Essays in Idleness

DAVID WARREN

Philosophy: faster, please

A correspondent tells me I’ve been writing too much about Canada. I can see what he means. He is writing from the Natted States Merica. The centre of my world (at present) is Parkdale. Beyond this there is Greater Parkdale, then America (which includes the NSM), then Christendom (I’m not sure what this includes any more), then The Human World and then, to be as inclusive as possible, The Creation, in which we find God and Man. Others, I see, write from other places.

Well, we’re having an election up here. These happen every four years or so, at the Dominion level. Politicians have been tampering with the intervals, trying to make them regular, like in the Natted States. Their tampering has added considerably to the chaos.

Elections make politicians anxious, which is why I suppose they want fewer of them. In Britain, just now, the political class has decided that, as there is a very big question that must be answered, they mustn’t have an election. That would be undemocratic. Democracy (for them) means that the people mustn’t get in the way of the politicians, especially during a crisis, after the politicians have made a hideously embarrassing botch of … everything.

I’m with them in their view of The People. I’m with The People in my view of them.

But getting back to this question of location. I can’t see how Parkdale is not the centre of the universe. My Chief Texas Correspondent says it is instead Montgomery County, and I can see his point, too. I would concede that the world has multiple centres, were it not that I’d appear to be conceding to the Dictatorship of Relativism, and I try to avoid that. So I’ll stick with Parkdale. Indeed, I could narrow this to the High Doganate, which has a population of one. I can find everything that’s wrong in Christendom within this space, and all its moral flaws within its single inhabitant. C’est la vie.

However, as other people are involved in this mess, which seems to extend beyond the horizon, my attempts at inclusiveness may continue.

Another correspondent — and this one from Canada — asks how he should vote. My advice was to figure it out for himself. Either don’t vote, if you are a man of principle (or I should mention women, since they are now armed with the vote, too). Or if you are more pragmatic, vote Conservative to get the Liberals out of power. For surely the argument that the Conservatives have no principles is a nugatory point, if you have none either.

I have come to find it almost irritating when (self-styled) conservatives talk about their principles, as if they had their own set. There can be, by my count, only one set of political principles. These can only be multiplied when all the rest are false. If we are going to discuss political principles, then we are going to discuss political philosophy (or “science,” in the old sense), and for starters, get thee to Plato and Aristotle. Then advance, slowly by reason, to the Scholastics — and eventually to the moderns, if you have the stomach for them. All the questions raised in politics have been seriously discussed already, in such quarters as these.

The principles are not local, although their application can be — and must necessarily be, under present conditions of space and time. It is only in that sense that “all politics are local.”

On the Canadian election, incidentally, this time I’m inclined to be pragmatic.

On quaintness

We do many things we shouldn’t have done, not, I think, because we are psychopathic, but because of a deficiency of thought. The other day — mea culpa — I used the word “quaint” in a dismissive way. It was a habit from my distant past. On finally thinking about it, I realized that I was using a propaganda term of the progressives. Something that is “quaint” must be “past its time.” Today, almost anything that was humane can be dismissed as quaintness.

My voice carried back to my ears. I realized that, on uttering this word, it had even taken on that smug, obnoxiously progressive tone. There you have it. I sounded, to my own ears, like one of those people I affectionately call “commies and perverts.” I had employed insufficient irony.

Later, I entered a Public Library. This was only in hope of finding the “washroom.” (We used to say “toilet”; even that was a euphemism.) Our library, here in Inner Parkdale, is named after our sitting municipal councillor (once called an “alderman,” before the feminasties struck). It does physically resemble a sprawling latrine, even more now that it has been expensively re-upholstered. The councillor is a socialist, multisexualist, environmentalist, and narcissist of the first water, of course, and thus a big spender (of other people’s money). The library named after himself began looking “used” when it was first built, just a few years ago. It was time to flush another few million, down the vestibule.

I looked around. They still have books in there, improbably, but fewer. More tech apparatus, and the ambiance of a social service centre. This is Parkdale after all. The “clients,” as the social workers call them, seem to consist only of rubby-dubs. (This Canadianism is derived from rubbing alcohol, a traditional local beverage.) Though a poignant symbol of civilizational decline, Gordon Perks Library will never be “quaint.”

