Essays in Idleness


Computer yes & no

We are, some of us (including all the Catholics I know, the Orthodox, the Jews, and most of the Protestants), still enthusiasts for “art.” That is, we favour creative human forms over inhuman or non-human forms; and form over chaos, life over death. You might say that at the back of every humanized mind (as opposed to de-humanized) there is a Luddite, waiting to get out, and rehearsing his moves against that Machine, which is currently called Artificial Intelligence. We are backward (I hope this does not sound too proud); we continue to backwardly prefer Nature, to the Illusion projected by every progressive, revolutionary activity. For none of these movements are centred on the human; none are “inclusive” — of us.

That, to my mind (when I was a comparative religionist, many many seasons ago), was the intellectual significance of Jesus Christ, as compared with, say, the Western (not the Eastern) notion of the Buddha, or Karl Marx. The future revealed to us by Christ was unquestionably a human world. We would strive, in our incremental human way, through life and into death. This world in which we have found ourselves should be made, in our characteristically incremental way, more and more human.

Artificial Intelligence, as an ambition or ideology, presents the most striking alternative. For it will homogenize everything, and make it a great bore. (We will be “bored to extinction,” as a French girlfriend used to say.) Previously, we had to depend on low-tech Marxism to do that for us — to drain all interest from our future; to make us not necessarily eager to die (for human instincts still impede us), but indifferent in the matter. To make us perfectly objective and unbiased, with regard to ourselves.

Is the earth good for humans? This is a Christian rhetorical question, with echoes in each of the other “world religions.” It assumes the answer is, Yes.

It has been replaced by a question of the environmentalists, that is also asked by the digital technicians, in their sleep:

Are humans good for the earth?

And this is equally rhetorical. To reply is to assume that the answer is, No.

Old excuses

“After more than two years of legal wrangling,” I read on the Internet, “Alberta Crown prosecutors intend to ask the court to acquit Pastor James Coates and Grace Life Church of all charges that were laid during the pandemic.” This, because the court recently ruled that the provincial Batflu orders were outside provincial powers, i.e. invalid.

Well, that’s nice, and perhaps we can expect a meaningless apology (eventually), for political behaviour covered in the Nuremberg trials. (For instance, compelling people to take experimental vaccinations against their will.) More than three years of oppression by bureaucrats, policemen, politicians, was just — we will be told — an administrative error. “Me bad.”

I might believe we had rule of law in this country if senior health officials, and all their enablers, were charged and (eventually) gravely punished for what was a compound series of criminal acts, breeching (among other things) freedom of worship. We’ve had much-publicized “truth and reconciliation tribunals.” Surely now we need neo-Nuremberg trials, against our public health bureaucrats.

That their orders were miscalculating, and systematically incompetent, thus killing more than they saved, is beginning to be appreciated; but this has been the story throughout history when governments have asserted their arbitrary powers. It cannot be said in their defence, however.

Instead, those accused of giving them will say: “We were only following orders.”


Consider these two quotations, on the Internet, and lately found, by me:

“It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as editor of the New England Journal of Medicine.

“The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness.”

The first comment was from Marcia Angell, in 2009: she provides her credential up front. The second, quite recent, is from Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet. These are two out of the two most prestigious medical journals in the world. Elsewhere, I have seen, attributed to peer-reviewed articles in general, estimates that four in five are quite worthless.

I leave gentle reader to hunt for these. As he will imagine, it is not in the interest of our scientific “authorities” to publicize such remarks, or make a big issue over them. I expect gentle reader will encounter many implausible refutations for each claim, and this will slow him down. Will such an investigation ever be peer-reviewed? I think not.

Why are so many (probably the vast majority) of medical doctors and other “scientists” dishonest? When we remember (Biblically) that all human beings have a propensity to dishonesty and cheating, this does not surprise. But those who do not lie consequentially will seem to be a professional elite. They invariably take umbrage.

Moreover, many people lie with an excuse; and these days, largely for professional reasons. They depend on government subsidies (directly and indirectly) for most of their income, and their lying is designed to grease the flow. It includes, for instance, “evidence” for climate change, which is as plentiful as it is remunerative.

When we create the conditions in which corruption can occur, it will. This is, of course, a relatively useless observation, for it is insuperably difficult to create conditions in which corruption cannot occur. But the universal government habit of redistributing cash — from individuals to individuals — invites corruption in 100 percent of cases. It is at the heart of our political system. Every cheque you receive from government is thus (reliable) evidence of corruption.

