Playing the Indian Card

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Meaning of Life

Just a few days ago, a marvellous event was held at U of Toronto. You can see the video on YouTube. A debate or panel discussion on “The Meaning of Life,” featuring William Lane Craig and Jordan Peterson. It reveals some fascinating things.

This is what universities, at their best, are here for. Congratulations to Wycliffe College and U of T.

Willie Craig is a hero of mine. He brings the same beautiful clarity that I love in Benedict XVII.

I have been until recently less enthusiastic about Jordan Peterson. He’s the local hero, and has been making a lot of news recently for opposing, bravely, the enforced use of invented gender pronouns for the “transgendered.” I certainly agree with him on that, but, more generally, I have previously found him rather rambling and incoherent. My first inkling that he was a legitimate intellect was when he KO’ed British interviewer Cathy Newman just a week or two ago. Have you seen that?

Still, I expected Craig to mop the floor with him. I expected a mismatch.

What I saw surprised me, and now I think at last I get where Peterson is coming from. He’s a Buddhist.

Nobody remarked on it during the discussion, and nobody on the panel may have noticed it, but what we really had at the Toronto event was two very fine minds, the one outlining the Western religious position, Craig, and the other outlining the Eastern religious position, Peterson. Both did a great job. The third panelist, Rebecca Goldstein, and I think the moderator, described these two views as being in conflict. I do not think they were at all. Reviewing what the two said, however, Craig and Peterson, gives a good summary of East vs. West. I guess we can all decide for ourselves whether we think there is a disagreement there.

First, on Peterson being Oriental in his thinking: I feel he must have been consciously schooled in the Oriental traditions. He begins his opening comments and his summing up with the same point the Buddha begins with, in his Four Noble Truths: the basic truth of existence is suffering. His take on Genesis, on all morality being founded on calling things by their correct names, is Confucius’s starting premise: good government begins with “the rectification of terms.” It also explains why he saw the use of proper gender pronouns, rightly, as a hill worth fighting for.

His resistance to philosophizing is both Buddhist and Confucian. The Buddha says, “What else matters when your house is on fire?” Peterson says “What else matters when you see a child suffering?” At the same time, Peterson’s resistance to abstraction is based on Confucius’s insight that the good is a priori: the danger is that, if we philosophize, we open ourselves up to rationalizing out of our moral obligations.

The difference is that Peterson and the East take a psychological, practical, and empirical approach. Craig and the West take a philosophical approach. Buddhism and Confucianism are absolutely right from a psychological perspective; Christianity is absolutely right philosophically. Not only are they reconcilable; they are mutually reinforcing. Peterson suggested this: he gave us a useful new lesson from Genesis, and a psychological justification for Christianity with his dream narrative.

Granted, there was a criticism of the Western view in Peterson’s comments: that philosophizing can take us away from out immediate moral duty. True enough. My response, which Craig did not give, is that the Eastern approach gives us little to build on. If the correct moral response is more or less spontaneously evident, you cannot go anywhere else from here. You cannot, for example, do much to improve society. The Western approach, on the other hand, gives a deeper foundation, on which further things can be built. “Upon this rock, I build my church.”

It is a trade-off. Sometimes the one approach is called for, sometimes the other.

The third member of the panel, Goldstein, was the contrast: the “naturalist,” the secularist. I think her position was revealed as untenable; Craig brought her up short just as Peterson brought Newman up short in that interview, by pointing out that she contradicted her naturalistic claims when she said morality was getting better since the Enlightenment. By what objective moral standard? She was dead in the water. He might also have questioned her claim that morality was clearly getting better: it was her naturalistic view that brought us the Holocaust, after all, and the worse slaughter of the Communists. But that would have distracted from this more fundamental point.

The fact that it was Craig who was able to bring Goldstein up short, and not Peterson, perhaps demonstrates the value of Christianity's philosophical underpinnings. Could the Buddhist Peterson have responded?

She wanted to base meaning on the idea that “Everyone’s life is meaningful and important to themselves.” Therefore, our lives have meaning. Yet, as even she herself mentioned, apparently without registering the contradiction, the depressed commonly do not feel their lives are meaningful. Neither do Buddhists. This “it has meaning because it is mine” is not a satisfactory answer to any thoughtful person. If it were, it would never have occurred to anybody to hold or to attend a panel discussion on the question.

Her argument was also immoral. It was an appeal to egotism: “everyone’s life has meaning to themselves, because it is their life.” This is the poison commonly promoted in the modern academy. The morality that follows from that is, “if I want something for myself, my getting it is the moral good, because I want it.” Simple selfishness; a war of all against all. Which is the root of all evil. She gave the example of someone stepping on her on the beach: obviously, instinctively, that is wrong, she insisted. But, tellingly, she did not think to present it the other way: what could possibly be wrong with her stepping on someone else on the beach? One wonders. Would she see it?

Her actual behaviour at the talk showed such egotism. She was repeatedly pleading for special consideration for herself: I am owed something because I am a Jew. I am owed something because I am a woman. I am owed something because I am against Trump. Look at me, look at me; gimme, gimme, gimme. And, of course, she wanted to make everything “personal.”

Welcome to the modern university. Welcome to modern life. And so much for improving morality.

Monday, January 29, 2018

The Andromeda Strain

Rossetti, The Damsel of the Sangreal

In many cases, the reward for slaying the dragon is human, rather than or as well as an object. Our general-issue handsome prince, when he downs Sir Dragon, traditionally wins the hand of a lovely princess. Andromeda is Perseus’s reward for conquering the dragon Cetus. Gilgamesh’s conscious goal is to find the old man Utnapishtim, not at first the herb of immortality. Jason gains the Golden Fleece, and also the hand of Medea. Theseus, after conquering Herr Minotaur, makes off with Princess Ariadne. Rama’s goal and grail is his wife Sita. Ragnar Lodbrok kills his twin serpent adversaries for the hand of Princess Thora.

Given that the magical objects won by slaying dragons represent transcendental values, it seems reasonable to assume that the humans rescued in the same way also represent something transendental. In many cases, indeed, this human is portrayed as differing from your average lovely princess in being or becoming immortal—transcendental. Gilgamesh seeks Utnapishtim because he has become immortal and must then know the secret of immortality. Andromeda is granted immortality by Athena, and becomes a constellation in the starry heavens. Ariadne is taken by Dionysus to Olympus to be made a goddess. Medea is the granddaughter of Helios, the sun, and, depending on sources, semi-divine. Sita, rather than dying the way a conventional woman might, is swallowed up by the Earth, her mother, at the end of the Ramayana.

What does it mean for a human to be a transcendental? After all, in this shared word, humans are actually rather commonplace.

But there is something else, which is not commonplace at all, and yet is best illustrated by a human face. Love.

Not romantic love, not sexual love, not married love, but what is also called agape, caritas, charity. “God is love,” as Jesus or St. Paul or St. Augustine put it. “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)

St. Paul famously outlines its form:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NIV)

This is not a common sort of love. It is the stark opposite of what a narcissist calls “love”: it is unselfish love.

Tristan and Isolde

But how to portray it? How to convey the point? What is our objective correlative here?

It is natural enough to portray it by the more familiar, more common affection of male for female, female for male (eros), or friend for friend (philios). So transcendent love may sometimes be portrayed here as the beautiful princess of the legends. Just as agape is expressed as romantic love in the Bible’s Song of Songs, or in St. John of the Cross’s Dark Night of the Soul, or in the Krishna-Radha cycle in India, or in the Sufi poets, or indeed in Medieval romance.

