The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Saturday, May 23, 2020

The Ascension

Almost two thousand years ago, the Son of God was put to death on a cross on the Passover, the annual celebration of God’s having delivered Israel from physical slavery in Egypt in the days of Moses. On the following Sunday, He rose again from the dead. Through His death, offered up as an expiatory and propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of the world, and His triumph over death, He brought deliverance from the slavery to sin and Satan which had held the world captive since the Fall of mankind. For this reason that Sunday has ever since been celebrated by Christ’s Church as the Christian Passover, known as Pascha, Easter, or simply Resurrection Sunday, depending upon where in the world you live, what language you speak, and what branch of the Christian tradition you belong to. Forty days later, He addressed His Apostles assembled on the Mount of Olives, commissioned them to carry His Gospel to the ends of the earth, bestowed a final benediction upon them, and then rose up into the sky and was hidden by the clouds. This is why the Thursday that is the fortieth day after Easter and the tenth before Whitsunday or Pentecost is Ascension Day. This past Thursday was Ascension Day.

In our time Ascension Day is not as widely recognized in the larger cultures of our nominally Christian societies as Christmas or Easter. For that matter, even in the ecclesiastical culture it seems to occupy a smaller space than it did up until a century or so ago. I am not thinking here primarily of those sects that seldom recognize any day on the Christian calendar that has not been heavily commercialized by the secular culture. Even in Churches that in one form or another affirm the Creeds, practice the liturgies, and follow the calendars that have come down to us from the early centuries of the Church, the Ascension has not been emphasized as much as it used to be. When Christendom was still recognizably Christendom, even in the early stages of its decline into the decadence of Modern Western Civilization, Ascension Thursday was a public holiday. Today, it has become a widespread practice, even in many provinces of the Roman Communion in which it is a Holy Day of Obligation, that is, a day on which attendance at mass is mandatory, to move the celebration to the Sunday after the actual day.

Having said that, I would note that prior to this year there was plenty of opportunity in my own Anglican diocese for anyone who wanted to do so to keep the feast. In the days of Christendom a vigil was traditionally held on the eve of all of the great Holy Days. That has regrettably died out for the most part except for the midnight Eucharist on Christmas Eve and the vigil on Holy Saturday which is Easter Eve. The eve of Ascension was no exception (1) and on this eve, the College Chapel of St. John the Evangelist, the Anglican college of the University of Manitoba, up until last year hosted All the King’s Men, the male-voice liturgical choir that sings Choral Evensong there on the first Sunday of every month. On Ascension Eve they would sing a Eucharist – usually William Byrd’s Mass for Four Voices for the ordinaries - and the college chaplain, or a parish priest invited to do so if the chaplain were not available, would celebrate the Eucharist. On the following evening, the actual Ascension Day, the parish of St. Michael and All Angels which is the most Anglo-Catholic parish in the diocese, would hold a solemn Mass, just as beautifully sung although usually a different style and era, with all the “smells and bells.” Then three days later it would be Ascension Sunday in all of the other parishes.

How different things are this year!

There was still one service available in the diocese on Ascension Day itself. This was a Choral Evensong offered by the parish of St. George (Crescentwood). It was, of course, only available online where it was livestreamed. This Sunday, the other parishes that offer online services, whether live-streamed or, like my own, pre-recorded, will presumably have an Ascension theme.

The reason for this difference is, of course, that the province has been under a public health order restricting gatherings to ten people and the diocese has been under an episcopal suspension of public services. The provincial gathering limit has been raised to twenty-five people in-doors, fifty outside, but this started the day after Ascension. Meanwhile the suspension of public services and the interdict on the Eucharist has not been lifted in the diocese.

Throughout this pandemic abortion quacks have been allowed to continue their ghastly, life-destroying, profession, even though all sorts of life-saving medical procedures have been delayed due to the virus. The vendors that sell in various forms the mind-destroying toxin taken from the non-industrial kind of hemp have been allowed to remain open, despite the fact that other, far more wholesome and legitimate, businesses have been closed and even driven to near insolvency. The province has been slowly lifting restrictions and allowing public facilities, services, and businesses to re-open. The re-opening of the Churches and other places of worship does not appear to be on the immediate horizon. It is very likely that they will be the very last to receive government approval to re-open.

How anyone can look at all of this and not consider the unreasonable and unprecedented government measures taken to control this virus to be a manifestation of darkness and evil is beyond me.

As I have been pointing out since the beginning of the lockdown these measures have mimicked the conditions that were imposed upon the enslaved nations behind the Iron Curtain by the Soviet Union. They have limited to the point of essentially nullifying all of the most basic rights and freedoms in our British Commonwealth tradition. A mountain of rules against actions which are merely normal, everyday, behaviour have been dumped upon us. Those who have been telling us to “stay home”, to practice “social distancing” and be “alone together” have been conditioning us to fear in-person human contact and interaction which is essential to our very nature and bonum in se. The only word to describe all of this is “evil”. Dr. Bruce Charlton has been very right to argue, as he has all along, that spiritual evil is behind all of this.

This is why the message of the Ascension is so very important at this point in time.

Here is what our Creedal confessions say about the Ascension:

“He ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” – Apostles’ Creed

“And ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father.” – Nicene Creed

“He ascended into heaven, he sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God Almighty: from whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” – Athanasian Creed

Like the Scriptures from which they are derived the Creeds connect the Ascension to both Christ’s present position in Heaven where He sits at the right hand of God (Mark 16:19) and to His Second Coming (Acts 1:11). The right hand of God where He presently sits is the position of ultimate authority. At the Second Coming, He will display that authority in a way visible to all when He pronounces the Final Judgement on the living and dead. Until then, He is invisible on earth except through His Body, the Church, but is still in the position of ultimate authority. The spiritual evil that is behind this lockdown is an evil He defeated once and for all in His death and resurrection. He promised that that evil would never prevail against His Church. (Matt. 16:18).

This is the message we need at this time.

(1) In the Eastern Church which, of course, due to the difference in the liturgical calendars celebrates it a week later than we do, the Ascension vigil is still an important tradition.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The Bonfire of the Humanities

In my last essay I argued that the recently announced provincial cuts to university grants were justified, and indeed, did not go far enough, on the grounds that the universities have betrayed the founding principles of academia by becoming factories for the production of the very sort of "experts" whose claims to superior knowledge Socrates demolished in the fifth century BC so that the foundation of the Western academic tradition might be laid over the rubble. The "experts" in question, the kind who have done so much harm to everything during this pandemic, have at best mastered the extent information within one specific branch of one of the fields of human learning rather than the generalized acquaintance with human learning as a whole that was the aim of the older academic tradition, and at worst have mastered merely the technical jargon of their field rather than the accumulated facts of the field itself.

A follow up essay seems to be in order to answer two potential objections to my thesis.

The first potential objection is that universities do not typically allow students to pick a narrow field of study from the very start of their academic pursuits but rather require them to begin with more general studies. This is true, but it is merely a token gesture towards the older ideal. The general education the student receives before being required to specialize is hardly adequate for the realization of that ideal. In my last essay I included a quotation from Stephen Leacock in which he described the older view of education that still prevailed in the Oxford and Cambridge of his own day. In the essay from which I took the quotation he immediately went on to describe the alternative system in (North) America:

Now our American system pursues a different path. It breaks up the field of knowledge into many departments, subdivides these into special branches and sections, and calls upon the scholar to devote himself to microscopic activity in some part of a section of a branch of a department of the general field of learning. This specialized system of education that we pursue does not of course begin at once. Any system of training must naturally first devote itself to the acquiring of a rudimentary knowledge of such elementary things as reading, spelling, and the humbler aspects of mathematics. But the further the American student proceeds the more this tendency to specialisation asserts itself. ("Literature and Education in America", 1909).

The second and more serious potential objection is that universities continue to allow students to study the humanities or liberal arts, the curriculum through which the older academic tradition sought the realization of its ideal, right up to the doctoral level.

