Monday, November 30, 2020
Sunday, November 29, 2020
While he was yet speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she kept them. When Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban, his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban, his mother’s brother, Jacob went near, and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother. Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept. Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s relative, and that he was Rebekah’s son. She ran and told her father.
--Genesis 29:9-11, WEB.
Jacob treated Rachel at once as his cousin, which caused significant whispering among the by-standers. They censured Jacob for his demeanor toward her, for since God had sent the deluge upon the world, on account of the immoral life led by men, great chastity had prevailed, especially among the people of the east. The talk of the men reduced Jacob to tears. Scarcely had he kissed Rachel when he began to weep, for he repented of having done it.
There was reason enough for tears. Jacob could not but remember sadly that Eliezer, his grandfather's slave, had brought ten camels laden with presents with him to Haran, when he came to sue for a bride for Isaac, while he had not even a ring to give to Rachel. Moreover, he foresaw that his favorite wife Rachel would not lie beside him in the grave, and this, too, made him weep.
--Midrash (Ginsberg, Legends of the Jews).
“Then Jacob kissed Rachel. and he raised his voice and wept.” Bereishis 29: 11
Rashi explains that he cried because he came empty-handed. He said, “My father’s servant came with ten camels laden with gifts and finery, and I come with empty hands.”
Rashi goes on to explain to us why he didn’t bring a gift for Rachel. When Jacob found out that Esau was plotting to kill him, he fled from his father’s home. Esau sent his son Alifaz to chase down Jacob. Alifaz was a Tzaddik, and when he approached Jacob he said, “I can’t kill you because you are an innocent man. On the other hand, what will be with the command of my father?” Jacob said to him, “A poor man has the halachic status of a dead man. Take my money, and it will be considered as if you killed me, so on some level you will have fulfilled your father’s words.” As a result, Jacob came to the well empty-handed. When it was time to propose to Rachel, he didn’t have the gifts that would be expected, and so, he raised his voice and cried.
The theme that runs through this is the need to respect the proprieties. And this is the solution to the problem that sometimes moral demands will conflict: as in the case of Alifaz. Following tradition and set laws, even if in a “legalistic” manner, protects us in such moments.
Alifaz’s dilemma speaks to the children of dysfunctional families, as he was, who are torn between the requirement for “filial piety,” on the one hand, the demands of the family, and the fact that a narcissistic parent is often seeking their harm or demanding that they behave immorally towards others. The answer is apparently to give the parent their strict literal due, no more. Observe the proprieties. Confucius makes the same point.
In order to do this, it is essential to have an established moral code, the meaning of which is precise and clear. This is why we need the Ten Commandments, despite the fact that the principles of true morality are embedded in the conscience of each of us. This is why we need the Bible, and organized religion.
And this is also why people who act on their immediate desires without minding the requirements of propriety, are so damaging.
The situation of Jacob and Rachel is in turn a warning against the mirage of “true love,” which so often misleads the abused. It is not enough that two people are “in love.” A love that does not follow the proprieties is not true love, for this is ultimately disrespectful of the other party. This is putting the emotion or the urge above their human dignity.
Clear traditions and requirements protect us from giving another either too much or too little recognition. Too much, and you are feeding their possible narcissism. Too little, and you are driving them towards depression and anxiety. For this, it is essential to have a Book, a Law, a tradition.
And it is dangerous too for the once-abused to go about seeking excessive recognition—looking for the “unconditional love” they are told by some therapists they always deserved. Because this will lead that poor fly into the lair of the next narcissistic spider, who recognizes the need.
Saturday, November 28, 2020
|State government control|
Several commentators are now pointing out a plausible path for Trump to be re-elected.
1. The Giuliani, Powell, and other legal initiatives make a convincing case in the public mind that the election was fraudulent. They meanwhile pursue legal channels.
2. If it goes all the way, the Supreme Court may rule that the results were indeed fraudulent. The right has a 5-3 majority there, with Roberts as a swing vote. If they are given a reasonable argument, the benefit of the doubt is likely to go Trump’s way.
3. Trump wins.
But even if they do not:
4. By the Constitution, state legislatures have sole discretion to appoint electors. The critical states that are in dispute mostly have Republican majorities in their legislatures: Michigan, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona. These legislatures can refuse to recognize the vote tally as legitimate and either send no electors or send their own.
If there is a strong public impression that the vote was fraudulent, they might have the political will to do so. At a certain point, if they do not, they risk being “primaried” by irate members of their own party. All they need is plausible justification. This the Giuliani and Powell initiatives may have already given them.
5. With legislature-approved slates of electors from any three of the disputed states, including Pennsylvania, the Electoral College votes for Trump.
6. If three legislatures simply fail to certify the vote, or if their action in doing this is disputed, the Electoral College is deadlocked—or its vote is disputed.
7. Congress therefore may act. By the Constitution, it votes for president directly. Each state delegation to congress gets one vote. The Republicans control more state delegations than the Democrats.
