The Book!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

HOPPY NEW BEER!



Irish and Classic



"Celtic Woman."

Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring.




The One and the Many



Moreau: The Lernean Hydra

It is characteristic of the hero that, sooner or later in his career, he must stand alone against all comers.

As Ovid describes Perseusʼs moment, at his wedding feast, “Phineus and a thousand followers of Phineus, surround the one man. Spears to the right of him, spears to the left of him, fly thicker than winter hail, past his eyes and ears. He sets his back and shoulders against a massive stone column, and protected behind, turns towards the opposing crowd of men, and withstands their threat.”i

Telephus holds off the assembled forces of the Greeks, the same armada that later conquers Troy; he “turned the valiant Danaoi to flight, and drove them into the sterns of their sea-ships,” says Pindar.ii And he rejects the calls of his countrymen to join them in that campaign, continuing to stand apart. Oedipus, if he can be taken as a hero, defeats a force of five mounted men, alone, at the Phokis crossroads.

Jason must defeat an autochthonic army that appears after he sows the dragonʼs teeth: “earthborn men were springing up over all the field; .... And as when abundant snow has fallen on the earth and the storm blasts have dispersed the wintry clouds under the murky night, and all the hosts of the stars appear shining through the gloom; so did those warriors shine springing up above the earth.”iii

Herakles achieves many similar feats. He defeats the Minyans “almost single-handedly.”iv He storms Troy at the head of “only six small craft and scanty forces.”v He holds off the Amazon army, killing each of their leaders. He defeats “hosts of four-legged centaurs.”vi The Lernean Hydraʼs multiple heads seem another image of multitude: “the hydra, that monster with a ring of heads with power to grow again.”vii “Of its fearful heads some severed lay on earth, but many more were budding from its necks,” writes Quintus Smyrnaeus.viii Some say the Hydra had nine heads; some say a hundred.

Being multiple in form seems a standard feature of Herakles’s opponents: “Typhons triple-bodied,” Cerberus, “the three-headed hound, hell’s porter.”ix Geryon has three heads; his watchdog Orthus has two heads. Ladon, guardian of the apples of the Hesperides, is “an immortal dragon with a hundred heads,... which spoke with many and divers sorts of voices.”x

Ravana.

So too, it seems, with Rama’s great adversary, Ravana: he has ten heads and many arms. Karna conquers a more literal multitude, the entire world, in the name of his friend Duryodhana. Alexander, of course, by tradition, does something rather similar. Moses, less dramatically, must repeatedly struggle against the popular consensus of the Hebrews, who continually turn on him as they wander in the desert. In the end, he does literal battle, and with a small minority of Levites, cuts the majority down (Exodus 32:27-30).

In Hamlet, our hero finds himself alone on a pirate ship, facing the entire crew: “in the grapple I boarded them: on the instant they got clear of our ship; so I alone became their prisoner” (Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 6). But he somehow, miraculously, achieves his freedom. In the more heroic original legend upon which Shakespeare based his play, Amleth holds off the assembled might of England almost alone with a bogus army of the dead.xi Even in King Lear, the abused heroine, Cordelia, is a solitary figure, even her husband absent for the action of the play, while the abusers, Regan and Goneril, are multiple. Lear is stripped of all his retainers but Kent and the fool. Dymphna must face the assembled army of Damon’s kingdom Oriel, with only old Father Gerberus at her side.

Churchill, a modern hero, and a depressive, stood famously against the consensus of his day in resisting Hitler, “a lone voice in the wilderness.”

Even Don Quixote, in his quest to be a proper hero, must engage alone against an army of giants:

Just then they came in sight of thirty or forty windmills that rise from that plain. And no sooner did Don Quixote see them that he said to his squire, “Fortune is guiding our affairs better than we ourselves could have wished. Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them. With their spoils we shall begin to be rich for this is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless.”xii
Don Quixote does battle: Dore

Many folk heroes are outlaws, who operate in defiance of the government, the social order, of their day: Robin Hood, the 108 Heroes of the Water Margin of Chinese legend, Zorro, the Scarlet Pimpernel.

This motif of one against many seems to reflect a characteristic we have seen in the depressed. Solitude is definitive, Robert Burton suggests, of the spiritual zone the melancholic inhabits. “Above all things they love solitariness.”xiii Diderot too cites “a firm penchant for solitude” as one of the chief features of melancholy.xiv The melancholic is a loner.

The hero type, it would seem, intensifies this characteristic. The merely depressed removes himself from the social whirl. The hero attacks it, rapier drawn.

According to Adult Children of Alcoholics, the second sign that you have been raised in a dysfunctional family is “We became approval seekers and lost our identity in the process.” Number seven is “We get guilt feelings when we stand up for ourselves instead of giving in to others.” Number twelve is “We are dependent personalities who are terrified of abandonment and will do anything to hold on to a relationship in order not to experience painful abandonment feelings.”xv

At first glance, this seems to contradict both conventional wisdom about the melancholic, and the hero legends. It paints the abused child as a compulsive crowd-pleaser.

But it may, instead, point out the reason why the depressed crave solitude, and why the hero stands alone in defiance.

The family is our first society; it is the introduction for each of us to social life, and all social life in microcosm. In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

The family is the original cell of social life. ... Authority, stability, and a life of relationships within the family constitute the foundations for freedom, security, and fraternity within society. The family is the community in which, from childhood, one can learn moral values, begin to honor God, and make good use of freedom. Family life is an initiation into life in society. (para. 2207).

In the case of an abused child, however, this original society is corrupt: his or her family is “dysfunctional.” It teaches all the wrong lessons. What then?

He must, then, fight against it if he (or she) is ever to grow out of his abused state; just as he must solve the riddle of the double-bind of filial duty. This will require heroic courage: the courage of High Noon. For, as the ACA “Laundry List” suggests, the more spontaneous response is to keep trying harder to seek an approval that will never come. Trapping you in another double-bind.

This illustrates the depth of the challenge faced by the abused depressive; and the degree to which he or she manages to overcome this perhaps marks the division between the ordinary depressed and the heroic. This is indeed what ACA advises in their “recovery” program. Seeking solitude or exile is the first sign of health. Rebelling against the corrupt social consensus is the ultimate victory.

However, this developed ability, if it is ever developed, to think for himself or herself, working only from first principles, would then serve the melancholic well for any enterprise requiring creativity or coming up with novel thoughts; for being a culture hero, an artist, or a leader of any sort; for becoming an explorer, a discoverer. See Burton’s armillary sphere and cross staff, used as personal emblems.

To become a hero, the abused must fight this great battle against the many-headed monster of social consensus, which is poisoning the landscape all about them.

