Essays in Idleness


Merican Thanksgiving

A gentle reader sends a poster for today’s Merican Holiday. It shows that Norman Rockwell scene of extended family, gathered round the turkey at the dinner table. A garish caption reads: “Pro Tip: Save lots of money on Christmas presents! Discuss politics at Thanksgiving.”

A sign of the times, as it were. At any given moment, approximately half of the population is baiting the other half, or vice versa. There are Internet sites devoted to supplying verbose ammunition to the respective sides.

So let’s discuss politics. …

In Canada of course, it is different. This is because our Thanksgiving falls earlier in the autumn. Another difference is that one side seems to have succeeded in cutting off the other’s ammunition supply, so that if you are a “conservative” — and nearly half the population is, up here, too — you tend to be very peaceful. Perhaps Natted States will get like that soon: I’ve been commenting on the Canadianization of the NSM for years.

As a “Jew-lover” (I’ve been called this by persons on both Left, and Right, so assume that I’ve earned it), I often think affectionately of Israel, but also, anxiously. This is because it is a small country, occupying less than one percent of the land in the Middle East, and surrounded by mortal enemies. The Israelis are also, about half-and-half, “liberals” and “conservatives,” but behave differently from us, because both sides know that if Israel loses just one major skirmish, they must all either escape, or be annihilated. Moreover, it wouldn’t be the first time in history this had happened to them.

Israel is, or was, at the front line of the West. I entertain “was” because it is filling with exiles, from the rear. As Europe fills with Muslim immigrants, Israel fills with fleeing European Jews. Incidents of vicious anti-Semitism come also from the Left, and they are increasingly shameless.

An old Jew once told me, that when he was young, he would see graffitoes declaring, “Jews to Palestine!” Now he was old, the signs read, “Jews out of Palestine!”

What has Trump to do with this, you ask? Apart from the fact that there are a surprising number of Jews in his family, and his entourage?

Well, I feel affection for him, and anxiety. The hatred directed at him, and all he stands for, constantly from the Left, has taken on the murderous, bigoted quality. If he loses one election, or one significant legal decision, his whole Party is finished; the jackals will be all over the Republicans. That’s how he has come to command the loyalty, even of people like me, who disagree with many things he says, and regret some of his policies.

For Merican Thanksgiving this year, after considering the matter from numerous angles, I would like to thank God, for Trump. In a time of real darkness, and civilizational despair, he has become, paradoxically, a point of light. I think that’s why the devils hate him so. He is among those who still understand that Norman Rockwell poster, as it was before the caption was added. Which was sentimental, corny, and good. For as I would paraphrase:

“Stand beside him, and guide him, through the night with a light from above.”


Cat’s cradles

Implicit and explicit permission to say things that are true, plainly, has been a hallmark of Western Civ. This is not to say that we have never failed. But it was a position seldom knowingly forsaken. To cry “Fire!” in a cinema, when it is actually on fire, is the non-exception that vindicates the rule. I wrote “actually” and did not write “abstractly” or “arguably.” Perhaps one was mistaken, and the cinema only appeared to be on fire; but a sincere persuasion, supported by evidence, can be forgiven. It is no mere “human right.” It is a moral duty. As all such, it must be acted upon.

Some things that are true go unmentioned, because it is unnecessary to mention them. They are matters of etiquette, not of morals. Contemporary tabloid journalism (the only kind we have) takes pleasure in (and derives profit from) “the public’s right to know.” If a man, who trades on a good reputation, is in fact a blackguard, his public ought to know. But before they are told, so much as a rumour, the reporter had better get his facts straight.

This used to be understood. There was a time, earlier in my life, when libels could still be tried with an attempt at impartiality. Because I was a hack journalist in those days, I was obliged to study the law of libel. Among the first things one learnt, was that in the British tradition of common law, the truth is always a defence. Defamation absolutely required a falsehood, and so an untruth had to be established.

I make no defence of American law, in which (in certain states), malice must be cumbersomely proved, in addition to falsehood. But in the known world, where cases were tried, a judge could award damages of one peppercorn, without tampering with principle. We had a culture in which the possibility of distinguishing between demonstrable truth, and demonstrable falsehood, was accepted — by everyone not demonstrably mad. Yes it was malicious, yes it was false, but a statement might be so obviously “rhetorical,” that any attempt to suppress it would impinge on free speech. Cases could be dismissed, or a litigant punished, for bringing a silly charge.

No sane conception of freedom can be entirely libertarian. Libel laws should be enforced, but in the end they will not be if they are vague or fluctuating. As other laws, they should not be made unpredictably complicated: you are guilty or you are innocent (or if you are Scottish, probably guilty but “unproved”). All this comes from a world that has been, in the last couple of generations, overthrown. In every Western country of which I am aware, judges are now at liberty to alter laws, in defiance of legislation. Miscarriages of justice become inevitable, thereby.

