In the early morning of July 20th, 2012, our son Andrew was struck by a car and killed while walking along a rural highway in Indiana while taking part in a Crossroads cross country pro-life walk from San Francisco to Washington D.C. May he rest in peace.
I’m writing today because of something remarkable, something I would never have even dreamt of: a friend of Andrew’s, a retired fireman who taught him as a small child in faith formation classes at Queen of All Saints parish and prayed with him on occasion in front of the local Planned Parenthood, will be filing the paperwork with the diocese to petition to get Andrew declared a Servant of God.
5 years after death is the minimum required waiting period. As his father, I am far too close to make any sort of judgement at all either way. All I know is that Jim – that’s the gentleman doing the paperwork, who is a very good man – seemed to get pretty enthusiastic responses when he talked to people who knew Andrew, and that his confessor for the last few years of his life sought us out to tell us we had nothing to worry about over the state of his soul. So I ask for your prayers that God’s will be done.
Short & Sweet: Well worth 3 of your entertainment dollars. Fun, well-written stories and three old-school-style serials, a quick read. Grab a beer or an ice tea, your copy of Astounding Frontiers, and hit the hammock or the beach for a few enjoyable hours. Wear sunscreen.
Astounding Frontiers is a new magazine devoted to stories that astound and push frontiers. It hits the mark, although, by their nature, serials may do their astounding and pushing of frontiers over a larger time-frame than one issue. Onward:
First, we have the short stories. The Death Ride of SUNS Joyeuse by Patrick Baker is military SciFi covering a space fleet and space marines dedicated to protecting an outpost from some nasty customers intent on enslaving them. Epic and heroic battles ensue, complete with way-cool space weapons and strategy . Fun read, and it’s obvious Baker knows what he’s talking about – he’s a veteran working at the Dept of Defense, so the command structure and tactics ring true. Good story.
Next, is Lou Antonelli’s Riders of the Red Shift, a very cool sort of Western/Mystery in space story, about a space station and worm hole out in the Oort cloud near Sedna. Seems a group of Texans, after a failed rebellion, headed out with a load of decommissioned nukes – which nukes were later found useful as fuel for propulsion into the wormhole the Texans accidentally discovered. Exploration of the galaxy takes place through this wormhole. At the time of the story, crews retrieve these nukes from the Texan’s long abandoned ship to use as fuel. There are some mysteries that need solving…
According to Culture by Declan Finn is a space riff off the wisdom contained in a famous (legendary?) exchange between a British commander in India and a Hindu leader (whether Finn knows it or not, although I suspect he does). The Hindu explains to the Brit that it is their custom to throw live widows on the pyres of their dead husbands; the Brit explains it is his custom to hang people who murder women. If the Hindu insists on following his culture, he can hardly object when the British follow theirs. A father who turns out to be a sort of tech/mech/ninja, has to make this point to a ruler who has purchased his kidnapped daughter.
This story has a very good opening sentence:
Neti Gwai looked over his latest batch of slaves, going from one holographic image to another, when the wall exploded.
And it hardly lets up from there. Epic battles ensue. Fun read, especially as a father of daughters.
Stopover on Monta Colony by Erin Lale is a story of empathy and mistaken identity that harkens back to a famous Star Trek episode which it would completely spoil things to name, and also a William Gibson story (and another mid-80s story in SF&F that’s sitting on the edge of memory) involving a singer who, with the aide of technology, is able to echo back the emotions of her audience. A captain giving passage to just such a singer stops by an outpost for some repairs, and finds himself in the middle of a mystery. Can’t say much more without giving too much away – fun story.
Watson’s Demon by Sarah Salviander, is an elaborate gag, of sorts, a bit of an inside joke for physicists – and a good story. What if a superior interdimensional being decided to mess with the experimental results of what it thinks of as a hopelessly simple-minded human? What if you could really make all the energetic molecules move *here* and all the less energetic molecules move *there* just as the experimental measurements were being taken? You could drive a physicist crazy! But never underestimate a crazy physicist. Fun read.