Silver hammer

For the “English” sort of physicist (descending from Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton), Representation and Explanation are the same thing. This, anyway, was Pierre Duhem’s view, and Duhem (1861–1916, author of a splendidly full history of cosmological doctrines from Plato to Copernicus in ten volumes, in addition to his many scientific discoveries in thermodynamics, &c) was not only neglected by English universities, but banned from the academy in Paris, by secular liberals at the beginning of the last century, uncomfortable with the man’s Catholic views. Duhem, whom alas I cannot honour with complete understanding, but am inclined to worship, was in particular berating the Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell (1831–1879), whom he accused of an addiction to models. (Scottish and English are of course interchangeable in the French model.)

Now, these models were not attractive females on fashion runways, of the kind that decouple the heads of perceptually challenged males. It was scientific modelling that distressed Duhem, which abstracts and generalizes from information that can never be complete. The “English” sort of physicist in fact does not advance a theory at all, but composes a model, which he uses to satisfy his aesthetic requirements. Popular science loves models of the most reckless, oversimplified kind; “official” science inserts complications.

The official, “climate change” fraud has graduated to models of models of the weather, and models of these. This is inevitable in an age when computers are available, to process numbers at which one formerly had to sniff. For instance, we were told the other day that we had experienced the hottest day ever on our planet since records were first kept (i.e. approximately yesterday), on the basis of averaging unreliable readings of surface temperatures at numerous arbitrary points. … The coldest day in history will follow, the day after tomorrow.

You have to be an “English” physicist (i.e. an atheist) to believe this sort of thing. In other words, you must have faith in what is demonstrably untrue.

Maxwell used the verbs “to explain” and “to represent” interchangeably; but the physics he practiced deals with representation, only. It is the modern science, par excellence. For as Duhem explains, a theory that is explanatory must carry physics into the realm of metaphysics, in which real things are considered. It must give an account of what is really true.

“Science,” by comparison, doesn’t even try to do this. A mathematical model, or a mechanical model for that matter, cannot be real.

Vox populi, vox diaboli

Democracy and freedom are in polar opposition. At the heart of democracy is the “ideal” of equality, or “equity” as Kamala Harris says. These are loose, Humpty Dumptitious words which, from the mouths of moronic politicians, mean just what they choose them to mean, neither more nor less. And what they mean tends to change, from nine o’clock to ten in the morning. But avaricious voters will go along for the ride.

One must retreat to Periclean Athens, to assess the profound wickedness in this heart. It is thus that one begins to understand why the founders of the American republic were so unwilling to use this term, even before the atrocities of the French Revolution occurred. Twenty-five centuries ago, the evils of democracy were already apparent, under Pericles.

Burckhardt: “A permanent terrorism was exercised by the combination of sycophants, the orators, and the constant threat of public prosecution, especially for peculation and incompetence, as well as the ever present risk of being accused of asebeia (impiety).” (It was a capital charge.)

To defend oneself from this, and make counter-accusations that would stick, in the perpetual assemblies and trials, meant having “star” influencers and a democratic “party” on one’s side. Lively public interest was easily raised to hysteria.

Mister Trump, the former USA president, is being prosecuted now that he has been removed from office, in just the way President Bazoum is being prosecuted (for “high treason”) in the République du Niger. We shouldn’t be surprised.

Satirical commentators like to compare American democracy to the Latin American kind, or to the “Democratic Republic of the Congo,” or to the murderous Communist “people’s democracies” that continue to oppress. But declaring that America has “a democracy” is, in itself, sufficiently insulting.

Freedom comes, as it did to America, generally through violence; George Washington et alia took up arms, against their sea of troubles. They did not want democracy, which had satisfied the colonial politicians. For it was as corruptly meaningless as what we have today.

Drill & kill

In the first chapter of his work on Poetic Knowledge, Professor James S. Taylor uses the delightful expression, “drill and kill,” to describe the methods of mechanical education. The student is made to repeat his lessons, until he has developed a hatred for the topic. Fear, including the fear of tedium, but really the fear of punishment, will inspire him to continue on this battlefield. The penalties, should he withdraw from it, must necessarily be harsh.

Once those who have proved themselves sufficiently bored, and/or frightened — have in other words developed humility and respect for Cartesian tyranny — they matriculate. The full graduate then rises to a position of power in the economic and political bureaucracy, as a “professional,” creating unpleasantness for others. (A well-trained professional can create a huge quantity of unpleasantness all around.)

Of course, this consequence is inevitable wherever modernized classical “schooling” exists. By contrast, true education is conducted by human beings, normally one-to-one. (This is why “home schooling” vastly outdistances “public schooling” in results.) What must transpire in a classroom of thirty pupils will be a tiny fraction of what can exist between human beings — especially when both are paying attention.

