Irish Papist

Irish Papist
Statute of the Blessed Virgin in Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Church, UCD Belfield

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Universalism versus Particularism: The Dangers of Overreaction

As I've said previously, I'm resisting writing a full reply to the Post-Conservative's most recent (and very interesting) post, in the exchange we've been having.

In fact, I'm resisting writing a lot of blog posts, as I should be doing other things! The lure of an immediate audience is difficult to resist...

However, I've been turning our debate over and over in my mind, as much questioning my own positions as the Post-Conservative's, and I can at least give a foretaste of what my eventual reply will be.

This is it; I think there's a danger of an over-reaction against universalism. As I've said many times on this blog, I think our modern Western society has too much universalism (or the wrong sort of universalism), and not enough particularism-- not nearly enough particularism, which the human heart and spirit craves. And this has led to a huge backlash recently.

But we need universalism too. Especially we need the sort of universalism that covers any two or more people who are likely to run into each other, or to have an interaction with other, in ordinary life.

Why? That would require a long post. But in a list of words; courtesy, solidarity, fraternity, openness, humanity.

To me, cultural nationalism (which would, in fact, contain an element of civic nationalism) is capable of including all our fellow citizens, and even long-term migrants. At least, it's open to them if they want to be a part of it. Yes, "inclusion" is a horribly abused word, but it doesn't make it a bad word.

A cultural identity that is founded essentially on genetics (or race, or DNA, or colour, or any such thing) is, in my view, too particularistic-- no wriggle room, no give, no flexibility. Unlike cultural nationalism, you can't "opt in" no matter how much you want to. This, too, seems inhuman to me. Even the family, the social form most rooted in biology, has room for adoptive members.

However, this is just the outline of a response, which I'm afraid won't come for a long time!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Ní Thuigim Béarla

Literally, that means "I don't understand English". Sometimes it is said by Irish speakers to signal their reluctance to speak in English.

I remember a guy who transferred to my (Irish language) school in fourth year, when we would have been aged about sixteen, saying these words to a nun and a teacher, when he was newly arrived and we were both sitting studying in the hall. (The hall had tables in it, for lunch and studying.)

This guy was (and is) a handsome, intelligent, charming guy-- and knew it. (He's a doctor now.) I remember the teacher and nun both laughing rather girlishly when he rolled out this line-- very cute for a guy who had just come from an English speaking school, and might be expected to struggle with Irish.

I've just been watching a video where the speaker says that, on a recent trip to Stockholm, he noticed just how much English was everywhere-- and he even heard one Swede wondering aloud why Swedes should bother learning and speaking Swedish anymore.

That just makes me feel desolate. English was always (by far) my best subject in school, and all my achievements in life have been through the use of the English language. All the literature I love is in English.

But it's also the language of globalization, and hearing something like that just makes me feel like saying: "Ni thuigim Béarla" all the time. (A reaction that passes, but still.)

Tears, Idle Tears

This morning I had an experience which I've often had before, and which is (potentially) embarrassing; being brought to tears by some lines of poetry. As far as I can tell, nobody has ever actually noticed when this happens. And let it be understood that I'm not bawling uncontrollably-- it's more a case of my eyes welling up with tears.

Invariably, it's the memory of some lines of poetry that does this. Poetry rarely has its most powerful impact on us when we first read it. It has to seep into our minds, to become a part of us.

Here is how it happened this morning (as I was on the bus, and walking from the bus to work). I was thinking of an idea for a poem that I might write, but probably won't; a poem inspired by the always-poignant sight of children's abandoned toys or games, and how this makes all human artefacts and memorials seem child-like and innocent to me. 

Then I remembered Michael Hartnett's "Death of an Irishwoman". It's available on several places on the internet so I hope his estate won't come after me for including it in full here:

Death of an Irishwoman by Michael Hartnet:

Ignorant, in the sense
she ate monotonous food
and thought the world was flat,
and pagan, in the sense
she knew the things that moved
at night were neither dogs nor cats
but púcas and darkfaced men,
she nevertheless had fierce pride.
But sentenced in the end
to eat thin diminishing porridge
in a stone-cold kitchen
she clenched her brittle hands
around a world
she could not understand.
I loved her from the day she died.
She was a summer dance at the crossroads.
She was a card game where a nose was broken.
She was a song that nobody sings.
She was a house ransacked by soldiers.
She was a language seldom spoken.
She was a child’s purse, full of useless things.

The two lines that reduce me to tears are "she was a song that nobody sings" and the final line: "She was a child's purse, full of useless things."

I think "a child's purse, full of useless things" might sum up my social and cultural philosophy-- although, as I've said before, "curtains make a house a home" might also serve the purpose.

There are many lines of poetry that move me like this. These lines from Tennyson's "The Passing of Arthur" also bring me to tears. They are the dying King Arthur's reproach to his last knight, who has refused to throw his sword Excalibur into the lake:
Ah, miserable and unkind, untrue,
Unknightly, traitor-hearted! Woe is me!
Authority forgets a dying king,
Laid widowed of the power in his eye
That bowed the will.