But outside I found a stylish car; parked before a recently-opened, vegetabletarian grocery. The style of both was spanking new “retro.” All goods in the store were “organic,” a label that is used to quadruple prices. I further observed that all the labels were retro.

At first glance, I approved. They were fake, but they were something. Nothing in the library had even that. It is an aggressively boring, brick utility, useful enough for my purpose, but with none of that quaint architectural, municipal pride. Even the books are covered in plastic, an indication that all might be obscene. By contrast, my books at home are quaint. A visitor will see immediately that very few were printed in the current century; too much “patina” for that. Public and private libraries alike once had character. All I can remember were quaint.

More generally, as I look about town, I realize one thing I love about Parkdale. It is full of quaintness — mostly unintended survivals of old things, only partially molested. People were too poor to replace them; and so some beauty stayed. A lot of money, however, is finally steamrolling in. The arrival of funky, mostly talentless, (subsidized) artists was the signal. Time to go upmarket, developers realized, and to install new quaint — but in steel, glass, plastic, and not ambiguously, but explicitly fake.

Money buys style. It also buys cleanliness, to the point of sterility. A new class is invented, to displace the old. The nouveau fairly riche are arriving. They will annihilate anything that reminds them of their past, unless it can be used for sales purposes. Then it becomes appropriated charm, to be cleaned up, washed down, sandblasted — sterilized. (A dumpy old apartment visible from my balcony is being noisily tarted up as I write. When the workmen are finished, it won’t be recognizable. Neither will the rents.)

Looking about for the latest style, I notice one feature. Wherever there is visible success, the new style is “retro.” Perhaps that is an historical constant: for every new style is essentially retro, and must be, to sell.

All is well

“This is not going to last much longer. Hold on fast to Christ and Mary.”

It is good advice from my sometime Argentine correspondent, Carlos Caso-Rosendi. He has been patiently reviewing that “Amazon Summit,” in which all kinds of ecclesiastical enormities are being committed by the amateur Rousseauians and neo-Marxists in the pope’s “progressive” entourage. We have seen “liberation theology” in action before. It will burn out eventually.

The same could be said for all the world’s ideologies. New ones come along in their course. Each burns out, after having done a great deal of harm in human lives and souls. Modern resistance tends to focus on the material wreckage, alone, but as Flannery O’Connor observed, “You can’t be any poorer than dead.” I mentioned Zimbabwe and Venezuela last week, but proceeding backwards through the alphabet, we could list innumerable cases — in nations, but alas, too, in Holy Church by the fiends who would capture her to advance their own, very worldly ambitions. I can’t think of a century, among the last twenty, without ecclesiastical disasters; of one in which appropriations have not been attempted — invariably accompanied by a new heresy which, on closer examination, turns out to be an old one. Read Ecclesiastes again.

Looking only in my electronic inbox, I find several more attempts, by the sub-intellectual busybodies of today. One correspondent is selling “veganism.” He asks me to respond to multiple assertions that his dietary code is redemptive, and compatible with Catholicism. Another forwards an article from the poisonous Washington Post, asserting that Africa is transforming the Church, into a new “post-colonial” entity. At the current episcopal Summit we are told that we must take moral and spiritual instruction from the Amazon jungle tribes.

The truth in each argument has been inverted. A substitute has been inserted for the premiss of Christ; everything goes belly up from there.

Hold on fast to Christ, and to Mary, who points always to Him; hold on fast through the latest wild rides. Eventually each reckless vehicle will crash. Then another will come along to take its place, until it, too, crashes with all aboard. Again, we will be offered some eye-catching novelties. Those with some genuine learning will note, again, that we’ve seen it all before. We know how the next wild ride will end: also very badly. We know that all is not right with this world, and if our faith holds, or even when it is shaken, we can know what common sense is singing. “There is a crack, a crack, in everything; that’s how the light gets in.” Even Leonard Cohen got this.

The sound teaching of the Church, through the centuries, has been the constant teaching of Christ. It is often subject to misinterpretation, but never for long. The light gets through. All the garbage left by Power in our world, will be recycled. Men whose power seems irresistible one day, are themselves cleared away on another — whether or not we ever found a way to overthrow them. The fate of the Earth is not in human hands.