8. Trump wins.
Of course, there will be violence in the streets if this happens. It would all be an alarming precedent. On the other hand, we seem to have no options at this point that do not involve provoking violence in the streets and alarming precedents. We already have violence in the streets from the left; let Biden in, and the right joins them. Let one fraudulent election get by, and you cannot expect any future elections to be clean
This blog has been relatively quiescent recently. For one thing, your humble correspondent has been busy with other work. For another, things have been so insane that comment seems superfluous. “Oh My God!” seems more or less sufficient. On Trump’s court challenges, I do not have the expertise: that’s for lawyers. The world is full of lawyers, and I’m not one of them.
Mad as things are south of 49, it is easy to forget about matters right here in Canada. It looks to me as though the Trudeau government is in serious trouble on the vaccine front. Canadians are about to watch as the US and the UK, most of Europe, India, Brazil, Russia, China, the Middle East get vaccinated, while Canada stays in shutdown, and Canadians continue to die of COVID. The effects on the Canadian economy may also be devastating.
The government will insist that this is unavoidable, because we do not have our own production facilities. Perhaps this is true; even so, people will blame the government.
The government boasts that it has pre-ordered more vaccine per capita than any other country: nine times what is needed to vaccinate every single Canadian. But this is useless if every Canadian needs only one vaccination, and the pre-orders are fulfilled after all previous orders are filled. Apparently the Canadian government started late to make pre-orders, and overcompensated by over-ordering. Simply wasting a lot of money.
The present government seems spectacularly incompetent. Irresponsible children playing at being leaders. They have made an alarming hash of our foreign affairs, and they have been spending money recklessly. Yet they are still in power because we have also been saddled with an incompetent opposition. Both the Conservatives and the NDP seem to have been seized by sinister forces who have gotten rid of their most effective leaders (Mulcair and Bernier) in rigged leadership races.
In our own quiet way, Canada seems to be in at least as much trouble as is the US right now. And the underlying cause is the same: a poison has infected our “elites.” It is, I think, the poison of postmodernism, the abandonment of all principle.
COVID is at least helping to expose the problem.
Friday, November 27, 2020
Thursday, November 26, 2020
|God gave Noah the rainbow sign ...|
It seems unambiguous to me that what is going on in the US currently is a struggle of good and evil. With evil seemingly triumphant. Yes, the Democrats and the contemporary left are simply morally depraved. Their postmodern essence is the denial of the possibility of either good or evil; and a denial that there is such a thing as truth or reality. For them, it is only “the narrative.” And the only response to crime is to blame the police. Their spirit is the spirit of destruction.
This tips into an inexorable and accelerating downward spiral, and we are witnessing it. Things are falling apart in civil society now at breakneck speed: the censorship, the denial of free speech, the endemic racism, the open hatred of “whites” or “cisgender males,” the devolution into tribalism, the open corruption, the Hunter Bidens and the Jeffrey Epsteins and nobody seeming to care; the random destruction in the streets of the largest cities, and nobody seeming to care. Actual calls now for dissidents to be arrested—Republicans, anyone who worked for Trump. Against, of course, the relentless but unmentionable backdrop of unrestricted abortion, with the current governor of Virginia, or Whoopi Goldberg on TV, going so far as to openly endorse post-birth infanticide.
Joe Biden? A testament to the truth of Hannah Arendt’s phrase, “the banality of evil.”
Already little is left of American democracy. If you do not have free speech or a free press, and you cannot trust your elections, democracy is not the correct term.
COVID-19 is of course a separate matter, an Act of God. But COVID-19 might be a judgement from God. Not just on the US; I do not imagine China will come out of this better than the USA. I read the waters are symbolically rising again behind the Three Gorges Dam.
Everywhere the cities are burning. What will be left?
Today, a friend taught me a Jewish tradition: you go to the Book of Psalms, and meditate daily on the Psalm one number beyond your current age. This is the psalm that best advises you for the year. Supposedly this is personal; but my psalm sounds as though it might apply for all of us:
Let God arise!
Let his enemies be scattered!
Let them who hate him also flee before him.
As smoke is driven away,
so drive them away.
As wax melts before the fire,
so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.
… A father of the fatherless, and a defender of the widows,
is God in his holy habitation.
God sets the lonely in families.
He brings out the prisoners with singing,
but the rebellious dwell in a sun-scorched land.
… God is to us a God of deliverance.
To Yahweh, the Lord, belongs escape from death.
But God will strike through the head of his enemies,
the hairy scalp of such a one as still continues in his guiltiness.
The Lord said, “I will bring you again from Bashan,
I will bring you again from the depths of the sea,
that you may crush them, dipping your foot in blood,
that the tongues of your dogs may have their portion from your enemies.”
This is NOT a double-blind test with controls; it is a retrospective analysis. Nevertheless, it at least finally tests the actual regimen originally claimed to work. And it seems to show that, yes, itworks.
