still pleases me.

The world had not yet gone mad, in the way we see exhibited in Renfrew; although there were signs that its hold on common sense was relaxing.

Now there is a boy old enough to be my grandson. He has disappointed me by trying to get back into the school, but in other respects, he wins my admiration. Felicitations!


POSTSCRIPTUM. — One of my most faithful readers counts that school as his alma mater, “back in the age of slide rules, typewriters, and the Sisters of St Joseph.” He has sent me “before and after” photographs, of his fellow students, then and now. The Sisters instilled a spirit of redemptive Catholicism, around which they still congregate, all these years later, to “lick their wounds” and to be assuaged. I was invited to be with them in the Ottawa Valley, Friday for St Paddy’s Day; what a paradise that would be.

Things get worse

Among my memories of a long and ill-spent childhood, was drinking Coca-Cola from a plastic bag. In defiance of environmental and health restrictions that were imposed decades later, a street vendor (in a tropical country) had filled this wet package, and closed it with a rubber band, having inserted a plastic straw through the aperture. The “coke” substance was mixed with a larger quantity of crushed ice, and I could swear, additional flavourings of lemongrass, sugar, and salt. This formula was quite refreshing. I had previously tasted Coca-Cola plain, from a bottle in the West. This made that seem bland and pointless. And this was so, even though the crushed ice was diluting it.

Curious about this experience, I made some inquiries. I was told (by “public relations”) that the Coca-Cola company used precisely the same formula for its major product all over the world. I was also told, by a more believable authority, that this was a lie.

The markets for soft drinks are very local and quite various, to the inconvenience of the larger bottling works. The soft drink brand leaders are reduced to varying their recipes, to match. But with the passage of time and the introduction of plastic bottles (surely I don’t have to explain this), the world itself can be “homogenized,” or “globalized.” So perhaps the claims of the soda brands have become true.

By the Beeb, which I continue to consult even though I know that much of what it broadcasts is false, I am reminded of the history of “soft drinks.” It is a shameful history. Non-alcoholic carbonated beverages were associated with the temperance movement, from their introduction two centuries ago. Their popularity shot up, when their competition was suppressed, during the Prohibition era. This was a Protestant event. Thus I consider anyone who consumes soft drinks to be an enemy of the Church, and wish to confess my own former usage.

Nevertheless, while things may be bad, they retain the potential to get worse, and this must be the case with Coca-Cola. In that Beeb report, I was told, “The lemon, the orange, the lime, the acid they put in there, all of those ingredients are now gone.” This has been done everywhere, it would seem. The taste is now generic, from chemicals, as it is with so many of the other products we find on the supermarket shelves, and in the “mom and pop” franchise stores.

The dangers to our health may be real; but they are only a supplementary problem.

Before & after

Gentle reader may have had the same experience of history as I did, in my inadequate education during the late middle of the last century. I was raised to split the experience between “major” and “minor” — between the history or histories of the West, and that or those of the East and elsewhere. These latter were a miscellany; rather like a collection of local histories. But there were no histories of Africa, except touching highlights of European conquest. Altogether it was a mess, enhanced by my own stupidity and the limitations of my teachers.

There were, nevertheless, persons in the world who were adequately trained as historians, I was told; and I imagined that their education had been better synthesized.

For those in the majority who studied the West, there were three synthetic divisions. One could be immersed in Ancient, Mediaeval, or Modern studies. There were some boundary disputes, about where the Mediaeval age begins and ends, but for common reference the age itself was apparently fixed.

The fixation was a product of what we call The Enlightenment (and I like to call The Endarkening), and particularly its more recent, “Romantic” stages that were fleshed out in the 19th Century.  Curiously, Oriental was professionally detached from Modern during this era, in a fine technocratic manner, mostly by the discoveries of European intellectual explorers (who in turn trained the natives in European ways). They wandered away from the Western history plot, and eventually right out of our classical historical picture.

Of course there were surviving strains of native historical work in South and especially East Asia, but I don’t want to make a diagram at this point. It would be too complicated. Let us simply return to the West, and consider it on Western terms, by which the Western is at the back, and front, of Universal History.

My question is, what was the pre-Enlightenment view? And this is fairly easily answered. It was Christian in its nature. There were two, not three, periods in our history: the Ancient and the Modern. There could be only two. In the Battles of the Books, fought in libraries through the 17th and 18th Centuries, this was commonly understood. Saint Augustine, the indisputable Christian, belonged in the Modern world. Cicero, indisputably not, belonged in the Ancient. (Virgil, mischievously, stuck his foot across.)

The implicit division is between “B.C.” and “A.D.” The division is marked, beyond the genius of man to question, by the appearance of Christ in this world. And so the modern age begins gradually. A succession of characters are more or less in the Modern world; some, like Virgil, cross over and back.

