Playing the Indian Card

Saturday, February 29, 2020

On Spanking

When I was young, I was terrified of needles. I was terrified of going to the dentist.

Now, having had so many needles, and having had teeth pulled, I more or less take it in stride. Yesterday, doing a brain scan, they poked me five times before finding a vein. Oh well…

The experience of pain toughens you to pain. The experience of suffering toughens you to suffering. Because it is really the fear of the suffering that is worse.

We do not seem to understand this simple fact.

It is one reason why it is important to spank a child, so long as the punishment is just and proportionate. It is important to tell them fairy tales with the scary parts still in. If you do not expose your children to some fear of pain, and some anticipated actual pain, you are actually causing them more suffering over the long term. You are making snowflakes who need to retreat with a colouring book in the face of any stress.

Spanking is just like that needle. It is an inoculation.

Nothing to Sneeze At

Following the progress of COVID-19 with grim fascination. It feels like watching a train wreck in slow motion.

Among the businesses and industries that are going to be disrupted by this: universities.

For a few past generations Canadians and Americans have more or less stopped having children. One might expect the universities to have been emptying out. The more so since they now face growing online competition.

Yet they have mostly been growing, while tuitions have been spiraling upward. I am amazed, on returning to Toronto after some years, at how Ryerson has expanded to take over much of the downtown. And new universities keep being founded.

Looks like another bubble bound to pop.

Until now, universities in Canada, the US, Australia, and the UK have been making their budgets by offering the traditional American/European university experience to international students. Especially large cohorts from China and Korea, where education is deeply valued. Walking through the Annex, the old U of T student shopping strip, I find mostly Korean stores and mostly Asian faces.

Now, suddenly, that finger is going to be yanked out of the dam, at least for a semester or two.

We’ll see how well the red tide will be contained.

In other coronavirus news, latest reports are that Israeli scientists think they have an oral vaccine, using new technologies, that might get through testing within ninety days.

It might fit well with a God-directed viral plague to have the hated Jews gallop to the rescue. Making it rather more difficult for a time to sustain the growing tone of antisemitism everywhere.

The Tory Leadership Contest Is Over

Don't say you haven't been given a choice. You can vote for Erin O'Toole.
The deadline has passed.

It seems nobody wants to lead the Canadian Conservative Party. Nobody we have heard of, at least, except Peter McKay and Erin O’Toole.

It’s a strikingly thin field considering the apparent electoral prospects: Trudeau was expected to lose last election, and is in a minority. Whoever gets selected now has good prospects, on paper, of being PM within a year or two.

For comparison, look at 1967. Then, too, the Liberals were in a minority. Then too the Tories had fairly recently themselves been in power. The Copnservative leadership contest that year attracted two provincial premiers, the former federal leader, the former Justice Minister and BC provincial leader, the millionaire former Minister of International Trade, a former Minister of Finance and of Justice, and three or four other former federal cabinet ministers.

What’s the difference?

You could see a small field reflecting an absence of talent. But that is not the case: a series of big name Conservatives have declined to run. There is an unusually large number of conservative premiers and provincial administrations currently; and the party was only recently in power, meaning there are many former federal cabinet ministers available.

You could see a small field reflecting the inevitability of one candidate winning. But that is not the case: there are obvious concerns with either McKay or O’Toole as candidates. Lack of bilingualism, lack of charisma, pandering and shifting positions, being too far to the left for the party, timidity with the press.

I had theorized it was because Stephen Harper was about to step in, to become that inevitable candidate. But it did not happen.

You could see it demonstrating a lack of confidence within the party. But not only do the Tories face, on paper, great prospects of winning the next election. In other nations the right wing is ascendant and intellectually vibrant: Boris Johnson’s Tories just won a historic victory in the UK, Trump is dominating the US, right wing parties are surging across Europe. There ought to be excitement and ferment at the grassroots.

Nor is taking a resolute right-wing stand beyond the capabilities of a too-timid Canadian political class. We saw Mike Harris do it successfully in Ontario. We say Ralph Klein do it with great success in Alberta. We just saw Legault elected in Quebec. We saw Rob Ford or Mel Lastman do it successfully in Toronto.

It smells of some kind of corruption, of perhaps a ruling cabal intent on taking certain political options off the table, and pulling strings behind curtains.

This is more or less what Maxime Bernier claimed when he left the Conservative Party.

Looks like he was right. Some vested interests have taken control of the CPC.

I don’t imagine this is very hard in Canada; parties are not that organized or large, in world terms. One can see a relatively small Family Compact taking control. It has happened in our history, after all.

One can almost see the strings moving against the black backdrop. When Harper suddenly resigned from his party position, since it was not in order to get into the race, it seems likely it was because he did not want to be associated with the party corruption.

The most disturbing thing is that we do not know who it is in charge, and in whose interests a Tory government would now be acting.

The reassuring thing is that in our Westminster system, we are protected by the ease with which new parties can form, and old parties die.

Bernier may have seen it all before the rest of us. It is to his great credit. He is, it seems, a true leader.

The Urgent Need to Learn What You Already Know

Image from Tom Brown's School Days

A common lament in contemporary education is that we need to reflect the diversity in our classrooms. We need aboriginal materials, written by aboriginal authors, because some students are aboriginals. We need to teach aboriginal languages. We need heritage language classes of all sorts. We need materials on black history, because some of our students are black. We need gay materials, because some have gay parents; materials must be "relevant to their daily lives," and so on and on.

One teacher writes, “It would be a wonderful world in which teachers had time and energy to tailor curriculum for the kids they actually have in their classrooms: by ethnicity, skin colour, national origins, interests, gifts, learning styles, family situations . . .”

If we stop and think, this makes little sense. It is saying, we should force kids to sit in the classroom for hours every day to tell them things they already know. And quite likely know more about than the teacher does.

The classic idea of education is rather different: it is that school is for learning things.

This is why, in the really old days, it was ancient history that was taught, and not modern or local history. Not “even though,” but because none of those little towheads were Athenians, Romans, or Trojans, and familiar with that lifestyle. It was Latin, Hebrew, Ancient Greek, or Sanskrit that were taught, not “even though,” but because none of them would already speak it at home.

When did we invert things so completely? When did we kill school and stop educating our young?

No, You Are Not a Child of Nature

Pachamama. Note that she is actually made of stones.
My friend Xerxes weighs in against the growing current tendency to anthropomorphize inanimate objects. 

And it is a growing tendency. We see it not just in talk of the planet Earth as “Gaia”; but of “harming Mother Nature,” of Nature having specific preferences and interests, or seeking revenge, or maintaining a “balance”; of Science “knowing” this or that; of this species being “more evolved” or “more highly evolved” than that, as though Evolution per se could have a plan or a direction. Or of “harming” or “damaging” as opposed to the climate simply changing. None of these are sentient beings.

Fine to use these things as convenient or poetic metaphors, as when Carl Sandberg says the fog “comes in on little cat feet.” But no, fog is not a cat. Fine to suggest that God, or even some other supernatural being separate from the object, demon or angel, has interests here. Fine, that is, if you know what you are doing, and can produce a coherent theology. But not the inanimate object itself.

I do not think actual pagans made this mistake. This is childish thinking. I think at least some pagans had to be too smart to do this. They presumed a god who had jurisdiction over the river; they did not suppose this was the physical river itself. That would be absurd. That would simply be an error, a logical fallacy, mistaking a physical for a spiritual thing.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Tracing the Hand of God in Current Events?