"Authority forgets a dying king" makes me feel as though my heart is going to break.

The parable of the Prodigal Son does this to me too. Every time it is read at Mass, I have to hide my face, especially at the line where the father comes out to greet his son, and the words "Everything I have is yours"-- the latter spoken, of course, to the other son; but, as Pope Benedict pointed out, we are each of us both of the sons, and the parable might be more accurately called the Parable of the Two Brothers. Being a traditionalist, however, I prefer the usual title.

(Incidentally, have you ever noticed how often Jesus's parables bypass moral reasoning, and speak straight to the heart? And yet they seem unanswerable.)

Sunday, March 26, 2017

A Reply from the Post-Conservative

The Post-Conservative has replied to my last post, including some kind words that touch me very much-- many thanks to him for that, and indeed for the discussion.

I'm going to have to park the debate there for quite a while-- certainly not out of any lack of interest, but entirely because I should be busy on other things, and because I couldn't address his arguments in quick-fire posts.

I hope readers found it interesting thus far. 

Edward Feser on Mark Shea

Edward Feser has a couple of scathing posts about Mark Shea, here and here-- occasioned by Shea virulently denouncing Feser's latest book (on capital punishment), without even reading it. (It isn't published yet.)

Feser describes Shea's diatribes as "unhinged", and the term seems appropriate to Shea's blogging in recent times. Once upon a time, I admired him very much.

Feser himself describes Shea's degeneration thus: "Shea seems in the last few years increasingly to have abandoned these ideals [of reasoned argument]. He shows little interest in persuading anyone or in giving arguments. In blog post after blog post he tosses out strings of ungrounded assertions, attacks caricatures, hurls insults and abuse, seems content with the “high fives” his more rabid fans give back in response, and offers further abuse and mockery in response to critics who try to engage him substantively."

So why is this even noteworthy? Am I just drawing attention, in a bitchy and gossipy manner, to a spat between two bloggers which has no wider significance?

Well, no. I think Shea's descent into lunacy is quite an important cautionary tale. It shows what happens when left-wing politics so completely overwhelms a Catholic's intellect and imagination that it becomes the tail that wags the theological dog.

Shea has reached the point where any criticism of Pope Francis, or even any criticism of developments within the Church which might be taken as criticism of Pope Francis, can only be motivated by a burning desire to grind the faces of the poor, initiate a race war, and hang all criminals. 

No, you didn't read that wrong. It really does make that little sense.

And the irony, as Feser points out, is that Shea accuses his opponents of being obsessed with politics: "His seeming inability to refrain from dragging in his personal political obsessions shows just how very unhinged he is. It also manifests his lack of self-awareness. Shea accuses fellow Catholics who disagree with him about capital punishment of being blinded by their political biases – while in the very same breath bizarrely insinuating that our support for capital punishment somehow has something to do with President Trump’s health care bill (!)"

It's not just Mark Shea. You just have to look at his blog to see he has many like-minded supporters, for whom the term "conservative Catholic" is a derogatory term, and for whom Donald Trump is the devil incarnate, everyone who voted for him is a racist, pro-life activists who don't want to drag various left-wing political agendas in to the pro-life movement are hypocrites, etc. etc. And I encountered many Catholics such as these on Facebook, before my blessed withdrawal from that social network.

Sadly, I think it might be said that Mark Shea speaks for a majority in the Western Catholic Church at this stage-- at least, most members of the huge Catholic bureaucracy, most of the ageing religious orders, most Catholic charities and educational institutions, most prelates, etc. The emphasis on left-wing politics in the Catholic Church is so pronounced at this stage that-- to be honest-- I rarely listen to what Catholic spokespeople in the media have to say, except when they are talking on purely spiritual matters. (And, to be even more honest, usually not even then, since they tend to reduce the gospel to its most anodyne and mundane level.)

Oh, and this shouldn't even be relevant, but I am personally opposed to the death penalty, although the case doesn't seem as open and shut to me as it does to many others.

Postscript: I see Mark Shea has apologised to Edward Feser and admitted his own anger and lack of charity. Of course this is gracious, and I wish him all the best in the personal struggles he alludes to.

However, I still think he's missing the point. He writes: "And though I’m wrong in my manners I don’t, dammit, feel for one second wrong in my convictions that the prostitution of American conservative Christianity to Alt Right and the Party of Trump and all the rest of it is a massive calamity and a ruinous failure." But all that is almost entirely in his own fevered imagination, and the fevered imaginations of those who think like him-- and besides, surely if he looks at the matter objectively, he would see that it was the prostitution of Catholicism to the liberal left which was the "massive calamity and ruinous failure", and has been for decades now, and is ongoing

The idea that platoons of conservative Catholics have been heaping unconditional praise on Donald Trump's head, or jumping onto the Alt Right bandwagon, is pure fantasy. However, I do believe there is a definite rebound against political correctness, internationalism, and other liberal left sacred cows which spent far too long grazing in the Catholic pasture undisturbed.

