The Furnace of Memorial Day

Memorial Day Parade

There is no perfect system and every system, therefore, can be perverted, corrupted or shallowed. St. Augustine put it very well when he said that the greater a thing is, the more it is likely to be corrupted, after which, the greater its capacity for harm.

Holidays are one of those great and good things that can be corrupted, after which their capacity for harm can be great: Christmas can become just about commercialism; Thanksgiving can become just about food, particularly the turkey; Hallowe’en can become just about gore and sex. In this same vein, Memorial Day has become a second rate Independence Day, a second rate black Friday and the “official” start of the summer season (regardless of the fact that the solstice doesn’t arrive for another couple of weeks).

Memorial Day began as Decoration Day, a holiday that was created specifically because of the Civil War. Because the War took the lives of so many men, local towns and communities, almost immediately after the War ended, began setting aside a specific day in the year, where the entire community would gather to decorate the graves of the dead soldiers, listen to speeches and pray. The first official Decoration Day was set aside on May 30, 1868 (because that day was not the anniversary of any particular battle of the War); the brainchild of General John A. Logan, a Union veteran and the second elected national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, a veterans’ group made up of former Union soldiers. On March 3, 1868, Logan issued General Order #1 which called for an official day of recognition for the Civil War’s dead. On that first Decoration Day, the man festivities were carried out at the newly created Arlington National Cemetery; General James Garfield spoke and 5,000 people decorated 20,000 graves, Union and Confederate. Though Decoration Day started almost immediately after the War’s end, it wasn’t till a hundred years later, in 1971, that the federal government recognized it as a holiday; it also became Memorial Day where the net of remembrance was expanded to include not just the men killed in the Civil War but all the dead from all the wars which had involved the United States, from the Revolution to, at that time, the Vietnam War. Today, of course, the line of remembrance and the dead extends from the Revolution to the wars of the Middle East.

Rather than being about summer, or sales, or a preview of Independence Day, Memorial Day is supposed to be a somber day since it is a day that is supposed to commemorate the dead who “gave the last full measure of devotion” to our country and to us. It was with this thought that I remembered a line from G.K. Chesterton: The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him. Perhaps Chesterton took as the basis of this observation the idea that the greatest thing that a man can do is to lay down his life for a friend. Who were the soldiers of the Continental Army, the Union Army, the Confederate Army, the American Armies of WWI and WWII, of their navies and now air forces? It is impossible to know each one perfectly; when we often do not even know ourselves perfectly, how could we expect to know the hearts of the dead? But, if I had to guess, I would say that many of them were men who were not looking for a fight for the fight’s sake. Until the middle of the 19th century, the vast majority of the American population lived on farms (this was true even of the North at the time of the Civil War.) They were simple but educated and knowledgeable; many might have joined for glory, at a chance to see the world, but many also joined for the love of the things behind them. The man who joined General Washington may not have fought for the Declaration of Independence; he probably did not even fight for something that was to be christened in 1777 the United States of America. He probably fought for a small piece of land that he tilled himself, still sustaining his wife and children; if he did not own the land himself, he fought for the house that stood on the land that he rented and the family that still resided there. As the colonists were wont of saying even up to 1776, they were just transplanted Englishmen and it was a principle of the English Common Law that every Englishman’s home was his castle.

The same is true of the Civil War; the men of the North as well as those of the South fought for their homes and for their own communities. Each side saw the other as a threat, needing to be defeated. Many, in our politically correct times, forget that the South genuinely thought that the election of Abraham Lincoln marked the end, not just of the Southern way of life—which did include slavery—but of the American Republic for which Southerners, such as Washington, Jefferson, Patrick Henry, John Randolph, Richard Henry Lee, George Mason, had sacrificed for. The Northerners, for their part, saw the South as trying to tear apart the fabric of their national home, of which their local communities made the pattern. They heard the echoes of Daniel Webster’s cry in the Senate, “Liberty and Union—one and inseparable!”

The men who crossed the Atlantic to fight in Europe in WWI—which included my great-grandfather—fought to make the world safe for democracy. It’s true that the slogan was dreamed up by President Wilson, and there is a legitimate debate still ongoing just how much of a threat Imperial Germany was to the United States, even after the sinking of the Lusitania and the Zimmerman Telegram. They crossed the ocean to keep their homes safe, believing that if the Germans won the war, democracy might die in darkness.

WWII—which my grandfather was a part—was more cut and dried. The Nazis and the Imperial Japanese were legitimate threats to the world. If the Axis had won the war, history would have been very much altered and not for the better. Those men fought definitely for their homes and families.

When one comes down to it, Memorial Day is about love, the love that paradoxically makes one willing to die in order to protect that which is loved. Really, it should not come as any surprise that it boils down to this, not a least common denominator but an ember, white and hot. The word “patriotism” after all comes from the Greek patrios which means “of one’s fathers” implying a familial line stretching back through history; or from history to us today. Anything of our family should, properly, be loved and one of these is our country. Memorial Day is a call to love, not just the patriots who died for us, but for us to take inspiration from them to love the things behind us.

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Acedia and Prydain

 

Prydain
“There are those who must first learn loss, despair, and grief. Of all paths to wisdom, this is the cruelest and longest.”

 

I’ll give whoever reads this blog post fair warning right here, up front: This is going to be a little different than my usual posts. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing, will up to you to decide.

 

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to actually make the attempt to do something with this blog in 2018. Initiated in December 2015, I only started making somewhat erratic postings on it in July of 2016. I had, in my head, a schedule of making a post every ten days which would have equaled to about three posts a month. Not bad, I thought to myself. Of course, the best laid plans of mice and men, often go astray: last year there were some pretty noticeable gaps and again, this post, whenever it goes online, will the first one to be posted in over three weeks. Not a very good track record and not a very good way to start off a New Year’s resolution.