Next up: the first installments of 3 serials – an evil marketing genius trick to hook us on future issues.
I think it’ll work.
First up is Nowither, the follow up to John C. Wright’s Dragon award winning Somewhither, the first book in the Tales of the Unwithering Realm series. Wright gives us a brief recap of Somewhither (reviewed here) to open the episode, so the reader isn’t completely lost, but I think it really helped that I’d already read it.
When we last left Our Heroes, Illya, a teenage ‘boy’ who cannot be killed, has just rescued Penny Dreadful (yep, that’s her name) an insanely beautiful and buxom young woman who is the object of Illya’s desires and happens to be a mermaid and nymph/goddess from another parallel timeline, along with 150 or so beautiful and scantily-clad slavegirls. He’s aided by Abby, an heroic young girl with The Most Tragic Backstory Ever ™, who, by virtue of her ‘two natures’ is able to circumvent the astrology of the Ur people; Ossifrage, an Air Bender/Old Testament Prophet/Gandalf hybrid (he’s really cool); and Nakasu, a Blemmyae, or headless giant who is super strong, brave and knowledgeable about the ways of the Ur. Also along is Illya’s childhood friend Foster Hidden, a gypsy/spy/warlock whose skill with the bow makes Hawkeye look like an amateur. They find themselves in some sort of switching station used by the Ur to zip around between parallel universes via golden Mobius gates. All hell breaks loose.
If you’re tired of stories without much action, you’ll get all the action – gruesome, blood-soaked yet somehow hopeful action – you can stand. For example, Illya gets decapitated – but it’s only a flesh wound! Slap that head back on, summon all the blood back into your veins, and you’re good to go! Excellent fun.
Ben Wheeler’s In the Seraglio of the Sheik of Mars is something completely different, based on the first chapter. In this installment, boy sorta meets girl, boy chased off from girl, boy gets his grandfather to arrange a marriage with girl. On Mars, in a transplanted 1,001 Nights style universe. Not exactly what you’d expect, but it did leave me wondering where it’s going – and that’s the point of a serial, right? This first installment is more scene setting, I suppose, than actual story, but it works.
Galactic Outlaws, from Dragon Award winner Nick Cole and Jason Anaspach, is the first installment of what promises to be an epic yarn, a True Grit (maybe) in space. The story opens with a hard-bitten captain landing his tramp hauler of a spaceship, which was falling apart when he stole it 6 years ago, on a planet that is suddenly under attack by the Republic that is supposed to be its government. As civilians flee onto the docks, he tries desperately to unload his cargo so as to gouge any passengers who want passage off the planet and away from the Republic.
Things do not go well for him.
He has one passenger: Prisma Maydoon, a girl whose family has been murdered, who only wanted a ride someplace where she might hire an assassin to get revenge. She is accompanied by KRS-88 an obedient robot she has named Crash, that spends its time pointing out how risky and insane everything she’s doing is (as is its duty). She ignores it, flees the ship and heads to a bar where the most notorious (and hunted!) hit man might be found.
Conclusion: great fun. Go buy this. Read it. Way more entertainment for the dollar than your typical hollywood movie or Big 5 novel.
Added a couple more blog post drafts on Important Things – you know, Important Things – bringing the draft total to just under 100. Sheesh. Started writing about how behavioral scientists (whatever that’s supposed to mean) don’t care about brain science, as changing people’s behaviors are all they’re interested in, not how the brain actually works. Um, what? Very Bacon-ish (the British scientist, not the gateway meat): we’re in it for the Domination of Nature, not merely to understand anything. Let’s not get all philosophical here, we got behaviors to change! And how YA fiction provides something to kids sadly missing from their real lives: responsibility for meaningful stuff, especially stuff they *don’t* get to choose. Kids want to grow up, and the dirty little secret is that we choose here and there, but happiness and meaning are mostly found in living out duties we didn’t really choose: to family, friends, country. Kids need that, and YA fiction often provides at least stories of it.
