Music & Ceremony at Mass: 5/14/2017

In accordance with long established practice, for Mother’s day, we drove up to Petaluma to visit Anne-Martine’s mom, who, as a result of some as yet undetermined illness, was hospitalized last week and is now in a nursing home for at least a while. Prayers appreciated.

We attended Mass at St. Vincent’s, a beautiful church and the church in which we were married coming up on 30 years ago. What we did not know going in was that this particular Sunday, the 10:30 Mass was to be said in Portuguese, and that a procession of an image of the Suffering Christ was to follow:

Seems that several centuries ago in the Azores, a beloved image of the Suffering Christ was feared destroyed in the collapse of a church caused by an earthquake. The weeping locals dug through the rubble and discovered the statue undamaged, and so, in typical Catholic fashion, had a procession and a party!

There is a large Portuguese population in California, clustered in places where fishing and agriculture were early established – Monterey, Pescadero and San Francisco for fishing, and, among other places, Petaluma for farming. So my wife grew up among several large Portuguese farming families, and St. Vincent’s as the local parish incorporated any number of Portuguese devotional practices. Including this procession and party.

I could hardly be more down with all this – rock on, Portuguese Catholics! Party down!

The Mass itself was full of pomp. And noise. I don’t know if the Portuguese are traditionally noisy people in church, or if the spirit of V-II had a disproportionate (or perhaps merely delayed) effect on them. They yak up a storm. But hey, I’ve seen worse. They all showed up for Mass in their Sunday best, which is way cool and to be commended wholeheartedly.

The exception was the music – when the band played on, any singing by anybody in the congregation fell below the sensitivity of my instruments – ears and eyes – to detect. The music itself was all some sort of modern-ish guitar tunes in Portuguese, so I have no idea what they were all about. More melodramatic than modern Mexican liturgical music; much less musically sophisticated than modern Filipino mass songs.

The thought I could not escape: what is now Portugal has been Catholic for about 1,500 years, and, while largely on the periphery of Christendom due to geography, nevertheless was a part of the Church’s general artistic and liturgical traditions for all that time. It a sure bet that there are vast amounts of perfectly wonderful liturgical music used and loved over the centuries in Portugal, some of which was no doubt even produced by locals. In any event, Portugal could not have escaped the effects of centuries of chant, polyphony, and other beautiful liturgical music.

Yet, here we sit in church, listening to music that cannot be more than 50 years old, performed well after the manner of its kind, by people who were pretty decent musicians. But this music is being performed in place of music that would actually have something to do with the events being celebrated in the procession and party! One can’t even use the feeble excuse of active participation – the people are going to sit there and listen, more or less, no matter what the musicians play.

Instead of lavishing the same sort of care on the musical traditions that they obviously lavished on the procession itself, they let die all the art and power that uplifted their ancestors in favor of music that the congregation, as far as I could tell, ignored any way.

The death of a musical tradition is just as sad as if the overall traditions of a people were to die. The Portuguese, and all of us, really, are poorer for it.

Mothers

Late, as usual…

Saturday, the three members of the Moore clan still in Concord attended a very sweet wedding at our church. Helen, and Les got married after finding each other 50 years after being high school sweethearts.  After getting to know each other in band (Les: trombone; Helen: clarinet) and sitting next to each other on the band bus and otherwise become an ‘item’,  Les joined the army upon graduation and went away. Helen waited 6 years, then got married; Les also got married somewhere thousands of miles from Helen. All this happened about 50 years ago.

Then, a few years ago, Helen’s husband died. More recently, Les’s wife died. His mind turned to Helen, and, with the help of his children, he tracked her down on Facebook and asked if he could come see her. She said yes. (I can only imagine what went through her mind! She must have a very forgiving soul!) Next thing you know, Helen sells her house in Florida and moves to Concord to be with Les, enters the Church to better share his life (which is how we got to know them) and marries the guy! They are a cuuuute couple.

I don’t really know them all that well – my beloved got to know them better. Les has some children, but Helen was childless. Everything in my limited knowledge of her suggests she’ll step right into the mother role for Les’s grown children and the grandmother role for her new grandchildren.