This objection obviously cannot be as easily dismissed as the first. One approach to answering it might be to repeat what has been said in various books that have appeared in the last quarter century sounding the alarm about the impending demise of the humanities, or at least classical studies, due to declining enrolment and other factors. One example is the nineteen year old collection of essays published by ISI, the title of which I have borrowed as shamelessly as its editors, Victor Davis Hanson, Bruce Thornton and John Heath, adapted it from that of Tom Wolfe's most successful novel. (1) Hanson and Heath's earlier Who Killed Homer? (1998) is another. As important as the case for the enduring importance of classical studies undoubtedly is, however, I think a different approach is in order to answer the objection in question. The problem in contemporary academia is not merely that STEM research, and the abominable pseudo-disciplines known collectively and misleadingly as the "social sciences" have surpassed the humanities, but that a completely different view of knowledge and learning has supplanted the traditional one and this has altered how the humanities themselves are studied.

This was evident as far back as the Stephen Leacock essay quoted above. Here is his very next sentence:

When he enters upon what are called post-graduate studies, he is expected to become altogether a specialist, devoting his whole mind to the study of the left foot of the garden frog, or to the use of the ablative in Tacitus, or to the history of the first half hour of the Reformation.

While the first of these absurd examples would fall under the natural sciences, to which this hyper-specialization was first applied, paving the way for the benefits and the curses of technological advancement, the second and third are of the same hyper-specialization applied to the classics and history, which fall under the humanities. A couple of paragraphs later Leacock gave the example, apparently from real life, (2) of a man who "was engaged in composing a doctor's thesis on the genitive of value in Plautus," describing how the man had spent a year and a half reading nothing but the Roman playwright, picking out all of the verbs of estimating, reckoning, etc. followed by the genitive, and compiling them into tables of frequency with a result "about as interesting, about as useful, and about as easy to compile as the list of wholesale prices of sugar at New Orleans."

While there is a place for some specialization in the humanities, Leacock went on to argue, the kind of hyper-specialization that is characteristic of what he calls the American system of education is worse in the humanities than in the natural sciences where it is to a degree necessary for work in these fields to be accomplished. He qualified this observation of its necessity to the natural sciences by saying that specialized research belongs properly to work done in these fields after the completion of education and not to education itself but added that attempts to imitate it in other fields "is a mere parody."

To put the point in ethical terms, hyper-specialization when applied to the physical sciences is what enables us to develop both life-saving techniques such as heart surgery and life-destroying instruments such as the nuclear bomb but with the drawback that the education geared towards such an outcome is far less capable of instilling the discernment necessary to recognize when such development is better left undone. Hyper-specialization in the humanities is no more capable of instilling this discernment than hyper-specialization in the physical sciences, but it also lacks the compensation of having any utilitarian value.

The deleterious effects of the newer paradigm of knowledge and learning on the humanities was the subject of a short but important essay by George Grant entitled "Research in the Humanities." It might be of interest to note that Grant was the grandson and namesake of Sir George Parkin, who had been headmaster of Upper Canada College when Leacock taught there before pursuing his doctorate in political science and economics and becoming professor of such at McGill University. Grant's essay was originally published in 1979 as part of Humanities in the Present Day, edited by John Woods and Harold G. Coward and published by Wilfred Laurier University, but was also added to Technology and Justice, the 1986 collection of essays which would be Grant's last published book. The paradigm shift in knowledge and learning which the age of technology has ushered in, and its consequences, especially for Christian faith and ethics and the older understanding of the eternal, goodness, and justice, is the overarching theme of this book.

Grant's primary complaint about the new paradigm has less to do with its fragmentation of the whole of knowledge - although it is to this that his suggestion that the radically transformed university be renamed the "multiversity" points - than of its objectification. "Suffice it simply to say", Grant wrote in "Faith and the Multiversity", the longest essay in the book, "that what is given in the modern paradigm is the project of reason to gain objective knowledge." A few sentences later he gave this clarifying explanation:

Reason as project, (that is, reason as thrown forth) is the summonsing of something before us and the putting of questions to it, so that it is forced to give its reasons for being the way it is as an object. Our paradigm is that we have knowledge when we represent anything to ourselves as object, and question it, so that it will give us its reasons.

Grant contrasted this with the older paradigm by noting how it inverted the relationship between man and the world in which he lives. In the older paradigm, man was accountable to something greater than himself, in this newer paradigm everything else is accountable to man.

While most of the book consists of Grant grappling with the philosophical and ethical implications of this, in "Research in the Humanities" he briefly spelled out what it meant for the liberal arts. These disciplines used to be the means through which ancient culture was passed on to us in a way that kept it alive. Transformed by the modern paradigm, however, they can only transmit a "museum culture", that is, a culture that was once alive, but is no more:

Previous scholarship was a waiting upon the past so that we might find in it truths which might help us to think and live in the present. Research scholarship in humanities cannot thus wait upon the past, because it represents the past to itself from a position of its own command. From that position of command you can learn about the past; you cannot learn from the past. The stance of command necessary to research kills the past as teacher.

One effect of this is to divorce high culture from popular culture. That this ought to be viewed negatively is the obvious implication of the argument found in the series of articles by poet and critic T. S. Eliot that first appeared in 1943 in New England Weekly and were compiled and published as Notes Towards the Definition of Culture in 1948. Eliot argued that civilization requires a high or art culture with a living, organic relationship to the popular culture. To separate the two, assuming Eliot to be right, and I am inclined to agree with him, would be to strike against civilization.

Grant wrote:

What then happens to bright young humanities professors in the 'museum culture' they are asked to reproduce? The best of their students think they are going to get something living from the humanities, and when they find they are not, opt for the real culture which is all around them. Outside the official university, there is the real culture of the movies, popular music, and polymorphous sexuality. But there is no relation between the culture of the humanities and the popular culture. The first sterilizes the great art and thought of the past; the second is democratic but at least not barren.

This, Grant went on to argue, was the explanation of the exodus from the humanities, that classics professors like Hanson, Thornton and Heath would later bemoan.

The internal changes to the humanities wrought by the neoteric paradigm of knowing and learning have rendered them particularly vulnerable to being used to betray the principles of the academic tradition. Remember that the foremost of Socrates' opponents were the sophists, the masters of the art of rhetoric. Reality, that is "things as they are", was less important to the sophists than words and the ends which can be achieved through their manipulation. Protagoras in particular, remembered for his statement that "man is the measure of all things," was depicted in Plato as the ultimate relativist. The Socratic school, especially Plato, opposed all of this by asserting a stable, fixed, reality, and our own ethical accountability for our words and actions within it.

In Plato's Cratylus, Socrates was asked to mediate a dispute about language, or more specifically names, between his friend Hermogenes and the title character who was an extreme disciple of Heraclitus of Ephesus. According to Diogenes Laertes and Aristotle respectively, Plato himself had studied under these men before becoming Socrates' pupil, making the Cratylus a dialogue between Plato's own teachers. The subject of the dispute pertained to the relationship between names and the things to which they refer. Hermogenes took the position that the relationship was not essential but conventional. We call a shape with four equal sides joined by right angles a square because we have agreed that this is what it is to be called in our language. We could have as easily called it a circle. We create the relationship between the name and the shape by agreeing to call it a square. Cratylus, on the other hand, took the position that the relationship between things and their names is essential or natural. Socrates addresses each of these positions in turn, disagreeing with both of them. The bulk of the dialogue consists of his answer to Hermogenes, whose position was the more difficult of the two to refute being supported by such evidence as the obvious fact that different languages have different names for the same thing. Socrates' answer was to say that the coining of words was an art in which the artist joined sounds to create a phonetic depiction of something and that therefore names are not arbitrarily chosen but are appropriate to that which they signify. He illustrates the point at great length with an etymological analysis of various sorts of names. Cratylus takes all of this as confirming his own absurd position, but in doing so falls into a trap which Socrates had been carefully laying for him. Names are crafted to depict in sound that to which they refer, but like any other art the depiction admits of degrees of accuracy and perfection, and is not absolute as it is in Cratylus' view. Socrates brings his interchange with Cratylus to a close by redirecting the discussion to the larger philosophical problems beneath the latter's position. Cratylus believes names to be absolute natural depictions of their referrants because he subscribes to a theory in which the study of words is the avenue to obtaining knowledge of reality, and the fact that names often change over time, does not appear problematic to him because he is the arch advocate of Heraclitus' theory that flux or change is the essence of reality. All of this, however, was Socrates real target all along, a hint of which can perhaps be detected in his own earlier allusion to Heraclitus' famous river metaphor in his discussion of the naming of the Titans. Contra Heraclitus, or at least Cratylus' interpretation of Heraclitus, Socrates defends stability and order as being more essential to reality than the changes which occur within the framework, and it is the study of that reality directly (3) rather than the study of words that leads to knowledge.