So how to explain the fact that we have not seen that gold-standard, double-blind test with controls that we need? How many have died who need not have?
Monday, November 23, 2020
Some people wear masks. Some people seem to speak, not spontaneously, but on a sort of internal tape delay. Their faces tend to fix in one expression: as often as not, a permanent smile; sometimes a neutral expression. There often seems to be a strain around the jaw. They are consciously controlling their faces, and it takes some effort.
If they laugh, you can hear that it is feigned, something they are imitating, not something from within themselves.
If they are not necessarily bad people, they are obviously people who feel they have something to hide. They have some sense of guilt; this may be deserved or undeserved.
Technically, these are “hypocrites.” The word, New Testament Greek, literally means an actor, or one who is wearing a stage mask, as Greek actors did.
M. Scott Peck calls them “People of the Lie.”
The one certain thing is that you cannot trust them.
The year 2020 is not getting any saner. Toronto is going back into lockdown for 28 days, which will wipe out the Christmas shopping season and probably assure that all the independent brick-and-mortar retailers go bankrupt. It is generally only during the Christmas season that they ever turn a profit, and that is gone now.
Winter kicked off yesterday, after an eerily warm fall, with a blizzard.
Today, also news that the Oxford-Astro-Zeneca vaccine is 70% effective, adding to the Moderna and Pfizer entries. We now seem poised for a mad race to get everybody vaccinated before everybody gets the virus and dies. Latest estimates are that we will all be living with this crisis for another year; still masking and distancing. Hope that is wrong, but the experience so far is that everything has taken much longer than predicted.
Things are wild on the US election front as well. Several states are set to certify their votes today; in the meantime, Sidney Powell has been fired from the Trump legal team. This looks grim for Trump because she was the one claiming she would “release the kraken.” If Trump is pulling away from her, it sounds as though there is no kraken.
Jordan Peterson, back from near-death due to tranquilizer addiction, has just announced a sequel to his Twelve Rules for Life. It is titled, ominously, Beyond Order.
We will long remember this year. But probably not fondly.
Sunday, November 22, 2020
It is snowing outside my window; the first snow in Toronto this year. This is also the Solemnity of Christ the King, the end of the liturgical year.
The readings reflect what Christians believe will happen at the end of time.
They give no support for the common secular “I’m OK, you’re OK” attitude. They see good guys, and bad guys, and a war of good against evil.
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory,
and all the angels with him,
he will sit upon his glorious throne,
and all the nations will be assembled before him.
And he will separate them one from another,
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the king will say to those on his right,
'Come, you who are blessed by my Father.
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’
Then he will say to those on his left,
'Depart from me, you accursed,
into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’
And these will go off to eternal punishment,
but the righteous to eternal life."
And this repeats a motif in the Old Testament reading from Ezekiel:
Thus says the Lord GOD:
I myself will look after and tend my sheep.
The lost I will seek out,
the strayed I will bring back,
the injured I will bind up,
the sick I will heal,
but the sleek and the strong I will destroy,
shepherding them rightly.
As for you, my sheep, says the Lord GOD,
I will judge between one sheep and another,
between rams and goats.”
The middle reading, from the Epistles, says that when Jesus comes again, he will
“destroy every sovereignty and every authority and power.
For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.”
You can’t be complacent or play both sides. Everyone can’t be your friend. You are either a sheep or a goat.
Saturday, November 21, 2020
I had not read Lord of the Flies since high school. When William Golding won the Nobel Prize back in the Eighties, people generally thought it was for too slender a body of work, and I more or less agreed. I had read a couple of his other novels, and they came nowhere near LOTF. Was he really winning the Nobel Prize for one novel?
I just reread the book; I am teaching it. Golding absolutely deserved the Nobel. If one book says all that needs to be said, isn’t that the greatest accomplishment of all?
Friday, November 20, 2020
|Red: state houses under Republican control.|
In this insane year, what happens next with the US election? Whatever the courts decide, as I understand it, state legislatures have the option of refusing to certify that state’s results if they believe them fraudulent. The Republicans hold a majority of the state legislatures, including at least partial control of all the disputed states except Nevada.
If they refuse to certify results, the selection of the president goes to Congress: each state gets one vote. In Congress, too, the Republicans hold more states than the Democrats. So the presidency goes to Trump.
This would no doubt bring the left out into the streets claiming a coup. But it is the proper constitutional procedure; and the left is already out in the streets, and will probably remain in the streets, no matter what happens now. So the process might as well be followed; the alternative of approving a clearly fraudulent election might bring both sides out into the streets, and end in civil war.
I think the left sees this writing on the wall; for their behavior has become hysterical. Witness this piece from Vanity Fair; CNN refused to carry the Trump legal team’s press conference. It is like a childish tantrum.