As a “reactionary,” I assert that the truth is important; and that it depends upon maintaining legal consequences for those who spread consequential lies. Without this, the freedom to live and breathe must “progressively” evaporate. We come to the present situation in which rival parties cultivate their respective “narratives,” in which truth and falsehood are jumbled together. We soon lose the ability even to guess at the truth of anything. In the end there must be violence, when two “narratives” clash, and only naked physical force decides between them.

The interesting thing about “political correctness” is that it compels people to tell obvious lies, and provides arbitrary punishments for those who refuse. By increments it makes telling any truth impossible, for every statement is caught up in a cat’s cradle of contributing falsehoods, against which there can be no legal remedies.


Breviary notes

On my very shelves, up here in the High Doganate, there remain various souvenirs from my Anglican days. These include modern classics, such as Lancelot Andrewes his Preces Privatae, Richard Hooker, John Donne, Jeremy Taylor, Laurence Sterne his Sermons (often as entertaining as Tristram Shandy), together with more recent, “breaking news” stuff — the Tracts for the Times and many excellent authors still in print: T. S. Eliot and C. S. Lewis for instance, or recently in print, such as Austin Farrer, and Eric Mascall. All of these gentlemen Catholic by spirit and inclination, and reverting by habit to Catholic precedent.

On the desert island of Anglicanism, I was never left with nothing to read.

My favourite prayerbook for years was the Andrewes — once edited and translated by John Henry Newman in his Anglican phase. The book is in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and possibly some other languages, and on a weird level might be compared to The Cantos of Ezra Pound — an intensely poetic collocation of tongues, though these “Private Prayers” were never meant for publication. But unmistakably Christian.

And I have yet to mention Cranmer and the liturgical tradition through the Book of Common Prayer (itself largely a distillation of Sarum), and the Authorized Version (which shares much common history with our Douay). It is a tradition the more vexing because it is so good. Like the piece I wrote yesterday in the Catholic Thing (here), I merely mention these things to suggest the size.

To appreciate the words that held the Anglican Church together, so that when they were withdrawn that church fell apart, would require great leisure. For our English-speaking world since Shakespeare, they have provided the principal cultural glue. Not only through Anglican but through Methodist and other church services, they transmitted Christianity through twenty generations. Memorable phrasing guides the mind, for the worse, but also incomparably for the better.

The whole of English literature, in its breadth and insularity, is compact with this Anglican “vision” of Our Lord, so that most of it will be lost on the reader without knowledge of that Anglican KJV and BCP. Behind this, Shakespeare himself, Chaucer and his predecessors, going back to Anglo-Saxons, are riddled with Biblical allusions, and the signs and symbols of religious devotion.

All of this is lost on the contemporary university reader, for the entire field of the humanities has been defoliated — defiled and stripped bare — by the poison of “political correctness.”

One book omitted from my lists is most remarkable. It sank unnoticed soon after publication, in both its British and American incarnations, yet I think it contains an earnest of the liturgical future within the Catholic Church — back into which (I think) all the protestant traditions are gradually folding. This is the Anglican Breviary of 1955.

The project, a development of Catholic tendencies within Anglicans themselves, was to make an English version of the entire Roman Breviary, in the language inherited from the Book of Common Prayer. While little compromises were inserted, to stay in theological touch with Canterbury, and these need correcting, this Breviary is overwhelmingly consonant with the practice of “the General Usages of the Western Church,” and provides a gloriously unabbreviated recension of the entire Divine Office for all the hours of prayer through every day of the year.

It arrived out of season, on the cusp of the degraded Alternative Service Book and the larger Anglican project of liturgical self-immolation, which anticipated ours in “the Spirit of Vatican II.” Years have now passed since I was making it a hobby to retrieve the beautifully-printed masterpieces of both Roman and English traditions, from rubbish tips behind desecrated churches, and redistributing them among friends who could still use them.

But circumstances have changed. Unbeknown to many modernist diehards, the Church is recovering — in places they never visit. That part of the Church which survived the poisonings is growing back. The Latin Mass is recovering, and through Pope Benedict’s Anglicanorum Coetibus, the English Mass has a chance of recovering, too. We have the materials, and by the grace of God, we are also finding the will.

Off & running

God made not men to be malicious idiots. This is something we achieved entirely on our own. It is a living testament to Free Will; and those who attribute malice to the Devil may be too humble. We study his suggestions and run with them. True, he may have started it in scrimmage, but only a human can take it, as we say, “the full nine yards.”

Perhaps we should make it an Olympic event, with male, female, and trans competitions. It would be more fair than the other competitions for running, jumping, lifting weights, &c. No single country would dominate the sport, at least to begin with; some of the smallest nations could excel. Or if they didn’t, malicious idiots could charge the field, accusing judges and timekeepers of racism and hate crimes, adding to the loathly spectacle: Citius! Altius! Fortius!

I am prompted by my own usual morning idiocy, which consists of glancing at the news. Today we get this substance through Internet meejah (that’s “media” for those who are slow), and just a peek at e.g. the impeachment hearings in Natted States Merica can fill one’s canvas. In a moment one is off and touring: malicious idiocy all over the world. As I write there are riots in two dozen countries, and the conditions are being created for further destructive action in several dozen more.