And it is the abused child, specifically, who is called to this by circumstance.

iOvid, Metamorphoses, Book 5, ll.149-199. Mary Innis, trans.


iiPindar, Olympian Odes, 9. Myers trans.


iiiApollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica, Book 2, ll. 1340-1407.


ivRobert Graves, The Greek Myths, vol. 2, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, Pelican, 1955, “Erginus,” entry 121.


vGraves, op. cit., “Hesione,” entry 137.


viEuripides, Herakles.


viiEuripides, Herakles.


viiiFall of Troy 6. 212 ff. Way trans.


ixEuripides, Herakles, Coleridge trans.


xApollodorus, Library, 2.5.11 Frazer trans.


xiSaxo Grammaticus, “Amleth, Prince of Denmark,” Gesta Danorum, D.L. Ashliman, trans.


xii Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, Part 1, Chapter VIII.


xiiiAnatomy of Melancholy, Part 1, Section 3, Memb. 1, Subsect. 2.


xivDiderot, Melancholie, Vol. 10, 1765, pp. 308–311.




xv“The Laundry List: 14 Traits of an Adult Child of an Alcoholic,” ACA.

A Canadian Christmas Essential


From Joni Mitchell.



Saturday, December 30, 2017

What's Happening in Iran




The current demonstrations in Iran could end in many different ways. The BBC is still insisting they are “small.” However, several striking things suggest this may lead to the end of the Iranian regime.

First. it has escalated very quickly—almost immediately—from a protest over prices to a demand for the regime to fall. This is unusual in such events. It suggests a strong underlying opposition to the regime, only needing a trigger.

It has spread across the country very quickly. We'll see if this continues. Day one: one city. Day two: seven cities. Day three: dozens of cities all over the country, including the capital. Day four: ? It begins to look like a genuine popular uprising.

Reports are that security forces are reluctant to fire on protesters, and the regime has responded immediately to the protests with concessions. The law requiring women to wear the hijab in public has already been rescinded. This is a sign of weakness. The regime does not seem confident they can rely on the security fores to do their bidding. Revolutions always win when and because the security forces refuse to fire on protesters.

Iran seems to be in the classic pre-revolutionary state, as analysed by Crane Brinton. There is a huge cohort of educated young people, and high unemployment. The Guardian quotes anonymous "Ali" as saying, "Every year thousands of students graduate, but there are no jobs for them." Exactly the situation right before the French Revolution. Recent economic hopes have been dashed, leading to a sense of frustration. Iranians had reason to hope that, with the nuclear deal and the lifting of international sanctions, things would get better economically. They have not; thanks no doubt in large part to the fallen price of oil. It is this sort of frustrated hope, and not a long-term general decline or political repression, that inspires people to turn out in the streets and demand change.

Unlike in 2009, this time, the US government is likely to back the protesters. And the protesters have been told so, in the Trump administration's immediate announcement. Regardless of any material aid the US sends, this is an important psychological factor. I have also heard it said that both Israel and Britain have important intelligence capabilities on the ground in Iran; if they put them at the US's disposal now, effective aid might indeed be possible. Israel has every reason to do so. Britain should probably want to as well: they need a trade deal with Trump now that they are pulling out of the EU. Besides, it matters to their prestige to demonstrate such capabilities.

So, in sum, I think odds are decent to good that this actually ends the regime.

What happens then?

First, who takes over? Most likely, the military. There have been calls in the street for a return of the monarchy. But in any event it is not going to be another Islamist regime. The Islamists and the Muslim religious authorities will have been discredited by association with the fallen regime. The next regime is almost certainly going to be secularist.

If the Iranian regime falls, and a secular government replaces it, this becomes another huge win for Trump. Right after his signal win over ISIS.

Iran has been propping up Assad in Syria. With Russia now withdrawing, if Iran pulls back, Assad probably falls.

In the meantime, the pressure comes off Saudi Arabia in Yemen. Hezbollah loses its funding in Lebanon. It should be a great boost for Saudi Arabia, who need one. A lot of pressure comes off Israel. A lot of pressure comes off the government in Iraq, where Iran has been funding factionalism. The effect on Saudi Arabia's restive Eastern Province and Bahrain is hard to foresee. A new government may be inclined to be less interventionist, but a more attractive new government may be more of an ideological magnet for Shia populations there.

With ISIS down, Saudi Arabia having declared its intent to turn in a more secular direction, and with fewer funds to promote Wahhabism abroad in any case, and the Islamist regime out in Iran, Islamism may soon be on its last legs. The Iranian failure will tend to discredit Islamist movements elsewhere in the region. It begins to look like a failed ideology; like Baathism and Nasserism before it.

Presumably the new government would scrap Iran's nuclear pretensions. The program dictated from the streets apparently will be money for the Iranian people, not for foreign adventurism. “Iran First.” This takes pressure off the US in turn, and allows them to focus more completely on North Korea's nuclear threat.

Of course, we may see some other dominoes topple, if Iran's government topples. Just as in the “Arab Spring” a few years ago. Then, similar demonstrations soon appeared not just across the Arab world, but also in Russia and China. The results of the Arab Spring have been disappointing enough to work against the same thing happening again in the Arab world. But maybe again in Russia or China.





Dangerous Editing



Dangerous Uncle Tom faggot.


As a former and perhaps future editor, I am fascinated to see that the original manuscript of Milo Yiannopoulos's Dangerous has been released publicly, complete with editor's comments. For one thing, you get to read the book, a current bestseller, for free. For another, you get great insight into the editorial process at a top US publisher, Simon & Schuster.

Those who dislike Yiannopoulos are claiming that the editorial notes amount to a “takedown” and discredit Yiannopoulos.

My impression is quite different.

Milo's original manuscript looks lazy, granted. Close to being stream of consciousness, without any deep research or anything new for anyone who has listened to many of his public lectures. He needed editing.

On the other hand, this editor seems antagonistic to Milo's basic persona and message. The editorial suggestions seem often wrongheaded. The editor seems to be trying to make the book more bland, which does not serve the author, the publisher, or the reader. It especially does not fit with the Milo brand. It amounts to an act of sabotage.

For example:

Milo writes, “the film was limper than a frat boy's penis at a fat-acceptance rally.” The editor strikes that and replaces it with “the film was boring.” That is plain sabotage; this is the sort of colour people come to a Milo lecture to hear. This is why you want to read Milo instead of some generic writer.

Milo writes, in argument, “there was no reason why the left had to abandon its old blue-collar base.” The editor responds, patronizingly, “The reason was partly that the base abandoned the Democrats during the 1960s because the Democrats voted for civil rights legislation.” This is a tired left-wing talking point that Milo is surely entirely familiar with, and long debunked on the right—for one thing, the Republicans voted more consistently than the Democrats for civil rights legislation in the 1960s. That the editor states it as fact, and assumes Yiannopoulos has not heard this, shows that he has no knowledge of thinking on the right. This makes him fundamentally unqualified to edit a book directed at that readership.

To many of Milo's jokes, the editor just notes something like “unfunny,” or “doesn't land,” or “superfluous.” Not helpful. Yiannopoulos is an experienced comedian who has honed his routines in front of live audiences. It is pure arrogance—or sabotage--for this editor to imagine that he is the better judge of what gags work. One suspects the real problem is that they seem to him to sting—that is, they make Milo's point too well.