By 529 A.D., the very year when the Platonic Academy closed in Athens, and Monte Cassino was founded by Benedict of Nursia, the transition is largely complete, throughout the East and West of the West, or what we might call, “Christendom.” Since, we in this West (including Jews and immigrants) have all been Moderns — for better or worse.

The Middle Ages were invented with the best of intentions, as most unfortunate things were. Which is also to say, with mixed good and bad intentions. But the effect was immediately to discount that part of modern history which explains our very origination. It was a way to deny our own succession, by denying what we had succeeded to. Most significantly, it involved a false depiction of the modern world, by avoiding the hard fact, that most if not all of our distinctly modern inventions and deviations can be traced from some mediaeval notion — usually one the “high mediaeval” mind consciously rejected. (This was something that Michael Roberts first taught me, when I read him in adolescence.)

I think it is worth bearing in mind, as we pursue our studies of the past, and our anticipations of the future. We descend from Christian orthodoxies, but also from Christian heresies. Clarity cannot be found until we acknowledge what they were.

Protection rackets

The Mafia, I am told by a lady who might be an expert, follows an interesting practice in Southern Italy. They will not, in accord with some policy directive, bother the persons in any business enterprise with six or fewer employees. I assume their protection racket shields these companies the same as it would more formidable customers, but I am not an expert. Perhaps they are cruel, and leave them at the mercy of elected officials. But, prima facie, I admire this Mafia scheme, and would recommend it to the world outside Sicily and Calabria.

In Canada, the last business enterprise I conducted was a little literary magazine, now thirty years ago. It had, at maximum, only six employees, who as I recall were paid very modestly, and sometimes rather late. The Idler, as we called it, was an uphill struggle that gained a few thousand paying subscribers, without much assistance from wealthy friends. Paying the last printing bill, so our printer “could proceed” with the next number, was a perpetual source of tension.

Another source was the tax auditor who worked, at his own request, from the “spare room” in our tiny office. We might almost have thought of him as our seventh employee. After many, many fruitless months of diligent checking and cross-checking through our receipts and other arcane financial papers, he appeared to find that we were beyond criminal reproach. In any event, he went away and never came back; although we never could be sure that he had gone for ever. For the Idler was reputed to be a “conservative” magazine, which was (even in the grand old days of the Mulroney administration) something of a cultural anomaly within Canada’s “liberal” ruling class. They don’t take trespassing lightly, in their closed camp; and worse, some of them can read.

Now, had the Mafia been running the country, I gather, we might not have been disturbed. The whole neighbourhood consisted of institutions with (each) less than six warm bodies, counting cats, dogs, and parrots, and might have been allowed to just get on with it. Alas, we were not the only shop regularly crippled by “tax problems.”

We need a protection racket against our governments.

Unnecessary acts

Perhaps 90 percent of human activity is unnecessary, and essentially counter-productive. I have chosen this figure, as I choose most figures, for rhetorical effect; in reality it is probably much higher. A productive, well-organized person is he (sometimes she) who knows what to give up; perhaps, at first, only temporarily. For the unnecessary labours get in the way of things necessary and more worthy of our attention.

It begins every morning, or more realistically, the night before. The mornings are when most people are most awake, but the evenings are useful for organizing. Proper organization consists mostly of asking questions that cannot immediately be answered, which is why one does it in the evening, before one goes to sleep. If one is patient, the answers will all come in the course of the night.

Unfortunately, some people do not get enough sleep, which is why they are constitutionally frazzled.

The religious types, for instance priests, tell us that morning should be a time of prayer; and the Catholic ones suggest Mass attendance. I would not dispute this, only attempt to clear up a misunderstanding. One’s work must be an extension of one’s prayer. They are, in principle, the same thing, unless one’s work has been corrupted.

The current writer is a writer, so to say; his work generally consists of writing. He doesn’t always write, even in the mornings, when technically he can’t; but his not writing is also like writing.

He would be, perhaps, more outwardly productive, except that his cerebellum is bad. This he discerns when he tries to stand or walk, or recall some basic vocabulary. The affliction began with a stroke. But it confers advantages which even his doctors cannot understand.

For one of the reasons we are, generally, so unproductive, is not that we waste our time, on what we might call ruinous trivialities (such as “media” and “entertainment”). It is because we attribute the centre of our action to our brains. We think we might not be smart enough to achieve anything. And this is in a strange sense quite reasonable, because we are seeking our wisdom from the wrong place: from a lump of meat.

The soul is instead at the heart of intellect and moral action; providing the trigger for all intelligent human life. It comes linked to God (“the Trinity”). But when that link is broken, it just spins about, pointlessly.