The Virgin of the Apocalypse

Stories of the rapid spread of COVID-19, the coronavirus, have been sounding apocalyptic. Stories of people collapsing in the street. Cruise ships wandering the seas, refused all harbour. Especially combined with the plague of locusts sweeping through Africa and Asia at the same time. And, oh yes, the prior and ongoing disease infecting the Asian pork supply.

None of this really has the potential to be literally apocalyptic—the end of the world. Nevertheless, could we be seeing the wrath of God? Does God have it in for East Asia?

Most readers, no doubt, who are not Evangelical Christians, will scoff. We are beyond such superstitious notions, surely.

Nevertheless, the Evangelicals have a point. In the Old Testament it is plain that God sends plagues to express displeasure. Read the Book of Exodus.

Moreover, it simply stands to reason. Given that God exists and gives a damn what happens to man, why wouldn’t he? Of course he would.

God exists; we know that from cold logic. So it is not such a silly notion after all.

Ha, the worshippers of the great god Science will respond, we have had many such plagues throughout history. Where’s the evidence that they ever did any social good, rather than being random disasters?

Good of you to ask. Consider the Black Death. I have seen the argument that it led to the end of serfdom and the rise of democracy. Aside from discrediting existing regimes, it forced up the price of labour, obliging the ruling class to treat the common laboring people better.

Or the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. The argument is common that it shook the facile confidence in the status quo that characterized the early Enlightenment, and prompted the Romantic rebellion. Which led, soon enough, to the American and the French Revolutions, and liberal democracy as we know it.

Those two are off the top of my head. I suspect examples could be multiplied, if anyone dared attempt such an interpretation of history.

An important qualification must be made here. It is equally clear that God does not send plagues or other natural disasters to punish sin. That is too facile. Jesus refers us to the tower of Siloam:

At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

We all die anyway. God does not need to send a disaster for this purpose, and there would be no point in doing so. He kills us one by one. Nor does physical death amount to a punishment, for a good man.

Rather, a plague or disaster can eliminate a sinful culture or regime, one that is promoting sin.

This was the case for the Egyptian plagues. It was not that the Egyptians who suffered from the plagues were sinful. The intent was to change the policies of the Egyptian government, which was enslaving and committing genocide.

This was presumably the case for Sodom and Gomorrah. According to the Bible, there was not one inhabitant who was not guilty, but apart from this, clearly, these were cultures that socially endorsed homosexual gang rape.

And the Canaanites, according to the Bible, practiced ritual child sacrifice. While not a natural disaster, this led Yahweh to command the Hebrews to wipe them out. The sin was not individual; it was embedded in the culture.

Now, uncannily enough, the progress of the coronavirus up to this point actually looks as though it fits this premise.

If you were God, which world government or culture would you most want to turn from their present course, or perhaps overthrow?

Surely the government of China would be at the top of that list. They are officially atheist, and warring against religion. While not the world’s worst government in this regard—that would be North Korea—China also holds the largest proportion of the human population under its control, and has the greatest ability to project its power and influence elsewhere.

High time, if you were God, to take them down.

Significantly, the Chinese people think the same way: they are primed to understand any natural disaster as the fault of the government. It is an indication of Heaven’s anger. So apart from the fact that the government of China might be blameworthy for being the apparent source of the virus—if it escaped from a government lab—and for trying to suppress reporting of it early on, sending the virus to China may be an efficient means for God to express his will and get results.

Now what about North Korea? Also atheist, also aggressively anti-religious. We do not know what is happening in North Korea—the government controls all information flow. But rumours are that the disease is already rampant there.

And Koreans share the Chinese idea about the “mandate of heaven.”

But why then is it also hitting South Korea?

Not, to begin with, in order to overthrow the government. Since South Korea now has a functioning democracy, a plague seems unnecessary and overkill. Unless it is aimed in this case at something in the popular culture.

Korea is an incubator for a lot of strange religious sects. Koreans are deeply religious, in a sense, but often in a frivolous way. The virus raging there was spread primarily by and through one of them, Shincheonji. Whatever else the virus may end up doing there, it seems well targeted to discredit that sect, the leader of which proclaims himself the Second Coming of Christ. This makes him, in Christian terms, the Antichrist.

Suppose the virus is soon checked in South Korea; then this will be the main effect it has had: to discredit Shincheonji, and perhaps other such unorthodox millennial sects.

After North Korea, the government I’d most like to see fall is Iran. Aside from being oppressive towards its own people, Iran has been exporting trouble across the region if not the world. And working on nuclear capability. While nominally religious, it is not religiously orthodox. In the context of Shia Islam, as I understand it, a theocratic government is, in the absence of the Imam, a blasphemy. Mixing politics and religion can and usually does result in a takeover of religion for political purposes, rather than vice versa. God is entirely liable to want to snuff that out.

And the virus seems to be on track to spread more thoroughly through Iran than perhaps even China.

Although Qom seems to be the centre of the Iranian outbreak, pilgrimages to Qom have not been suspended, and the holy sites remain open. The government’s reported reasoning is that the pilgrimage to Qom is healing, and therefore valuable in order to fight the illness.

Which may encourage those experiencing symptoms to do their best to get to Qom, and mix with the crowds.

This is putting the Lord your God to the test; this is necromancy.

It also reminds us that the legitimacy of the Iranian government relies heavily, like China’s, on the supposed mandate of heaven.

If the outbreak gets truly out of hand there, it is therefore a clear indication, even to the government itself, that God is against the government.

What about all the poor pilgrims who might die on the Qom pilgrimage? Doesn’t God care about them?

The logic of the tower of Siloam is familiar to Islam as well. If one dies on pilgrimage, by tradition, once goes straight to heaven.

The one other nation in which the virus seems currently out of control is Italy.

As with South Korea, Italy has a functioning democracy; so a plague is not useful in order to change a government.

But as with South Korea, Italy is the international headquarters of another religious group: the Vatican.

Not that Catholicism is a millennial cult; but any good Catholic will say that there is a problem at the Vatican. A year ago, a lot of Catholics were calling on Pope Francis to resign, because of his evident implication in the McCarrick scandal in the US. Before that, people were speaking of a corrupt “Lavender Mafia” dominating matters in Rome.

Unfortunately, in Catholic tradition, there is no way to remove a Pope if he will not resign. Meaning the only way may be for God to intervene. The pope and the men at the Vatican who are ultimately responsible for this rot in the church, if the accusations are true, are elderly. They are in the age cohort most likely to find the coronavirus to be fatal.

Sending the virus to Italy might be, in part, for this purpose. After all, the Vatican is, like Qom, a pilgrimage site, especially from other parts of Italy. This Pope likes to get close to the crowds and grasp hands.

Reportedly, the Pope himself has now fallen ill. There is no indication yet that it is the coronavirus.

Again, if so, this is not to be understood as punishment for sin. Yet if the present pope’s policies are seriously misguided, and spiritually harmful, God might well want to call him quickly upstairs, for the good of all his church.

Now; why an epicentre in Northern Italy, instead of Rome?

Because that is closer to the border.

The appearance of the virus in northern Italy seems also as if calculated to challenge the EU concept, which is first and foremost that of open borders. The easy spread of the virus across borders lacking any stops or customs checks amounts to a compelling argument to ratchet back on the “ever closer union” enterprise. Maybe there was a reason for those borders that we all overlooked.