The humanities have, over the course of the last century, come increasingly to be permeated and dominated by a substitute for thinking that began in their own language studies departments. In its first stage it resembled a Hegelian synthesis between the very elements of Hermogenes' and Cratylus' theories that Socrates and Plato rejected. Words have no natural connection to what they signify (Hermogenes) and are themselves the object of study in the pursuit of knowledge (Cratylus). From this seed, planted by Ferdinand de Saussure, and watered with views taken from the writings of Martin Heidegger, Edmund Husserl and Jean-Paul Sartre, "intellectuals" such as Jacques Derrida, Jean François Lyotard, Michel Foucault, Paul de Man, Richard Rorty, Jean Baudrillard, et. al., grew the noxious weed that has ensnared and entangled the liberal arts ever since. From words have no necessary connection to what they signify, to language being its own self-contained universe which has no relationship whatsoever to the reality of things as they are, to the politicized assertion that language is constructed to oppress and even the nihilistic denial of a reality of things as they are, it has descended further and further into a darkness and madness that is ameliorated only by the tendency of those who propound such nonsense to consistently apply their own ideas, reject the laws of language, and so write in gobbledy-gook that communicates nothing and obscures everything.. It has infested every branch of the humanities. A century ago, humanities students read and studied the great literature of the past to learn from it. In the absence of the past as teacher that objective research methodology has brought for reasons explained by Grant, the humanities students of the day approach the literature of the Great Tradition only to sit in judgement on it.

Far from being an exception to the rule that the universities have betrayed the founding principles of academia, today's humanities exemplify this betrayal.




(1) Wolfe himself, took the title of his novel, The Bonfire of the Vanities, from the 1497 event in which Savonarola ordered the city of Florence to bring all of its mirrors and makeup and other such "vanities" and burn them in a public bonfire on Shrove Tuesday. Its application to Wolfe's novel about a New York bond salesman at the height of the '80's bond bubble whose indiscretions land him the defendant in a high profile, racially-and-politically-charged hit-and-run case, has been a subject of discussion ever since. The Reverend Bacon is presumably supposed to be the Savonarola of the story. Perhaps generating discussion was itself Wolfe's primary intent.
(2) Leacock depicts the man as having passed away immediately after graduating and names no names. It is interesting to note, however, that Dr. Gordon Jennings Laing's book on The Genitive of Value in Latin and Other Constructions with Verbs of Rating was published in Chicago twelve years after Leacock's essay came out. The book, however, had originally been Laing's Ph.D dissertation for John Hopkins University and as such had been submitted in 1896. Laing, who was originally from London, Ontario was born the same year as Leacock and survived him by one year. Laing graduated from the University of Toronto the same year as Leacock. The two men were close friends all their lives. It seems likely that with some of the details altered - the thesis of the dissertation made comically more narrow, and the author's premature death made up - Leacock was alluding to his friend.
(3) One of the discussions of the Platonic Forms occurs here.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

How the Universities Have Betrayed The Founding Principles of Academia

Last week, the local representatives of that quasi-official Ministry of Disinformation known as the press or the media got themselves all worked up into a tizzy over the provincial government's revelation that it was cutting funding to public education. The bulk of the uproar had to do with the reduction of the University of Manitoba's operating grant by five percent, four percent for this year alone, one per cent on an ongoing basis. Translated into a dollar amount this, according to the University's president David Banard, amounts to a $17.3 million reduction of their budget. The University is now contemplating layoffs.

While Wab Kinew, the leader of the socialist party, has been wringing his hands in despair over how the government is "making everyone in the province of Manitoba worse off," my thoughts on the matter have fallen more along the lines of "well, its a start at least". Don't get me wrong. I am not yet ready to forgive Brian Pallister for bringing Big Brother to Manitoba, especially since at the same time he announced these cuts he also increased the number of gestapo empowered to enforce his draconian rules against ordinary social behaviour. However, he would never have been able to get away with this if the education system, especially the universities, had not long ago betrayed its founding principles. The unhealthy cultural climate of the day, in which we are encouraged to shut off our brains and our common sense when an "expert" is speaking, accept what he is telling us no matter how ludicrous and easily debunked it may be, and obey his every command, is almost entirely to be blamed on this betrayal by our universities.

There were "experts" back when the foundations of the Western university tradition were laid two and a half millennia ago. The institutions in this tradition are collectively known as "academia" after the school which Plato founded in 387 BC and which took its name from the Ἀκαδημία in which it met, an enclosed olive grove outside the city wall of Athens and dedicated to the city's patron goddess. A. N. Whitehead wrote that "The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato” (Process and Reality, 1979). This is very true, but if Plato built the Academy it was his own teacher, Socrates, who laid the foundation.

The founding of the Academy has been compared to the founding of the Church. The parallels are striking, although there is a danger of blasphemy if we press them too far. In the case of both institutions, the true founder was a teacher who stood out from the other teachers of his day with whom he was often in dispute, who was put to death democratically by the demand of a populace stirred up by his enemies, and whom we know primarily through the writings of his disciples. In both cases there was one particular disciple who more than all the others combined shaped how subsequent generations would view his teacher. In both cases, contemporaries outside of the founder's own disciples often viewed him as a member of the group with which he is most often depicted as clashing in the writings of his followers. In Socrates' case, Aristophanes famously depicted him in The Clouds as being a prime example of the sophists who are his chief opponents in Plato. (1)

The Socrates we know from Plato earned his nickname "the gadfly" in the agora - the Athenian marketplace and its social hub - by challenging the experts of his day. He would engage in dialogue with them, taking the position of a humble inquirer who lacks knowledge but wishes to gain it by learning from those who lay claim to it. The subjects vary, from the interpretation of Homer in the Hippias Minor to friendship in the Lysis. Most often they have to do with virtue, whether it be generic virtue as in the Meno, or specific virtues such as courage, temperance, and piety in the Laches, Charmides and Euthyphro respectively. His questions inevitably reveal that his interlocutors don't really know what they are talking about.

Foremost among the experts of Socrates' day were the aforementioned sophists. Most of the people whose ignorance he exposed, such as those who feature in the dialogues mentioned in the previous paragraph, were either minor sophists or young aristocrats who had studied under the sophists. In the Protagoras and the Gorgias, however, he tangled with the two leading figures of this school. These were the teachers whom the wealthy and noble families of ancient Greece hired to train their sons for their expected roles as statesmen, lawyers, and military leaders. The virtues which the Greeks prized and Socrates liked to talk about were an important part of this curriculum. The most important part, however, was the art of rhetorical persuasion. This is the subject of the dialogue between Socrates and Gorgias. It is also the art by which Socrates is depicted as corrupting Pheidippides in the Clouds. The criticism levelled against this art in the Gorgias - and the Clouds - was that its purpose was to make the weaker side of a dispute sound like the stronger side. Indeed, this is what the term sophistry suggests to this very day.