And so on. Got partial drafts on bad philosophy and stupid theories, an attempt to explain supply and demand avoiding the baleful conventions of economics (not as easy as one would hope) and airfleet finance basics that I promised somebody months ago. And about 90 more! Things I thought important at the time!
Anyway, here’s two turntables and a microphone:
A. Reading, among other things, the first issue of Astounding Frontiers, a new publication from some of the people involved in Sci Phi Journal and Superversive stuff in general. About 80% through, need another hour or two. A full review will follow in a few days.
Short & sweet: great stuff, all kinds of fun. The format, at least for the first volume, is a set of short stories followed by the first installments of a set of serials. All the stories are at least good; the first serial is of Nowhither, the next volume following the Dragon-award-winning Somewither from the Tales of the Unwithering Realm books by John C. Wright. As good as you’d hope. You’d better love cliffhangers, though. Old-school serials are the model, after all.
Writing: So, I started to do what I said I’d do – pick a market and submit the recently-finished short story. Aaaand, that proved harder than I thought – while I’m pretty familiar with the old dead-tree markets – Analog, Asimov’s, SF&F – I’m not really up on all the new markets. So I asked myself: does this slight little story work in those old-school markets? Aaaand – IMHO, not really. It’s a gee-whiz story, where a guy faces death and second thoughts. Probably overthinking it (you’re shocked, right?). Other stuff I’m working on might fit better, maybe.
Anyway, I decided to keep looking for a better match. I began at the top of a list I’d gotten off the web somewhere, sorted by how much they pay, and started down, trying to imagine how what I wrote could fit within their guidelines.
Some not-fits were obvious, either from tone or just not fitting the guidelines. I soon became obvious I needed some quick filters to eliminate the obviously not gonna happens: In addition to wild mismatches on the guidelines, ended up crossing off ones who lead with SJW stuff, as it’s hard to imagine them wanting my stuff.
This still left a whole bunch of interesting possibilities. But I’d never heard of these publications, many of which seem to have mushroomed on the web in the last few years. So I find myself reading the sample stories, to get a feel.
By now, I’ve spent several hours reading stories online from the various publications. Unfortunately, while I did get a few decent stories read, I didn’t end up with much additional clarity. A couple of the stories I liked were so utterly different from what I’ve written that my brain sorta locked up.
And then life got busy. It may calm down for a few weeks, maybe not. Thinking I’ll just look among the PulpRev and Superversive markets for this particular story; others might go elsewhere, need to get my brain around what’s what.
B. Meanwhile, working on some other half (or more) finished stories. With the long daylight hours, I’m tending to work out in the yard until dark or dinner, meaning it’s after 9:00 before I’m in for the night – and, if I’ve been doing physical work, I’m probably tired. Yes, I’m a disorganized sissy with too much going on. Anyway, still need a bit of time to finish the 3-4 in the pipeline. The good news is that I should have a better idea what markets to pursue for them after getting myself caught up on what’s out there.
General experience: when I take a second look at something I’ve set aside for a long while, I tend to like it much better than when I set it down. Obviously need to get over these amateur emotional reactions that keep me from just getting it done. Story of my life, I suppose.
C. Speaking of late daylight hours, been working on the brick oven. When we last checked in, I’d decided to add a little shelf or lip on the oven’s front, changing my mind from when I’d poured the oven slab last summer, and left off the lip in the front.
Well, after way, way over-engineering it and spending hours (and way too much money!) building this metal angle-iron and threaded rod support system, changed my mind again and decided to pour a little more concrete. Had no confidence in the metal supports – too many things could go wrong, and even if I got it all installed successfully, if somebody decided to sit on it, it might even crack the bricks. So, reengineered. Again.