In one paragraph, Milo states that the non-unionized working class were attracted to Thatcher and Reagan because of their tough stances against unions. The editor comments “Point out that the working class were attracted to Thatcher and Reagan despite their tough stances against unions?” He simply seems ideologically incapable of grasping the point.

Yiannopoulos says of a certain sort of opponent, “They are the type who will be disappointed by a DNA test that shows they are 99% of European ancestry, because they thought 'I might be something interesting,'” and adds a few other amusing hypothetical examples of limp-wristed leftism. The editor notes “cite examples.” This is like jamming a stick in someone's bicycle spokes as they ride by. Milo is not saying these people do this, but that they are the type who would. Not the same thing, and trying to pedantically document examples of people doing this would murder the joke.

Yiannopoulos then calls gay marriage a “relatively trivial” issue. Quite a reasonable thing to say, surely. The editor will not have this, and rewrites it as “previously ignored.” Comment: “Don't call it trivial.” No further explanation. This is thought-policing at its most blatant.

People like to listen to Milo because he says things in the strongest terms. This is the point of Milo: to poke a finger in the eye of political correctness. People buying his book will be buying it for more of this. Yet this editor objects every time Yiannopoulos uses a particularly strong image or analogy. He is not allowed to compare anyone to Nazis. “Ever.” He is not allowed to call himself a “gay Uncle Tom,” because this is “inflammatory.” And so forth.

Yiannopolos calls his boyfriends “denizens of the dark continent.” The editor strikes this, on the grounds that it sounds like “darkies,” and replaces it with “black men.” Granted that “denizens of the dark continent” is awkward—nothing dark about Africa, and probably Milo's boyfriends to not actually live in Africa. But at least it is far better than the editor's substitution, which is bland, boring and lazy; or else deliberate sabotage. He could at least offer a decent alternative. How about “gentlemen richly endowed with pigment”? “Not prime candidates for the Red-Headed League”? “Of the Sub-Saharan persuasion”? “Ethnically somewhere south of Timbuktu”? If he can't write better than that, or does not care to, how can he presume to tell someone else how to write? He should go into accountancy or something.

I'm not sure whether the editor is incompetent or malicious; but it is an interesting window into traditional publishing. Like just about everything else, in recent decades, editing and book publishing have become hopelessly politically slanted. Traditional publishers and editors have decided that their job is not to serve the public by simply to the best of their abilities ensuring a high quality in books, but to ensure that nothing is published that goes against certain political stances and certain shared class interests. They see themselves as an elite in command.

Among other problems, this tends to mean that no interesting books can any longer be published: nothing that says anything new.

The situation is not as bad as in magazines, or newspapers, or in the rest of the media. The general principle in book publishing is that the author, not the editor, has the final say, and all the publisher can do is pull the book if they disagree too strongly.

But it is, at best, an annoying obstacle course, requiring steady nerves. If, of course, you can get a contract in the first case. Myself currently working on a book for self-publishing, I have actually had freelance designers and printers, who work on contract, refuse to bid on my book because of its apparently right-wing tone. They would probably get drummed out of all the industry cocktail parties. Good thing for them I was not asking them to cater a gay wedding.

For this reason, conventional publishing, like the rest of the mainstream media, is ripening for destruction, indeed, seems to be busy killing itself. It becomes overwhelmingly attractive for someone like Yiannopoulos—or little me--to pull their book from the big houses like Simon & Schuster—he was lucky that they pulled the plug, so he did not have to. And now he can sue.

After all, nobody any longer needs them. Fortunately for the public, fortunately for writers, and unfortunately for the traditional publishers, it is now not just possible, but fairly easy, to bypass all of this. With epublishing and print on demand, there is no need for any big capital outlay to publish—other than the significant time investment of writing the book. Strictly speaking, if you do only ebook format, you can publish for free. Nor is there any need for a big distribution operation. The big problem in the business used to be getting it out to those thousand little bookshops. Now, you can cover most of the field by selling only to Amazon, Chapters, and Barnes & Noble. Yes, author tours and book signings help, but traditional publishers were always notoriously unhelpful with them anyway. It was always mostly up to the author.

I think Yiannopoulos can manage it on his own.





An Irish Christmas Song


Things to do on Christmas morn...




Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Diadem


A Christmas carol composed in 1779 that deserves to be heard more often.




The Hero Crosses the Threshold



Andromeda: Poynter


In his analysis of the hero cycle, Joseph Campbell sees in most such legends a dramatic point at which the hero “crosses the first threshold” into the magical world or spiritual realm (or, in Campbell’s terms, the Jungian unconscious):

With the personifications of his destiny to guide and aid him, the hero goes forward in his adventure until he comes to the “threshold guardian” at the entrance to the zone of magnified power. Such custodians bound the world in the four directions—also up and down—standing for the limits of the hero’s present sphere, or life horizon. Beyond them is darkness, the unknown, and danger; just as beyond the parental watch is danger to the infant and beyond the protection of his society danger to the member of the tribe.i

Beyond the physical world, in other words, is the metaphysical.

This may not be of special psychological significance. It may not be speaking to us of depression or depressed states specifically. It may be just a necessary plot device. The author must suggest to the reader or listener somehow that the physical world is being left behind, and a different world, the spiritual, being entered.

What more obvious than a door, or some similar “threshold” image?



The appearance of some uncanny creature, a rabbit running by with a pocket watch, say, or a cloven-hoofed faun at the back of the wardrobe, simply alerts listeners that we are in a literary and no longer a literal place.

Campbell says, however that this guardian figure is also often fierce and frightening. Campbell writes:

...the approaches and entrances to temples are flanked and defended by colossal gargoyles: dragons, lions, devil-slayers with drawn swords, resentful dwarfs, winged bulls. These are the threshold guardians to ward away all incapable of encountering the higher silences within. They are preliminary embodiments of the dangerous aspect of the presence, corresponding to the mythological ogres that bound the conventional world, or to the two rows of teeth of the whale.ii

It is less obvious that this should be so. Alice’s white rabbit, after all, or her looking glass over the mantel, are threshold images, but carry no tone of menace. The difference may be that Carroll’s Alice stories are not hero quests; they are only travellers’ descriptions of Wonderland. The terror on the threshold may be a special feature of the hero’s experience. And so may tell us something about depression.

Let’s take a step back, and consider the proto-hero as abused child. There must, we can assume, be psychological ties of some sort binding the abused child to the family situation, to the parent, and to the abusive situation with which they grew up. No bully gets far if their victim can run away. You have to immobilize the victim before you can properly beat them, after all. You cannot simply expect the damsel to lie there on the railroad track. Any self-respecting narcissist must ensure that there are cords to bind as a matter of course. 

Andromeda: Dore


And of course there are: family ties.

Slipping out of these ties may be the initial and defining heroic act; what separates the heroic from the disabled depressive.

Perhaps the particular images used for these thresholds and threshold guardians can give us some further clues to this process.

