Essays in Idleness


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.

Gremlins & visionaries

The scriptures are full of dreams and visions; taken in themselves they seem to promise a good time. For these dreams and visions come mostly from God, who is, we are assured, favourably disposed to us. There are also warnings, and perhaps the most signal are warnings against demonic dreams and visions. All such “psychic” events need testing. The evidence that one may be inspired by demoniac sources is all around — in the Bible, as in life.

Some priest, and not I, will be the expert on evil phenomena; as a priest, and not I, can perform exorcisms. I will simply point to the obvious: Satan is not your friend (and in fact wants you dead); Christ wants to save you. They evidence much knowledge of each other, although a theme of Satan’s teaching is that neither he nor Jesus Christ exists. This he finds convenient to his background message: that you shouldn’t exist, either.

But I am interested, for the moment, in the existence of gremlins. These are creatures depicted in low-tech modern folklore, but omitted from consideration in the high-tech literature. Still, they are perfectly common, in everyday experience, as one may learn by consulting a computer techie, or other advanced engineer. They take pleasure in flipping levers and switches in mischievous ways, and in other whimsical acts of sabotage. They do not leave evidence of their ministrations, and may thus be thought of as “the devil of the gaps.” This skill makes them, occasionally, the ally of the Luddite, but no one will wisely depend upon a devil.

The “gremlin” label arose in the Royal Air Force in the ‘twenties, in the Middle East, to explain mechanical events in aviation, I am told by the Wicked Paedia. The Old English term, gremian (“to vex”) was the presumed source. It seems that, in order to discover gremlins, we had first to invent aeroplanes. The gremlins then discovered how to make them crash.

What we haven’t yet grasped, is that gremlins may sometimes act in a co-ordinated, organized way, for their own ends. I suspect this is what they are doing when creating the evidence for alien spaceships, which defy not only gravity but every other physical law, and seem to have travelled from “distant planetary systems” — from which nature was designed to prevent travel. (Only God or the angels, including the fallen, could ever exceed the speed of light.)

Our dreams and visions of the future (modest ones like sending people to Mars, immodest ones like Alpha, Beta, and Proxima Centauri) currently assume that we will harness the magical power of gremlins. But my own complacency about the physical laws preserves me from such tawdry dreams and visions. One might say that physics alone has saved me.


Following the science through space, I am apprised of reports of many flying saucers, cigars, orbs, Tic Tacs, and otherwise-shaped objects of questionable aerodynamic design. Like everything else in popular science, these evolve over time. UFOs of the 1930s could barely break the sound barrier; UFOs today can beat orbital velocities. The enthusiasm for successive sightings has been raging, all this time; perhaps I should admit to reading George Adamski at a young and impressionable age. He wrote Flying Saucers Have Landed (1953), and rode to the moon and back (and later to Saturn) with his alien friends.

My suspicions of this author were not announced at age eight, but several years later I checked back on him and discovered to my satisfaction that he was a nutjob. His hoaxes of the 1940s and 1950s were getting obvious by the 1960s; he was in the mainstream tradition of “progress” which goes quickly out-of-date. Adamski flourished in the glory days of the FBI, which despatched agents to remind him that his claims of confirmation by various government agencies were entirely false, and legally actionable. Despite this, he persisted.

Generally, the true believers in UFO cults persist. This continues inevitably when the United States Air Force is officially confirming sightings of objects which disobey the physical laws of at least this universe, perform right-angled turns at spacecraft speeds, whip into oceans without splashing, and crash into the ground without leaving wrecks (and yet, they sometimes disturb the vegetation). These have been plausibly reported by seasoned (earthly) pilots, and sometimes leave traces on the instrumentation, including unsatisfactory photographs. I do not doubt the USAF, or rather, not frequently. Its pilots are not, typically, true believers in UFOs.

Adamski was, like the overwhelming majority of UFO enthusiasts, also much interested in the occult. This describes some millions of “space man” believers, in every country, especially Brazil. The link is educational. We are dealing with occult phenomena, which, in contradiction of sceptical post-Christianity, are quite real but not (in the physics sense), “physical.” For demonic beings — fallen angels, as it were — have been visiting the earth and actually dwelling among us for as long as we (humans) have been here. And like angels, specifically, they are not subject to the physical laws, which put a crimp on our technology.

One is unwise to interact with such demons, however. It never ends well.

