Essays in Idleness


Full retro

My readings in mediaeval economic history peaked when I was given an assignment, a few years ago, by some newspaper chain that happened to be employing me. They were planning a celebration of Capitalism to delight their pro-business readers, and wanted to regurgitate the cliché iteration of a much-disproved thesis about the “Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” that Max Weber (1864–1920) never held. I, on the contrary, wanted to resist it. I sent in a draught manuscript on the development of trade finance, double-entry bookkeeping, brand management, and industrial production in mediaeval Florence and across pre-modern Europe, to make clear that this thesis, associating the birth of “capitalism” with the Protestant Reformation, was fanciful diddly-squat. My manuscript was neither returned, nor published. It was off-message.

A ludicrous belief in “modern progress” is shared by ideologues both Left and Right, and has been since the European Enlightenment. Both assume that “business,” and “science,” were inventions of modern people — freethinking, self-starting, emancipated — casting off the shackles of religious tyranny and dark superstition that had constrained all generations before. People much like themselves. By simply ignoring the evidence of history — rather as modern media simply ignore news unless it fits their agenda — an alternative world can be constructed. This is a world in which the heroes are all “liberators” of one kind or another, setting their necks against the ignorant, malevolent, self-serving villains, trying to sustain feudalism, slavery, tradition.

The end justifies the means, in progressive pedagogy, and so the endless repetition of bald yet mediocre lies can be justified. The progressive is by definition “on the side of history,” a cause so irreproachably good that pious fraud may be used to advance it. Naturally, the spokesman for progress accuses his opponents of doing exactly what he would do. Over time, realities are forgotten, progress triumphs over its foes, and a brave new world prevails until the catastrophe in which it collapses.

We are governed by superstition today. I realize this at each appearance of a new diet fad, each vomit of statistics, each announcement of the latest findings of one branch of scientism or another — that another progressive embolism has ensconced itself in a vein of the human body politic. A new witch-hunt is about to launch, against a new villain who deserves “zero tolerance.”

Our safety depends on the immediate rejection of anything that is presented as progressive. Suppress the contagion of Progress, before it kills us all.

The licentia chronicles

We (in the sense of “I”) drop hints from time to time that we are “reactionary,” or otherwise indisposed to the contemporary social, economic, and political order. (There are local variations, but it’s basically all the same.) Sometimes we even explain ourself. There was an example the other day when we extolled discipline over the pigsty consumerism that passes for freedom in what is described as an “open society,” … and duty over “human rights.” Indeed, our rights, if any, must be dependent upon our duties, and not vice versa. Or so we hold: a typically reactionary position.

Verily, I recently confronted a kindly, well-educated, dreamy liberal, by declaring that, “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your axiology.”

He replied, smartly, “So now who is the totalitarian dreamer?”

Enflamed, I accused him of being a Kantian deontological goody-two-shoes.

He then rudely accused me of consequentialism. The matter was resolved by ordering another pint.

But will the ceasefire last? For while I’m counting neglected values, I am reminded that so many, buried since the time of the Second World War, must, like Elvis, have secretly survived. Today’s radically progressive factions have gone to the trouble of digging them up for posthumous execution again and again, as if they were the corpse of Pope Formosus. Dead, perhaps, but one can hardly say forgotten.

One might think, for instance, that such sanctities as those of life, and of the family, had been sufficiently slain by the overthrow of laws against e.g. abortion and sexual perversion, half a century ago. Nothing, or hardly anything was left to discourage open living on the wild side. But the body of Western Civ is now disinterred at intervals of a decade or less, to be freshly dismembered. We progress from tolerance of these evils, to “zero tolerance” for any who refuse to affirm them.

I read in the e-papers that a fourteen-year-old child in Scotland can now be expelled from school for maintaining that there are only two sexes. There are at least ten items like this every morning I descend into “the news”; for some reason this one struck me as memorable.

Perhaps it was nostalgia. I was almost hounded out of school myself, at that age — and by my fellow students — for arguing that children ought to be spawned in test tubes, checked for eugenic quality before hatching, and raised in state-of-the-art child factories. My colleagues in learning did not realize that I was attempting satire. My point was, this is the way the world is going. I did not yet realize that drollness is against the law in Canada. I was called down to see a vice-principal and asked to explain my views, and how they could not be a challenge to peace, order, and good government. But I was not expelled. The downside was that I wanted to be, for the school was very boring.

There are now government quizzes in Canada to expose “two-sex” believers. I recommend that those beaded try a pseudo-Jesuitical subterfuge. Rather than admitting the charge, say: “Yes, there must be as many sexual orientations as there are people, but still I have some difficulty with this, because I can only count to two.”

