Essays in Idleness


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.


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.

Misfortunes of Elphin

Aristocracy is government by the best, once we recognize them. The opposite is not democracy but kakistocracy — government by the worst. That the worst are the least suitable, most corrupt, unscrupulous and shameless, is generally conceded. But I read this Greek-founded word, kakistocracy, in a political blog, and guessed that some things might not be conceded.

Thomas Love Peacock revived the term in his marvellous novel, The Misfortunes of Elphin (1829): a recreation of the Welsh mediaeval past, from its poetry. A learned and patient man, notwithstanding his friendship with Shelley — and well-acquainted with Greek as well as Welsh — he used the term thoughtfully. But in more recent revivals it is used to be merely clever, by, for instance, those who wish to demonize Donald Trump. The word is flung out of places like Twitter. It is just a word.

When it first appeared, it was in a sermon to Parliament during the Civil War — the English one of the 17th century. It was part of a long meditation on “the peace of Jerusalem,” and why we should pray for it. The preacher, Paul Gosnold, did mention “sticking and medling,” and being “stung with a perpetuall itch of changing and innovating,” among the political characteristics he disapproved; and naturally he touched upon the deteriorating  scene of 1644. But his interest was with prayer — collectively and nationally — not with advancing a programme.

“It is the greatest torment to be depriv’d of Heaven, so it is not the least of pleasures to be freed of Hell,” he said, in repeating the wise Richard Hooker. His homily is full of literary echoes.

It is hard for us to imagine a world in which “the peace of Jerusalem” could be conceived in such a divine, cosmic way; in which men had more, much more, to fear than death. Public safety could not be reduced to public health.

Egerton Ryerson

I see that the statue of Egerton Ryerson has been desecrated and toppled from its plinth at the front of the “Ryerson University” campus. Since the Black Lives Matter riots last year, it had been covered with pink paint, and since the reports of extensive burials on the grounds of the Indian residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia, it had become a specific target of Woke demonstrators.

Ryerson was among the most distinguished educators in Canadian history. He is worth looking up. As a “youff” I once threw a snowball at the same public monument: that symbol of the Upper Canadian establishment. Yet it was a reminder of how impressive, enterprising, and courageous that establishment had been. It had created a society in which, once upon a time, people were free and could express themselves.

Ryerson was also a figure in the development of Canada’s “residential schools,” which took Indians from (mostly) dysfunctional homes and gave them an education with priests, nuns, and respectable Protestants. Not all denizens of an orphanage are happy, and by attaching the word “colonialism,” and giving simplified accounts, full of libels, “progressive” Canadian politicians have made this period of Canadian history into a scandal. Those who know better have been silenced.

Some years ago I tried to defend the “residential schools,” more or less alone in the Canadian “meejah.” I received many, many letters from former students of them, who said their memories were happy. They had been inspired by teachers of real Christian faith and conviction, and had been equipped with the rudiments of sound learning. “They saved my life,” was a frequent comment.

I could understand the residential schools because I am familiar with Canadian education before it was taken over by barbaric hordes; and also because I am myself partly a product of “British colonial” private schools in Asia, decades ago. They were brutal towards their boys, sometimes. I was myself beaten, and their teachers were sometimes tyrannical.

As a young man I thought this was the way of the world. Now that I am old, I look back on the teaching I received with great pride. It was vastly better than what I would receive in a Canadian high school; and that was much better than what we get today.

But of course, I am not a political whack-case. In another country, perhaps, there would be a few sceptical journalists, backed by historians, who would look into the claims of the leftwing savages, and provide some much-needed context. Today, and here, there is just the one tedious point of view, and that febrile and ignorant.

An optimistic rejoinder

“If the world hate you, know ye, that it hath hated me before you. …  If you had been of the world …” it would have been different.

You could have sold out quite profitably. It wouldn’t appear to you that you were selling out, for you would long since have been of the devil’s most popular party, and the commands and arguments of such as Jesus Christ would have drummed upon your deaf ears.