Joy, not despair, is at the heart of the Creation. “Fear not,” we are repeatedly told. All is well, all will be well, all manner of thing shall be well. Hold fast!

Or as I like to say in the colloquial: “Don’t let the bastards drive you out of the Church.”

How & when to apologize

We are very proud, up here in Greater Parkdale at the moment, for one of ours with a name from Transylvania has won some big tennis championship in the Natted States Merica, defeating some long-time ladies’ tennis champion. I’d heard of the latter, Serena Williams. Her victorious challenger, Bianca Andreescu, I had to look up in the Wicked Paedia. From this I learnt that she is still a teenager.

I don’t follow tennis myself, never did, and only played under duress. (Whipped every set.) The last time was nearly forty years ago, I believe. On this I stake my claim to journalistic expertise. (I assume we are discussing lawn tennis, with all the players dressed appropriately.)

Beating “Serena” would be difficult, I suppose, even for a boy. But apologizing to her numerous, disappointed fans after the match, for having won it, was Miss Andreescu’s peculiarly Canadian innovation.

We do several things up here, which the world finds eccentric. For instance, should one of our drunks collide with a lamp post, he may ask it to excuse him. And according to one of my American visitors, some years ago, if a Canadian pedestrian were bisected by a car, the still-animate top half of him might pull itself up to the driver’s window and exclaim, “Watch where you’re goin’, eh?”

(The kill rate for pedestrians in Toronto is, I have noticed, quite high. But we can always apologize to the corpses.)

My Chief Texas Correspondent, who alerted me to the result of the Natted States Open, tells me that humility is against the law in the Lone Star State. Compare Canada, where everything is against the law, and the citizens are encouraged to rat one another out, because the bureaucrats can’t keep up with the surveillance cameras.

Do I exaggerate? Probably. As I’ve been reminded by several of my Canadian readers, even one in Alberta, exaggeration is against the law in Canada. I try to keep it within tennis-court bounds.

Among the Beatitudes is what the meejah call a “shout out” to the meek, promising that they will inherit the Earth, though not, I expect, today or tomorrow. It is a charming quality which I, too, applaud (at least in others). There should be more elements in the composition of a human character — ambition and bravery come to mind, to start the alphabet of secular virtues — but each requires careful qualification. Meekness is a virtue that can stand on its own.

The best thing about it, is that you don’t have to apologize very often. I wouldn’t say meekness means never having to say you’re sorry. But it’s nice when it’s optional.

Mugabe

Only God could remove Robert Mugabe from office, according to Robert Mugabe. It should be evident to students of history by now, that this is not among the tasks that Our Lord assigns Himself. He may let a tyrant live to the age of ninety-five. God leaves men to do what men must do, which is part of the reason we must never expect justice, in this fallen world — where men who would remove tyrants are balanced by men who would secure them in power, having worshiped them as “liberators.” Monsters will rule so long as little monsters are willing to support them, in power but also in retrospect. Even they are limited by their own self-interests, however, and Mugabe was deposed by members of his own totalitarian ZANU party when it appeared that he had chosen his much younger wife Grace to succeed him. She promised to be worse than Mugabe. This was too hard for the senior party hacks to imagine.

Gratuitous violence, personal and autocratic rule, arbitrary seizures of farms and property, hyperinflation, and so forth, are the legacy of Mugabe’s decades in power, as Zimbabwe descended from relative prosperity, and some common law, to the basket case we observe today. It was woven out of Africa’s most prosperous and promising country.

A disaster from the start, Mugabe’s rule began with huge popularity, and public elation. British Colonialism had been overthrown — by decisions made at Lancaster House in London. When Mugabe’s own popularity declined, to the point where he could lose an election, something had to go. Can gentle reader guess what went?

But from the start of his regime and long before, Mugabe himself had been a man of violence, and implacable hatreds. Also of great charm, when there was something he could obtain in no other way; and populist charisma. He was in these respects the boilerplate of a revolutionary hero.

It is a sad story, made sadder when we realize that it will often be repeated. Nothing is learnt from great national misadventures. Histories are quickly forgotten. I notice for instance an entire field of presidential candidates in USA who are promising exactly the sort of policies that led, quite directly, to such tragedies as Zimbabwe, and Venezuela, and dozens more through the last century.