Which is a very good thing, essential, even. The role of mother may be created by biology, but is much more than that. Human beings are not solitary animals, nor even family-group animals. As Aristotle says,  man is a political animal. The smallest unit in which a man can act politically is the polis, the city. To state the obvious: no city, no society can exist for more than a generation without mothers, and biology is only part of it. Something that has slowly dawned on me over the 30 years I’ve been married and the 25 years I’ve been a father: the roles of mother and father only begin in the family, but are truly expressed and deeply needed in the community at large.

This is why the church blesses and recognizes as a sacrament even a wedding between two elderly people who are far past the age for producing children. As wonderful as conceiving and raising children is, it remains just a part of the picture, and not, ultimately, a required part. A marriage is a marriage even if no children are produced; a woman can be a wife and even a mother without bearing children of her own. C. S. Lewis makes this point in That Hideous Strength in the characters of the Dimbles – a childless couple who nonetheless serve an indispensable role as mother and father to many children of all ages.

I watch my wife and other mothers who have embraced the fullness of their vocation, and see them mothering EVERYBODY. Just as fathers will gather to be patriots – fathers to their country – mothers act as mothers to their society and culture. In this rich moral universe – the real world – there is no either/or for mothers – acting as a mother to her own children by its very nature moves her to be a mother at large. Just as being a father means sacrificing for the culture and society in general, being mother means nurturing not only her own children, but nurturing the children of all ages who embody the culture in which her biological children live. Mother love is in this way the opposite of loving mankind – she loves exactly those real people in her life, and in the lives of her children and family, that make up the relationship among friends that is the ideal of society.  No mere abstractions.

I love my wife more for being the mother of our children, just as I suspect she loves me more for being their father. Like all mothers to the degree they embrace their vocations as such, she is moved by her natures, by her loves for me and our children, to try to do good for our friends and neighbors. It is the sum of all these little actions by all the selfless mothers out there that create the emotional backbone of a culture, that enable us to see in others somebody’s son or daughter, and to love them at least a little for that alone.

For these reasons, Mother’s Day is not just the celebration of the blessing a mother is to her own children – although it is certainly that – but a day to recognize the essential role motherhood plays in any society worth living in. In this days where everything about mothers from their basic biological role to their honored and noble place in society are viciously attacked, let us celebrate mothers in their full glory.

The Filtering of Teachers

There is a kerfuffle riling up Twitter subscribers to Patrick Madrid, a popular Catholic apologist, regarding Maria, a teacher facing disciplinary action for refusing to teach current gender ideology to the 7th graders in her charge.

Poor woman. While I wish her well and offer up prayers for her, I mention this here as merely a particularly current, clear and egregious example of the filtering that goes on with public school teachers. The system of teacher education in this country is designed to make sure people like Maria – people who have beliefs they hold more dear than even their jobs as teachers – don’t get to teach.

As Orwell describes in 1984, people are broken and conformity enforced by making it mandatory to spout lies. It’s no good getting people to spout nonsense they agree with – they might conceivably still entertain some loyalty to the truth, and merely be mistaken. No, one must be made to avow stuff one is clear is a lie – we have always been at war with Eastasia – to prove that one is completely under control, that one is no threat. But before that level of control can be achieved, we must make sure that only liars are allowed to teach.

Lobster
Is it getting warm in here? 

The schools have largely so far have taken the ‘boil the lobster’ approach, softening their targets by making sure only those who are willing to put up with patently pointless bureaucracy and at least nod in the direction of manifestly stupid curricula ever make it into a classroom. I’m guessing the emergence of Trump as the (however appalling!) face of the Opposition has forced them to accelerate the program. Thus, the gender ideology that was fringe at the beginning of Obama’s reign has become central now. The shibboleth must be in place NOW, so the troops can be counted on to fight off any attempts at reform through the usual combination of lies, noncompliance and passive-aggressive posturing.

Just as good Muslims keep their ideology going, allowing and supporting the so called radical Muslims, “good” teachers are enabling the ideology that has been successfully turning our kids into ignorant, stupid robots for decades now. Lest we forget:

Ninety-nine [students] out of a hundred are automata, careful to walk in prescribed paths, careful to follow the prescribed custom. This is not an accident but the result of substantial education, which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of the individual.

