A week ago, this past Thanksgiving Day, I had the opportunity to walk in the old pasture with my pit bull, Toby. The weather was mild, for so late in November, aided by the sun which had a lapis lazuli sky from which to shine down. The breeze kept the sunshine in check, and it parted its way through the long grass. Down by the pond, still encircled by the trees, the same wind scattered the leaves down in a thin veil, rustling as they left their homes in the trees and came gliding determinedly to the earth. It was a setting that was worthy of a Currier and Ives cover; and, I felt again the stirrings of thankfulness from somewhere in the well of my soul.
It is an irony that even on the day which our forefathers set aside for giving thanks for all the blessings, material and spiritual, which have been bestowed upon us, we moderns are seemingly incapable of mustering much thankfulness. But since our time seems to be an age of ironies, that in and of itself is not surprising. I would lay a lion’s share of this on the “I” mentality that has gripped Western civilization–the idea that the universe revolves around me; that I am my own quasi-deified potentate whose wrath shall rage against whatever goes against my will or desires. Just this year, the news was inundated with several prominent stories of ingratitude: Lavar Ball, father of LiAngelo Ball, one of the three American basketball players arrested and jailed for shoplifting in China and, subsequently released at the request of President Trump, refused to thank the president for winning his son’s freedom and, thus, the ability to be with his family for Thanksgiving, telling CNN’s Chris Cuomo that he would have thanked Trump only if his son had been allowed to fly in Air Force One back home; GQ told its readers that it was their civic duty to “filibuster Thanksgiving” and to be “kind of an ass-hole” to their family if said family had voted for Trump last election. In addition to that, there was the usual gathering at Alcatraz Island for “Unthanksgiving Day”, which has been in existence since 1975, despite its utterly unimaginative name, as a way to protest the European colonization of the New World. Even disregarding the overtly political, a task that is becoming harder and harder to do with the creeping of politics into every aspect of existence, I am sure that there were many people whose hearts were filled, at least at some part of the days leading up to Thanksgiving, that were filled with envy, sadness and ingratitude from the usual thrashings which life gives. One of those hearts was mine.
This attitude is completely backwards, as most people even fifty years ago were aware. The Roman philosopher and writer, Seneca, may have broken through the “I” mentality the most completely when he said, “There is nothing more honorable than a grateful heart.” Gratitude is not just something which it is nice to be but is the pinnacle of honor, of one’s own self-respect. As such, it is not simply a feeling that can be extinguished with the next bout of bad luck or the next piece of bad news. It is, instead, a disposition, a way of seeing life. The reason why this disposition is honorable while other dispositions, such as cynicism, are not, is because when he have gratitude we realize that all the things that we have, be it in material items, achievements and successes, or spiritual treasures, are all gifts which have been bestowed upon us and for which we are blessed. And here, in America, there are blessings so numerous that many of us have forgotten to recognize them as blessings; little things such as the fact that most of us have roofs over our heads, cars to drive, cell phones, not only to communicate but through which entertainment or practically the vast sum of human knowledge can be retrieved through the push of a button and the slide of a finger; libraries where books can be read and knowledge and wisdom, if one is patient and attentive, for free and plenty of food and clean water to drink from the tap anytime we wish; machines that keep us cool in the summer and warm in the winter, machines that wash our clothes and machines that wash our dishes. To most of the rest of the world, the poorest house in the United States is Aladdin’s cave, filled with treasures and marvels. These things have become so commonplace that we expect them and we have ceased to be grateful for them; we complain when the air conditioning quits and the temperature rises to 85 or 90, forgetting that we still have roofs over our heads and that, even if the worse came to the worse, we could abscond to the self same library or the mall to cool our heels while Africans of 2017 live in mud huts and dream of being poor in America.
But not only do we have these devices and these machines; we still posses the stars at night, the sun in the day, the wind to cool us, the ocean to fascinate us. And, we have our lives.
The rejoinder that things may be bad but least we have our lives has become another worn cliché but, as is the case with all clichés, the sentiment and saying has become a cliché because it is true in two different ways. In the first place, we have our lives and thus, we have the power to try and do something to make either our lives in general or an aspect of our lives better. While in all honesty it cannot compare with Peter Jackson’s version, the 1977, animated, Rankin & Bass production of The Hobbit, did speak to that fact in its main theme:
The greatest adventure, is what lies ahead/Today and tomorrow, are yet to be said/ The chances the changes, are all yours to make/ The old of your life is in your hands to break.
We are not ants, possessing only a hive mind and thus only being a cell in the life of the colony; nor are we like most of the mere animals who operate mostly from instincts. Rather, like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, we have the opportunities and potential to change ourselves for the better, to make of ourselves real men and real women.