It should have only taken a few hours total to do this, but it’s been over 100F each of the last two weekends, and even I, home improvement project berzerker, can’t do a lot of manual labor when it’s that warm. So now I’m going to finish it after work, with any luck, before the summer ends. On the positive side: once I’ve gotten the lip finished, the actual oven build should go pretty quickly. Yea, famous last words.
Let us take this day as a vigorous reminder of what insane partisanship and unscrupulous ideological fanaticism can do with historical facts. To sum up: A mob killed a few retirees and cripples who were guarding a prison holding a few upper-crust criminals and crazy people, and set them free in the name of liberté, égalité, fraternité. Vive la révolution! I guess. And this has become the great event that marks France’s joining the ranks of countries that have slaughtered tens of thousands of their own unarmed citizens because they failed to get with the Enlightenment program. Or something.
As Tonio-K put it: but just because we’re hypnotized, that don’t mean we can’t dance!
In early 1794 – at the height of the Reign of Terror – French soldiers marched to the Atlantic Vendée, where peasants had risen up against the Revolutionary government in Paris. (They had risen up because of the slaughter already being visited upon their sons, pressed into war for the Revolution and killed if they resisted, and their priests and sisters – ed.)
Twelve “infernal columns” commanded by General Louis-Marie Turreau were ordered to kill everyone and everything they saw. Thousands of people – including women and children – were massacred in cold blood, and farms and villages torched.
In the city of Nantes, the Revolutionary commander Jean-Baptiste Carrier disposed of Vendéean prisoners-of-war in a horrifically efficient form of mass execution. In the so-called “noyades” –mass drownings – naked men, women, and children were tied together in specially constructed boats, towed out to the middle of the river Loire and then sunk.
Now Vendée, a coastal department in western France, is calling for the incident to be remembered as the first genocide in modern history.
Residents claim the massacre has been downplayed so as not to sully the story of the French Revolution.
Historians believe that around 170,000 Vendéeans were killed in the peasant war and the subsequent massacres – and around 5,000 in the noyades.
But to call it genocide might taint (!) the glorious memory of the French Revolution. Can’t have that. Sort of like acknowledging that Che was a sociopathic murderer of defenseless men, women and children whose talents happen to find perfect opportunity for expression in another branch of the revolution – best not to think about it.
And this is just the most egregious slaughter carried out by the Enlightened. Many hundreds more died by the guillotine, by being left to starve or rot in ships or prisons, are just more prosaically murdered as the situation allowed. The French Revolution is the archetype and model for all future efforts to implement Progressive ideals once power has been seized.
Bastille Day is an ideal way to get your feet wet in actual history, and to see how willingly some people lie and how effortlessly many more people believe them. Ignorance is usually best, or at least the least trouble, but if people know anything about the French Revolution, it’s probably something to do with having killed mean old Marie Antoinette and gotten rid of a crazy monarchy. That the French then proceeded to cycle through military dictatorship, monarchy, and an emperor or two between periods of anarchy, all the will leaving piles of bodies along the way – that seems less well known or, worse, irrelevant.
You have to ask the question: why do the lies seem to almost always go one way and not the other? Or, better, why is something like gruesome and sadistic slaughter of unarmed men women and children given a pass if not ignored completely? Or how do actual acts of murder get presented as equivalent to largely theoretical evils, such as the victims of capitalism? Oh, sure, people have been and are still being oppressed, and some have even been murdered. But 170,000 in a year? When did Pullman or United Fruit or the mining companies round up 170,000 men, women and children and sadistically murder them? And if you’ve got something, And if you’ve got something, I’ll raise you 20 million Ukrainian Kulaks and 60 million Chinese peasants.
All evil is evil, but there are degrees. That spirit that drove the French Revolution is far more evil than the simple greed of men, and lives and wrecks havoc even today.
I’ve said that I’d never let my kids try a 10-day (unsupervised European trip – ed) in college, because what if what could have been for me comes true for them? What if they get lost, or mugged? What if they make a poor decision, choose the wrong stop, and get stranded outside an airport in a blizzard? What if they need help and can’t find it?