The dream of equality through redistribution of wealth, and the reparation of historical injustice, will always be attractive to the little man. While Joe Biden may merely be senile, candidates such as Sanders, Warren, Harris, O’Rourke, bid up the possibilities for disaster. (Whereas, Trump is the much lesser disaster we know.)

Mugabe died in a hospital in Singapore. He would have died more promptly had he trusted the best hospital in Harare — this man celebrated for advances in “education” and “health care” for the masses. One could spend years examining the horrors, the mountains of the unnecessarily dead, but would be no farther ahead by this exercise. People believe what they want to believe, and there will always be people to believe in a Mugabe.

 

Against “education”

Children, in my sadly limited experience, are one of nature’s conservative forces. Or, they can be. Only after puberty are they likely, in the course of nature, to embrace change. One may glimpse what nature intended by this. Even adolescence has its function. As the child transforms into woman or man, by chemical processes I’d rather not mention, his outlook also changes. He will go out in the world. He still needs protection, but is beginning to forget. He is trying new spiritual garments on for size. He is trying things on, more generally; graduating, perhaps, from mischievous child to the full glory of juvenile delinquency. Or, from obedient and thoughtful child, to discerning and responsible adult.

In the old days, of course (in every culture), adulthood came earlier, and adolescence was merely its apprentice form. Now thanks to an extended, debilitating system of “education,” bureaucratically controlled, adolescence itself, or the semblance of it, may be extended past the age of thirty; and with the further interventions of what I call Twisted Nanny State, from birth (when permitted) to death (however caused). The old notion that one must take responsibility for oneself and in one’s neighbourhood (whatever that may be) has come to be replaced by the new notion that one is the member of a demographic group, to be assigned responsibilities by one’s progressive betters.

My humble post yesterday was inspired by a friend who told me of the latest school board experiment. The last but three vestiges of a dress code for students has been ceremoniously stripped away. Children must still cover their genitals in class, and (girls not specified) their nipples. Too, it would seem, all must cover their asses. It is argued that any further limitation would impair their “self-expression.”

The administrators have ruled, against discipline, once again. (Half the staff in our “public” schools are administrators today; the teachers are their servants.) The preferential option for barbarism and savagery was already well established — in particular the barbarism and savagery of trends. The new dress code “frees” the little snowflakes to climb aboard the latest that peer pressure will enforce. The child’s natural resistance to change, and instinct to conformity, is being scrambled towards unknown and thus unspoken, but consistently Leftist political ends.

Sex comes very much into this. From the age of five, children in the Province of Ontario are now, by administrative edict, exposed to “sex education” by a regime that officially denies the existence of nature’s two sexes. (The use, instead, of the grammatical jargon “gender” makes clear that nature has been overruled.) The new “undress code” should, or rather will, compound this consequentially. Children are being consciously encouraged to experiment with their still immature sexuality. What the result will be of this revolutionary experiment — contra naturam — does not interest the authorities. That is and will be, after all, a problem for police and the courts.

From what I know, Ontario is not the only jurisdiction in which this is being tried on. It is interesting, however, that its (“Progressive Conservative”) government is powerless to do one of the things it solemnly promised in the last election, which it convincingly won: to put an end to what is now proceeding in the schools, at an accelerating pace. Citizens must pay for “public education,” and its multiplying extravagances; but parents, especially, are denied any say in how it works.

Resistance is indicated, as a lawyer might say. I think the intentional perversion of children is the largest environmental problem our society now faces.

Does age confer wisdom?

Not necessarily. Left to develop on its own, oldiness is a waste of time. Nothing is learnt, when nothing is attempted. My evidence is anecdotal, but consistent, over all groups and ages, then and now. We begin by learning nothing at home or in school. Having formed this habit, it continues later.

Among the most essential lessons for youth, is the art of saying, No — to things that shouldn’t happen, even when temptation is involved. Surely I am not the first to have observed this. Nor will I be the first to continue, scolding in this way.

Parentage is crucially important. Habits, once acquired, will be maintained, and will not be changed, by a law of spiritual physics, matching the rôle of inertia in the material science. The newborn may sport an individual nature. As a sometime rescuer of kittens in childhood, I became aware of this. Each appeared to have been born — conceived? — with a unique personality. It is not so wide as for human babies, however.