What Shea (and his readers) can't seem to bear is that Catholics might agree with Trump, the GOP, or even with the Alt Right, on anything.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Another Response to the Post-Conservative

The Post-Conservative has kindly responded to my recent post...which was a response to his own post....which was itself a response to my original post, Why I Am Not Alt-Right.

Here is his first response.

Here is my response to that.

And here is his latest response! 

First of all, I have to congratulate him on his pop cultural reference. "In the Year 2525" has always been one of my favourites. It's one of the rare examples of pop culture questioning "progress!"

Secondly, I have to acknowledge his astuteness in picking up what I left unspoken in my two examples. Yes, the internationalized, characterless Ireland I was projecting into the year 2217, in my first example, is an only slightly exaggerated image of today's Ireland. We're not there yet, but we're well on the way, and that deeply depresses me. And let us bear in mind that a lot of it happened post-independence and pre-globalization.

As for my other projection-- an Ireland of the future where only ten or fifteen per cent of the population are descended from today's Irish, but which has achieved the goals that the Gaelic Revival of the late nineteenth century only partly achieved-- I acknowledge that this is fairy tale stuff. It's not going to happen. I don't in fact believe in the "magic dirt" theory he critiques-- the idea that people (en masse) somehow absorb the culture and traditions of the host nation, just through standing on its soil.

But my thought experiment was just that-- a thought experiment. I was saying that the second scenario, impossible as it is, is one that I would find preferable to the first. And that says something important, I think.

I think the essence of my disagreement with the Post-Conservative lies in a paragraph where he compares my thinking to gender ideology:

It sounds like the kind of thing we’re hearing from Gender Studies departments about forms of identification which have no bearing on biology and reality. A man in a wig who disfigured himself is not a woman, he is a man pretending to be a woman. A hopelessly tragic and poor imposter. A Mexican in a Kimono is … lost or a waiter at a fusion restaurant.

But these examples are not on the same level. I don't believe nationality (or cultural identity) is as firmly rooted in biology as sex (or gender). No man has ever become a woman, no matter what gender studies or birth certificates might say. But is it really true that nobody has ever changed nationality, or (to put it in its most basic terms) "tribe"? I don't think so. In fact, I think it's pretty common.

As the left never tires of telling us, intermarriage and migration and cultural fusion has been going on since time began. The fact that they draw an untrue conclusion from this-- that cultural identity is infinitely fluid, a mere social construct-- does not negate the point itself. Cultural identity isn't infinitely fluid, but I don't believe it's as stark and absolute as sex.

In Irish history, we have famous instances of invaders who became "more Irish than the Irish themselves"-- the very phrase became a proverb. In terms of English history, who will say that the Normans and the Anglo-Saxons did not merge to become a true and distinctive people?

So is it a case of "there is nothing new under the sun" and globalization is nothing to worry about?

No, I don't think that, either. I think the world we we are living in puts national and ethnic and regional cultures in unprecedented danger. Communications, transport, international pop culture, economic globalization, and mass migration all come together to bring about a whole new ball game.

How can we preserve tradition and identity, while respecting the claims of our common humanity and the dignity of the person? I don't have the answer to that. I would like to see the (more or less) ethnic nation-state survive, but I don't rule out the possibility that this is not going to happen, and that we have to start thinking in terms of tradition rather than territory-- much like the Jews in the diaspora. Maybe the Jews in the diaspora will become the model of every people.

In terms of the public debate on these matters, I really feel that the pendulum has swung too far. I have been arguing about cultural identity with leftists for more than a decade-- I may even publish an interesting correspondence I had with just such a leftist, back in 2008.

And always, I had to answer the same charges-- you're an essentialist, you're a nostalgist, you don't accept the fact that cultures have always changed and intermingled, etc. etc.

Now I feel the Alt Right (and I accept that Post-Conservative does not consider himself to be Alt-Right, but they are the rising force on the right) seem to be confirming all those accusations. And that saddens me.

I've always found the "civic nationalism" of the liberal left to be insipid, uninspiring and even inhuman.

But I find the unabashed atavism of the Alt Right to be crude, simplistic and also somewhat inhuman. It's "magic blood" theory, rather than "magic dirt" theory.

l feel I should be honest and put it in a more personal way. I don't know how to do so without being suspected of appealing to political correctness or of virtue signalling, so I hope the Post-Conservative won't think I'm doing that. I'm really not trying to be emotive or sound virtuous.

But here is the thing. Could I tell a young guy who had been born in Ireland, but whose parents were both Nigerian, that I didn't think he could be Irish-- that he had his own heritage, and it wasn't Irish, no matter how he might want to be? Could I look him in the eye and say that?