Under normal conditions, whatever those might be, I would think such chaos need not be encouraged; that “trolling” need not be advised. But we have perfectionists ruling many of these states. The art of provocation has improved in our time, though I would not discount other great ages. I think of great invasions, persecutions, World Wars; true Fascists, Nazis, Communists; indeed the whole rich field of socialist idealists; and the habit, after they have accomplished self-extinction, of labelling the innocent with their tar.

At its gentlest, antagonists seething with hatred, accuse all who will not join them of “hate crimes.” And then, in a sublime reaction, those they tar agree to desist — from such “crimes” as giving money to the Salvation Army. (This was just one item in the newscast today; Chick-fil-A should have doubled its donation.)

Only a genuine idiot would accuse his enemy of crimes that he is openly committing himself. “Hate crimes” were the exclusive invention of the hateful. Thieves accuse others of theft; the corrupt are constantly alleging corruption. Similarly, persons incapable of happiness accuse happy people whom they have never met of causing their affliction.

Both terms are essential. Malice on its own seeks traction. Idiocy finds it in the most unlikely places. Then the two together inspire unhappy others, formerly too shy, to come forward and make their own exhibitions.

Guvmint (I can’t be bothered to spell this word out) has a rôle in creating opportunities. In a big-budget democracy, it has the power to create lots of them. Huge, and cumbersome, it can spread malice without even trying. Inept by nature, it attracts idiots to its service, promising them a way to get ahead. It cannot solve its own problems, let alone those outside itself, yet it claims to have solutions for everyone’s personal problems, and a willingness to act on them without delay. A political debate, under a democratic regime, consists of a myriad of new proposals.

But as I suggest, even without guvmint, there would be sufficient scope for malicious, idiotic acts. Here in Parkdale, for instance, I regularly witness what I might describe as acts of genius, were the strategies behind them not so obviously stupid. (Often they begin with the narcissist’s desire to accumulate “selfies.” St Joseph’s Hospital gathers those who “score.” I think they are classified as “sports injuries.”)

Perhaps I could win the ultimate prize with a scheme I am contemplating. It is to campaign for a law against malicious idiocy. We could command the entire population to arrest themselves.

A good question

“Why do people sin, grandma?”

It was not my grandma. I was not asking the question. Rather the questioner was a child of seven, I think; perhaps six. She was not being catechized. Rather, it was a deep philosophical question, I was overhearing on a Toronto trolley. Grandma paused, looked bored, then gave a passable answer:

“Because it is possible, dear.”

This was a good start for a slightly older, more annoying child; and it came too quickly. As it was not my child, or my grandmother, I hesitated to intrude with an alternative, imperfect answer. My thought was: Hasn’t this little girl been told the Story of Genesis?

Yet, as so often, the facetious answer had some merit. It assumed an essentially Christian “worldview,” or Judaeo-Christian if you will. But unacknowledged. Like grandma, many of us still have it today, without knowing we still have it, or admitting it to ourselves. We take it invisibly for granted, as left from right, up from down, &c. We might reject specific Christian assertions, one by one, and the overall structure may be in ruin; but like an archaeological site, it is still there — being converted gradually into a parking lot.

Gentle reader may think I am exaggerating, but I ride the trolley almost every day. I overhear things, whether I wish to or not. I began this Idlepost with words overheard. Usually it is half of a conversation with a “smartphone”; often expletives are plentiful; sometimes I overhear the commission of a crime, such as a drug deal. But sometimes one overhears a child, asking a deep philosophical question, “triggered” by the acquisition of a new word. She will or won’t be treated as a nuisance.

I have also heard confessions, made casually into the phone. They might even be the sort that should be taken to a priest, and would be if the penitent were a “practising” Catholic. But more often they are instead exhibitions, put into a vaguely confessional form. The speaker is advertising his sin, showing no remorse, and piling on, by expressing his intention to do it again.

This is beyond joking, as a gory traffic accident is beyond joking, just after it occurs. We may not have a well-developed moral sense (in our society today), but we are oversensitive to icky. Or so one might guess from facial expressions. Abortion, for instance, might be called “a woman’s right,” but a photograph of baby parts will surely be denounced.

What impressed me with the little girl was her use of a new word, “sin.” Where did she get this? I wouldn’t think in school. It is not a category in modern thought, and it reeks of religion. This is assumed to be a recent phenomenon, yet even half a century ago I was being taught by self-appointed moral guardians that our real problem was not sin, but guilt. According to hippie philosophy, consciousness of sin was neurotic, and ought to be suppressed. The kids were doing their best to suppress it.

Notwithstanding, the category of “evil” survived. The view of what was good and what evil was being rotated, but on the same old wheel.

The grandmother, mentioned above, was of my own generation: one of us late Boomers. There was a Generation X in there somewhere, then Millennials, now something else is coming along. As I recall, each generation has slighted the one before, for fairly good reasons and with a soupçon of justice. For all of these generations are defective, and have been, going back to our common Ancestor. The only easy progress is in ignorance. All steeped in sin, and still steeping.