Upon turning the legal drop-out age of sixteen, I decided to abandon the Canadian version of this treadwheel, and seek my education in some other system. For unlike most of my friends, I hadn’t lost my eagerness to learn. It was one of the few sensible things I ever did. Even today, I am still leaving school.

The alternative to the treadwheel would be some version of “education through art,” in which the student indulges a natural mimesis. Education through art was Plato’s system, and by extension, Greek.

“Poetry” in Prof. Taylor’s sense is not restricted to literature in verse. It includes the sciences, for instance; or all the pure sciences, which are kept clean by their contact with philosophy and, through philosophy, with God.

Love might describe the developing relationships among the neighbours — students, and teachers, “in solitude, for company” — where the joy in genuine learning is allowed. But I shouldn’t present this as a fixed “ideal,” which like most secular ideals, will encourage falsehood. It would detract from the ideal of self-discipline, and the student’s acquisition of the moral law (in the singular: for there is only one) — key products of a Godly education.

Ten thousand things

Lothar Ledderose was the author of one of the West’s most formidable Sinological companions, sub-entitled Module and Mass Production in Chinese Art, below the title Ten Thousand Things. It surveys the entire cultural experience of the Far East, in the course of establishing that Chinese arts are different in kind from Western arts, though equally dynamic. The modernist (XVIth-century?) initiation of mass production in the West might be seen as uncharacteristic.

The Chinese had been “doing modular” since time out of mind, and produced most works — bronzes, terracottas, carvings, lacquerworks, enamels, other laminations, lattices, porcelain jars, architectural fittings, printed texts, paintings, calligraphy, other brushworks, &c, &c — in multiples and often large numbers. The pieces were seldom identical, however, and minute variations (which a Chinese might consider substantial) were apparent in all these series. For this is what modular production entails, and what it denies. There was no established “fine art” in China, except where it was imposed for sales purposes by pioneering Western dealers. Panicked individuation had yet to come, see, and conquer. But there was never any shortage of “art.”

This German gentleman has written several hundred other books and papers in the modular style of the Western academy, for which he probably received many prizes. Herr Professor Ledderhose is remarkably still alive (in his eighth decade); and so, arguably, is China — though now producing copious manufactures, on the modern model, that excludes art. For the genius of the Middle Kingdom formerly ran parallel to ours; the intentions ever embracing beauty.

East and West, the intention of modern life is instead economic. We are occasionally interested in industrial design, but this only from an economic motive. For what is designed will be, barring error and invincible stupidity, identical pieces, made simpler and easier to operate than something that was assembled randomly, by a moron.

As the son of an industrial designer, I can attest that only his economic reasoning was tolerated by patrons. Except, some aesthetic appreciation in Japan.

This is progress, yes? … (Salve nos, Domine.)

Neither Judaeo-Christian nor Heathen Chinee would have thought the economic motive uniquely worthy, before. For what we once had in common was a craving for the beautiful result.

Signs of the times

A friend forwards a website-full of little displays showing simple and natural “crafts,” being made in some pleasant place. I “leaf” (i.e. ping) through them. Curiously, it was like going back to Bangkok for me, in the days of my childhood (centuries ago); when I was surrounded, everywhere, by talented natives making things, out of materials that just seemed to grow. The colours were of bamboo and teak, in this streetside intarsia.

An old friend, in Bangkok itself, has attached a few photos of the current high-rise glitz. But surely all these skyscrapers will sink into the mud, for the city was built on the water table, and liquifies in the monsoon. Street-level views reveal an environment much neater than the one that came before, thanks to universal paving. Intense commercialism easily prevails. The signs and all the buildings are advertisements. How to know if one is actually in Bangkok?

Today, of course, if one goes there, the making of complete things, as nearly everyone was once occupied in doing, has been obviated; except for one vendor of noodles I spotted. But everyone else must have a miserable job, in an office or factory or shopping mall, as in Communist China. For modernity has definitively arrived, and pasted its obscenity.

Slaving & piracy

It must be admitted, or rather it should, that “wage slavery” is an improvement upon those forms based on abduction and “free market” sale. It is nice, I suppose, when the slaves agree to take money directly, and “volunteer” for their indenture, and may even be entitled to save enough to retire from service. Pensions for these slaves are another nice touch. It makes slavery acceptable to the voting masses. Perhaps, as a Japanese lady once explained to me (while discussing ancient Greece), “freedom is impossible without slavery.”

Working by the hour is, verily, my own preferred form. Wanted labour runs from the unskilled to the semi-skilled; the slave is essentially a beast of burden. But so were the elephants who worked the lumber trade in Thailand, or the huskies that pull the Eskimos about.