Without picking another fight with the Darwinoids, let me gently insist that this is where their first assumption is undermined. For kittens have much behaviour pre-installed; verily, all creatures come with “instincts,” as we awkwardly call them. And this behaviour irresistibly implies all kinds of foreknowledge. Some “instincts” do, and some don’t express themselves over time, with or without experience. It is a practical mystery, how they cut in and out, and how one interacts with another. And too, how they interact with learning: the gradual, or traumatically sudden, formation of “habits.”

But the newborn human hasn’t any habits, yet. These must be instilled. Chiefly they are instilled by example, though reward and punishment comes into this. Family is, for good and for evil, where the habits start, and the earliest are, unavoidably, externally imposed. I am using this term “family” very broadly here, so that the “family” of an infant may be an orphanage.

The first habits will prove the hardest to overcome, if, with the passage of time, the defeat of a bad habit appears to be a good idea. The longer it has gone unchallenged, the harder it will be. This is why I say parentage is crucial, and on closer investigation, we are likely to find that real love was crucial. By “real,” I cannot mean the “love” that permits anything — especially in children. I mean the love that includes foresight. Eventually, self-love must include this, for the formation of which Christians speak becomes, with growth, a conscious undertaking. It grows until it can govern and control the body’s mere pleasure-seeking.

Among the features of our society most visible to an adult observer, here in Parkdale for instance, is the proportion of children who never grow up. By sixty, they are still exhibiting habits they should have thrown off by six. Tantrums particularly come to mind, as I listen at my window. This “art of No” has never been absorbed. An adult should know he cannot always get his way, or demand that others provide him with services at no cost to himself. He should not be the seed for totalitarianism, as it were.

The political “culture” at the present day is “conditioned” by these personal failures. One might cite statistics on public and private debt, or in a thousand other areas where statistics are collected. This practice itself — of being guided by statistics — indicates a childish fatalism. We count things as inevitable because, “statistics show …”. We use them ludicrously, to do things like predict the future; we wish to participate in trends. The fact that numbers are invariably meaningless unless a great deal of context is provided, is not understood. If it were, the population generally would grasp that whether true or false, most statistics are unnecessary.

Rather, one might just look around.

Down by the river

The Amazon is one of the world’s centres for hype. It is perfectly placed, the interior a vast (rather humid) jungle. There are piranhas in the water, and uncontacted tribesmen with blowguns and poison darts. I have noticed all the pictures from the remote forests are taken from aircraft and passing satellites. You can say anything about the Amazon, and who will contradict you? This makes it an environmentalist’s paradise.

By the latest hype, the Amazon is burning. Not the river, for by tradition only rivers in Cleveland catch fire, but the forest, containing X percent of the world’s trees, undiscovered endangered species and so forth.

It is not, of course. The small proportion of the Amazon that has been cleared for farming (did you know that farms produce food?) is where the fires are. And only a small proportion of those are in flames. This happens every year, and has happened since time out of the modern mind. It is an agricultural practice, that we may disapprove, but there you go: environmentalists disapprove of everything. We could have had this year’s hype in any year of the last many.

Now, hype seldom operates alone. It is for a purpose, after all. Malice and greed are sure to come with it. By now, a substantial part of the general population in places like Canada and the Natted States have begun to twig to this. Scare stories are the eco professionals’ principal source of money and power. The polar caps are melting, the seas are rising, there’s an invisible raft of empty plastic water bottles (and drinking straws) ten times the size of Texas. The snails in Banff are running for their lives. If any of this were really happening, there is not a thing we could do about it, beyond banning things. But around the world, hundreds of billions are raised through taxes on the basis of these various “just so” stories.

There may be something to them, however. CO2 levels are in fact increasing, in consequence of which planetary green is spreading, and forest cover is expanding splendidly. Perhaps that will provide the scare for the next generation: Killer trees!

Some workmen are just cutting a big one down across the street from me. It’s a start.

Judging from Hollywood, and the imaginative works of every human culture, people do like to be (harmlessly) scared. There will always be a market for apocalyptic narratives, as well as the utopian ones, and I should think with global village meejah, hype is here to stay. Some further reflections on that, here.