The shock waves extend further: given the fraud the lawyers seem to have uncovered, without drastic and immediate steps, what elections in the US are secure? And what elections in other countries? Who is in office now due to fraud?
Thursday, November 19, 2020
I think the stuff Trump’s lawyers alleged in their press conference today are enough that, even if Trump is not able to overturn the projected electoral college count and hold the presidency, a Biden presidency is untenable unless they can be fairly convincingly refuted.
Let Biden occupy the White House: his party has been repudiated in the Senate and has lost ground in the House. He has little mandate to do anything, and little chance of accomplishing anything.
Now, unless the charges can be credibly disproven, half the nation will also believe he stole the election, and is not a legitimate president.
What is the point, at that point?
Moreover, if they cannot be disproven, the Democratic brand looks irreparably tarnished.
Wednesday, November 18, 2020
Monday, November 16, 2020
It seems indisputable by now that the modern left has gone insane. It has been insane for a long time, really, in a low-key, narcissist way. But narcissists, called out, can sometimes become outright psychotic: disconnected from reality in an obvious way.
In his latest column, my leftward pal Xerxes writes “the US media [has at last] acknowledged that they have ethical responsibilities.” Yet what he cites as indicating this is the breakdown in US media of journalistic ethics. War is peace; ignorance is strength.
Specifically, he lauds six US networks for cutting off their president on-air in mid-sentence.
The first job of a journalist, self-evidently, is to report, not to suppress, the news. The US president addressing the nation is self-evidently important news in the US. If he speaks immediately after a contested election, they could hardly be more newsworthy. His remarks are false or inflammatory? That makes it more newsworthy still. You are encouraging journalistic malpractice: “journalists” suppressing news. This is morally equivalent to doctors poisoning their patients, policemen running shakedown rackets, or teachers actively preventing learning.
He more grudgingly lauds two other networks for showing Trump’s full speech, then following it with members of their own staff contradicting his claims. This is an unambiguous violation of the journalistic obligation of fairness: “journalists must present facts with impartiality and neutrality” (Wikipedia entry on journalistic ethics). Proper procedure is to get quotes from both sides of the argument--not to take sides. Nor would it have been difficult for an honest network to have gotten an immediate response to the president’s statement from some Democratic spokesman. If the journal wishes to express an opinion, this is done in a clearly-marked editorial or opinion segment. To simply declare a source’s statement false in the process of supposedly reporting straight news constitutes fraud.
Sadly, this abandonment of journalistic ethics is becoming the norm. As a result, journalism in general is in dire straits. “Old media” is not dying simply because of the technological competition from new media. New media sources like Vox or Vice too have been losing readership and viewership, so long as they employ professional journalists and the same ethical standards; established brands cannot transition their existing news operations to the new platforms. They cannot compete with the new “citizen journalists” because they are no longer trusted. Surveys show this as well.
Sunday, November 15, 2020
This past year has been absolute hell. I have no more patience, if I ever did, for the Hallelujah chorus Christians with their happy happy joy joy attitude. There is, as Ecclesiastes says, a time for joy, but it must not be unrelenting. There is also a time to mourn.
Suppose God has indeed been good to you. Can you ignore the millions who died in Hitler's camps, or on Pol Pot’s killing fields? Will you dance on the unmarked graves of the millions of unborn? Can you ignore those two little abandoned leper girls living in a makeshift tent in the Liloan churchyard?
I'm not saying you should rush off a cheque or join a protest. That sort of thing is fine too, but you know perfectly well, if you are an adult, that it does not change much. It just makes you feel a little better, and perhaps you shouldn’t. It hardly feels moral to declare this world relentlessly wonderful in front of two little leper girls. It seems callous. Truth must be our aim, not comfortable dishonesty.
A few years ago, young and innocent, my daughter wrote a Mother's Day card thanking her mom for, among other things, not aborting her. Canadian friends, all pro-abortion, were alarmed. What a thing to think! Has she not been sufficiently assured she was loved and wanted?
They miss the point; perhaps deliberately. Abortion is not okay simply because it turns out I was not aborted. Others were; I might have been. There but for the grace of God …
Evil is real, evil is evil, and evil is powerful. It is the more powerful the more we pretend it is not there.
Blessed are those who mourn. There is something wrong with anyone who does not. Our hope is in a better world.
Do we have assurance of a better world? There is no proof of heaven. There is no historical proof that Jesus even existed, let alone was God incarnate. Even great saints like Mother Teresa or St. Therese have admitted doubt. And even if it is all true, we have no right to expect that we will achieve the goal.
Yet we know that things ought to be better. We are aware that they are deeply wrong. That is our warrant that something more is possible. That in itself seems adequate to explain evil in the world. Were we never to experience darkness, we could not be aware of the light. Were we never to experience ugliness, we could not conceive of beauty. Were we never to experience evil, we could not know heaven.
Lose our sense of discontent, that hunger and thirst after righteousness, and all is lost.