This wisdom comes from William Torey Harris, the fourth United States Commissioner of Education, from 1889 – 1906. Note the phrase “subsumption of the individual” – Harris was an enthusiastic Hegelian, and subsumption is a term of art.  In a dialectic, the thesis and antithesis contradict each other, and the contradiction is not logically resolved but rather ‘subsumed’ in a dialectical synthesis – they remain in contradiction, but, in the synthesis they exist in a new creative tension that is revealed in concrete History to be true in some greater sense, the law of  noncontradiction be damned (explicitly – see Hegel’s Logic).

In this case, the contradiction to be subsumed is between the idea that people, including children, have rights, among which is the right to pursue happiness however they see fit, and the idea that, in the words of Trotsky, the individual is nothing, only the goal – conforming to the successive unfoldings of the Spirit for Hegelians, the Worker’s Paradise for Marxists – gives any meaning to any individual’s life.

Harris, and all Hegelians and Marxists, needs to have the concept of individual rights eliminated – subsumed, in their usual dishonest and evasive language – in order to achieve the great future History they have been so privileged and enlightened to see. They thank their gods they are not like other men!

And this need to destroy the individual is alive and well TODAY. There was never a reform of the reform, where Harris and his evil ideas were rejected. Woodrow Wilson, an elitist, racist pig if ever there were one,  was down with this, as was Dewey, a ‘can’t make an omelet’ apologist for the slaughters of the Russian Revolution, as were and are all the major gatekeepers to power in the education system. Gender theory is just a flavor of Critical Theory, which is just applied Marxism. As mentioned in an earlier post, Freire’s application of critical theory to education is required reading in all the prestigious schools of education. After the usual fluff, wherein Freire tries to gain our sympathy and tells us how much suffering will be alleviated if only we follow his plan, he gets around to mentioning that, of course, there are no such things as innate human rights, that people who reject and oppose Marxism have by that fact alone no rights, but that people who accept Marxism gain rights in proportion to the degree of their enlightenment. Thus, with perhaps a mitigating tear in our eyes, we can do anything we want deem necessary to our opponents in order to further the revolution – take their stuff goes without saying, but locking them away or murdering them are options completely on the table.

You want to be a teacher today? Chances are you’ll be required to study Freire by enthusiastic acolytes, and it’s a given that you superiors will either actually believe this or, at best, be exactly the kind of useful idiots such a system requires.

Book Review: R. A. Lafferty’s The Fall of Rome

First off, thanks go out to Mike Flynn for recommending The Fall of Rome. Rarely have I enjoyed a book more, and suspect the stories and personalities in it will linger for years to come. Vivid hardly describes it.

Short & sweet: Stop what you’re doing, and read this book. Lafferty mentions in passing that the machinations of Olympius in the court of the Eastern Empire were far too complex for a modern mind to grasp. That passage pokes fun at the larger issue, that we are enslaved by our age unless we make the effort to learn about other ages. There are few more enlightening ages to learn about than that of the Roman Empire. It is a small, enslaved mind indeed that is not fired, humbled and saddened at the story of the Fall of Rome and the epics and, ultimately, tragedies of Alaric, Stilicho, Stairnon, Sarus, Singerich, Theodosius and the Empire itself.

IMG_3834Lafferty I knew of only from his unclassifiable SFF-ish short stories. Are they myth? Legend? Parody? They’ve been called tall tales, which seems about right, but hardly does them justice. The casual brilliance of stories such as the Narrow Valley make it clear we’re dealing with a really smart guy.

In the Fall of Rome, Lafferty applies his brilliant story telling talents to Roman history, which he clearly knows and loves deeply. Instead of a dry list of kings being born, fighting battles and dying only to hand power over to other kings who do the same ad infinitum, Lafferty starts with chapters dedicated to helping us learn who the Goths were and how they were ripe to produce so many tragic heroes. He disabuses us (well, me) from any lingering thoughts that the Goths were barbarians in the sense of uncivilized. True, there were more wild elements on the northern fringes largely outside the influence of Rome, but huge swaths of Goths, Vandals and Huns were members of highly sophisticated cultures with ancient traditions and technology as good or better than that of the Romans. (1) These ‘border peoples’ had been trading with and working in and for the Empire for centuries – and enriching it. The ideals of the Empire, especially in its post-Constantine form that embraced of Christianity, held a strong grip on their imaginations. Lafferty’s book is about the consequences of a lapse in that grip among a few key people, and how that brought about the End of the World.