As a matter of effective storytelling, too, note that simply gaining possession of some object is a far inferior motivation for a character, a far inferior climax for a story, to finding “true love.” We naturally care more about the latter. In comparison to the committed presence of a living, breathing person, any mere object, whether gold cup, fleece, apple, Maltese Falcon, or cache of coins, seems unworthy.

And this instinctive human preference perhaps tells us something important, about life, the universe, and everything. An object, after all, has only one dimension of existence, the physical. A person is both physical and spiritual. This gives humans a greater reality, a greater moral worth, a greater potential transcendence, and, I suggest, a greater potential beauty. William Blake argued that the greatest thing any person can conceive is necessarily a perfected person:

Man can have no idea of any thing greater than Man as a cup cannot contain more than its capaciousness. … Think of a white cloud. as being holy: you cannot love it. But think of a holy man within the cloud: love springs up in your thought. For to think of holiness distinct from man is impossible to the affections.i

Accordingly, the best image of the goal of life is a good and beautiful person. The best image of the divine is a good and beautiful person. And the greatest value, which transcends all transcendentals, is a perfect love—a living and complete relationship of love with a good and beautiful person.

However, portraying said true love by a lovely princess is also fraught with risks of misinterpretation. It is all very well to offer romantic love as an image of eternal love, but it is then too easy for literal-minded listeners to mistake the one for the other, and raise up either the possibly selfish, possessive aspect of marriage or the physical pleasure of sex as a golden calf.

St. George and the dragon

Accordingly, it seems wise for the legends to strike a note of ambiguity or deliberate contrast here.

And so Gilgamesh is probably wise to reject the goddess Ishtar. “Which of your lovers did you ever love for ever?” he asks. “What shepherd of yours has pleased you for all time?”ii Sexual or romantic love, which she represents—cognate to the Greek Aphrodite—is not the thing we seek. Nor, ultimately, is philios, the affection one feels towards a friend, represented here by the friendship with Enkidu. Such a love, although admirable, is not eternal. Enkidu dies.

Many legends seem to show the human transcendental as at once somehow the same as, and somehow different from, the transcendental object. Perseus wins Medusa’s head, his transcendental object, then battles a second opponent to win Andromeda. The two “prizes” seem to contrast: the fearsome dead Medusa, to look upon whom brings death; the lovely living Andromeda, who potentially offers children and new life. Jason’s two prizes are presented in parallel: “Proud of his prize, and taking with him a further prize, the one who had helped him gain it, the hero, and his wife Medea, returned to the harbour at Iolchos.”iii In killing the dragon Fafnir, Sigurd/Sigmund wins a horde of gold and a collection of nifty magical objects. No fair maid. But drinking Fafnir’s blood allows him to understand the language of birds, and the birds direct him to Brynhild.iv Herakles wants two immortal horses for killing his sea monster, but takes Hesione later as consolation, when he is not given his prize and sacks Troy in revenge. Gilgamesh reaches his human goal, Utnapishtim; Utnapishtim then directs him to the herb of immortality. And the Holy Grail, by its nature, points beyond itself to a human transcendent—to the perfected human, Jesus Christ.

Jason returns with Medea and the Golden Fleece

It is notable that the hero then often loses the princess in these tales. This is a sad note in many classic hero legends. They lack that fairy tale ending. They are closer to tragedy.

Jason, having pledged his life to Medea, dumps her for Glauce, leading to a terrible cycle of revenge. Theseus seems to abandon Ariadne on the next island, despite vows, and despite her having saved his life. As the epic poet Nonnus eulogizes her: “you know your thread was his saviour: for the man of Athens with his club would never have found victory in that contest without a rosy-red girl to help him.”v Ragnar Lodbrok slaughters dragons left and right to win the lovely Thora. But by the same feat, he deserts his lawful wife, Ladgerda; which seems less than honourable, and less than an advertisement for true love. Thora then, rather than living happily ever after, dies of a fever. Rama, having expended epic efforts to rescue Sita, rejects her over suspicions about her chastity. When Sigurd stifles Fafnir, and is led to the lovely Brynhild, they plight their troth, as the kids used to say. Sigurd then forgets Brynhild and marries Gudrun. Brynhild has him killed in revenge.

Herakles, mightiest of classical heroes, is also conspicuously unlucky in love. He kills his first wife, Megara, in a psychotic fit. Having won Hesione, he gives her away. He is killed by his last wife, Deianira, unintentionally, but ultimately because she suspects him of adultery.

Launcelot develops an unhealthy addiction to Guinevere, who is awkwardly already married to King Arthur. This does not go good places. Sir Tristan is passionate about Isolde, who is also married to his king. Indeed, the worthy knights of the Round Table seem to fall all over themselves for the opportunity to commit adultery.

Launcelot and Guinevere end their days not as lovers, but as priest and nun. They have, graphically, realized that their love was false love, and have embraced agape in the cloister.

Samson too, like Herakles, gives his first wife, won by killing the Timnean lion, away: “And Samson’s wife was given to one of his companions who had attended him at the feast.” (Judges 14:20, NIV)

His second marriage, you may remember, to Delilah, does not work out better.

For that matter, Hamlet had obvious difficulties coming to terms of endearment with Ophelia.

This relentlessly unromantic ending may be to pre-empt idolatry. Romantic love resembles, but is not, agape or caritas. And so the overly-simple solution must not be allowed to stand. True love itself is beyond the physical sphere; romantic love is only its physical image.

And perhaps too there is another reason.

Tristan and Isolde

Consider again the word of the abused child. He has not known love growing up. He has been betrayed by his first and greatest natural love, his parents. Love from then on is going to be a problem for him (or her). If, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, the family is the school of love, he has grown up never having learned to read or write. He is bound to have problems in this field.

For one thing, he (or she) will feel himself ultimately unlovable. And so he will fear love. The other will sooner or later discover how awful he truly is. They cannot possibly really love him.

For another, he (or she) will have no good idea of how to express love, if he genuinely feels it. He is likely to be clumsy, naive, and awkward. He will flunk on “emotional intelligence.”

For another, having experienced abuse from those he (or she) loved most, he is liable to suppose abuse is all he deserves, or is a legitimate expression of love. Accordingly, he is vulnerable to an abusive, masochistic romantic relationship in adult life.

For another, having been taught by parental example both that all his own natural inclinations are bad, and also that hurting others is normal human behaviour and an inclination in the best of us—for we all want to believe our parents are the best of people—he is likely to develop a generally unfavourable impression of human nature. This obviously makes it hard to develop love for another.

For another, having experienced abuse and/or betrayal from those he most loved, he is likely to fear betrayal from anyone professing love ever again. One bitten, as they say, twice shy.

And last, but not least, these fears are fully justified. If the common motive for parental abuse is envy, resentment of a child who is exceptional in some way, that motive is going to apply as well with anyone else they meet in later life. Any other narcissist is likely to react in the same way as did their narcissistic parent: they will want to either destroy or possess them.

Success in some hero quest actually makes this last problem worse. With any public profile of accomplishment, this motive for malice has now grown. Narcissists in the admiring crowd will now seek them out to either kill or own them. As narcissists sought out Martin Luther King Jr., or the Kennedys, or Gandhi.

The various romantic troubles encountered by our various heroes and heroines can perhaps be seen as ringing the changes on these depressive difficulties.

Start with this last problem first.