 

There have been some quasi-legitimate reasons: last year, my laptop, the only computer I have, needed some emergency repairs in the form of a new hard-drive. Other gaps had more to do with laziness than anything, with me wanting to curl up with a bowl of popcorn and a movie rather than thinking about what to write and then actually crafting it on the blank page. This latest gap is a little different because I have been under the spell of acedia.

 

Acedia was a new word for me. I just happened to come across it while looking through J. Budziszewski’s blog, The Underground Thomist. In one blog post, he defined acedia as “oppressive sorrow which so weighs upon man’s mind that he wants to do nothing.” Boom, I thought; that explains perfectly how I’ve felt for the last week. If anyone is worried that I’m going to make this post into a public confessional and start the old, “Woe is me…” routine, you can turn off the red alert. This is not going to be one of those blogs. I’ll only say that doubts, jealousies, second-guesses and a feeling of entrapment have woven around me, which is the reason for this little mini-hiatus. In other words, life is happening like it happens to everyone.

 

Acedia might seem like too strong a word. “Oppressive sorrow,” seems to be pulled from a melodrama. I wouldn’t have used the word, nor would I have seen the word as describing my state of mind, except for the part which said “that he wants to do nothing.” When you’re a bibliophile and you don’t really want to read anymore and the thought of acquiring more books does not but a spring in your step or if you’re trying to be a writer but putting words to the paper feels like trudging uphill through a foot of frozen molasses or if you love old movies but the thought of watching them doesn’t put a smile on your face; and instead, if you just want to sit and think about everything that is in your mind from when you clock out at work until you put the lights out and go to sleep, and then repeat the whole process again tomorrow, you might have acedia. Not for reasons of melodrama but because it’s there. What to do in a situation like that? Different people have different responses. My response is to escape into the fantasy of my youth and that means The Chronicles of Prydain.

 

It’s not that Prydain was the only fantasy that I read as a boy: my uncle read me The Hobbit and my mom read me The Chronicles of Narnia as well as a children’s version of The Arabian Nights, The Adventures of Robin Hood and John Henry. But Prydain was the first fantasy series that was, in a sense, my own. No one introduced me to it; no one suggested it to me. I just received the first two books—The Book of Three and The Black Caldron—for my tenth birthday. By the end of the week, they were done. For Christmas that year, I received the next two books—The Castle of Llyr and Taran Wanderer—and then, after a few years, from the local library, I got my hands on the fifth and final book, The High King. Although not as well known as Middle Earth or Narnia, Prydain weaves its own spell with its overarching story of Taran, Assistant Pig-Keeper on the farm of Caer Dallben and his journey from boy to man. There are, of course, the inner circle of companions: Eilonwy, the copper-headed princess of the House of Llyr, Flewddur Fflam, the bard, Doli of the Fair Folk, Gurgi, caught between the world of men and animals; there are the secondary characters, real as life, in the form of Coll, former warrior turned farmer, Dallben, the enchanter, Gwydion, warrior and prince of the House of Don; and then there are the villains, chiefly in the forms of Queen Achren and Arawn, Death-Lord. The author who discovered Prydain, Lloyd Alexander, was, simply, a very gifted story-teller whose ability and imagination, even a horrible Disney movie could not destroy.

 

But what does Prydain have to do with acedia? Truth be told, not much. Though I still hope for and even seek occasionally, silver bullets for problems, I know pretty well by now that there are no such things. If re-reading the Chronicles was supposed to cure me of the acedia, then they failed. But, in another sense, they didn’t fail.

 

What has always enticed me about Prydain and the characters in it is that it is the most realistic fantasy that I have read which means, at times, it is quite gritty. Before Harry Potter made killing characters off a hobby, Lloyd Alexander filled his series with death and not just of monsters and villains. A noble character is killed about half-way through the second book, and more characters, some of them well known and loved, die as the story progresses. But there is more to it then just death. Life is there, in all its ups and downs, triumphs and defeats, successes and failures. And because the story is plotted so, there is more than a bit of wisdom in the books, perhaps more so than in most children’s books. There are, of course, the usual themes of good fighting evil and friendship, but there is more than that. There is the theme of honor and duty, which runs throughout the entirety of the Chronicles and which claims that there is as much honor in tilling a field well as in going to war. War, as Alexander shows, may be necessary, but glory and honor and not merely found in the battlefield. And then, there is the theme of life itself, which may be written most strongly in the fourth book, Taran Wanderer. Hevydd the Smith tells Taran that life is like a forge which will batter and beat a man into nothing unless he has the mettle to withstand it just as metal is worthless until it is shaped and tempered; Dwyvach, the Weaver-Woman tells Taran that life is a loom, where lives and days intertwine so that only the wise can see the pattern; and Annlaw, Clay-Shaper, shows him that life is a potter’s wheel where, in a sense, we become what we make of ourselves. And then, there is the wisdom of the enchanter, Dallben, himself, who says that sometimes the seeking counts greater than the finding and that there comes a time in every life when we must become more than what we are.

 

Rereading the series after more than ten years, reacquainting myself with the companions of Prydain and going with them on their adventures and quests again was like having old friends come over and stay for a visit. And, just like friends, they cannot really take the acedia away; they can be with you, for a time before they have to go, and leave you to yourself again. But they remind you that you are not alone, that daylight always comes, sooner or later, and that after rough times, wisdom may be gleaned. It does not take away the acedia. But it does give hope to shoulder on. And hope is sometimes all that an Assistant Pig-Keeper has to lean on.

The Goodness that Lies in Baker Street

Sherlock Holm
Jeremy Brett as the greatest detective who never lived.

Usually, outside of Christmas, birthdays are the most eagerly anticipated days of the year; or, the most dreaded. The common denominator of birthdays–anticipated or dreaded–is that it marks the passage of time in a person’s life. Another full year separates a person from the date of their birth. Fictional characters, though they may have a date of death–such as Robin Hood–usually do not have birthdays, for the simple reason that they were never people; a reader of Greek myth has never stopped to demand on what day Zeus was born or when Athena came bursting from his head. In this way, Sherlock Holmes is unique.