Back & forth

One looks back to look forward. This is a paradox, to be sure, but on several levels, among which Cardinal Newman (soon to be canonized) captured the main thrust by his notion of walking to Heaven backwards. He explained this, easily. We “progress,” we finally succeed, through error. It is as if Heaven were always behind us, and we approach through what seems like moving backwards.

But more, through his Parochial and Plain Sermon (on “The State of Innocence”):

“There is a very much closer connexion between the state of Adam in Paradise and our state in childhood, than may at first be thought.”

For we are “surveying Eden” when we do this. To look back upon this state of innocence is also to look forward, as it were, to our unworldly return, when all things are passed, and all works and trials have been accomplished. For the time, however, we are wrapped, and constrained, through our own Fall. And yet through the squalor of a sinful world, and our sinful selves, we are “aiming to be children again.”

This is the condition of being a Christian, as we proceed along our dangerous pilgrimage: to keep our minds fixed on futurity, in recollection of a past that returns to our Creation. And we look back through error.

Often we are compelled to look back in sorrow, rather than in joy. But either is the opposite of “looking back in anger,” which, I would say, is what the Devil wants: fear, not of God, and an essentially hopeless anger. Atheism may be proclaimed, but insincerely, for I have often heard atheists cussing at their Maker, and the Fate they imagine He has in store for them. The divine is not something that can be avoided.

Let me venture into theology. God is not petty. He does not settle scores. That is a very human perception, of vengeance and retaliation. The first thing to know about God, in Christ, is that He needs no power. He is not the schoolyard bully, or a trial lawyer. He does not punish men. By their disobedience, they only punish themselves; cannot break the law but only break themselves upon the law. We can see this ourselves, looking back, in love not in anger.

God made us for His own. He made none of us expendable, as we may sometimes glimpse in this backward glance, to Eden. Our circumstances may be complex, and grow in their complexity as we age. Misery, even in childhood, and more often than not human-caused — even by our own parents — obscures the backward vision. Yet in moments it is clear.

Our task is to recover this clarity; to see what has become invisible to us, because we have ignored it; to confess and be absolved; to suffer, even to suffer injustice; and then, unburdened, to approach the Altar. This, anyway, is what I have been thinking:

That from the beginning to the end, and through the miracle of our freedom, Christ has been waiting for us to come home.

Enviro tyros

My fortnightly disquisition in the Catholic Thing is now published (here). One thousand words is a “disquisition” today, when anything longer than a topical aphorism will overreach the attention span of most Internet readers. But there are tiny minorities that should still be served.

The point of my piece is that, thanks to indoctrination, the great majority have “the environment” backward and upside down. They think it is about waste, pollution, endangered species, global temperatures, sea levels, the latest green technology, and so forth. True enough, we should avoid spoiling our terrestrial habitation, and I do not favour poisoning it. But that’s why I am generally opposed to massive environmental schemes. Each simplistic project, imposed by centralized guvmint “mandates,” will make things worse. But it prevails when the general public are intimidated by repetitive slogans. Prudence would require us to carefully examine, and reject, vast white elephant projects, that can be “sustained” only by ruinous taxation, both direct and indirect.

Whereas, my dated “conservation” ethic does not fixate on such imponderables as the health of Mother Earth. Rather it is focused on the human environment. It is implicitly local, and asks such questions as, What is it like to live here? Does this environment encourage man to his best behaviour? Will our proposal advance or subvert goodness, beauty, truth?

And will it do this concretely? Will what we build be better than what was here, or was once here? Or does it merely answer to abstract, inhuman, statistical criteria?

*

Richard Doyle, John Stirling, Neil Reynolds, Robert Royal. That is a complete list of good editors I have worked for, in the course of half a century of scribbling. The rest were glorified sub-editors. The good ones have promoted what ought to be said, and courageously defended the freedom to say it. A good editor has thoughts of his own, from personal experience and broad reading. He is a blessing to his environment. Bad editors have editorial “mandates.” They are just functionaries (often incompetent).