For Perseus, the threshold guardians are the three Grey Sisters, the Graeae. Aeschylus writes:

The daughters of Phorkys dwell, ancient maids, three in number, shaped like swans, possessing one eye amongst them and a single tooth; neither does the sun with his beams look down upon them, nor ever the nightly moon. And near them are their three winged sisters, the snake-haired Gorgons, loathed of mankind, whom no one of mortal kind shall look upon and still draw breath. Such is the peril that I bid you to guard against.iii

They live at the ends of the earth—suggesting, as Campbell says, the gateway between the physical and what is beyond. They have only one eye and one tooth among them—suggesting the point beyond which the physical senses fade. They live in darkness, at the margin of the visible. 

Graeae: Burne-Jones


They do not seem formidable; but their traditional names hint otherwise: Deino, “the terrible,” Enyo, “the warlike” and Persis, “the destoyer.”iv They may, too, be only an aspect of their “sisters,” who are “near them,” the Gorgons, who are more terrible.

Rather than heroic combat, Perseus is faced here with something like a riddle, an intellectual challenge: how to get the eye from the Graeae. He faces a second riddle in battling their sisters: how to fight Medusa when he cannot look at her.

Oedipus too faces a fierce female figure, at what seems to be, at least as Sophocles frames the tale, the outset of his hero quest; the sphinx. She has the head and breasts of a woman, but wings and a lion’s body; she devours people.v According to Pausanias, she especially loved to devour Theban children.vi Oedipus, like Perseus, faces an intellectual challenge from her: the famous riddle. He solves the puzzle, and she dissolves herself. Or dissolves into the main narrative of the play.

Rama, too, faces a fierce female figure, at the outset of his hero-quest proper: Surpanakha. She appears to him and Lakshmana as a “supremely beautiful damsel,” but she is a shape-shifter. She wants to couple with either brother, but then kill the other, along with Rama’s wife Sita.

Rama Spurns Surpanakha: Goble


And here too, the two heroes face a logical problem. If one rejects her, she simply moves to the other. If they accept her, she will kill Sita, Rama’s wife; and the other brother. Lakshmana seems to solve the immediate dilemma by cutting off her nose and ears, obliging her to withdraw; perhaps a reference, like the Graeae’s shared tooth and eye, to leaving the realm of the senses. Surpanakha retreats, dissolving into the main narrative of the epic.vii

A series of older women: surely Freud would see these as an image of the mother. And perhaps, this once, he is right. In any case, a threatening but generally beautiful female figure suggests a mixed message, at least for a male hero. One expects love, attraction; yet this figure wants to destroy. It might be a fitting image for an abusive parent: one expects love, one gets malice.

Jason crosses an almost literal threshold, and one that is again frightful, when he sails through the clashing rocks of the Symplegades. And he too must solve a riddle: how to time the passage precisely between their outward and inward movements. He also, before this, encounters a sinister female image: the island of Lemnos, where the women have killed all the men.



Theseus too must solve a sort of preliminary riddle to defeat the Minotaur: how to find his way in the labyrinth, deliberately designed to confuse. Here too there seems to be a female threshold guardian, but she is a helpful figure: Ariadne. On the other hand, Theseus has just had to face down a malevolent female figure, Medea, who sought to poison him.

Herakles must solve two puzzles to defeat the foe of his first labour, the Nemean lion, “the cause of many a sorrow to flocks and to men.”viii The lion lives in a cave with two exits; if Herakles corners him within the one, he can pop out the other. Our hero first solves this puzzle, by putting a net over one exit. Then he must puzzle out how to kill a creature that is invulnerable to any weapon.ix He strangles the lion, then wears the invulnerable pelt as his costume: with this first labour, he takes on the mantle of the hero.

The Nemean lion is said by some to be sibling to Oedipus’s sphinx:x that is to say, perhaps, that they represent the same thing.

Another obvious example of a puzzle at the outset of a hero quest is Alexander’s Gordian knot. Untying it is his first task on crossing over into Asia, and untying it predestines him to rule the continent.

Campbell mentions as one threshold image the teeth of the whale, most obviously a reference to the Jonah story in the Old Testament. But in fact, in the Bible passage, the whale’s teeth are not mentioned: “Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” (Jonah, 1: 17, NIV)

Jonah: Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel

The threshold image here seems instead to be the deadly storm on board Jonah’s ship: this looks to the sailors like the hand of God. And it presents again a puzzle to be solved:

Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us?” (Jonah, 2: 7-8, NIV).

Jonah solves the riddle; and in solving it, be acts for the first time heroically. He realizes he is the cause, and urges that they throw him overboard. They do, and the storm ceases. His hero quest begins.

This storm might symbolize in turn some mental or emotional conflict, just as would a riddle: wind is a common and natural image of the spirit, and the two words “soul” or “mind” (nefesh) and “breath” are related in Hebrew as in Latin and Greek. So a storm can aptly blow the mariner into the “green world” of the spirit; as it obviously does in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, or as a tornado in The Wizard of Oz. A wind blows Psyche into the green world in Apuleius’s “Amor and Psyche” legend.

Herakles’s psychotic frenzy, in which he kills his wife and children, leading to his famous labours, may be a more literal form of this spiritual “storm”: a mental or nervous breakdown, in which some inherent mental or emotional puzzle overwhelms us, and demands our total attention.

Medusa: Bocklin

Were it not for the fearsome images surrounding it, such a puzzle might only be a signal that we are entering the mental world: for that is just what happens when we solve a riddle. We turn our attention away from the physical and social world around us, towards purely mental concerns.

But given the fearsome associations—solving the puzzle is usually a matter of life and death for our hero—this may also be a reference to one specific sort of puzzle. Gregory Bateson called it the “double bind.”xi It is the usual way in which a manipulative personality type, a narcissist, will control their victim. He or she will put the abused in a situation in which every possible response is a wrong one; from which, therefore, there is no escape.

And there is such a fundamental double-bind at the core of every abused childhood: how can you turn on your own parent? How can you reject what they say? If you do, you are a bad person. If you do not, however, according to the abusive parent, you are a bad person. Either way, you are a bad person. Any clever narcissist in any relationship, and certainly in the position of a parent, will exploit this: “I hate you. How could you leave me? How dare you contradict me.”

The story of Moses and the Exodus serves to illustrate the routine. The Pharaoh and the Egyptians fear and want to kill the Hebrews (Exodus 1); yet at the same time, they will not allow them to leave (Exodus 5). Pharaoh finally allows them to leave (Exodus 12), then sends an army after them to punish them for leaving (Exodus 14). The dilemma is resolved with the parting of the Red Sea, which may symbolize as image two options, both deadly, pulled apart, and the abused Hebrew children allowed to escape, like Jason between the Symplegades, up the middle. Thus begins the collective hero quest of the Jews.

To become an active hero, perhaps it is necessary, then, to see through this one initial puzzle, symbolized well by two crashing rocks, one of which might be marked “Damned if you do,” the other “Damned if you don’t.” Until you get beyond them, you are paralyzed.

This double bind is also suggested by the entire plot of Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex: Oedipus, seeking to escape the charge of wanting to kill his father and marry his mother, discovers he is condemned by his very attempts to avoid it. A perfect double-bind.

