Modern, First World problems

From a commercial I’ve seen many times on TV lately:

[A young woman in a job interview, with regard to her problem-solving skills:] “I got through high school without a car, a phone, or a computer.”

I too got through high school without any of those things. In all likelihood, the grey-haired man interviewing her also lacked a phone and a computer in high school. The same could be said of virtually everyone born in the United States before 1970 or so (not even mentioning those from countries less fortunate).


Of Christmas: Max Beerbohm’s parody of Belloc

I think this is hilarious, especially if you’ve read The Path to Rome (H/T to Thomas Cordatus):


There was a man came to an Inn by night, and after he had called three times they should open him the door—though why three times, and not three times three, nor thirty times thirty, which is the number of the little stone devils that make mows at St. Aloesius of Ledera over against the marshes Gué-la-Nuce to this day, nor three hundred times three hundred (which is a bestial number), nor three thousand times three-and-thirty, upon my soul I know not, and nor do you—when, then, this jolly fellow had three times cried out, shouted, yelled, holloa’d, loudly besought, caterwauled, brayed, sung out, and roared, he did by the same token set himself to beat, hammer, bang, pummel, and knock at the door. Now the door was Oak. It had been grown in the forest of Boulevoise, hewn in Barre-le-Neuf, seasoned in South Hoxton, hinged nowhere in particular, and panelled—and that most abominably well—in Arque, where the peasants sell their souls for skill in such handicraft. But our man knew nothing of all this, which, had he known it, would have mattered little enough to him, for a reason which I propose to tell in the next sentence. The door was opened. As to the reasons why it was not opened sooner, these are most tediously set forth in Professor Sir T.K. Slibby’s “Half-Hours With Historic Doors,” as also in a fragment at one time attributed to Oleaginus Silo but now proven a forgery by Miss Evans. Enough for our purpose, merry reader of mine, that the door was opened.

The man, as men will, went in. And there, for God’s sake and by the grace of Mary Mother, let us leave him; for the truth of it is that his strength was all in his lungs, and himself a poor, weak, clout-faced, wizen-bellied, pin-shanked bloke anyway, who at Trinity Hall had spent the most of his time in reading Hume (that was Satan’s lackey) and after taking his degree did a little in the way of Imperial Finance. Of him it was that Lord Abraham Hart, that far-seeing statesman, said, “This young man has the root of the matter in him.” I quote the epigram rather for its perfect form than for its truth. For once, Lord Abraham was deceived. But it must be remembered that he was at this time being plagued almost out of his wits by the vile (though cleverly engineered) agitation for the compulsory winding-up of the Rondoosdop Development Company. Afterwards, in Wormwood Scrubbs, his Lordship admitted that his estimate of his young friend had perhaps been pitched too high. In Dartmoor he has since revoked it altogether, with that manliness for which the Empire so loved him when he was at large.

Now the young man’s name was Dimby—”Trot” Dimby—and his mother had been a Clupton, so that—but had I not already dismissed him? Indeed I only mentioned him because it seemed that his going to that Inn might put me on track of that One Great Ultimate and Final True Thing I am purposed to say about Christmas. Don’t ask me yet what that Thing is. Truth dwells in no man, but is a shy beast you must hunt as you may in the forests that are round about the Walls of Heaven. And I do hereby curse, gibbet, and denounce in execrationem perpetuam atque aeternam the man who hunts in a crafty or calculating way—as, lying low, nosing for scents, squinting for trails, crawling noiselessly till he shall come near to his quarry and then taking careful aim. Here’s to him who hunts Truth in the honest fashion of men, which is, going blindly at it, following his first scent (if such there be) or (if none) none, scrambling over boulders, fording torrents, winding his horn, plunging into thickets, skipping, firing off his gun in the air continually, and then ramming in some more ammunition anyhow, with a laugh and a curse if the charge explode in his own jolly face. The chances are he will bring home in his bag nothing but a field-mouse he trod on by accident. Not the less his is the true sport and the essential stuff of holiness.