Just stop cars

I have not been following the “Just Stop Oil” protests in Britain very closely, but close enough to realize that they have succeeded in irritating all of the ideological shadings, while inspiring counter-action when they stand in people’s way. Commuters have quite independently mounted responses to oil oppositionists blocking the streets at rush hour. I noticed at least two of the female protesters being dragged off the road by the hair (by a female counter-protester), and several other examples of intemperateness in the clips I have reviewed.

Colleague environmentalists take their protests to art galleries and cultural events, where they glue themselves to artworks and the like (but usually to paintings under glass, so to limit permanent damage). There have been more ambitious and elaborate displays.

While I hesitate to condemn the use of carbon fuels, which contribute so richly to organic growth and reforestation, and I would dismiss the panic over “climate change” as an unscrupulous fraud, I am nevertheless much opposed to cars. They are indisputably an environmental blight. They are noisy, noisome, dangerous, and use up the space and resources that could be needed for several billion new babies.

Moreover, I have noticed that the Just-Stop-Oilies do not interfere with the work of drillers and refiners, but focus their efforts on cars, buses, and trucks. Hence my support.

I would particularly applaud any protesters who could find ways to permanently disable ice cream vendors, and silence their jingles once and for all. These vehicles disturb public order throughout the summer months. Let the people eat their ice cream in peace, free from the pressure of aggressive urban salesmen who may (for all we know) be delivering crystal methamphetamine under this guileful cover.


Suppose gentle reader has found a five-franc piece, while rooting through his garbage. This would occasion some surprise, though short of a miracle. A five-franc piece! “L’Hercule,” as it is called by numismatists, was minted from the time the French currency was first decimated, during the Revolution, until it was totally debased in the 1960s.

But once it was a large silver coin, about the size of our silver dollar (also utterly debased). If you found one, perhaps tarnished, among your vegetable scraps, it would, almost certainly, brighten your day. You would clean it up, and try to polish it, and find a place to keep it where it would be safe.

Compare, if you will, what you do with God. If you find him, you spit. This is because he has made the universe so intensely beautiful, that He has left nothing else for you to spit upon. Though like a five-franc coin, the effect of spitting can only be to polish, as perhaps the pope was hinting, by honouring Andres Serrano, the artist of the “Piss Christ.”

Léon Bloy is my source for these observations, except this last (for I fail to understand Pope Francis). An anonymous reader in Scotland has sent me a selection of Bloy’s works, entitled The Pilgrim of the Absolute (ed. Raissa Maritain). It was a wonderful thing to find in my “snailmail”; Bloy (1846-1917) is a hero to me. He was a Catholic apologist entirely free of feelgood sentimentality. He had been a pain to live with: look him up.

Now suppose gentle reader, immediately upon reading this, were to root in his compost bin, and find a five-franc piece. Now, that would be a miracle.


In fact one needs the love of God, and fortunately one has the love of God, through all of the attempts we make to lose it. I do not know about Heaven, Purgatory, or Hell, except what the Church has told me, and in some locations is telling me still. Not being resident in any of these places, in my biological form, I cannot provide the kind of “on the ground” report that I can from this place, which I will continue today.

Human neediness is traditionally the province of girls. Boys are as likely to share it, but it was traditionally the male “rôle” to conceal neediness, in conceits of masculinity. The girl who doesn’t need, at least the protection of boys, has abandoned the conceit of femininity; whereas, the boy who is needy is a real wuss. This is however a general observation, which subtleties might amend.

Need for what? — the general reader might ask. In our girlishly sensitive modern language, we tend to assume some psychic, emotional need, as opposed to the practical need for food, clothing, shelter. We begin, for instance, with companionship, which we call “love” and reconstitute as a right (to be easily withdrawn). People have a right to entrap each other in a quasi-marriage, for instance; and the right to casually negate this artificial bond; it is what happens when marriage is based on “neediness” instead of the needs of children. (They have real needs, the adults have needs that are mostly fake.)

What children and adults have in common is the need to be lied to. Young children of both sexes, more than any other generational cohort, have the ability to see through lies, and to distinguish fantasies and fallacies from reality. As we grow older, we lose more and more of this natural gift.

This is especially a problem in politics. By voting age, the majority of people have developed an acute need to be lied to. This is why governments, media, businesses, &c, have developed the habit of lying. Their best argument is the classic one for laissez-faire: they are just giving the public exactly what it is asking for.