Thursday, November 12, 2020
Monday, November 09, 2020
My friend Antiochus is under the false impression that absolutists—those who believe in absolute values—are difficult to talk to. He writes “In my experience, once an absolutist has decided something, there's not much of anything another person can say or do to dissuade him from continuing to see things a certain way.”
In fact, he has this exactly wrong. The current breakdown in civil discourse in the US, Canada, and Europe is directly traceable to the rise of relativism. Absolutists can discuss anything at all civilly, and come to agreement. Relativists cannot.
If you are convinced something is true, you are of course not easily going to change your mind about it. But is this a problem? Why does that matter/ If a scientist is adamant that the earth is round, is it a problem that you cannot convince him that the earth is flat as a manhole cover?
More importantly, if he is convinced that it is true that the earth is round, he will have no problem discussing the matter with you, hearing you out, and not forcing his opinion on you. He will try to convince you of his view, confident that he can. If he cannot, he is not troubled: he simply knows something you don’t know. This is entirely to his advantage.
Antiochus objects that this is a fabricated example: so let’s look at real world examples. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity in 1905 upended the accepted Newtonian view of physics. Did an irresistible force meet an unmovable object? Rather, Einstein won the argument, quick and simple. Just as Newton won the argument—there really was no argument—against Euclid in his day. So did Chomsky, with one famous article, in the late fifties, that neatly disproved the behaviourism that had been the standard view of psychology at the time.
Granted, things do not always go that smoothly. But that is the way it is supposed to work, and by and large how it does. The great thing about absolutism is that both sides have absolute standards to which they can appeal in case of disagreement. If either party is a relativist, there is no way to resolve disagreement.
The problem comes when someone is trying to promote an idea they do not themselves believe is true. Only then does it matter whether they can impose it on others. Only relativists will refuse to discuss and will try to impose their ideas.
The classic example of an absolutist is a philosopher. The point of philosophy is to seek absolutes: the good (ethics), the true (ontology) and the beautiful (aesthetics).
Philosophers are notably disinclined to impose their views on others. They tend, in a word, to be philosophical about things.
Religious people are also absolutists. The obvious example of absolutism in religion is the Catholic Church: it holds a body of dogmas to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
But the Catholic Church—or any religion—is incapable of imposing their views on anyone else. Adherence to any faith is voluntary, and even if you sign up, the Church has no power other than moral suasion: they only tell you things. Note that most Catholics, and most adherents of any religion, are positively eager to discuss their or another’s beliefs.
What, you might object, about militant Islamists? To which I respond that these are not religious absolutists, but religious relativists. Look into any “Muslim terrorist,” and you will find someone who was never thought of by their friends or family as particularly religious, who had a secular rather than a religious education, who knew little about their nominal faith. In short, they thought its truth was highly questionable, which is the only reason they would find any need to impose it on others. Or would feel it threatened. If, after all, you are convinced that God is behind it, and you, wouldn’t you assume it is bound to prevail without your taking any extreme measures into your own hands?
What about, say, the persecution of Catholics in England under Henry VIII?
Henry was the ultimate religious relativist. He switched religion just to get a divorce. This is why he felt he needed to impose the new faith. As a relativist, he found religious absolutists threatening.
The ultimate religious absolutist would be a monk in a monastery. Not a lot of terrorism in a monastery.
The obvious example of absolutism in politics is the doctrine of human rights. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
It is fair to say there has been some effort to impose this doctrine on others: in Germany or Japan after the Second World War, in Britain’s century-long battle against the slave trade, in the American Civil War.
I am unashamedly an absolutist on this; I believe in the existence of inalienable human rights, and I think it is proper to fight to defend them. Because I am an absolutist, however, I am also at least perfectly happy to discuss the matter, if anyone else does not agree with the concepts of human equality or human rights.
Let us compare relativism. Fascism is relativism. Mussolini, its chief theoretician, said as much in as many words. Because truth and morality were up for grabs, Hitler or Mussolini saw the propriety of imposing whatever was their will, or seemed to their benefit; or that of the German or Italian nation.
Marxism is also relativist: Marx held that everything was “ideology,” imposed on us by our social and economic system, and nobody—except, presumably, Karl Marx, in an obvious logical contradiction—could see beyond this to any absolute truth or morality.
And where have Fascism and Marxism led us? Granted, if you are a moral relativist, the deaths of millions may have no particular significance… as it did not to Mao or Stalin or Hitler; that, sadly, is a given.
But are you, gentle reader, prepared to declare yourself a relativist now?
Sunday, November 08, 2020
|Wisdom with her daughters Faith, Hope, and Charity.|
Resplendent and unfading is wisdom,
and she is readily perceived by those who love her,
and found by those who seek her.
She hastens to make herself known in anticipation of their desire;
Whoever watches for her at dawn shall not be disappointed,
for he shall find her sitting by his gate.