As touching Christmas—but there is nothing like verse to clear the mind, heat the blood, and make very humble the heart. Rouse thee, Muse!

One Christmas Night in Pontgibaud
(Pom-pom, rub-a-dub-dub)
A man with a drum went to and fro
(Two merry eyes, two cheeks chub)
Nor not a citril within, without,
But heard the racket and heard the rout
And marvelled what it was all about
(And who shall shrive Beelzebub?)

He whacked so hard the drum was split
(Pom-pom, rub-a-dub-dum)
Out lept Saint Gabriel from it
(Praeclarissimus Omnium)
Who spread his wings and up he went
Nor ever paused in his ascent
Till he had reached the firmament
(Benedicamus Dominum).

That’s what I shall sing (please God) at dawn to-morrow, standing on the high, green barrow at Storrington, where the bones of Athelstan’s men are. Yea,

At dawn to-morrow
On Storrington Barrow
I’ll beg or borrow
A bow and arrow
And shoot sleek sorrow
Through the marrow.
The floods are out and the ford is narrow,
The stars hang dead and my limbs are lead,
But ale is gold
And there’s good foot-hold
On the Cuckfield side of Storrington Barrow.

This too I shall sing, and other songs that are yet to write. In Pagham I shall sing them again, and again in Little Dewstead. In Hornside I shall rewrite them, and at the Scythe and Turtle in Liphook (if I have patience) annotate them. At Selsey they will be very damnably in the way, and I don’t at all know what I shall do with them at Selsey.

Such then, as I see it, is the whole pith, mystery, outer form, common acceptation, purpose, usage usual, meaning and inner meaning, beauty intrinsic and extrinsic, and right character of Christmas Feast. Habent urbs atque orbis revelationem. Pray for my soul.

Expertise and fallacy

The knowledge possessed by a medical doctor is fine as far as it goes, but is not much good without the ability to draw valid inferences. This is why you need to be involved in your own healthcare and not just do whatever the doctors say. Sometimes they don’t listen to you or hear what you have to say, and other times they draw conclusions that aren’t warranted, or fail to draw ones that are.

It’s a good illustration of why proponents of liberal education say that a non-expert in a particular field can judge the findings of experts if he is educated in the liberal arts, because he is capable of detecting invalid inferences; and also why being educated in a scientific or technical field exclusively is an incomplete education. And why we should not trust experts to rule society merely on the ground of their expertise in a narrow field of knowledge.

Why I don’t watch the news

I have been abstaining from watching any news coverage (except as related to college football — go Trojans!) for several months now. I don’t know if this is the right thing for everyone, but I find that my life is better this way. I worry less and am less angry.

I read once that there’s a problem with news in the modern world, which is that it makes you concerned with statewide, nationwide and even worldwide issues, in the same way that people used to concern themselves with neighborhood problems or village problems. In other words, at one time the widest exposure one had to news was to local news, and this was news that one would have had a natural and personal interest in: A neighbor who was harmed or suffering in some way would naturally call forth our concern and willingness to help in a direct and personal manner.

We might also hear news from neighboring villages through gossip from those who had gone visiting or had business there. That kind of news could hold some interest, and we might feel some obligation to be concerned and obliged to help, but less so than we would towards our immediate neighbors; on the assumption that the neighbors of that locale would be helping, and would request additional assistance from us if needed. (I’m more or less making up these scenarios in an effort to convey the idea of the article I read, of which I can no longer identify the author or title.)

More rarely we might hear news of more distant towns or villages, since the more distant the location, the more seldom would we encounter travelers from that area; and even less would we feel any obligation to feel personally concerned or obliged to help.

But in our time, it seems like we hear news from more distant locations faster than local news. When you turn on the TV or radio, or go on the internet, it’s world or national news that immediately grabs your attention, whether political news or some major catastrophe in a distant state or nation; whereas you must go hunting for news that specifically relates to your own town or neighborhood (unless some major news, such as a natural or manmade disaster, happens to be occurring where you are).