Rather than afflict me with obtuse fact-checker questions, the latest of these good editors responded to my most recent submission by grasping its key point. By way of acknowledgement, he ping’d back a quotation from “Le Cygne,” by Charles Baudelaire:

Andromaque, je pense à vous! Ce petit fleuve,
Pauvre et triste miroir où jadis resplendit
L’immense majesté de vos douleurs de veuve,
Ce Simoïs menteur qui par vos pleurs grandit,

A fécondé soudain ma mémoire fertile,
Comme je traversais le nouveau Carrousel.
Le vieux Paris n’est plus (la forme d’une ville
Change plus vite, hélas! que le coeur d’un mortel) …

Yes, Old Paris is no more. The form of a city changes more quickly than the human heart, hélas!

Saint Cassian pray for us

Everyone knows that today is the Feast of Saint Hippolytus (I am joking); who, for his confession of the Faith, was dragged by wild horses. But not everyone appreciates that we also commemorate Saint Cassian, schoolmaster at Immola, disliked by his idol-worshiping boys. They put him to death by piercing, with their styluses. It was “long-drawn-out,” as the Roman Martyrology explains, with possibly unintended drollness.

Therefore he became the patron of — guess? — stenographers. As a (formerly) ink-stained wretch myself, who in his youth disliked several teachers, the story makes perfect sense to me. I, too, once worshiped idols. All the schoolboys did.

Do I believe it? Was Cassian actually slain in this way? I have no reason to doubt it. Truth is often stranger than fiction, and the whole of Christendom was founded on events the first listeners disbelieved. The Resurrection wasn’t plausible to them.

The idea of holy martyrdom itself is, today, somewhere out of reach. A little meejah tickle suggests, “Maybe he deserved it.” We want to know exactly what Cassian said to make his students so angry. Conditions during the Roman Persecution were, for people unexposed to history, quite unimaginable. Even conditions during Mao’s Cultural Revolution — when students also executed their teachers — are unknown to them. Everything becomes a mystery, to the thoroughly uneducated.

In a recent missal a man now styled Saint Cassian of Tangier, has been casually shifted to December. The backstory is also changed, to that of another Cassian in the Martyrology. The saint is identified as a court recorder, who at the pronouncement of a death sentence throws down his pen and declares, “I, too, am a Christian.” He is immediately arrested, and gets to share the martyrdom of his mentor. This is more plausible, for moderns, I suppose. But still, not plausible at all.

The latest version has Cassian of Tangier merely protesting the excessive use of the death penalty.

Glib plausibility is what we worship, today.

According to some poll, just published, 70 percent of living, nominal Catholics in the Natted States simply do not believe in the Real Presence. My first thought was, “No wonder they don’t go to church.”

But John Hirschauer, receiving this news, reminds us that some of them do. He recounts the reduction of the Mass, since Vatican II, to something glib, prosaic, tedious and painful. But let’s not go through the de-Catholicization of Holy Church again, it’s too depressing. Have Catholics been leaving the Church?

Often it looks more as if the Church has been leaving them. Many weren’t even told the doctrine, before they parted ways.

But give the last word to Mahatma Gandhi:

“If Catholics really believed that God Himself were present in the Eucharist, they would crawl towards the altar on their stomachs.”

The prognosis

No predictions are offered in these Idleposts, or if gentle reader is able to find one, he is instructed not to take it seriously. The question, “Where does this lead?” is often implied, but since matters must be considered one track at a time, or at most two or three, no safe predictions can be offered. Only facts can be attested (sometimes). When I look back over the “evolution” of any A into any B, this impossibility becomes obvious. Too many seemingly irrelevant factors come into the mix, and change it. One may say the whole trend was for the good or for the evil, but this involves blather.

Does anyone understand this? (Do I?) In colloquial speech and writing, we easily assume foreknowledge, and intentions that began as no part of the story. Even if we could understand what one of the characters intended, we cannot understand the combinations. It is hard enough to read one mind, retrospectively; and minds change, so that prospectively, we have no information.

Who, for instance, could guess that a girl (and if so, which one) would “trigger” mass hysteria in a Malayan high school, with her own sudden onset of what we used to call “the vapours”? (Some piece I was reading on the BBC.) We know that such events occur; that they are more frequent in some places than in others; that the hysterics are overwhelmingly young and female; but sometimes they are male. The hysteria starts explosively, the contagion is immediate; then like most things, it fades. Meanwhile, hundreds or thousands have participated, showing real symptoms for what had no medical cause. For no accountable reason, normality returns, and people have leisure to construct their explanations. But no one saw the irruption coming.