In the case of Jason and Medea, Medea has betrayed her father, then killed and dismembered her brother, for the sake of her desire for Jason, a man she has just met. This does not bode well: that she approached Jason, rather than the reverse, reinforces the impression of willfulness. She sounds a lot like a narcissist. Creon, Jason’s father, says, “I fear thee, … lest thou devise against my child some cureless ill. Many things contribute to this fear of mine; thou art a witch by nature, expert in countless sorceries...”vi And Medea proves him right: she brings down the curtain in that play by slaughtering her own children for revenge. She was and is exactly the sort of person who caused Jason his trouble in the first place. And she has latched on to him.

Ariadne, similarly, although often portrayed as an innocent victim of Theseus’s betrayal, has shown similar disturbing character traits. She has betrayed her father Minos and helped Theseus kill her brother; again, for the sake of a man she has just met. How can she be trusted? On the evidence, she does not love anyone but herself.

Theseus suffers a terrible betrayal from his later wife, Phaedra. She develops a lust for his son Hippolytus. Hippolytus rejects her. She perjures herself to have Hippolytus killed. She, too, is obviously a narcissist. Theseus apparently attracts the type.

Ladgerda, Ragnar Lodbrok’s rejected first wife, offers a similar example. When Ragnar wooed her:

She spurned his mission in her heart, but feigned compliance. Giving false answers, she made her panting wooer confident that he would gain his desires; but ordered that a bear and a dog should be set at the porch of her dwelling, thinking to guard her own room against all the ardour of a lover by means of the beasts that blocked the way. Ragnar, comforted by the good news, embarked, crossed the sea, and, telling his men to stop in Gaulardale, as the valley is called, went to the dwelling of the maiden alone. Here the beasts met him, and he thrust one through with a spear, and caught the other by the throat, wrung its neck, and choked it. Thus he had the maiden as the prize of the peril he had overcome.

She had, in sum, feigned affection in order to kill him. For no decent reason, it seems, but only out of malice; she could have simply spurned his advances.

Ragnar’s response, in turn, perhaps illustrates a separate problem for the depressive: the tendency to suppose that abuse is normal to affection. He seems slow to grasp the significance of this assassination attempt. Only eventually, according to Saxo Grammaticus, “he thought ill of her trustworthiness, remembering that she had long ago set the most savage beasts to destroy him.”

She goes on to kill her second spouse, because she “thought it pleasanter to rule without her husband than to share the throne with him.”vii

Samson᾿s story hinges on the same problem: the abused hero (or heroine) is both prone to being latched on to by a narcissist, and constitutionally unable to understand that he is being abused. Samson is betrayed by his first wife, the unnamed woman of Timnah, as soon as she has the opportunity. She reveals to her countrymen the solution to his riddle at their wedding, costing him a large sum. His second wife, Delilah, betrays him in the same way, by revealing his secrets. Repeatedly. Nevertheless, he does not seem to learn the lesson. He does not seem able to accept that something is wrong here. To him, then, abuse is normal and what affection looks like. 

So Delilah said to Samson, “Tell me the secret of your great strength and how you can be tied up and subdued.”
Samson answered her, “If anyone ties me with seven fresh bowstrings that have not been dried, I’ll become as weak as any other man.” 
Then the rulers of the Philistines brought her seven fresh bowstrings that had not been dried, and she tied him with them. With men hidden in the room, she called to him, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” But he snapped the bowstrings as easily as a piece of string snaps when it comes close to a flame. So the secret of his strength was not discovered. 
Then Delilah said to Samson, “You have made a fool of me; you lied to me. Come now, tell me how you can be tied.” 
He said, “If anyone ties me securely with new ropes that have never been used, I’ll become as weak as any other man.” 
So Delilah took new ropes and tied him with them. Then, with men hidden in the room, she called to him, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” But he snapped the ropes off his arms as if they were threads. 
Delilah then said to Samson, “All this time you have been making a fool of me and lying to me. Tell me how you can be tied.” 
He replied, “If you weave the seven braids of my head into the fabric on the loom and tighten it with the pin, I’ll become as weak as any other man.” So while he was sleeping, Delilah took the seven braids of his head, wove them into the fabric and tightened it with the pin. 
Again she called to him, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” He awoke from his sleep and pulled up the pin and the loom, with the fabric. 
Then she said to him, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when you won’t confide in me? This is the third time you have made a fool of me and haven’t told me the secret of your great strength.” With such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was sick to death of it. 
So he told her everything. “No razor has ever been used on my head,” he said, “because I have been a Nazirite dedicated to God from my mother’s womb. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man.” (Judges 16: 6-17, NIV)

The strange story of Herakles having to serve as a slave to Queen Omphale seems meant to make the same point. He is required for a year to wear women’s clothes and do women’s work, while she wears the skin of the lion and carries his club. Leaving aside what it might say about traditional sex roles, this sounds like a description of an abusive relationship. The name of Herakles᾿s last wife, Deianira, in turn, is, literally, “man destroyer” or “husband destroyer.” That sounds straightforward. And she does, indeed, destroy Herakles, by giving him the shirt of Nessus, which burns him alive. In her defense, according to the legend she thought it was a love charm. However, administering a love charm to a husband suggests a narcissistic desire to control. So does the image of a shirt: a fatally close embrace, a perfect possession.

Herakles and Hesione

The story of Herakles and Hesione seems to illustrate yet another depressive love problem: the inability of the abused to accept real love when offered. We have warrant to see Hesione as an abused child, like Herakles: she has been sacrificed to the sea monster by her father for his own sins. That ought to make them a good match. She is unlikely to be a narcissist; narcissism cannot, almost necessarily, emerge from an abused childhood or adolescence. In contrast to Medea or Ariadne, Hesione is dutiful. Rather than betray her father, she is ready to die for his sake. Rather than killing or helping to kill a brother, like Ariadne or Medea, she ransoms one of hers from death, Priam. Moreover, she seems by her situation to echo Andromeda, similarly rescued by Perseus, who was Herakles’s grandfather. One surely expects here a marriage and a “happy ever after” ending.

Instead, Herakles shows no interest. He does not seek her. When he acquires her, he gives her away.viii

Hesione, as the sister of Priam, is the aunt of another familiar figure, Paris. Later, when Priam becomes king, Paris is sent to bring Hesione back to Troy, in gratitude for her saving his life. Paris gets distracted, and brings Helen back instead.

This looks like a parable, of neglecting sincere and selfless love (Hesione) for the sake of sexual and romantic love (Helen). Paris earlier preferred physical attractiveness and sexual love in choosing Aphrodite over Athena or Artemis in the Judgment of Paris. It is his characteristic fault.

Perhaps, by extension, then, this shows the same mistake being committed by Herakles. He was unable to recognize real love when it was available. He seems to have made the same mistake with the loyal Auge. Instead, he chose or attracted abusive women.

Sir Launcelot too seems to have been approached by abusive women. At one point in his travels, the damosel Hellawes demands a kiss. When he refuses, she confesses “And, Sir Launcelot, now I tell thee, I have loved thee this seven year, but there may no woman have thy love but Queen Guenever. But sithen I may not rejoice thee to have thy body alive, I had kept no more joy in this world but to have thy body dead.”ix This is the narcissistic response: possess or destroy. At another point, Launcelot is kept for some months in prison by Morgana la Fey, who says she will kill him if he does not marry her.

Launcelot more famously had an improper relationship with Guinevere. Her character too is in question. When King Arthur explains to the all-wise Merlin that Guinevere is the woman he seeks to marry, Merlin warns: “Sir, ... as of her beauty and fairness she is one of the fairest alive, but, an ye loved her not so well as ye do, I should find you a damosel of beauty and of goodness that should like you and please you, an your heart were not set; but there as a man’s heart is set, he will be loath to return.” In other words, she is beautiful but lacks “goodness.”x

Obviously, both she and Launcelot are guilty of sin. However, of the two, her sin is the greater. Launcelot, frequently propositioned, shuns all other women for her sake; this demonstrates that his love for her, if misplaced, is not selfish. She is married, and is breaking her marriage vows; he is not. It is possible to believe here that Launcelot is emotionally naive, as an abused child is apt to be, and she is using him.

