Catholic Schooling in America: Sources 2 – San Antonio

It’s gratifying to find, so far, the source document referenced in the two books I’m currently working on – Burn’s The Catholic School System in the United States and Parish School by Timothy Walch – are more often than not readily available online. There are a couple of books so far that I’m going to need a good library to find for me, as they are either unavailable or expensive on line. But I’ve got plenty of reading material.

On the downside, that means that I get a few pages into Walch or Burns before I find something I’ve just got to look up, aaaaand, hours later, I’m neck deep in some obscure document or other. Come to think of it, that’s how I came to read Burns’ epic in the first place…

Today’s rabbit hole is being provided by the Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association, Volume 6, July 1902 – April, 1903, made available online by the noble people at The Portal to Texas History website. In his chapters on the Spanish, French and English Catholic efforts at schooling in America, Burns has a footnote linking to this document:

Burns p48

Well, can’t pass up a chance to read up on the schools under the Spanish and Mexicans in San Antonio in the early 1800s, especially their ‘curriculum, and curious disciplinary rules.’

It seems one Mr. Cox has obtained and translated from the Spanish a number of documents related to the founding, funding and structuring of the Public Free School of San Antonio, including a government document from 1828 laying out the details.

The curriculum is what one would expect: reading, writing, Spanish grammar, basic math and above all Catholic catechesis.

Cox 2 p58

Not sure that’s a very cogent translation, but the gist seems pretty clear: each day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon, the children were to memorize questions and answers from a standard catechism. Also, the Teacher was charged with teaching the children proper behavior at school, in the home, in church and on the street.

The school was designed for 70 students, and was to run 4 years, starting around age 12. The school’s structure is a military riff on the basic one-room school. Kids are divided up into groups – called Romans and Carthaginians! – in three ranks: Officers, who have mastered the bulk of what is being taught; Captains, who can at least read and write; and the remainder, who can at least read. It seems to be assumed that the kids all learned to read before going to school. The officers, in conjunction with the Teacher, would assign lessons, assign kids to deliver the lessons, and maintain order. Age is nowhere mentioned as a consideration – groupings were based on what you knew or needed to learn, and a kid could move up or down in rank based on his performance.

The Teacher’s role was one of management. He (it is simply presumed to be a man, and was in San Antonio) had at most 2 hours a day during which he, himself, might deliver lessons. He would be unlikely to use all of that time for that purpose, since he was also supposed to ‘hear lessons’ then as well.

Hearing lessons, or recitation, was the main tool used in one room schools to see how each child was doing. In the American one-room schools, the teacher, after having assigned kids as teachers and learners as needed, would then spend the day having each child come up and recite what they’d learned. Based on these recitations, future lessons would be assigned. Age didn’t figure into it. Learning what you needed to learn was the criterion. The San Antonio school seems to have been designed to operate in a similar way.

70 students is twice or more the enrollment of a typical American one-room school. It’s interesting that the Spanish in San Antonio would think 70 students needed to be divided into 2 groups, each of which would then be near the maximum of an American one room school. I wonder if they had any contact with the American rural schools?

The Teacher, then, must first manage the kids put in charge:

Cox 1a p58

Cox is very dismissive of the efforts of the Spanish in Texas, pointing out the problems they had in getting these schools up and running and how obviously they fell short of their goals. Graft and theft are assumed at every turn, as is the indolence of the Spanish. When Walch reviews the efforts of the Spanish, he seems to agree with Cox and not so much with Burns, who has at least a few kinder words to say. Walch even repeats with qualified approval a quip by Francis Parkman:

Spanish civilization crushed the Indian, English civilization scorned and neglected him, and French civilization embraced and cherished him.

Hmmm. One might point out an inconvenient truth here: today, in the Americas where the Spanish once ruled, the populations are almost always made up of a large minority or even majority of people with Indian blood, including many purebred Indians; where the English ruled, Indians were all but exterminated. It would be hard to reconcile Parkman’s words with this reality. Perhaps he was not the impartial observer one would hope for in an historian? Here’s another Parkman quotation:

The monk, the inquisitor, and the Jesuit were lords of Spain,— sovereigns of her sovereign, for they had formed the dark and narrow mind of that tyrannical recluse. They had formed the minds of her people, quenched in blood every spark of rising heresy, and given over a noble nation to a bigotry blind and inexorable as the doom of fate. Linked with pride, ambition, avarice, every passion of a rich, strong nature, potent for good and ill, it made the Spaniard of that day a scourge as dire as ever fell on man.

You be the judge.

I’ll get to the California Missions and the French and English Catholic education efforts in America soon.

 

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Thursday Update: Modernism & Education & Science!

A. Ran into some very interesting stuff around the whole excommunicate Catholics who refused to send their kids to Catholic schools even when such were available and affordable. Walch tells the story differently than I’d read it before (where, I can’t remember and didn’t take notes! Never again will I not take notes! No, really, this time – for sure! It’s got to be in either the books on the shelf in front of me or in one of the myriad of links I’ve collected…)

Image result for bullwinkle this time for sure

Walch ascribes the incident to the machinations of one layman, a James McMaster, a convert who, with typical convert zeal, thought Catholics should send their kids to parish schools no matter what, to keep them out of the evil clutches of the state schools. On his own, he sent damning articles showing the evil of public schools to Rome, along with a memorandum asking if Catholics could justifiably send their kids to such schools.

This got the attention of people in Rome, who responded by sending a questionnaire to the American bishops. They responded and, at least according to Walch, were a bit put out. The pope got involved, and issued the Instruction of 1875, which favored McMaster’s take, but left things vague enough to provide leeway in the bishop’s actions. The bishops chose to ignore the instructions.