In praise of deference

After rereading this, I rewrote it entirely.


Man the Rebel often complains that he don’t get no respect. This is the theme of innumerable stories in the mainstream meejah: demand for laws that will force silence on the critics of the Great Rebellion, and more, make them praise and give deference to the revolutionary vanguard, and their latest innovations. This is the deference of command, the Deference of Fear: show me respect because I can hurt you. Verily, Comrade must show the right attitude towards his progressive betters. Gentle reader will guess that I don’t approve of it or him.

To this I would juxtapose the Deference of Love, which is respect freely given. The recipient of this complaisance, “submission,” or in the old sense, condescension, is judged to be worthy. He does not become worthy for something that he does, such as expressing the correct political opinions. Rather he is worthy in himself, for what he is — say, a creature made in the image of God.

The appreciation of a relation between deference and condescension has been, so far as I can see, abandoned. It assumed hierarchy, which always exists in nature, including human nature. To the rebel against the Creator of nature, however, this cannot be right. Humans must be the product of social construction, or human engineering, so that by reverse engineering we can be taken back to zero, or re-purposed. Our ruler can make us, for instance, interchangeably “equal,” each one with each other. Through biological improvement, he can remove any impediment to our doing his will. We can become what Stalin called the “New Soviet Man,” except, the distinction between male and female has also been erased in the new party line, and those who still insist upon it are now eligible for legal punishments.

But as gentle reader may recall, I am a backward and regressive beast, who still recognizes things like “up” and “down”; and I retain the notion of a kindly regard towards my social inferiors, if I can find any. It was, according to the old system of consciousness, possible to show deference even to one’s servant, or a used car salesman. One did not have to elevate one’s inferior, or change him in any way. One had only to acknowledge a fellow human being.

The reason civic freedom was the unique invention of “western,” Christian society, is this peculiar notion that all humans are not equal, but immortal. There is much to be said for caste systems, but in principle we have no untouchable, or subhuman classes. For Christ is all in all, and as He indicated, what ye have done to the least of the brethren, “ye have done it unto me.” This was a very shocking view, to the ancients, though it did follow naturally from the older, Hebrew teaching. The Pagans generally thought it was crazy; and they’re beginning to think it is crazy again.

So very well, we’re crazy. The arrogance with which we appropriate from the least of these brethren counts not against them, but against us. Deference to persons necessarily extends to what belongs to them. (This is why, exempli gratia, “planning authorities,” with the power to expropriate, are an unmitigable evil; at least according to me.)

Deference, I think, has been dying in our society, to the degree that we recognize only the deference of command — saluting our superiors in worldly power, and that out of Fear. But our command from Christ was actually, “Fear not.” For rather it is the Deference of Love, that underlies all harmonious order.

Problems we don’t have

Speaking with a gentleman who vends in a neighbourhood farmers’ market, I learnt something interesting, and probably true. Surviving family farms usually lack “organic” credentials. This is because getting them, from the bureaucracies that dispense them, is an immensely time-consuming process, and involves costs that would erase most of the little farmer’s profits. You have to be a big, faceless, industrial concern to afford the official “organic” labels that sucker big city consumers into paying double for essentially the same goods. That the whole system is massively corrupt, can almost go without saying. It was designed to be.

By coincidence, the same day my eye caught, by accident on the Internet, the announcement of a Green Award to a big car assembly “park.” They had changed all the light bulbs in their factory buildings, thus saving themselves a few thousand dollars on their multi-million electric bill, and seem to have installed new toilets, too. This sprawling high-tech carriage works remains three hundred acres of unspeakable aesthetic horror, in which human beings are enslaved to machines. But now it is “Green.”

Gentle reader may find his own examples of this sort of systemic fraud: they are everywhere. Conversely, he may look for integrity under every stone, and sometimes I hope he will find it. But big business and its enabling big guvmint are a cynical affair.

The environmental business — currently buoyed by unprovable, often fatuous claims of anthropogenic global warming — is perhaps the most cynical. It has spawned vested interests on a global scale, that will not be overturned by occasional exposure. At its heart is the manipulation of statistics, and scare-mongering through compliant mass media. The general public are hypnotized by repetition. I have noticed in desultory dips into the news that e.g. anomalous weather will invariably be attributed to “climate change,” when more plausible explanations are easily at hand.

This zombification extends to most other areas of reportage: invisible bogeys blamed for imaginary trends. Solutions to “environmental problems” are proposed that will not make the slightest dent in them.