Because, so long as we breathe, it is possible.

Yet there are other possibilities. The challenge with this “new generation” is to explain, first, how we came to be in prison, but next, how to break out.

Space, time, & so forth

Nothing, or very little, gives me quite so much pleasure as seeing the world come round to my uneducated views. For the truth is, I have no advanced degree in physics — or “mechanics” as I’m still inclined to call it. This would include astro-mechanics, and mechanical cosmology. I once hung out with some self-styled particle physicists, who could talk circles around me, and then do the math. The experience left me more, not less, sceptical of their credentials. For the truth was, they could not coherently explain the premisses underlying their “science”; nor the empirical evidence for their claims. This, I concluded, was because they were incapable of sustained reason; and there was none; respectively.

But others are easily impressed, to a point. And even I would leave these perfessers to speculate, about “multiverses” and such, on their own dime. As with the general public, and the more recent (slightly empirical but misleading) case of climate theory, it is all very well until they cost us money. At that point, we reserve the right to ignorantly cut them off; and if they get feisty about it, to employ such words as “fraud.”

“Advanced” mechanics cost us billions in tax money; “advanced” climate modelling (scare quotes because the conclusions are predetermined) will very likely cost us trillions by the time the game is up. We are not discussing small amounts here.

But worse, according to me, is the destruction of the Western, civilized tradition of scientific research. It began with “saving the appearances,” of natural phenomena, and has degenerated to “saving the non-appearances.” Theory, as an aid to understanding, has been reversed. Now it becomes the end in itself, and the basis of most scientific teaching. We’re all Nominalists today, and the consequences spread well beyond the labcoat sanatoria.

Politics, for instance, if they were ever, are no longer evidence-based. To some degree I think they were in the second-last century. The aristocratic statesmen of the Victorian age, like their mechanists, had some curiosity about the consequences of their policies. Did they, for instance, “work” in delivering the intentions behind them. With socialism, in its countless forms, this question ceased to be interesting. There was pure theory, or ideology, and the point became to make reality conform.

Whether the politics led to the science, or the science to the politics, is to my mind a debatable question. More likely, Nominalist attitudes led to both, and have been travelling the road to Hell for many centuries now. They originated, as most things currently around us, in mediaeval times, and the very invention of “modernity” was their breathtaking achievement.

It is true that “technology” requires empirical observation. But that didn’t begin with the stripping of the altars. Material improvements have been a feature of growth over time in all civilizations, mediaeval as well as Chinese. Men, equipped by God with certain analytical skills, have always been eager to fix things. It is not our exclusive desire, and there will always be resistance from conservative tendencies, even within the most innovative types, but the flukish nature of experimental discovery — and of its application — is attested through all the history I have read. It is a wild card. It does not depend on “theory,” but on observation.

“There is no agreed criterion to distinguish science from pseudoscience,” I read this morning (here), “or just plain bullshit, opening the door to all manner of metaphysics masquerading as science. This is ‘post-empirical’ science, where truth no longer matters, and it is potentially very dangerous.”

How refreshing that someone who is educated gets that. I disagree on only two points. The first is that this is not new, but has a long history. The second is that “bullshit” (not lying, rather, not caring what is true) is not “potentially dangerous.” It is invariably so.

Hang ’em high chronicles

Among the characteristics of humans, when they are hated, is to hate right back. This applies to Left and Right; I think each side could enthusiastically agree, that the other is beneath contempt, if not beneath reproach. Yet both sides can’t be right. Judging only from passing comments in my inbox, including remarks forwarded to me, even my own harmless scribblings offend some people. I have been “triggering” the “trolls,” a friend explains. Truth to tell, sometimes I enjoy it.

But to preach hatred, as if it were a good — hatred of pope or president, for instance — is morally defective. In particular, the old Christian distinction between sin and sinner was a huge improvement on previous teaching. A man is bad, not for who he is, but for what he does or doesn’t do. It is actually possible to hate the sin but love the sinner. Difficult, but it can be done.

From my great impartial height, and with the occasional assistance of Our Lord’s instructions with regard to the treatment of one’s enemies, I survey the moral landscape. And then, I wonder what to drop. I am not in possession of thermonuclear devices. At the moment I have access only to the large icicles that have formed on my balconata. But I don’t know how to aim them. “Peace would be indicated,” as a lawyer might say. (I mentioned the “war” alternative, only yesterday.)

As the ancient Chinese strategist Sun Tzu once taught, the wrathful, hateful man is unlikely to win wars. He omitted the part about loving one’s enemy. Notwithstanding, it is the cool, rational head, who (assuming resourcefulness, or sufficient arms) wins the battle. He must assimilate realities, to do so. Indeed, one of Sun Tzu’s tips, was to anger the opposing general. Make him do crazy things, because he is “triggered.” Let him charge blindly into the traps one has dispassionately set for him.

