Essays in Idleness

DAVID WARREN

Discernment

“We can only renew ourselves by discerning God’s will in our daily lives.”

This line was all that I retained from the blither and blather of a random papal Tweet. It is a statement of radical, uncontested Protestantism; if I should put it vaguely. More succinctly, it reveals pathological narcissism in the speaker, and marks him out as someone, at most, only partially sane.

His other remarks were of the same quality.

Let me explain. No one can discern God’s Will, even when it is presented to us in its simplest, most direct form. God, for instance, tells us not to murder our children. But we don’t need to discern this. It is like science. The “fact” that murder is evil, is confirmed by all human experience, and is too obvious to insist upon a written proof. A person who doesn’t understand it is not making a mistake, a “scientific error,” or discovering an exception to the conventional rule — although such things happen.

But we are discussing Murder. An intelligent person knows what that means, as much as an unintelligent person can know it. I daresay even an over-busied Peronist from Argentina will “smoak” it out.

What he may not know — what he may imperfectly “discern” — is that he will be damned for a knowing act of murder. The same for many acts that are an analogy to that; that resemble murder by intention or style. Or perhaps, after the course of a complex life, he will not be damned.

We might know this by discerning God’s Will, assiduously through all pasts and futures, if we could. Be we cannot. We can only beg for mercy, and promise to amend.

This, at least, distinguished a Catholic from a Calvinist in my mind. I am not trying to condemn Calvinists here, for again in my experience, few of them honestly believe what they’ve been taught, and many are in defiance of the teaching, or by forgetting it, kind and merciful. The belief that they’ve been saved, by the Will of God, and are among the “elect,” is an emotional distraction from what in their lives was objective. It is foolish to depend upon discernment.

It is foolish to pretend that you know what you can’t know, and yet, can know perfectly well that you can’t know.

Call this “science.” The standards for proof are very high, when we look into the most straightforward, demonstrable empirical questions. It goes beyond, for matters that must be permanently invisible to us, such as the Will of God in all its unknowable detail.

The person who claims to teach, more than he has received from his own teachers, and tells others to claim this freedom for themselves, must generally assume himself to be very knowing. But he lies, and is a mindless tyrant, and what he knows is false. Ignore him.

A rainbow nation

Like most observers, visiting from Mars, I have a hard time making sense of events on this planet. In particular, what caused: the death by violence of several hundred people; the looting of shopping malls and warehouses nationally; arrests and bumps in the night for prominent politicians (having naught to do with actual disorders); and general rioting and destruction. That about one-third of South Africans are unemployed, perhaps has some explanatory value, but there is no agreement on what caused that.

Or, we could examine the whole history of race relations — and all other interpersonal relations — that produced the explosively-packed supercharge of bullshit that generally passes for “political analysis” today. This could be summarized as “racial tension, communal mistrust, injustice, corruption and blah blah blah.”

“Corruption” is a rather vague term, for there are several thousand forms of corruption, or more, each of which can be justified in a pinch, and all of which are popular with their beneficiaries. There are heartfelt cries for “democracy,” which is irrelevant to the case, for it is at the root of every election, where the people are invited to vote for what they want. A large part of South Africa’s (racially diverse) population seems to want wide-screen TVs, cellphones, and a remarkably narrow list of other “consumer durables.”

I suppose that, in a state of anarchy, I might be tempted to loot scholarly, specialized bookshops. I say this to assure gentle reader that I am no different from everyone else, except — there are no high-class bookshops near where I live. By comparison, wide-screen TVs, cellphones, and the other electronic gizmos, have never appealed to me. This perhaps explains why I have no revolutionary inclinations (and am frequently criticized for my reactionary disposition.)

Returning to our political analysis of South Africa, after wading through the factional stresses in what amounts to a one-party state (the African National Congress is unassailable), I notice that a writer in the New York Times (William Shoki) has the power of seeing through many illusions. The bloguist, Glenn Reynolds, put his eyes on what we call the money quote:

“The state, rather than the market, became the main site for opportunity and enrichment.”