A leading example is electrification. It is true that fossil-fuel burning contributes significantly to whatever — chiefly plant growth through increase in planetary carbon dioxide. We want “clean energy” instead, and propose to get it through megaproject, bird-killing solar and wind arrays. To date, these virtue-signalling technologies have contributed a share to the world’s electricity generation that works out to well under 1 percent. With technical improvements, by the end of the century, perhaps this may rise to 2 percent, though on the face of things I doubt it.

But nuclear power, most easily in the form of molten salt reactors (on which research was killed fifty years ago), could replace most uses of coal, oil, and gas within a decade, through much smaller facilities eliminating huge transmission costs. It would be the cheaper because the fuels are readily available to start in the form of recycled nuclear waste, and the raw materials would be abundantly available thereafter.

On the question of safety, the death toll from mining, drilling, hydro dams, &c, is quite considerable — in the tens of thousands at least, post-War. Except for Chernobyl (one of many Soviet-era environmental disasters), the death toll from nuclear accidents remains about nil. No one died at Three Mile Island. Not one death was caused by the flooded Fukushima reactors (though well over twenty thousand were killed by the tsunami that caused the difficulty there).

In short, “clean energy” is not a problem. It had to be made into one by the fright campaigns of the environmentalcases, whose own power and income depends on sustaining the problem, and preventing the most obvious solutions.

Dominion Day

Notice that I have shut up this year for Dominion Day. One might know what I think of the splendid anniversary, since it was shallowly renamed “Canada Day,” by reading any of the dozen or more items I wrote for appearance on the 1st of July, over the last few decades. Or go read George Grant’s Lament for a Nation (1965), which still approximates to my point de vue, and will likely approximate to it forever.

And my heart will leap for the Canada into which I was born — a decent, Christian country — et dominabitur a mari usque ad mare, et a flumine usque ad terminos terrae — from the days before it was occupied by aliens from some passing asteroid.

God save the Queen.

The “smart” economy

Some sense of the current world can be had if we consider college education as a fiat currency. The graduating student receives, in addition to a mountain of debt for him to climb, a piece of paper or e-paper that can be exchanged for a paid position in the labour market — the better the more wisely he shops. This “degree” indicates that he has useful virtues, the crucial one being patience.

A doctorate, for instance, indicates that the holder is willing to spend x consecutive years in an extremely tedious, and rather pointless activity, without doubting the benefits that will accrue. He may be secretly rebellious, but few have been provided with the religious skill of self-analysis, leading to self-knowledge. Natural feistiness in the human being is displaced from creative to destructive activities, such as crime or progressive politics.

Depending on the human, a voracious sex life is an alternative, or this can be combined with politics via social media. I first observed this phenomenon in the Vietnam hippie era, when any policeman could tell you that after a big protest rally, innumerable couples could be spotted “happily humping in the hedges” (the late McKenzie Porter’s memorable phrase), having been aroused by lust for sex and power, simultaneously.

In contemporary campus life, the burgeoning administrative class encourage this kind of behaviour, because it distracts students and professors alike from displeasure with the administrative class.

I notice that social studies repeatedly show that the administrators of colleges are more radical than the professors; and that the student body is, though still quite Left, generally the farthest to the Right. Thorough brainwash rooted in a Pavlovian reward/punishment system renders them complacent to the prevailing “politically correct” ethos, however, and accustoms them to unquestioning acceptance of obvious falsehoods. Upon graduation they may easily replace one set of lies with another, to fit in with “global” commercial requirements.

Quieter people invest in hobbies, which they may indulge out of public view. The great secret of the suburbs I discovered when, through bourgeois employment, I had suburban friends. It could be found in the “rec rooms” (rec for “recreation”), usually in the basements of North American homes. It was how they kept sane, given low-grade university degrees that equipped them only for unskilled or paper-pushing labour. These quite various and often interesting hobbies were their access to a world that was beautiful, and exquisitely ordered.

Weekday mornings, however, they would have to return, after a long chaotic commute, to their ugly, boring, debilitating, but salaried jobs. The contemporary notion of a “holiday” consists of getting in a car or aeroplane and flying as far away from one’s “real world” as one can afford. Five weeks per year if you are lucky.

I would seem to be wandering away from my point, but in addition, I should like to enlarge upon those fiat credentials. With the inflation of “education” since the last World War, these bear less and less relation to the owners’ natural or acquired abilities, except this ability to sit through numbing experience for a fixed number of years. A comparison might be made to Bitcoin, or other crypto-currencies, in which numerical value is digitally “mined.” This involves an incredible waste of expensive electrical resources, in order to obtain “something for nothing.”

Now, in a society that were fully sane, the abilities themselves would be the criteria for employment, and rather than by sitting through the “education” process, “cred” would be acquired through accomplishments that were appropriate to the trade.