We have already seen that Guinevere drives Launcelot mad by a sudden emotional betrayal; wrongly accusing him of being unfaithful. This is triply problematic: firstly, as is explained to us, Launcelot has not really been unfaithful, but was deluded by a spell to believe he was sleeping with Guinevere herself. Secondly, as they are not married and may never marry, she has no right to demand faithfulness from Launcelot. Thirdly, she is herself being unfaithful to her husband King Arthur, and so is guilty of hypocrisy.

Dame Elaine, daughter of King Pelles, seems to stand in contrast to Guinevere here. Elaine is a figure more like Andromeda, Ophelia, or Hesione. To begin with, like them, she too has been abused. Launcelot himself rescues her from imprisonment in a tower, where she has been tortured for five years—since adolescence—for her great beauty. When she is rescued, her first thought—demonstrating her good character—is to go with Launcelot to a chapel for prayers of thanksgiving. She is associated with the Grail—it is in her father᾿s possession, and she might therefore actually be the otherwise unidentified maiden who regularly appears in the legends holding the Grail. She does, it is true, seduce Launcelot by sorcery, which is not a righteous act. However, she does this firstly, out of dutifulness, out of obedience, like Ophelia, to her father. And secondly, not out of lust but to conceive Galahad, another human transcendental. 
“My lord Sir Launcelot, I beseech you see me as soon as ye may, for I have obeyed me unto the prophecy that my father told me. And by his commandment to fulfil this prophecy I have given the greatest riches and the fairest flower that ever I had, and that is my maidenhood that I shall never have again; and therefore, gentle knight, owe me your good will.”xi
Then, like Launcelot and unlike Guinevere, like Auge when seduced by Herakles, she is strictly faithful to Launcelot from then on, despite the approaches of others; even though he rejects her for Guinevere. At one point she confesses to him, “I will live and die with you, and only for your sake; and if my life might not avail you and my death might avail you, wit you well I would die for your sake.”xii

She seems, in sum, an image of faithful, selfless love, in contrast to Guinevere. Despite this, Launcelot repeatedly prefers Guinevere. Even though Guinevere is at times cruel to him, enough so that it drives him mad. Even though, at the very time Elaine is testifying to her love, Guinevere is “wroth, and gave many rebukes to Sir Launcelot, and called him false knight.”xiii Perhaps, an abused child, he cannot recognize or accept the healthier, more sincere love of an Elaine.

There is a second Lady Elaine in the Launcelot cycle, Elaine of Astolat, and she seems a similar figure. Like Elaine the daughter of Pelles, she nurses Launcelot in illness. “Ever this maiden Elaine did ever her diligent labour night and day unto Sir Launcelot, that there was never child nor wife more meeker to her father and husband than was that Fair Maiden of Astolat.”xiv Unlike Guinevere, her character is not in question: “she is a full fair maiden, good and gentle, and well taught.”xv She asks him to marry her; he refuses. So she dies of grief:
I take God to my record I loved never none but Sir Launcelot du Lake, nor never shall, and a clean maiden I am for him and for all other; and sithen it is the sufferance of God that I shall die for the love of so noble a knight, I beseech the High Father of Heaven to have mercy upon my soul, and upon mine innumerable pains that I suffered may be allegeance of part of my sins. For sweet Lord Jesu, said the fair maiden, I take Thee to record, on Thee I was never great offencer against thy laws; but that I loved this noble knight, Sir Launcelot, out of measure, and of myself, good Lord, I might not withstand the fervent love wherefore I have my death.xvi
Launcelot allows her to die rather than forsake Guinevere. Who, in the meantime, is rejecting him: “Queen Guenever was wood wroth with Sir Launcelot, and would by no means speak with him, but estranged herself from him.”xvii

His attachment to Guinevere seems, in essence, a co-dependency, an addiction like alcoholism.

It is because of this adultery, and this choice of false love over agape, that Launcelot, despite his other fine qualities, is judged unworthy to win the Grail. And it is for their other various adulteries that all the other knights, bold and chivalrous as they are, are also found unworthy. The task is left to Launcelot’s son by Elaine, Galahad, because he is pure of heart. It is explained to Sir Gawain in these words: “Sir Galahad is a maid and sinned never, and that is the cause he shall enchieve where he goeth that ye nor none such shall not attain, nor none in your fellowship.”xviii

Hamlet seems to have a comparable problem with Ophelia, preventing him from accepting and returning her affection. He seems to have very little good to say about humanity in general.

To be honest, as this world goes, is to be
one man picked out of ten thousand. (Act 2, Scene 7) 
Man delights not
me: no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling
you seem to say so. (Act 2, Scene 7) 
Use every man
after his desert, and who should ’scape whipping? (Act 2, Scene 7) 
What is a man,
If his chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed? a beast, no more. Act 3, Scene 4) 
We are arrant knaves,
all; believe none of us. (Act 3, Scene 1)

Accordingly, he must doubt her motives, all mortals being scoundrels, and the very possibility of love, although her own reaction to his rejection seems to demonstrate that her motives were pure.

Ophelia, for her part, seems to illustrate an alternate symptom of being abused. She seems unable to judge Hamlet’s intentions, and unaware of how to respond; she is socially awkward. Low EQ. Leaving herself to be manipulated by her father Polonius. “I do not know, my lord,” she tells her father, referring to Hamlet’s approaches, “what I should think.” (Act 1, Scene 3). To which he responds, seizing the opportunity, “Think yourself a baby.”

It is hard here to miss certain lessons for the treatment of depression. First, the depressive can find initial relief in “art therapy”—our first helper figure. Which is also to say, in the hero legends—they are themselves this art therapy. This is the first line of treatment.

Second, the depressed should seek in fear and trembling a firm religious faith. This is the hero quest.

Third, they must take care to avoid the danger of new abusive relationships.

Fourth … it seems they must work their way towards agape, a true and selfless and fully reciprocal love. Besides being the final perfect transcendental, agape is the obvious remedy for a lack of love growing up. It directly addresses the problem. It answers the prophecy given to Telephus: to heal his existential wound, he must resort to the thing that caused it. True love is the cure to false love.

However, the hero legends do not clearly show us how to get there. They tend to end with the hero still in a state of suffering, or perhaps released from suffering only by death. Granted, the hero legends show that the abused child can have a meaningful, productive, life, but can he or she not also find happiness? This is a bit disappointing, if what we came for is a “cure” to depression, as opposed to a guide for living with it.

For this final solution, it seems, if there is one, we must still look elsewhere.

i William Blake, “Annotations to Swedenborg’s Divine Love and Divine Wisdom,” London, 1788.

ii Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet 6, N.K. Sanders trans.

iii Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book 7, ll. 100-158, Kline trans.

iv Völsunga Saga, Chapter 19.

v Nonnus, Dionysiaca 47. 434 ff. Rouse trans.

vi Euripides, Medea.

viiSaxo Grammaticus, Gesta Danorum, Book 9.

viiiOvid, Metamorphoses Book 11, ll, 194-220, Kline trans.

ixMorte d’Arthur, Book 6, Ch. 15.

xMorte d’Arthur, Book 3, Ch. 1.

xiBook 11, Ch. 3.

xii Morte d’Arthur, Book 12, Ch. 5.

xiii Ibid., Book 4, Ch. 6.

xiv Ibid., Book 18, Ch. 17.

xvIbid., Book 18, Ch. 19.

xvi Ibid, Book 18, Ch. 19.

xvii Ibid.

xviii Ibid., Book 13, Ch. 16.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

"Make the Rich Pay" -- The Rich

The rich tend to be on the political left.