As a child in Pakistan, I learned that a bullock needed training if he were not to gore his human master. He was further taught to follow simple instructions — for instance to pull water while walking round and round a well, like a Sisyphus of the plains. The principle of wage slavery would still apply: with payment in roughage and grains. Violent he might be, in untoward moments, but like most slaves he is prevented from organizing.

This morning I was uttering a prayer for Irishmen, Hebrideans, and Icelanders, long dead, who were abducted by Algerian and Moroccan slavers — who worked the Atlantic coasts when Mediterranean shores became depleted. The economy of the Maghreb, indeed the whole Islamic economy, was for centuries largely based on piracy and slaving; but then, so was the English economy in the age of Elizabeth I. The Muslims, and the English, too, have mostly graduated to wage slavery, in the modern form, and now pay fairly well. Unless, or course, you have been recruited as a servant from the “Third World.”

In my day, Asian women, and others, served the white man, and others, in that condition of wage-slavery known as prostitution. (They were paid mostly by the hour.) This was quite a different arrangement from marriage; Christian marriage in particular. That is task-related instead of wage-related (although feminists have struggled to have it monetized). It was formerly a long-term task, requiring skills, such as child-care and nurturing.

There are, in addition to slaves, persons who are demonstrably free, and may perhaps even value their freedom. These are they who are paid by the task, rather than by the hour. They must have some useful ability, which makes them worth paying; or be a member of some aristocracy that is capable of surviving on inherited wealth; or both. They are free to turn down a job if they don’t like it. Note: prostitutes can also be free, but only in moments.

The possession of a craft that is in demand, or better an inheritance, is necessary (but not sufficient) to freedom. This is perhaps half of the story.

In the other half, one may be free even if one is a slave.

Damnable sprinkling

Reading at the moment some mediaeval treatises on tempera painting (Cennino Cennini, &c), I become self-conscious.  The mediaeval mind criticizes the modern mind, though without getting personal. This is because the writers (and illuminators) had no idea what the modern world would be like. They could not make specific accusations. But they had a way to anticipate it, and in their visions of hell-scapes and dreadful afflictions, they could preview.

Curiously, when we look back, we search for exemplary unpleasantness in the past realm, in a more personal way, since, coming later, we read a history full of names. But the Middle Ages were largely free of names (and nominalism). In art, especially, they were full of anonymity. They are vividly presented in little survivals of their works, which the modern mind neglects — for like American tourists we are only interested in the plumbing. The modern mind is ugly and looking for ugliness, except when it recovers mediaeval habits. But these orphaned objects are beautiful beyond words. (The same could be said for the high cultures of Persia, Hind, Sinica, Nihon: look back to see only things that are disappearing.)

I was alerted by the terms Ingenium, Intellectus, and Ratio. While there was nothing surprising in these concepts, the (pre-modern) master conceives the possibility that they might be used in error. They could be “sprinkled on the top” of a composition, like candied violets. His purpose was, in contrast, to integrate these creative dimensions on the parchment or the panel: a distinctly ivory ground. Instead of departing from our harsh whites, he was a gentleman, rising through colour to gilding.

He was not a neurotic. He did not fidget, or correct, like a painter in slow-drying oil. Accustomed to “unforgiving” media (vide tempera) which expose truth and falsehood, he was trained to get things right in the first place.

The Toronto theory

Growing awareness of the astrophysicist, Messer Hugh Ross, is among my recent Toronto glitters. He is actually from British Columbia, and is employed mostly elsewhere, but he has also loitered within the University of Toronto, &c. In addition to his chops as an astronomer and physicist, Dr Ross (born 1945) has acquired a reputation as an articulate interpreter of scripture, a sincere and uncompromising Christian, and an “Old Earth Creationist.” The only way I could like him more is if he became a Catholic.

But I am shocked (shocked!) to discover that he has an explanation for flying saucers that is identical to the one I’ve been spouting for the last forty years; and more generally (and Christianly) considers evil spirits to be active in our (pretentiously material) world. From as many angles as I can approach it, our theory appears the inevitable one, crossing space, time, theology, and sciences. It is that the spirits are simply having their (malignant) fun with us.

Alas, science is crippled at the moment, from its refusal to acknowledge non-physical realities, and from ideological (superstitious) adventures. Yet I don’t think it will be impaired forever. Until then, I shall simply claim my UFO remarks reflect “the Toronto theory” — itself a development from Enrico Fermi’s Italian observation that if there were biological extra-terrestrials who had mastered trans-universal flight, they would be here by now. (They’re not.)

Fermi learned physics by studying an 1840 Jesuit manual, which fell into his youthful hands. He had other accomplishments. But he was not a Torontonian.