One is reminded of Chesterton’s advice: never tear down a fence until you can say why it was there in the first place.

It is perhaps not self-evident that God should be opposed to the EU or globalization; or that he should prefer the nation-state. Unless you remember the story of the Tower of Babel. That is the Biblical account of the creation of nations—by God, precisely to prevent the enterprise of a world government. This was considered human presumption. There is only one rightful world king, and anyone else presuming to that office is the Antichrist.

Or unless you remember the Catholic doctrine of subsidiarity, declared by Pope Pius XI “a fundamental principle of social philosophy, fixed and unchangeable.” The moral principle is that decisions should always be made at as close to the individual level as possible. This is to respect the essential moral importance of free will. Free will is why we exist. This principle of subsidiarity the EU violates, in forever drawing more decisions to the distant centre.

And because the structure of the EU is not democratic, and beyond even national control, it cannot be turned or thwarted by lesser means. It might take a virus to make the point.

If so, part of the point must be made by having the virus now spread through the EU. Which seems to be happening.

If, as looks likely at the moment, the virus then spreads everywhere, the fact that it infected China, Iran, North Korea, Shincheonji, and the Vatican may be insignificant. And it will look far less like some divine judgement.

If, on the other hand, the virus is one way or another stopped soon in its tracks, this will strengthen my impression that it has been God’s weapon to root out specific sick governments and organizations.

There are early indications that the virus may have peaked in China; although we cannot trust the government figures. It seems to have been contained in Singapore and in Vietnam. There are also claims here and there of some effective inoculation or treatment coming soon.

It is striking to me, in the meanwhile, that the virus does not seem to have spread in the Philippines. This seems a little uncanny, because Filipinos are working abroad everywhere, more than any other nationality, and always coming and going. There are especially a lot of Filipinos in Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan, regularly flying back and forth. People are accustomed to flying to Manila from Hong Kong just for the weekend.

The islands even recorded three early cases; all Chinese. One died, the first death from the virus outside China. The other two have now recovered. Yet no spread, so far as we know. Moreover, Filipinos live packed closely together, ideal for virus spread.

How to account for the difference, while the disease has jumped containment during the same period in Japan, South Korea, and Iran?

Perhaps because in the Philippines it would not serve to upset a disordered culture or regime.

Say what you want about the current Duterte administration; say what you will about Philippines government corruption. The Philippines is nevertheless a functioning democracy; such extreme measures as a plague are not required to change things. And the Philippine culture itself is genuinely religious. Were the government system or the culture to collapse, it is unlikely it would be replaced by anything better.

And so this looks like preliminary evidence that the virus is selective and divinely directed.

Events may prove me wrong. We shall see.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

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Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Jesus Was Not a Nice Man

The Broad and the Narrow Way

I realize grimly that a large segment of mankind has, in practice, no morality. Their sole idea is that one is supposed to try to get along with whomever one is currently dealing with.

This is the concept of “being nice.” It is so common as a mock morality in my experience that I think it is the position of the great majority: the prime directive is to be “nice,” and not upset anyone. Anyone who has principles is not nice, and is liable to be condemned for it.

As Jesus warns in the Beatitudes: blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’s sake.

This is especially a Canadian fault; Kathy Shaidle wrote a book called The Tyranny of Nice.

It is also surely the bones beneath the corpse of “cultural relativism.” The essential idea of is that the only possible morality is to go along with what those around you are doing.

This explains how abortion has become the norm. Some women adamantly want an abortion; so the “nice” thing is to let them have it. Unborn children are not visible or audible; so there is no need to get along with them. It is not nice to bring them up.

The same inert moral mass could explain the Holocaust. The Jews were rounded up and sent away to camps. It no longer matters to get along with them. It no longer matters if they are executed.

This produces a delicate balance. Social harmony will always be preserved by the easiest path. If anyone is noisily demanding, they may be shunned or imprisoned. But if there are too many of them, and dealing with them becomes too common, the easiest option becomes to give them whatever they demand.

Whether their demands are reasonable or unreasonable does not enter into this equation. An oppressed group might use this to their advantage; so might a privileged group wishing to preserve or expand their privilege.

But it is far less likely to work for an oppressed group. They are more likely to be shunned or imprisoned before they reach such a critical mass that they need to be accommodated.

There is no principle to this “niceness,” and great evil is produced by it.

There is nothing moral about trying to get along with whomever you are speaking to. It is pure cynical self-interest.

I believe that Jesus was speaking of this “niceness” mock morality when he warned about the broad path to destruction:

"Enter in by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter in by it. How narrow is the gate, and restricted is the way that leads to life! Few are those who find it.”

It is not necessary to infer that the majority of people follow this path, although that seems to be the case. It is the path itself that is majoritarian, “the broad path”—the path of always just going along and getting along with those nearby.

The CPR on CPR

Discussing the rail stoppages with my brother, retired engineer for CPR, I suddenly realized how symbolic it all is. It must have been in the back of the minds of the protestors too.

The problem that brought us here is that the politicians and the commentariat, the clerisy, have been aggressively promoting the idea for decades of multiculturalism and, more recently, “intersectionality.” Meaning, in a word, tribalism. Our primary level of commitment, we have been told, must be to our special interest group. Not only are we to ignore the national good: the nation is our enemy. Our fellow Canadians are the enemy.

Our own prime minister has proudly announced that “Canada has no mainstream.”

Canada’s original mainstream, at Confederation, was, in fact, the railroads. And so blocking them is the ultimate symbolism. This is what we have been told we are supposed to do; and this is what some people are doing. They are acting the doctrine out, and to the point of violence.

Let’s hope it leads to a turning point in our thinking, rather than the disintegration of our country.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Things Fall Apart

There seems a general sense that Canada is falling apart. Rail lines and other facilities are being blocked by protesters. Alberta is talking separation.

We are dissolving into tribes and special interest groups. Nobody is thinking of the national interest or the good of all.

But this is the inevitable consequence of multiculturalism and intersectionality. Canadian politicians and Canadian governments have been aggressively promoting tribalism for decades. The prime minister himself has declared that there was no Canadian mainstream.

Where else was this going to lead?

We are now on the verge of violence.

The Growing Socialist Threat of Sanders

It is funny to watch a lot of commentators suddenly panicking at the prospect of Bernie Sanders as the Democratic nominee, including especially many on the left.

After all, he came reasonably close to becoming the nominee in 2016; he was the logical frontrunner for 2020 as soon as Clinton lost that time. How can they have only realized now that he is a “socialist”? How can it only be important now?

And not only is he suddenly discovered to be a socialist. It now turns out that he is, like Trump, another Russian plant. And he’s too old, and he’s hiding how bad his health is.

To some extent, every clearly established frontrunner draws fire. We just went through the taking down of Bloomberg by the other candidates. But Sanders, by comparison, is being taken down by the commentators and the backrooms. And Sanders ought to be already thoroughly vetted, since this is not his first run, and he has been the frontrunner before. It seems hysterical.

The fact that he is a socialist should not sound alarm bells for any Canadian or European. We have avowedly socialist candidates in contention all the time. The US system has checks and balances, as well, preventing any sudden political lurches. Sanders would have to get his initiatives passed by two houses of congress, then vetted by the Supreme Court as constitutional.