Laferty also makes the point that we of European descent have inherited our foundational emotional relationship to the world from these border people, and not from the Romans. (2) He emphasizes the point in his telling of Alaric’s first invasion of Italy. While a battle raged, Stilicho – wiley doesn’t begin to describe him – sent a team to round up the women and families of the Gothic leadership who were, according to Gothic practice, accompanying the men at arms. Stilicho treated his hostages well – Alaric’s wife Stairnon was sent to live with Stilicho’s own family – but made it clear that the fighting needed to end and the Goths withdraw from Italy if the Gothic leaders ever wanted to see them again.

A true Roman would expect his wife and children to die noble deaths rather than be used as bargaining chips against the Res Romana, and carry on the fight. Stories, generally horrifying, of the sacrifices Romans were willing to make for the Republic and Empire make this assertion about their families easy to accept. But a Goth could not imagine a Gothic Thing that was fundamentally different from his family, making the very idea that you’d willingly sacrifice your family for an Empire, however conceived, incomprehensible. Thus, the Gothic leaders quickly retreated to Illyricum, and within a few months were reunited with their families. Alaric held out for a year, but even he eventually retreated and Stilicho sent his wife to him.

We understand Alaric and the Gothic leaders in a way we will never understand the Romans.

Aside: Before reading this, I would have argued that our emotional foundations were laid by Greek-flavored Hebrews via the New Testament and subsequent interpretation of the Old in light of the New. Much of the emotional landscape of the Pentateuch is very foreign, so that to get the emotional impact of many of the stories requires some effort, an effort we don’t generally have to make with, say, a Grimm’s fairytale. But once Greeks culture was sown by Alexander across the Levant, and once the Greek-speaking followers of Jesus converted the Greek-speaking world, the emotional landscape changed – gradually, imperfectly. The Romans – and the pre-Christian Greeks and nearly everybody else down to this day – would have expected the beggar Lazarus to crawl off and die, and would not have thought any less of Dives for having not cared for him. But the Jews got it. The Christians got it. And so now the world gets it, or pretends to. Likewise, Christians are troubled by Joshua putting conquered peoples under the ban – a notion that would have bothered no one previous, the only question being prudence.

Thus, 2000 years later, we are nearly as horrified by the cruel heroism of the Romans as by the treachery and casual bloodthirstiness sometimes evident among the border peoples. But now that Lafferty raises the issue, it clears up something I’ve often wondered about: the border peoples and other ‘barbarians’ were unable to set up anything like a Res Romana, but instead invented feudalism, which extends family obligations formally to what might be called the state. The problem is that the state is hardly distinguishable from the family, at least formally, so that lords are now fathers. A Roman could have fierce, self-sacrificing loyalty to a state he might not have any direct family interests in – he’s not related to any of the people in charge who might order him to his death. A feudal citizen? Subject? Family member?  is sworn into a ‘family’ so that his lord is his ‘father’ – his ‘Sire’.

The Patriarchal structure of the Romans might appear to contradict this, but it seems more of an along-side rather than an in-place-of arrangement: the local patriarch might be the ‘Big Daddy’ locally, but a Roman would see his obligations to the Res Romana as something only accidentally effected by his local patriarch. I think, I’m a good bit in over my head here. End Aside.

But some just wanted to see the World burn. Olympius, a master at manipulation and court intrigue, finally managed to bring down Stilicho. Then, in an event that makes Olympius into a Joker-like madman, at the peak of his power, having defeated Stilicho and seized the reigns of the greatest Empire on earth, he orders, or encourages, or allows the slaughter of the families of the tens of thousands of Gothic soldiers in Italy, by a Roman is for Romans faction. 30,000 Gothic troops defect to Alaric and Athaulf – soldiers who would have died under Stilicho or Alaric to defend Rome are now hell-bent on sacking it. And when Rome the unifying, civilizing idea was no more, and the dust settled, the new Emperor Constantius had Olympius clubbed to death.