It is poetic that Holmes would have a birthday. Though he was not the first fictional detective–that honor goes to Edgar Allan Poe’s Dupin–Holmes was and is the most famous detective in literature and one of the most characters in literature in general. No other character has taken plain objects–the pipe, the violin, the deerstalker–and made it his own. No other character has had so many pastiches written of him and no other character has been filmed more often than him. And while Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot may be the only fictional character to have an obituary featured in the New York Times, only Holmes had black-band wearing mourners in the streets of London after his presumed plunge into the Reichenbach Falls. This level of devotion led his most ardent devotees–“Holmesians” in England and “Sherlockians” in America–to create and play what they call The Game, in which it is imagined that Holmes, Watson, Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson, were all living people in Victorian London, Arthur Conan Doyle being regulated to Watson’s literary agent. It was one of the first Sherlockians (and avid writer) Christopher Morley who proposed Holmes’ birthday as January 6, 1854. Morley chose January 6because he noted that Holmes, who quoted Shakespeare avidly, quoted only one play twice in the whole Canon (the original 54 short stories, 2 novellas and 2 novels of his adventures) that play being Twelfth Night. Why would Holmes take this particular play as the one from which to quote the most? Morley opined that Twelfth Night was close to Holmes’ heart because his birthday fell on Twelfth Night–January 6. Ad for the year 1854, Morley deduced that from the story, “His Last Bow” in which Holmes is described as being about 60 years of age in 1914. Holmesians take the game so seriously that every January 6, they gather at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City to celebrate the birth of their hero.

It is a silly game to be sure and there may be some truth to G.K. Chesterton’s worry that Holmes has become a god of sorts, to the extent that the Royal Academy of Science awarded Holmes and not Arthur Conan Doyle an award for the use of chemistry in criminal investigations. At the same time though, it must be admitted that anything good is liable to corruption, much like how Santa Claus has been transformed from St. Nicholas to the generalissimo of commercialism. If Sherlock Holmes has been corrupted, it is only because he is good.

Though Holmes is recognized for his mind, his powers of observation and deduction, these are not the ultimate reason why he has been remembered nor the primary reason why the world needs him today. As Morley wrote in his introduction to the 1932 edition of Holmes:

It is not that we take our blessed Sherlock too seriously; if we really want the painful oddities of criminology let us go to Baitaille or Roughead. But Holmes is pure anesthesia. We read the stories again and again; perhaps most of all for the little introductory interiors which give a glimpse of 221B Baker Street.

Many people have honed in on the friendship between Holmes and Watson as the chief reason for the longevity, not only of the stories but of the characters and there is definitely something to that belief. The quality of the mysteries varies from the great (“The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” “Silver Blaze”) to the mediocre (“The Adventure of the Three Gables,” “The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger”) but where Holmes and Watson are allowed to be themselves in their old environment, even the poorest story has some redeeming quality; the three stories where this dynamic is absent are probably the poorest of the lot, particularly, “The Adventure of Mazarine Stone.” But there is another reason behind that of the friendship between Holmes and Watson, however; and that is the adventure and romance of the world they live in.
Friendship is an invaluable possession; no less a person than Aristotle said so. But it is also true that there exist millions of friendships throughout the world at this moment and yet, I doubt if any of these friendships, as good as they may be, would be powerful enough to hold the public imagination for a space of thirty years, let alone 130. The friendship that develops between Holmes and Watson has to have a powerful background that we take notice of the friendship in the first place. The background chosen, particularly, was the criminal backdrop of Victorian London but, in more general terms, it was the backdrop of romance. This is an odd word to use in association with Holmes to whom Watson once called a “thinking machine.” The fault lies not with the word but with ourselves since we have boxed in the word “romance” so much that it hardly has the room that it did. In the medieval world, a “romance” was not a love story, though that element often did play a part of it; rather, it was a story of high adventure, filled with mythical creatures, dangerous and evil foes and a knight who faced these dangers while pursuing a quest which he had undertaken. Though these elements are not present ver bantam in the canon, they are still present though in a more subtle form. Holmes, though never accepting knighthood from any of the royal houses of Europe, is still a knight, pursuing justice and the truth, regardless of the particulars of the case. Like every detective, Holmes’ mission is to restore order where it has been broken through evil. In pursuit of this quest, he and Watson face many foes and dangers, whether it be in the form of John Clay, Charles Augustus Milverton, James Windibank or, most famously and dangerously, Professor Moriarty, whom Holmes compares to both a snake and a spider. There are times that Holmes and Watson even face what the medievals would have termed fantastic monsters that are twinged with the supernatural; most well known of these is the Hound of the Baskervilles (taken from actually legends from Dartmoor) but there is also the Sussex Vampire and the Devil’s Foot. There is, in reading the adventures, the very real sense of danger and the thrill of good triumphing over evil, echoing Chesterton’s observation that the pursuit of virtue has all the exhilaration of a vice. Even when there is no villain per se to apprehend, such as in “The Musgrave Ritual,” there is an almost boyish innocence to Holmes and his stories; where else but in a Sherlock Holmes adventure would there a treasure hunt on a country estate, the prize at the end being the ancient crown of England?
The necessity of these things comes from the fact that the world today is very hostile to pleasure. This might seem a surprising thing to say after having it drummed into our head that we live in a “sex-positive” society where every sort of pleasure is condoned. But it is not so much pleasure that is condoned today but the will; if a person wills it, then it must be true, so long as what a person’s will wants is what society has already condoned. With that also comes the idea that morality is decided by society and that, on a whim, society can change the definition and parameters of its morality. In Sherlock Holmes and his adventures, however, there is the innocence of goodness: the goodness of truth and mercy (as when Holmes commits a felony, whether it is to do more good for the criminal, as in “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” or to save a marriage as in “The Second Stain”); and there is the innocence and goodness of hunting evil for the triumph of good. In his lecture on fairy tales, J.R.R. Tolkien said that fantasy was needed because the materialists of the world told men the lie that all that existed was the three physical dimensions and only those things which existed within those three dimensions. There are not so many pure materialists today as there were in Tolkien’s time; most people believe in something other than the purely material as shown by the “nones” claiming to be spiritual instead of religious. But if pure materialists have left the field for the most part, their place has been taken by devotees of the will to power, who claim that “there is no good or evil, but thinking makes it so.” It is against them that fantasy and fairy tales are still needed and it is against them that Sherlock Holmes and the good doctor, with their innocence and goodness, are in need today in the lodgings at Baker Street as they were in the time of Victoria. What Vincent Starrett wrote in his poem, “221B” is just as true today as it was then:

Here dwell together still two men of note
Who never lived and so can never die:
How very near they seem, yet how remote
That age before the world went all awry.
But still the game’s afoot for those with ears
Attuned to catch the distant view-halloo:
England is England yet, for all our fears—
Only those things the heart believes are true.

A yellow fog swirls past the window-pane
As night descends upon this fabled street:
A lonely hansom splashes through the rain,
The ghostly gas lamps fail at twenty feet.
Here, though the world explode, these two survive,
And it is always eighteen ninety-five.

 

The End of the Trail

 

The Real Boy Scouts
“The Scouting Trail” by Norman Rockwell (1937). Courtesy of posterplease.com. 

 

 

One of the proudest days of my life came in January, 2006, when I was awarded the rank of Eagle Scout. I had been a part of the Boy Scouts of America since 1998, becoming a Webelos that Fall and working my way through their ranks, in order to cross over into the Boy Scouts proper two years later. From there, there were many ups and downs, triumphs and disappointments, that led to that afternoon in January. Even though I am no longer active in the Scouts, I still keep the old uniform, Eagle badge and medal in my closet, where the memories of those years and adventures (of which there were genuine ones) can remain safe protected.

In hindsight, the Scouts helped me in numerous ways, whether it was map reading, first aide, public speaking or learning in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico that it was possible for me to accomplish things I had not thought possible before, if I may be forgiven for using that wearied cliché. It is a terrible shame that any sons I may have in the future, will not be able to have these same experiences. My old uniform with its badges and medals and ribbons will, for them, be as foreign as an antique piece from antebellum times, whether it comes from the north or south sides of the Mason-Dixie Line. For how can the Boy Scouts of America actually be the Boy Scouts of America when it has decided that girls can be Boy Scouts too?

The decision, made earlier this week, was more than likely made for the usual, shallow and pedantry reasons. One obvious reason was raw numbers: since 1973, the ranks of the Boy Scouts have shriveled, a hemorrhaging that no number of programs, camps or promotions have been able to stop. If boys were no longer interested in Scouting, then the ranks would be opened to girls. This is what the Girl Scouts of America have accused their male cousins with Girl Scout President Kathy Hannan describing the Boy Scouts’ actions as a “covert operation” which was “inherently dishonest.” A boost of public opinion in the right quarters was no doubt another reason since, in this age of free thinkers, we all must do what the cultural elites tell us we must. Following from this, the decision itself follows a perverse logic; the self-same cultural elites have winded themselves hoarse in telling the rest of the population that there is absolutely no real difference between boys and girls, men and women; if that is the case, then of course it makes perfect sense that girls can now become Boy Scouts.

The only problem is that boys and girls are different. In a  time of “edginess” and “fearlessly pushing the boundaries” this observation is tantamount to heresy. And yet, as others more articulate and wiser then I, have pointed out, the differences are all around us. There are the different interests that boys and girls have, the different priorities which they place on different things; there is the scientific fact that men have an X and a Y chromosome in every cell in their bodies while women possess two X chromosomes; and there is the blatant fact that the male and female brain in structures and in their neural connections are different, differences that can be seen and detected even when people are only 26 weeks old. Chesterton once said that Original Sin was the only Christian doctrine that could be demonstrably proven since the proof resided inside the morning newspaper every day. One almost thinks that the differences between men and women reside within the same category as Original Sin.

All of these differences between men and women stem from the fundamental difference with separates the two sexes–women are bearers and nurturers and men are carriers and protectors. Only women can carry and give birth and nurse a child; only a man can impregnate a woman and stay to care and protect the two lives–woman and child–as husband and father. This is the point where the necessary caveats have to be made: that of course, a man can “nurture” a child, it just depends on what is meant by nurture; women of course can provide for children; of course a woman can protect herself and her children. The caveats have been repeated so often that the idea has become firmly planted in our heads that the exceptions to the rule and the accidentals can disregard the rule. Because men can hold, change, talk and feed (from a bottle) a baby, we have assumed that the natural structure of a woman’s body, which is designed to feed her children, does not really make a difference; we have also decided that the very real spiritual connection that exists between child and mother, a result of the time of carrying and the birth, is really nothing that special; because a woman is able to care for and raise a child on her own, we have decided that men can be shuffled off to the side and, after the impregnation, be forgotten. We have decided that men and women are simple interchangeable parts, units which can be plugged into whatever slot is empty.

There used to be the old saying–which may still be in force–which said that men were from Mars and women were from Venus. Older, I see what the originator of the line, whomever he was, was attempting to get at; that men and women are different. As a saying though, it is not the best since the truth it was trying to communicate is lost in the words Mars and Venus. Rather than being two side of the coin of humanity, entwined together and needing that need for the other, men and women become two completely separate species and not even species of the same ecosystem but from two entirely different planets. Martians do not need Venusians and Venusians do not need Martians and so each can go their separate ways. The truth is much richer and mysterious. Men and women are all human and yet the gulf that separates us as sexes is deep that makes our longing for the other that much more real.