Walch’s sympathies are clearly with Progress, and he repeatedly states in this section of the book how Catholics thought their schools were often inferior to the public schools and parents concerned for their children’s futures would choose them for that reason. Besides, many if not most parishes did not have a desk in the parish schools for anything like all the Catholic children in the area. The bishops’ disregard for the rulings of Rome is seen as an inevitable and good thing. He quotes, of all people, Orestes Brownson as someone favoring having Catholic students attend public schools.

(Aside: Can’t resist talking Brownson! There’s a somewhat famous Brownson quotation deriding the very idea that the state should control education – “Where the whole tendency of education is to create obedience, all teachers must be pliant tools of government. Such a system of education is not inconsistent with the theory of Prussian society but the thing is wholly inadmissible here… According to our theory the people are wiser than the government. Here the people do not look to the government for light, for instruction, but the government looks to the people. The people give law to the government….to entrust government with the power of determining education which our children shall receive is entrusting our servant with the power of the master. The fundamental difference between the United States and Prussia has been overlooked by the board of education and its supporters.” However, this quotation is from around 1840. By 1865, Brownson was championing the idea that the US would both become Catholic by nature and necessity, and that the rest of the Western Hemisphere would convert (if necessary) and petition to join the Union. If one thinks the nation will become Catholic, then one might stop objecting to state run schools.)

The other view I’d come across was rather that some of what would now be called conservative Catholic bishops wanted the power to withhold the sacraments from anyone who could send their kids to a Catholic school and didn’t, and were disappointed with the vague answers the pope gave in the Instruction of 1875, but, obedient as they were, they let it go. By either take, this ended up encouraging people like Shields, Pace and Barns to view the public schools as some sort of ideal that the Catholic schools were to strive to achieve.

Yikes.

B. I have mentioned in passing that Fr. Thomas Shields, a scientific psychologist and pedagogue and, according to the meager sources I’ve found so far, a somewhat obscure Catholic Progressive educator, and Fr.  James A. Burns, a prolific writer and fundraiser and one time president of Notre Dame, espouse and promote ideas concurrently being condemned by popes, namely, Modernism.

Here’s somebody’s summary of Pascendi dominici gregis subtitled on the Vatican website  “Encyclical of Pope Pius X on the doctrines of the Modernists.” It’s well worth reading. This summary seems about right.

Burns first published in 1908, the year after the encyclical was proclaimed; Shields was active both before and after.  One thing I read and didn’t makes notes on (a mistake I’m trying to avoid now!) quoted some late 19th century letters among American Catholic prelates on how backwards and hidebound the European Churches were, and how we Americans had to lead them into the glorious future. That attitude would seem congruent with the writings of Shields and Barns, and would explain their (so far – have lots more to read) silence on the teachings of this and previous encyclicals.

To take it point by point – modernist?:

  • Classic philosophy does not get discussed as a basis for education; the latest ‘advances’ are touted – yes;
  • Not directly, but see catechesis  below – push;
  • Not directly, but that we are surfing the leading edge of Progress is merely assumed, with regular comments about how we used to do it poorly in the past, but now we’re doing it obviously better and scientific mow – qualified yes;
  • So far, there’s both these writers are pretty firm on dogma – no;
  • They both want to reform catechesis. On one paper I read, Shields is commended for his opposition to the Baltimore Catechism and in trying to implement the ‘findings’ of ‘scientific’ psychology to make sure children are not taught stuff too hard for them and are taught in ways that appeal to their feelings. This same author thinks Shields was vindicated in the 1960s when we *finally* ditched the Baltimore Catechism and started doing catechesis right. So that would be a – yes;
  • Burns, at least, is big on sacramentals and devotions, so – no;
  • One way to weaken the Church’s power to discipline would be to always step a little over the line and dare the proper ecclesiastical authories to react. That’s pretty much Shield’s M.O., don’t know about Burns, so – qualified yes
  • Both lead by example: Shields ignored the bishops whenever he felt like it, pushed for the professionalization of Catholic school teachers and for them to run the schools as they saw fit – moving authority from bishops to clergy and lay people. Burns is big on the Catholic National Education Association, by which Shields’ goals were pursued. This isn’t even looking at Notre Dame. This would be a big – yes;
  • See above;
  • See above;
  • N/A
  • Burns:  “In the teaching of the purely secular branches she (the Church) has had no direct interest. She took the curriculum of secular studies such as she found it, and left its development to the operation of the ordinary laws of educational growth. Outside of the matter of religion, there has been no attempt to differentiate Catholic parish schools from other denominational schools or from the public schools.” This sounds OK on the surface, but what it means in practice, and what actually happened, was that Catholic schools accepted uncritically whatever methods and content is developed for the public schools provided it can be framed up as ‘secular’ knowledge. This is not good, when the public schools first goal is to promote control and a harmony, let us say, of ideas – modernist ideas. Think psychology, history and sociology. I’ll talk about this further in another post. So – yes. 
  • This, and the next two points, are quite evident in current ‘catholic’ schools, but not yet evident in the writings of Shields and Burns – Incomplete
  • Incomplete
  • Incomplete

I think it’s safe to tentatively conclude, while leaving room for counter evidence, that since the early 20th century at the latest, our Catholic parish schools have been steered toward exactly the modernism that Pope St. Pius X specifically condemned.

I know you’re shocked.

C. Then there’s this nonsense: Bad science! Bad!.When feminists and other anti-science, anti-reason, anti-reality loonies get to decide what it is permissible to find, Orwell’s dystopia is already upon us. What the paper says and how strong its arguments are is irreverent to this point – we won’t know, because it’s not published! – merely that it can be memory-holed because of bad think.