I can hardly recommend this book enough if you have any interest in history at all.

Final aside: while much of what I learned from this book fit passing well into what I thought I already knew, I think I either accepted much less flattering descriptions of Alaric (who, BTW, I’ve admired for years) or, perhaps, confounded his story with parts of Atilla’s. Either way, Lafferty’s portrayal of the Great King of the Goths as an ultimately tragic hero is dazzling and convincing.

  1. From years ago, I had the impression that Rome came to be technologically backward, at least comparatively, by the time of the Empire. They seemed uninterested in technology as a culture. But I had not realized they were surrounded by peoples who were not uninterested, and had largely passed them by.
  2. A glance at a map of the migrations and invasions of these border peoples shows that we also almost certainly ARE Goths, Vandals, etc. in large part. Europeans were the muttiest of mutts even before they got to America.

Peace, Love and Misunderstanding

Stating the obvious this morning.

1. The name is not the thing. Focusing on the political side of things for now, calling a nuclear missile a Peacekeeper or thousands of pages of unread federal laws and regulations the Affordable Care Act, for example, does not automatically keep the peace or provide affordable care. It matters both what the thing is, and how it is used. What its proponents call it, not so much.

Yet, judging by what one reads, some people are convinced that questioning anything about the ACA is the same as not wanting affordable care, and is, in fact, indistinguishable from tossing sick poor people out of their hospitable beds to die in the street. Others, aware enough so that the (predictable and predicted) failure of the ACA to in fact provide affordable care has gotten past their defenses, seem baffled or betrayed, even, that the thing isn’t exactly what it was called. (1) These reactions reveal a charming innocent faith that the name is the thing, that voting for the right name is the same as voting for what the name says it is.

This magical belief differs from the traditional belief in the power of names, in that, under the traditions of many peoples, the true name, the name that is bound to and reveals the true nature of the person or thing named, is something to be discovered, or bestowed with great care. Under the modern practice described here, the process is reversed: simply by naming something, we make it what we’ve named it. So, not only is a muddled mess of a bill affordable care, but a man is a woman is the Eiffel Tower.

2. Along the same lines, what a politician says he is or is doing does not necessarily conform to what he actually is and is doing.  This one is bifurcated: politicians on my team are who they say they are and are doing what they say they’re doing, while politicians on the other team are never who they say they are, and are always lying about what they’re doing.

If forced to choose – and we are not – I’d go with filter B: they are all lying, power-hungry hypocrites and require evidence to the contrary before believing anything a politician has to say.  The party affiliation hardly matters, in general, except for times (like now) where one party is so wedded to profound unreality and the tyrannical enforcement thereof, that a sane man can conclude that anyone promoting that line is proven, at best, the victim of long-cultivated delusions or, in the case of politicians,  more likely a lying tool. See, for example, the positions of major politicians on gay marriage 10 years ago versus now.

3. That the other side is wrong has no bearing on whether your side is right or not. Both sides can be wrong. In general, that’s probably the most likely situation, as there seem to be many more ways to be wrong than to be right. The existence of a two-party system (or, frankly, a system of parties of any number) all but guarantees that, on most issues, both sides will be wrong. Why? Because parties take positions as a function of getting support, or at least of not alienating constituents too much. If a position arrived at by cooking up such a stew happened to be right, it would be a happy and unlikely accident.

4. Properly speaking, the terms right and wrong apply to principles. Terms such as effective or ineffective, prudent or imprudent and the like apply to policies or courses of action, and the bills, programs, departments, cabinet secretaries and so on instituted to carry them out. Thus, the principle that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights may be true or false, right or wrong, while the Constitution instituted to promote and protect a nation embodying that principle may be wisely or unwisely wrought, or well or ill executed.

shrek
Ya – Like that’s ever gonna happen.

An exception might be the case where a law, etc., is proposed that violates a principle it is said to promote and protect. Such a law would be wrong in principle, or, at least, its proponents would be making a poor (or, more likely, dishonest, sad to say) decision or argument.

Thus, we voters, to do our jobs, would need to understand the principles underlying a proposal (or candidate!) and how it is that the proposal (or candidate) is designed to better realize those principles. Then we make a judgement call. To do otherwise reveals us for posers and rubes.