Universities would of course still exist, but they would cater to the relatively small proportion of people who could benefit from focused, exacting, intellectual study. It is possible that as many as one in twenty of those currently populating the university campuses, actually belong there. But the rest are miscast.


P.S. already I must explain, to one of my incredulous correspondents, that I don’t include e.g. health trade schools, engineering quadrangles, or other technical training facilities in my definition of a university. Until they become politicized, these can be fairly useful institutions, and their credentials may perhaps be valuable, thus. Seminaries make an exceptionally interesting counter-example, combining, as it were, the intellectual and the vocational; almost all the world’s great universities began as Catholic seminaries. The old quad of arts, law, medicine, and theology I will accept by mediaeval precedent, though I remain sceptical of the “standardizing hand of Frederick II” at Salerno. 

Aside on law & order

Let us assume, for the sake of having an argument, the reverse of the contemporary assumption that a (post-birthday) human has rights. Let us rather assume that he has duties. These might not be specified by law; whenever possible they should not be. Yet society at large, in all of its many dimensions, should be at liberty not only to inculcate those duties, but to enforce them through punishments such as ostracism and shame; to make those who neglect their duties feel the lash of criticism.

Of course, people would still have rights (unspecified in law, whenever possible); but the rights would correspond to their duties. For instance, a policeman has the right to arrest, unobstructed, an observed wrongdoer. A fireman has the right to pump water through the window of a house that is visibly on fir​e. A baker has the right to bake cakes, and sell them to whomever he pleases. These rights were long ago established and for the most part require (or once required) little thought to sort through. A property owner has the right to manage his own property, in ways that do not spoil the surroundings. This includes the right to defend against trespassers, poachers, burglars, and so forth.

But these rights were traditionally built upon duties. Policemen must uphold the law, which means obeying laws themselves. Or rather, in the mediaeval teaching of the old Scottish jurisprudes, they must not break themselves upon the law. Firemen must put out fires, and perhaps survey fire hazards in their spare time, advising the extremely ignorant of what they might be. Bakers must bake for a living, which entails getting up early in the morning, so they may sell their goods fresh. Dairy farmers likewise must rise to the task of milking their cows, sheep, goats, &c. (The animals themselves will be pleased to enforce this.) Land owners must pay (moderate) taxes, and concede ancient rights of way, as they still do in various backward places.

We could get lost in detail. Th​at is not my intention.

Everyone has duties, including in each case the duty not to interfere in the work of another who is discharging his duties. Only in extremes are statute laws necessary, for given a little time and sanity, good and useful customs (re-)emerge. It is everyone’s duty to observe these customs, once they have established themselves, and as the Church has long taught, it is our charitable duty to admonish those who lose sight of them.

Such as the duty to defend oneself, one’s family and one’s property, were not formerly controversial. Today, they are confused by the interventions of what I call Twisted Nanny State, instinctively on the side of the aggressor. Example: if an armed man breaks into my house, threatening not only my widescreen TV but the health and safety of my wife and children, surely I have the right to blow him away. But this follows from my duty to do so. In the moral order which I envisage, armed criminals would seldom come to trial. Knowing this, their numbers would diminish the quicker.

Cowboy, or vigilante justice — when action is taken after the event — should be discouraged, however. That is where police and courts come in, or should. Alas, such instances of individual or mob revenge are powerfully encouraged when the “liberal” authorities become so lax or lame that the citizen is left with no other means to obtain justice. Hence the need for seriousness, all round. Hence the citizen’s duty of vigilance against politicians who multiply laws that are trivial and fatuous; his duty to prevent “progressive” ideologues from coming anywhere near power.

Respect, I note, was once conferred upon the dutiful. It was not until recently that a “theory” was hatched — a bastardization of ancient Christian teaching — that compelled us to show respect to all, and civility even to the uncivil. This was an important abridgement of our freedom: to decide, for ourselves, whom to love, admire, ignore, fear, detest, &c. It interferes with our duty to make sound judgements, thus dehumanizing us.

Why read?

Marvellous things may be learnt from the Internet. For instance, I was just told in this miraculous medium that Saint Isidore (died 636 “CE”), scholar and for decades Archbishop of Seville — declared Patron Saint of the Internet by Pope John Paul II — actually died before the first Arpanet connexion (c.1969).

