Irish Papist

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

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Good Post from Edward Feser on Anger

As someone inclined to wrath, I've gone through phases of trying to eradicate anger from my personality entirely. Edward Feser explains how it would be sinful to entirely lack anger, and how the sin of wrath differs from anger.

One of his examples is quite amusing, if you've been following Feser's blog recently:

In light of these facts, opponents of capital punishment, war, and the like are bound to be tempted to conclude that enormous numbers of their fellow citizens are simply depraved. (It does not occur to them that what is in fact going on is that widespread continued support for the death penalty and for just war reflects a residual grasp of the demands of the natural law.) Frustrated by the persistence and popularity of attitudes they regard as immoral, those of what I am calling a “militant pacifist” mindset are bound to become even angrier at these perceived injustices – with a spiral into wrath and its daughters being the sequel.

Indeed, many people who pose as purveyors of peace and love give the consistent impression that they are Angry and Enjoying It!

"But my friend Maolsheachlann is not a parrot, I am glad to say."

An unlikely sentence from a blog post by my friend Roger Buck, which you can read here, where he promotes the Irish Conservatives Forum and describes a recent visit to Dublin:
Evening time in Dublin, I walk and walk the streets – shuddering. I shudder at the crassness, the commercialism I see all around me. And I shudder at the sight of Irish people now utterly submerged in the rhythms of global culture and capitalism (the two are not easily separated!) whereas even a few decades ago the rhythms would have been far, far more referent not to globalism, but to Ireland herself and to the Church.

I shudder at a Dublin that is now, in terms of culture, so little distinguishable from London or Liverpool or Los Angeles. Dublin that was once the outstanding exception to all those other great Anglosphere cities – now apes them.


The Irish Conservatives Forum is doing well-- twenty-three members and quite a few threads going. I hope it continues into the future.

Minding Frank Duff's Language

I've been reading The Woman of Genesis, a book of essays (which were, I think, all originally talks given to Legion of Mary meetings) by Frank Duff, the founder of the Legion of Mary. It's a fascinating book. Duff had a powerful conviction that Catholicism was the true religion and that Catholics had a duty to persuade everybody of this truth. Some of the articles on other religions almost make the reader inclined to titter nervously and look over his shoulder, they are so unabashedly critical and sectarian.

For the purposes of this post, however, I'm more interested in his use of language.

Frank Duff was very long-lived-- he died in 1980 aged ninety-one-- and he was very active almost up to the end. Furthermore, the articles are undated, so it's hard to tell what year any particular article was written in. Nevertheless, his prose style doesn't seem to have changed much over the years.

I was particularly struck by this paragraph (from an article about addiction), as a good example of his style in general:

Of course, fun can seem fast and furious as long as the drink is flowing. In those circumstances, people imagine themselves to be witty and brilliant, but tape-recordings of such outpourings have proved that they are not elevated and can merit to be called drivel.

Reader, does this strike you as very different from a paragraph that might be written today? It strikes me in this way. Indeed, I found myself smiling a little, as I read it. There isn't a single word in it that any writer or speaker would hesitate to use today, and yet the entire thing seems quaint, stiff, stilted. It reminds me of the sort of English spoken by well-educated, upper-class Indians or Pakistanis.

If someone were to write this paragraph today, I imagine it would read something like this: "We all know that, when someone is drunk, they can think that they're being very witty and brilliant. But, when they hear a recording of what they said, they realize that they were actually speaking drivel."

Even the substance of the paragraph is rather odd to our ears. The detail of the tape recorder seems unnecessary, over-elaborate, over-earnest.

Admittedly, Duff had something of a pedantic and stiff prose style, perhaps due to his having been a civil servant. So some of this was down to his own personality, but not all of it.

I'm not lamenting this change. I'm only remarking it. It's fascinating that language can change so significantly, even when it remains entirely intelligible.