But wars are large. Let’s keep this small and personal.

The loss of Christian faith has entailed the loss of Christian thinking, including a purchase on all of the ideas which made Western Civ work. Many of these ideas were not exclusively Christian, but were shared over time by all the sane. This included the aspiration to sanity itself, present at least somewhere in all the “great religions.”

To be more explicitly Christian, love is not an incense. It arrives, sometimes, without any scent, and generally without smoke and/or mirrors. As Plato’s Socrates projected, the best expression of love may be to administer punishment, justly. For without a “course correction,” the regretless sinful man will (not “may”) continue in the wrong direction.

Our own ancestors once understood, that sometimes the kindest favour one can do, for the seriously bad man, is to hang him. Gentle reader may agree that this is tough love at its toughest. But it can be understood. The man who dies hanged enters into the posthumous state, having paid for at least some of his crimes. He’s in much better shape than were he still a debtor.

It is alleged, correctly, that I am a reactionary, and in my spare time, also perhaps a conservative, and “rightwing.” (The Christian part is often overlooked.) I see no reason to abandon the principles of the Revelation, or of the jurisprudence that was built around it. Indeed, anyone who proposes to “reform” these things — the partisans of mindless “niceness” — I consider to be not only my personal enemy, but an enemy of mankind.

Let me love him. Let me work diligently, when I can, to prevent his liberalism from succeeding, and likewise spare him from the gallows he might eventually deserve.

Unending descent

There is a wild, strange, exhilaration at the appearance of first snow; that generous Christmas feeling, and the glory of boots and greatcoats. Soon we will be skating and sliding. An end has been announced to autumn; the old year will be frozen out.

Rising all the way from the street, to my altitude in the High Doganate, I hear one of my neighbours cussing, and a fine old-fashioned car that chokes and won’t start.

In these parts there is relief from the anticipated “northern monsoon,” as I call it; for most years we have cold rain and drizzle through the month of November. But ho: the sky had some better reason to be overcast this year. Let it fill our streets with promise. Let it halt traffic for a moment of peace.

Gently falling snow, on battlefields and historical places, or on the receding memory of them — and now, this grace returns upon us. Again the world is being cleaned, the stage purified for the next acts and scenes in our play. A curtain of snow has deleted my view across the Lake, and Humber Bay. By God’s grace, across the water, the highrise settlement of Mimico has disappeared. Only the near neighbourhood is visible, the roofs white-on-white, against the white background. A gull cries, and in the echo Hilda Doolittle: “The walls do not fall.”

It is Armistice Day; our poppies are all fastened. The cannon will sound, in the inaudible distance; our clocks will soundlessly strike eleven. For a moment, perhaps, the dead look down upon their children, or upon the children they never had. The stillness binds us all together, beinglessly.

Thirty years ago the Berlin Wall fell. Of course I remember the occasion. It was like first snow. All history was being obscured by it. There was wild surmise in the offices of the Idler magazine, where I then worked; we gathered round a banner headline in the New York Times. What to make of this?

Was the monstrosity of Leninism actually collapsing, the Iron Curtain crashing down? Were the hundred million slaves of Communism suddenly walking free? Nay two, three, four hundred millions? It was a joyous occasion, yet too, a hollow one. For we had done nothing.

Had my generation escaped a Third vast war, that would have followed naturally upon the First and the Second? Were we really excused, so easily, from the horrors which had engulfed my father’s generation, and that of his father? Had we proved, somehow, not worth killing in a great cause?

Were all wars over? Was this “the end of history” as enthusiasts proclaimed? Were we the first of many generations, who would endure the unending boredom of peace?

But in moments history was starting up again, to our equally hollow disappointment.

The world is like that; we should have known. “Peace on Earth” doesn’t happen, except in the heart of a mystery religion, whose partisans fade away. The guns will blaze anew, or perhaps they will be lasers. The bodies will again be frozen, into the ice of time. And as it melts, the siren of Utopia will be heard, to signal the approach of fresh conflicts. Again, the war cry, the demand now for a Green Paradise on Earth — another murderous try at socialism.

Men fail — to learn the mystery of acceptance, the beauty of what they have. The soldiers will ready for battle again. Let the optimists despair.

And here we are, nearly twenty years into a new, violent century. The armies have reformed, into a “new world order.” Think of the armistices to come. And the snows will come, and with the snows, the silence.

On getting up

As Kipling said, one must keep one’s head, “when all about you are losing theirs, and blaming it on you.” He has other advice in the same poem, but I notice, this is where it starts. I think it is good advice, in general, though I would add a few whimsical qualifications, here and there. Too, the piece goes rather psycho, towards the end.

My late grandfather supplied me with the framed text; it was very kind of him. He was an illuminator, in his spare time from being a cartographer. The idea was, that I could read the text while shaving.

A lady friend suggests that I should shave more often. But as I’ve never let her inside the High Doganate, she couldn’t have been “commenting” on more than my appearance.