5. Finally, I’m not sure whether the bigger problem is seeing what we want to see or refusing to see what we don’t want to see. Take Bernie – please. I see what is irrefutably true: Bernie is a rich white man – richer than me, that’s for sure. He is nearly in the 1%. He and his wife owns 3 houses, at least two of which sit unused at any given time. His family net worth was conservatively estimated at about $1.7 million (2). He has far better healthcare and retirement benefits than me or anyone I know. According to his tax returns, he gives next to nothing to charity – way less than I do, at any rate.  With all that wealth, several times more wealth than an average American, he and his wife support only themselves. By comparison, I, like millions of Americans, support a family with several children with my income.

Now, I’m totally cool with this – Bernie has largely lived the American Dream, he and his wife – mostly, his wife – worked for a lifetime and have some security and stuff like houses to show for it. I hope to do as well.

But his attacks on rich people ring more than a little hollow. Is ‘rich’ defined merely as ‘has more stuff than me’?  Bernie is richer than 98% of Americans.

Why are these facts not relevant? I’ve never heard them discussed at all by Bernie’s supporters. How about this fact: just as every wannabe tyrant in a democracy for the last 2500 years – Greeks, Germans, Italians, Latin Americans – everywhere there has ever been a democracy – Bernie explains to all the little people – you know, the 98% that aren’t as well off as he is – how the *real* problem is those *other guys* who, by having stuff, ruin it for the rest of us! If only I ran things! If only I  had the (of necessity, by definition, totalitarian) power, I’d get those guys! I’d take their stuff! I’d fix everything! Skittles and beer all around!

All tyrants begin as friends of the people – Plato.

A result – an intended result – of the systematic destruction of American education over the last century or so has been the elimination of the kind of learning that would allow people to hear Sander’s rhetoric as the demagoguery of a typical wannabe tyrant. (3) If you come to appreciate Plato and Aristotle as great repositories of wisdom, you are likely to notice; if they are just dead white(ish) males, then they are easily dismissed, and their observation cannot serve as warnings.

  1. Then there are the cynical Alinskyite types, who knew it wasn’t going to work, didn’t want it to work, or, more accurately, were counting on its failure to provide the crisis under which yet more power would be centralized. Present yourself as the only solution to a crisis you caused or exacerbated  – a playbook any number of ancient Greek tyrants would have recognized 2500 years ago.  Those would be the true architects of the bill, and those most willing to lie to get it passed, all the while patting themselves on the back over how brave and progressive they are to say and do whatever is necessary to get the poor slobs – that would be the rest of us – to do what’s good for us. Thus, presumed moral superiority goes hand in hand with a willingness to lie, cheat, manipulate and even resort to violence to get their way – a topic for another set of musings, perhaps.
  2. Nobody really knows the Bern’s net worth, they back into it based on required Senate disclosures, which provide wide enough ranges as to be almost useless. And his wife is most likely the major source of family income over the years – she was a college president, among other things. The Sanders did recently drop $600k on a lakefront vacation home, something he can afford to do, I imagine, because his Senate pension is *nice* – no need for the Sanders to pinch pennies for old(er) age.
  3. Worse than a tyrant, actually – a savior. As C.S. Lewis points out, when a do-gooder starts in fixing people, there is no end to the misery he may cause, because he’s doing it for our own good, and  with a clear conscience.

Chesterton: Two Essays

In last night’s Bay Area Chesterton Society’s Reading Group meeting (at Mimi’s in San Jose, if you’re interested) we discussed If I Had Only One Sermon To Preach and Scipio and the Children, both of which are evidently later essays published posthumously in 1950 and 1964, respectively.  Both are available in In Defense of Sanity.

Chesterton’s one sermon would be on Pride.  Usually, G.K. is astoundingly prescient. This one time, did he miss the turning tide? A couple of the opening paragraphs, very much classic G.K.C.:

Now the first fact to note about this notion is a rather curious one. Of all such notions, it is the one most generally dismissed in theory and most universally accepted in practice. Modern men imagine that such a theological idea is quite remote from them; and, stated as a theological idea, it probably is remote from them. But, as a matter of fact, it is too close to them to be recognised. It is so completely a part of their minds and morals and instincts, I might almost say of their bodies, that they take it for granted and act on it even before they think of it. It is actually the most popular of all moral ideas; and yet it is almost entirely unknown as a moral idea. No truth is now so unfamiliar as a truth, or so familiar as a fact.