Not the Theophilus of the Gospel of Luke, not Theophilus the ancient Greek geographer, not the VIIIth-century astrologer Theophilus of Edessa, not the IXth-century Byzantine emperor, not Theophilus Erotikos the Xth-century geometer — but the Diverse Theophilus is my hero of the moment. He was, I think, a Benedictine monk somewhere in Germany, late XIth or XIIth century, author of De diversis artibus, which I have been reading through the unfortunate distractions of the past week.

I found Theophilus by chance in a second-hand bookstore, where I have found other authors discreetly hiding — in Nelson’s admirable 1961 edition in Latin and English. It is in three sections called “books,” the first about the art of painting in many media, the second for the production of all kinds of glass, and the third with various metals and metal-depending implements, such as church bells and organs. It is an extraordinary conspectus of the arts, written in a century before what we call the Renaissance, in the spirit that would animate the Gothic movement.

Many surviving mediaeval manuals contain hints to artists, but the De diversis is uniquely a full-bore treatise. Yet its author does not mention his name, or anything about himself. From topical references we may deduce his time, place, and religious occupation.

I was myself puzzled by his range, for in everything he precisely indicates workshop arrangements and craft techniques that he must have witnessed to describe, and nowhere does he depart from his practical tone, even when prescribing decorations.

He is a very humble monk, without posture or airs, and in the habit of our long Middle Ages — which was interested in the productions of men, not in the style of their egos. It was the civilization that produced Chartres, not Pringles or the Barbie doll.

But more than this the spirit is compatible with the “diverse arts” of pre-modern India and China. There is no hint of the modern concept of “fine art.” Leonardo might be disappointed to find that painting does not take pride of place above the other arts, nor does Michelangelic sculpture. Each art is rather a component of the whole.

One might also be surprised to find that the methods of oil painting were known long before the Quattrocento, and Cennino Cennini. It is heartbreaking that, through ruthless time, no examples have survived of this or many of the other genres to which Theophilus alludes.

The Donet

Reginald Pecock, who is practically my favourite Welsh metaphysician, flourished early in the 15th century. Educated at Oxford, and preaching in London (in a fine parish church later burnt and bombed like so many in London by the Proddies, the Great Fire, the Luftwaffe), he was (to my mind) a superb explainer of Catholic doctrine, and a defender of the Church against the attacks of the Lollards and Lollardy — who alas himself slipt foul of senior clergy. You see, he did not think the Catholic teaching always “infallible,” or the creed perhaps ideally expressed, and made his own proposed revisions on several subtle points.

It is interesting, to me, that he was taking the same sort of exercise I was taking in my Idleness this week: asking himself questions like what is a soul, who has one, and how many? And making distinctions between “the beasties” and “the peeple” — yet writing in an agrarian age when both man and animal were shown more respect. Pecock was consistently well-disposed towards both, though he had enemies in politics who were out to get him, and as capable as Democrats of misrepresenting his (basically orthodox) views. Aheu!

His heresy, according to the contemporary Archbishop of Canterbury (Thomas Bourchier), was to misunderstand the principle of obedience to superiors, and to put too much stock in reason. Pecock accordingly renounced these errors, in trial, and lost a couple of handy sinecures (including a bishopric) into the bad bargain. But burning at the stake was not in the cards; for these were the Middle Ages after all, not the incendiary Early Modern.

I quite enjoyed Pecock’s stand against the “over-much weeting” of the Lollards, anticipating Luther and worse in their whining about the (supposed) sins of the clergy. In both this and his works on the faith, Pecock is pioneering arguments in the English language (previously restricted to Latin and maybe French), in a lively style that is almost informal. I love the vivid, sparkling honesty with which he tingles.

Incidentally, I will be happy to take back Thursday’s speculation about the “two souls,” should any learn’d archbishop cogently refute me.


POSTSCRIPTUM. — While denying that he is a learn’d archbishop, my priest writes: “The thing is, as I’m sure you know, that it isn’t necessary to call them two souls. Sometimes isn’t the same territory covered by distinguishing ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’?”

Haha! … I was beginning to wonder if anyone was actually reading my compositions, or whether I now had the stage to myself, like some Welsh metaphysician. …

Verily, spirit is another word.