That one major snafu on our 10-day happened at the end, when we missed our flight back to Rome because we got off the train at the wrong stop. The airport in Brussels wouldn’t let us spend the night inside, so we huddled against the building instead, trying to stay out of the snow. The only thing we had to eat was a backpack full of Cadbury chocolates that my roommate had gotten in London.
As a parent, this story is terrifying. But it’s one of my favorite memories. We made it back to Rome cold, tired, sick of Cadbury, but alive and newly aware of our own resilience (and of the importance of navigational skills).
Ironically, protecting our kids from the pain of failure is itself a failure. It’s failing to let them experience the life we know is coming at them, the life we can’t protect them from forever.
Real choices matter to the kid, are supported by the family, and have real consequences. Leave out any of those three things, and the choosing is an illusion.
One final thing to add: kids also need to see adults sticking with the results of their own decisions. If mommy and daddy are running away – from their responsibilities, their spouses, their own kids – it becomes pretty much a given that the kids will grow up into bitter, whiny irresponsible brats. We wouldn’t want that to happen.
B. Another chart showing something or other:
It’s from Pew, whose methodology is both widely respected and, to give them the benefit of the doubt, hopelessly flawed. In general, unverified self reporting by the sort of people willing to take polls, with no concern wasted considering if the responder is at all motivated to tell the truth. (1) The questions tacitly assume that the world really does fall into convenient polar positions on virtually every subject. Which would be really, really convenient – for pollsters. So don’t give Pew polls much weight, in general.
By happenstance, about the same time I saw this I read a quip somewhere, to the effect that ‘Sir,’ Ma’am,’ and ‘Thank you’ will get you farther than a bachelor’s degree. Had to wonder: what’s the overlap between those red bars above and people who would nod at the folk wisdom of that quip? I’d quibble that a bachelor’s in something real PLUS the proper use of sir, ma’am and thank you is the real winning strategy. Nevertheless, with Pew, is often not difficult to see which of the two either/or points of view they’re hammering the world into they want us to consider enlightened.
I’ve wondered since the election about the reported 8% of blacks who voted for Trump. I believe the number was based on exit polls. Now, imagine, in the general atmosphere of the last election, if a black person would feel completely comfortable telling a stranger with a clipboard that he’d just voted for Trump. Not saying one way or the other about what the results show – just that the method used is ignoring a pretty big potential issue when it fails to account for social pressures, or just assumes they cancel out.
C. Something stupid for your possible amusement:
Something about rabbits and chickens, creatures with largely unearned reputations as pacifists, going all Wild West there’s-a-new-sheriff-in-town that cracks me up a little. One struggles a little coming up with the proper Darwinian just-so story that explains such odd behavior away. Why are the chickens not content to let the rabbits kill each other if they want to? Have they adopted them, somehow?
D. Apologies. This is plain stupid. This is what an adolescent sense of humor, + <45 seconds of web searching + <10 minutes of MS Paint will get you:
My beloved and I have been driving to San Jose or thereabouts to attend these monthly meeting for the last few years whenever we can – good people, and, hey! Chesterton! I thought my regular readers, who, to my surprise, are well into double digits these days, might find our current reading interesting.
However, enough of us wanted to read Everlasting Man, and the indomitable John Rose had a reading plan already in hand that broke it into suitable segments, that we were able to jump right in! Thanks, John! We’ll be taking it a dozen or 2 pages at a crack.
July, first meeting: Prefatory Note & Introduction, about 14 pages. You can find it online free here or here. In this short 14 page introductory section, Chesterton calls out H. G. Well’s Outline of History, which can be found here (I have not read it yet).
As I have more than once differed from Mr. H. G. Wells in his view of history, it is the more right that I should here congratulate him on the courage and constructive imagination which carried through his vast and varied and intensely interesting work; but still more on having asserted the reasonable right of the amateur to do what he can with the facts which the specialists provide.