The time to be nice has long passed. We must make a stink whenever the opportunity arises.

Catholic Schools & the Prussian Model

As mentioned yesterday, currently reading Parish School by Timothy Walch and The Catholic School System in the United States,  by James A. Burns, C.S.C. , a two-volume set published in 1908. For the last few years, I’ve been trying to track down the when and why of the Catholic Church in America adopting the Prussian graded classroom model of school for all parochial schools and high schools. I think I’m on the right track. From the introduction of Burn’s epic:

In point of fact, however, there is a direct historic connection between the Catholic school system in this country and the Catholic school systems of various countries of Europe. The first Catholic schools here were offshoots of the existing school systems there. The founders and first teachers of our schools were products of the Catholic schools and colleges of Europe, and the institutions they established here were reproductions, to a great extent, of those in which they had been trained, or with which they were familiar in the Old World. All through the history of the Catholic school system in this country, this European influence is traceable through immigration, the religious Orders, and other agencies. It has been a potent factor in the making of our schools and colleges and in the molding of their character.

Oh. Duh. In my defense, it seemed amazing that the parish schools in America, founded in opposition to the express anti-Catholicism of the public schools, ended up adopting exactly the graded classroom model used by our Prussian model schools.

To recap: starting with the Potato Famine in the mid 1840s, millions of Catholic Irish immigrated, raising the Catholic population in the US from tiny to significant. According to a couple writers, the few Catholics in America before the Irish tended to be well-off English Recusants and their Catholic friends who knew enough to keep their heads down, mostly, and could afford to do it. They weren’t impoverished peasants showing up in the better neighborhoods looking for work.

The Irish were. They were desperately poor, and coming from a nation where they and their ancestors had suffered  from centuries of English oppression. It’s also not entirely accurate to say the Irish fled Ireland. Some not insignificant portion had their boat fare for the crossing paid for by their English landlords, who did the math and found it cheaper to do that than to feed them as the laws at the time required. (The English hadn’t suddenly gone soft – they just knew a bunch of starving people without hope would be a lot of trouble to control.) The Irish departure from Ireland was not purely voluntary.

The response of the solid Protestant majority was to impose compulsory graded classroom Prussian schooling. Horace Mann and a host of others traveled to Prussia to study their schools, which were, ultimately, the outgrowth of Luther’s demand that the state compel all parents to send their kids to school, so that state-certified teachers could make good little Lutherans out of them. (It never seems to have occurred to Luther that the state might want to do anything else. He’d have made a good Socialist.) Parents might have other plans than what Luther considered the proper moral upbringing of their own children, and that was intolerable. Such families needed to be, at the very least, overridden. This is a consistent theme in German and, ultimately, all state-run schooling

So, in the 1850s, it was legal in Massachusetts for kids to work in a factory or attend a state school – but illegal to keep them home. If you were a good Protestant or at least a better-off non-Catholic, I’d imagine those charged with enforcing truancy laws might not focus on your neighborhood. Instead, focus on the Irish slums. Because truancy – keeping your child out of school unless he’s off working in a factory (likely as not run by one of Mann’s peers), even if at home with you – could lead to your child being taken away from you. The goal was always the destruction of Catholic families and faith. This is of a piece with the Know Nothings and the anti-Catholicism that has always been a constant in America.

A key part of the Church’s response was to found parish schools. In many ways, the Parish Schools were a remarkable achievement, built, managed, and financed largely by independent groups of Catholics, staffed by religious orders, educating millions of American kids over many decades. My siblings and I all attended Catholic schools, as did many of my friends and neighbors. But from the bishops’ perspective, the results were  mixed: even at their peak (1960) fewer than half of Catholic kids attended Catholic schools.

Public schools were ‘free’ after all, and immigrants are poor. Bishops understood this, but still sought (and failed to obtain) papal permission in the late 19th century to excommunicate anyone who sent his kids to public school if a Catholic school was available and affordable. That’s how seriously the bishops took the threat of the public schools.

Yet, even with this well-founded fear of letting the adversarial state educate Catholic kids, all parish schools to this day, even those few that are vigorously orthodox, are little more than kinder, gentler versions of public schools.

Somehow, that seemed like a good idea? Look at graded classroom schools: what insanity inspired people to accept having their kids rigidly segregated by age? We take it for granted now, but there’s no rational basis for it at all! It’s not ‘efficient’ or ‘scientific’ – there’s no evidence of that, and never was! Seriously, no one ever ran a side-by-side comparison of different models of schooling to see which worked better for some clearly understood definition of ‘better’. The sort of slapdash studies or comparisons that did and do happen, such as comparing test result (whose tests? testing for what?) tend to show, before elaborate ‘adjustments’, that just about anything – tutoring, homeschooling, one room schools, any of the many ‘alternative’ schools – produce better results even on the self-serving tests developed for the public schools.  So much so that there’s a sort of industry around doctoring data explaining away this phenomenon.

The reality, clear in all the writings of all the advocates of the graded classroom schools, from Luther to Fichte to Mann to Barnard to Dewey to today, is that the point isn’t the 3 Rs. It is control, for the state is a jealous god. Graded classroom are favored precisely because they disrupt family relationships that could oppose the state.

Recall that over almost all of America in the 19th century, many if not most kids attended one-room schools, where family and neighbors learned side-by side regardless of age. Teachers assigned kids to teach each other with little regard for age. Natural relationships were reinforced. Results were *better* as measured by the state school’s own tests than those of graded school, despite what the propaganda from the time to this day asserts.