Read and absorb. For thirty years, or more to be accurate (for the apartheid system also enriched its loyal friends), this is what has been happening there. It has little to do with race, as we can see locally, for it is happening here, too. White people are equally adept at exploiting a system based on black or other “visible minority” favours. The suffering, impoverished minorities, or majorities it may well be, are equally liable to be cut out.

It’s very hard to do racism, efficiently. People don’t understand.

Mr Warren advises

This morning’s mail contains a shocking suggestion. A correspondent in remote Michigan asks, “Would not a ’13th century man’ have chosen to die rather than have heart surgery and all the care that followed?”

I was already preparing my answer when I realized it must be posted too late. I am often inconvenienced, or embarrassed, by my birth in the 20th century. But at least, it was before open-heart surgery, which I had the leisure to grow into, without a terrible rush. Many other medical adventures I omitted, together with the moral quandaries they would have set me in, to say nothing of the time I could have spent in hospitals.

As the driver of a three-wheeler in Delhi once explained, death is the solution to many, apparently intractable, problems. We were travelling around a traffic circus between two large transit buses at the time. Our three-wheeler was, by comparison, tiny and invisible. The buses were squeezing together.

My driver had just finished commenting on traffic conditions. “A path will emerge!” he said, brightly. Asked to review this opinion in light of the two buses, he said, “Death can be a path.”

True philosophers can perhaps only be found in Michigan and Delhi; plus Socrates in Athens.

My present correspondent added, I should mention, that he was asking this morning’s (first) question on behalf of himself. In the last decade or so, he has “gone to the ER with heart problems multiple times,” yet never had surgery because his cardiologist said he would probably die on the table.

Even so, he is sometimes tempted to throw all his medications in the garbage and chance it.

As I lack the qualifications to practise as a physician, I am unable to advise my elderly correspondent if this would be wise. Nevertheless, I have a settled prejudice against “Big Pharma,” which would incline me to the lower doses.

In my own case, I was rushed into the operating theatre so quickly, and with so little philosophical discussion, that it would have been impossible to consider all the implications. In this, and most other cases, “modern medicine” has decided on the course of action.

One watches the surgical team assembling. They are, like so many modern things, urgently efficient, but unimaginative. Verily, they would be punished if they used their imagination.

That is why people live so long today, although my information is that they lived almost as long, and stayed healthier, in the High Middle Ages. But this is to reduce the historical experience to arbitrary medical criteria (confirmed in the parish records). Surely there are better ways to judge human life.

Erasing a pope

Your correspondent is, perhaps not “uniquely,” at a loss. He is still somewhat addled, as the result of medical interventions and the diseases that caused them, but there is a more profound aching in his heart. The Catholic Church is being demolished by what appears to be its worst living enemy — by Jorges Bergoglio, and by his corrupt allies.

They do not come near to my faith, however, and in the longer run, I don’t merely hope but expect this institution of Our Lord will be set to rights; that her traditions will be restored — most likely, even in this world; and that the man who is the most contemptible pope in many centuries will become an unpleasant, but fading, smell.

What he has done is however a clever, though a very evil thing. He has performed the genuinely revolutionary act of overthrowing the valid Church legislation of a pope, his immediate predecessor. This was written with great caution to avoid overthrowing the next preceding. But by this act — founded on very shameful lies — he has put his survivors in a terrible fix. They cannot undo Bergoglio’s violent damage without further revolutionary acts, in which Bergoglio’s own Church legislation must be crassly overthrown.

That the unity of the Church should depend on the homogenization of her liturgy (though many languages). has now been established as the revolutionary ideal. Of course, like any revolutionary ideal, this is and will be impossible. It will only function as rhetorical cover for the destruction of the two thousand years of liturgy, that Bergoglio fails to appreciate or understand.

Judgement is being made over this liturgical tradition by what must be its most ignorant, prejudiced, and reckless, observer. It is a scandal of growing scale that such a man was able to become pope.