This real difference between men and women–a truthful difference which screams to us from our bodies to our minds–means that boys and girls, men and women need their own groups, their own fraternities. This is especially true if we remember that boyhood is not an end in and of itself, just as girlhood is not an end in and of itself. Boyhood is the path to manhood and girlhood is the path to womanhood. As such, boyhood is the time for the boy to learn manliness and for the girl to learn womanliness, as well as the other virtues, such as courage, courtesy and modesty, and even these will be expressed differently between them. A man is courteous to a woman in a different way than a woman is courteous to a man and the courage of a woman will most times have to be expressed in different ways than the courage of a man; again, because men and woman are different.

This was one of the original purposes of the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts; both organizations were formed with the idea of helping boys on the path to manhood and girls on the road to womanhood. It was realized that boys and girls deserve not only friends of the same sex but fraternities of the same sex so that they can learn what it is to be men and women among their metaphorical brothers and sisters. Professor Anthony Esolen has explained this need of boys for boys and girls for girls; on the particular issue of the Boy Scouts, Esolen, in 2013 said:

It occurs to him [the father] that the Boy Scouts and he have come to an impasse. There is no reconciling them. The Boy Scouts now proclaim that there is nothing to being a boy, and nothing to the boy’s becoming a man; they might as well be the Unisex Scouts, as they are in Canada, where the scouting movement has collapsed.
In other words, Luke’s father is being asked to enroll his son in a group specifically limited to boys, but one that does not recognize the nature of boyhood and its progress to manhood. Thus there is no real justification for the group; that its membership is male is accidental and not of the essence. He and they do not see the same being in Luke. He sees his boy, and the man-to-be; they see a neuter. He sees a father-in-training; they see an immature human thing, a bundle of appetites that are not in themselves subject to moral judgment.

Aristotle, in his Nichomacean Ethics, states that the greatest injustice is the treating of different things as if they were the same. Treating boys and girls as if they were simply lumps of putty by denying their boyhood and their girlhood would most definitely fall under the category of injustice.

Creation and Nature

 

The Monster
Boris Karloff as the Frankenstein Monster, courtesy of Bing Images. 

 

Some of the most abused things in the world, at the moment, are words. At the present time, there seems to be a devolution of language and words are on the front lines. last year, for Christmas, I received a unique calendar, one that gives you a vocabulary word which has been lost from the English language. Some of these words included: “wormland” (a cemetery), “chouse” (to cheat), “lillylow” (a candle flame), and “eyebiter” (to bewitch). The reason and way in which each word has been lost and allowed to rust is specific to each word, but the one thing that all have in common, if I might be forgiven the tautology, is that each word presented by the calendar now has no home in the English language and the presentation of any of these words in speech or writing would be looked upon the same way as if one suddenly inserted an Egyptian hieroglyph into an email or a Facebook post.

I have no proof for this assertion, but it seems to me that a species of laziness is, at least, partially responsible for this loss of language. When one compares the original Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys adventures from the 1930s to the republished versions of the 1970s, one can very soon see the simplification of the vocabulary and syntax of the sentences. At a time when the educational philosophy of John Dewey was firmly entrenched in the minds of educators, the richness of language was sacrificed for utility. The tend has continued to this day; Nancy Drew, along with Sherlock Holmes and even the Bible, have been converted to comic books in an attempt to capture new readers and the new, actually book adventures of the teen-age sleuth make the 1970s republications of her adventures appear the height of sophistication.

Another trend has followed this general one of language devolution and that is the loss of meaning for words which remain within the confines of the language. C.S. Lewis noticed this habit decades ago. In his Mere Christianity, Lewis remarked upon the “deepening” of words to the point of the word losing all intelligent meaning. The example that Lewis gave was the word “gentleman” saying:

The word gentleman originally meant something recognisable; one who had a coat of arms and some landed property. When you called someone “a gentleman” you were not paying him a compliment, but merely stating a fact. If you said he was not “a gentleman” you were not insulting him, but giving information. There was no contradiction in saying that John was a liar and a gentleman; any more than there now is in saying that James is a fool and an M.A. But then there came people who said – so rightly, charitably, spiritually, sensitively, so anything but usefully – “Ah but surely the important thing about a gentleman is not the coat of arms and the land, but the behaviour? Surely he is the true gentleman who behaves as a gentleman should? Surely in that sense Edward is far more truly a gentleman than John?” They meant well. To be honourable and courteous and brave is of course a far better thing than to have a coat of arms. But it is not the same thing. Worse still, it is not a thing everyone will agree about. To call a man “a gentleman” in this new, refined sense, becomes, in fact, not a way of giving information about him, but a way of praising him: to deny that he is “a gentleman” becomes simply a way of insulting him. When a word ceases to be a term of description and becomes merely a term of praise, it no longer tells you facts about the object: it only tells you about the speaker’s attitude to that object. (A ‘nice’ meal only means a meal the speaker likes.) A gentleman, once it has been spiritualised and refined out of its old coarse, objective sense, means hardly more than a man whom the speaker likes. As a result, gentleman is now a useless word. We had lots of terms of approval already, so it was not needed for that use; on the other hand if anyone (say, in a historical work) wants to use it in its old sense, he cannot do so without explanations. It has been spoiled for that purpose.

This trend has continued today; the word “marriage” now covers so many different arrangements between so many different “genders” that the word has practically lost all of its objectivity and now simply means whatever a person wants it to mean. This trend has even been spoofed, on occasion, it has become so prominent. One particularly memorable example comes from John Carpenter’s Halloween in the form of Lynda, the blonde girl whose memorable trait is responding with “Totally” regardless of the situation or question or statement lobbed to her.