So it goes — among the thousands of Catholic parents who will come out today and tomorrow to protest the “Pride” flags that flutter above the province’s Catholic schools. The school boards approved them, and much other propaganda, from their desire to be fashionably demonic, or from cowardice in the face of their confident enemy.

Most know very well that this view is taken in direct defiance of consistent Catholic (and Christian, and all other religious) teaching through the centuries to the present day; and that the children over whom they have temporary legal custody will be twisted or scandalized. But they also know that they have the power to do what they please; that the funding has been appropriated from the parents themselves; that the legislation upon which Ontario’s Catholic schools were founded is a dead letter.

If Catholic parents want their children educated in Catholic beliefs, they must set up their own schools — again. And have them taken over or shut down, again, by the agents of progress.

The children graduate into a “brave new world,” where the traces of Christian civilization have been erased. They will be taught to hold their parents in contempt, and to rebel against all “old-fashioned” moral discipline. Their personalities become glib and smug — except where they have reasoned their way into older and wiser positions, against the peer pressure.

But there is hope in this. The “Pride” flag represents madness. It cannot sustain itself over time. There will be terrible wreckage, but in the end, sanity and goodness will hear its voice again.

In time

Among the advantages of major cardiac surgery — in addition to the marvellous paranoid-but-amusing dreams you get, and time off work — is a more fatalistic and accommodating view of the squalor and wretchedness of one’s community (mostly outside the hospital). It is just as urgent as it seemed before, and likely going to Hell — but urgent for whom? And going to Hell on what schedule? One feels strangely aloof from the multiple crises, just as one is strangely attracted to the most transient surviving beauties.

I came out in an Ontario still “reeling” from the Batflu hysteria. The ability of politicians and their appointed public health experts to maintain the panic, and spread it through a majority of the population, is impressive, in a way. Their destruction of the Canadian economy will have real consequences, even for them. But what can an individual do about it?

For in a formerly free country, “the peeple” have no say that is not manipulated, or ignored. The individual expecting justice will not find it when the monopolists of justice have no interest in allowing it.

The Batflu is the most current of public obsessions. From what I can see, the Chinese dictatorship is responsible both for how it was distributed, and how we should react to it through lockdowns. Yet the exercise was so successful (China comes out of it hardly damaged), that it will surely be the model for their future efforts.

But it isn’t the project that will send us to Hell. The modern world predates the Red Chinese tyranny by several centuries, and did little beyond making very evil regimes possible. The opposition to them is subverted by the growing number of glib distractions also supplied by the modern world.

Against which, the power of the individual is reduced to the farcical and counter-productive. We have only that, and God, with us; that God in whom the modern disbelieves, and mocks in most characteristic gestures. From this side, the prospect of recovery is hopeless.

Whereas, from the other side, in which the emptiness of the godless is visible, the agents of modernity are nothing. They perish. We can reasonably expect God, with his servants, to prevail in time.

You could take the bus

In minor news from the front of the Batflu hysteria, Greyhound has surrendered its bus service in Canada. It has withdrawn from the whole country, removing bus routes and bus stations. It formerly had sufficient government connections to enjoy monopoly privileges on most of these, but now the company will only retain routes from several large Canadian cities to the United States. These may reopen when the borders do.

The “temporary” shut-down began just after “Covid.” The permanent closure is one of many now occurring, in small and family-owned businesses generally, but also some large, specialized service companies. Frankly, I am not able to keep up with the liquidation news, which is not covered by Canadian media, which has focused on “happy news” and medical scare stories since the Trudeau government made subsidies for reporting more or less universal. “Unhappy news” is only available from Small Dead Animals, Rebel News, and a few other enterprising websites which refuse the subsidies. Business stories rarely interest them, if they lack the buzz of scandal.

No scandal followed the buses. The market had been dying out, thanks to the proliferation of private automobiles, and passenger-sharing schemes. The value of a rural bus, to make single users independent and car-owning unnecessary, is never mentioned. There is a shrinking official train service, the passenger part of which burns money wildly.

But actual “environmental” policies cannot be considered. Each invariably “impacts” a very small portion of the population, and in a modern democracy, the individual has only theatrical rights.