The significance and relevance of this will be made clear at the end of this essay. Let us know turn to the Western academic tradition that was built on the foundation laid by the Socratic school and especially Plato. Philosophy means the love of wisdom. Wisdom and knowledge, as has often been pointed out, are not the same thing. The Oracle of Delphi had proclaimed Socrates to be the wisest man in the world and his motivation, according to his account of himself at his trial in Plato's Apologia, was to discover what this could possibly mean because in his own estimation he was ignorant. While that might suggest to some that the difference between wisdom and knowledge is such that wisdom can be found in the absence of all knowledge it can also be taken as pointing to a difference between true knowledge and knowledge that is not worthy of the name. Wisdom, by this latter interpretation, is either true knowledge as opposed to the lesser knowledge or it is something that is greater than true knowledge but which true knowledge leads to, whereas all the lesser knowledge in the world can never approach it. This, of course, is Plato's understanding of the matter. His master disavowed knowledge because he placed no value on the lesser sort and was too humble to lay claim to the true knowledge, which humility indicated that he possessed it to a degree that justified the judgement of Delphi on the matter.

A full examination of the difference between true and less - not necessarily "false" - knowledge would require a longer and less polemical treatise than this one. To illustrate the aspect of the matter that I wish to highlight, however, allow me to pose the following question:

Who knows more: a) someone who knows a little bit about almost everything or b) someone who knows a lot about one small area?

If you answered a) then you are in sync with the great Western academic tradition established by Plato and his Socrates. If you answered b) you are more in line with the thinking of the Modern Age, especially the sort of modern thinking that produces scientism, technocracy, and the idolatry of the expert.

The justification for answering a) is that the person who knows a little about each of a lot of subjects is likely to have a far more accurate grasp on the "big picture", that is, truth and reality conceived as the whole into which everything fits, than someone who has devoted his life to accumulating massive amounts of information about one small part of that big picture. By the standards of the Great Tradition it is the knowledge that leads you to the big picture that is the true knowledge, and the other kind the lesser.

As Stephen Leacock put it in an essay that appeared one century, decade, and year ago:

The older view of education, which is rapidly passing away in America, but which is still dominant in the great universities of England, aimed at a wide and humane culture of the intellect. It regarded the various departments of learning as forming essentially a unity, some pursuit of each being necessary to the intelligent comprehension of the whole, and a reasonable grasp of the whole being necessary to the appreciation of each. It is true that the system followed in endeavouring to realise this ideal took as its basis the literature of Greece and Rome. But this was rather made the starting point for a general knowledge of the literature, the history and the philosophy of all ages than regarded as offering in itself the final goal of education. ("Literature and Education in America", 1909)

At the time the Canadian educational system was much more closely integrated with the British, with Oxford or Cambridge being the next step after obtaining a college or university degree here. In the intervening century the rival view of education that Leacock associated with America came to permeate the educational systems of Canada and the United Kingdom. Although Leacock would have lamented this development in Canada it would not have shocked him - by America he meant the continent not the country. By 1953, historian Hilda Neatby was already warning about how progressive educational reforms to the Canadian primary and secondary schools based on the ideas of American pragmatist John Dewey meant that these institutions were no longer preparing students adequately for the kind of university education described in the above quote from Leacock. (So Little For the Mind, 1953) The decline of classical education in the United Kingdom would have surprised Leacock more. One can only guess at his astonishment to learn that in 2020, technical experts of the type the American system was designed to produce would be treated with a greater, almost absolute, deference in Canada and the UK, than in the United States.

The roots of all this go back much further than the last century. Richard M. Weaver in his Ideas Have Consequences (University of Chicago, 1948), traced academia's departure from this foundational understanding of knowledge back to the thirteenth century nominalism of William of Occam. Whether he was right in identifying the starting point or not is debatable. More germane to this discussion is how he traced through history the decline of the priority of the generalized education that leads to wholistic knowledge to where it took its last stand in the ideal of the Renaissance Man before being replaced by the ideal of specialized knowledge. Note that Weaver's book was published three years after the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Weaver was looking for the answer to the question of how a civilized society could arrive at the point where it would do something so barbarous as to invent such a device. He saw it as the result of the shift towards specialization in education. The scientists working on the project were so focused on the part of the task assigned to them that they missed the larger picture, including the ethical ramifications, of what they were doing.

The complete reversal of the Socratic/Platonic view of knowledge is clearly on display in the way the word "science" is now used. This is the Latin word for "knowledge." At one time even in English it encompassed knowledge of all sorts. The subjects studied by today's "science" were then considered to be the "natural" or "physical" sciences, a mere branch of science or knowledge as a whole. Today science in the way it is ordinarily used does not include knowledge of all sorts, nor is it even to be taken as shorthand for the older sense of "the natural sciences" but refers instead to a particular methodology for studying the latter. This methodology, which could be described in layman's terms as taking things apart to see how they work then trying to put them back together again, calls for the accumulation of vast amounts of information about smaller and smaller aspects of the natural world that have been subjected to minute scrutiny. It requires, in other words, the extremely specialized knowledge that can only be obtained at the risk of losing sight of the big picture that is the path to wisdom. Those who think that Modern science is the path to greater knowledge and wisdom are mistaken. It was never intended to be such. The end of Modern science, as Sir Francis Bacon spelled it out for us in the incomplete novel The New Atlantis that was published after his death, is the exertion of the dominance of the human will over the natural world. (2) There are two sides to this. Through pursuing this end science has been able to exponentially improve the tools by which he sustains his life in this world and makes it more bearable and comfortable. The flipside is that he himself becomes increasingly the subject of science's drive for mastery which recognizes no limitations on the human will. For an excellent discussion of the implications and ramifications of this see George Grant's essay "Thinking About Technology", the first in his Technology and Justice (Anansi, 1986). Note especially the contrast he draws out between the Modern scientific mindset represented by Robert Oppenheimer's statement "when you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it" and the ancient wisdom of a posse ad esse non valet consequentia. Unsurprisingly, totalitarian governments have always had a high regard for science. Even if they get the details astonishingly wrong, as in the Lysenko period of the Soviet Union, or Mao's disastrous agricultural experiments in China, they understand the purpose of Modern science, probably better than anyone else.

Today's "experts" are the products of an academia that has rejected its founding principles and embraced the specialization of education. Socrates expressed his scorn for people who had acquired a lot of information about one small thing and then claimed to be authorities on everything at his trial in Plato's Apologia. Today our universities churn out such "experts" and teach everybody else to defer to such people to the point of giving them the kind of power over our lives that Hitler and Stalin could only dream of if their expertise is in the area of public health.

Yet it is even worse than that. It would be bad enough if the "experts" were people who really had mastered all the information in their small branch of knowledge. The evidence is growing, however, that the academy has been in decline in even transmitting this form of knowledge and has substituted instead the mastery of techno-speak, whereby someone is able to pass, to the public at least, as the master of a particular branch of knowledge, when he is really just a master of the specialized jargon, lingo, and rhetoric that is associated with the field. In which case, the academy has come full circle and restored the sophistry that had been demolished by Socrates to make room for the foundation of the edifice of the Western academic tradition that Plato would erect over the ruins.

A five percent reduction of their funding? That's a start and it is only just considering that it is the experts they have been producing and telling us to listen to who have done so much unnecessary damage to the economy that supplies the government revenues that pay for their grants. It would be better to cut them off altogether until such time as they return to the principles of the Great Academic Tradition.




(1) Keep in mind that this example of the Old Comedy was what we would call a "roast" today. Aristophanes knew Socrates well, as Plato demonstrated in the Symposium, although judging from the Apologia's implication that The Clouds influenced the trial and execution of Socrates a quarter of a century later, he never really forgave Aristophanes for this slight against his master. It has been related since ancient times, however, that Socrates himself was present at the play's first performance, where he sat in the front row laughing louder than everyone else and at the end stood up and took a bow to the audience.
(2) "The end of our foundation is the knowledge of causes, and secret motions of things; and the enlarging of the bounds of human empire, to the effecting of all things possible." The New Atlantis (1626)

Friday, May 15, 2020

“Sloppy” Joe and the Values Test

"Sloppy" Joe Baconburger was the owner of a restaurant. It was an independent eatery called the Celestial Carnivore. As you have probably deduced it catered to a meat-eating clientele. Barbecue ribs, steaks grilled to perfection, pork chops, and prime rib – these were the staples of the supper menu. Its hamburgers, fried chicken and chili con carne were all popular. The pizza section of the menu had but a single entry and that was for “Meat Lovers”. The Carnivore was most famous, however, for a sandwich.