Have you noticed?

Sure, you have heard about “the Koch brothers.” Or Conrad Black. But they are the exception. Conrad Black was one big newspaper proprietor who was on the right. He made news because of this. How many newspapers are on the right? Apparently, the owners of all the others are on the left. Rupert Murdoch makes news for running a TV network on the right. But this was also a huge profit opportunity, precisely because most media are strongly on the left, and a customer base was not being served. Other proprietors were so strongly on the left that they were prepared to let their businesses suffer for the sake of their politics.

Pick a posh neighbourhood in the US or Canada. Odds are, it votes left. Westmount—Liberal. Outremont—NDP. Rosedale—Liberal. Vancouver Quadra—Liberal.

The left claims to be “for the poor.” It is really for the rich. The poor in the last US election seem to have mostly voted for Trump. Not that the right is necessarily for the poor—but they do not make this their banner slogan, either.

This is how that works.

Everyone who has more money than they really need sees poorer people and, even if they do not feel a tad guilty about this, they at least fear envy. So there is always a market for some scheme that will “help the poor.” This allows the rich to point for vindication of their own wealth to the fact that they have publicly supported such schemes. They are “progressives.” It’s a less painful alternative to the alternative of either actually, personally, giving money to the poor, or admitting they are a little selfish for not doing so.

Not, let us note, that there is any positive moral obligation to give money to the poor. But that is a separate and more complicated argument. People do feel guilty, and do experience envy.

The standard and most popular tactic among politicians, to meet this client need, is to conjure up an imaginary class of “rich capitalists” whose responsibility it is to divest their wealth for the sake of the poor, and not us, we poor people in Rosedale or Outremont. After all, they have more money than we do.

No matter how rich you actually are, this is necessarily always true. You can always pass the buck up the chain to someone who has more and is not doing their share. Everyone can use the same logic, and make the same claim, all the way up to the one last person who actually is the richest soul in the land, or the world. “Why should I be giving up what I have? After all, Warren Buffet has more. Take his money first.”

But even at the very top, a lot of the madly rich, like the magnates in Silicon Valley, are also on the left. You can find all kinds of them calling for higher taxes—obviously on themselves.

“Heck, I’m for helping the poor. I’m not greedy. I think we should all pay more taxes.”

This works for the really rich, too, who cannot fool themselves into believing they will not bear the higher taxes. They are passing the buck back down the line, in effect. You think he should pay instead of you. He says he’ll pay if you pay too. The positions are actually contradictory, but both on the left. They both come out as “the rich should pay more taxes.”

There are other considerations. It is naive, in the end, to imagine that money going to government goes to the poor. Most of it, of course, goes into the pockets of bureaucrats, and bureaucrats can be among the very rich. Indeed, just about all of the richest neighbourhoods in the US are in the suburbs of Washington D.C.. Guess who lives there (and guess how they vote). Even money specifically earmarked in budgets for the poor goes, apparently, 70% on administration costs—to bureaucrats—and only 30% to the poor. The figures are reversed, on average, for private charities.

At the same time, big government is to the advantage of those who are now rich. More regulation restricts competition. More corporate welfare is available, more fat contracts are put out to tender for established businesses. There is no reason for a big business to prefer a free market.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Brown Down

So Patrick Brown has resigned.

There is something very wrong here. Only two women have come forward, anonymously, with accusations. No corroborating evidence. On that basis, just about anyone could take just about anyone else out of public life. Or rather, realistically, in the present climate, anyone can take out any man in public life. It is hard to believe no rival party could dig up even two partisans prepared to anonymously lie about their opponent. When such lies never have negative consequences for the accuser.

Perhaps, of course, there is more we have not heard. There is one reason to believe this is not just a political hit job: if it were, it would have been better for the Liberals or NDP to pull it just before the election, as was done to Roy Moore, instead of now, with four months still to go.

But even if the accusations were true, at least from what I have so far seen, Brown does not seem to have been guilty of anything more than misjudgment or social awkwardness. During a drunken party ten years ago, he had a young volunteer down on a bed and was kissing her. But, according to her, he stopped once she made it clear this was not consensual, and never tried anything like it again. Another girl says he asked her for oral sex. She said no. He drove her home. In both cases, he and they were single; no adultery involved. And yes, all were of age.

And there is worse: The Globe and Mail is actually raking Brown over the coals for denying the allegations. How dare he? Of course, all accusations must be true, so long as they are by women against men, and that man is not named Clinton. Global News has called his resignation, which came within hours of the allegations, “tardy.”

It seems we are now into full mass hysteria. Witches are suddenly everywhere. If they deny they are witches, that is proof positive. It only shows how far the rot has gone. In fact, all men are witches.

Perhaps some good will come of this. For one thing, it is so far over the top that it may cause some folks to sober up. For another, I must confess, my first reaction to hearing that Brown had stepped down as Ontario PC leader was a heartfelt prayer of thanks. He had been acting dictatorially in the nominations process, and had abandoned the traditional Tory policies in order to offer about the same platform as the Liberals. It looked like a cynical move: those to the right had nowhere else to go, and he might more easily pick up votes in the centre.

That may be clever politics, but it speaks of someone without principles. It is never a good idea to elect someone without principles to high office.

Now perhaps the party will offer up a better candidate, with time enough to go before the election.

I suspect that is part of why Brown was out so fast. He ran and won as an outsider. He had not made many friends within the party with his strong-arm tactics. He had no ideological base. So he had little personal or ideological support once it looked in the party's interest to dump him. As surely it was. Better to dump him now than risk this controversy getting worse, with less time to find a new leader.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

On Immigrants and Immigration

Immigrant children, Ellis Island.

Here's a column in reaction to Trump's reference to some countries as $#!+holes. It is, the author says, a rather accurate description.

“Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that a few decades later, liberals would be pushing the lie that Western civilization is no better than a third-world country. Or would teach two generations of our kids that loving your own culture and wanting to preserve it are racism.”

I can corroborate her observations as to the pervasive presence of poo. The interior of China was just like that when I first went, in the early nineties. You did not dare to eat a fruit unpeeled—too many microbes. Watermelon was always dangerous, no matter what you did. The water it was grown with was not pure. The catered food at my residence always tasted of urine. So strongly I could taste little else. Kids always relieved themselves in the streets. Public toilets were open pits. No doubt it is much better now.

I must also witness, however, that the author is wrong to say “Our basic ideas of human relations, right and wrong, are incompatible,” or “The truths we hold to be self-evident are not evident to the Senegalese,” or “The Ten Commandments were not disobeyed – they were unknown. The value system was the exact opposite,” or “Americans think it is a universal human instinct to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It's not. It seems natural to us because we live in a Bible-based Judeo-Christian culture.”

Nuts to that. Bollocks. The Ten Commandments were universally understood in their essence long before Moses ever climbed that mountain. I have lived in a lot of places. People are the same everywhere, and they have the same basic values. It is true that people in Third World countries see no point in obeying the law or helping others. This is not because they have a different understanding of truth or of morality. It is because, in such a hopeless social situation, there is no point in obeying the law or helping others. Obey the law when nobody else does, and you starve to death. Expend yourself helping others where there is such pervasive despair, and you kill yourself with overwork or starve to death.