As for Russia backing him, it is hard to understand why it is news that Russia tries to influence American elections. After all, America tries to influence elections elsewhere all the time. Former president Obama openly endorsed Justin Trudeau during Canada’s recent federal election. It is hard to believe that only Russia interferes in the US. If the various foreign diplomatic corps and intelligence agencies are not always trying to influence elections anywhere for what they perceive as their interests, they’re not doing their job.

As to Sanders being too old, that concern is only significant if the alternative is Pete Buttigieg. Biden, Warren, Bloomberg, or Trump are almost the same age. 

An underlying and more reasonable concern might be that Sanders cannot win in the general election--because he is too far out of step with the average voter. That may be so; but by the same token, I thought Reagan was too far right to be elected. I thought the same of Stephen Harper. For the most part, people do not vote on ideology or even issues, but on their perception of the character of the candidate.

I suspect the real problem is not that Sanders is a socialist, or a Russian plant, or anything else, but the shock among the commentariat at realizing they are no longer in control even of the left. They had decided that Sanders would not be the nominee, had already taken ruthless measures to make this so, and neither the voters nor the dice have fallen in their favour.

Now Sanders is going to win the nomination at least. He will take over the party, if not the White House, and he will have reason to bear grudges and to clean house.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Come Gather Round Me, Carmelites

St. John of the Cross
Come gather round me, Carmelites,
And praise our chosen man;
Stand upright on your legs awhile
Stand upright while you can.
For soon we go where he has gone,
His bones are underground;
Come sling those holy rosaries
And let the chant resound.

And here’s a cogent reason,
And I have many more
He shunned all use of footwear
Preferring to be poor
Whatever light a dark night’s got
He brought it all to be
And here’s the happy reason:
That St. John saw no “me.”

Spanish Johnnie was a poet;
And one of such a kind
Each Spanish man that sings a song
Keeps St. John in his mind.
Yet Johnnie was a humble man,
Who fought the devil down,
And a humble man's a mighty man,
So pass the wine cup round. 
The Prior and his party
A tragic story made,
This martyr throw in prison
And twice-fortnightly flayed;
But poems that live longest
Are written in distress,
And St. John wrote his Canticle
And St. John passed his test.
-- Stephen K. Roney (after W.B. Yeats).

When Kiples Cease Their Kipling

Rudyard Kipling

There used to be a movement in Canadian poetry called “people’s poetry.” Perhaps it still exists; I can find no trace online.

The idea was to bring poetry back to the common people.

But the group was resolutely left wing. As all official Canadian poetry has become.

This is a fatal problem, because the common people are not left wing.

In fact, the most popular poem among the UK general public is Rudyard Kipling’s “If.” Calling for personal responsibility in the manner of Jordan Peterson. But Kipling was a fellow who wrote poetry from the working class perspective; sometimes in cockney dialect.

In Canada, the only poetry readings that draw crowds are for “cowboy poetry.” Expressing a world view akin to that of country music, in the manner of Robert W. Service—the bestselling poet of all time, not just in Canada, but it the world.

And ignored or rejected by the poetry establishment, including the “people’s poetry” people. Again, the thing about Service is that he wrote from the working class perspective.

It seems that “their people,” as Hamilton is supposed to have said of Jefferson, “is a great beast.” It is an academic construct, quite unlike any people you might meet in the subway or on the 401.

Robert W. Service is perhaps rejected only for speaking for the lower class and being unforgivably accessible to people without an English degree. Despite the fact that he is, in technical terms, an exceptionally good poet. As is Kipling.

Kipling is rejected for his full-bore advocacy of empire. You could hardly be less politically correct than that today. Worst of the lot, no doubt, is “The White Man’s Burden.”

Let’s have a look:

Take up the White Man's burden—
Send forth the best ye breed—
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait in heavy harness
On fluttered folk and wild—
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.
That sounds pretty offensive. Non-Europeans “half devil and half child”? “Fluttered and wild”; “caught”? These are terms to describe animals.

Yet the criticism seems to be that these non-Europeans do not raise their children properly—“breeding” is mentioned. They are wild in that sense, still children in that sense; they lack morality.

This might be true or false, but it is not racist. The Victorians believed they had reached a pinnacle of morality. This conviction was shaken then by the experience of the world wars, but there was and remains evidence behind it.

Take up the White Man's burden—
In patience to abide,
To evil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain.
To seek another's profit,
And work another's gain.
The conventional idea today is Marxist—that the point of Empire was to exploit the foreign people for profit. Kipling sees empire as, instead, a sacrifice in financial terms, for the benefit of the colonized.

It turns out that Kipling is right. The Empire was a financial burden on Britain, and the same was true of the other European empires, with perhaps the sole exception of Leopold’s Congo, which Conrad so richly condemns in Heart of Darkness. After the Second World War, Britain could no longer afford their empire. If it were actually making money, this would not have happened. Empire is expensive; more recently, we saw the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact collapse for financial reasons.

The European empires were indeed entered into, as Kipling says, as a civilizing mission. They might have been misguided, but they were well-intentioned. They were acts of charity and of civic responsibility.

Take up the White Man's burden—
The savage wars of peace—
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch Sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought.

“Heathen” here might make one suppose Kipling was speaking of the spread of Christianity. He cannot have been; the immediate occasion for the poem was the American acquisition of the Philippines. The Philippines had been Christian for centuries—for longer than the USA.

He seems instead to be speaking of what might loosely be called “Enlightenment ideals.” Empire brought peace, ending the endless local wars; it brought greater prosperity, it brought medical advances.

Take up the White Man's burden—
No tawdry rule of kings,
But toil of serf and sweeper—
The tale of common things.
The ports ye shall not enter,
The roads ye shall not tread,
Go make them with your living,
And mark them with your dead!

Again the idea is of service: of building ports and roads for others to use.

And in this, surely, Kipling is right. The British built the rail system, the ports, of India, and then left them for the Indians. They dug the Suez Canal, and then left it to the Egyptians. The Americans built the Panama Canal, and then left. They built Aramco and the Saudi oil industry, and then left. Others generally reaped the benefits. 

Railway bridge,  British India, 1900.

Notably, the UK pulled out of the Persian Gulf, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia right when the oil industry was making the area profitable. That makes no sense if the prime motive of empire was profit. It makes more sense if the prime motive was service; at this point, the area could look after itself.

Take up the White Man's burden—
And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better,
The hate of those ye guard—
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah, slowly!) toward the light:—
"Why brought ye us from bondage,
Our loved Egyptian night?"

The stanza seems to disprove the charge of racism, since it describes the colonized as equivalent to the Hebrews, God’s chosen people. And it implies that these “subject races” are as capable of development. The problem, then, is not genetics—race—but the bondage of cultural backwardness. 

Take up the White Man's burden—
Ye dare not stoop to less—
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To cloak your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples
Shall weigh your Gods and you.

The use of the plural, “Gods,” here, seems to preclude a Christian interpretation. If he were speaking as a Christian, he would be speaking heresy. The Gods would presumably be the values cherished by Victorian English culture: equality, democracy, discipline, duty, honesty, justice, good manners, and sound accounting principles. 
Take up the White Man's burden—
Have done with childish days—
The lightly profferred laurel,
The easy, ungrudged praise.
Comes now, to search your manhood
Through all the thankless years,
Cold-edged with dear-bought wisdom,
The judgment of your peers!
It seems to me that Kipling escapes the charge of racism. He is being read uncharitably here because the modern left hates him for something else: for being an unbending moralist. This, of course, is the reason why they are opposed to the suggestion that any culture might be superior to another—because it implies that any moral stance might be superior to any other. Morality is an unpleasant suggestion to the immoral. 