Thus ‘educators’ hated, fought & tried to kill off one-room schools. How are kids to be controlled if their loyalty is to home and village – and Church? Much better to school them in doing what they’re told regardless of natural relationships. Thus, graded classrooms.

Yet, ultimately, all parish school came to use the graded classroom model! How did this happen? Short answer: this battle was already a century or more old back in Europe. Messy compromises had been struck, where the Church could run schools if they followed state models.

Immigrants brought these compromises with them. German Catholics, the single largest group of Catholic immigrants and founders of the most parish schools, brought what they knew with them, evidently having long forgotten the origin: exact copies of state schools but run by Catholics. Prussian model graded classroom schools.

On to more research. I’ve got tabs open (hope this computer doesn’t die suddenly!) on many of the people who come up in the discussions, many I had not heard of before. And it seems I’ll need to get up to speed on a bunch more history, especially the Kulturkampf, which I believe largely overlaps the period of greatest German Catholic immigration to the US.

Image result for Kulturkampf
“Between Berlin and Rome”, with Bismarck on the left and the Pope on the right, from the German satirical magazine Kladderadatsch, 1875. Pope: “Admittedly, the last move was unpleasant for me; but the game still isn’t lost. I still have a very beautiful secret move.” Bismarck: “That will also be the last one, and then you’ll be mated in a few moves – at least in Germany.”

Catholic Schooling in America 1: Sources

According to plan, I am organizing source materials for a proposed book on the reform of Catholic Schooling in America.

This is depressing.

The earliest scholarly book on the history of Catholic education in America that I’ve some across so far is by a James A. Burns, C.S.C. The Catholic School System in the United States,  a two-volume set published in 1908. Reading it now.

Burns was a long-time president and fund raiser for the University of Notre Dame. What’s depressing about this is that Burns got his PhD at the Catholic University of America around 1906, and his thesis consisted of the introduction and first 5 chapters of this book. The Catholic University of America was home at that time to two great leaders in the movement to professionalize parochial schools, two priests I’ve run across before in my readings – E. A. Pace and Thomas E. Shields. So far, I have not run across a true critic of either of these men, rather, they are generally admired by everybody who writes of them, Burns being no exception, as he singles them out for thanks in the preface.

I may become that critic. Pace was devoted to scientific psychology, which, in last decades of the 19th and into the 20th centuries, was both all the rage in certain circles and about as scientific as phrenology. There’s no evidence it has gotten any better over the century since, as, last I checked, there were *16* recognized schools of psychology, from Freudian to Skinnerian to Cognitive Therapy. Contrast with any real science, where, while there might sometimes be multiple competing schools, scientists work to resolve them down to one school after a brief period of turmoil. Differences persist, even fundamentally competing theories, but arguments take place within an overall scientific context that all agree on.

These psychological schools, on the other hand, differ fundamentally in both their assumptions and what they are willing to consider evidence. It’s not like psychologists are concocting experiments to settle once and for all whether consciousness is an illusion or is a complex result of an Id/Ego/Superego structure or something else entirely. Nope, school A over here has its assumptions and processes, school B over there has theirs, and there’s not much to talk about. Skinner and Freud, for example, are not operating in the same intellectual universe, and neither is operating under the rules of science.

In short, Pace was a quack, and one in a long line of childless males willing to pronounce dogmatically on how children should be educated. It is truly remarkable how few (if any! I may be the first!) happily married fathers write about education. Nope, it seems men without children of their own – e.g., Locke, Rousseau (who indeed fathered children, just never raised any!), Pace, Shields – are the ones whose views have been overwhelmingly influential in modern schooling. Go figure.

Shields I’ve written of before. He is known as a Progressive Catholic educator by his admirers. How one can be a Progressive and yet not a Modernist as condemned by a couple popes around that time requires some heavily nuanced mental gymnastics. Progress, after all, is a jealous god. He ran a publishing house, and became the chief supplier of textbooks for Catholic schools in America. Reading some of these textbooks is on my to-do list, but even aside from that, I’ve long contended that textbooks are almost always bad in concept – they are key tools used to grade and manage children into a conformity pleasing to their betters.

Just found this, by a fan of his (presented as found):

Steeped in the knowledge of biology and psychology Shields developed an approach to Catholic education that was educationally progressive educationally, yet theologically orthodox. Though little known today, his scholarly and administrative achievements were considerable. In his time he was the Catholic educator closest in spirit to John Dewey.

Orthodox, yet close to – Dewey? Yikes.

So now I’m reading a couple of books where the treatment of these two is bound to be hagiographic. Wish me luck!

 

 

 

Final Thoughts on Lewis’s Inner Rings & Update

The previous 2 posts are concerned with C. S. Lewis’s 1944 address “Inner Rings“, Fr. Longenecker’s commentary on it, and my commentary on both and examples from That Hideous Strength. I also added a few thoughts on some ways in which fans, both of sports and celebrities in general, can fall into the trap of enforced conformity merely by being such fans.

Politics has become largely such a fan club. The utterly irrational enthusiasm for Obama, Bernie, and to a lesser but still troubling degree, Trump(1) is exactly the sort of behavior we expect from sports fans.

Fans consider a team or celebrity or politician ‘ours’ even though fans in no way own or control or even influence those teams, celebrities or politicians. In sports, it may be more or less harmless for fans to consider a team ‘theirs’ even though they don’t own it, don’t influence coaching or management or personnel decisions, and even though the real owners can take the team to some other city, or sell it or even disband it without a second thought to what the loyal fans might want.