No, I wouldn't say that. I couldn't say that. I don't believe that. And this is not a rhetorical tactic on my part-- this is a very real consideration, one that I've often thought about (I mean in general terms, not in that specific scenario).

There are examples of people who had no Irish ancestry but who identified with the country-- such as Erskine Childers, an Englishman who died for Ireland, and Micheál MacLiammóir, the English actor who became so enchanted with Irish culture that he changed his name from Alfred Willmore and learned the Irish language. It's rare, but it happens.

Then there are people who become Irish by marriage, by adoption, by immigration. (I mean individual immigration, not mass immigration.) Or children with one Irish parent. And so on. Any theory of nationality has to accommodate such cases.

I don't think it should be magic dirt versus magic blood. I think it's more complicated than that.

Well, I wrote more than I intended to-- because the arguments Post-Conservative makes are so interesting and (in my view) important. I thank him for engaging with me in this way, and hope my responses haven't missed too many points!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Less Blog, More Book

I've been blogging pretty frenetically recently. There's a few different reasons for this, but partly it's because I have something else to be doing, and I've been rather avoiding it.

I should be working on the revised manuscript of my book. I have been working on it...a little....but I have to focus on it now.

I'm hoping that posting this will deter me from too many posts in the future! I'll still post, but I'll try to make it once a week or something like that.

My blog has probably never had a better reception, in terms of number of readers, numbers of people commenting, and people emailing me. It's all very much appreciated.

In the Jeffrey Archer book As the Crow Flies, a character comments that people are reluctant to walk into a shop if they don't see any other customers inside. I've never felt that myself, but I think something similar applies to blogs. Seeing comments is very encouraging to internet browsers, I know from experience.

I also very much appreciate the response when I asked for emails, the time I was feeling down. I was surprised and very touched.

Well, I'll still be blogging, but less frequently for the next couple of months. Please don't go away!

An Tobar, or The Well: My Memorization Lark

This morning, I found myself newly excited by an idea for a project which has excited me in the past, which I've briefly taken up from time to time, and which I've discarded (or at least postponed).

This is the idea, briefly put: to memorize a corpus of oral culture-- "oral culture" is the best way I can think of describing it. By oral culture I mean poems, Scripture verses, songs, prayers, etc. etc.

This idea first occurred to me while I was attending Mass in Our Lady of Victories Church in Glasnevin, though it has antecedents. Then I gave it the name "An Tobar" (Un Tubber), which means, "The Well" in Irish.

I made a start on it with poems.

When I was a teenager, my memory for poems was amazing. I learned poems without even trying to do so. I'll always remember the time when I was walking home from school and I realised that I had by heart the entirety of "A Prayer for my Daughter" by W.B. Yeats-- quite a long poem. I hadn't even read this poem attentively-- we hadn't even started to study Yeats. Poetry just went from my eye into my memory, if it appealed to me at all.

Well, it's not like that any more-- sad to say. Now it's something I have to do deliberately.

I think oral culture is something we really lack in our society.

Knowledge of the Bible, for instance. You only have to read novels and essays and plays written in previous times-- up until the end of the nineteenth century, and perhaps even decades later-- to realise that almost everybody at that time, educated and uneducated, had a pretty detailed knowledge of the Bible. References to the walls of Jericho, the writing on the wall at Belshazzar's feast, Samson and Delilah, or the "still small voice" which spoke to Elijah were common currency, used in the expectation that they would be understood. So were quotations such as: "the good which I would I do not, but the evil which I would not, that I do." They were used by atheists and secularists as readily as by Christians.

The same was true of poetry and literature. Educated writers (and even writers writing for 'the masses') seemed to expect that allusions to classic poetry and novels, and especially to Shakespeare, would be recognised by all.

True, we do have our own oral culture today-- pop culture. "One does not simply walk into Mordor", "Here's looking at you, kid", "Guns. Lots of guns", "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave", etc. etc. And I don't despite this by any means. I'm long past my "disdain for the present", an attitude which Chesterton so rightly condemns. Memes and "iconic" quotations and images are a form of folklore. And they overlap with high culture and religion and folk culture in many places. (For instance, I am going to mention the Ray Bradbury novel Fahrenheit 451 in a little bit-- but I only know the story through the movie version.)

All the same, I feel it's a shame that pop culture is increasingly our only folk culture. It's a shame that everything has to be mediated by the TV screen, the cinema screen, the internet, and the entertainment industry in general. It's all so recent, too-- only stretching back a few decades, for the most part. There's something very alienating about that-- at least, there is for me. I crave deeper roots. Also, pop culture tends to have a homogenizing effect, all over the developed world and further afield.

Irish folk culture is something whose loss I lament. My father can sing hundreds of folk ballads, and he's incredibly blasé about this. Sometimes he will rattle off three or four verses of a folk ballad I've never heard, and then say: "I last heard that song fifty years ago." He doesn't say it boastfully, just as a matter of fact. 