Indian custom of suttee--widow burning.

I have no problem with Kipling’s moralism. On the other hand, I find him unpalatable because he consistently bases it on the trivial: on “the judgement of your peers,” or being “grown-up,” or “manly.” These are worldly baubles.

One ought to behave morally out of a commitment to morality, to the good, and out of love for God and one’s fellow man; not out of pride, which is to say, so that others will think well of you. Prestige. Kipling’s ethics are pre-Christian pagan ethics.

I suspect that this failure of transcendence was, in the end, what caused Europe to lose its appetite for empire. Eventually, once you eventually thought it through, it all seemed so pointless.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Welcome to the Plague Years

The Dance of Death: souvenir of the Black Plague.

Things are getting worse regarding the coronavirus. In fact, I think “assume the worst” might have been the right advice all along.

Here is what I think we know:

1. The virus escaped from a Chinese lab. This, which originally was scorned as a conspiracy theory, is pretty clearly true. This might explain why it has such sinister characteristics. It seems possible it was being worked on as a bio weapon.

This would explain the draconian measures undertaken by the Chinese authorities. They knew more or less what they were dealing with, and knew it was alarming.

2. It is extremely contagious. Perhaps it was designed to be extremely contagious. A recent report has one Korean carrier infecting over 40 people.

It can spread through the air; it can remain live on surfaces for an unknown time. The Chinese have been spraying everything in view with bleach.

3. It can spread before the victim shows symptoms. This makes it virtually impossible to stop by quarantine. You don’t know who to quarantine.

4. It has an incubation period of perhaps 24 days, during which the victim may show no symptoms, but be contagious.

This is unfortunate, because, until now, the Chinese and other governments have been quarantining people for 14 days before declaring them virus-free.

5. Some reports suggest that a victim can remain contagious even for an undetermined time after recovery.

6. It produces a death rate on first infection 20 times greater than the flu; about at the level of the notorious Spanish flu a century ago. And that is assuming the health care system is not overwhelmed. Wherever the virus takes hold, we can expect the health care system become overwhelmed.

7. Surviving the virus does not create immunity. It is apparently possible to become reinfected. The second infection is worse than the first. It looks as though it can cause sudden death. There are videos of people in Wuhan collapsing in the street.

Leaving open a further question. If you survive the second infection, could there be a third infection, and so forth? This seems probable.

8. Nobody has immunity, because the virus is so new. If the virus spreads, sooner or later, everyone gets it.

9. It has escaped containment in China. It is now loose in South Korea, Japan, and Iran. Italy also looks worrisome.

The Iranian medical system and government structure is probably incapable of an effectively quarantine, because of its relative underdevelopment. It is likely to spread from there.

Add this up, and we might have a doomsday weapon.

All is not lost; the virus might spontaneously mutate, and someone might at any moment come up with a more effective treatment.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Life in the Bubble

The current housing market defies logic.

As I see it, the baby boomers should have been retiring for the past ten years, and downsizing. The generations that follow them are smaller. So the demand for housing should be easing.

The need to live in large cities, where the housing shortage is extreme, should also have been declining, with the increasing feasibility of telecommuting. And the attractions of convenience that might attract people to the cities have also been declining: with the Internet, you can get all the entertainment you want anywhere; with Amazon, you can purchase anything you want, and have it delivered anywhere. The cities should be emptying out.

The cost of housing is also rising much faster than incomes. This should be pushing people out of the market, at least for larger homes.

Given all these considerations, housing costs should be declining. Instead, they are skyrocketing.

It seems to me it has to mean we are in a speculative bubble. And it is, sooner or later, going to pop, with devastating results.

We even already saw it happen, in 2008.

People are buying property on speculation. When housing prices dip, as they will, a lot of folks are going to stop paying their mortgages, and a lot of money is going to disappear.

The current COVID-19 crisis has almost shut down China’s economy. It may get worse. That is sure to have consequences for the world economy. This might be the shock that starts the run on housing.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

The Max Bernier Show

Maxime Bernier and the People's Party of Canada have launched their own YouTube channel. I found the first episode unexciting, pretty wonky, but it should be worth keeping an eye on going forward.

Shootout in Nevada

I’m sorry I skipped the Democratic debate last night. They had been getting tiresome and predictable. But this time, with most candidates facing elimination, they came with the brass knuckles.

And just when it looked as though they might have found a plausible candidate after all, in Bloomberg, the rest of the field have critically wounded him.

A lot of people are alarmed at the idea that Bloomberg might buy the election in any case. I am less so—I think that risk is self-limiting. Nobody can compel people to vote for them; and big spending can turn people off as well as on. Mulroney lost his first bid for the PC leadership because his campaign looked too slick and well-funded. Hillary Clinton outspent Trump last cycle, yet he won.

I think Bloomberg might be a formidable opponent for Trump, too, if the economy goes sour by next November—with the COVID-19 virus, a likelihood. He could come across as a steadier hand at the helm.

But I suspect now there is no way he can sneak past the Democratic primary voters.

I think Buttigieg got off the best lines of the night, on neither Sanders nor Bloomberg being actual Democrats, and on Klobuchar not knowing the name of the President of Mexico. Warren’s opening barrage against Bloomberg seems the most posted clip, but I’m not sure it helped Warren as much as it hurt Bloomberg. It was too obvious a line of attack to make her look impressive in using it. I’m also reminded of Harris landing a solid body blow on Biden re school busing, but not gaining any benefit; and Tulsi Gabbard absolutely ending Harris, and gaining nothing by it.

The strong performances of Warren and Buttigieg may boost both past Biden. I predict a Nevada caucus finish of Sanders first, but I really have no idea who will come in second, third, fourth, or fifth.

Given that Sanders comes in with a convincing first, it is going to be hard for anyone to beat him going forward.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Trump the Comedian

A commentator I watched recently predicted that Trump would dominate Bloomberg on a debate stage. The reason, he argued, is that Bloomberg has no sense of humour, while Trump is spontaneously funny.

He pinpointed another Trump superpower, that I had overlooked. Trump is actually a first-rate improvisational standup comic.

That is the draw at his huge rallies. He goes on without a script, and he is consistently funny. He is doing a monologue.

This is another proof that Trump cannot be, as so many claim, a narcissist. Narcissists lack a sense of humour. They cannot relax enough for that. They might laugh at a pratfall, but they cannot make a spontaneous joke.

People who are not narcissists can lack a sense of humour; but if you have one, you cannot be a narcissist.

A sense of humour can be faked, it is true, by hiring a speechwriter and reading the lines. But Trump is clearly not doing that.

Is there any evidence of a good sense of humour among the Democrats?

Biden quips like “You’re a lying dog-faced pony soldier” do not seem to me to qualify. They seem more like slightly masked abuse. This is actually a typical narcissistic “joke”: an insult, but one disguised as a “joke” so that you cannot respond without opening yourself up to further abuse.

You will protest that Trump also uses insults; that they are his typical joke.

But there is a difference. He jokes about people in their absence, so the immediate point is not to abuse them. He also seems scrupulous in not insulting anyone who is not a declared enemy, and so fair game. Biden was speaking to a supporter. 