But in politics, here’s what happens: ‘fans’ of socialism, for example, get their hero put in charge, with the belief that, unlike previous leaders, he is going to hold their feelings close to his heart. He will take care of them! Policy details are necessarily vague to non-existent, as the fans are most definitely not fans of all the little detailed steps needed to get to the Worker’s Paradise – that why they hope to elect the Bern or that Ocasio-Cortez woman. It is much more important to the fans that their heroes’ hearts be in the right place than that they have any idea what they’re doing.

The incoherence and impatience with which these two politicians respond to practical, even slightly detailed questions reflects the attitude of their fans. Their resumes – “politician, educator, and political activist” – are completely without any objective, measurable achievements. And the fans don’t care.

Put the last two points together: political fans have no control and vanishingly little input into what their heroes will do once they have power, and they are uninterested in how these results are to be achieved, and even uninterested to an amazing degree if anything at all is achieved. Just as supporters swooned over the ACA, they will swoon over whatever the next nice-sounding power grab is. The Economic Fairness Act, if supported by the Bern or Ocasio-Cortez will garner unquestioning support from their fans, who will not investigate or even care how or if it will work. The American Dreamer Immigration Reform Act, or the Oligarchy Control Act, the Income Equalization Act – any and all of these made-up bills will receive the support of the fans provided their heroes support them. (2) No amount of pointing out how they will really work will even register. The Bern wants economic fairness! Miss Ocasio-Cortez wants to help immigrants! That’s all that will register in the typical fan’s mind.

In the extreme case, you get apologists for Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Che and Chavez. Because, despite what they did in reality – purges (3), murder, mayhem, complete economic destruction, all while personally living high on the hog – because, darn it all, their hearts are in the right place! Look at the Soviet constitution! More and better guarantees of rights than even the US Constitution! Never mind that all those rights didn’t help the Kulaks much, because I’m not a Kulak. They were asking for it anyway.

But, boy, isn’t their rhetoric lovely! My failures and unhappiness are not my own, I am a victim of oppression by vast historical forces. We must defeat those forces by killing all that are under their sway! Then we will all be happy.

I wish I were exaggerating, but I’m merely stating the core beliefs in plain English.

Well before it finally goes too far, fans may start to realize that they have no say and no effective way to oppose any course of action their heroes chose to pursue, up to and including killing off the fans themselves.

I wish there were a way to help people ask, always, will that plan work? How? At what cost? But there doesn’t seem to be any.

On a lighter note:

IMG_5206

This little dwarf fig tree grew in a pot, then a barrel, for over 10 years. Two springs ago, we transplanted it in this spot by the front door.

It really likes being in the ground. Last year, we got an early and late fig crop, and the tree was trying for a third before the weather turned cold; I trimmed it back over the winter. Now, it’s twice the size and yields a few cups of figs per day, and has been for a couple weeks, and is still loaded with maturing figs:

(Don’t know if you can see them in there, but lots of little figs)

Now, I’m not a huge fig fan. I make a very lightly sweetened fig jam which a couple of the kids like. That’s about it. But I’m a huge fan of beautiful plants and trees, and this is a beautiful little tree. That biblical image of a man content beneath his own fig tree comes to mind every time I pass it.

Further, while we are following the best practice of not letting our other fruit trees bear much fruit until Year 3 – next year – in order to make sure the trees get properly rooted, my lack of thoroughness allowed a couple dozen peaches and pomegranates to grow. We let a handful of apricots come in for testing – they were good – but I failed to dig around in the lower, more hidden reaches of the very thick foliage of our dwarf peach tree and missed a bunch. They were really good, and the little tree is so vigorous I’m figuring its roots are doing fine anyway.

Pomegranates don’t ripen until November or later. This little tree I have trimmed and trimmed again – can’t let them get much over 7′ tall or our front yard orchard will be unmanageable – there’s just no stopping it! Must have pinched off hundreds of blossoms and little fruit and – well, like the dwarf peach, I’m figuring it’s so vigorous the roots must be doing OK. So, in a couple months, we’ll have a 2-3 dozen beautiful pomegranates to deal with.

Really looking forward to next season!

Finally, Tool Time! I’ve never had a workshop or even adequately large garage to work in, so my tool collection, though not insubstantial, is not very big for somebody as into home improvement projects as I am. Things I really wish I had, but have no place to keep: planer, drill press, good size workbench with some bench clamps, masonry saw,  welding equipment, cutting torch and probably a bunch more I’m not thinking of at the moment.

I’m always happy when I find some small tool or gadget that does exactly what I need but doesn’t take up much space. Previous additions include little angle grinder – how did I ever do without one? – a hammer drill and various router bits. The latest add: a step drill bit. Little tiny thing that is making putting in the wrought iron style fence and gate I’m working on much easier. I need to cut all these 1/2″ holes through some fairly soft iron, but I was chewing up drill bits and time doing it. Now? Cordless drill in one hand, can of WD-40 in the other, and I’m a hole-drillin’ fool!

It’s the little things….

For both my readers who care, I’ll have pics of the Endless Brick and Faux Wrought Iron Fence Front Yard Project of Death soon. It’s coming along.