The second way is deeper. Seneca, good Roman that he was, realized that the things for which men should be grateful, were gifts of the gods. Not only are the things which we receive gifts of God but our lives are themselves gifts from Him. Humans are contingent beings; we did not have to exist at all and yet we are here. Man is little less than an angel and yet not one single man is necessary and no man had need to exist. This fact goes beyond the realization that we were created by God, a fact that, in and of itself, is awesome, particularly if one happens to be a Thomist. Thomistic philosophy states that creation was not an act of God that occurred at some point in the far past but is an ongoing occurrence. Based on the fact that man is a contingent being, Thomas Aquinas came to the conclusion that the only thing keeping man in existence–as a species and as an individual–was the Will and Love of God, keeping every single man, woman, and child in existence, picosecond to picosecond. The only reason why I am here, writing these words at this minute and the only reason why you are here at this moment is that God wills it. This is perhaps a large part of the reason why Meister Eckhart. the German priest and mystic, once said, “If the only prayer we said in life was, ‘Thank you,’ that would suffice.” Thanks for the continued existence of our lives when our lives are not cosmically necessary is the epitome of gratitude.
In one of his voluminous writings, G.K. Chesterton said, “When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” The fruit of an ungrateful disposition is plain in our world, with misery the chief harvest. Genuine gratitude, the combination, as Chesterton put it, of happiness and wonder, will go a long way in dispelling that particular darkness from our lives.
Hallowe’en has come again, which means that it is time for devils, sluts, bacchanalian priests, psychotic clowns and rotting, evil corpses to descend upon the earth and again, to lie in wait for the few meagre trick or treaters that brave the witching winds or to trapeze down the roads themselves. I was just recently in a Hallowe’en store and found myself surrounded on the one hand by banality and on the other by rotting corpses and evilly deformed humanoids. They are a far cry from the Hallowe’en decorations of my childhood which, in turn, were part of my mother’s childhood in the first part of the Seventies. There are witches and ghosts and cauldrons and jack o’ lanterns and though they are eerie in garbs and contortions , they are not ugly. If modern art has been attacked by Philistines in sheep’s clothing, Hallowe’en has suffered the same fate by similar hands.
It was not always like this. Any half way glance at the decorations and costumes that people, but particularly children, wore even forty years ago, give witness themselves to the fact that Hallowe’en, in the past, was not about shock, gore, or disgust, This is not to say that Hallowe’en has never been eerie. Far from it; the day could hardly be otherwise, associated as it has always been with the dead. This association began in the days of prehistory in Ireland, especially; on Samhain, the ancient, Celtic name for the last day of October, the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead was at its thinnest and the spirits of the dead could return to walk about which led families to leave out milk and sweets for the dead, while the young men of the village would dres in hideous costumes to lead the spirits out to the skirts of the village. The faie and other entities were especially active and unwary persons could find themselves drawn to their fires and dancing; unlucky people who danced with the faie were never seen again or, when they finally broke loose of the circle, discovered that ten, twenty, fifty years had passed in the mortal world. None of this really changed with the advent of Christianity to the British and Emerald isles. Pope Gregory I declared that the native peoples’ sentiments should not be entirely destroyed but simply redirected and the Catholic missionaries who followed Augustine of Kent and Patrick followed Gregory’s words. As such, the celebrations of Samhain were not eradicated but were realigned, as it were. The missionaries taught the Celtic tribes that the dead, in a sense, were still with them but that they needed the prayers of the living to expedite their seeing God. The feast day of All Saints was born from this and its date fixed, not coincidently, on November 1, the day after Samhain which became All Hallows Eve, or Hallowe’en. Even the custom of trick or treating came from the Christianization of Samhain; the well to do would bake “soul cakes” and distribute them during the night to the poor who, in turn, promised to pray for the souls of the departed members of the well to do’s family. Even when the day was not specifically tied to the dead–such as the Pomona feasts which the Romans celebrated at around the same time as the Celtic Samhain to give thanks to the goddess, Pomona, for the harvests–the day dealt with endings and, implicitly as such, with death.
This intimate connection with death and the dead and endings made Samhain and, later, Hallowe’en, eerie but eerie is not the same thing as disgust or horror. Eerie is off in the peripheries and stays in the shadows, in the twilight; it is the realization that the world is bigger than what we can see and hear and sense, that there are more things in the earth and in heaven than can fit into our philosophies. This eeriness made the old celebrations of Hallowe’en intrinsically more imaginative since the imagination works in the twilight; it cannot work properly with the “bloody disgusting” first, since it leaves nothing for the imagination to work and since the imagination, what allows us to be “sub-creators,” is what allows the Imago Dei to shin forth from us, it can only work properly with the three transcendentals of the True, the Good and the Beautiful.
The eeriness also made Hallowe’en more innocent; a grownup sees a vampire as a symbol of youth, a la Stephanie Myers, or as a Freudian symbol of sexuality; a child will see a vampire as a monster who, to stay alive, must corrupt and destroy that which is good and beautiful, as Dracula turned sweet Lucy into another of his brides. Twilight is such because darkness and light are mixed together and in the Hallowe’ens of old, when the imagination of the Twilight Country held its sway, things that were dark, things that were other things that did not belong in our world, such as ghosts and zombies, while acknowledged freely were not obsessed over. As such, in the old Hallowe’en parties of the Victorian era, lads and lasses would gather together in what was essentially, a potential group date; “divination” games with mirrors and candles and other games such as snap-dragon not only provided camaraderie among the young, but also focused their minds on courtship and marriage because these things were good in and of themselves. In the Thirties and Forties, children dressed not only as mummies and real skeletons, as opposed to the fake, “evil” and leering skeletons today, and gargoyles and ghosts but as cowboys and as their heroes. The striving for light and the recognition of the dark held hands on Hallowe’en.