For the modern schoolchild, whose sense of chronology may not include the concepts of “before” and “after” (see the mass media for proof), this may not come as a useful datum. But by old-fashioned people like me, such things are worth bearing in mind. There was even a time when an educated person would know who St Isidore of Seville was, and to distinguish him from St Isidore the Labourer, who came five centuries later, and who anticipated in his love for animals the more famous St Francis of Assisi, who came two centuries after that, and had much the same to say about labouring:

“He who works with his hands is a labourer. He who works with his hands and his mind is a craftsman. He who works with his hands, mind, and heart, is an artist.” We might guess from this that he lived in the days before assembly-line manufactories.

Among the uses of the Catholic (and Orthodox) cult of saints, is the groundwork they provide for the student’s sense of historical time. The saints arrive in succession, some earlier than others. Yet each is a figure who comes from outside time, and leads us, as it were, back where he came from. There is no “progress” from one saint, or generation of saints, to another. Each is sui generis — one of a kind — and each is “perfect,” by which we don’t mean entirely free of sin but complete to a purpose.

In their immense numbers they provide a constellation of light to our dark world, invisible to most but visible to many. The liturgy brings one after another into view, to serve as searchlights of us: thousands or millions of “little Christ lanterns” spread as the stars from horizon to horizon.

The custom of assigning saints to functions, of naming “patron saints” for trades and activities, sufferings and conditions of life, should be self-explanatory. To the faithful, of course, it is more than just custom. The Christian faith was from its origin extremely practical. (“Do this, in memory of me.”) To say, as they teach in our schools today, if they teach anything besides despair and juvenile delinquency, that the cults within our religion are “pagan survivals,” or “old superstitions,” is all very well; so long as we realize that this misses the point entirely, as all acts of malice tend to do.

Isidorus Hispalensis, the saint with which I started (feast day April 4th, I believe), last of the Latin Fathers of the Church, stands at the intersection of the ancient and modern eras, at the height of the (thoroughly misunderstood) “Dark Ages.” (In another sense, all the Fathers of the Church are moderns, and Christ marks the real division between “then” and “now.”) His project to create an encyclopaedia in which all things that could be known were explained, shines from either side. The modern efforts, from Diderot to Wikipedia &c, are similar in outward purpose, notwithstanding change in the recording technology, though less didactic by intention.

Saint Isidore might also be considered the Patron of the Footnote, though my argument for this is sufficiently cumbersome to be omitted today. He previews the mediaeval habit of seeking and posting the exact, checkable source, when it can be located. He was a true “original” in this and other ways — in that ancient, extraordinary, Visigothic Spain, Christianized before the Islamic conquest.

But the real distinction, between an Isidore and any creature of the Enlightenment, is that Isidore was a saint, whose conception of reading reflected his conception of prayer. We pray in our whole selves, to God in Christ and e.g. through the Saints to Him.

Reading, which in Isidore’s mind included the acts of meditation through which understanding and memory are achieved, was from God. The post-modern idea of reading as pure entertainment would not have occurred to him, except as a temptation. It would be too squalid.

On something & nothing

The term “infinity” was an invention of the Devil. This, gentle reader will understand, is my humble opinion. Or if the Devil didn’t invent it, he “evolved” it, from the more innocent usages that conveyed “unlimited,” or “countless,” or “unknowably” large or small. What is finite has an ending, can be finished, finis. What is infinite cannot be; it is open-ended. There is, where we look for an end, nothing there.

Nothing is quite the opposite of something. Perhaps this is a fact no longer taught in our schools: that “nothing” can do nothing for you. Whereas, “something” might. For in its modern usage, “infinity” has become a thing. It has become “virtually” an agent, a kind of god, demanding to be worshipped. The very Christian idea of Alpha and Omega — from the first to the last letter of the (Greek) alphabet, from beginning to end — is subtly replaced in our minds with the progressive idea, “from one to infinity.”

Which is where the human mind checks out. “So what is infinity plus one?” one asks. There can be no answer. Today we are hanging on a cross of “infinity.”

The mathematician Georg Cantor (1845–1918), in his lucid moments (when out of insane asylums), invented set theory. It may be found, lodged in the heart of post-modern reasoning. My hero Wittgenstein, among others, explained how pernicious it was. Scholastic theologians had already spotted the fly in the “infinite” ointment. It is pantheist, and in Cantor’s “final” posit of an infinity of infinities, it is a direct challenge to the unity or uniqueness of the revealed God. Cantor himself was under the impression that God existed, in the sense that God had communicated set theory to Cantor of all people. I, at least, am sceptical of those who claim direct communication with God, especially those who spend a lot of time in bat houses, and wonder with whom they were really chatting. (I don’t doubt that the mad can be brilliant, however.)