Amusing side story: when Well’s work was first published, Belloc, who is the bad cop to GKC’s good cop as far as smacking down nonsense goes, reviewed it rather harshly, Wells responded with a piece titled “Mr. Belloc Objects to “The Outline of History.” Belloc then responded to the response with “Mr. Belloc Still Objects.” Apparently the exchange got rather heated, various partisan publications wouldn’t print the responses, names got called. Belloc was an actual historian, and took umbrage at Well’s playing fast and loose with the evidence. Belloc’s Europe and the Faith. which takes a view very much opposed to Wells’, was first published in 1920, the same year as Outline.
So Chesterton starts by praising Wells for being an amateur – in other words, highlighting Belloc’s central claim. He’s charmingly paradoxical about it, as is his style, but there’s little doubt whose side he’s on.
Some Historical Context: This dispute about how history is to be understood is just a tip of a particularly large iceberg, one still very much afloat today. For the century leading up to 1920, popes and other leaders had been descrying the threat of Modernism, the relevant aspect of which is stated in bold below:
Wells published his Outline in 1920 as a universal history – one that deals with more than “reigns and pedigrees and campaigns”. Wells had embarked upon his Outline as a result of his work with the League of Nations and a desire to aid world peace by providing the world “common historical ideas”.The Outline proved to be an expansive, all-encompassing work. Wells had a panel of specialists at his disposal to review and check his work. Although the panel revealed many inevitable “gaps, misjudgments and misproportions”, Wells reserved the right to “maintain his own judgments”. As a result, The Outline contained what were alleged by Belloc to be a number of biased statements, intolerant statements and false assumptions. Materialistic determinism was viewed as a central philosophy underlying the Outline, with Wells portraying human progress to be both a blind and inevitable rise from the darkness of religious superstition to the light of scientific utopia. (my emphasis) Unfortunately, Wells’ judgments and perceived bias left his work open to heavy criticism.
Wells was a Fabian Socialist for a while, at least, right around the time he wrote this book. The Fabian’s coat of arms:
To Wells and his besties, the League of Nations was an obvious means to promoting Communism, if only as a tool to bring about destruction of the status quo. If you believe that materialistic determinism is true, and human progress is a blind and inevitable rise resulting therefrom, you will feel (I daren’t say ‘think’) that any steps may be taken to destroy the current system – because something better will *inevitably* result! There is no going back, it’s forward all the way! The magic fairies of materialistic determinism say so! The larger truth of inevitable progress forgives in advance all the little lies perpetrated in its honor. And also forgive the murder of many tens of millions by the Communists, history’s sterling example of blind faith in Progress, for the sake of a glorious future.
In 1920, the battle between the Hegelian/Marxist faith in Progress (differing chiefly in what, if any, role one gives religion) and sanity (the understanding that progress is a highly contingent and often intermittent result of individual human actions) had been raging for almost a century. Pope St. Pius IX had issued his Syllabus of Errors in 1864, containing a number of anathemas against modernist ideas. Pope St. Pius X had issued Pascendi Domini gregisandLamentabili sane exituin 1907, and his Oath in 1910.
This is the environment in which Chesterton published Everlasting Man in 1925. Similarly, his essays collected in In Defense of Sanity are defending, under the name ‘sanity’ the notion that ideas and the free choices of men matter, that the understanding of what is true, beautiful and good by a common man is to be valued, and that preposterous preening and self-importance of the Progressives are empty, futile yet dangerous.
The chief characteristic of progressive thought is that it doesn’t have to make sense. This is the fruit of Hegel, who in turn is best understood in this context as a Lutheran theologian more so than a philosopher. Certainly, he tries to describe an intellectual universe where discontinuity and contradiction are not signs of intellectual failings, but rather clear indications of intellectual progress. The Spirit (Hegel found ‘God’ too loaded a term) unfolds itself through History. Being is too limiting. A real philosopher must consider Becoming. What the Spirit is Becoming can be seen in the world in His actions – History. It will make sense when and to the extent that the Spirit has unfolded itself, but not before, and only to the enlightened. Inconsistencies and contradictions are just par for the course.