Nor have I drawn the inference, that men with beards are unwiser than clean-shaven men. Or, women for that matter. But no, I am not a pogonophobe. For not everyone is provided with an illuminated copy of the “If –” poem, to review at the start of his day.

I mention it for the sake of nostalgia, but also as a remedy against current ills. If, instead of didactic verse, one begins by reading meejah headlines on the Internet, it is less likely the day will turn out well. One might, for instance, go as crazy as the meejah. The day might then easily degenerate, from the motive of revenge.

From hard personal experience, I have discovered that I lack influence in the world. The insane things, that are insanely reported, would probably happen if I never got up. I could, quite probably, do more good by going first thing to Mass. Or even by giving a bottle of whisky to a “homeless person”; it might save him money for his other needs. As to the big problems of Society and State, nothing I do is going to solve them.

God might put me in a situation like that in which He put those Austrian boys: the two who tossed the “pachamamas” in the river at Rome. Though as a friend said, there are lots of bad things in the Tiber already. Perhaps toss a few liberal bishops in the Amazon. It might make for a better video; especially if you lucked into a school of piranhas. But now, perhaps, I’m getting carried away.

And anyway, I’m against providing clickbait.

Where Kipling goes wrong, predictably because he is not a Catholic, I think, is by omitting the one thing I could reliably do, to make the world a better place; however indirectly. It is to become Holy. This, truly, is “to advance one’s own cause” — in the highest sense, selfish.

It is the selfishness that is distantly reflected, as it were in mudwater at the bottom of a pit, in The Fable of the Bees. (In that, the ideology of Capitalism was foreseen: “private vices, publick benefits.” The author, Bernard Mandeville, was our English Machiavelli. He preferred selfish vices, to “virtue signalling.”)

Alternatively, as Newman suggests, the path to sanctity begins even before shaving. Step one is to get out of bed in the morning, … promptly.

I’m still working on step two.

Our Kingdom, where?

We cannot know, and perhaps should not presume to know, whether the election of our current pope was a good thing or a bad thing. The matter will not be decided by historians, who for the most part are as useless as journalists in getting to the bottom of anything, and are often as riddled with bias as the worst of them.

There can be no doubt that the Church was in a bad way, before Jorge Bergoglio took office. That a conclave in Rome, made of cardinals appointed by the two preceding popes, were capable of electing such a man, is superficially distressing. We have had bad popes in the past, however, and Lord, bad cardinals, too. Rarely are they the majority, but the world is the world. To each generation, the Church appears to be made of men, but by now we should have noticed what wretches men are.

Some become saints, and ought therefore to be trusted, but the very question of who are the saints is being confused by the current practice of creating them wholesale. If, for instance, every pope is to be pronounced a saint as if it were a gold watch on his retirement, we can look forward to a Saint Pope Francis when the conclave he has stacked chooses his successor. Unlike many “traditional” Catholics, I do not look forward to when Bergoglio goes. I can easily imagine the worse that could follow.

A great deal of responsibility is being passed down the ranks, to individual Catholics, whose difficulties mount. Is superstition not encouraged, when the individual at prayer is distracted by conflicting accounts of what he should be praying?

Is he really supposed to adore Mother Earth? Has he omitted comminations against oil and gas companies? Should he be wearing feathers?

Since Vatican II, if not before and during, the Church herself has been broadcasting mixed messages, so that even plain questions of good and evil are frequently in dispute. We have now reached the point when the Vatican communications officer tells us a pagan ceremony filmed in the Vatican garden, thus witnessed by millions, did not happen. He is then applauded by stolid Vatican bureaucrats sitting along his panel.

Had George Orwell been a Catholic, he could have written a satirical novel about this; though I think Wyndham Lewis could have done better. Evelyn Waugh would have been too discreet. Our contemporaries must be content with ill-written newscasts, and a discouraging diet of lies, lies, lies.

But the question I began with was not, do we have a bad pope, but is that a bad thing? The jury is always out, down here on Earth. As an old-fashioned Catholic my view is that authority descends from Heaven. My guess is that today’s quasi-socialist, radically political church will survive, but in Hell.

It has occurred to me, and several others, that the prevailing “post-Christian” mess in Rome might have good consequences. Even without using the word “schism,” I can see that a new devout, underground Church is emerging, just when it is needed. Those still obedient to the conception of the Church, adumbrated by our Founder, are being inspired to new and more heroic acts, and deeper prayer, in defence of that tradition.

How this will work out, down here on Earth, I have no idea. Yet when evils coalesce down here, resistance is also coalescing.

The means by which the Truth may be disseminated, still, are experimental and uncertain. I am thinking, for instance, of unofficial religious sites on the Internet, which bring comfort to those horrified by Rome. This is a dangerous thing; but as long as there remains a will to orthodoxy, good things can result.

Let us be martyrs: “witnesses.” Let us revive the old habits, contra mundum. In particular, let us recollect that the future we seek is no earthly, political utopia, but a Kingdom not of this world.

A conceptual thing

There is no such thing as “unaided human reason.”