And yes, in most other countries, family is more important, and you are expected to put your family first, often at the cost of any outsiders. This has to do with being unable to trust anyone to whom you are not related, and there being no other functional social structures to rely on.

We should be eternally grateful we are not faced daily with such choices.

Immigrants arrive at Union Station.
Moreover, most people from any of these countries would also be eternally grateful not to be faced daily with these choices. Accordingly, once they get a sense of how things work, they would probably be ideal immigrants, eager to assimilate.

Exactly as were the Irish, fleeing a century and a half ago from the famine. They swiftly became and remain the most patriotic of all Canadians (and Australians, and Americans). They knew a better deal when they saw it.

It is true that different cultures have different emphases. Northern Europeans, for example, tend to put a premium on honesty among the virtues. Chinese instead put the premium on kindness. Nevertheless, it is still right to be kind in Europe, and to be honest in China. And some things become socially acceptable, even though everyone known in their heart they are wrong. Abortion is one current Canadian example. Slavery was another. Everyone also knows in their hearts that vegetarianism is morally superior to eating meat, but most folks are not prepared to make the sacrifice. It is not that values are different, but that some sins have become endemic and generally ignored.

What worries me about immigration from $#!+hole countries is just about the opposite to what worries Trump and most others. It is that the Canadian immigration system is built to favour the upper classes from these countries. It is the upper classes, nobody and nothing else, that have made these countries the $#!+holes they are today. It is the upper classes who are most likely, if allowed to immigrate, to arrive in Canada, sniff around, and decide that things would be better if they were more like home. Because for them, they very possibly were. It is irritating to have to accept being treated just like everyone else, when you are used to being able to walk all over people. They may even, faced with this ugly new equality, complain loudly about “discrimination” and the supposed failings of Canadian culture. And it is the upper classes who have proven themselves most adept, and most callous, about exploiting the corrupt system they have left. They have more to unlearn, even if they should want to.

Far better, I suspect, to bring in the poor huddled masses.

If you want to select for only the most productive, and avoid the potential welfare recipients, fine. At least do not do this based on education, or current wealth. Do it on intelligence and hard work, both of which can be easily measured. For example, an IQ test. For example, a period of indenture, as we commonly used to have, even post-World War II, to earn the right to stay.

In other, but somewhat related, news, Kelly Leitch has announced her retirement from politics. A piece by John Ivison in the National Post maintains this is due to her “tactics of intolerance” and suggests she needs to “redeem herself.”

No way. Nuts of the nuttiest sort. There was nothing wrong with her idea of a “values test” for citizenship, and that is about all she said on the subject. She did not even want to reduce immigration. In effect, we already have this: we require an oath of citizenship. It might not do much, but it is hardy unreasonable. Sure, people can and will lie, but for a lot of people, the real issue is to be properly. clearly informed of what the expectations are, and they will be happy to sign on. They cannot be faulted if we do not let them know.

What goes in to the citizenship test? Not a puzzle; not controversial. It can mostly be extracted from the Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Prospective citizens should understand that French and English both have special status in Canada. I have heard immigrant complaints: why French and not my language? They should understand the right to freedom to worship—it is often not allowed in Muslim countries, and there is that troublesome injunction in Islam that apostates and infidels are to be put to death. Which, obviously, some Muslims in recent years have been acting upon. Not okay. They should understand that everyone is to be treated equally by government in Canada, that there is no respect of classes or race. This is unusual, in world terms. It is even questionable in Europe, and still partly aspirational in Canada. But surely it is a bedrock principle. It should be explained that it is not okay here to beat your wife or to force your child into a marriage. Importantly, immigrants must be made to understand that the laws generally mean what they say and are actually enforced. In other countries, they are often window dressing, and everyone nods and winks. This is indeed a bedrock principle in Canada.

“Whereas Canada is founded upon the principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.”

We even love our Mounties. That is shocking and hard to credit for many foreigners, accustomed to see the police as instruments of oppression or as “crocodiles” to be paid off. Even in the US now, it seems.

There are actually other parts of the Charter than many Canadians would probably be upset about. They have no business or right to be, but they would be.

Canadians have freedom of speech, and you have no right to try to silence others because you disagree with them.

“2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other means of communication.”

This is in fact no longer honoured in Canada, with hate speech laws, speech codes, shouting down speakers, and political correctness. One even often hears Canadians these days, including some in government, claim that freedom of speech is an American, not a Canadian, value and not in the Canadian constitution.

This obviously needs to be made clear to immigrants, because it is obviously hard to understand and to accept. It is a problem in many cultures, because in many cultures, a word is considered equivalent to a deed. So that calling your mother a dog is as serious as punching you in the face. So the demand for blasphemy laws and so forth.

Also note that “supremacy of God” bit. It is right there in the preamble. Sure, you have the right to be an atheist, but do not demand secularism from your government. That's not Canadian.

On Starting Late

Sometimes at night I listen to you breathe,
And dream of what you were at seventeen.
My foolish eyes, Miranda-wide, must prise
A mooncalf in the backdrop to the scene.

Not that I could love you, younger, more
Than in the majesty of adult pride;
But every day that cuts off then from now,
I would, and know I was not, at your side.

We meet at last, halfway from dust to dust;
No nearer journey's start than journey's end;
Yet let us swear, as fingered souls entwine,
Our journeys shall not be alone again.

Yet let us swear, with failing tongues and talk,
As camels pant in weary caravan
Along the lonely silk road of the heart;
Our journeys shall not be alone again.

Yet let us swear, with stinging, sand-wet eyes,
Nor whether wealth or ruin be road's end,
Through lips gone dry and after love's mirage:
Our journeys shall not be alone again.
- Stephen K. Roney

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Depressive and the Holy Grail

Through conquering the dragon, the hero typically acquires some magical object: the pearl of immortality, the Golden Fleece, the Golden Apples, Medusa’s head, Gilgamesh’s herb of immortality, the impenetrable hide of the Medean lion, the cornucopia; the Grail. Samson finds honey in the conquered lion’s carcass. Enkidu and Gilgamesh obtain sacred cedar logs. Perhaps not so special to us, but Enkidu on his death bed eulogizes them: “There is no wood like you in our land.”i Moses and the Israelites attain the Promised Land, prefigured by the burning bush and the tablets of the law.

Do these images all represent one thing? For what might they stand as “objective correlative”?

Being indestructible seems one most common theme. The Chinese cintamani around which the dragons dance is an elixir of immortality. So is Gilgamesh’s herb. Utnapishtim informs Gilgamesh,
“There is a plant that looks like a box-thorn, it has prickles like a dog-rose, and will prick one who plucks it. But if you can possess this plant, you’ll be again as you were in your youth.”ii

When Herakles rescues Hesione from the sea monster, similarly, his stated reward is two immortal horses. The skin of the Nemean lion, or the blood of Fafnir, promise invulnerability, surely a related concept.

Draper: The Golden Fleece

Many of the prize objects seem to be made of gold: the fleece, the apples of the Hesperides, Fafnir’s hoard, Beowulf’s dragon’s golden cup. The value everyone everywhere places on gold, in turn, has much to do with its being an incorruptible, an “immortal” metal, resistant to oxidization. Cedar, Enkidu’s and Gilgamesh’s first prize, is evergreen—it does not die back in winter—and, says Wikipedia, it is “exceptionally durable and immune to insect ravages.” Again, a possible image of permanence. Honey has the same salient characteristic: kept for centuries, it will not spoil. Moses’s burning bush “burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed”—an immortal fire.

As for the Holy Grail, it heals fatal wounds; similarly defying mortality.