As a result, we may feel obliged to help people we’ve neither met nor previously heard of, on almost a daily basis — at least the more sensitive or scrupulous among us. A hurricane in Louisiana, a mass shooting in Virginia, a proposed law in Washington, not to mention a famine in Africa or a tidal wave in Japan, all make calls upon us to help, to send money, to pray, to sign a petition or write our congressman — to be concerned. Have you no sympathy for the less fortunate? Are you not praying for this or that group of people, for the President, for our troops, for the Pope? Won’t you send money? After all, for the price of a cup of coffee …

(As an illustration, while writing this I received an email with the subject line, “ALERT: Save California!!” Alas, I’m only a man ….)

But we’re not equipped to deal with this level of disaster, all the time. In the old days our actual neighbors might have required our help once in a while — once in a great while for major catastrophes or illnesses, but most of the time for routine tasks. Someone might be chronically ill or aged, so we might work a weekly visit into our schedule, taking turns with others to get the person’s cows milked, clothes washed, or what have you. But not every day a hurricane, an explosion, a mass killing, crying out for our sympathy and assistance. We might worry about local politics, like who would be on the town council and how that might affect when the new schoolhouse gets built. But we wouldn’t have been expected to deal mentally and emotionally with major, society-wide issues like systemic and institutional racism, the effect of Federal Reserve Board policy on interest rates on the national economy, foreign policy towards Russia and North Korea, and so forth.

The idea of a republic is to elect people whose job it is to handle these things for us, leaving us free to handle the day-to-day tasks of living our lives. If we must spend all our free time monitoring the issues to make sure our representatives are doing what we want, then aren’t we basically doing their job for them, figuring out what should be done and demanding that they do it?

But the point is that most of us were not made to process the massive amounts of information, and still less the massive doses of catastrophe and disaster, and political concerns with national and global implications, which present themselves to us daily via the mass media. We’re naturally equipped to deal with what concerns us locally: Our families primarily, and then our neighbors, with only an occasional and relatively vague awareness of people and events in distant places. Some people may feel a need or an interest in keeping up with national and worldwide affairs, and that may be fine as a hobby. But I think we should recognize that we only have so much intellectual and emotional capacity, and not try to take it all in and process it as if it concerns us personally. It doesn’t, because it can’t.

“LORD, my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me.” Ps. 131:1.

Evening choir practice

My wife and I go for walks in the evening since it helps her sleep.

Near the end of our walk we went down an unlighted street with an Episcopal church on the corner. The weather was cool, the houses looked neat and tidily landscaped in the starlight. I heard a faint piano and thought, “Choir practice!” After 9:00? Sure enough, the piano was followed by voices. Not a familiar song but a pleasant, calming melody. Stained glass showing bread and chalice. Cool, post-Halloween air. Christmas not far off.

I love Autumn! Got to appreciate it while it’s here!

Medieval civilization: Who you calling savages?

Most of us know what was the accepted general version of English history when we were at school; at any rate when I was at school….

England had emerged out of a savage past to be the greatest empire in the world, with the best-balanced constitution in the world, by a wise and well-timed progress or series of reforms, that ever kept in mind the need of constitutionalism and of balance. The Barons had extorted a constitutional charter from the King, in advance of that feudal age and a foundation for parliamentary freedom. The Commons came into the struggle for parliamentary freedom when it was waged against the Stuarts. By that time the Revival of Learning had led to the Reformation or sweeping away of the superstition that had been the only religion of the ruder feudal time. This enlightenment favoured the growth of democracy; and though the aristocrats still remained, and remain still, to give dignity to the state with their ancient blazonry of the Conquest and the Crusades, the law of the land is no longer controlled by the lords but by the citizens. Hence the country has been filled with a fresh and free population, made happy by humane and rational ideas, where there were once only a few serfs stunted by the most senseless superstitions.