Counting souls

The soul is the form of the body. This is an idea so simple that most modern people get seriously confused. As materialists, perhaps, they continue to imagine a “form” that could be seen. Hint: a soul can be construed, but not seen. A living person moves. This is true also of other living creatures. He has a human form, which does not mean that every human being has a form that is quite identical. But it will be “radically” similar.

For different souls inhabit different bodies, and are united with them, for a time. The body dies, eventually. (It is a miracle, incidentally, that people may deteriorate gradually, but they die all at once.) The soul, which Aristotle perceived, leaves the body, and fades, or dies all at once. We haven’t found a way to detect what it is up to; but that it has left the body — that is for sure.

Most moderns don’t “believe” the human has a soul, except in rhetoric. Even communists and atheists use this rhetoric, sometimes, from a purpose that is purely rhetorical. They might acknowledge some kind of life force that “seems” to occupy the body, because even medical science distinguishes bodies that are living from bodies that are dead (although it no longer rules on male or female). As dead bodies have trouble organizing, they must accept what the living bodies decide. They are enslaved by the living.

We might call this soul “the ghost in the machine” of the living animal. It is entirely in the machine, as it were, and its self-consciousness is thus severely restricted. It exhibits habitual behaviour, sometimes clever; but the original creative act is not part of its repertoire. It can apparently adapt, quite impressively. It is sophisticated, though rather like a very advanced machine would be sophisticated: for it regulates many, many billions of nested parts, making mistakes only rarely.

I, on the other hand, do not believe a person has “a soul.” I believe he must have two. One is quite mortal, and dies when the person dies, for it was united with his body, and the body has ceased to be, or at least, ceased to be animated, and one way or another it will soon disappear.

This is the soul in the more modest Aristotelian sense — immortal, only as the species is immortal, or rather, souls just like it will be around for a while. For they are individuated, and often plentiful. One might, if one were ever in a position to think such things through, speculate on how these human souls, or monkey souls, or pussy cat souls, partake in the process of creation (or, “evolution,” as the modern man insists), but so it goes. We don’t have to know, and cannot successfully plumb either space or time.

But there is, I reason on Biblical authority, another soul, which is immortal. Humans have this, but monkeys have it not. It could only be installed, like spiritual things, by God or his agents, at the conception of the human; which is to say, effectively, outside time. When the human dies, this soul is uninstalled, but that does not mean it is extinguished.

Indeed, the evidence of divine creation (as opposed to some secondary creation) may be found in our immortality.

Fête du Dominion

It is the one hundred and fifty-sixth anniversary of the foundation of the “Dominion of Canada,” a phrase that may still be legally used, with the understanding that it means nothing; nor has meant anything since Pierre Trudeau sabotaged the Canadian constitution (“freed the slaves”) in 1982. His son, Justin, who matches or exceeds his arrogance (although he is much less intelligent), continues the faux-dynasty that has dominated Canadian politics for most of my long adult life, and provides an unanswerable argument against bourgeois democracy.

We received yet another when Olivia Chow-Chow, the socialist bargirl who is the widow of the communist, Jack Layton Chow-Chow, won Toronto’s mayoral by-election this week — by her superior name recognition among the one hundred and three “independent” candidates. She conquered with a commanding one-third of the tiny turnout (a new municipal record low). It is discouraging to be reminded of the general, catastrophic stupidity of Torontonian and Canadian voters. (By riding on vehicles of the Toronto Transit Commission, one may quickly confirm my estimate.)

To be fair to the majority of (now) forty million Canadian residents (thanks to the world’s most aggressive immigration recruitment policies), very few of them have the slightest interest in politics, or willingness to participate in public life. They simply pay their taxes, or cash their government cheques, and do what they are told, wearing masks and taking vaccinations when indicated. They are told to vote Liberal, by the bought-and-paid-for shills in the Canadian media, and they usually do. A growing proportion in Toronto are mentally ill (as one may also determine while a passenger on its trolleys).

Is mental illness the consequence of a meaningless life? (No politics, but also no religion, and no detectable literary or other cultural interests. Perhaps some physical exercise and dieting.)

On the hidden assumption that it is, the official solution to this “crisis” is MAiD service — “Medical Assistance in Dying” — increasingly (and remuneratively) promoted by Canadian doctors. Our abortion regime has thus been extended to persons of all ages and medical conditions. It is the government’s solution to the problem of people who can’t pay taxes, and should soon become our leading cause of death, ahead of suicide and drug overdoses.

To which I might add, “Happy Canada Day!”