The same with mass shootings, knifings, and other violent acts. No policeman, nor any psychologist can see the crime coming, even if he has been tipped off about unstable persons. We will have to arrest everyone in advance. Even Comrade Stalin would be at a loss. We can however say that some places are more likely than others to provide a spontaneous “terror” incident, or that the overwhelming number of perpetrators will be young and male; though some will be female. (An incident that is planned can sometimes be interrupted by diligent police work, but the plan itself was spontaneously conceived.) In some circumstances, wild rioting may follow, but in most cases, no. “Copycat” killings, including suicides may happen, but again, who can guess where?

Social conditions contribute to such acts, but who can fully understand them? Who can consider them impartially, for each explanation must contain presuppositions, any of which can be made controversial. Often, I think, those who analyze the batty event are themselves batty; and sometimes a microphone is more dangerous than a gun.

Among our modern “myths,” or imaginings, is the notion that we can know what, in reality, only God could know. We assign motives, and judge, to suit our own convenience, at a given moment. We cannot judge the way God would judge, assuming the Christian revelation is true. (This is the presupposition of Faith, which I have certainly bought into.)

But if there is anything resembling a traditional moral order, as in all known pre-modern societies, we can easily know what is good or bad. We can make sense of the moral order, especially if like the Catholic one it is intellectually coherent; and we may praise or blame according to it. We can distinguish what is sane, from what is quite crazy.

The alternative to moral order is disorder. This becomes inevitable when conventions of good and bad are refounded not on reason and tradition, but on our messy, contradictory “feelings.” Things become bad not because they are demonstrably bad, but because we personally find them icky. We make ourselves the judges, and of course our judgements will vary, from day to day. We may not be mad, but will be able to mimic madness effectively this way.

What follows from this can be prognosticated, but only vaguely. A society will fall into warring, emotional factions. But this is not a specific prediction, rather an observation, of how things are, today.

Touch the Earth

Two thoughts that I simply must share with gentle reader, after examining this morning’s meejah. One is bigger than the other, though I’m not sure which.

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Item: David Whitlock, gentleman and chemical engineer, observed horses rolling in dirt, near the beginning of this century. (I observed this phenomenon earlier, incidentally, and saw that it extends to many furred and feathered creatures.)

“Why do they do this?” he asked himself.

Too, I noticed that horses hardly ever take showers, voluntarily, and even when they do, they never reach for soap, or “sham-poo.” (Ditto, cats and sparrows.) Surely, something worth pondering. Consider, too, the humans in “developing countries,” not yet visited by the sales representatives of Unilever, or Procter & Gamble. Water, yes. Ivory soap, no. And instead of using peaceful laundry detergents, they beat their home-spun clothing against rocks. (Pre-industrial weaving can stand up to it, apparently.)

As an experiment, Mr Whitlock stopped bathing. After fifteen years, he denies having any body odour. He has also subscribed to the theory, that the skin is stripped of protective oils by soap and detergents — whereas, it was designed (by God) to preserve a rich, microbiomic heritage. True, Mr Whitlock developed quite a pong at first, but that was before he invented his own bacterial product: soil from a local farm, juiced with a nitrate from ammonia. Now, I gather, he smells pretty as a horse.

There is, I learn from the Grauniad, a flourishing cosmetic industry for other soap disenthusiasts. But surely gentle reader may save his money and avoid this bourgeois, extravagant trade. Just get out and roll in the dirt, occasionally.

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Item: on tariff walls.

I was raised on the notion that “free trade” is a good thing, and that tariffs are bad, bad, bad. And true, I am still not a Socialist, Communist, or Democrat. But I do have a conservationist streak, and let me admit candidly that tariffs are good for the environment. Not only do they stop wasteful, carbon-fuelled, international shipping and transport. They should help close down innumerable, export-dependent, smokestack industries at home. A much cleaner Earth, and no more anthropogenic global warming!

Therefore I propose to nominate Mr Donald Trump and Mr Xi Jinping, to share the first Nobel Eco Prize.