Sir Percival and Sir Ector have just battled, and given each other mortal blows. They are then brought into the presence of the grail:

... and forthwithal they both were as whole of hide and limb as ever they were in their life-days: then they gave thankings to God with great mildness. O Jesu, said Sir Percivale, what may this mean, that we be thus healed, and right now we were at the point of dying?iii

The head of Medusa, conversely, is an invincible weapon: it brings instant death. But it is a particular kind of death, being turned to stone. This also implies permanence; like the stone tablets of the Mosaic law. Perseus says to Phineas, in exposing to him the gorgon’s head: “I shall make of you a lasting memorial; you will always be seen, standing in my father-in-law’s palace.”iv

Burne-Jones: The Garden of the Hesperides

In the Golden Apples, found hanging on a branch at the place where the sun sets; in the Golden Fleece, found hanging on a branch at the place the sun rises; and perhaps in Moses’s burning bush; we see hints of solar symbolism. The golden objects here, given their locations, seem cognate to the golden sun. Very often, indeed, to achieve his quest, the hero must go to the place where the sun rises or sets: Jason, Herakles, Gilgamesh, Perseus. The sun too is a common image of immortality: sol invictus, the unconquerable sun. It rises again every morning.

The goal of the hero quest, then, is apparently something permanent, something eternal. What is permanent or eternal? God, yes, and heaven; Plato’s ideal forms, if you are a Platonist; and those qualities both Plato and Aristotle called the transcendentals: notably, the moral good, truth, beauty.

The sun is an especially apt correlative for the transcendental: not just because it is immortal for all practical purposes, but because it is the primary source of light and vision. It is to light or to sight what a transcendental is to value, or a Platonic ideal is to a particular object. A thing is of value because it is true, or good, or beautiful. Gold is a comparable image: as coinage, it is accepted as a universal exchange, an abstract symbol of value.

The solution to Samson’s riddle suggests that here honey is also a superlative, and so a possible stand-in for ultimate value:

“What is sweeter than honey?
What is stronger than a lion?” (Judges 14:18)
Honey is thus, at least implicitly, the measure of all sweetness. And so it was, in a world before sugar.

Given that the abused or emotionally betrayed child is deprived by their family experience of any sense of personal worth or any sense of meaning in their life, this quest for absolute value may be necessary to gain some solid ground on which to stand and then to build. With no relative ground of being supplied to them by those around them, such as most of us have from our upbringing, they must find the ultimate ground of being or remain at sea.

A challenging, a heroic task; not everyone is called to be a knight errant. But having attained it, they have attained something not just of personal, but of universal value. They are able to bestow this blessing, this soul-wisdom, on others. That makes the hero.

Ovid describes Pythagoras as a hero in this sense:

Though the gods were far away, he visited their region of the sky, in his mind, and what nature denied to human vision he enjoyed with his inner eye. When he had considered every subject, through concentrated thought, he communicated it widely in public, teaching the silent crowds, who listened in wonder to his words, concerning the origin of the vast universe, and of the causes of things; and what the physical world is; what the gods are; where the snows arise; what the origin of lightning is; whether Jupiter, or the storm-winds, thunder from colliding clouds; what shakes the earth; by what laws the stars move; and whatever else is hidden.v

This all begins to sound mystical: the ultimate goal, after all, the perfect transcendental, must be God himself. Indeed, Sir Galahad, when he achieves the Grail, ascends to heaven:

And therewith he kneeled down to-fore the table and made his prayers, and then suddenly his soul departed to Jesu Christ, and a great multitude of angels bare his soul up to heaven, that the two fellows might well behold it. Also the two fellows saw come from heaven an hand, but they saw not the body. And then it came right to the Vessel, and took it and the spear, and so bare it up to heaven. Sithen was there never man so hardy to say that he had seen the
Knights of the Round Table

That may sound a little too ambitious for most of us. According to the legend, after all, a Galahad comes along only once a creation or so. More humbly, the typical depressive’s quest may achieve something like the second of Alcoholics Anonymous’s famous Twelve Steps: “We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” This more common grail may be an awareness that there really are transcendent values, and then some sense of what they are. The fundamentals of a religious faith.

On this rock, the depressive may build a life.

Significantly, when he achieves the grail, Sir Launcelot is healed of a “mental illness.” Now that he is lucid, Dame Elaine must explain matters to him:

Sir, said Dame Elaine, into this country ye came like a madman, clean out of your wit, and here have ye been kept as a fool.
These four men and these ladies laid hand on Sir Launcelot, and so they bare him into a tower, and so into a chamber where was the holy vessel of the Sangreal, and by force Sir Launcelot was laid by that holy vessel; and there came an holy man and unhilled that vessel, and so by miracle and by virtue of that holy vessel Sir Launcelot was healed and recovered.vii

Launcelot also has a dream in which the Grail is said specifically to heal an illness called “sorrow”: melancholy.

And so he fell asleep; and half waking and sleeping he saw come by him two palfreys all fair and white, the which bare a litter, therein lying a sick knight. ... All this Sir Launcelot saw and beheld, for he slept not verily; and he heard him say: O sweet Lord, when shall this sorrow leave me? and when shall the holy vessel come by me, wherethrough I shall be blessed? For I have endured thus long, for little trespass. A full great while complained the knight thus, and always Sir Launcelot heard it. With that Sir Launcelot saw the candlestick with the six tapers come before the cross, and he saw nobody that brought it. Also there came a table of silver, and the holy vessel of the Sangreal, which Launcelot had seen aforetime in King Pescheour’s house. And therewith the sick knight set him up, and held up both his hands, and said: Fair sweet Lord, which is here within this holy vessel; take heed unto me that I may be whole of this malady. And therewith on his hands and on his knees he went so nigh that he touched the holy vessel and kissed it, and anon he was whole; and then he said: Lord God, I thank thee, for I am healed of this sickness.viii
Rossetti: The Damsel of the Sangreal.

As for the Golden Fleece, note the story of its origin. It was the fleece of a golden ram (which later became the constellation Aries) sent by Nephele to save two children about to be sacrificed by their father.ix The ram saved them by carrying them off on its back. The fleece thus represents an aid for abused children; fit antidote for an abused childhood.

There is a similar reference in the legend of the Holy Grail. Once recognized, through his ability to sit on the Siege Perilous, as worthy of the grail quest, Sir Galahad is led to a tomb. 

Now, said the good man, go to the tomb and lift it up. So he did, and heard a great noise; and piteously he said, that all men might hear it: Sir Galahad, the servant of Jesu Christ, come thou not nigh me, for thou shalt make me go again there where I have been so long. But Galahad was nothing afraid, but lifted up the stone; and there came out so foul a smoke, and after he saw the foulest figure leap thereout that ever he saw in the likeness of a man; and then he blessed him and wist well it was a fiend. Then heard he a voice say Galahad, I see there environ about thee so many angels that my power may not dere thee. Right so Sir Galahad saw a body all armed lie in that tomb, and beside him a sword. Now, fair brother, said Galahad, let us remove this body, for it is not worthy to lie in this churchyard, for he was a false Christian man. And therewith they all departed and went to the abbey. And anon as he was unarmed a good man came and set him down by him and said: Sir, I shall tell you what betokeneth all that ye saw in the tomb; for that covered body betokeneth the duresse of the world, and the great sin that Our Lord found in the world. For there was such wretchedness that the father loved not the son, nor the son loved not the father; and that was one of the causes that Our Lord took flesh and blood of a clean maiden, for our sins were so great at that time that well-nigh all was wickedness. Truly, said Galahad, I believe you right well.x

The Grail exists, then—indeed, it seems perhaps Jesus himself came into world—to heal a lack of love between parent and child. That is the specific demon to be exorcised by the grail quest.