Reason itself were not a machine. The thing itself cannot be sped up by artificial intelligence with quantum computers. This should be evident to anyone who has tried to think something through. There is human reason, but it requires concepts, which exist outside of us.

Time and space also do not exist, as most Neoplatonic philosophers were aware. This is because their parts don’t exist, and how does one construct something very big out of non-existent parts? There is nothing so materially wanting as “a moment” in time, “a location” in space: the one quickly invalidates the other. And yet they are.

Don’t take this lightly: brilliant men in Arabic, and Latin, wrestled with this. The pagan, technocratic Romans made fools of themselves trying to reduce space alone to just two practical dimensions. Alexandrian Greeks had already foreseen this would get them nowhere. Had they slide rules, they would have worn them all out.

The Alexandrians had better concepts (Euclid understood three dimensions). Even the Romans acknowledged this at times. Yet concepts are also made from non-existent parts, unavailable to the technocratic mind.

Nevertheless, as they were sometimes wise, philosophers in what we call the Dark Ages “moved on” from e.g. trying to co-ordinate a determinism that could explain themselves to themselves, from what they had not realized were horizon lines — another visible non-existent.

Or so I vaguely determined in my youth, when struggling with ancient commentaries on Aristotle. (Note the direction of this activity: I was determining, not being determined, by my time and location. The pagans had real problems with free will.)

It is a good mental exercise to try, by the projective imagination, to see the world as others see it. This frees one, in moments, from the tyranny of one’s own being. It is part of what made the Christian missionaries great anthropologists, from the first centuries: their attempt to grasp pagan ways of thinking, as part of the project to convert them. It involved showing others, used to being treated as subhuman, some unaccustomed respect — even the primitive tribal types, such as they were then meeting in Europe. (And in the course of that, coming to a better understanding, themselves.)

The technique proved incredibly successful, as we see today in places so diverse as Africa and China. We mastered how to translate our Christian concepts, through all the languages we encountered.

Missionaries could not start from facts, which their interlocutors had no reason to accept. The God Who Is Christ, for instance, was only a fact, observed locally and briefly, while He was biologically present; first one must conceive the historical possibility. One must find one’s way into “a vision of the thing,” for this precedes all facts.

Why is “scientific method” such a scandal? Everyone hypes it, nobody follows it. There can be no advance in understanding, scientific or of any other sort, without a prior metaphysical leap — as opposed to physical.

Let us revisit young Newton, home from Cambridge because of the plague. He is sitting in the orchard of Woolsthorpe Manor, where the apples are falling. I will not litigate the fact-checker’s question, of whether an apple fell directly on Newton’s head.

Probably not, however, for in order to learn from observation, he would have had to be watching, impartially. The point, or rather the line, was straight. The apples fell straight down. Everything was falling, unless something interfered, in straight lines towards the centre of the earth. … Aha, gravity!

Does gravity exist? This is a question like, does the Sun revolve around the Earth, or vice versa. Children are made to laugh at this today, but like me, they really don’t know. They replace one concept with another, and are taught to disparage the older one. Yet it took centuries upon centuries for anyone with the wit of a Copernicus, or a Newton, to entertain the possibility that ancient Alexandrians had been right about our planet — the same fussy Greeks that the children of pagan Rome had been taught to laugh at. … Har-har-har!

That “settled science” is a crock, I take for granted, as will anyone who knows anything at all about science, but it is not the issue here. Rather, that the world of concept is alive. It cannot be reached by the unaided reason. The brain itself had to be conceived, before all worlds.

A robot can be designed to pretend that it is Christian. But there will never be a robot who actually believes. And this is not because robots are by nature irreligious. It is because their concepts have to be installed. Whereas, for us, faith and reason are necessarily intertwined.

As sage Heraclitus said (in Diels fragment 40, I think), “Abundance of knowledge does not teach men to be wise.”

Only a man (a concept which counterfactually includes women) can become a Christian. It is a conceptual thing.

Derek Chisholm

Let me suppose gentle reader has acquired the rudiments of calligraphy. He has experimented with pens and inks and papers — eager to practise, but pressed for time, like my friend Derek, even through the long years before he married, and became a father, in fairly old age. Then after that.

In the evenings, say, or very early in the mornings, or on holidays, he had a chance. This, because he was extremely well-organized. He had other time-consuming tasks, too, for instance being an active elder in his Presbyterian church (one of his degrees was in divinity), a quiet but very generous patron of arts, a culinary expert, a (very) long distance walker, teacher of a bewildering variety of university courses, book-buyer and broad reader in topics he didn’t even teach, a theoretical economist who was always controversial, and disconcertingly impossible to confute.

I should also mention the dayjob from which he recently retired: high up in the Ontario civil service. Political appointees regularly abused him, for he was there on merit and “track record” alone. He didn’t cultivate political connexions. He did work they couldn’t do and wouldn’t want to: keeping the pension fund afloat, seeing off men who would break the bank, saving credit ratings in New York, and the province itself from what looked like bankruptcy. “Never complain, never explain,” he explained.