To Cantor, there is the infinity of zero. There is an infinity of points in a line, and of lines between any two points. And more infinities are coming, until we have an infinity of them. The non-algebraic constants (such as pi or Euler’s e) — very real in nature — become officious “transcendentals” that we must salute when we meet in the street. With Leibniz we can still breathe; with Cantor we are drowning.

While I’m in a position to deny being a mathematician or a physicist, I distantly descry the tragedy of string theories, “many-worlds,” and even the assumptions behind the standard model of particle physics. My intuition is that they involve the breakdown of logic and reason; that they create maths that “work” on their own premisses, but do not apply to anything. At some point, the “reality” of math takes leave of the reality of reality, and we find ourselves spending billions of dollars to equip the hunt for a “theory of everything” that can only be an artefact of a phantom.

And that is what our “infinity” has become: a thing, when it is not a thing. By those uncomfortable with the holy simplicity of God, a substitute has always been sought. In the days before Cantor it was sought in the belief, the “settled science,” that the material universe had no beginning and will have no end. Once that error collapsed in the empirical cosmology of the 20th century, the Cantor hypothesis kicked in. Except, it is not an hypothesis. It is the brilliant imposition of a “number theory” that reconceives math as an empirical science; that can intrude upon what is really only a tool or technique of science with the appearance of an absolute. Or in short: go get lost in Ludwig Wittgenstein, Elizabeth Anscombe, and the others who have seen the contradiction in all worldly, absolute claims.

“Infinity,” when it takes on divine qualities, becomes an idol. The same might be said for the term “evolution,” which has conquered the realm of biology, and subverted all the social sciences and humanities by reckless analogy. It is the “infinity” of biotech. Anything for which the cause can’t be known, is assumed to have been caused by “evolution”; whereas, evolution isn’t a cause, and never can be. It can only be a trend.

Instead of the naïve, nursery notion of a great bearded father in the sky, we get “the theory of evolution.” Instead of the loosh habit of attributing anything we can’t understand to God, we get the mentally ill habit of attributing it to bushy-faced Darwin. Instead of the something of God, we get nothing, to explain everything.

Mishan impossible

There is money to be made supporting Trump, and all he stands for; and there is money to be made opposing Trump and all he stands for. As usual, I have found the “sweet point” in the middle, where there is no money to be made, and one is exposed to attacks from both parties. Vain creature that I am, I take pride in this position.

To be against “progress” is to be against “growth” (considered as some sort of public virtue). It is to be against “democracy,” “the peeple,” and all the rest of the moralizing bafflegab that shot Trump into space over the last three years, through which his enemies have done far more to boost him, than his friends.

Full employment at higher wages are not good things in themselves. A national income growing at four points a year (as opposed to say, two, or zero) is in many respects a nightmare of so-called “creative destruction.” To cheer on mere numbers is, strictly speaking, batshit insane, for the numbers do not speak to anything that might make life better or worse at the ontological level.

Example: a mother raising children has nothing, including her own life, improved by aborting all her bairns and working at a debilitating job, although that is exactly what she must do to push all the economic indicators the right way. Or on the plainest domestic level, it should be obvious by now that, above the level of subsistence, there is a nearly inverse relation between material wealth and inward contentment. Look around yourself if you doubt me.

(I am not a Republican anyway, as I’ve had to explain to several Natted States Merican friends; I am a Loyalist Canadian and therefore a Monarchist; and not a “conservative” but a “reactionary.” None of the ideologies currently on sale appeal to me.)

But here is a puzzle. The people who claim to be against Trump, whose frothing lends them some authenticity, also want full employment at higher wages, economic growth and the rest of it. The only difference is that the means to these things which they propose are rather less plausible.

On questions of “social policy,” the conflict is no more interesting. Democrats and Republicans alike, from presidents down, have pragmatically accepted essentially libertarian social, cultural, and moral ideals. All have been consciously “progressive” in the less-material, more-spiritual realms; none would stand, and lose, on a principle.

“Put not your faith in politicians” is one of my principles. Being an honest man, in that trade, is not compatible with winning. They can be more, or less, dishonest, however, and I do make individual distinctions. (Trump, for all his wild exaggerations, outright lies, and childish theatrics, strikes me as more honest than most.)

Within fading memory, the world — everyday human life — was stable and predictable, often even in war, or during natural catastrophes. It was also comprehensible, and quiet. E. J. Mishan (1917–2014) somewhere enumerated the very long list of daily anxieties that came with post-war discovery, invention, and economic growth; things that simply did not exist (or were exceedingly rare) in our world beforehand. Yes, it could be said, we were relatively poor, and sometimes close to starving; but generally unharried and at peace with the cosmos. Human decency was reinforced, and indecency punished, in reliable, unexperimental ways.