Let us put the fact to a trifling but not unpleasing test. Let us suppose that the reader, or (preferably) the writer, is going into a public-house or some public place of social intercourse; a public tube or tram might do as well, except that it seldom allows of such long and philosophical intercourse as did the old public house. Anyhow, let us suppose any place where men of motley but ordinary types assemble; mostly poor because the majority is poor; some moderately comfortable but rather what is snobbishly called common; an average handful of human beings. Let us suppose that the enquirer, politely approaching this group, opens the conversation in a chatty way by saying, “Theologians are of opinion that it was one of the superior angelic intelligences seeking to become the supreme object of worship, instead of finding his natural joy in worshipping, which dislocated the providential design and frustrated the full joy and completion of the cosmos”. After making these remarks the enquirer will gaze round brightly and expectantly at the company for corroboration, at the same time ordering such refreshments as may be ritually fitted to the place or time, or perhaps merely offering cigarettes or cigars to the whole company, to fortify them against the strain. In any case, we may well admit that such a company will find it something of a strain to accept the formula in the above form. Their comments will probably be disjointed and detached; whether they take the form of “Lorlumme” (a beautiful thought slurred somewhat in pronunciation), or even “Gorblimme” (an image more sombre but fortunately more obscure), or merely the unaffected form of “Garn”; a statement quite free from doctrinal and denominational teaching, like our State compulsory education. In short, he who shall attempt to state this theory as a theory to the average crowd of the populace will doubtless find that he is talking in an unfamiliar language. Even if he states the matter in the simplified form, that Pride is the worst of the Seven Deadly Sins, he will only produce a vague and rather unfavourable impression that he is preaching. But he is only preaching what everybody else is practising; or at least is wanting everybody else to practise.

Let the scientific enquirer continue to cultivate the patience of science. Let him linger — at any rate let me linger — in the place of popular entertainment whatever it may be, and take very careful note (if necessary in a note-book) of the way in which ordinary human beings do really talk about each other. As he is a scientific enquirer with a note-book, it is very likely that he never saw any ordinary human beings before. But if he will listen carefully, he will observe a certain tone taken towards friends, foes and acquaintances; a tone which is, on the whole, creditably genial and considerate, though not without strong likes and dislikes. He will hear abundant if sometimes bewildering allusion to the well-known weaknesses of Old George; but many excuses also, and a certain generous pride in conceding that Old George is quite the gentleman when drunk, or that he told the policeman off proper. Some celebrated idiot, who is always spotting winners that never win, will be treated with almost tender derision; and, especially among the poorest, there will be a true Christian pathos in the reference to those who have been “in trouble” for habits like burglary and petty larceny. And as all these queer types are called up like ghosts by the incantation of gossip, the enquirer will gradually form the impression that there is one kind of man, probably only one kind of man, perhaps, only one man, who is really disliked. The voices take on quite a different tone in speaking of him; there is a hardening and solidification of disapproval and a new coldness in the air. And this will be all the more curious because, by the current modern theories of social or anti-social action, it will not be at all easy to say why he should be such a monster; or what exactly is the matter with him. It will be hinted at only in singular figures of speech, about a gentleman who is mistakenly convinced that he owns the street; or sometimes that be owns the earth. Then one of the social critics will say, “’E comes in ’ere and ’e thinks ’e’s Gawd Almighty.” Then the scientific enquirer will shut his note-book with a snap and retire from the scene, possibly after paying for any drinks he may have consumed in the cause of social science. He has got what he wanted. He has been intellectually justified. The man in the pub has precisely repeated, word for word, the theological formula about Satan.

Go read the whole thing, it’s not long.

Two issues here that make his insights less easy to apply in this case than in many others: England is not America, and the 1930s are not the 2010s. The English have legendary reserve, and so may be supposed to react more strongly to braggarts and bumptious fools than we less reserved Americans. Maybe.