Those old Hallowe’ens are dead now, as ghostly as the actual ghosts that may come back at Hallowe’en, alive only through art of the time and photographs. One of the knives that killed it was the collapse of the Hayes Code in 1968 which, for a little over thirty years, had kept a reign on Hollywood. With the collapse of the Code, Hollywood began showing more and more gruesome movies officially opening the floodgates in 1978 with the release of John Carpenter’s Halloween which, for the first time, directly tied Hallowe’en with the disgusting, in this case, a masked killer who is the embodiment of evil itself. Although Halloween was not and is not a slasher film, the stimulation of the nerve had to be increased; horror movies that followed upped the ante to keep audiences on the edge of their seats so that in Carpenter’s Halloween II, released a mere three years after the original, was a veritable slasher movie. This, of course, was only one cause for the death of Hallowe’en. The collapse of the family and, consequently, the loss of God, made people more cynical and materialistic; the Twilight was abandoned for antiseptical light. Since there was no such thing as God, there was really no such thing as innocence and if the things in the dark were not really real, since they could not be detected by the senses, then eeriness and vague recognition were not enough; the nerve required greater stimulation. The irony is that with no code besides the code of self recognized, the “edginess” of Hallowe’en which seemed to be replacing its mystery, was destroyed as well since something can only be “edgy” if it transgresses a rule, something which is impossible if there are no rules to begin with.
Today people say that you can’t turn back the clock, a sentiment which C.S. Lewis showed was a very stupid idea since, as he said, it is patently obvious from our own experience that a clock can be turned back and that if the clock is wrong, turning it back is the most sensible and best thing in the world. This does not mean, though, that it is easy but then again, the best things in life are not easy. Even life itself is not “easy.” Innocence and Imagination are important things in themselves; they are good things in themselves and as such, they are things worth turning back the clock. Maybe then, the old witches and phantoms and goblins and monsters will make Hallowe’en their home again for our imaginations to find.
There is something about October that makes it standout from the rest of the year. To be sure, each of the four seasons, from which the years are stitched, have their own purposes–spring and summer bring life, autumn brings carnival and harvest and winter brings peace and rest to the earth and to us. Each season, because of their different purposes, have a different taste, as it were; a unique spirit that can only be found between the hazy demarcations of the different seasons.
Most seasons span over several months and there are some seasons that rest within others, like nesting dolls, the way the Christmas season nestles inside the winter season. October is the same; though fall officially begins in September, it comes to an apex in October. October heightens the autumn season; it acts as a magnifying lens so that everything good about and in the autumn is concentrated in the thirty-one days of the tenth month.
But there is something more about October; there is an element to it that supersedes just the autumn season. I’ve seen this every October since I began to gain the wisdom needed to see it: the light is deeper and mellower and colors, in general, not only change into the different hues of fire but become deeper; fruits and fields yield their labors making the air sweet; winds become crisp; mists arise from the lakes and rivers. All of these different elements come together and make October a country in and of itself and these characteristics make the month a castle for the Imagination.
Much like “freedom” and “equality,” the word “imagination” has lost much of its meaning and, due to that hemorrhaging, it has lost much of its form. Imagination has done better than its cousins, however, because we intrinsically still posses an understanding of what the word conveys. Men can debate for hours the meaning of freedom and the correct balance between its negative and positive aspects–freedom from and freedom for–or even if there is such a balance and not inch closer to the truth; a mother can see her son slaying dragons in the trees or witness her daughter engaging in long conversations with her animals at a tea table and knows, instinctively, what is happening. In this sense, the core of Imagination has remained in our minds; it is only the details which have become hazy, a great pity since, as our ancestors knew, the devil is in the details.
Thomas Aquinas explained that the Imagination was a power of rationality which acted as a storehouse for the forms which our senses witnessed. All of our five senses gather sights, sounds, smells, textures and tastes from the outside world and the ghosts of all these things (“phantasms” as Aquinas called them) are stored in the Imagination, ready to be recalled to the mind when we wish them to be, even if the original things themselves are no longer present to our senses. But the Imagination can do more than simply bring the ghosts of things seen, heard or smelled, back to mind; the Imagination can also put these different phantasms together and create something entirely new. The Great Old One, Cthulhu, is often portrayed as a giant with octopus features; dragons, which boys slay from the trees, have the bodies and scales of snakes, the wings of bats (more often than not) and fire in their belly; a unicorn is a perfect horse, snow-white, with a horn growing from its forehead. In each case, different forms were mixed and combined in the Imagination and new creatures were sired. This is the artistic power of the Imagination and this is where its true power and value lays. J.R.R. Tolkien described men as “sub-creators” by which he meant two things. He first meant that men cannot Create as God creates–ex nihilo; men can only use the things which God has already made and which He keeps in existence from picosecond to picosecond. Secondly, for Tolkien, the act of sub-creation was not something that men could do; it was something that men had to do as a result of being made in the image of God; as Tolkien said, men create because he, himself, is created. The artistic ability of the Imagination is where sub-creation is powered and where the Imago Dei can shine through the soul to the world outside.