For taking thought of wisdom is the perfection of prudence,
and whoever for her sake keeps vigil
shall quickly be free from care;
because she makes her own rounds, seeking those worthy of her,
and graciously appears to them in the ways,
and meets them with all solicitude.
When I was in graduate school, I wanted to study Wisdom. For an obvious reason: I had no idea what it was. I understood what intelligence was; I understood what knowledge was. But what was this mysterious third thing?
I was not able to, because there were no courses offered on the subject, and no faculty member would agree to supervise a reading course on it. Which is perhaps telling, perhaps not. I suspect that Wisdom has few friends in grad school.
Yet it was clearly something of importance. The Greeks revered it as the goddess Athena, and named their principal city after her. Bulgaria named their capital after her: Sofia. The principal church of the East was named for her: Hagia Sophia, Holy Wisdom. In India she is revered as Sarasvati, the active principle of Brahma, the supreme godhead. Philosophy itself was named after her: “the love of Wisdom.” So why was no one talking about her? Why did nobody seem to know who she was?
I assumed, of course, that Wisdom was something deeply mysterious, which for some dark reason one only acquired towards the end of one’s life.
So the striking thing about the reading is that it suggests that wisdom is not mysterious at all; that she is “readily perceived by those who love her.” That is the whole point, repeated, of the passage.
It is not that she is hard to find, or difficult to understand. It is that we fail to love her. We do not want her.
Thomas Aquinas, citing Aristotle, defines Wisdom clearly: “it belongs to wisdom to consider the highest cause. By means of that cause we are able to form a most certain judgment about other causes, and according thereto all things should be set in order.”
If that is not perfectly clear to you, to anyone, it is because you do not want it to be. For some reason, most of us would rather be chasing squirrels and barking up trees. Perhaps it comes to some of us late in life out of no more than sheer exhaustion—to turn to the loving hand that was there in every dawn all along. And to many of us, clearly, it never comes at all.
Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you. And see, you were within and I was in the external world and sought you there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely created things which you made. You were with me, and I was not with you. The lovely things kept me far from you, though if they did not have their existence in you, they had no existence at all. You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness. You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness. You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you. I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.
- St. Augustine
Inspired by a recent email from my sister: memories of the Ed Sullivan show. It used to be the pinnacle of North American culture: it was what was happening, and everyone on Monday discussed what they saw the previous night.
Kind of a shame that variety shows like Ed Sullivan are dead. They were unifying. And they were the scions of a long and storied line, back to the English music halls and vaudeville. Same format; they just put a camera in the audience. They are still crazy popular in the Philippines.
Here’s a longer version of Wayne & Schuster’s great skit:
Saturday, November 07, 2020
Here’s a conspiracy theory based on unsubstantiated rumours. Deal with it.
A couple of weeks ago, some talking Tuber was spreading the story that the US Military had software that could rig foreign elections. And they had used it successfully. Specifically, the rumour held, they had used it in Canada.
I knew that one wasn’t true. I know the Canadian voting process. No piece of software could interfere with a Canadian election, which involves a paper trail and a public tallying observed by all parties, each of whom can keep their own independent records. I felt proud of the good old Canadian low-tech traditions. And scoffed at the foolish Americans who tinkered with things like voting machines.
Then in the current chaos, a couple of days ago, another rumour popped up online that one county in Michigan had wrongly given 6,000 Trump votes to Biden. And this was blamed on a software glitch.
Funny sort of software glitch. Sounds pretty boneheaded of the programmer who could allow such a basic coding error.
Then I hear that the same software is being used in over sixty Michigan counties. At this level, multiplied by sixty, the same software error could easily have flipped the entire state from Trump to Biden. That’s 360,000 votes. Biden leads Trump in the local count, at the moment, by about 130,000 votes.
Then I hear that the same software is being used in all the tightly-contested swing states, where the vote totals have, since election night, swung from Trump to Biden. It is used in 33 states.
Now I hear that the software is made by a private company called “Dominion Voting Systems.” A Canadian company, founded in 2002. The code is proprietary.
Could that rumour about election-fixing software having been used in Canada have been a case of “Chinese whispers”? Was it that the software was made in Canada, rather than used there?
Is Canada fixing US elections, instead of the other way around?
Or, more likely:
If the US Military, or the CIA, say, wanted to create a software program that they could use to control foreign elections, they would not have it made in the USA. That would raise suspicions. Everyone thinks of Canada as more benign; a stable democracy, and everyone’s buddy internationally.
Then, of course, you would set up the company as private, so that nobody could see the code. Use a nice generic Canadian-sounding name. You want people to understand it is Canadian.
But Canada is tightly enough in the US orbit, close enough, interconnected enough, and dependent enough on the US, that the US government could still be confident of absolute control.
Why wouldn’t the CIA, say, do something like this, as a matter of course? They are pretty much not doing their job if they haven’t.
Perhaps as purely a fringe benefit, this means that the CIA has the ability, if they so choose, to fix any US election as well.