Trying to improve my Irish made me very self-conscious of language usage. I found myself wondering first of all how a native Irish speaker would use a particular word or expression, what would "come naturally" to them. Then I wondered what "came naturally" to me speaking English. Once you find yourself wondering what comes naturally, it's hard to get a hold of it. It reminds me of the occasions that someone asks me for the lift code in the library, and I realize that I can't tell them, though I use it all the time-- I key it in entirely through "muscle memory".

The same is true of my writing style. If I'm good at anything (on which subject I'm agnostic), it's probably writing. But when I think about style I go completely to pieces. It's only when I think about the ideas I'm trying to express that I can write-- presuming I can write at all.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Joke

A man went to a counsellor in a state of agitation.

"I've realised in the last few days that I've never loved anybody", he says. "I feel like I'm incapable of love."

"OK, well, let's break this down", says the counsellor. "Tell me about your parents."

"I had the best parents in the world. Loving, supportive, concerned...but I never loved them!"

"Well then", said the counsellor, "are you married?"

"I have a beautiful, caring, devoted wife. But I don't love her!"

"What about children?"

"Two beautiful daughters, everything a father could ask for...but I don't love them either!".

The counsellor extends her sobbing client a tissue and says, "I see. Now, I want you to think very carefully and tell there really and truly nobody in your life that you've ever loved?"

The guy sobs, looks rather embarrased, and says: "It's a bit odd, but my wife's mother. I guess I love my wife's mother."

"I see. Anybody else?"

"My wife's sister. I know it sounds bizarre, but I'm fairly sure I love my wife's sister."

The counsellor smiles and says: "You see then, it's not so bad, after all!"

"How on earth can you say that?"

"Have you never heard? 'Tis better to have loved in-laws than never to have loved at all!".

Monday, May 22, 2017

A Postcard From Switzerland

I got a postcard from a friend in Switzerland today. It showed a picture of two gnomes sitting fishing on the rim of a cup of tea. (I think.) I didn't really understand the picture. if there was any joke or significance to it.

The handwriting on the back was hardly decipherable; something about trees and coming to Dublin in July.

But, turning it round and round in my hands, I found myself marvelling at how much a postcard now means. Somebody has to go into a shop, scan the postcards, choose an appropriate one (appropriate for you), write a message, buy a stamp, and post it. In our age of instant communications, its tangibility and personal nature is so very meaningful.

I guess there's always been a certain sweetness to postcards; certainly, they feature heavily in book and film titles, not to mention song lyrics, which aim for poignancy. ("Hide on the promenade, etch a postcard...") However, now they are more touching than ever.

Capitalism and Human Nature

I dislike the tendency to blame "capitalism" for all the woes of the world because it seems to me that "capitalism", like "heteronormativity", "hierarchy", "patriarchy", "nationalism", and "elitism", is simply a word used to describe human nature, and that trying to change human nature is always a bad idea-- indeed, usually a wicked idea.

Now, I'm not particularly a cheerleader for capitalism. I'm not a partisan of the completely free market or laissez-faire. In fact, if we're going to respect the idea of human nature, then it makes more sense (to me) to accept that there has never been a free market and governments have always "interfered" in the economy. Anarcho-capitalism seems as utopian to me as communism.

I'm all for key industries being nationalised, and quite generous social welfare, and quite heavy regulation of commerce, and so forth. At least, I'm certainly not opposed to such things on principle. I think they have to be argued on a case-by-case basis.

But the idea that the system which exists in every developed country is somehow unnatural, and twisting human nature out of shape, just seems bizarre to me. If capitalism is so unnatural, why does it manifest itself again again, in Singapore and Japan as much as in America and the UK? Indeed, why are most "communist" countries increasingly capitalist? On the other hand, if we're going to play with language so that highly socialised economies like those of Scandinavia are no longer capitalism, then we've departed from the ordinary understanding of the term.