Hegel could not – no one can – hold the field against the Thomists when the game is reason and logic.(1) Therefore, Hegel begins by attempting to discredit ‘propositional reasoning’ (in Phenomenology of Spirit) and logic as understood since the ancient Greeks (in Logic). He substitutes for reasoning and logic insight and enlightenment. He dismisses the Law of Non-Contradiction, and replaces it with the notion of contradictory ideas being suspended in a fruitful opposition within a synthesis. (As with most of Hegel, that last statement makes as much sense as it sounds like it does. Which is, after all, the point.)
In the hands of lesser(?) intelligences such as Marx and Freud, the idea was quickly shed that there’s a Spirit revealing itself in History, and instead it was just assumed History is moving itself forward – making Progress. We also lose Hegel’s charming humility in disavowing any knowledge of the future, since such foreknowledge would require guessing how the Spirit was going to unfold next – which is as close to sacrilege and heresy as an Hegelian can get. Marxists and Progressives in general know where we’re going: some flavor of a worker’s paradise. That’s why it’s so important to ‘be on the right side of History’ and not to ‘turn back the clock’.
Marx is the poster boy for that materialistic determinist Wells was getting on about. He knows what he knows not through reasoning, but rather through Enlightenment. He is woke. Any attempts to reason with him are in themselves conclusive proof that you don’t get it, are laboring under false consciousness, and need to be educated.
Wells knows there is no God. Yet he also knows there has been progress. Therefore, to provide a mechanism by which this observable progress has been made, he has to make a god out of Progress itself.
There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place; and I tried to trace such a journey in a story I once wrote [Manalive]. It is, however, a relief to turn from that topic to another story that I never wrote. Like every book I never wrote, it is by far the best book I have ever written. It is only too probable that I shall never write it, so I will use it symbolically here; for it was a symbol of the same truth. I conceived it as a romance of those vast valleys with sloping sides, like those along which the ancient White Horses of Wessex are scrawled along the flanks of the hills. It concerned some boy whose farm or cottage stood on such a slope, and who went on his travels to find something, such as the effigy and grave of some giant; and when he was far enough from home he looked back and saw that his own farm and kitchen-garden, shining flat on the hill-side like the colours and quarterings of a shield, were but parts of some such gigantic figure, on which he had always lived, but which was too large and too close to be seen. That, I think, is a true picture of the progress of any really independent intelligence today; and that is the point of this book.
The point of this book, in other words, is that the next best thing to being really inside Christendom is to be really outside it.
Hegel and especially Marx are in some real sense heretics. They are not pagans, but people who have left aside some parts of Christianity while still clinging to its central claims of redemption from a fallen state through the intervention of the Divine. They are too close to see how much their beliefs are still Christian, no matter how twisted, like how a human form can still be recognized in the rubble of a ruined statue. But they are too close, and do not want to see.
Next month: 2. the first half of The Man in the Cave up to “Art is the signature of man.”
What about scientists and mathematicians? They make progress, insofar as they do, by deploying exactly the musty old reasoning and logic familiar to and beloved by the Thomists. Hegel consigns them to the philosophical outer darkness: their work is OK, as far as it goes, but not exalted like what real philosophers do! Irony alert: the very fields that give Wells the most ammo for his claims of self-propelled Progress are those Hegel had to toss out in order to make his claims that enlightenment trumps reason. Ouroboros.
A trenchant comment by Marcel had me looking up the use of ‘rum do’ in that wonderful book (it occurs in that exact form exactly once). Lewis imagines the tramp judging the indignities of being bathed, dressed as a don and dragged around the Institute while Merlin puts incomprehensible words in his mouth as “‘a rum do'”— the rummest do that had ever befallen him.”