Every new discovery in science or in culture may also be understood as a hero quest for truth; every decisive moral act a hero quest for the good, “heroic virtue,” as is said of saints; every inspired creative act may be considered a hero quest for the beautiful. The depressive, driven to this quest by personal circumstances, may be expert in this questing business. Hence, perhaps, as Aristotle observes, the great philosophers, or poets, or artists, or military leaders or lawgivers, are almost always melancholics.

iThe Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet 7.

ii Ibid. Tablet 11.

iii Malory, Morte d’Arthur, Book 11, Chapter 14.

iv Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book 5, ll. 215-250, Innes, trans.

v Ibid., Book 15, ll. 31-108.

vi Morte d’Arthur, Chapter 22.

vii Ibid., Book 12 Ch. 5

viii Ibid., Ch. 18.

ix Pausanias, Description of Greece, Book 9, Chapter 34.

x Morte d’Arthur, Book x, Chapter 12.

Monday, January 22, 2018


Tim Horton's, long a Canadian cultural idol (I have the word “icon” in this context. It is blasphemous), is now being crucified.

This is something new in Canada. We used to be kinder and more humane to our idols. It was something I liked about Canada.

The issue is that some Horton's franchisees, faced with a big legislated rise in the minimum wage, are financing it by reducing hours and benefits.

But what else can they do? Do people really think that money comes from thin air? If businesses are required by law to pay employees more, that money must come from one of four sources:

  1. Hire fewer workers (or reduce hours and benefits). 
  2. Raise prices. 
  3. Reduce profits. 

Hire fewer workers or reduce hours. This is the safest and least radical approach, and of course what Tim Horton's franchisees have chosen to do. And there is this big complaint about it.

Raise prices. Tim Horton's franchisees do not have this option. Prices are set by their franchise agreement. But even if they could, this is not a workable solution in many cases, and probably not in this one. You might be prepared to pay more for a cup of coffee. Fine for you, and you are free to do so. Leave a nice tip. But what about the poor? Poor people quite possibly cannot sustain the increased cost. Tim Horton's falls into the category of cheap luxuries: a cup of coffee, a donut, a little time relaxing with friends. In such a market, a slight change in price is devastating.

Result: no coffee or donuts for the poor. Not to mention that the franchisee loses everything, and the current employees are out of their jobs.

Reduce profits. No doubt this is what the protesters want franchisees to do instead. But there are just as many problems with this approach. To begin with, not all companies are making huge profits. A certain percentage regularly go bankrupt—quite a high percentage in the food and beverage field. Some studies say eight out of ten fail within their first year. That is a pretty good indication that margins are slim. Raise costs without raising revenue, and some further percentage are going to go bankrupt.

Ah, you say, but Tim Horton's at least is too big and too established to fail. Right. Like Sears. Like K-Mart. Like Eaton's. When was the last time you ate in a Howard Johnson's? Or at a Woolworth's lunch counter? Where margins are tight, things can happen blindingly fast.

Meaning fewer jobs and fewer services—the same effect as option one or option two above. In addition, reducing profits of course means reducing income of investors. Not applicable for many Horton's franchisees, which are probably sole proprietorships. Here, it is only some poor slob's life savings at risk. But for most large corporations trading on the markets, most stock is actually held by retirement funds of one sort or another. So you are not taking the money away from imaginary fat capitalists. You are taking the money away from pensioners.

Looking at these three options, the option chosen by the franchisees seems plainly the best one now available for all concerned. But better, clearly better, would be to not raise the minimum wage. If you do not like this result, blame the politicians.

“Minimum wage is not a living wage,” some argue, so it should be raised despite market forces. Probably right that it is not a decent wage for anyone who is a sole breadwinner. But those who make this argument overlook the fact that few households in Canada are actually sole-breadwinner households. For a kid still living with his parents, or for a couple's second income, or for a retiree with a slender pension, the pay at minimum wage can be vital. The simple proof of this is that people take the jobs. They would not if they did not find the money worth the work. With minimum wage laws, some people who need the money cannot get it. These will be poor people.

Consider this most common scenario: if you are uneducated, just out of high school, or trying to finance college or university, what job can you get with no experience? In what job can you realistically generate more income for your employer than you are costing him in wages?

In order to get young feet in doors, we have traditionally had apprenticeships and internships, often unpaid.

All very well for the wealthy; but then, the wealthy do not need this. They can afford to go to college and university and pay to get the skills for a job. What about the poor? They may well need to be making at least some money now. Low-paying jobs are what make this possible.

Minimum wage laws limit this opportunity. And poverty persists for another generation. And another. And another. And another.

Eat at Tim Horton's today.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Donald Trump's Alleged Stormy Sex Life

Any port in a Storm?

Jonah Goldberg and David French are scolding conservatives in the National Review for not publicly condemning Donald Trump over his claimed affair with “Stormy Daniels.” This, they say, is hypocrisy. These now-silent conservatives are the same people who made a big deal over Bill Clinton's indiscretions, after all.

I profoundly disagree.

As a matter of fact, I remember my own reaction when the story of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky broke, said to the friend who told me: “It is none of our business.” I feel the same way about Trump.

A very bright red thick solid line must be drawn between, on the one hand, adulterous relationships between consenting adults, and, on the other, sexual assault and rape. Night, meet day.

In the former case, the overriding concern is that famous people, including famous politicians, deserve the same right to privacy that is insisted on for everyone else. The reporting of such things is the sin of calumny.

And, if any one of us is taken in adultery, the best response is that of Jesus: “then I too do not condemn thee. Go and sin no more.”

Yes, adultery is a sin; just as homosexual sex is a sin, or premarital sex is a sin, or masturbation is a sin, or using artificial birth control is a sin. But these are peculiarly private sins, matters between the individual, the sex partner or marital partner, and God. They are matters in which the community or society at large has no legitimate interest, and it is hard if not impossible for anyone to condemn them in another without hypocrisy. We are all sinners.

In Bill Clinton's case, the eventual issue was not the consensual sex with Monica Lewinsky. It was that he perjured himself in denying it; and he has also been accused of sexual assault and even violent rape against other women. Weinstein was guilty of sexual assault. Franken was guilty of at least very low-level, almost trivial sexual assault.

Trump, it seems, if the accusations are true, was guilty of being rich, powerful, male, and human.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Ten Wonders of the World

Sinulog is today. My wife is going. She will not let me go, because it is too complicated and dangerous, she insists, for a foreigner.

Sinulog is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

This got me thinking: I have been around a bit. What are the other most beautiful things I have ever seen?

Here's my list; of the Wonders of the Modern World. Not in any order:

Sinulog – Cebu, Philippines. Catholic religious festival with parade, costumes, dances.

Mirinae Shrine – South Korea. Catholic shrine.

Ji Hua Shan – China. Buddhist sacred mountain, community of temples.

Sigiriya – Sri Lanka. Ancient mountain castle with architectural ruins, fresco, gardens.

The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries – Paris, France. Medieval Christian religious allegory.

Rose Windows, Notre Dame Cathedral – Paris, France.

Sistine Chapel – Rome, Italy.

Perth, Ontario, Canada. Perth stands in to some extent for the entire Canadian Shield, and for many small towns almost as beautiful. It was hard to choose between Perth and Westport.

Lower Town, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

Kyoto, Japan. Magnificent temples and classic gardens.

One could add individual art works, but then the list gets longer. Shout outs to Botticelli, Vermeer, William Blake, the Pre-Raphaelites, the Krishna Gopala or Radha Krishna cycle.