There were universal goods that today are almost impossible to remember, for they have been obviated by the rat race, in pursuit of affluence, gizmos, dubious pleasures. In the successive editions of his textbook on The Costs of Growth, and penetrating essays with titles like, “Making the world safe for pornography,” Mishan usefully supplied economic analysis of the serious moral and social questions that had been diverted into “morally neutral” technocratic channels; so that now even the “environmentalist” factotums think only in terms of statistics, proposing megaproject schemes that are as ugly and inhuman as any mass-industrial blight.

Reading Mishan again after a lapse of thirty years, I again recommend him for his insights into the economic and logical fallacies that guide us, which no mere election will ever turn around, or government programmes alter. For there are no environmental cures that do not require the spiritual cure of humans.


See also, perhaps, this Idlepost from six years ago.


Among the best jobs I ever had, was in pre-Thatcher England, when I was young and poor and happy. It was a manual job. (All my jobs were, then.) A friend owned a small lorry, and did fairly minor haulage. He needed help for some deliveries, and one “signed on” for the trip. Almost anything might be carried, to almost anywhere in Great Britain, and sometimes even on the ferry to a place called Europe. Because my employer, the truck driver, and jack-of-all-trades, was of a thoughtful, philosophical disposition, the conversations were delightful. He would feed me along the way, and pay me in small banknotes, eschewing paperwork. Often the recipient of the delivery would add another fiver, for my help in unloading.

This Harold was a kindly man. He took on some jobs free, for instance transporting a piano for some old codger being moved from London to the upper floor of a council house (modern almshouse) near Norwich. The joy in that delivery was smashing up a wall. It was a new house, made of ticky-tacky, full of narrow spaces and right-angled turns, one of which, on the stairs, made taking a piano to the upper storey quite impossible. But Harold had a crowbar and a mallet, so he eliminated the corner. He reasoned that the old man would die without his piano, and that the council authority was used to making repairs, so that was the Christian thing to do.

God bless Harold. A non-churchgoing, very Low Anglican, he did his own moral reasoning, generally without scholarly research, yet many of his decisions were sound. He was also an Archimedean genius, and could devise ways to move very heavy objects without powered machinery of any kind, and almost without effort. The trick, he explained, is to think it through, and not be in a hurry.

Against an age that favours bigness, and speed, he was a rebel. Married, in the informal sense, though at least to a woman. To say his children were home-schooled would be an understatement. His dog was not trained at all. His house was a jumble of abandoned things he’d picked up here and there, and in a pinch he’d sell some of this furniture to the antique merchants. He read books, but only those he’d found in buildings he was clearing. One such was a defunct nunnery. The nuns had left an immense pile of battered volumes, mostly travels and adventures. Harold was acquiring a topographical education, and an impressive fund of colonial anecdotes. He was also working his way through the Cambridge Modern History, cutting the uniformly uncut pages as he went along. Lord Acton would surely have been gratified.

There is much to be said for an off-grid life, and let me add, much for the Labour government in the days before Thatcher. Its socialist policies tended to collapse the industrial economy, but its thrilling incompetence left everyone free. Goods and services were alike quite cheap, since hardly anyone was paying taxes, and there was a delicious atmosphere of gentle decay. Yet class lines were holding. Coalfield strikes, directed by communist provocateurs, were nasty, but nevertheless beneficial to the country at large, being weaned from electricity and its unfortunate downstream products, e.g. television. Happily, the museums and libraries stayed open, and admission was gratis.

I had other brief jobs to earn cash (bricklayer’s mate on a semi-legal “lump,” building real, solid, individual houses, was another highlight), and comfortable accommodations in a Lambeth Borough squat. By means of chastity, I kept out of trouble. Even at the time, I knew that I was living in paradise. In lifting fog, in Suffolk once, driving with Harold down narrow country lanes, I spotted a bullock pulling an ancient single-furrow plough. I was in ecstasy.

Today we pursue the vanity of speed, practise endless mergers and biglifications, hardly bother with anything unless it is a megaproject. We want all the parts to be interchangeable, with computerized departments for the “human resources.” It is all happening in the wrong direction, and let me importune my readers once again: Backward, ho!

Maybe Corbyn is the man to vote for.

Creative outrage

A friend of mine says he wants to go home — to the place where he was born, where he came from — now that it has been de-industrialized, de-agriculturalized, hotelled, and made into a tourist haven. Like me, he despises tourists. He reviewed at length the transformation of his home town, “from something that was precious in itself, into something to be visited, like a bathroom, or a brothel.”

“So why would you want to go home?” I asked him.

“Mostly for revenge.”