Be that as it may, even 50 years ago in America when I was a child, puffing yourself up and putting on airs was pretty sternly frowned upon. There is a difference over time in how Americans view pride, even if the cultural differences turn out to be negligible.

I grew up in a world where, in sports, you were very careful not to show up your opponent. Part of being a good sport was taking success and failure, winning and losing, in an even, generous way. My, times have changed.  Rules have been passed to reign in taunting at all levels of sports, merely meaning you have to taunt more quietly and subtly. Guys who act like they just single-handedly won WWII when they sack a quarterback or hit a homerun are not viewed as pompous jerks, but as men for children to imitate.

Later, Chesterton mentions the Lady Killer as a particularly despised man, that the common man can understand and sympathize with weakness in sexual matters, but cannot tolerate a man who flaunts his successes in indulging in such weakness. As discussed in the comments to my review of Guardians of the Galaxy II, that is ancient history as well. Only *literally* killing the mothers you impregnate and the children that issue therefrom is bad. The slaughter of hearts and the strangling of love is a-ok, as long as you’re up front about it.

In the second essay, Chesterton tells a charming story about a trip he took to the Spanish town of Tarragona:

I was sitting at a cafe table with another English traveller, and I was looking at a little boy with a bow and arrows, who discharged very random shafts in all directions, and periodically turned in triumph and flung himself into the arms of his father, who was a waiter.  That part of the scene was repeated all over the place, with fathers of every social type and trade.  And it is no good to tell me that such humanities must be peculiar to the progressive and enlightened Catalans, in that this incident happened in a Catalan town, for I happen to remember that I first noticed the fact in Toledo and afterwards even more obviously in Madrid.  And it is no good to tell me that Spaniards are all gloomy and harsh and cruel, for I have seen the children; I have also seen the parents.  I might be inclined to call them spoilt children; except that it seems as if they could not be spoilt.  I may also remark that one element which specially haunts me, in the Spanish Peninsula, is the very elusive element called Liberty.  Nobody seems to have the itch of interference; nobody is moved by that great motto of so much social legislation; “Go and see what Tommy is doing, and tell him he mustn’t.” Considering what this Tommy was doing, I am fairly sure that in most progressive countries, somebody would tell him he mustn’t. He shot an arrow that hit his father; probably because he was aiming at something else.  He shot an arrow that hit me; but I am a BROAD target.  His bow and his archery were quite inadequate; and would not have been tolerated in the scientific Archery School into which he would no doubt have been instantly drafted in any state in which sport is taken as seriously as it should be.

I was reminded of a trip I took to Italy when in art school. We were in Fiesole near Florence on Easter. I had attended the Vigil Mass at the Cathedral in Fiesole, being warned that getting into the Duomo in Florence would be involved. So, the next morning I headed down to see about the noon Mass, as I’d been told about the Explosion of the Cart, and wanted to see it.

Related image
The soon-to-be-exploding cart, being pulled by two very lovely white oxen with gilded horns.

(I suspect this is one of those ‘Only in Italy’ things: a beautifully-decorated metal cart is pulled into the plaza between the Duomo and the Baptistry by two lovely white oxen with gilded horns. The oxen are lead away, a door in the cart is opened and a wire running back into the Duomo is hooked inside.

At the conclusion of the last mass of Easter Sunday, a paper mache white dove with a small fireworks rocket inside is ignited near the high altar and launched down the wire into the cart – which slowly explodes into a fireworks/sparkler display, the the cheers and applause of the assembled throng.

The Holy Spirit is going out into the world to set it on fire, you see. Very fun and cool.)

So, I get to the plaza plenty early, and find a spot where I, a tallish man, can see. Gradually, the plaza fills up behind the safety barriers, with many dads with their children.

I got the see the wagon come in and the oxen lead away. I had a nice view. Then, at some signal i didn’t catch, the Dove was ignited inside – and a thousand small children were lifted up upon the shoulders of their dads, completely blocking my view.  The dove flew, the cart ‘exploded’. All in all, seeing all that father-child bonding was as good a show as sparklers on a cart!

Related image
Explosion of the Cart, in front of the Baptistry. This more recent picture seems to show a more complicated and dramatic ‘explosion’ and a fancier cart than what I remember from 35 years ago.  But you get the drift.