IT WAS WITH GREAT PLEASURE that Mark found himself once more dressing for dinner and what seemed likely to be an excellent dinner. He got a seat with Filostrato on his right and a rather inconspicuous newcomer on his left. Even Filostrato seemed human and friendly compared with the two initiates, and to the newcomer his heart positively warmed. He noticed with surprise that the tramp sat at the high table between Jules and Wither, but did not often look in that direction, for the tramp, catching his eye, had imprudently raised his glass and winked at him. The strange priest stood patiently behind the tramp’s chair. For the rest, nothing of importance happened until the King’s health had been drunk and Jules rose to make his speech.
For the first few minutes, anyone glancing down the long tables would have seen what we always see on such occasions. There were the placid faces of elderly bons viveurs whom food and wine had placed in a contentment which no amount of speeches could violate. There were the patient faces of responsible but serious diners, who had long since learned how to pursue their own thoughts, while attending to the speech just enough to respond wherever a laugh or a low rumble of serious assent was obligatory. There was the usual fidgety expression on the faces of young men unappreciative of port and hungry for tobacco. There was bright over-elaborate attention on the powdered faces of women who knew their duty to society. But if you have gone on looking down the tables you would presently have seen a change. You would have seen face after face look up and turn in the direction of the speaker. You would have seen first curiosity, then fixed attention, then incredulity. Finally you would have noticed that the room was utterly silent, without a cough or a creak, that every eye was fixed on Jules, and soon every mouth opened in something between fascination and horror.
To different members of the audience the change came differently. To Frost it began at the moment when he heard Jules end a sentence with the words, “as gross an anachronism as to trust to Calvary for salvation in modern war.” Cavalry, thought Frost almost aloud. Why couldn’t the fool mind what he was saying? The blunder irritated him extremely. Perhaps — but hullo! what was this? Had his hearing gone wrong? For Jules seemed to be saying that the future density of mankind depended on the implosion of the horses of Nature. “He’s drunk,” thought Frost. Then, crystal clear in articulation, beyond all possibility of mistake, came, “The madrigore of verjuice must be talthibianised.”
Wither was slower to notice what was happening. He had never expected the speech to have any meaning as a whole and for a long time the familiar catch-words rolled on in a manner which did not disturb the expectation of his ear. He thought, indeed, that Jules was sailing very near the wind, that a very small false step would deprive both the speaker and the audience of the power even to pretend that he was saying anything in particular. But as long as that border was not crossed, he rather admired the speech; it was in his own line. Then he thought, “Come! That’s going too far. Even they must see that you can’t talk about accepting the challenge of the past by throwing down the gauntlet of the future.” He looked cautiously down the room. All was well. But it wouldn’t be if Jules didn’t sit down pretty soon. In that last sentence there were surely words he didn’t know. What the deuce did he mean by aholibate? He looked down the room again. They were attending too much, always a bad sign. Then came the sentence, “The surrogates esemplanted in a continual of porous variations.”
Lewis imagines the day when Truth has had enough, and takes from the speakers of lies even what little meaning their words-as-weapons still had. In the erudite Babel that ensues, everyone hears individual words that they may understand, but all meaning has now been stripped away in audible fact as it has always been absent in practice, power being the only animating principle behind what had been allowed to pass as thought. From the inside, infuriating and ultimately terrifying; from the outside, hilarious.
The Institute was a power play, a much more sophisticated and superficially polite power play than what we see in our universities today. The one problem from the point of view of the nested Inner Circles – it’s not their power that is in play. At its heart lies a power with no interest in the desires of the players. It wishes only death and destruction in total, not just the realization of the various revenge fantasies that drive the members.
If only such a drama as the Banquet at Belbury were to take place in our modern universities! I am not eager for the deaths of our enemies, but wouldn’t mind seeing their nests vacated and burned to the ground. Figuratively, of course, after Lewis.