October stimulates the imagination precisely because it is its own season, its own world, separated from the rest of the year. This separation comes not just because of the autumn but because of the intrinsic eeriness that lays over the thirty-one days that make up the month. Ray Bradbury, a great lover of the month, wrote in the introduction to his book, The October Country
October Country…that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain.
There is no mention of ghosts, witches, or things that come out in the October time in Bradbury’s description but an eeriness nevertheless clings to the month as oil clings to skin; a place where “twilights linger and midnights stay” a place composed of places that rest in the dark beneath the ground, a place that is composed of autumn people “thinking only autumn thoughts” does not give explicit warmth and cheer as Christmas does. But neither does it cause the blood to unequivocally chill as do the things which creep in the night. All manner of monsters and creeps may be Autumn People but not all Autumn People are monsters. Rather, Autumn People seem to be those people who can see and intuitively understand the poetry and the beauty of Nature’s carnival, the last, wild gypsy dance before winter. They are people who can allow the season to work freely upon their imaginations. Bradbury himself is a perfect example of this. The nineteen stories collected in The October Country are not monosyllabic but run a gamut. Stories such as “Skeleton” and “The Little Assassin” are not only genuinely creepy but legitimately monstrous. On the other hand, “The Lake” and “The Haunting of the New” are eerie but they are not monstrous. Instead, they present a beautiful sadness that sets one foot upon the shores of the uncanny and leaves it there for the rest of us to witness and enjoy.
Of course, Hallowe’en casts its spectral shadow over the entire month, much, again as Christmas infects all of December with its glow and light. Because Hallowe’en is the descendent of Samhain–the ancient Celtic festival wherein the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead was at its thinnest–it is perfectly natural why the entire month would be the reservation of witches and vampires, phantoms and werewolves, monsters and terrors–all the things which the Imagination seeks and which it revels in. Even if Hallowe’en came in August though, even if there was no such thing as Hallowe’en and no Celt or Druid had ever had the whisper of an idea of Samhain, still October would be the world of and to its own. T.S. Eliot expressed this idea when he saw October as a time of decay which the world cyclically went through while it awaited the Incarnation. Though Eliot made no mention of ghosts and monsters, he too saw the unique spirit of the season and saw that it was a world to itself that could strike the Imagination with its full force.
The world today is a very strange place. While it seems that the individual has been made the sovereign of the cosmos, it is not really the individual who has been crowned but old utilitarianism, refurbished and repackaged. Many times when people feel the need to excuse their behavior or their wants–usually in sex and morals–the excuse is that the behavior must be done so that one can be true to oneself. Even our vices, then, have become utilitarian. Where, in such a world as this, can the Imagination lay its head? And why would, or should, people want to engage the Imagination at all if there is no benefit to it? Besides the universal benefit already mentioned–engaging in sub-creation, which is good in and of itself–the Imagination, because of its ability to engage with creation in this way, can be seen as the Cauldron of Story, a term Tolkien used in his 1937 lecture on fairy tales. The importance of this is that it is through stories that we really come to know and understand and love the world; Tolkien’s friend, Lewis, knew as much when he said, “Reason is the natural organ of truth but imagination is the organ of understanding.” Tolkien says that many things can be put into the cauldron and any sort of weird and wonderful things can come out. Giving the example of King Arthur, Tolkien said that
It seems fairly plain that Arthur, once historical (but perhaps as such not of great importance), was also put into the Pot. There he was boiled for a long time, together with many other older figures and devices, of mythology and Faerie, and even some other stray bones of history (such as Alfred’s defence against the Danes), until he emerged as a King of Faerie.
In this way, the Imagination turned an obscure ruler of the early, historical days of England and transformed him into one of the greatest figures and heroes recognizable today, across oceans and mountains and languages. The denzians and inhabitants of the Twilight Country do much the same thing. As Bradbury already noted, October has its own heroes and villains and customs. It is in October that a funny little Dutch professor can face evil incarnated in the form of the lord of vampires; men driven made by illuminations discover that they are not God; and, we all learn not only that evil exists and runs rampant in the world, we also are reminded that there are more things in heaven and earth then we could possibly dream of and that even children can defeat evil in the guise of a witch. It is in October where, like the old Celts, we can face our fear of the dark and death and the world on the other side and remind ourselves, snuggled by bonfires, drinking cider, while orange faces leap from hollowed pumpkins, that our world is bigger than the current powers that be could ever imagine and we can rejoice in that fact as we allow our imaginations to walk unhindered through the October Country.
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.
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.
It used to be considered fashionable to be late; it demonstrated that one was so important that other attentions had to be given before one could even think of making an appearance at a party or some other social function (it doesn’t seem to have worked in the work setting, unless one was somewhat elevated in the hierarchy). While I would not venture to say that I am important enough use this as an excuse for tardiness, it might still be considered fashionable to be late only because it allows one’s thoughts to mature and, hopefully because of that, to hold a little more than they could.