This sandwich was a multi-layered spectacular. Forget the mere clubhouse or even the triple-decker. This sandwich had separate layers for roast beef, roast pork, roast turkey, and roast lamb. Each layer also contained a hearty portion of ham and bacon and slices of various sorts of cheese. If you wanted, vegetable fillers such as lettuce, tomato, and cucumbers would also be added, but these were optional. It was served smothered in chili and gravy. Naysayers called it “the heart attack waiting to happen” but every day people would come from near and far to order it.

One day something strange happened. Like any other day, "Sloppy" Joe arrived at the Carnivore early, pulled into his parking spot, got out of his car, and headed towards the door. Then he ran into a wall. Or at least it felt like a wall. Whatever it was he could not see it. There was nothing there to the visible eye but something was blocking his path to the entrance.

Baffled by the invisible barrier and uncertain of what to do about it, "Sloppy" Joe turned around and took a step in the direction of his car. He was unable to go any further, however, because he found his path impeded yet again by the unseen wall. Turning to his left and right, he discovered that he was boxed in on all sides.

Uttering something that need not be put down in print, "Sloppy" Joe looked around and saw his neighbour Bob walking down the sidewalk on the other side of the street. He called over to Bob, asking him to go for help, but Bob just kept walking along. "Sloppy" Joe called louder, but there was still no response. He then screamed at the top of his lungs but Bob did not seem to hear him. Whatever was keeping him from leaving or entering his business was apparently also trapping all sound.

Eventually Bob looked around and saw "Sloppy" Joe at which point "Sloppy" Joe began to gesture as best he could within the confines of his transparent cage. Bob shook his head and said “Better stick to cooking Joe, that pantomime act is never going to sell.”

Soon thereafter one of his employees arrived for her morning shift. She waved to "Sloppy" Joe and said hello as she moved toward the restaurant entrance but did not seem to notice anything was amiss. When she got as close to the door as "Sloppy" Joe was, however, a look of surprise came over her face and then, as she turned in all directions, one of panic. "Sloppy" Joe realized that she was trapped too. One by one, his employees showed up, and each in turn got trapped within an invisible box.

“What will happen when my customers start to show up?” "Sloppy" Joe asked himself.

He did not have long to wait. The first customer, one of his regulars, showed up like clockwork at the time the restaurant normally opened its doors to the public. He too found himself stuck between the mysterious unseen walls. The same happened to every other customer that arrived after him.

Before long the area around the restaurant was surrounded by people, trapped in place by invisible boxes. There was approximately six feet of space between each of them.

All of a sudden, a loud maniacal cackle came descending upon them from above. Looking up, they saw a man standing on top of the restaurant, holding a device that resembled a cross between a machine gun and a video camera. Groaning inside, "Sloppy" Joe recognized the man as Dr. Tofu Veggiebrain the notorious mad scientist and leader of an animal rights/environmentalist activist group that wanted to make veganism mandatory and which had been targeting him and his restaurant with harassment of various sorts for years.

“How do you like my latest invention, 'Sloppy' Joe?” Dr. Veggiebrain asked. “I call it the Insta-Mime. Soon you and all others who murder and eat our animal brothers and sisters will be trapped between invisible walls in the world’s most despised form of performance art forever.”

It looked like he might be right. Within an hour the police, fire department, and other emergency services had been called in and they could find no way of releasing anyone from the invisible boxes. The police wrote "Sloppy" Joe and each of the others a ticket for breaking the by-law against public displays of pantomime and then took off.

Soon, however, word of the strange impromptu mime session outside of the Celestial Carnivore got out and within a couple of days it made its way to the Marshmallow Monks (1) in the Carpathian Mountains. They immediately contacted “Eddy” Johnson who rushed to the scene as Reaction Man, (2) battled Dr. Veggiebrain, and freed everyone from their invisible prison. Since this is not an actual episode in The Adventures of Reaction Man but merely an essay illustration in which he makes a cameo appearance, I will not elaborate on the details, but will instead skip ahead to the aftermath of the trial of Dr. Veggiebrain.

After Dr. Veggiebrain was convicted criminally, "Sloppy" Joe filed a civil action against him to recover the losses his business suffered over the period in which he, his employees, and his customers had been mimed. It was not difficult to obtain a ruling in his favour for the law on the matter and the principle of natural justice underlying that law are quite clear. If you deliberately harm somebody else’s business he is entitled to compensation.

Things became complicated, however, when Dr. Veggiebrain said that he would not contest the ruling and would gladly pay the damages – but only on the condition that the Celestial Carnivore sign a statement of agreement with his vegan values and convert to serving only plant-based food.

Whereas most judges would not agree to such a stipulation, "Sloppy" Joe was unfortunate enough to have Justice Bob Baddecision of the Ontario Inferior Court hear his case. Judge Baddecision, who as we know is a close friend of Lucy himself and is prone to live up to his last name, (3) considered Dr. Veggiebrain’s stipulation to be entirely reasonable, and ordered that it be carried out.

You have likely already figured out the point of this story. Therefore I will make my commentary brief.

A man’s business is his livelihood. If your actions are demonstrably responsible for harming or destroying another person’s business, by the laws of natural justice you are required to compensate him for this damage. You do not get to hold the compensation to which he is entitled hostage until he meets your demands. If you attempt to do so you are guilty of a form of blackmail or extortion.

Over the past two months many people have seen their businesses suffer to the point of insolvency. This was not due to substandard goods, poor service, or other faults of their own. Nor can it be attributed solely to causes which are outside human control and for which no human agency can be held responsible. The coronavirus did not destroy these people’s businesses. Government ministers and their health officers did with their mandatory social distancing regulations, shelter in place orders, and lockdown of so-called “non-essential” businesses and services. This is why these businesses are entitled to government assistance at this time. Such assistance is not a “bail out” nor is it socialism, although it will have the same long term effect as these of saddling generations to come with an unthinkable tax and debt burden. It is certainly not the government being compassionate, no matter how much Captain Airhead tries to dress it up in these terms. It is the government paying compensation for damage it has itself inflicted.

This is why the government has no right to impose a values test on the small businesses that apply for such compensation. Since the government put these businesses in danger of bankruptcy, justice demands that the government pay restitution. As the party that has committed the injury, the government does not get to hold back this restitution until the party that has sustained the injury agrees to support abortion and the alphabet soup agenda. Its values test is a form of extortion.

Don’t let Captain Airhead get away with it.


(1) To learn more about the Order of the Marshmallownians see “Brother Moonpie and the Devil’s Apocalypse.
(2) “Eddy” Johnson previously appeared in The Adventures of Reaction Man: Episode One – The Origin and The Adventures of Reaction Man: Episode Two – Reaction Man Versus the Marxist Zombie Army.
(3) Justice Bob Baddecision of the Ontario Inferior Court and Lucy the gender-confused devil feature in Lucy’s Day in Court and Justice for Minnie?