He was joking, of course. (You have to explain this to Canadians.) He was not really proposing an act of terrorism. It was merely an experiment in comic timing. We both laughed hysterically. I can see how an unedited transcript of our conversation could have got us both arrested by the Happyface Police.

Several correspondents have noted the “darkness” in articles I have written recently, and beg me to “lighten up.” As a member of the Pepsi Generation (a.k.a. Baby Boomers), one is not allowed to prophecize. “Don’t worry, be happy” has been the motto of those who secretly fear that they are going to Hell, but are hoping for mere extinction.

Yet, I agree with the cheerful, “whistling in the dark” approach, and commend, on principle, those Christian martyrs who “always looked on the bright side,” even while being translated from this world to the next.

My pessimism is a worldly thing. One remains prepared to be happily surprised, by some unexpected turn of events. Pity the optimist, for he can only be disappointed.

Among the legacies of the Catholic Church (currently at a high point in nominal membership, but a low point in most other respects), is the original of Hope. We, and our Hebrew predecessors, have known for centuries, millennia, that history is not in our control; that human enterprise does not end well; that men are fatally flawed, and the best that can ever be got out of them requires heroic discipline and labour. Our Hope is thus, peculiarly, not in men.

Hence paradox, and what follows, humour. Dark humour, especially. The joke is in the contrast between what we were expecting, and what we’re going to get.

Beneath the surface of what we might call the “creative outrage” that fuels our contemporary liberals and progressives, is a humourless frustration. It is “creative” only in that it finds something new in tradition and nature, to be outraged by every day. While their outward target may be people such as Christians, their real animosity is towards God, who refuses to surrender the Creation to them. Nor do they appreciate His occasional concessions. For they may get their sweet way for a while, as we endure their tyranny, but still they are not happy, and want more. It is a definition of the progressive that he can never be satisfied.

Now, gentle reader may ask, how does this have anything to do with the growth of the tourist industry?

Or let us make the question grander, to make it clearer. What has it to do with the overall Disneyfication (or Potemkinization, or virtualization) of modern life?

I refer to the disharmony between words and things; between what things are and what they pretend to be; to the constant replacement of the real by the fake. The scale is overwhelming and is likely to defeat even the imagination of any individual who seeks to restore the real, within his own environment. The “mass man,” as I and others call him, does not pretend to pilgrimage in a world not of his making. Rather he becomes part of the illusion, dressing up in costumes for the service industries. He becomes something a little worse than a slave: a ghost figure. He is “not really there.”

The progressive aspiration, to ban God from human life, or at least restrict Him to private venues, must necessarily fail, as all earthly projects. Like everything based on a lie, it collapses. For God can only be contained within the womb of Mary.

Raptors defeat Warriors

There is a children’s game that is played on this continent, and apparently on others. It is called “basketball,” and the object is to put an inflated ball through a hole, or hoop, that is inconveniently raised above normal human reach. Two teams bounce this ball back and forth on a court of some kind, towards the “basket” at each end.

The game was invented by a gentleman from Almonte, Ontario, and resembles an Aztec sport in which players had to use hips, not hands nor feet, to manipulate the ball. This must have made it very difficult to score a basket. Only one goal was necessary to win, however. The match must have been quite dull to watch, but some spectator interest could be derived from the post-game ritual, in which members of the losing side were put to death.

“Blood sports” — those involving human sacrifice — were a feature of pre-Christian societies from Meso-America to gladiatorial Rome to the farthest reach of Asia. A more encyclopaedic account may be found elsewhere; this is not the place to discuss the long history, for it is very long, and I am rather tired from having been kept up through last night by car horns and firecrackers.

It would seem that a basketball team of grown men from Greater Parkdale won some sort of continental championship. I have yet to consult the Toronto Scar to see if there were riots as well, as often happens after a major professional sports team wins or loses a deciding match. (I noticed from the same newspaper that our home crowd were wildly cheering the injury of a star player of the visiting team, in the previous game.)

Well, I assume they are cleaning up now.

Recently I was mocked for belonging to a tribe (Catholic Christians) whose primary sacrament involves (according to my correspondent) “symbolic cannibalism.” A typical liberal, he had the rest of his facts exactly backwards. The Judaeo-Christian tradition, culminating in the Mass, actually achieved the substitution of bloodless for the bloody pagan immolations of old. It is with the decline of Christianity that we may observe and expect the return of what might be called the pornography of violence. (The pornography of sex is fully restored, already.)

Humans, and bonobos (dwarf chimpanzees) for that matter, are notoriously given to this sort of behaviour. But while the bonobos are almost impossible to tame, humans can be improved by religion. It has to be a good religion, though.