  1. I make this distinction because, in general, fans of Trump express their love based on stuff Trump actually did, e.g., reducing regulation & stimulating economic growth, or is measurably making some progress on, e.g., reducing illegal immigration and building the wall, while fans of Bernie and Barry base their fandom entirely on what they believe their heroes stand for. Bernie and Barry share a track record of having done very, very little except for grand symbolic gestures. Consider: Obama’s greatest achievement is considered getting the Affordable Care Act passed. Note that getting this law passed did not in practice provide affordable care, it merely shifted burdens around, compelled people who might not have wanted insurance to get it anyway, and created a vast, unworkable bureaucratic structure all while providing no workable cost control. But – it’s called the Affordable Care Act, so he’s credited as if affordable care was actually provided. And he’s a positive Edison compared to the Bern.
  2. Again, I’m not a Trump lover, but his support seems fundamentally different (which is why his opponents can’t begin to understand it) – if he somehow tried to get bills passed which restricted gun ownership or opened the boarders or increased taxes, a large section of his base would rebel, no matter how charming the name such bills were given. Compare & contrast Clinton getting NAFTA passed over the objections of the unions – which unions continued to support him.
  3. Fans never think they’ll get purged, because they are True Believers. Wake-up call: fans are often at the top of the culling list.

Follow Up: C. S. Lewis’s Inner Rings and Fans

In yesterday’s post, we discussed C. S. Lewis’s 1944 address The Inner Ring. Fr. Dwight Longenecker mentions this essay in an article of his own, in which he points out the obvious relationship between the concepts in Lewis’s address and his wonderful novel/grown up fairy tale That Hideous Strength.

That Hideous Strength is my second favorite work by Lewis, after Til We Have Faces, and as it is full of memorable scenes and I’ve read it a number of times, it was not difficult to recall passages to illustrate the points in his address. The reality of what Lewis is discussing is patent.

In his address, Lewis goes out of his way to say that Inner Rings are not always a bad thing:

I must now make a distinction. I am not going to say that the existence of Inner Rings is an Evil. It is certainly unavoidable. There must be confidential discussions: and it is not only a bad thing (1), it is (in itself) a good thing, that personal friendship should grow up between those who work together. And it is perhaps impossible that the official hierarchy of any organisation should coincide with its actual workings. If the wisest and most energetic people held the highest spots, it might coincide; since they often do not, there must be people in high positions who are really deadweights and people in lower positions who are more important than their rank and seniority would lead you to suppose. It is necessary: and perhaps it is not a necessary evil. But the desire which draws us into Inner Rings is another matter. A thing may be morally neutral and yet the desire for that thing may be dangerous.

So rings are everywhere, sometimes serve a purpose, and are something almost everyone, it seems, is attracted to. But there are exceptions. In That Hideous Strength, Lewis provides the example of Hingest, the renowned chemist, who is a man of actual achievement. He has no interest in the N.I.C.E. and its circles within circles, tries to leave, and is murdered.

Through no merit of my own, I seem to be largely immune to the allure of Inner Rings.  I’m happiest, generally, working on some project on my own, although team activities can be satisfying, too, I’m just more likely to enjoy working solo.

Even back at high school, I do not recall ever wanting to hang with the cool kids. Of course, as the weird loner kid who did both sports (basketball) and drama club and sang in the school choir, there was no Inner Circle that would have me. Nope, it’s another temptation that attracts me, one that is both very much like an Inner Circle while at the same time its polar opposite: the allure of fandom.

Sports is the obvious example. It’s very exciting when your team competes, never mind that they are in no real sense ‘your’ anything. ‘Your’ city doesn’t own them, you have no say over who is on the team, team strategy, long term goals, or any other aspect of team operation. Team owners can and do move their teams away, as the nearby Oakland Raiders fans know too well. This idea that any professional sports team is ‘our’ team, is the fan’s team, is preposterous.

I’ve known all this since I was a kid. Yet, it took me almost 60 years before I shook off my emotional attachment to several professional teams. (2)

Being a sports fan is like being in an inner circle in this respect: there are insiders and outsiders. There are other teams (and their fans) that you despise as a function of your being a fan of your team. Your identity is tied up with being a fan of your team.

Now, few sports fans would admit to this. They’d claim it’s just a game, just for fun. Yet, on an emotional, and even functional level, it’s all true. Sure, those crazy Raiders fans in the Black Hole know it’s a game, that they are playacting according to rules almost as specific as those followed in the game on the field.

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But then again, it’s not. It becomes a chief, sometimes defining, aspect of personality.

Being a fan is nearly opposite to being part of an Inner Ring in three respects: it’s as easy as buying a hat or t-shirt to become a fan, membership is open to everyone, and loyalty is valued. Yet there are definite insides and outsides, and rules. You can criticize the team, the players, the coaches, the front office and the owners, but only so far. People who criticize structural issues, such as how players are compensated or the absence of reasonable safety measures, run the risk of being called out as not real fans – unless they make the proper noises about how much they love the team.

So why even bring this up? The social usefulness of the compelled conformity of fans has not escaped those in love with the idea of compelled conformity.  In this sense, fandom can be made to be an extension of the will of some Inner Circle or other. I think this use of team worship as a method of control has been in play for a long time now. Consider:

Athletes, actors & other entertainers take political stands as an exercise in herd management. Team loyalty is invoked to usurp thought in political affiliation; athletes and actors tell ‘fans’ what politics to root for.  In a sane world, who would care what a 25 yr old jock has to say about anything, let alone politics? Or an actor? The hot dog vendor at the stadium is more likely to have interesting views, since he’s not spent 10,000+ hrs on his jump shot or learning to fake emotions. He may not be compelled in his positions by the need to conform to the group.

In my lifetime, the first famous athlete to take political stands during his career was Ali. He helped reverse public opinion on Vietnam. The press loved him. He was a bit of an outlier, since at the time sports figures could not be counted on to express the ‘correct’ views.

Now? Imagine if someone on the NBA Champion Warriors, who have twice turned down invitations to the Trump White House after a heavily-publicized love fest with Obama, were to be seen wearing a MAGA hat? It would be as shocking as if they started passing the ball to the other team in games.