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Old Toby and the Battle Against the Bat Virus

One of the most interesting and amusing aspects of the pandemic is the growing amount of data that suggests that tobacco smoking may under certain circumstances actually help fight the disease. It is an odd piece of information in that it so counter-intuitive. Other conditions for which nicotine is believed to have at least palliative and in some cases, perhaps, preventative effects, are generally chronic conditions of the brain and nervous system such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The Wuhan Flu or, if you prefer, COVID-19, on the other hand, is a respiratory disease. In its ordinary, moderate, form it is not noticeably different from the seasonal flu. In its more severe and potentially fatal form, it develops into the intensive kind of pneumonia that was labelled Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS when the first coronavirus of this type appeared almost twenty years ago. This is exactly the sort of disease to which one would expect smoking to make one particularly vulnerable. It is most dangerous to the elderly, those with other complicating factors, and especially the combination of the two. Foremost among the other complicating factors are chronic conditions that compromise the immune and respiratory systems. Tobacco has been increasingly demonized since 1965 precisely on the basis of its being a leading cause of such respiratory diseases as emphysema and lung cancer.

Initially, the evidence seemed to point to what one would logically expect, namely that tobacco smoking increased the risk of death from this disease. The countries that were hit the first and the hardest were countries where smoking is still as common today as it was in North America about fifty years ago – China and Italy. When the virus arrived in North America, the city that was hit the hardest was New York City the reputation of which as a city of chain-smokers persists to this day. All of this is consistent with the expectation that the habit of tobacco smoking increases vulnerability to the coronavirus.

That this logical expectation is in fact the truth is the position taken by the World Health Organization and by public health authorities around the globe. Within the past seventy-two hours - it was forty-eight at the time I commenced writing this - a large number of these have issued statements to that effect, warning the public against the idea that cigarettes might protect them from COVID-19. Many of these statements are poorly written and they give every impression of having been issued in haste as if in an effort to try and put out a fire that had sprung up where somebody had flicked cigarette ash onto an official narrative.

Rumours that even though the virus was taking its worst tolls in populations with a high percentage of smokers, the smokers themselves were surprisingly underrepresented among its victims, had been growing for weeks. Then they were followed by something that was substantially more than rumour. Late in April, a study done in France found that in China, France, and the United States, smokers were a disproportionately low percentage of those who required hospitalization for COVID-19. The Economist reported on this study early in May. Then, late last week the preliminary research of a study done in England on various risk factors associated with fatal cases of COVID-19, pointed in the same, surprising, direction with regards to smoking.

Colby Cosh reported on all of this in an article that appeared in the National Post on Monday. What the studies seem to be indicating is that if age and sex are the only other factors considered, smokers are at greater risk than non-smokers, but if people have chronic respiratory conditions or an “inferior socioeconomic status” they are at less risk if they are current smokers than if they are ex-smokers or just non-smokers. Cosh in his report included the caveat “No one, including me, will advise a non-smoker to start smoking to ward off the novel coronavirus” to which he adds, amusingly “But, uh…if I had pre-existing plans to quit I might personally have delayed them.”

Cosh followed up on this with a second article on Wednesday. In his first article he had observed that the studies in question offered no explanation for why this would be the case. Whether it was the nicotine in the cigarettes, the tar or added chemicals, or even merely the habit of frequent coughing associated with smoking that made the difference, was a matter that would have to be inquired into separately. After his first article he had been contacted, however, by a Greek doctor named Konstantinos Farsalinos who had written about this oddity back in April. Farsalinos had offered two suggestions as to an explanation. The first is that nicotine might hinder the coronavirus’ ability to generate a “cytokine storm” and thus turn a person’s own immune system against him. Nicotine is believed to inhibit precisely those cytokines that have an inflammatory effect and which cause so much damage when driven into overdrive by the virus. The second suggestion was that nicotine might affect the production of the ACE2 enzyme which is the virus's main entry point into cells in a way that causes its protective function to kick into high gear and work against the virus. Cosh notes that these explanations are not mutually exclusive, nor are they the only possibilities.

Since the thought that tobacco smoking might convey even the slightest of health benefits runs completely contrary to health fascism’s oldest and most sacred narrative it is no wonder that that the public health authorities have been issuing panicky statements, full of misspelled words, grammatical errors, and logical fallacies in their haste to condemn the aforementioned studies and assure the public that demon tobacco is still sporting its horns and cloven hoofs. Amusingly, they have attacked the French study on the grounds of alleged ties between its lead author and the tobacco industry. What makes this so funny is that it comes from people funded by the pharmaceutical industry. Among the things this industry is noted for are its aggressive attempts to stamp out any alternative forms of treatment to their expensive, patented, medicines, its advertising strategy of brainwashing people into thinking the solution to all their problems is to be found in a pill bottle and thus instilling in them a psychological predisposition towards substance abuse and addiction, and its unethical and inhumane experiments and tests, generally carried out in countries that don’t have strict laws against these things. If any industry makes the tobacco industry look squeaky clean by comparison it is the pharmaceutical industry and that industry owns the World Health Organization, the public health authorities, and most of the medical profession, lock stock and barrel.

Their corrupt influence has certainly been on prominent display throughout this pandemic. That the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, also commonly used for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, is highly effective in treating coronaviruses of precisely this type has been known since the first SARS outbreak. By the time the World Health Organization declared a pandemic in March, studies in Europe and elsewhere were already showing that this was true of this virus as well. More recently, the extremely high success rate of those physicians who have used this drug to treat COVID-19, especially in combination with zinc and the antibiotic azithromycin, has pretty much conclusively demonstrated that it works and it works well. There has been a thoroughly dishonest campaign of media disinformation that claims otherwise. The drug's known side effects have been greatly exaggerated. There was that outright deception involving people who self-administered a form of chloroquine that is used as a cleaning product with disastrous consequences. A test in which it was administered after the severe form of the disease had already progressed to the point where the patients were put on ventilators, a point at which the chances of any treatment – including the ventilators – working drops to next to nothing, was touted as "disproving" the drug's effectiveness. Against the ever-growing body of success stories from physicians using this drug in the field, the media has trotted out the "experts" who insist that its efficacy can only be demonstrated by a particular kind of clinical trial. While this is impressive to those who reflexively genuflect before scientific authority, others, who are more familiar with their methodology, will recognize that the kind of trials they are talking about are tests where all the variables are completely under the control of the "researcher" thereby granting him control of the outcome. This entire smokescreen can be partly explained by the fact that the drug was promoted by Donald the Orange. The media would go out of their way to contradict him no matter what he said. If he were to say "the sky is blue, the sun is shining, the birds are singing in the trees" they would say "the sky is black, it is a dark and stormy night and that is the howl of the timber wolf you hear" and then dig up some expert somewhere who would back them up against the evidence of their own eyes and ears. There is more to the explanation than this, however. The anti-malaria drug has been around for almost a century and is cheap to produce. Treating COVID patients with it would be far less profitable for the pharmaceutical industry than forcing everybody to take some expensive, patented, vaccine.

It is people on the payroll of the corrupt industry described above who are running around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to stomp out the fire set by these interesting studies about tobacco. This is perhaps stronger evidence than anything in the studies themselves that there is something to this.

Whether or not that is the case, of course, is something that must await further studies before it can be determined. As I pointed out at the start of this essay, it certainly seems to be counter-intuitive. It would certainly tickle my fancy, however, as someone who despises the public health authorities, the pharmaceutical industry, the mainstream mass media, and the anti-smoking nuts alike, if something like this, sure to stick in the craw of all four, were to be confirmed.


Tuesday, May 12, 2020

The Poet versus the Pandemic

John Tory, the current mayor of the city of York in Upper Canada, or, as people who prefer to be up to date like to call it, Toronto, Ontario, must be a poetry hater. That is the conclusion to which I was led by reading about one of his recent decisions.

On Wednesday April 22nd, he issued the order that when the cherry blossoms begin to bloom in High Park, the park was to be sealed to the public, to re-open only after the bloom period ended. Accordingly, on April 30th the park was sealed. By sealed, I mean that he had erected a temporary steel fence around the park, ordered the police to barricade the entrances, and sent in the by-law officers with their ticket books to fine everybody they could find. All of this to prevent people from looking at flowers. Anybody who wanted to see the cherry in bloom would have to watch it livestream. On the evening of Sunday, May 10th, the park re-opened. Not because the Hogtown mayor had come to his senses but because the cherry bloom period was over.