One wishes there were a formula, by which we could cancel all decisions and appointments of the Bergoglio regime, dating from his assumption of office, and calmly return to the Ratzinger papacy. There have been so many foolish and wicked acts since the sad day when it ended. But however desirable, this course is unavailable to men of reason.

Senior bureaucrat’s farewell

The remarkable thing, about the pope’s new Motu Proprio, strangely entitled Traditionis Custodes, is its degree of ignorance. Its entire argument is based on the fantasy that the liturgical changes of the 1960s were somehow made necessary by the commands of Vatican II, and that trying to resist them is the cause of divisions throughout the whole Church. This is obviously false, indeed laughable. The documents of Vatican II called for no such thing.

A great deal of brutality and cruelty towards faithful Catholics is hardly concealed within this. It is more than a falsehood. It glares through the “synodality,” “accompaniment,” “listening,” “dialogue,” “outreach to the margins,” which are methodically overlooked in the text, and the clericalism, rigidity, and force that replaces them.

Most explicitly, the very carefully expressed ruling of a former pope (still alive and in local residence), is contradicted, and the man insulted. This is among the unprecedented acts which mark this as an untypical action of the papacy, and a warning to Christians to ignore it. It is ultra vires.

The Catholic Liturgy had heretofore developed “organically.” It was not the plaything of clerics, as it became under Paul VI and Bugnini — by which new features of vulgarity and vileness were brought into it.

Of the Catholic Church generally, it could be said, that it is not a bureaucratic entity. Wise and necessary decisions (such as Summorum Pontificum) are favoured by the ages; foolish and arbitrary decisions are forgotten in the course of time. Popes may count for very much power, or for none. Saints count most of all. (A pope becomes interesting and important only when he is a Saint.)

We have passed through three generations. The first, the “baby boomers,” was the one the Novus Ordo was marketed to, and who responded by leaving the Church in their bulk. The “gen-X” generated few priests and the older ones began dying out. But in “generation alpha,” thanks to the rekindling of the traditional, Latin Mass, the seminaries and many churches were beginning to fill again, and life was returning.

Old men like Bergoglio — the aging “liberation theologians,” Marxists, relics, sex perverts and others — may try to resist. We should not damn, but mock them. For against them is the genius of the Catholic religion.

The importance of mockery

According to a widely-disseminated myth, mockery is not appropriate in all instances. It may be tried against all targets, and is sometimes used in an experimental blasphemy — but doesn’t work for this. And to fail at blasphemy marks one as an under-achiever. The experimentalist merely exposes himself as a jack-ass. Whether he is struck dead by lightning within the next minute will have ceased to interest an intelligent audience, for they have ceased to be entertained.

But I am speaking of real religion, and therefore of Christianity and the other religions, to the extent that they resemble Christianity (especially Orthodox Judaism). It has become quite impossible to blaspheme at the present day, as several illustrious writers have pointed out. To genuinely blaspheme requires a serious intent, like murder — even when it is spontaneous or, more accurately, sudden. The blasphemer must actually believe in what he pretends to take lightly. He is not a mere “disbeliever.” His is a conscious act of self-condemnation. It is suicidal. In a sense he is the Christian equivalent of a suicide bomber, for the ambition of the perpetrator is to take others with him, to Hell (wherever he may think he is going). But he leads the way.

I don’t recommend blasphemy. It would be counter-productive to “get it right.” Even humourously damning someone to Hell can present some awkward moments.

But mockery is comparatively clean. Note that, when it is honest — and I have found satirists to be among the world’s more honest people — only the target is annihilated. This is a matter of military honour, that the innocent are not swept into the (literary or artistic) carnage. This makes it different from open warfare, when they are often slain in huge numbers. (The leading cause of this is “peace talks,” incidentally. When I hear that the warring sides have agreed to “peace talks,” I flinch.)