My father is something of a prodigy in this regard, but not that much of a prodigy. Many older Irish people, and even Irish people my age, can sing folk ballads for hours, rattling off one after another. I feel very ashamed that I can't do the same, and (when I think about it) almost desolate at the thought of this wealth of oral culture passing away.

Some time ago, my wife asked me to sing a song. I was unable to come up with any song without stumbling over some of the words, or having to skip over some lines. When I told my father that, he said: "You should be ashamed of yourself." He was joking, but I really am.

I've had thoughts like these for quite a few years now, and they've led me to deliberately memorize poems. I've recited some of these at social occasions. (This also reflects my belief in giving poetry a bigger place in everyday life.) I once recited the entirety of  Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven" at a dinner party. I was holding a lit candle as a prop, and my plan was to blow it out immediately before the final "Nevermore". However, I struggled to extinguish it, leading to considerable amusement. I also recited "Ulysses" by Tennyson at another dinner party.

I couldn't recite "The Raven" now, nor the other poems I memorized at that time. I can still recall poems I memorized in my teens, but not more recently. I've decided that memorization is useless without constantly refreshing the memory-- daily, or near-daily, practice. I've been getting more physical exercise recently, wanting to get my body into better shape, and I think mental "exercises" of this sort are a good counterpart to this.

Another motivation for this project is our increasing dependence on technology. I sometimes shudder to think of the amount of time I spend looking at various screens throughout the day. When I walk through the library and see all the students on their laptops, or when I look around the bus and see everyone on a mobile phone or other device, I feel a deep sense of unease. Even if there's no mental or physical consequences to this (and there probably is), there's something...unseemly, even inhuman about it.

I feel we should have more inner resources, rather than resources stored on computers, or in the cloud, or in other technological forms.That which lives in our minds, rather than in digitised form on a computer, belongs to us-- is even a part of us.

I mentioned Fahrenheit 451, the Ray Bradbury novel. You probably know the ending of the story. But if you don't, and if you care about "spoilers" (which I never have), skip to the next paragraph. In Bradbury's dystopian future, where books are banned, an underground resistance (which no dystopia can do without) seeks to preserve books by memorizing them. Each person in the resistance memorizes an entire book, and keeps it alive in their memory.

I found that idea wildly exciting. To become an avatar of a tradition, a vessel of a tradition-- somehow, the very thought of this stirs my blood. I find the Amish and the Mennonites extremely admirable, even though I realise that they have their own problems, and it's too easy to romanticize them. I'm inspired by Native Americans who seek to revive and preserve their culture, and indeed by every deliberate and self-conscious attempt to preserve and restore a culture-- especially those which are very much swimming against the tide, and climbing uphill.

So my project-- An Tobar, the Well-- is to try to develop a well of living memory within myself. These are the kind of things I'm thinking of memorizing:

Scripture verses
Folk ballads
Nursery rhymes

This is a lifelong project, and one I'm going to pace myself on. In the past, I rushed into it and burned myself out too quickly.

In the spirit of taking it slowly, I've decided on my first subject matter for memorization; jokes. Jokes may be the humblest unit of oral culture, but oral culture they are.

I've always been a big fan of jokes, especially old-fashioned "a guy walked into a bar" type jokes-- that is, jokes with a set-up, a situation, and a punch-line. I think there is a certain poetry to such jokes; such a joke is very like a snow-globe, a little world of its own.

However, like many people, I struggle to remember them when they would come in handy.

In 2001, when I was a trainee in the Allen Library project (a training project for unemployed people, which gave them library and archive experience), we were given a few classes in job-seeking and interview technique. I remember one of the trainers telling us: "Interviewers like to see how you cope with the unexpected. Some interviewers even ask interviewees to tell them a joke."

A grizzled old guy in his sixties, who had worked for a bank most of his life and had been swindled out of his pension fund, replied: "You know what I'd say to that? I'd say, 'I'll tell you a joke. Your f****** interview technique is a joke."

I'm not always at a loss for a joke. The one time I met my father-in-law (RIP) we engaged in a joke marathon that lasted at least fifteen minutes. I'm rarely on such good form.

I reckon that if I had about a hundred good jokes on the tip of my tongue, I would never be at a loss for one. And it would be a good, gentle start to this life-long project.

So...please tell me some of your favourite jokes, or even one of your favourite jokes! In the comments, or in an email to I don't like disgusting jokes, and I don't like dirty jokes. I especially like jokes that have a bit of a philosophical depth to them, and that have a "snow globe" quality to them-- the man who walks into a bar, etc. But they don't have to have any of that.

I'll set the ball rolling. My favourite joke of all time is a Halloween joke. Why do ghouls like demons?

You don't know?

Because demons are a ghoul's best friend! 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Ladies and Gentlemen

"Ladies and gentlemen" is a phrase I like very much, and a salutation I like very much. I like being described as a gentleman. I generally describe all women as ladies, in casual conversation.