I ask any one if that is not a fair summary of the historical education in which most modern people over forty were brought up. And having read it first, we went to look at the towns and castles and abbeys afterwards, and saw it or tried to see it. [William] Cobbett, not having read it, or not caring whether he had read it, saw something totally different. He saw what is really there.

What would a man really see with his eyes if he simply walked across England? What would he actually see in the solid farms and towns of three-quarters of the country, if he could see them without any prejudice of historical interpretation? To begin with, he would see one thing which Cobbett saw, and nobody else seems ever to have seen, though it stared and still stares at everybody in big bulk and broad daylight. He would find England dotted with a vast number of little hamlets consisting entirely of little houses. … And the town is a very little town; often only a handful of houses to be counted on the fingers.

In the midst of this little cluster or huddle of low houses rises something of which the spire or tower may be seen for miles. Relatively to the roofs beneath it, the tower is as much an exception as the Eiffel Tower. Relatively to the world in which it was built, it was really an experiment in engineering more extraordinary than the Eiffel Tower. For the first Gothic arch was really a thing more original than the first flying-ship. … Its distant vaulted roof looks like a maze of mathematical patterns as mysterious as the stars; and its balance of fighting gravitations and flying buttresses was a fine calculation in medieval mathematics. …

The whole building is also a forest of images and symbols and stories. There are saints bringing their tales from all the towns and countries in Europe. There are saints bearing the tools of all the trades and crafts in England. There are traces of trade brotherhoods as egalitarian as trades unions. There are traditions of universities more popular than popular education. There are a thousand things in the way of fancy and parody and pantomime; but with the wildest creative variety it is not chaotic. From the highest symbol of God tortured in stone and in silence, to the last wild gargoyle flung out into the sky as a devil cast forth with a gesture, the whole plan of that uplifted labyrinth shows the mastery of an ordered mind.

It is the parish church, and it is often very old; for it was built in the days of darkness and savage superstition. The picturesque cottages are all of much later date; for they belong to the ages of progress and enlightenment.

If people saw the Great Pyramid and found scattered about its base a few patchwork tents of a few ragged Bedouins, they would hardly say there had been no civilisation in that land until the Bedouins brought it. Yet a Pyramid is as plain as a post of wood compared with the dizzy balance and delicate energy of the Gothic. If they had seen some dingy tribe of barbarians living in their little mud huts, when high above their heads went the soaring arch of a Roman aqueduct almost as remote as the rainbow, they would hardly say that the Romans must have been savages and that the savages alone were civilised. Yet the round Roman arch is really rudimentary compared with the prism of forces in the pointed Gothic arch.

But the truth is that the Catholics, having some humility even in their hatred, never did make this absurd pretence that paganism was barbaric, as their enemies afterwards made the absurd pretence that Catholicism was barbaric. They denounced the wickedness of the world, but they recognised the Pyramids and the Coliseum as wonders of the world. It was only the great medieval civilisation whose conquerors were base enough to pretend that it had not been a civilisation at all.

G.K. Chesterton, William Cobbett (1910).

More on self-sacrifice and renouncing self-will

Self-will is the inclination to do our own will. On account of the corruption of human nature self-will is usually opposed to the will of God and is defined as such by spiritual writers. As heaven is the reward for doing God’s will, detachment is necessary for all. Children must renounce their will to obey their parents; citizens, to abide by the law of the land; and Christians, to become worthy brethren of Christ. Those, however, who seek perfection, must make the holy will of God their own in all things before they can say with Christ, “I do always the things that please him” (John viii.29). In fact, in proportion as we do God’s will we work for heaven, and in proportion as we do our own will we have our reward in its gratification. “Why have we fasted, and thou hast not regarded; why have we humbled our souls, and thou hast not taken notice? Behold, in the day of your fast your own will is found” (Is. iviii.3).

Peter Geiermann, The Narrow Way: A Brief, Clear, Systematical Exposition of the Spiritual Life for the Laity, and a Practical Guide Book to Christian Perfection for All of Good Will (New York: Benziger, 1914).

(H/T to Saintly Sages.)