When Teen Vogue ran its guide to anal sex this past summer, the reactions were already written: people were shocked and rightly outraged that a magazine for teenagers would print such a how to guide while the magazine’s digital editor, Phillip Picardi claimed that the only possible explanation for the backlash was the predictable and boring accusation of “homophobia.” Of course, there was nothing “homophobic” about the reactions of the parents and the commentators who expressed their shock; they were simply flabbergasted that a magazine devoted to teen-age girls would tell its readers how to do something that has been proven to have serious medical consequences.
It is an interesting and ironic twist that the people who often cry the loudest about science really do not care about what science says. They are much like the “cafeteria Catholics” of the Eighties, Nineties and Thousands, picking and choosing which science to cite and believe and which science to ignore. Teen Vogue chose to close their eyes to the myriad risks which anal sex opens. Author Gigi Engle did mention in her guide that contact with feces was inevitable but that this was nothing to worry about, a statement that might have been true if a cornucopia of diseases, such as hepatitis A, B, and C, parasites like Giardia and intestinal amoebas, and bacteria like Shigella, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and E. coli, were not contactable through anal sex. On top of that, the risk of HIV and other STDs such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, syphilis and herpes, increase dramatically from the practice. Added to these threats, there is another layer of danger waiting for someone’s teenage daughter who decides to give “bottoming” a try–fecal incontinence. The chances of contracting anal cancer is also increased. These bacteria, diseases and sicknesses are really not a surprising result from practicing anal sex since, to put it bluntly, things are being put where things should not be put, in this case, the male sex organ being inserted into the manhole of the body’s sewage removal system. One can compare that to the harmony naturally inherent in what Gigi Engle termed ” ‘penis in the vagina’ sex” what used to be known in common circles as simply, sex, the natural harmony found in how the two different sex organs work together so perfectly in their complimentary that Occam’s Razor practically screams that the two were made to go together. The horrible consequences of anal sex are simply the natural results of ignoring ontology and teleology, large, philosophical terms which mean nothing more than “what things are” (ontology) and “what those things are for” (teleology).
If the physical health issues were the only harms done by Engle’s guide, that would be bad enough, but Teen Vogue’s piece does even greater harm than simply the physical. In the first place, the piece can be added to the list of pieces and speeches and actions which erode history and an honest understanding of history. Engle attempted to use history as a defense of anal sex by claiming, “Anal sex, though often stigmatized, is a perfectly natural way to engage in sexual activity. People have been having anal sex since the dawn of humanity. Seriously, it’s been documented back to the ancient Greeks and then some. So if you’re a little worried about trying it or are having trouble understanding the appeal, just know that it isn’t weird or gross.” It should be noted, again, that simply possessing a long pedigree in history does not instantly make X activity moral, or else murder, lying, rape and stealing would also be seen as being “perfectly natural.” The activity has to be taken for what it is, not for how long it has been practiced or how many people have practiced it. It may also be recalled with some amusement that during the oral arguments of the Obergefell case in 2015, the fact that marriage had been seen and understood as a conjugal union of a man and a woman was not deemed sufficient reason to keep reality as it was; rather, it was merely one more barrier which the soldiers of justice had to storm in order that history could be righted. A principle which can be used and discarded at will is not the strongest pillar on which to rest a case. But, even beyond the historical fallacy, Engle’s assertion attempts to change history. It is a fact that anal sex was practiced in the world of the ancient Greeks; there even survives a debate of sorts from that time, in which it was discussed which was more pleasurable, sex with women or sex with boys. But to leave the assertion at that is to play dishonestly. Anal sex, for one, was acceptable to the Greeks only within certain parameters: In Sparta, for example, it was seen as a way for boys to bond and, thus, a way for a brotherhood of sorts to exist between the next generation of soldiers. Once the boys came of marriageable age, however, such activity was not only frowned upon but was punishable by death. Intellectual giants by the names of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle condemned the practice. Casting a wider historical net, behavior of this sort was condemned in ancient Israel; in ancient Rome, though this sort of thing may have been accepted at times with a wink and a nod, it was technically against the law and accusations of some person having or performing anal sex was often used as an attack on one’s enemies, which happened to Emperor Elagabalus. The history is not as clear-cut as Engle would like to have it.
But there is another, and deeper, danger posed to history, not particularly by this particular article, but by the attitude which exudes from its attempt to marshal history in its defense. One of the reasons why History is necessary not just for people but for societies is because History is supposed to act as our teacher. It is true that an answer to a particular, contemporary problem–such as the exact percentage of the federal income tax– will, more than likely, not be found in the Alexiad or in the chronicles of Tacitus or Hume’s History of England, but answers to general questions can be found in its annals. When History is simply used as a battering ram for a particular point or ideology, it ceases to be History but, rather, a monster that we attempt to control in order to sanction our own points and peccadillos and sins. When History is slashed and sewn up into one’s own Frankenstein Monster, we taken to very strange Wonderlands. In the field of American history, to give just one example, a divide has formed between those who see the Founders as Deists to a man and those who see them all as Evangelical Christians neither side making any real attempt to come to a realistic and true account of the matter. But that situation is not surprising; monsters are not strong at dialogue and reasoned arguments but are very good at attempting to crush other monsters and their creators, while the common villagers suffer the most from the battle.