We know the “Deep State,” the permanent bureaucracy, is opposed to Trump. We know that the FBI tried to stage what was essentially a coup with the “Russia collusion” business. Prepared to go that far, even at the risk of exposure, why wouldn’t they go far enough to fix the next election, if they fairly easily could?
More generally, it seems inevitable that any state with an active covert activities arm will sooner or later see that covert organization organizing to control its own government. We saw it in the Soviet Union as early as Stalin’s death; Beria failed, but Yuri Andropov later succeeded, and old KGB hand Putin succeeded him. We saw it in Nazi Germany; Canaris and the Abwehr worked secretly against the Nazi government throughout the war. If we have not seen it in Britain, perhaps that is only because there was no need. The intelligence operation and the ruling class have always been indistinguishable and in charge. Didn’t we all know that? Brits simply trust their civil service and ruling elite to know best, and always have.
The footprints have, it seems to me, been visible for some time. Someone has been running things behind the scenes in the Democratic Party, this election and last, pre-determining the nominee regardless of the popular vote. Biden looks like a straw candidate, and it is bizarre how all the other candidacies suddenly conceded. … The Democratic Party being, like the Liberal Party in Canada, the party of the permanent bureaucracy.
Yes, it sounds like the perfect conspiracy theory, the kind tinfoil hats were invented for.
If it is real, the truth will probably come out. Conspiracies are real; ask Julius Caesar. It is just that the big ones rarely succeed.
Thursday, November 05, 2020
At this writing, it looks likely that Biden will now win the presidency in the official count.
On the other hand, there seems to be substantial evidence that this is due to fraud. Americans are inclined to cry foul whenever their team loses; but this time it looks real. Reports of large tranches of ballots, all for Biden, being wheeled into the Detroit voting centre in the middle of the night. Reports of postmarks being falsified to allow extra ballots to be counted. Scrutineers being barred from the count. Reports of jurisdictions in Michigan and in Wisconsin reporting more votes cast than eligible voters. Reports of votes from dead people.
The new rules for mail-in voting, even if arguably justified by the pandemic, seemed all along designed to allow for fraud. Biden has actually publicly declared having pulled together the greatest voter fraud operation in American history—no doubt a senior moment, but more likely an inadvertent truth than a purely random mistake. Seeing Trump win in the vote count on election night, then a pause in the counting, and the tallies all suddenly reversing the next day, is exactly what we see in rigged votes. We have, further, seen time and again that the left will break all the rules, norms, and conventions in order to get what they want. Why would they stop short here?
Trump is going to court. If the matter reaches the Supreme Court, he has the advantage. You cannot expect the Supreme Court to support him if he has the clearly weaker case; regardless of ideology, they do not want to delegitimize themselves. But if he has a decent case, they will surely listen sympathetically.
On this basis, Trump may yet win. I suspect he legitimately won Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.
Either way, it all seems likely to make America ungovernable for the next four years. Whether Biden or Trump prevails, half the country is going to consider it illegitimate.
Tuesday, November 03, 2020
If Biden wins Florida, it is over—Biden wins.
If Biden wins Georgia, it is over—Biden wins.
If Biden wins North Carolina, it is over—Biden wins.
If Trump wins Pennsylvania, it is over—Trump wins.
If Biden wins Ohio, it is over—Biden wins.
If Trump wins Ohio and Michigan, it is over—Trump wins.
Monday, November 02, 2020
The polls show Biden will win.
On the other hand, a couple of polls do show a Trump win. Either way, then, some polls are going to be wrong. So can we trust “the polls”?
There is, it seems, a late surge for Trump. All the polls pick this up. Even the polls that predict a Biden win show the race as close in key swing states, although he is winning the national popular vote. Even if the Bidenite polls are dead on, then, this late surge might unpredictably flip the result.
One might, of course, want to argue that a late surge matters little this time, because so many people have already voted. Yes; but those who have already voted will be those who had already firmly made up their minds. Those who were open to changing their minds will be disproportionately those who have not yet cast a ballot.
Then there is the possibility of “shy Tory” voters, people who intend to vote for Trump, but lie to pollsters. This sometimes seems to have been a factor in the past: in Brexit, in the last British general election, in Trump’s victory in 2016, or in the last Florida governor’s race. Pollsters claim they have allowed for this—but how can they, really? The inclination will vary election to election, and seems to me unpredictable by any definite metric. Given the hostility of the anti-Trumpers, it seems possible that this is a larger factor this time than it has ever been before.
Some are arguing that the way to circumvent this effect is to ask people how they think “their friends” will vote. This technique, they say, has been more reliable than the standard sort of polling in four recent elections in which it was tried. And this technique reputedly predicts a Trump win.
Scott Adams also raises the possibility that some Trump supporters may have deliberately lied to pollsters just for the satisfaction of watching a leftist meltdown on election day. Compilations of these, of women screaming into their smartphone cameras, or talking heads looking grim, have been popular ever since 2016 on YouTube. Perhaps a significant proportion of poll respondents really want more of that.