Parallel and related to this trend has also been the weakening of the borders between words, the using of words interchangeably as if one word was as good as another and the unarticulated belief that words can mean the same thing as long as they belong to the same “class.” As such, a recent edition of the “gay friendly” magazine, The Advocate, declared on its cover, “The Many Ways LGBT People Are Creating Families Today.”

The revealing element about this headline is that families are not supposed to be created. The word “creation” possesses an artificial quality, even in its positive uses, in that what was created does not have to exist. This is true even of the Genesis story in which the Bible declares that “God created the heavens and the earth…”; the unspoken thought in that utterance is that the heavens and the earth did not have to exist but that God created them simply out of love, love for all His creations in general and love for man in particular, an understanding which has been a part of Christianity from the start. “Creation” carries with it the idea that what is created must be planned, that tools must be gathered and the creator must enter his project with a determination to bring his creation from his mind to the world. Though things that are created, and so the word “creation” itself, can come to have a negative connation–one thinks of the Frankenstein Monster, the animals in Jurassic Park, Maria from Metropolis, and Skynet–this is not necessarily the case; Bill Finger and Bob Kane created Batman and Michelangelo created the Pieta and Christopher Nolan created Dunkirk. The intention behind the creation and the thing being created determine the good or evil of the act of creation.

Families, however, do no have this artificial and planning quality about them because families are supposed to be natural. Just as we do not say that a farmer is creating a crop when he plants his seeds in the Spring, we do not say that a father and mother have created a family or that they created a baby when the news comes that the wife is pregnant. Rather, we say that the couple–or more specifically the wife–is going to have a baby. The family and the baby are as natural as an oak tree springing up from an acorn or from a corn stalk coming from a kernel.

The using of the word “create” in The Advocate, then, is a Freudian slip that gives the game away because in homosexual relationships there can be nothing natural about children or families since the very nature of the relationship naturally prohibits children from coming. It is the same as planting a stone in the ground and expecting a rose. Every time that a homosexual pair presents children to the world, there are only a few methods by which this could come about. One avenue is adoption, a road which Dr. Robert Oscar Lopez, who was himself raised by two lesbians and lived a homosexual lifestyle in the 1980s, has said is not the non-issue that others have attempted to make of it. Furthermore, as Dr. Lopez has explained, often times when homosexual pairs adopt, what has actually happened is that a couple is divorcing because one spouse has “discovered” that he is “gay” and then sues to gain custody of the children. Janna Darnelle experienced this nightmare when her husband of nine and a half years announced that he was “gay” and that, because of that, a divorce needed to occur. Her children were thrust–against her will and theirs–into their father’s new world:

Their father moved into his new partner’s condo, which is in a complex inhabited by sixteen gay men. One of the men has a 19-year-old male prostitute who comes to service him. Another man, who functions as the father figure of this community, is in his late sixties and has a boyfriend in his twenties. My children are brought to gay parties where they are the only children and where only alcoholic beverages are served. They are taken to transgender baseball games, gay rights fundraisers, and LGBT film festivals.

There is also surrogacy, the act of “buying” a child from a woman; in other words, using the mother of a child as an oven to cook a child for one’s own use, a practice which, as Dr. Lopez, again, has said, is very similar to black slavery of the antebellum age a fact reinforced with the knowledge that when accidents happen with surrogacy and sperm donations, the reaction is not to love the child that comes but to sue the sperm bank.

Words, rather than being mere symbols or nominal empty houses, are bridges to reality itself, that connect us to the world as it objectively is. Words can be abused, as people can be abused, by twisting them on racks so that they try to paint a picture that a person subjectively wishes could exist but the result is an illusion. Contrary to what many say, freedom can only come from reality and living within reality and, for this to happen, a strong, deep and vibrant language is needed, with words that possess strong and clear meanings and essences and people who know and understand the words and the language itself. As such, the difference between “creation” and “nature” does not remain a trivial matter but a line from which reality can be defended and advanced or attacked.

 

When There is No Soul to Lose

 

columbus-monument_destroyed
The oldest memorial to the memory of Christopher Columbus in Baltimore was destroyed by modern barbarians.

Oscar Wilde quipped that fashion was a thing so hideous that it had to be changed every six months. Though Wilde still has not shaken off his reputation of being a dandied bon mot, his words often possess more weight than one might think and his judgement of fashion is a case in point. The reason why fashion has to be changed very six months is because it is hideous and it is hideous because there is nothing anchoring it to something solid. The only thing that fashion might be said to anchored to is Beauty but, if this were the case, fashions would remain beautiful and would not have to be changed at all. Boxers are born with floppy ears and yet their ears are shorn off to make them straight to appease Fashion; jeans are manufactured with ready made holes and rips and wears to appease the same god; and now, monuments and history are destroyed with all the fury of a religious cause because that is now the fashion de jour. 

Beacuse of this restlessness, fashion takes the form of the wind, blowing its adherents wherever it decides on the moment. The wind is a very powerful force but it usually can only whip the dead leaves along with it; oaks, with deep roots in the earth and the mountains which reach down into the core of the world, can withstand the wind and remain intact. In this way, the cult of fashion reflects just as much on us and our society as it does upon itself. The reason why we have jeans with holes and Boxers with cut ears and people with tongues split like snakes, is because fashion, being rootless, is found in the emotions entirely. To be sure, there is nothing with the emotions per se; everything has its purpose and its use. The problem comes when something is taken out of its place or used for something other than what it is for and the same is true of the emotions. It is very pleasant to hear the laughter of a child but our happiness at hearing that laughter might dry up if we discovered that the child was laughing after crushing frogs under a rock or throwing stones at a puppy. Similarly, when a man feels happy only by making others miserable, we are not unreasonable to say that the man in question needs to realign his emotions properly, especially with his intellect and his will.