In the second place, Teen Vogue’s guide destroys people and children. There are, again, all of the medical disorders that come from anal sex and which will infect boys and girls–real boys and real girls–which will cling to them and eat at their bodies. More than likely, it will not just end at anal sex; once a particular door is opened, people have a habit of rushing further into the labyrinth, opening more doors and falling further and further into the dark. I remember reading, some years ago, a piece online, the title and author of which I have forgotten but I have not forgotten his story. It concerned a young women in the Seventies who, at the time, was living in a lesbian relationship. As she and her partner were walking through a festival, the woman in question came across two other girls making out; her nonchalance became horror when she discovered that the two girls were actually twin sisters. When she turned to her partner, the partner simply said that they couldn’t say anything; if they wanted society to approve of their behavior, they could not condemn the sexual behavior of others, even if it was composed of incest. Though it happened forty years ago, that story has not expired; as Dr. Robert Oscar Lopez recorded three years ago, the homosexual community was quick to praise a pair of Brazilian brothers and a pair of Czech brothers who declared their sexual love for each other, love that was quickly captured by the camera and which left nothing to the imagination. These doors are opening more quickly than some people may give credit; an eighteen year old girl has declared that after two years of dating, she is going to marry her father after twelve years of estrangement and have children with him and a mother and son were arrested last year for incest. These new arrangements will only lead to more physical and mental problems and, as the doors are opened by real children, they will be the ones to pay the price.
As with History, there is another way in which Engle’s guide destroys real people. Never once does Engle use the words male or female. As Jennifer Hartline commented,
Anatomical parts are mentioned, and the owners of certain parts are given directions pertaining to their parts, such as someone who has a prostate vs. someone who does not. But there’s no mention of men and women. Just nondescript persons with parts.
The world of Engle’s telling is a world without men and women, regardless of the current claim that men and women are simply two of the fifty-seven “genders” from which one can choose, as if choosing what one is were as easy as choosing which brand of milk to buy. In a way, Engle’s world is even more terrifying and cold than the world as it is now since in her mind, it seems that there never anything such as men and women. If there are only organs that can be stimulated so as to give momentary pleasure but no underlying essences to which these organs can cling then, in the words of Andrew Klaven, men and women are merely “meat puppets,” automatons surrounded by other automatons who agree to come together for the sole purpose of exchanging pleasure. Perhaps more terrifyingly, contrary to Miss Hartline, there cannot even be people in this world view since, in this physical world especially, a person can only be composed of matter and form, to use the tried and true Aristotelian language, and matter, especially in the case of people, can only be male or female. If these do not exist, then matter is a lie and if one half of the mystical formula for the creation of a person is a lie, is there really a person? Can there be a person at all?
In the third place, Engle and her guide and Teen Vogue are destroying love and romance. It is apparently a truism that must be repeated or risk being forgotten, that people who are in love want what is best for the beloved, even if that would cause inconvenience and even some discomfort to the lover. But anal sex, as is known causes physical harm; it also causes emotional harm as a 2009 Guttmacher Institute study discovered. It also causes moral harm. Such language is not taken seriously today and yet it is often the case that the most serious things are not taken seriously enough and these are the pillars which people believe they can topple to form a bridge to a new utopia. If not simply the sex organs but men and women themselves are meant for each other in a special way for a special reason, then using that natural instinct and that power for something contrary for its purpose will inevitably cause disaster, even if the participants escape any physical consequences such as, in this case, HIV or cancer; as Emerson once put it, “Commit a crime and the earth is made of glass.” An example can be found in people who live together as though they were married before they actually are married. On the surface, the proposition seems the most logical in world; marriage is such a drastic change in lives that it seems commonsensical to have a “test run” before committing to it. And yet, couples who do so seem more likely to divorce. On an aside, even if this claim is definitely proven to be false (as one study has claimed) it is interesting to note that couples who are married handle stress better than couples who are simply living together. People addicted to pornography have confessed that they became deadened, unable to invest time in their other relationships, even their spousal and familial ones, because of the pornography and yet, at the same time, it was not satisfying them either–the very thing that they craved was unable to fill them. Speech is meant for the communication of the truth and when lies are woven for gain or personal protection against some just action against us, how many times has the lie taken over our lives so that the very thing created to protect us becomes the very thing choking the life from us? Will the consequences of anal sex be different?