In order to move from the disabling sort of depression to the heroic sort, then, it is first necessary to analyse and see through what is really going on. You must see that you have been put in such a double-bind, in order to escape it. Specifically, whatever the particular details, you must first clearly perceive that your parent or parents, or some other dominating figure, from which you have always naturally assumed a reciprocal love, in fact wishes you ill. You must then take the leap of no longer feeling bound by their perceptions of you or of the world around you. This is indeed an exile, if only a mental exile; but it is obviously facilitated by, and my require, an actual physical removal as well.

This must be a great challenge for any child, should she or he have grown to any age: it is a wise child who knows his own father.


iCampbell, op. cit. p. 77.

iiIbid. p. 92.

iiiAeschylus, Prometheus Bound, ll. 791 ff.

ivApollodorus, Library, 1.10

vApollodorus, Library, 3. 52 - 55.

viPausanias, Description of Greece, 5. 11. 2.

vii Valmiki, Ramayana, Aranya Kanda.

viiiTheocritus, Idylls 25. 132 ff.

ixApollodorus, Library, 2. 74 – 76.

xGraves, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 79. 

xiGregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999; originally published, San Francisco: Chandler Pub. Co., 1972.


Predictions




Always the sucker, I am going to make predictions for the coming year.

Noting that my predictions and everyone's predictions are almost always wrong.

It is the current conventional wisdom that China is going to take over world leadership, and Islam is going to demographically overwhelm Christianity, or at least the Christian population in Europe.

I doubt it.

I have heard this before. I remember when the Soviet Union was going to take over world leadership. I remember when Japan was.

I predict both China and Islam are on the verge of crisis and collapse.

China faces a demographic bomb. They are not having enough children. Rapid growth has been due to starting from a very low base, and a huge supply of relatively cheap labour. This has its limits. As happened to Japan a couple of decades ago; but the Chinese demographic cliff is more extreme.

At the same time, there is little popular goodwill towards the government; unlike in a democracy, the people are not invested in their government. Because of this, things can get ugly fast if there is an economic downturn. This is the situation in which revolutions happen: people have become accustomed to things getting better, then it stops happening.

The new concentration of power around the single figure of President Xi makes things more brittle. It suggests, first, that the party itself does not know what to do, and are looking for the proverbial “man on a white horse.” It also means that, if things go badly, even the party and elite will not feel very invested in the government. Ceaucescu in Romania shows how quickly and easily things can turn when a government is too closely identified with one man.

At the best of times, under the best of circumstances, China has always been difficult to govern, and difficult to hold together.

China's recent adventurism in the South China Sea also suggests trouble. Rartionally, it is in China's best interests to keep a low profile and look unthreatening—if growth is assured. If growth is assured, it simply follows that China's chance to prevail grows with every year peace can be preserved. That China is nevertheless making its neighbours nervous, and is not ready or able to rein in North Korea, suggests either that the leadership does not expect growth to continue, or it is feuding internally.

As to Islam: a simple calculation. Oil has been funding fundamentalism. Without expensive oil, the cash dries up. Islam also no longer looks like the strong horse. This matters a great deal in Muslim culture. Unlike Christianity, in Islam, there is no sense of moral superiority in the underdog. Just the reverse: visible material prosperity and military success is a sign of God's favour.

So if the tide goes out, for ISIS and for the oil-rich states, it makes a big difference. That tide, thanks to fracking, is going out.

Even without this, there was always a tone of desperation about Muslim fundamentalism. It looks like a tacit admission that Islam is incompatible with the modern world. It looks like trying to hold back the tide. It relies on a rejection of foreign, non-Islamic influences. But, for purely technological reasons, the modern world really can't be held off. Thanks to vastly and rapidly improving communication. Ban books, ban movies, ban music on the radio; no matter. The kids are going to get it all on the Internet one way or another, and they are. My experience is that the current generation of kids in the Persian/Arabian Gulf think of things just about the same way kids their age do in North America or Europe. What we have is one generation in culture shock; that culture shock will probably not last for more than the one generation. Within a few years, the Muslim world will be within the global conversation.

We have seen similar nativist movements in the past, in countries and cultures struggling with expanding global contacts. We saw it in Imperial Japan, in Maoist China, in Nazi Germany. Ugly, but it passes. It is almost a predictable phase.

A lot of people, especially within Islam, say Islam is the “fastest growing religion in the world,” and will swamp the rest of us demographically.

I don't think so. Islam is not growing due to conversions. On conversions, Christianity is growing faster. Islam has been growing because in many Muslim countries people are having a lot of children.

This probably will not continue. It is an artifact of a certain stage of development. Already, Iran, where population growth was recently extremely rapid, is below replacement level. When infant mortality is reduced dramatically over a generation, it takes a generation or two for populations to adjust: for a generation or two, there are large families, as more children than expected survive, then the next generation scales down accordingly. At the same time, as populations urbanize, children go from being a financial asset to a financial liability.

I read recently that, although it gets little publicity, there is actually a large swing from Islam to Christianity going on in sub-Saharan Africa. I am also hearing of Muslim immigrants and refuges in Europe seeking to convert.

Islam traditionally punishes apostasy/conversion with death. That may have artificially sustained numbers. But if that wall breaks, there might be a stampede from Islam, to Christianity or to secularism. Like steam under pressure.

I also expect a dire future for Saudi Arabia. Everything was going well so long as oil was subsidizing it all; but the current pivot by Crown Prince Muhammed seems to me unlikely to work. Like Xi in China, he is the man on a white horse who appears because the ruling elite knows they are in trouble. Without big oil revenues, Saudi Arabia is probably going to be a very poor country.

I think I smell another bubble in Elon Musk. He seems to be everywhere, like the modern Thomas Edison. But has he really produced anything? It all looks like future promises, and all heavily dependent on government largesse. I suspect he is just a really good, fast-talking salesman. I expect him to go bust.

Apple lost its soul when Steve Jobs died. He was irreplaceable, and Apple is just going to slide from now on. Amazon and Google/Alphabet are where the new things are going to show up for the foreseeable future. Maybe Samsung.

I would not put money into Facebook. Facebook's position is fragile. Their product is not that good; it survives, like Microsoft did, on its established user base. Everyone else is on Facebook, so you have to be on Facebook. That can change quickly, and it has: MySpace. Facebook users do not love Facebook, the way Apple users used to love Apple, or Android users love Android. There is no brand loyalty there.

Some are saying that economies that have been growing in recent decades based on cheap and plentiful labour, most notably China, are soon going to hit a wall because robotics will soon become cheaper than the cheapest human labour. If so, manufacturing will quickly move back to the more developed countries, to be closer to market and for the sake of stability. That could be a massive global shift. If so, it seems likely that Japan will be in the forefront. They have avoided the drive for more immigration, due to the supposed need for cheap labour. If they are right, other countries may simply be left with more relatively unproductive mouths to feed.

Some undeveloped countries may still do fine—because there will be a continuing need for outsourced services, as opposed to manufacturing, at least for some time longer. These will be countries where English is widely spoken: India, the Philippines.