Now imagine you’re a 20 year old 1st round draft pick, and you wander in to that environment – you going to buck the trend? The coach and stars have made it publicly clear they despise as idiots, evil or both EVERYBODY who holds opposing political views. So you, the 20 year old rookie, conform. Fans continue to be presented with a 100% consistent team political position. Fans may be under less pressure than rookies, but I’d be shocked if anyone at a Warriors game were to wear that MAGA hat. They’d get verbally abused, at least.

That facade of 100% consistent team politics must be maintained. Thus, some of the greatest hatred today is reserved for athletes and entertainers who fail to conform. Traitor to the team! Eeeeevil! Stupid! They must be destroyed! When the NFL tried to get these infants to dial it back for business reasons, all the knives come out.

We cannot let anyone start thinking that freedom of thought trumps group cohesion. All those years of training in school, all the conformity & mindless loyalty, would be undone in a minute if it were shown that teammates could disagree about politics and still be – teammates.

There’s roughly a 50/50 chance an American chosen at random will not be some flavor of committed liberal/progressive/socialist/communist. Yet we are presented with the image of 99% conformity among professional athletes and entertainers, and the complete vilification of that remaining 1%.

This facade of cohesion is one of the last remaining bastions against having to face the true variety of political positions that exist in any functioning democracy. The point of democracy, after all, is to allow people to honorably disagree and still live together in peace.

That’s why, while sane people just role their eyes at the posturing of these prima donnas and get on with their lives, the left cannot tolerate the very idea of professional athletes and other pampered celebrities rejecting any part of their politics. The edifice of group think – the herd – so painstakingly built, would fall.

  1. I think there was a typo here, as context and sense demand it should read “it is not only not a bad thing…” Or?
  2. Lakers, then Warriors, if you must know. I’ve watched a lot of sports, but only gotten really involved in these 2 teams. Now? Meh.

Inner Rings: Lewis & That Hideous Strength

Lack of discipline paid off once again, as clicking from here to there lead me to this article at The Imaginative Conservative by Fr. Dwight Longenecker, which lead me to The Inner Ring, an address by C. S. Lewis.

Good stuff, go read them. I here expand a little on Fr. Longenecker’s themes by illustrating them with passages from That Hideous Strength.

Longenecker starts by quoting Lewis quoting Tolstoy. (1).

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Can I be forgiven for thinking: ZZ Top? No?

When Boris entered the room, Prince Andrey was listening to an old general, wearing his decorations, who was reporting something to Prince Andrey, with an expression of soldierly servility on his purple face. “Alright. Please wait!” he said to the general, speaking in Russian with the French accent which he used when he spoke with contempt. The moment he noticed Boris he stopped listening to the general who trotted imploringly after him and begged to be heard, while Prince Andrey turned to Boris with a cheerful smile and a nod of the head. Boris now clearly understood—what he had already guessed—that side by side with the system of discipline and subordination which were laid down in the Army Regulations, there existed a different and more real system—the system which compelled a tightly laced general with a purple face to wait respectfully for his turn while a mere captain like Prince Andrey chatted with a mere second lieutenant like Boris. Boris decided at once that he would be guided not by the official system but by this other unwritten system.

Lewis makes the general points that this situation – the existence of both a more or less official structure to an organization and an unofficial Cool Kid’s Club that mans the gates to acceptance and advancement – is ubiquitous and is almost always soul-destroying evil.  Sure, once in a while, when a leader might gather a few good men to his side to get something urgent done, this Inner Circle might even work towards good.  That would be a rare exception to the rule, however.

Longenecker mentions That Hideous Strength, appropriate as the finale of Lewis’s space trilogy is largely a novelization of the concepts presented in Lewis’s address. Here the protagonist is called upon to write propaganda for the newspapers libeling opponents and disguising the true purpose of the N.I.C.E., of which he is a junior member. He is faced with needing to sell, bit by bit, the soul he doesn’t really think he has and in any event has remained nearly completely un- or ill-formed up to now, in order to move into an even tighter Inner Circle:

It was, after all, not so long ago that he had been excited by admission to the Progressive Element at Bracton. But what was the Progressive Element to this? It wasn’t as if he were taken in by the articles himself.He was writing with his tongue in his cheek — a phrase that somehow comforted him by making the whole thing appear like a practical joke. And anyway, if he didn’t do it, someone else would. And all the while the child inside him whispered how splendid and how triumphantly grown up it was to be sitting like this, so full of alcohol and yet not drunk, writing (with his tongue in his cheek) articles for great newspapers, against time, “with the printer’s devil at the door” and all the inner ring of the N.I.C.E. depending on him, and nobody ever again having the least right to consider him a nonentity or cipher.

Simple, normal, healthy relationships put the lie to the allure of Inner Rings. Studdock wants into the Inner Circle so badly that this desire is allowed to kill his normal relationships, even his relationship with his wife.  The N.I.C.E. leadership wants him to bring her to their headquarters at Belbury:

Until the D.D had said this Mark had not realised that there was nothing he would dislike so much as having Jane at Belbury. There were so many things that Jane would not understand: not only the pretty heavy drinking which was becoming his habit but — oh, everything from morning to night. For it is only justice both to Mark and to Jane to record that he would have found it impossible to conduct in her hearing any one of the hundred conversations which his life at Belbury involved. Her mere presence would have made all the laughter of the Inner Ring sound metallic, unreal; and what he now regarded as common prudence would seem to her, and through her to himself, mere flattery, back-biting and toad-eating. Jane in the middle of Belbury would turn the whole of Belbury into a vast vulgarity, flashy and yet furtive. His mind sickened at the thought of trying to teach Jane that she must help to keep Wither in a good temper and must play up to Fairy Hardcastle. He excused himself vaguely to the D.D., with profuse thanks, and got away as quickly as he could.