Trump’s insults are also artful, like those of Don Rickles. They are enjoyable on that level. Pete Buttigieg as Alfred E. Newman? Kim Jong Un as “little rocket man”? There was nothing artful or intrinsically humorous about calling a female supporter about whom he knew nothing a “lying dog-faced pony soldier.” It was evidently just a memorized line, a stock insult.

The only Democrat I have noticed who will sometimes seem to say something spontaneously funny is Bernie Sanders. He can sometimes give a funny response to a question. Asked if Hillary Clinton was right to say that nobody in the Senate liked him, he responded, “on a good day, my wife likes me.”

These might be scripted too, but at worst, he has good timing. That suggests he gets the joke. There is a reason why so many popular stand-up comedians began as comedy writers.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Dawkins and Eugenics

Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins is apparently in trouble for saying that eugenics would work.

I am no fan of Dawkins’s philosophy.

But he is a geneticist, and he is simply stating a fact, obvious to anyone who knows genetics. Or any farmer or gardener.

If your political views require denying reality, there is something wrong with your politics, not with reality.

Of course it is possible to selectively breed for desirable characteristics. We do it all the time, and have always done it, with plants and animals. Why would it not work with humans?

The rap against eugenics is not that it would not work, but that no government has the moral right to decide who may breed, and with whom. Government belongs to the people; the people do not belong to the government.

To make it turn on purely practical issues—that it would not work—is to endorse it, the moment it is plain to you that it does.

In fact, we all practice eugenics individually. What attracts us in a member of the opposite sex? Whether we are aware of it or not, we are selecting what we think will be the best genes. We are deciding what characteristics we want to pass on to our children.

And it is not just individuals. Cultures also spontaneously practice genetics. Whatever that given culture values, it is breeding for.

This accounts for that other scientific fact nobody is allowed to mention now without being declared a racist: that different cultures have different levels of average IQ.

In the tribal societies that until recently dominated sub-Saharan Africa, those who rose to the top socially would be the best hunters and the best warriors. These cultures therefore selectively bred for fast physical reflexes, physical strength, and physical endurance. It is not simple “survival of the fittest”; but such a man would be widely admired, have his choice of marital partners, and be able to raise more children in better health. So sub-Saharan Africans dominate in sports and athletics. High intelligence has little value in a tribal society; so they did not breed for IQ. Sub-Saharan Africans have a relatively low average IQ, and that is now part of their genetic makeup.

In the Confucian system in China, by contrast, those who rose to the top socially did so by passing rigorous academic exams; or, failing that, by success in trade. So the brightest got their choice of marriage partners, and were able to raise more children in better health. Athleticism and fast reflexes had little value in such a settled society; so they did not breed for them. East Asians have a relatively high average IQ, and that is now part of their genetic makeup.

Ashkenazi Jews had similar views: social prestige was based on learning, or success was in trade. As a result, they are the second cultural group with an unusually high average IQ.

And so it goes. Every culture practices eugenics informally as part of the culture. Some cultures breed for courage, some for physical beauty, some for even temper, and so forth.

To admit this obvious truth is “racist” only to people who do not understand the concept of human equality. It does not mean that everyone is the same; that is obviously untrue. It means that everyone is equal in intrinsic worth, equal in the eyes of God, and so must be treated equally by government.

Monday, February 17, 2020

New Survey Proves Leftists Are Mentally Ill

A recent study finds a definite correlation between having a diagnosis of mental illness and being politically left-wing. The more left-wing you are, the more likely you are to be mentally ill.

This, of course, can be embraced on the right as evidence that leftist are nuts.

But it is instead a useful illustration of how little we can learn from social science studies. For there are too many possible explanations, and we cannot tell which is true.

It may as well be that the mentally ill are more compassionate, and leftist policies are more compassionate.

It may be that mental illness is inclined to make you poor, and the poor see more benefit in leftist politics.

It may be that mental illness comes with high intelligence, and leftist politics are, on the whole, better ideas than rightist views.

It may be that leftist politics ameliorates or even cures mental illness—attracting the mentally ill to it.

It may be that leftists are more inclined to use psychiatric services and to take psychiatry seriously—and so more likely to have gotten a diagnosis.

The survey relied on self-reporting; it may be that left-wingers are more honest.

It may be that psychiatrists have simply wrongly diagnosed certain political opinions or tendencies as “mentally ill,” making those who hold the opinions, by definition, mentally ill.

It may be that being mentally ill makes you left wing, but this is unrelated to the reason that most people are left wing. Nazis like highways; but most people who like highways do not like them because they are Nazis.

It may be that being left-wing is more socially acceptable, and people who are mentally ill are afraid to stand out. So they will say they are left-wing.

It may, conversely, be that being left wing makes you mentally ill because people reject you for your left-wing opinions—not because the opinions themselves are wrong. 

Shall I go on?

Just about any social science survey can be used to prove opposite hypotheses; the human soul is too complex to be understood in such simple terms.

The Salt of the Earth


“You are the salt of the earth,

but if the salt has lost its flavor, with what will it be salted? It is then good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under the feet of men.
You are the light of the world.

A city located on a hill can’t be hidden. Neither do you light a lamp and put it under a measuring basket, but on a stand; and it shines to all who are in the house.

Even so, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Jesus ends the Beatitudes with this call to action. It is not enough to simply believe, know you are saved, and go about your business. Something is required of us.

And not only that—it seems to be required as well to rescue us from our present difficulties, our experience of oppression. If we do not do this, we are going to be trampled underfoot.

But what, exactly? “Good works,” the last verse says. And that is how it is commonly read: to go about doing good deeds, acts of mercy.

That seems reasonable enough; but those Jesus is calling here are already doing such good works. This is covered by “blessed are the merciful.” They are doing the corporal and spiritual acts of mercy.

So what is it they are now supposed to do differently?

Something resembling what salt does in food, or a lamp in a dark room.

And what is that? In a phrase, draw attention. Do something public and visible.

This cannot be good works in the conventional sense. For Jesus also tells us explicitly that we must do such good works in secret.

It must be some other kind of works.

The opposite is being tasteless, or hiding your lamp under a bushel.

This work is something that enhances, heightens, the senses.

The obvious example of a thing that enhances the senses? Art; beauty.

In fact, the primary meaning of the Greek word translated as “good,” in the phrase “good works,” is actually “beautiful.” “That they may see your beautiful works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

The passage immediately prior says we are like the prophets.

Yet there is no need for prophets in the old sense: revelation is complete in the Bible.

Nevertheless, the Bible itself says prophecy continues.

At Pentecost, St. Peter addresses the crowd, and explains that these are now the last days. And he quotes the prophet Joel:

“It will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh. Your sons and your daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions. Your old men will dream dreams.”

The apostles at Pentecost were prophesying; and prophesying is the essential Christian act.

What we call art today is simply what was called prophecy in ancient Israel. All true art is a glimpse of eternity, of God in heaven.

Granted that there is lots of immoral art. There were always false prophets. Immoral art is simply bad art.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Going Viral

I am out of my area of expertise in speaking of the COVID-19 outbreak. I can only rely on the news reports. And even the experts probably have little to go on.

But I can at least speculate on the psychological effects.

The authorities in Hubei have now banned all vehicular traffic. Streetlights have all been shut off to discourage people from leaving their homes. Eighty percent of international air traffic to China has been suspended. Russian TV reports that the Chinese government has been intervening in the stock market, buying up stocks to prevent a collapse.