Universities in North America and Europe are, in one sense, living on fumes. They should have entered a crisis some time ago, because after the baby boom the supply of potential students started shrinking, at least locally. They dropped standards to attract more students, but over time, this will drop the value and prestige of a university education.

It all seems pretty shaky, now that you can essentially get the same education free online. Or rather, a better education. If you stick with online courses, you can choose the best possible prof for each subject, instead of being stuck with whoever teaches Differential Calculus at that particular institution.

On this model, the university of the future might become an aggregator or advisor on available courses, primarily responsible for certifying competence, through examination, thesis, or project.

But there is another factor, which may keep the traditional university going for some time to come. International students: rich kids from China and the Arab world want the cachet of an American or British degree, plus the excitement of a few years in that culture. Traditional universities, especially those with some cachet, like Harvard or Oxford, may be able to continue indefinitely as, in effect, expensive tourist destinations.










Saturday, December 23, 2017

A Thrill of Hope


Soemeone has created a mashup of the three greatest high-range voices in female pop music, each singing O Holy Night. This song is a great test of range.

I remember having to sing it solo for our parish once at Christmas Midnight Mass. I was terrified my voice would not make it.

At this level, comparisons are odious. Each of these singers, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, and Whitney Houston, is uniquely great in her own way.

Of the three, though, Whitney Houston is probably my favourite. I think she has greater power in the upper ranges, greater richness. Your opinion may differ.



Here's Mariah Carey knocking it out of the park on her own:


And here's a vastly inferior version, from the technical standpoint, by Rickie Lee Jones. Yet it too is wonderful. It conveys something emotionally that the great virtuosos do not seem to. With them, we are distracted by the technical side. Here, perhaps, we better hear the message. We are broken, and in need of salvation.

A thrill of hope
This weary world rejoices.


Fall on your knees
To hear the angel voices...




Thursday, December 21, 2017

Gaudate


Another Christmas favourite.



Gaudate!

Christus est natus

Ex Maria virgine!

They just don't write them like that any more.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

That Crazy Donald Trump




Sherman

There is currently much media fuss over Donald Trump's “mental stability.” Goodness; how scary! Imagine someone who is mentally ill with his finder on the famous red button. We must impeach now!

This is simply a partisan exploitation of popular prejudice against the “mentally ill.” We should all hope Donald Trump is mentally ill. Some of the best US presidents are known or commonly accepted to have been so while in office: Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson. William Tecumseh Sherman had some sort of mental or emotional collapse at the outset of the Civil War. Winston Churchill was pretty definitely what we would now call bipolar—manic depressive. 

Portrait of a maniac, by Karsh.

Hitler, by contrast, so far as we can know, was perfectly sane. At least until his last days, under pressure of events.

“Normal” people generally do not rise to positions of great prominence, in politics or anywhere else. Barring some crazy spin of the roulette wheel of life, it takes some sort of abnormality to stand out in any such way from the crowd. Something abnormal is driving it; some demon or genius.

With political leaders, we probably have three choices. Perhaps the most common type is driven by a need for approval and for status; the careerist. Perhaps he needs to prove something to Mom. This is the Chamberlain type. He or she is not, by definition, a leader. And he or she is not, in conventional terms, mentally ill. He is perfectly socially adapted. He or she will do whatever those around them consider popular. This inevitably produces mediocrity: no sudden changes, no new directions, any tough decisions deferred. It also tends to produce corruption: the “nice guy” will help out his friends, his cronies, his family, his party, himself. The imperative is to see smiling faces. Such leaders are interchangeable. Over time, they will hollow out the economy and the polity and force civilizational decline.

Good old Neville.

When Americans voted for Trump, they knew they were not getting this type. They voted for Trump because they did not want this type.

The second type is driven by an urge for power over others. This is the Stalin type, or the Hitler type: by instinct a narcissist, a sadist and a totalitarian. Some call these things mental illnesses, but they are very different from other things we call mental illnesses, or illnesses generally: the “sufferer” never suffers. Those around him or her do. Except that, naturally enough, once a sadist has indulged himself to a great enough extent, he can be stricken with something we call “paranoia.” He can become convinced that everyone is out to get him: because his conscience is telling him they ought to be. And in reality, too, by this point, they probably are; not to mention divine retribution. I understand convicted killers on death row often develop paranoid delusions.

But properly, this is not a disease; it is a moral failing, with its consequences.

We surely should hope Trump is not this type.

The jolly, well-adjusted young Stalin.

And the third type is the classically mentally ill: the Churchill type. They are driven primarily by low self-esteem. Thinking little of themselves, they are driven by a need to prove their lives and their existence worthwhile by accomplishing something for their fellow man. This is the classic hero type.

They may sound similar to the first type, the crowd pleaser. A friend of mine objects that depressives could not possibly do well in politics, despite the many known examples of those who have, because in politics you need to be “ruthless” and “thick skinned.”

Hmm—ruthless. That word has indeed been used in relation to William Tecumseh Sherman.

The essential difference between the first, Chamberlain, type, and the third, Churchill, type, is that the former craves popularity, and the latter conspicuously does not. People who are mentally ill in the true sense, melancholics, as they used to be called, are invariably “mentally ill” because they have been emotionally abused in childhood; as Churchill was. This relentless abuse by significant others while growing up has given them their low self-esteem. Accordingly, they cannot be the Chamberlain type and still function: either they have accepted that the immediate approval of those around them is not the gold standard in life, or they have become and remained basket cases at best.

Melancholics therefore crave solitude, not approval: Aristotle and Burton (The Anatomy of Melancholy) both consider this the definitive trait of a melancholic. They are self-directed, inner-directed, guided by their own voices, rather than relying on what others think and say. They learn to turn for guidance, instead, to first principles, to the eternal verities. God, truth, right and wrong.

Which is to say, they are men or women of principle, and govern on principle.

Which then could very well be called a “thick skin.” They care less than the rest of us what others are saying and doing. They know this is not a reliable guide. And this is a necessary personality trait for any kind of true leadership, or indeed for any significant new contribution in any field. You cannot follow the herd, and be a leader.

So the mentally ill are, almost definitively, thick-skinned. They are not, contrary to common myth, too “sensitive.” They are not wilting flowers or, as they like to say these days, “delicate snowflakes.” They are the opposite, and have had to learn to be, to survive.

Vien, "Sweet Melancholy"

You might also see this same tendency to operate on principle, doing what they believe to be right instead of following the crowd and its desires, as “ruthless.” More correctly, “decisive.” Governing by principle, they will do what is necessary rather than what everyone will think is “nice.” No kicking tough decisions down the turnpike.

It is true that, if Trump is “mentally unstable,” he is more likely than a gladhander and baby kisser to press that proverbial button. And decisive decisions can be bad decisions. Churchill's career is littered with bad decisions. But if it ever comes to crisis, who is more likely to make the truly catastrophic decision, Chamberlain or Churchill?

Necessary decisions deferred are the greater danger.

And short of crisis, whose decisions, cumulatively, are more likely to be in the general interest?