I'm quite surprised that this phrase, and these terms, haven't come under attack yet-- they are still used even by liberals and progressives. 

Will they come under attack? Sometimes I'm alarmist in my expectations. Or perhaps I just expect a certain level of logical consistency.

Most of us have heard that gendered pronouns have come under attack in northern Europe. I on't know whether this has filtered into everyday life, or whether it's only in official contexts.

Will the same push occur in English-speaking countries?

I've spent a fair amount of time in Virginia, and I loved hearing how ordinary people (and not just in the service industries) use the terms "ma'am" and "sir" all the time. I like being addressed as "sir".

Now and again I address women as "ma'am", which I mean entirely as a term of respect. However, they generally don't like it and complain about me using it-- I think because it makes them feel old. (Sometimes, to be honest, I'm just using it to see how they respond.)

I don't know the answer to this. "Miss" hardly seems to be an option, even where it might apply. I don't mean "ma'am" to be any reflection on a woman's age-- it applies to all women in my mind, just as "sir" applies to all men.

When I pointed out to one such colleague that the term was regularly used in the South of America, she replied: "This isn't the South of America."

Incidentally, I have noticed that a surprising number of female students, and female users of the library, very often put down "Miss" as their title, rather than "Ms", when filling out forms. This pleases me. "Ms" is a horror. It has an unnatural sound, and since it's only used in formal contexts, it's not warmed by familiarity and tradition like "Miss" and "Mrs". Surely universalising "Mrs" would be the logical parallel to "Mr" being used universally for men?

I hate "Ms" so much that, although I'm not a fan of using first names for strangers, I usually address a business email to a female "Dear Sarah" or "Dear Lauren", rather than use the hated "Ms"!

Some More Thoughts on Boredom

At Mass this morning, I found myself ruminating on my recent claim that I am always bored at Mass, and that I am always bored praying the rosary. Strictly speaking, these claims are true, but they need a little bit of explanation.

I also think that boredom, rather paradoxcially, is an interesting subject, and I could write a lot about it.

First of all, when I say I am bored at Mass and while praying the rosary, to a great extent I'm lamenting the difference between an ideal and how far short of it I fall. I would really, really, really love to be one of these people who are utterly absorbed and enraptured at Mass, and during prayer. I have read about saints and holy people who were like that. I'm not like that, and I feel bad about it.

St. Josemaria Escriva wrote: "You say the Mass is long because your love is short". Guilty. And ashamed of it.

When I read that the rock star Kurt Cobain had shot himself because he felt guilty that he wasn't enjoying his success, I thought it was a bizarre and weird thing to do. I still think it was. But now and again, I'm reminded of it by my own stream of thought. I've often felt guilty that my emotional response to something falls short of what I think it should be. (Not guilty enough to shoot myself, though.)

The second thing that needs to be said is that I'm not all that bored at Mass. I'm moderately bored, and the boredom is certainly intermingled with feelings of devotion, religious awe, belonging, etc. etc.

There are certainly degrees of boredom, and I found myself musing on this today.

What's the most boring situation of all? For my money, it's being forced to listen to some very dull lecture or presentation. This is a sort of boredom which is not only irksome but actually painful. It puts me in a kind of panic, a feeling of being trapped and suffocated.

I did part of an evening degree in English and philosophy about twelve years ago. The English literature classes were almost entirely devoted to identity politics and rubbishy theories such as semiology. I remember sitting in one lecture-- about poetry!-- and feeling utterly overwhelmed. It was in a lecture theatre, and I found myself looking across the sea of faces and thinking: "This is torture. This is unendurable. Every second of this is mind-numbing. I just can't take this." It's one of those moments that always sticks with you.

The funny thing is that I find many apparently unstimulating activities to be the opposite of boring. I think everybody must have this experience-- why else would golf and cricket be popular?

I've noticed the funny paradox, in my own responses, that I find standing in a short queue to be aggravating, but I quite enjoy standing in a long queue (say for twenty minutes)-- if I have something to read. It becomes an event, a little society of its own.

I enjoy cutting things out-- I enjoy this very much. I've never really scrapbooked, but I think I would enjoy it. Some time ago, I took all the newspapers I'd been keeping, because I had letters published in them, and I cut out the letters, while half-watching TV. I've rarely enjoyed anything more.

I enjoy wrapping Christmas gifts while half-watching something on TV, or listening to a Youtube video. I enjoy putting up Christmas decorations while half-watching something on TV. (Traditionally, a Star Trek DVD.)

I enjoy making Excel spredsheets. Once, when I'd bought a movie almanac, I had the idea of going through the almanac from A to Z and typing every movie I'd seen into an Excel spreadsheet, assigning them marks out of five and recording the circumstances in which I'd seen each one. I had the time of my life doing it.