Inside China, it could go either way: either the people rise up against the government, or they are cowed by the government’s show of strength against the virus.

Outside China, this has to hurt the China brand. China is bound to have an economic slump, even if the rest of the world does not.

But globalism and globalization in general will probably also be hit. People in the developed world were already getting fractious about all the immigration and all the foreign influence. This now gives them a graphic image and a further powerful argument: foreigners and growing foreign contacts spread disease. There are apparently very practical reasons for nations to have borders and the ability to close them in an emergency.

I am a globalist. I do not say this with joy.

Christian Prophets

Elijah in the desert.

Blessed are you when people reproach you, persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

This passage implies that all good Christians are prophets.

The implication is stronger if you read “for my sake” as referring not to the historical Jesus of Nazareth, but to the cosmic Christ, the Logos. As, surely, it must, to be sensible. Thus it reads, “blessed are you when people reproach you, persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, for the sake of Truth and the Right.”

Which is again just what the Old Testament prophets did, speak out for the Truth and the Right, without knowledge of Jesus of Nazareth.

Why are people commonly reproached, persecuted, and slandered for saying the truth?

John 3:19-20:

“This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and doesn't come to the light, lest his works would be exposed.”

Everyone who does evil hates the truth, and so will hate an honest man.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

The Northern Strategy

And the Dem establishment seems to hate the one non-white candidate still standing, as an outsider.

Consider for a moment these two lists of recent Democratic presidential candidates: LBJ, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Obama.

Now: Humphrey, McGovern, Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, Kerry, Hillary Clinton.

What is the difference between the two lists?

The most obvious difference is that all in the first list won the presidency. The second list all lost.

But there is a second difference that is almost as consistent. Everyone in the first list except Obama came from a Southern state, a member of the old Confederacy.

And everyone in the second list came from a northern state. Gore is a bit of an outlier, from Tennessee. But Tennessee is still only a border state—and Gore did win the popular vote. And he was running against a more solidly southern candidate, in George W. Bush.

Obama, the other outlier, was from Illinois—but being black meant that he held special appeal to a large segment of the Southern vote, the black vote. He notably had that southern cadence in his speech.

Since about the Second World War, the math has seemed obvious: if the Democrats ran a Southerner, they won. If they ran a Northerner, they lost.

This was the Democrats’ own “Southern strategy.” They had to do this to, as James Carville once put it, “pick the lock” of the otherwise reliably Republican South.

And the Democrats seem now to have utterly forgotten this. Look at their current crop of candidates. Sanders and Warren, New England Yankees. Bloomberg, New York. Klobuchar, Minnesota—could not get much more northern than that. Buttigieg is from Indiana, but far northern Indiana, close to Chicago. And he seems aggressively preppy. Biden is from Delaware, technically a border state.

This might be explained, in part, by a weak front bench. Who, after all, do the Democrats have to run who comes from the South? They are reduced to circling the wagons in their traditional regional strongholds. But that is not the full story—for nobody seems to have noticed or expressed concern over the lack of any prominent Southern candidate.

Sure, there is concern about the ability to appeal to black voters. But that is not the real issue. Nor is it so much about ideology. The South, black or white, is culturally distinct from the North, more emotionally attuned, and finds it hard to warm up to stiff preppy types like Buttigieg, or schoolmarmish figures like Warren. Blacks who have migrated North simply tend to preserve these characteristics.

The Democrats seem to be living in a bubble, huddled with their own, and either not interested in anyone outside their familiar circle, afraid of them, or contemptuous of them.

This shows too in their policy platforms: all the candidates seem to the left of the general public.

This is suicide for a political party.

Compare the Republicans. In their last presidential race, they scared up prominent candidates from Louisiana, Texas, Florida, and Arkansas, and then also from New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, California. And the New York candidate won.

Trump was able to go after the Democratic “firewall,” in the rust belt, and take three critical states. He picked their northern lock.

Now, with excellent political instincts, he is working on the black vote. Which has great cultural affinities with the white Southern vote, to which the Democrats have lost all sensitivity. It may not take much more for them to shift Republican in large numbers, just as did the white working class in the North.

At this point, whomever the Democrats nominate, and barring some economic disaster, I call it for Trump.

Blessed Are the Persecuted

Kurelek, "The Hound of Heaven"

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

This Beatitude strikes some folks as strange. Righteous people are beloved by everyone, right? Who is persecuted for righteousness?

Just read the New Testament. Did everyone love Jesus? How did he end up crucified?

Just read today’s news: the Wuhan doctor who first raised the alarm about the COVID-19 virus was hauled in and berated by the authorities, and forced to sign an admission that he lied. He has now died of the virus—or perhaps through government action.

Social groups of all kinds are predictably less moral that their average member—on the premise that more selfish people are going to fight harder and less scrupulously for power over others. And bad people who have a guilty conscience will viscerally resent others who do not.

Good people, when they sin, feel bad about it, try to make amends, and to do better. They will admire the righteous. Bad people commit to continuing to sin. For these latter, relative sinlessness in another feels like an implicit rebuke. Worse than that--they are dangerous. They might start speaking truth out loud, and so wreck everything.

This is why, for example, it was never enough to legalize gay sex or gay marriage. It had to become illegal for anyone to criticize it, unacceptable to refuse to participate in a gay pride parade or a gay wedding. This is why it was never enough to make abortion legal. It had to become tax subsidized, implicating everybody. It had to become intolerable to speak out against it.

And so the righteous will often be persecuted rather than rewarded. They will always be persecuted by some. How severely they are persecuted is a good measure of how morally depraved the society or group is in which they find themselves.

Confucius advised that, when appointing an official, “if he has no friends, it is necessary to make enquiries. If he has no enemies, it is necessary to make enquiries.”

Either is an indication, although not proof, of a bad person.

Someone who has no friends is probably a cutthroat; although he might just be extremely introverted—or extremely righteous.

Someone who has no enemies is probably someone who simply agrees and goes along with whomever he is speaking to. He is duplicitous and has no principles.

A good person will be loved by good people, and persecuted by bad people.

Which is no doubt part of the divine plan. If one were being righteous only for the hope of worldly rewards, there would be no particular merit to it.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Get Yer Popcorn for the Apocalypse

Is there any point to history?

Or do generations only rise and die?

Most cultures have said no. Social life at least was just one damned thing after another.

The Judeo-Christian and the Muslim traditions disagree. We have always held that history was under divine guidance, and, over time, revealed God’s will.

There are suggestions of this in the Beatitudes. Even though Christianity seems a more individualistic religion than Judaism.

First, there is the promise that the “meek,” the selfless, will inherit the Earth.

Then there is “blessed are the peacemakers.” The obvious reference is to just government.

We have accordingly been paying attention to the march or shuffle of history, in Europe and its colonies, for a couple of thousand years.

How has that worked out? Can we indeed detect in it some holy lesson, some teleological trend?

It seems obvious that we can—in the sense that there has been dramatic human material progress over that period. Not incidentally, most of that has come in Christian lands, suggesting religion might have something to do with it.

By itself, however, this does not demonstrate divine guidance. It is natural enough for mankind to be seeking material comfort, and so over time it is natural if they achieve it.

A better test is this: in the strife of governments, lands, and empires, does the good guy usually, if not always, win?