This decision was, like virtually all government decisions in response to the pandemic, stupid, heavy-handed, and over-the-top. If it were the expression of a thought, rather than the absence of thought, that thought would be the opposite of that found in the second poem in A. E. Housman’s A Shropshire Lad.

A Shropshire Lad, which appeared in 1896, was the first of two volumes of poetry that classical scholar Alfred Edward Housman published in his lifetime. The second, entitled Last Poems, appeared almost three decades later in 1922. It is in the latter that one can find “The Laws of God, the Laws of Man.” This is another poem which the government response to this pandemic brings readily to mind. In this case it is not any one particular decision that evokes the poem, any of their repressive, totalitarian, rules will do. The poem expresses the perspective of someone caged in by rules made without his consent but from which he cannot escape. It begins with the lines:

The laws of God, the laws of man,
He may keep that will and can;
Not I: let God and man decree
Laws for themselves and not for me;


and includes the memorable:

And how am I to face the odds
Of man’s bedevilment and God’s?
I, a stranger and afraid
In a world I never made.


Anyone who remembers Steve Gerber's 1970's comic, Howard the Duck, published by Marvel, will probably recognize the source of its tag-line here.

If these sound like the sentiments of some sort of radical, anarchist, subversive or rebel, think again. Housman had been, like his six siblings, raised in the political convictions of their father Edward whose post-dinner toast was “Up with the Tories and down with the Radicals!” Unlike his sister Clemence and his brother Lawrence who abandoned this political creed for its opposite, Clemence becoming a prominent feminist and Lawrence becoming a socialist and pacifist activist, Housman did not. While his partisan enthusiasm eventually died down, he continued to cheer for Conservative victories, if mostly because, they, in his words “will vex the kind of people I don’t like.” He ridiculed and mocked the causes his brother and sister supported and to the end of his life rebuffed their efforts to enlist him. He described himself to a Dr. Barnes, whose petition to reform the English language he had returned unsigned, as “a real conservative, who thinks change an evil in itself.”

Like Dr. Johnson, and probably most “real conservatives”, he was prone to melancholy, or what they would call depression today. There were other factors that presumably contributed to this. After his mother passed away, he lost his early Christian faith when he was thirteen. His spiritual trajectory followed the opposite path to that of his protégé Enoch Powell. Powell, who studied under Housman at Trinity College in Cambridge University where the poet was Professor of Latin, before becoming an acclaimed classicist and later the Conservative statesman legendary for sounding the alarm against creeping socialism, the European Common Market, and especially mass immigration, had received no religious upbringing, fell under the spell of Nietzsche in the 1930s, but was eventually drawn, through the beauty of Cranmer's liturgy, to a sort of high Anglicanism. Housman had been raised in this faith and lost it. Unlike Nietzsche, who was the son of a Lutheran pastor, and several more recent examples, he did not become a zealous evangelist of unbelief, labouring to destroy the faith he once held, but rather mourned the loss of the consolation it offered. The hymn sung at his funeral was of his own composition. The other major factor was the devastation of unrequited love which has been the dark muse of more than one poet. In Housman's case it was all the more devastating due to the complicating factors of his having been by nature a highly introverted individual and the love having ben of the type of which, only a few years later, the Irish poet-playwright Oscar Wilde, speaking in his own defence at the trial that his ill-advised and self-destructive defamation suit against the notoriously pugnacious and pugilistic Marquess of Queensberry had brought down upon him, would say that it "dare not speak its name" which was true at the time, although more recently, Robertson Davies, the Canadian novelist who, incidentally, borrowed several lines from Housman as chapter titles in one of his novels, has with equal truth said that it has become the "love that won't shut up."

Housman's melancholy is very evident in the tone that characterizes his verse. It frequently takes the form of lament for youth cut short or nostalgia for something that has been lost through time and change. In “1887”, which is the very first poem in A Shropshire Lad, it is wed to a celebratory tone. This poem, as is indicated by its title, was written for the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria and begins by describing the celebrations across the realm, as dales and hills light up with beacons “Because ‘tis fifty years to-night/That God has saved the Queen.” This leads into:

Now, when the flame they watch not towers
About the soil they trod,
Lads, we’ll remember friends of ours
Who shared the work with God.

To skies that knit their heartstrings right,
To fields that bred them brave,
The saviours come not home to-night:
Themselves they could not save.

It dawns in Asia, tombstones show
And Shropshire names are read;
And the Nile spills his overflow
Beside the Severn’s dead.

We pledge in peace by farm and town
The Queen they served in war,
And fire the beacons up and down
The land they perished for.



As he brings it to a conclusion, the voices of the lamented dead and the living join in the celebratory cry “God save the Queen” and the poet ends with this admonishment:


Oh, God will save her, fear you not:
Be you the men you’ve been,
Get you the sons your fathers got,
And God will save the Queen.
(1)


Later in the fortieth poem in the volume, to which he gave no other title than XL, we find the nostalgic aspect of his melancholy on full, undiluted, display:


Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.



In the above verses there is not the slightest trace of hope, or any other mitigating positive sentiment, mingled with the lament. The “blue remembered hills” and the "happy highways" in the “land of lost content” are lost forever. The air that brings their memory to heart is an air that "kills"

This is not so in the second poem in this anthology, the one alluded to at the beginning of this essay and the one with which we shall bring it to a close. This is quite probably Housman’s best-known poem. While it is difficult to judge this because, like those of his contemporary Rudyard Kipling or, for that matter, pretty much any Victorian era poet, his poems have the quality of sticking in your mind, of practically memorizing themselves, I am going by the fact that it is the one that appears most often in anthologies. The poem just cited and "When I Was One and Twenty" would be the closest contenders for the title. In this poem reflection on the brevity of human life is the source of sadness. In an ironic twist, this reflection is placed on the lips of one who is only twenty, which is not ordinarily an age in which one morbidly contemplates his own mortality.


Here, however, he is not helpless. There is a positive step he can take, however, to ameliorate the situation, by making the days which are quantitatively few, qualitatively better:


Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.



To translate this into prose: death is inevitable, life is short, don't waste it, fill it with beauty such as that of the blossom of the cherry tree.

The opposite notion, in other words, to that of erecting a barrier to prevent people from seeing the cherry blossoms in the foolish hope of thereby keeping the Reaper away.

What would Housman have thought of someone like John Tory?

(1) There was a famous encounter between Housman and Frank Harris that concerns the interpretation of this poem and which illustrates the difference between Housman and his pacifist brother Lawrence. Harris, taking the poem to be a, anti-war polemic and a “bitter satire” written against patriotism and the like, offered his congratulations, based on this interpretation, to its author who repudiated him to his face:


I never intended to poke fun, as you call it, at patriotism, and I can find nothing in the sentiment to make mockery of: I meant it sincerely; if Englishmen breed as good men as their fathers, then God will save the Queen. I can only reject and resent your truculent praise.






Sunday, May 10, 2020

Raining on the Socially Distanced Parade

A paradox of the times in which we are living is that while the masses have been complying with this unwarranted and unjustifiable - and, apart from openly totalitarian police-states like the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, unprecedented - near total suspension of our basic rights and freedoms out of an attitude of irrational fear, a surprisingly large number of people who do not typically display herd-mentality and go along with the crowd have supported the same measures out of an equally irrational optimism. They have seen silver linings in the clouds of this lockdown that frankly are not there.