Some months ago I decided to go through my gmail account, to delete all my unwanted emails and sort out the ones I wanted to keep into folder. The emails went back to 2008. I greatly enjoyed this, too.

What's the most stimulating, most interesting activity?

Well, good conversation with somebody you like must be close to the top of the list.

Writing, for me, is an activity in which boredom completely disappears.

Sometimes an activity can be too interesting, too boredom-destroying. I don't play computer games because there were two different occasions when I played a computer game for sixteen hours straight. They were both strategy games, I'm happy to say-- Sid Meier's Civilization the first time, and Shogun: Total War the second time. (Apart from Tetris and some very basic, arcade-type games in my youth, I haven't really played many others.)

I was taken aback at just how addictive, even hypnotic I found these games to be. After Shogun, I thought: "OK, I'm not going any further down that road."

Which brings me back to the point I made in my original post; I don't think boredom is an entirely bad thing. With most activities that are worth doing, boredom is just something you have to battle through. How often have you recommended a movie or a book to someone with the words: "It takes a little while to get going, but you have to stick with it?". Is this a flaw in the book or movie? Usually not. Usually, the artist simply demands a certain attentiveness and patience from his audience, which is (hopefully) amply rewarded. The first time I saw Groundhog Day, my favourite movie of all time, I thought it was an OK movie, nothing to write home about. It grew on me slowly.

So maybe I shouldn't feel too guilty about being bored-- comparatively bored-- when I go to Mass, and when I say the rosary.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Why I Am Not Alt-Right

In conservative thought today, the Alt Right seems to be the most vibrant and (in a certain sense) fashionable force. I was quite late learning about them-- my first awareness of them came through a post on the Irish Catholic Forum dated October 2015 (and I'm surprised it was so long ago-- but it took me a long time to hear anything futher. It's like the way there are hints of the Borg in several episodes of Star Trek long before they make their appearance). The post was entitled "The So-Called Dark Enlightenment". (Thanks, Ranger.)

I was amused by the post, rather than anything else. This movement seemed quite bizarre. I left a rather facetious reply to it.

Today, anyone who is at all tuned in to conservative thought has to have heard of the Alt Right. Indeed, I find them interesting, as I find all social and cultural and political systems of ideas interesting, and some of them have (in my view) quite insightful things to say about political correctness, liberal media bias, and globalisation-- bugbears I have in common with them.

However, I am decidedly not a member, or a follower, or a fellow-traveller, of the Alt Right. The same applies to the Dark Enlightenment, Radical Traditionalism and similar movements.

Let me admit first of all that I do consider myself on the side of the Counter-Enlightenment. Not because I am an obscurantist or a medievalist or any such thing-- but because I believe society has to respect unconscious and non-rational forces as well as rational ones. Society has an id as well as an ego, to use Freudian terms, and to deny it-- well, if it isn't actually a road to disaster, it's a road to a boring and alienating and soulless society.

I'm not going to offer a critique of Alt Right (etc.) ideas because I'm not familiar enough with them, and because I don't want to get into a debate with anyone about the standard of living of medieval European peasants vis-a-vis modern cubicle slaves. I'm just going to make some assertions, not arguments.

This is a non-exhaustive list of why I'm not a member of the Alt-Right:

1) Most of all, because of the preoccupation with race. I don't have much interest in race-- hardly any at all. I find it a boring subject. I find it a boring subject when the left are talking about it, and I find it a boring subject when the right are talking about it.

I don't feel the slightest twinge of guilt about my white skin. Nor do I feel the slightest twinge of pride in it.

Race seems so crude to me in comparison with culture. My problem with racialism (well, one of my problems with it) is that it seems to reduce the whole drama of identity and belonging to the moment of conception. It views us as little different from livestock in this regard.

Whereas an identity based on many other factors, such as culture and tradition and heritage and common memory, etc. etc., is far more interesting and (in my view) meaningful.

I'm not saying genetics doesn't come into identity at all. But to me, it's not the crucial factor. Tradition is the crucial factor.

2) Because I'm a democrat. I'm not saying democracy is perfect. But I think it's the best system-- and besides, my attachment to it is not only prudential, but sentimental and romantic.

3) Because the Alt Right is so fuzzy when it comes do doctrine in general, and religious doctrine in particular. Catholicism fulfils my need for a coherent cosmology. Anything short of a whole-hearted assent to that doctrine, in all its intricacy and balance, is not good enough for me. (Although I can feel a certain affinity with someone who subscribes consistently to some other religious tradition, such as Judaism or Protestantism or Mormonism.) The vague religiosity of many on the Alt Right is straight out of the New Age.

4) Because many in the Alt-Right are anti-semites, or at least hostile to the Jews, while I have tremendous admiration for the Jews and think they are a boon to any society. The Jews are, indeed, my gold standard of civilization in many ways.

5) Because of a lack of chivalry I sense in the Alt Right.

6) Because of their weird fascination with the Nazis. Even if they're joking, I'm not touching that.