I have been disappointed before, and wrong before, but my gut says a Trump win.
Sunday, November 01, 2020
Does poetry mean anything? My friend Antiochus says no. The meaning is just what each reader takes from it. This is the postmodern view.
He writes “what about when one person reads the poem one way and is absolutist in his view about what it means, and another person reads the poem a second way and is absolutist in his view about what it means?”
That is when discussion, and learning, can begin. They each present their evidence and their arguments to arrive at the truth. One is right, and the other is wrong; or perhaps, they are both wrong, and the discussion will reveal this.
If, on the other hand, everyone is simply entitled to their own interpretation, there can be no discussion, no learning, no movement towards truth, and no agreement. No contact of souls. At worst, they struggle to the death for dominance; or they try to shout one another into silence. As with our current politics. Or else, more happily, they must simply ignore each other. You say the poem looks like a camel; I say it looks like a lobster. It cannot matter what you think. We have made no meaningful contact, we have learned nothing, and neither of us is closer to truth.
Let me back up and explain my absolute commitment to absolutism. I believe, agreeing with philosophers stretching back at least to Plato, and not only in the West, that the purpose and meaning of human life is to seek the Good, the True, and the Beautiful—the three great absolutes. This must be so, because we perceive these three things as of self-evident value.
Anything we do that is not directed towards achieving one of these three goals is wasted time and effort. So if poetry does not itself strive to express some truth, it is to that extent without value. If we, in turn, do not strive to find the truth of the poem, we are just rolling stones up a hill.
You might argue, I imagine, that poetry is just about Beauty, not Truth or Goodness. If so, it is of relatively less value than something that combines Beauty and Truth. But I agree with Keats: “Truth is Beauty, Beauty Truth; that is all ye know, and all ye need to know.” Transcendental values cannot really be separated. Nothing is truly beautiful that is not also both true and good; nothing can be good that is not also true; and so forth. The beauty we perceive in a poem is an intuitive initial perception of truth and goodness.
Antiochus writes that, if someone misinterprets a poem, “that's on the poet's shoulders because the clarity wasn't there.” I disagree. Being easy to understand is not traditionally the task of the poet, or of poetry. TS Eliot actually criticizes Rudyard Kipling for being too easy to understand: “We expect to have to defend a poet against the charge of obscurity; we have to defend Kipling against the charge of excessive lucidity.”
No doubt a poet should strive to be no more obscure than necessary—Eliot is saying that, implicitly, too. Poets must be defended against that charge. But a good poem should be, will be, difficult to understand. Because it is speaking of some deep truth, and deep truths are intrinsically hard to grasp.
Heraclitus: “One would never discover the limits of psyche, should one traverse every road―so deep is its logos."
Show me an easy poem, and I’ll show you doggerel.
Antiochus argues that anyone’s “honest evaluation, with no underlying agenda, of what [a poem] means is legitimate.”
Does this mean that it is impossible to be honest, yet wrong? People once honestly believed the sun orbits the earth; I once honestly believed Santa put those presents in the stockings. Or does “legitimate” mean something other than true here? Is it possible for an opinion to be wrong, yet “legitimate”? If it only means “sincere,” Antiochus has said only that honest opinions are honest opinions.
A bit off topic, but Antiochus also wants to insist that you can say all the same things in prose that you can in poetry. Let me explain why I believe that is not so. Prose is the written word: it lives on the page. Poetry is often called the spoken word; but that is wrong. Poetry is the remembered word; it lives in memory, as a new bit of mental furniture, our programming. Accordingly, it can accomplish things that prose cannot. On an analogy with medicine, poetry does mental surgery, and permanently alters a soul. Prose too may heal, but like a pill, its direct effects do not last.
This is of course a generalization. Plots, characters, even verbatim passages of prose can linger in the mind. But poetry, properly assimilated, is remembered word for word.
Antiochus improperly then uses the example of bad poets to argue that poetry is not in fact a difficult form:
“I have known a lot of bad poets, beginning with the plethora of teenaged girls in high school and continuing through to creative writing classes and continuing further to published writers of whose work I could make neither head nor tail, and I could never see that the poet's intent was to write something he or she couldn't say in prose.”
This is like using the example of your kid sister’s caterwauling violin practice to show that it is easy to play the violin. It proves the opposite. There are far more good prose writers than poets, and there is far more good prose in the world than good poetry. It is easier to prescribe a pill than to do brain surgery.
Leonard Cohen refused on at least one occasion to call himself a poet, saying that poetry is a judgement, and nobody has the right to pass that judgement on themselves. Recall Coleridge’s definition of poetry, “the best words in the best order.” That is a high bar to clear. Most contemporary so-called “poetry” is nothing but self-absorbed prose without grammar or punctuation. It could easily be computer-generated—and has been.