I can think of several individuals, for example, who have acclaimed the pandemic as the end of globalism. Some of these are the "small is beautiful" type. These people are all about localism - the family farm, the ma and pa shop, the small town, buying locally, and the like. The Christians, especially the Roman Catholics, among them place a lot of stress on the doctrine of subsidiarity. These are the kind of people who like to quote writers like E. F. Schumacher, Wendell Berry, and Kirkpatrick Sale. If they are particularly religious they also like to quote G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, and if they are particularly politically incorrect, the Vanderbilt Agrarians, the Twelve Southerners. Others who hail the end of globalism are the nationalist types who don't like open borders, mass immigration, the exportation of manufacturing jobs, foreign aid, and all of the ancillary evils attendant upon these major ones. These are the sort of people who if they live in the republic south of our border form the support base of Donald the Orange. I have a great deal of sympathy for both groups. I largely agree with the first group in what they stand for - small businesses and communities, etc., while dissenting from their tendency to imply that "small is beautiful" translates into "big is necessarily bad and ugly." I largely agree with the second group in what they are against, although I am not a nationalist in the proper sense of the term. I would distinguish between patriotism and nationalism. Patriotism is the natural love of home and family grown to embrace one's country and its traditions, institutions and people. Nationalism is an ideology that first appeared in the American and French Revolutions based on Enlightenment notions of popular sovereignty and has been, in my opinion, a force for evil.

I have seen members of both groups speak of the global lockdown in response to the pandemic as the end of globalism, but there seems to be little in the way of fact to support this. Indeed, there is an abundance of evidence that would point to the opposite conclusion. The pandemic certainly illustrates several of the follies of globalism. The folly of depending too much on foreign producers for essential goods, and especially the medical supplies that we need the most in a pandemic that might interrupt their availability, is one obvious one, That of outsourcing manufacturing to such a degree that the domestic economy becomes largely dependent upon service-type industries of the sort that are most vulnerable to epidemics, pandemics, and the draconian overreach of public health authorities is another. This does not mean that we are likely to take these lessons to heart. The anti-pandemic measures are hardly anti-globalist. While international travel has been temporarily curtailed, international trade is still going on. It would be impossible to build a strong, domestic, production sector to replace international trade under the conditions of the lockdown. The corporations that have become giants through globalism have all jumped on the lockdown bandwagon. The tech corporations that sprung up in the most recent stage of globalism were the first to do so. Apart from the politicians, these companies are the single largest source of the inane, mindless, nauseating, propaganda about being "apart together" and similarly nonsensical drivel that we are bombarded with on an hourly basis.

It is the small businesses that are being hurt the most by the lockdown measures. Here in Manitoba, the provincial government began lifting some of the restrictions this week. Restaurants with outdoor patios, for example, are now allowed to seat patrons in them, albeit at what the health fascists deem to be a safe distance. Presumably, the next step will be to re-open dining rooms at a reduced seating capacity. Towards the end of the week, however, the provincial restaurant association announced that up to seventy percent of the province's restaurants do not have sufficient funds to re-open without further government assistance. Obviously, this is not referring to the large chains, the franchises of which have mostly remained open for take-out, delivery and drive-thru. It refers to the restaurants that have had to close entirely, the bulk of which are the smaller, family-owned, local-flavour type.

While the Dominion government has promised assistance to small businesses, that assistance bears a resemblance to the wooden horse that Odysseus advised the Greeks to construct as a "gift" for Priam of Troy. Last month, for example, Captain Airhead announced a new program in which small businesses could apply for government backed interest-free loans of up to $40, 000, a quarter of which might be eligible for loan forgiveness, that is, it would not have to be repaid. To qualify, however, businesses have to pass a "values test" like the one that was imposed on employers seeking to hire students under the Summer Jobs program a few years back. Each business must attest that it:

does not promote violence, incite hatred or discriminate on the basis of sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, culture, region, education, age or mental or physical disability

While it is reasonable that the government not offer funds to groups that "promote violence" or "incite hatred" in the way normal people understand these words to mean, "discriminate" is another matter. Any caterer who would prefer to opt out of catering a same-sex marriage on the basis of religious convictions, would be regarded by the Liberals as someone who "discriminates" on the basis of "sexual orientation" and disqualified. Furthermore, as the Liberals made obvious the last time they imposed this test, they consider opposition to the idea that a woman has the right to murder her unborn child to be discrimination on the basis of sex. That the test is internally incoherent and self-contradictory, being itself an example of religious discrimination against evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants, traditional Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, conservative Jews and Muslims, and other groups that dissent from liberalism in the same ways, is of no consequence to the Liberals who impose it.

Captain Airhead does not have to impose such a test on large corporations. They have all been promoting this same radical agenda for years. It is only the small, especially family-owned, businesses that are disproportionately affected by the government lockdown measures, who are being told to go against their conscience to obtain assistance.

It is not only anti-globalists who have been displaying a counter-factual optimism. There are also those who have tried to find a spiritual silver lining in all of this. Their argument goes something like this: before the pandemic, we lived rushed, materialistic, lives, and now, thanks to the lock down, we have time to slow down, reflect, and meditate, and this is a good thing.

This is an argument which would have some merit if this were, in fact, how people were using their "at home" time, rather than binge-watching Netflix and checking for updates on the pandemic every ten minutes. Even if this were the case, however, this would be one small positive to weigh against a whole lot of big negatives when measuring the pandemic response on a spiritual scale.

The reality of the matter is that this lockdown has a strong spiritual component and it is entirely one of darkness rather than light. True spirituality is never private. Personal contemplation and meditation have their place, but it is supplementary to the communal faith and worship of the Church and not a substitute for it. The closing of the Churches for over two months, beginning in Lent and including Holy Week and Eastertide, could only have been thought up by the devil himself. While the sale of the dangerous, mind-altering, toxin marijuana has been deemed an "essential service", the Sacramental presence of the life-bringing body and blood of our Lord and Saviour has been denied to the faithful. Virtual Church is no substitute for the "assembling of ourselves together" that we are commanded not to forsake. Churches that have tried to offer more than this, while still complying with the physical distancing regulations, such as by holding "drive-in" services where everyone remains in their car in the parking lot, have been fined or threatened with fines, by power-tripping policemen, by-law enforcers, and health bureaucrats. Telling people that they must accept virtual substitutes not only for Church but for all other forms of community for a long and indefinite period of time is a form of spiritual murder. People were already spending too much time glued to their smartphones even before the pandemic.

Worse, there is definitely a spiritual aspect to the "we are all in this together" mantra that is almost universally being chanted to generate a false sense of community in support of totalitarian State measures that keep real communities apart. It is a dangerous counterfeit spirituality. True spirituality arises out of truth, not out of a manufactured consensus in which we all agree to shut off our brains and blindly follow the rules of the public health authorities, no matter how irrational they may be. A true spiritual revival in a time such as this would be marked by a call to repent of our sins and turn in faith to the True and Living God. The empty-headed, optimistic spirituality of the "we are all in this together" crowd is more of the "When the Moon is in the Seventh House/And Jupiter aligns with Mars/Then peace shall guide the planets/And love shall steer the stars" (1) kind.

The widespread acceptance of all of this brings to mind what the Lord predicted about the Great Deception in His Olivet Discourse in the twenty fourth chapter of the Gospel According to St. Matthew.. Similarly, all of the talk from the politicians, World Health Organization and Bill Gates about a mandatory vaccine, brings to mind a parallel passage. This is Revelation 13:16-18 territory. The Russian Orthodox hieromonk, Fr. Seraphim Rose, in his Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future, (St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1975) examined this sort of counterfeit spirituality when it was first becoming popular, and saw in it what appeared to be the beginning stages of the deception of the Antichrist.

We may not be seeing the final fulfilment of these ancient prophecies, but yet another in the long line of precursors leading up to that final fulfillment. Nevertheless, take heed. On the day when the Lord returns to judge the quick and the dead, having surrendered all of your freedoms in panic and embraced the counterfeit spirituality of the mindless mob will bring no commendation. If all of this talk of a mandatory vaccine and implanted records becomes reality, then beware. It may very well come done to a choice - refuse the vaccine and lose your livelihood, take the vaccine and lose your soul. (Rev. 14:9-11).


(1) "Aquarius", from Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, 1967, lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni, music by Galt MacDermot. I have always sort of assumed that Rado and Ragni were satirizing the extreme flakiness of hippie spirituality in this song. Others appear to take it seriously.