7) Because I think their preoccupation with hierarchy and elitism is quite...unpleasant, and once again violates (in my view) the spirit of chivalry.

Hierarchy and elitism are a fact of life. Of course there are elites. Of course we need elites. Of course elites should be rewarded and honoured for their work, and for their accomplishments.

But the question I tend to ask, in any such matter, is; where is the imbalance? What is in danger?

For instance, in terms of universalism versus particularism; I'm by no means opposed to the spirit of universalism in itself. I think it's just run riot and is gobbling up all particularism. It's particularism that must be protected in our time.

Similarly, I think we live in a highly elitist society, a rat-race. The fact that everybody is (or is presumed to be) on first name terms doesn't do much to soften this-- in fact, I think it only heightens this (though I don't want to get diverted into that argument).

Elitism and hierarcy aren't in any danger. Fraternity and fellow-feeling and social solidarity are in danger. I know I'm always promoting difference and specialness on this blog, but I'm not really talking about achievement and status and accomplishment in this regard. They already get plenty of respect (as indeed they should).

The contrary idea-- that idea that everybody has value and dignity in themselves-- is rather neglected, though we may pay lip service to it.

There's something very unattractive about someone who self-consciously considers himself (or herself) part of an elite-- and even goes around saying this. And this seems to be a characteristic of the Alt-Right. It's very different from the humility of a G.K. Chesterton or C.S. Lewis.

I'm not talking about ceremonial and hereditary and spiritual hierarchy. I think we have all too little of those. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

A Good Article about Boredom at Mass, and Some Thoughts on Boredom

Here is a very interesting article from the Catholic Herald, arguing that boredom experienced at Mass and in prayer can be a good thing, or at least a promising thing.

I like this article because I am always bored at Mass. I go to Mass at every opportunity, usually four to seven days a week, at least during term time in UCD. (Out of term, Mass isn't celebrated in UCD, except on holy days.)

I pray the rosary every day, and I have done so for about two years. I'm always bored when I pray the rosary, too.

Obviously, boredom is a relative term. Sometimes Mass and the rosary bores me less than at other times. Homilies are sometimes interesting.

Does this mean that I don't "get anything" out of Mass, in any subjective way? No, it doesn't. It's hard to describe what I do get out of it, though. Again, I'm speaking in subjective terms. I'm not talking about the all-important sacramental benefit.

The subjective, experiential benefit I derive from the Mass and the rosary isn't something I experience in "real time", if I may put it that way. I experience it in the back of my mind, out of the corner of my eye-- "outside time", in a way.

It's a bit like exercise or waking up early-- a pain in the neck, but something I feel better for having done.

Paradoxical as it might sound, I often wonder how atheists and secularists, as well as "spiritual" people who don't go in for organised religion, get by without the Mass or something like it.

I think about boredom a lot. I think it's an important subject for a social and cultural conservative, and a lover of the ordinary.

Boredom, I think, is a stage that we have to get through before we reach our "second wind"-- or our third wind, fourth wind, fifth wind, etc. Boredom is the border of the sublime.

Every proverb was a cliché at some stage. It's only when it goes beyond the point of cliché that it becomes a proverb.

You can't really love something, or even know something, until you've been thoroughly bored by it.

I hope the reader will forgive me if I quote, once again, one of my favourite passages from G.K. Chesterton, which I can hardly dispense with here:

The principle is this: that in everything worth having, even in every pleasure, there is a point of pain or tedium that must be survived, so that the pleasure may revive and endure. The joy of battle comes after the first fear of death; the joy of reading Virgil comes after the bore of learning him; the glow of the sea-bather comes after the icy shock of the sea bath; and the success of the marriage comes after the failure of the honeymoon. All human vows, laws, and contracts are so many ways of surviving with success this breaking point, this instant of potential surrender.

My favourite movie, Groundhog Day, seems like a dramatisation of this principle.

How often do our friends and our family bore us? How often have you heard the same stories and opinons from them? You listen, and perhaps it's quite pleasant, because you simply like listening to them. You like being around them. You respect the fact that the story or opinion is interesting to them, even if it doesn't seem at all interesting to you.

Art needs to respect boredom, I think. Rhyme and metre and convention were thrown out of poetry because poets wered bored by them. Now poetry bores everybody, because of the lack of rhyme and metre and convention.

Similarly, the conventions of storytelling may seem boring, but deliberately eschewing those conventions eventually becomes even more boring. A story without a plot is the most boring thing in the world, if you're not an avant-garde writer, or a critic that has read far too many stories.

Again, there seems to be a "time-lapse" element to this, just like the strangely out-of-time reward I get from Mass and the rosary. Novelties in art and literature may excite one generation, but they tend to bore posterity.

So committed am I to the salubrious effects of boredom that I make it my mission to bore everyone I come into contact with. That includes my blog readers. 

I sincerely hope you have found this post boring, and I will spare no effort to bore you even more in the future.