Studdock, like all well-schooled Moderns, lacks any ground to stand on from which to judge his own actions. There is always a ground of being, of simple, directly-experienced emotions, but without formation by parable and myth, such inclinations or natural reactions can easily be silenced or twisted to almost any abomination.

It must be remembered that in Mark’s mind hardly one rag of noble thought, either Christian or Pagan, had a secure lodging. His education had been neither scientific nor classical — merely “Modern.” The severities both of abstraction and of high human tradition had passed him by: and he had neither peasant shrewdness nor aristocratic honour to help him. He was a man of straw, a glib examinee in subjects that require no exact knowledge (he had always done well on Essays and General Papers) and the first hint of a real threat to his bodily life knocked him sprawling. And his head ached so terribly and he felt so sick. Luckily he now kept a bottle of whisky in his room. A stiff one enabled him to shave and dress.

The whiskey here is a stand in for whatever lies we tell ourselves to allow us to deny that we’re cowards and traitors. While all this is going on, Jane, his wife, is being confronted by the mirror image of Mark’s trials: good people eager to be true friends are trying to help her be true to herself. In both cases, the success of what might be called corporate plans depends on the free surrender of the will of those involves – N.I.C.E. requires surrender to the devil, while the company around Ransom requires submission to the will of God.

In her own way, Jane fights for her membership in another Inner Ring, a vague and largely mythical one comprised of enlightened young women who, as G. K. Chesterton quipped, would not be dictated to and so became stenographers. Jane is a slave to her idea of freedom, one that separates her from husband and friends. and from the commitments that make one free and fulfilled.

Since That Hideous Strength is a fairy-tale, both Mark and Jane win their battles and find happiness. They each take the small, feeble steps of which they are capable, away from evil and toward the Good – then miracles happen.

Towards the conclusion of Lewis’s The Inner Ring, he explains the antidote:

The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it. But if you break it, a surprising result will follow. If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and other sound craftsmen will know it. This group of craftsmen will by no means coincide with the Inner Ring or the Important People or the People in the Know. It will not shape that professional policy or work up that professional influence which fights for the profession as a whole against the public: nor will it lead to those periodic scandals and crises which the Inner Ring produces. But it will do those things which that profession exists to do and will in the long run be responsible for all the respect which that profession in fact enjoys and which the speeches and advertisements cannot maintain.

And if in your spare time you consort simply with the people you like, you will again find that you have come unawares to a real inside: that you are indeed snug and safe at the centre of something which, seen from without, would look exactly like an Inner Ring. But the difference is that the secrecy is accidental, and its exclusiveness a by-product, and no one was led thither by the lure of the esoteric: for it is only four or five people who like one another meeting to do things that they like. This is friendship. Aristotle placed it among the virtues. It causes perhaps half of all the happiness in the world, and no Inner Ring can ever have it.

In The Inner Ring and That Hideous Strength, Lewis describes how we can personally avoid or mitigate the ill effects of the Inner Rings with which we will inevitably be confronted. But what about the evil such rings can wreck upon institutions and individuals? He is silent on that issue in The Inner Ring, except by the inference that, by staying out of it ourselves, we weaken and oppose it. In That Hideous Strength, those who are invited into the Ring and decline are murdered. It takes divine intervention to defeat the Inner Circle.

Longenecker makes a point Lewis doesn’t emphasize, yet is clearly of the nature of Inner Rings:

Whenever an inner ring is exposed it evaporates. Proof is demanded, but there isn’t any because it was all secret handshakes, winks, and nods all along. It was never a formal organization to start with, so the members simply deny, shift their position, and slide away like the serpents they really are.

I would add that Inner Rings reform the instant the light is shined elsewhere. Thus, the calls to Drain the Swamp and reform the Catholic hierarchy, two cases of Inner Rings gone completely rogue, can only make progress when members are removed from positions of authority, prevented access to others in positions of authority, and publicly named and shamed. Prison would be good, where appropriate. Otherwise, people will be shocked, shocked to find out what was going on – and then pick up right where they left off the moment the lights are turned off.

Warning: not to get too hysterical quite yet, but history shows some members of such rings will murder before they let that happen. There will be enough sociopaths (Inner Rings are ideal playgrounds for those with no moral compass) that starting a war or revolution is completely on the table. Blackmail, character assassination and back-stabbing of all kinds is standard operating procedure for Inner Rings, whether it’s the FBI, a papal dicastery or your local parent co-op preschool. (2) We kid ourselves if we think it will stop there.

Then, there’s always divine intervention. Let us pray that God can find a way to be merciful, and that we can bear whatever part of His justice that we have earned for our sins of commission and omission.

  1. Reminds me of the alternative music scene where you wear the next cooler band’s t-shirt to whatever band’s show you’re attending. So, here, you quote a cooler author. You’d next need to find Tolstoy quoting Dante quoting Homer…  No? Never mind.
  2. The key reason I was appalled at Obama even running for President, let alone winning, is the history of Chicago politics: 100 years of mafia control, Roti takes one for the team in the early ’90’s, BUT EVERYONE ELSE GOT A PASS. Whatever Inner Circles enabled mob control STAYED PUT. That the Anointed One staffed his campaign and cabinet with career Chicago politicians and ‘public servants,’ many of whom got their careers started under Roti, should have been seen as a nightmare come true; the current mishegas should not be a surprise.