When the emotions are allowed to run pell mell throughout the world, that is when all manner of trouble begins to start. Even worse, in a sense, is the unpredictableness of the emotions. Because they have been unhinged from reason and from experience and history and culture and tradition, the emotions can turn on a dime; what gave pleasure yesterday is now boring today and new diversions, new entertainments are needed to keep the emotions afloat. The only predictable thing to say about the people who allow their emotions to run wild is that they will act more and more inhumanly as time goes on and as their emotions continue to whip them in the winds of frenzy.

This would be bad enough but there is another possibility, one that is much worse. G.K. Chesterton, in his book, Orthodoxy, observed that a madman is not the man who has lost his reason but a man who has lost everything except his reason. People who follow their emotions only and so fashion may only be lazy and so not engage their minds; the madmen who make fashion their god have abandoned, as Chesterton said, everything–tradition, history, morals, common sense, poetry and even a basic understanding of human nature–and only kept their reason. From a set of a priori principles (which may or may not be true to begin with) they reason inexorably toward the conclusion, regardless of what is leveled along the way.

The latest fashion is the erasure of history via the removal and destruction of monuments which has know become a fully blossomed fad. When even the statues of obscure heroes from the Revolutionary War are decapitated one can be fairly certain that a new, rabid fad has reached a maturity. But even more illuminating than the rash of destruction and vandalism is the utter inability to offer even a lukewarm defense of these monuments and the history to which they are anchored. Baltimore provided the best example of this: starting at midnight on August 15, crews removed memorials to Chief Justice Roger Taney, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, as well as memorials to the general memories of Confederate soldiers and sailors and a monument to the Confederate women, finishing at 5:30AM. A few days prior, Baltimore city councilman, Brandon Scott, called for the immediate destruction of the monuments. The common theme from Baltimore and from other locations was that these memorials have no place in our society today and that the safety of the public demands that they be taken down.

This wanton destruction and/or rush to remove that which is offensive has been called a “conversation,” a clever bit of prestidigitation that shields what is actually happening. David Elstrom, a member of the Mark Steyn Club commented to Steyn:

I notice that the left media and even Fox News talk about the “discussion” on statues, or opine on the “conversation” concerning public monuments.
This Newspeak is apparently supposed to con the plebes into thinking something civil or democratic is happening. All I’ve seen is politicians or other apparatchiks rushing to remove statues (fearing the wrath of the mob) or actual mobs tearing things down.
If this is discussion, or conversation, then rape must be a “social event,” and sticking up the local convenience store a “financial transaction.

Mr. Elstrom is correct.  The underlying cause of this latest fashion is that we, as a society and a culture, have lost the reason for our own being. Multiculturalism, in large part, is the reason for this. As Mark Steyn has commented before, multiculturalism is one of the hardest “isms” to pin down and debate because the core of multiculturalism is that there is no core; people, cultures, societies, religions, beliefs are all fundamentally the same, which, if true, means that there is nothing to fight about. If there is nothing to fight about, that must mean, logically, that there are no differences and no distinctions; if that is true, than the histories and stories of different people must not be important; if that is the case, then the erasure of history is not a terrible thing or even an important thing since one story is just as good as another. What’s more, if a story is not important, if the story does not have value in and of itself, there can be nothing wrong with changing the story in certain spots, getting rid of a few characters throughout it, especially if their personalities and ideas do not gel with the current times, and trying to weave an entirely new story out of whole cloth.

This can explain why there has been really no attempt on the part of the lawful authorities to keep the memorials and monuments and statues up. Why risk the wrath of the mobs when the history attached to these memorials does not really matter?

The West has become more surely inundated with multiculturalism since the end of World War II. With the tragedies of the war fresh in mind and with the crimes of the twentieth century newly committed (the Holocaust, the growing awareness of the crimes of Communism [which were soon to be reinforced by Mao in China]) the world’s leaders wanted there to be peace and the idea was fed that if differences were not really that different, peace might have a chance to win the day. The body which was formed as the incarnation of this hope was the United Nations.

Stories and histories, though, are dangerous things to play with. If a story, or stories, are the center that gives meaning to a society and a country–a soul, as it were–the removal of these centers means that the soul of a country is sucked away. And an entity, a being with no soul is rightly called a monster.

 

The Tyranny of Nothing

The Great Eye
The Eye of Sauron

Many people suffer from chronological snobbery; they believe that because today is part of the 21st century and sixty years ago was part of the 20th century, today must be better and more enlightened than sixty years ago by the very fact of being today and not sixty years ago. What people believed and thought in the past is of no consequence to us today, aside from providing us with a whipping boy which will enable us to pat ourselves on the back in self-congratulations that we are better than our ancestors. The problem is that the past, more often than not, proves itself to be right. Miley Cyrus demonstrated this rule, again, when she declared in an interview last week that she considers herself to be “genderless” and “ageless.” She also said that, “I’m just a spirit soul, not divided by human being, even animals…There’s no me and them and there’s no us and you. I just want to be nothing.”

It was G.K. Chesterton who said that there are not so many new ideas as there are old mistakes, and this is the principle that Cyrus demonstrated in spades. Contrary to what some might think, these ideas that Cyrus expressed are not new or daring or provocative but are, instead, quite old and tried. The idea that the real “me” is some non-corporal spirit, a ghost in the machine of the body goes back to the sixteenth century where it was postulated by the French philosopher, Renee Descartes. Descartes arrived at this dualism (the idea that body and soul are two completely separate things) from his conclusion, “I think, therefore, I am.” Descartes came to this conclusion because of all the things in the world, he believed that the only thing that he could be utterly sure existed was himself and he could be sure of this fact because he could think. Since thinking was proof of existence, Descartes held that there was a deep divide between body and soul, contra Aristotelians, Thomists and Aristotelian-Thomists, who held to what is termed hylomorphism, the idea that the human person is not just a body and not just a soul but a body with a soul. As for Cyrus’s claim that “there’s no me and them and there’s no us and you,” such an idea comes from the ancient Greeks, specifically the pre-Socratic philosopher, Anaxagoras, who held that everything in reality is made from the mixing of an infinite number of primary elements. In this way, a blade of grass, a cup of water, a tiger-lily, a pickup truck, an octopus, and me at the most fundamental level are made of the same things; only the ratios are different. There also seems to be a whiff of Buddhism to this expressed desire from Cyrus, reminiscent of their desire for Nirvana, where everyone will lose their personal identity and be one.