It looks as though they do. The bad sorts can gain temporary ascendency, but always lose in the long run.

Cynics here have a ready reply: it only seems to be so, because history is written by the winners.

Yet those of us old enough to remember the fall of the Soviet Bloc must suspect there is something to it. The Communist world was indeed, as Reagan called it, “the Evil Empire.” If we did not quite believe it then, we have heard ourselves much testimony since from those who lived beneath it. And those of us who saw it fall must have suspected a miracle, a divine intervention. Only a few years earlier, it was conventional wisdom among the learned classes in the West that soon Communism would achieve primacy, either through victory in one big hot war in Europe, dominos toppling in the Third World, or “convergence”—the West being forced to adopt the same policies to compete.

Yet suddenly, it was gone. As though we had awakened from a dream.

We saw ourselves the same in the fall of Nazism. For a few years, it looked invincible and inevitable. And then it came crashing down.

Opposed again to this idea of God in command, it is fashionable today to condemn the great European Empires as examples of evil triumphing. Evil then swept the Earth, and held sway for perhaps a hundred years. You might argue that they lost in the end; but they had a strikingly good run.

I think that is misguided. There is nothing evil about an empire. To be blunt, that notion is racist.

How is it better for me that the people running my government are of the same race as myself? That should mean nothing to me, unless I am a racist. Or expect special favours because of race.

It also does not matter, by itself, that I vote on who is in charge. That is only a means to an end.

An elected government can be evil. Hitler was elected, and was evil. Robespierre was elected, and was evil. Lynch mobs are evil.

An unelected government can be good. Pope John Paul II was not elected, and few could argue he was a bad pope.

What matters is that the government is run disinterestedly, honestly, and fairly for all, and is strong and resolute enough to defend everyone’s rights and property, against either close neighbours or outsiders.

An imperial government may well be better at that than a local government of the same genetic makeup. They even have special advantages: they command more force to defend against outsiders. They can concentrate more force to keep order. They are not beholden to anyone at the local level, as a local government, or an elected official, is likely to be. And they have nothing to prove socially: to them, all local classes, races, or tribal groups are likely to look the same.

The British treatment of Ireland was evil; but that was really a separate issue. The problem was precisely that Ireland was not thought of as part of the Empire, but part of the homeland. So assimilation was demanded.

Everywhere else, Britain gave the world Pax Britannica, a notable period of peace and prosperity, of optimism about the future, and of rapid human progress. It ended the slave trade; it ended the caste system in India; it ended suttee; it ended thuggery, banditry, and piracy wherever it went; it ended the eternal genocidal tribal wars in Canada, Africa, and the South Pacific. It introduced common law, parliamentary procedure, and sound principles of accountancy, significant civilizational advances, worldwide. Not to mention empirical science and the industrial revolution.

The Roman Empire, the next most obvious example of a successful empire, was in the same way a civilizing influence. It gave Europe the Roman Law, still the basis of most European legal systems. It hosted the spread of Judeo-Christian values and Greek moral and political philosophy. It ended Punic child sacrifice. It ended the constant tribal wars and human sacrifice of Gaul. Like most empires, it reduced racism. Anyone could become a Roman citizen.

After a thousand years, it fell; and its fall in the West produced a significant civilizational decline. This is some measure of its value.

America is not an empire, but is now globally dominant. And America is, perhaps not coincidentally, the most moral of nations. It is, literally, the most religious of advanced nations. America is a nation not based on race or ethnicity, but on ideals: the ideals of liberal democracy, of Jefferson and Locke. While it has sinned in its past, only in comparison to its own ideals, not in comparison to other nations at the time.

There are logical reasons why the most moral nations will most succeed—which may be to say, this is burned in to the world’s Logos. If you cannot trust your neighbours, and trust the government, a huge amount of effort and energy must be wasted. People with shared ideals and a selfless attitude are more inclined to work together towards a shared goal. This defines a successful society.

The secret to the great success of Roman was such trust. The classic Roman battle tactic was for each soldier to thrust sideways, instead of at the attacker in front. This allowed him to get past the enemy’s armour. But for this to work, each man needed absolute trust in the soldier next to him. It was a test of selflessness.

The second great strength of Rome was that they never accepted defeat. When Carthage sank their entire fleet, they built another. When Hannibal wiped out their army in the field, they built another.

This was possible only because the average Roman had unshakeable faith in the government. In another place, in the face of such defeat, social order would dissolve in recriminations and revolt. Compare Russia in 1917; or France in 1870 or 1940.

The British secret was the same. As someone said, “the British lose every battle but the last.” They did not break in defeat; their finest hours have been magnificently orderly retreats or last stands. You could not break the British line or the British square. They just kept fighting until, sooner or later, the other side gave up.

This is possible only with a high level of mutual trust; trust in your government, your commanders, and your fellows in the field.

Understanding this much, it must then be said that we are plainly now entering a period of abject cultural decline. Trust has been broken. Unity around ideals has been lost. Postmodernism, intersectionality, feminism, transgenderism, and multiculturalism are exactly the opposite of what makes a society, a culture, or a government moral and successful. They seem designed to deliberately foment conflict. They represent a systematic denial of all shared values and moral principles.

The only thing keeping us from total collapse is the absence of any clear alternative. Of what Ibn Khaldun saw as the engine of history: of some new and vital ideology sweeping in from the desert or the fringes to re-establish moral order.

The decadence explains why Marxism is still or again so popular, despite its obvious and consistent failures. Marxism at least offers a coherent vision of history, a sense of social direction, and a moral code.

It explains again why Islamism suddenly has such strong appeal; for all the same reasons.

But just like Communism, we see that Islamism does not produce good results. We saw it tried in Iran and Libya. Like Marxism, it seems just unifying enough to get a movement into local power, but not compelling enough to inspire moral behaviour in them for more than perhaps a few years.

Trumpian populism seems to be producing better results, but is also no solution. It is too obviously all showmanship, smoke and mirrors. It will engage perhaps for a season, but not for longer.

Environmentalism might look like another current candidate for giving social life meaning. But it is anti-social and anti-human. It is no more than an impulse toward mass suicide.

America has gotten to the present point on the unifying principles of liberalism. Liberalism may still have fuel. Libertarianism is gaining support among the young.

But liberalism as a creed is limited. It is a via negativa, outlining what society must not do. This has led before to a general popular sense of inadequacy: if we have freedom, freedom to do what? What, other than not bothering each other, are we all here for?

It feels, in the end, bloodless, mechanical.

It needs, therefore, a second motivating ingredient.

Originally, this was Christianity. Locke built liberal philosophy on Biblical foundations. John Adams wisely advised, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” And he knew what he was talking about. A great deal in liberal democracy is based on an assumption of moral behavior among parties. Failure to recognize this truth led the US sadly astray in its attempts at nation-building in Vietnam, Afghanistan, or Iraq.

Our best hope therefore seems to be something like a Third Great Awakening in the United States.

Leonard Cohen seems to have seen the same, in his 1992 song “Democracy.”

It's coming to America first
The cradle of the best and of the worst
It's here they got the range
And the machinery for change
And it's here they got the spiritual thirst

… It's coming from the sorrow in the street
The holy places where the races meet

… From the staggering account
Of the Sermon on the Mount

… From the wells of disappointment
Where the women kneel to pray
For the grace of God in the desert here
And the desert far away:

Democracy is coming
To the USA.

We can only pray.