The trick is to make one’s opponent wish he were dead, rather than actually killing him. This, naturally, requires more subtlety than simply blowing him away. Moreover, one can leave less doubt that the mocked were “asking for it,” for mockery gives the aggressor a chance to review the “chargesheet” (as they say in India). It allows him to build a rhythmic Hyperbaton, to employ reckless Pleonasms, a wicked Paraleipsis, Litotes and Meiosis, to fire machine-gun Anadiploses, or use Anacoluthon after a long parenthesis, then Brachylogy ending with Zeugma.

In war, one will almost never see that.

“Every death a willing death” strikes me as an improvement on “every child a wanted child” in this age of casual, or recreational, abortions. At the risk of being charged with pacifism, I am generally in favour of reducing violent weapons for soldiering and police work, and increasing the use of Greek rhetorical figures.

Still, some enemies have no sense of shame or humour, and will just have to be shot.

A young country

The Dictatorship of Niceness is being secured in Canada, just as it is being imposed in the United States and (from what I hear) in Europe. It promises to be a violent dictatorship, free of the customs of law; but nevertheless a popular one, at least at first. Canadians, in particular, seem to deeply resent freedom, and are unable to cope with a world that allows more than one official (and simplistic) political creed.

The Ottawa government, under its child leader, Justin Trudeau, is about to pass Bill C-36, which will establish a $50,000 fine for “Hate Speech” (payable to the Registrar-General). This will be decided by a committee of leftwing activists, called a Human Rights Tribunal. It will be free of the conventions that restrain our courts, such as the aspiration to due process.

No legal jurisdiction has ever succeeded in defining “Hate Speech” to anyone’s satisfaction. Laws were long since written against every crime it could possibly pertain to. It is a malicious propaganda term: designed to contradict and eliminate free speech.

This is for the future, but for the present, Catholic and some other Christian churches are being torched and vandalized, from British Columbia to Nova Scotia — largely without legal consequences. It is quite impossible to find out what is the extent of the destruction, because it is for the most part unreported. The media instead dwell upon the long and by now tedious history of the Indian reservation schools in Canada — a story which for good or evil cannot be understood, given contemporary illusions and fantasies about the past.

Another Tribunal was set up to milk this issue — the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Its media equivalent might be the BBC, whose brief encapsulation consists of a dozen quick emotional statements, every one of which is demonstrably false. But so effectively have the emotions been managed, that no one dares to contradict the official party line, and even a Catholic archbishop suspended a priest for suggesting that the Catholic role in the schools was not exclusively wicked.

In the latest rewriting of Canadian history, the National Archives have a programme to “unperson” Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. He is now officially a bad man. Take note.

The real disappointment is to find that the country does not contain enough adults to bring a prompt and memorable end to these absurdities.

Dominion Day

While I am comprehensively ashamed of Canada — “my home and native land” — that does not mean I fail to love it, and indeed to love the people I find here, including the most shameful. Moreover, I find that for the first time in many years I am feeling slightly merry on this Dominion Day (as I still call it), and this despite the cardiac specialist at Toronto General who tells me I must avoid alcohol. (Of course I would only drink it to spite him.)

Shame is a more reliable indication of love than any form of pleasure. It means that you really care about the creature (“Canada” at large) in question. An honest pride might be another. Note, a dishonest pride, or as I like to think an “ideological pride,” is one of those false things of which we should be more methodically ashamed.

The past of Canada is, to tell the truth as we always ought to do, a mixed bag. Canadians have, like everyone’s countrymen, not behaved in a consistent manner, though on occasion (especially wartime) fairly well. Most, so far as I can see, are downright mediocre, and why they should be collectively celebrated is lost on me. But I don’t think they should be collectively shot, either. At worst, we must put up with them, in the hope that some will be amusing.

History is anyway a fraud. Most of it was being misrepresented even while it was happening. However, because people are rarely as evil as their enemies paint them, much of it was comparatively innocent.

Curing apathy

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

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

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

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

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

The spaceship sightings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A home somewhere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vivat academia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laudate

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

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