Through this Derek Chisholm (born 1948, died on Monday) I got the faintest glimpse of others like him, in key places within several government bureaucracies; honest and dedicated men, thanks to whom spendthrift politicians are guided and warned; or more frequently saved from the consequences of their (sometimes maliciously) stupid actions, through brilliant manoeuvres in the money markets. Without men like these, huge economies would come crashing down.

It was interesting that most if not all of these were serious Christians.

Calligraphy was just one of Derek’s hobbies. I saw one product of it in his study: binders and binders and thick binders in his elegant hand. He resolved to copy out the whole Bible, and make his own commentary upon it, between all the lines. It was a labour of seventeen years. It wasn’t for show, it was a spiritual exercise. It was a way to move himself, closer to God: a tireless contemplative effort.

I became Catholic in my fiftieth year, though I’d been leaning that way for decades. We wrangled sometimes, mostly about ecclesial history. Derek was one of several I’ve met whom I could call “mystically Calvinist.” Each was or is in life an artist of some kind: a poet, a musician, a painter, a metalsmith. Derek was an economist who understood his art in a religious way. As a young man, though acknowledged as very capable, he almost did not collect his principal degree. This was because his thesis was as far removed from Keynesian as he could travel. He challenged every cliché that had been used to slide Britain, Canada, and many other countries off the gold standard in the 1920s; and how the Depression had followed from them.

He believed God was behind the laws of supply and demand, and that they were written into nature as a gift. And he would say this to people quite bombastically unwilling to hear it. In the same study I saw a huge library of economic classics and studies; apparently all annotated.

But there were other rooms in his house, and these were filled with art and literature. I’d met him years before through a “secret society,” whose members were antiquarian booksellers and bookish lawyers: each an eccentric and Derek most of all. His hats were particularly memorable. His staccato laughter made one duck for cover.

He got people to do things. I seem to remember being put up to lecturing on Edmund Burke to a Korean audience. I was paid excessively: with a caricature of Burke by Derek’s wife, Ji Myoung, more acute than anything in my talk.

He spoke once to me in a very Caledonian way, about himself, as “a foetid person.” What an unusual word to apply to oneself! I couldn’t spot anything in him that was less than good and honourable.

Well, it is All Souls, and Derek Chisholm’s funeral was this morning.

Qui Lazarum resuscitasti a monumento foetidum …

All Hallows E’en

A dream I dreamt, four years ago, stays with me because it was so vivid, and perhaps because I wrote it down. It was of children with lanterns wandering the streets. They were of all sizes, the larger holding the smaller on their hips, or leading them by hand. Somehow I knew that all were orphans.

The children were dressed as priests and deacons, monks and canons, nuns and religious sisters. As I looked about, I spotted a wee bishop under his great mitre, an abbot standing in his oversized sandals, an abbess, a prioress; and many more, from curious eastern or perhaps ancient orders. And some were in sheepskins, and some in rags; a shepherd leading a little lamb; some dressed as brides, some dressed as grooms; some carrying tools, as carpenters or masons; and one a feudal lord, followed by his retainers, each with a cross. And they were carrying, too, many kinds of lanterns, and some of them staffs, and bells, sacks or purses; and one of them preceding a little group, swinging a censer. But all were children, come to beg alms.

They turned, it seemed, through every street, and in the manner of a dream I was both among them, and watching the sea of lanterns, from afar. On the ground, I could see them treading before, and around me. Try as I did I could not see the faces, uncannily shrouded in some way. I wanted to ask, “Who are you?” and “Who are you?” I wanted to hug the sweet little souls, but a voice was telling me, don’t touch them.

By many dark houses they walked, but at some there were adults, standing on their steps and porches, or in their open doorways. And when a child approached, each grown man or woman bowed, deeply and gravely. At which each child would solemnly bless him, and then be on his way.


From the start of modern, “American” Hallowe’en, the jack-o’-lantern was the reigning symbol. It originated in Irish folklore, and came to our shores with the poor immigrants. The tale is of quick-witted, drunken Jack, invited by the Devil to climb a tree, who first carves a cross in the bark so the Devil cannot get him. He’ll not go to Hell, but after a life of “sin, drink, and mendacity” he’ll not be getting into Heaven either. Dead, he is first refused there, then sent to the other place. But spotting Jack at the Gates of Hell, the Devil hurls a lighted coal at him, from the infernal fires. He was cold, our Jack, but being Irish and clever, he hollows out a rutabaga (the original for our pumpkin), placing the coal inside to keep it from blowing out. With this he to this day wanders about the cosmos, looking for a place to call home.


My dream ended in terror, as I woke, and my troubled mind began to interpret. These were not living children, I was somehow told, but rather the souls of the dead, walking in the costumage of holy saints. They were the spirits of all those little folk, massacred in the abortion clinics, restored mysteriously to flesh. And back from limbo they had come, prowling the city: in search of their own faces.

And so I had been watching their processions through the city, to the homes of their mothers and their fathers, asking to be recognized as their own.