But wait, you may say. Aren't I forgetting something important? The mentally ill can actually become psychotic. They can be in a state in which they do not know what is going on around them, or what they are actually doing.

But this is far less a danger in a position of prominence, in fact, than for an ordinary person in their daily life. It is pretty easy to detect such mental states, if one is always surrounded by various helpers and aides. Any system of government that has lasted any length of time has made provision for this, because, of course, all leaders are human, and such things happen. In monarchies, over the years, it has happened often. The chancellor and cabinet takes over, or a regent is appointed, until King George recovers.

The sometimes psychotic King George III

In Canada, as in other Westminster systems, if a Prime Minister does something his caucus or cabinet thinks is Coco Puffs crazy, he can be deposed within a day if needed by a vote in the caucus or the legislature. If parliament is not in session, the Governor General can step in and recall parliament. If it ever comes to that—more likely, it would all be handled in a cabinet meeting, and an acting PM announced to the press scrum when the doors opened. The mentally ill are not power-mad, almost necessarily not power-mad, and so would be extremely unlikely to make any difficulty over this in a legitimate case. They would know themselves that something was not right.

In the US, the cabinet can similarly vote at a cabinet meeting to remove the President from office for incapacity to perform his duties. This must later be ratified by Congress, but can happen, if necessary, within hours. But it has never even come to anything like this; when Woodrow Wilson was incapacitated by a stroke, his wife informally took over. A chief of staff might easily do the same, and probably has, from time to time, without us even knowing.

Is Trump mad?

I hope so.


Monday, December 11, 2017

Why Freedom of Speech is Such a Bad Idea


A violent criminal is executed by the state.

My chum Xerxes has recently put the current left-wing case for ending freedom of speech. It is instructive to examine.

He starts out, naturally, enough, with the case of Lindsay Shepherd at WLU. First, he introduces Jordan Peterson to his audience. Just as Shepherd did—isn't he guilty already of a thought crime? He writes:

Over the last 50 years, the revolt against “he” as the proper generic term for any unidentified person, and against the assumption that “man” includes women and “mankind” describes all humanity, has grown into an irresistible tide. But as always, there are holdouts – people who consider themselves immoveable objects stemming that tide. 
One of those holdouts, University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson, told the CBC’s Carol Off, "I don't recognize another person's right to decide what words I'm going to use, especially when the words they want me to use…are constructs of a small coterie of ideologically motivated people."

He probably gets away with admitting Jordan Peterson exists by misrepresenting him. Peterson is not opposed to using “him” or “her,” as he suggests, when specifying men or women. He is opposed to being legally required to use invented new pronouns like “ze,” “hem,” and so forth, at the discretion of some listener.

That is one good reason, perhaps, why Shepherd's professors went so unreasonably ballistic over showing him actually speaking in class. When you let him talk, you are no longer able to misrepresent his ideas.

Xerxes then also at least slightly misrepresents Lindsay Shepherd. He writes:

Wilfred Laurier University master’s student Lindsay Shepherd wanted her undergraduate class to think about the use of gender-neutral pronouns. So she showed them a short video clip of Peterson.

More exactly, what she showed was not a clip of Peterson; it was a clip of a debate in which Peterson participated. Xerxes makes it sound less even-handed than it was.

Then Xerxes comes down strongly against Shepherd and Peterson. He writes:

The issue is not about censoring someone’s freedom of speech. It’s about banishing speech that does harm.

That would be true, if he and the left had not redefined the word “harm.” In the dictionary (Oxford) it means “physical injury,” and that is how it has always been used in discussions of freedom of speech. As soon as you include as “harm” any speech someone does not like, there is no freedom of speech. None. If speech did not offend anyone, nobody would want to silence it in the first place. “Freedom of speech” defends offensive speech, or it defends no speech at all.

He compares Peterson's words to a poison or a disease, and writes:

Diseases, poisons, and toxins are not optional. One can’t justify them as personal choices.

Surely this is a hysterical claim. As must be obvious to anyone, words are not poisons or diseases, other than as a metaphor. Yes, words can hurt feelings; and in an ideal world, nobody's feelings would ever be hurt. But it is both impossible and pernicious to legislate against hurt feelings. For one thing, there is no objective test or evidence: anyone can claim that their feelings have been hurt, and, unlike a broken nose, it is impossible to adjudicate the matter. Do you, then, need to demonstrate an intent to hurt feelings? Almost as impossible. We cannot read one another's minds. Ban a specific selection of words? Inevitably arbitrary.

Almost as surely as an apple that falls from a tree will hit the ground, unless you strictly favour one group over another, that is, systematically discriminate, everything you might say would then become illegal. Anyone could, in principle, be declared a criminal at any time, because absolutely anything might offend someone. In the real world, of course, those in power would use this only against their enemies; or against some popularly despised scapegoat group.

At the same time, the speech that is most likely to offend someone is the speech that most needs to be heard: speech to express some new or unpopular idea or viewpoint. All new ideas are by definition unpopular—you are not popular if nobody has heard of you; and you are not going to be popular if you contradict what everyone believes to be true. Moreover, as John Stuart Mill pointed out, if any ideas are excluded a priori from the discussion, we no longer know—ever—what truth is. You see here the end of all human progress.

Consider, for example, that by criminalizing unpopular speech, and calling it violence, people like Xerxes are endorsing the crucifixion: they have declared Jesus a rightfully convicted violent criminal. They have condemned Socrates, Joseph Howe, Thomas Jefferson, Gandhi, Galileo, Darwin, Churchill, and Martin Luther King. All of them are now violent criminals. They have condemned those who spoke against slavery in the antebellum US South, or against Jim Crow in the 50s. They all offended with their words.

So, you might imagine, no problem. we will of course only make it illegal to hurt the feelings of socially oppressed groups.

Does not work. To begin with, you cannot count on always being in power yourself. Moreover, in principle, a truly oppressed group is never going to have the government on their side. More or less by definition, if the government is on your side, you are not oppressed. You hold the ultimate social power. Such discrimination will therefore always, necessarily, be in favour of those who already hold political and social power, and against those who do not. If there is even the slightest discrimination in a society, this will exaggerate and intensify it.

An instructive current example: in France, it is illegal to deny the Armenian holocaust. In Turkey it is illegal to say the Armenian holocaust happened.

John Stuart Mill also rightly pointed out that democracy is not possible without free speech. This is why even libel laws do not apply in Parliament. We must be able to freely discuss all ideas in order to come to an informed decision. Denying the general public the right to hear all views effectively excludes them from power. Smart move, for a totalitarian.

As Mill also pointed out, nobody has the moral authority to decide for anyone else what speech they ought or ought not to hear. That idea is intrinsically totalitarian and discriminatory. It presupposes that some people—those in power—are, in effect, omniscient.

Xerxes writes:

Similarly, we do not let our children play with, say, cyanide. Or plutonium. We don’t let them balance on the railing of a 27th floor balcony. We don’t let them run out into traffic. Because we know those things are dangerous.