Such guides as Engel’s also contribute in the destruction of love and romance by placing exorbitant emphasis on sexual pleasure–by turning it into the summum bonnum of love–that sexual pleasure becomes another monster which destroys love and romance. The reason being is that when sexual pleasure becomes the end all and be all of love and romance then the attainment of that pleasure becomes the only reason for the relationship and the romance to last and a barometer as to the health of the relationship. The spouse, again, becomes merely a means for sexual pleasure, easily replaced if “boredom” sets in. And boredom will and does set in since rather than finding delight in one’s spouse–a person–happiness is made dependent on a temporal and passing state. Not only that, but that temporal and passing state must be gradually increased so that boredom does not set in. This can be seen by a simple experiment: After you stroke your arm with a feather for a few minutes, what used to tickle you now causes no sensation. A variation must be began or more pressure be added to the same space in order for the sensation to start again. It is the same with sex and sexual pleasure; it has been made the “god” of love, the god quickly loses its luster, much as a spoiled child loses interest in his new toys. That is why, two summers ago, Men’s Health, ran a small piece declaring that BDSM a la Fifty Shades of Gray was perfectly normal and desirable. That was not the cry of healthy individuals; that was the sign of the surrender to boredom. The “god” was failing and only an increase in its bacchanalian rites could return it.
And in the fourth place, Engle and Teen Vogue are destroying the very idea of sex itself. It used to be that the word “sex” referred to the sexes, man and woman and not to what they did together, which was considered cosmically awful (in the old meaning of the word, which meant “inspiring awe”), awful because of the power which formed between the man and the woman, the power to make the beloved one’s own in the deepest sense by giving the most intimate part of yourself to the other–half of what was needed for the creation of a new life, a new person, a new story upon the stage of the world, full of his own joys and sorrows, triumphs, disasters, virtues, vices, sins and graces. Shakespeare, in Romeo and Juliet brilliantly captured this power and its awfulness when, at the beginning of Act Three, Juliet says:
Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds,
Towards Phoebus’ lodging: such a wagoner
As Phaethon would whip you to the west,
And bring in cloudy night immediately.
Spread thy close curtain, love-performing night,
That runaway’s eyes may wink and Romeo
Leap to these arms, untalk’d of and unseen.
Lovers can see to do their amorous rites
By their own beauties; or, if love be blind,
It best agrees with night. Come, civil night,
Thou sober-suited matron, all in black,
And learn me how to lose a winning match,
Play’d for a pair of stainless maidenhoods:
Hood my unmann’d blood, bating in my cheeks,
With thy black mantle; till strange love, grown bold,
Think true love acted simple modesty.
Come, night; come, Romeo; come, thou day in night;
For thou wilt lie upon the wings of night
Whiter than new snow on a raven’s back.
Come, gentle night, come, loving, black-brow’d night,
Give me my Romeo; and, when he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.
By telling teenage girls that sex can include equally what it is meant to be and its contradiction, Engle and Teen Vogue cheapen it to the point of buffoonery. Rather than a leap into the beloved’s arms for the amorous rites that shine with their own light, sex, to the modern sensibilities, can be that or it can equally include acts which will cause pain and emotional distress.
Young girls deserve better than this. Women deserve better than this. People deserve better than this. Rather than a cheap imitation that can corrode the body and the soul, they deserve real, genuine love and real genuine romance. Not the species that often comes to mind when we say the words, covered as they are with harlequin veneers, but the real kind that burns both the lover and the beloved into a union of awful dimensions.
There are some areas where people are not allowed to have a personal opinion, areas which, more often than not, overlap the spheres of the True, the Good and the Beautiful (the Three Transcendentals, as Dr. Peter Kreeft has called them). Murder and rape, for example, regardless of one’s personal opinion are wrong and their innate wrongness cannot be changed one iota. Outside of the Transcendentals and issues of morality and what it means to be truly human, this inability to have a legitimate personal opinion can still possess some force. It is one thing, for example, to say that the 2006 movie Eragon is more personally enjoyed than The Lord of the Rings trilogy; it is another thing entirely to say that Eragon is objectively, of its own nature, better than The Lord of the Rings. Though some legitimate criticism can be laid upon Peter Jackson’s trilogy, there is really no question that he did try to faithfully bring the world which J.R.R. Tolkien discovered into cinema and, as such, many of the themes and symbols which Tolkien incorporated into his mythology present themselves in the films. To give one example: though Tolkien was not fond of allegory, which was one reason why he did not care for C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, symbolism–a sign of a metaphysical reality–was another issue entirely. As such, the personage of Jesus Christ is symbolized three times in The Lord of the Rings: Christ as King is found in Aragorn; Christ as Prophet is found in Gandalf; Christ as Sacrifice is found in Frodo. It is no coincidence, as such, that each character undergoes death and resurrection, most strikingly in the case of Gandalf the Gray who, after he is killed by the Balrog demon, is returned to Middle Earth as Gandalf the White. Jackson’s trilogy caught this and many more symbols and themes found in the books. The books and the movies, therefore, are rightly considered masterpieces. Eragon, in comparison, is a very shallow affair. While it might offer some entertainment on a rainy or lazy day, it does not feed the imagination or the soul as Tolkien’s work does. This does not mean that people should not or cannot enjoy Eragon; there is nothing, so far as I know, nothing morally dubious in the movie or in the first book. A little cotton candy is fun and innocent to have, especially during the county fair; it is when the only thing one eats is cotton candy that a problem can and will develop.