If Cyrus were an actual pre-Socratic philosopher or an actual Buddhist, her expressions, while still wrong, might not be as bad. Given that she is neither, her words take on not just a silliness but a darkness that is best incapsulated in the words, “I want to be nothing.” There is a deep and sinister quality to a person wishing that they would cease to exist. If life is a good thing–and all sane people would have to agree that it is because, without it, how can we achieve the Good which all the great philosophers spoke–what can the wish for nothing, oblivion be? It is not a wish for death, for her spirit identity to be free from its material confines since Cyrus specifically claims that she wants to be nothing. That is the true terror of her words: Miley Cyrus, full of smiles and bubbliness, wants to be non-existent. Her words are a truer condemnation of contemporary culture than any analysis. How uneducated, how hollowed, how bored must a person become that non-existence seems to be an actually desirable end? C.S. Lewis once said that we laugh at honor and then are surprised to find traitors in our midst. Lewis’s principle applies here as well: we laughed at beauty, at truth, at home and family, at romance and adventure, at glory and honor, at God and religion. We were told, and continue to be told, that if we laugh hard enough, these ideas will go away and leave us to finally be completely unrestrained and completely free. And yet, almost sixty years after laughter became the sophisticated thing to do, we are bored; bored to the extent that now people actively wish that they would stop existing to be relieved of their boredom.  It turns out that hunting beauty, truth, and imagination from the world leaves the world a barren place that leaves us exposed to every element and storm.

That is the reason for Cyrus’s boredom and the boredom of our culture as a whole. But there is a result from this radical ennui and that is chaos. That might seem like a leap but, as Aristotle pointed out, small errors in the beginning lead to great errors in the future. If Miley Cyrus says that her identity is contained in the words “ageless” and “genderless” then this same conclusion must be a legitimate choice for others. So, already then, this is not a feeling that is contained to Cyrus alone, nor can it be. But what follows from this feeling of being ageless and genderless? For one thing, this feeling forces a serious person to ask: What am I? As humans, we exist in time; time is of such a fundamental part of our existence that we cannot conceive of a state of existence without time. If we are “ageless” though, or at least claim to perceive ourselves as ageless, time can have no meaning for us and one of the primary anchors that keeps us secured to reality is untethered. It is important to realize that ageless is not the same as immortal. Immortal simple means that one does not age, even though one is still passing through time; ageless, on the other hand, implies that one is outside of time itself, having no sense of or reference to past, present or future. But, since we cannot actually conceive of a state like this, what will making that claim mean for us? The same applies with the concept of genderlessness. If I am not a man or a woman–a very hard conclusion to come to, barring illness, since the fact of maleness or femaleness is rooted deep within us physically and metaphysically– and if I am not even any of the countless new “genders” that are being created and discarded then again, the question of what I am comes round to face us. The only logic answer is that I am nothing but being genderless and ageless, at least in the minds of Cyrus and others like her, cannot be the two methods by which nothingness is achieved since, by her own admittance, Cyrus sees herself as already being ageless and genderless and yet she still craves to be nothing. The answer to the question then, it seems, is that an individual thing–not a person anymore–must create its own essence exactly as Sartre said.

This leads to own shop of horrors. If I must create myself then I can recreate myself whenever I wish. In fact, I must recreate myself as my feelings dictate because my feelings are bound to change (assuming, of course, that I still have human feelings since I, in creating and recreating myself, can no longer be human). From that, comes a host of consequences. For one thing, the moral law or Tao, as C.S. Lewis termed it, that stodgy fossil of the past that refuses to limp quietly into the sunset, despite the numerous beatings that it has taken and continues to take, becomes nonexistent. Philosophers ranging from Aristotle and Aquinas to Plato and Lewis, have all argued that the moral law, or Tao, is written on the heart of every person. It is what we can’t not know, as J. Budziskwi, has described it. But, if the Tao is written on the human heart, can it still be there if one decides, through the process of “recreating” himself, that he is no longer human? Some will react to this with cheers and champagne; the moral, natural law is finally dead and there will be freedom! But, if there is no Tao, no standard, than anything possible. In his time, Lewis said gave the example that if there was no universal, moral and natural law, then there was no way to disparage Nazism for its evil since, if there was no standard, there could be no deviation from the standard and, as such, there could be no evil. The same is true today: if there is no standard of morality, then how can there be such a thing as racism or hatred in general? Your calling my views or my behavior hateful, is merely your exercising power over me because you are stronger than I. That is a fine arrangement for you, provided that the tables are not turned and I become the stronger party able to enforce my ideas upon you. Another result,  is that if there are no persons, there can be no relationships. A relationship exists between persons because it is assumed that the persons will be able to discover each other, which means that there is a someone to discover. But, in the process of recreation, the person cannot be discovered since there is no person to begin with and because the thing that you thought you knew at the beginning of the week might have completely changed by the end of the week. Friendship is impossible, as are any of the four loves.

In a world of this sort, where relationships are impossible, and so are friends and families, where there is no chaos because there is no law because there is no Tao, only a Leviathan, as imagined by Thomas Hobbes will be able to keep order. Ironically, the very false freedom that comes from the abolition of the Tao which people chase, leads to the very tyranny which they believe the Tao will impose upon them. In The Fellowship of the Ring, Sauron the Enemy says that there is no life in the Void…only death. There can be no life in nothingness either.