This is telling. Aside from claiming, wrongly, that words by themselves have physical effects, he is also here seeing his fellow citizens as children. That is the totalitarian instinct. He is demanding the right to think for them. He is assuming his own absolute superiority to his fellow man. Not tenable. Xerxes is a fine chap, but he is not a divine being.

There are, it is true, proper limits to free speech. Libel and slander, most obviously; copyright infringement; perjury; divulging secrets counter to contract; and incitements to violence. The test is clear and simple: does the speech cause material harm?

Pornography, too, might be legislated against, at least without seriously infringing on free speech. Best not to; but not a vital issue. It does not cause material harm; but then too, it does not tend to express any important ideas. Excluding, as the old US Supreme Court formula had it, works “with redeeming social importance.”

Xerxes writes, in support of a limit on free speech:

I doubt if Professor Peterson would pepper his lectures with words like nigger, gook, chink, jap, or kraut. Or for that matter, with broad, floozy, or nympho. Let alone fairy, faggot, or – well, no, let’s not go there. Because we know how derogatory words can legitimize prejudice.

I am sure Peterson would not. But Xerxes is missing the point. It is one thing to say that using such words is bad manners—it is. Good manners are good; bad manners are bad. Yep. It is a very different thing to make what Michael Coren calls “social rudeness” illegal. Such things do not even rise to the level of immorality, let alone criminality, which requires a higher bar.

The law is a blunt and damaged instrument, subject to inevitable injustice, great expense, and to bullying by those with greater financial power. And any law is necessarily a limit on everyone's freedom, and so must be justified. We want to use the law sparingly. It is a last resort.

I think there is a current strong push on the left to end freedom of speech precisely because the governing bureaucracy—let's call it that, not “elite,” as the latter introduces too many ambiguities—feels endangered. People are thinking for themselves more and more. They are no longer dutifully listening to their betters. The gloves now come off. I think the attempt to clamp down is bound to fail; and the collapse may be sudden. But it may also get much nastier before it gets better.



Sunday, December 10, 2017

Help! I'm Being Oppressed!







It is always a temptation for a rich and lazy nation,
To puff and look important and to say: --
"Though we know we should defeat you, we have not the time to meet you.
We will therefore pay you cash to go away."

And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
But we've proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
You never get rid of the Dane.

I just watched video of a rally at Wilfrid Laurier University in which a few dozen students and faculty condemned the school administration for its failure to support “or even recognize the existence of” transgender students. This, weirdly, while the rest of us have been condemning the school administration for trying to deprive Lindsay Shepherd of her right of free speech in the name of transgender rights.

It is, for me, a bit of an epiphany. I begin to see what is going on here.

To understand things clearly, one must understand that “The left,” broadly, is the party and the program of the bureaucrats and the professions. And they think like bureaucrats. They have no fixed principles. They do not really give a damn about transgender rights, or women's rights, or immigrants, or anything else. Their prime concern is to keep the system in place which gives them their privileges and their power: the bureaucracy.

If this or that group complains, and sounds upset, the automatic response of the bureaucracy is to appease. Dramatic or decisive action is never in the best interests of a bureaucrat. It makes you a target. The natural strategy is, whenever anyone threatens to get disruptive, to try to buy them off. Not their money; no principles involved.

People who often engage with the bureaucracy learn how the game works. Threaten to make a loud noise, to go to the papers or to the streets, sound angry, and you get stuff.

This makes the left look strident and upset. But it is not really the left; it is their various client groups. Nor are the client groups really upset. This is just how the system works. They have, over time, been trained to act this way. Make a big noise, and you get what you want. And the bureaucracy is, at the same time, provided with cover: they are helping the “disadvantaged” and “oppressed.”

Recently, we have seen that there is no real ideology, no particular rhyme or reason, to what groups come under the leftist client umbrella. It is just whoever sounds really upset.

And so you see, for example, the strange current coalition between Islam and feminists. As recently as a year ago, the feminists and the Muslims were the opposite ends of the spectrum. Feminists were demanding international action on female genital mutilation; Saudi Arabia was the real enemy; women who wore burkhas were oppressed; and so forth. But once the Muslims, or some Muslims, conveyed clearly the impression that they were very upset over something, the bureaucracy responded promptly by giving them stuff. They quickly came under the umbrella as one more client group.

Now, however, we may have come to a crisis point. Until perhaps two weeks ago, it was always the safest course to give in to the demands of the LGBT lobby, or Black Lives Matter, or feminists, no matter how bizarre; and so they threw Lindsay Shepherd to the wolves. But now they are increasingly caught between a rock and a hard place. Too many different groups have learned how the system works; and their various non-negotiable demands are increasingly irreconcilable.

The insistence of the gay lobby, that they are “born this way,” for example, has never been reconcilable with the feminist system that “gender is a construct.” Nor is it reconcilable with the new idea that you can change your gender. If you can change your gender, can you also change your race? Logically, yes. So then what happens to the idea that certain races are oppressed? No need any more for affirmative action: just declare yourself a member of the preferred race. Both feminism and the gay lobby are irreconcilable with Islam. Support for immigration and illegal immigration is not compatible with support for the working poor as a grievance group, leading notably to the rise of Trumpism. Support for large-scale immigration is not compatible with the interests of African Americans. The contradictions of this appeasement approach are becoming obvious and insupportable.

It always had within it the seeds of its destruction. It is Danegeld. It inevitably leads to more of the very thing it seeks to avoid, social strife and hostility to the establishment and the system.

Perhaps, then, it is deserved. Poetic justice.



Friday, December 08, 2017

Franken Resigns







It must be awful right now to be Al Franken. I saw his resignation announcement, and to me, he did not look well. But how must it feel? Two months ago, he looked like a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2000. He was getting a lot of coverage for his grillings in Senate committee hearings. Now he must resign his seat.

And really, his misdeeds don't seem to warrant this. Unless I missed something, we are talking about grabbed bottoms and forced kisses. Boorish, creepy, and requiring an apology, but not more than that—no serious harm done.

Franken is trapped by circumstances. His party wants to make a big deal of the alleged sexual offenses of Roy Moore, during his current senate campaign in Alabama. They want to make a big deal of Trump's comments on videotape about grabbing and kissing women. They want to paint the Republicans as the party that wars on women. If they do not make a big deal out of Franken, they look hypocritical. So they turned on him.

Besides taking out Franken, the current wave of sex scandals probably takes out Joe Biden. He is too vulnerable to similar accusations of creepy behaviour. They take out Hillary Clinton, if she was not already taken out by Donna Brazile's revelations about her fixing the primaries in 2016. It would be hard to avoid Bill Clinton's history in a 2000 race, and her part in defending him.

This is not especially worrisome for the Democrats. They prefer a fresh face anyway; someone will emerge out of obscurity, just as Bernie Sanders did last time. Or, in their day, Howard Dean, Jimmy Carter, Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern, Gary Hart, and so on. Democrats prefer a dark horse.

But to a Canadian, it is shocking how Americans treat their prominent people. One day you are a god, the next day you are the devil. It seems inhumane.