There are other areas, outside these parameters, however, where private opinion can reign supreme. Is Casablanca a better movie than Gone with the Wind? Which possesses a sweeter sound–the flute or the violin? Are the German tunes of Oktoberfest better than the reels played and sung at Irish festivals? Good men may and do and will disagree with each other and drink and laugh while they disagree. The same holds true to the debate over whether Star Trek or Star Wars is the better series and story. Star Trek can appeal more broadly to those who enjoy stricter science fiction a la Asimov and Clark while Star Wars follows the tradition of the space operas, such as Edgar Rice Burroughs’s A Princess of Mars. Another and recent addition to this debate came from conservative commentator, Bill Whittle, on his podcast, The Stratosphere Lounge. In answer to a question posed to him, Whittle espoused that, for him, Star Trek was superior to Star Wars because there was the sense of exploration, discovery and adventure that appealed to him as a boy and which has stayed with him throughout his life; Star Wars, on the other hand, never possessed that since none of the characters were exploring anything new. There was the sense that everything that you saw in the galaxy far, far away had been seen a million times before. Whittle, however, continued and added that another defect of Star Wars was that it was hierarchial and aristocratic. His reasoning for this judgement came from the fact that while the Federation and Star Fleet of Star Trek seemed to be a pure meritocracy, in Star Wars, only a privileged few, those who were born with the ability to feel and control the Force, could become the enviable Jedi Knights.
Now, again, there is nothing wrong with Mr. Whittle having his own opinion as to which series or franchise is better. I, myself, would disagree and say that Star Wars is much more enjoyable than Star Trek but, in this case, it is only my opinion and not a matter of Truth, Goodness or Beauty. What is curious, though, is Mr. Whittle’s reasoning for the superiority of Star Trek via his attack on hierarchies and aristocracies. These have become dirty words and dirty concepts in our society today, obsessed as we are with equality. In fact, however, we and our society are not obsessed with equality; we are rabid for egalitarianism. There is a considerable difference between the two. Egalitarianism takes as its starting point that all men are equal, which is, in and of itself true. But the egalitarian does not stop to think how men are equal or what this equality signifies or resides or what follows from these distinctions; rather; the egalitarian follows a straight line of logic by which he comes to the conclusion that since all men are equal, everything about them must be equal as well. As such, the idea is beginning to circulate that even doctors should not tell patients that they are fat and need to become more healthy since that is actually “fat shaming;” this is the reason why schools often give out “participation trophies” to all the children because having a winner and a runner up will damage the well being of the other children. It is the reason for the envy that many people have over the fact that others are wealthier than they.
Contrary to egalitarianism, equality acknowledges that men are equal but only equal in a certain sense. Russell Kirk, when explaining the English idea of equality in his Roots of American Order, wrote that the English system saw all men equal in only two ways: the first was through the recognition of the Imago Dei, the fact that all men, whether king or peasant, are created in the image of God; the second was before the law where every Englishman, whether he was the poorest man of the realm or the king himself was still bound under the sword and scale of the law. This is the idea that was transplanted from the English isle to the American colonies. Thomas Jefferson, one of the most “radical” advocates of equality during the Revolution and Early Republic, wrote in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal;” he did not write that all men are equal and certainly, he did not write that all men are equal in every aspect of their being.
Most of the Founders of the American Republic, in fact, believed strongly in what was then called the “natural aristocracy” of man. One of the best articulations of the natural aristocracy comes from a letter written by John Adams to John Taylor, dated April 15, 1814. Adams began by telling Taylor that, “Few men will deny that there is a natural aristocracy of virtues and talents in every nation and in every party, in every city and village. Inequalities are a part of the natural history of man.” He continued, recalling how, when he had been in Paris as ambassador during the Revolution, he had toured the Hospital of the Foundlings (orphans) and had seen the fifty children in the room under every condition possible. His conclusion was that, “These were all born to equal rights, but to very different fortunes; to very different success and influence in life.” Adams then used strength and beauty to illustrate his point further. Would people say that Hercules or William Wallace were of equal strength as their fellow men? Would anyone deny that some women were more beautiful than others and would not men admit that beauty was more powerful than politics? He asked Taylor:
Is not beauty a privilege granted by nature, according to Plato and to truth, often more influential in society, and even upon laws and government, than stars, garters, crosses, eagles, golden fleeces, or any hereditary titles or other distinctions?
The idea that all men were completely equal in their faculties and their virtues was ludicrous.
We today, though we give lip service to egalitarianism which we have undeservedly honored with the title equality, still recognize the natural aristocracy when we cheer athletes, compare actors and actresses, analyze musicians and singers, or test our own skills with others. Even if we or those we know, such as our children, received “participation awards,” regardless of how we had performed, it is almost certain that we will know, on a some level, that we did not deserve the participation award and that someone else should have been awarded the real prize.
Hierarchies and aristocracies, in this sense, are not pejorative or set against equality or democratic sentiments as they are not dependent on blood or birth. Contrary, in fact, to the false dichotomy Mr. Whittle set up in his analysis of Star Trek and Star Wars, natural aristocracies demand meritocracies for it is only through the sweat of developing our innate talents and gifts that they will actually bloom and be of any real good to us and to our neighbors. This truth remains true, regardless of whether one takes as a hero James Kirk or Luke Skywalker.