If the desired alternative to capitalism is the Distributist ideal of small farms, small business, etc., then this seems like a pipe dream to me. Indeed, Chesterton hailed Ireland as a successful example of a peasant economy, but this ceased to be the case quite a long time ago, and Ireland relied on emigration to keep this system working for a long time before that.

The Mondragorn Corporation in the Basque country is sometimes hailed as proof that worker-controlled industry can thrive. Well, I'm very pleased by the success of Mondragorn, but it's one corporation, and it exists in a capitalist economy--as Noam Chomsky whinges on its Wikipedia page.

Assuming the abolition of capitalism as the preliminary to achieving your social goals seems to me irresponsible, silly. It's like saying: "That's what I'll do when I win the lottery". Capitalism isn't going to be abolished. Give it up.

I wouldn't like to be misunderstood. I'm all in favour of dreamers and utopians. The world would be poorer without them. I think it adds to the pageantry of life to have tiny microparties who meet in a pub and plot the downfall of world capitalism. But it stops being funny when so many serious intellectuals and writers and film-makers and others participate in such talk.

Also, I'm not saying that economic reforms are impossible. I think economic reforms are inevitable. We'll always have capitalism, but I would like to see a more family-friendly and nation-friendly brand of capitalism. I would make the argument that the social teachings of the Church are aimed at this, rather than some "third way" between capitalism and socialism.

If you have a vision for society (as I think everybody should), I think the great test of it is: can you pursue it now, either by yourself or with a group of others, in the way you live your life? If the only progress you can make towards it is by agitating, by seeking to gain political power, then it's both utopian and probably dangerous.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Strange Comforts

I'm still feeling blue, but I've been finding some comfort in a strange place-- YouTube videos of Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert's At The Movies show.

They appeal to me for various reasons:

1) They belong to the recent past (eighties and nineties)-- a period I've always found fascinating. I don't mean specifically the eighties and nineties-- I mean whatever the recent past is, relative to now. The recent past isn't history, but it's not the present either. It's a kind of limbo. Somehow, I find that strangely tranquil. The controversies of the moment have died down, but the controversies of history haven't flared up yet. (For instance, it's strange viewing their review of JFK and remembering what a hullaballoo there was about that movie.)

2) I like the fact that they were both Chicago film critics. As my previous post shows, I'm very interested in the concept of place recently-- especially cities and towns. I have a friend who's fascinated with Chicago, though that might have had more to do with the Chicago gal he married.

3) I like the theme music.

4) I like the opening montage, which shows them leaving their respective newspaper offices and going to the cinema. Imagine having, not only one great job, but two great jobs!

5) I like that the show had its own traditions. There's the famous thumbs up and thumbs down, of course, but also the fact that they would say: "Until next week, the balcony is closed" at the end. They also did "worst of the year" and "best of the year" shows.

6) The show incorporates one of my favourite things in the world-- an empty cinema, which serves as its set. Obvious, but effective. In fact, the background images on my computer diary, on my laptop, on my work computer, and even on my gmail are all cinema interiors-- some empty, one with an audience. I like them in both cases, but especially when they're empty-- the idea of a private cinema, or even a private screening, is delicious. I think the mind is a kind of private cinema-- it's my favourite metaphor for consciousness.

Another thing I like is the whole cinema "aesthetic"-- it's so easily evoked. A red upholstered seat evokes the cinema, as does a heavy red curtain, the spotlights on the ceiling, or a stylized projector or movie reel. It's as easily evoked as Christmas, or the horror genre. I love such things. 

7) I like Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel themselves. There's something quite avuncular about them.

Interestingly, neither of them were bowled over by Groundhog Day.  They both give it a thumbs up, but they don't speak of it in nearly the sort of adultatory terms they use for some other movies. I had the same reaction-- I liked it at first, but not that much. In fact, Gene Siskel says it "grew on him", presumably in one viewing. I know Roger Ebert's regard for the movie increased over time.
(This is what he wrote in his retrospective review of 2005: "Groundhog Day" is a film that finds its note and purpose so precisely that its genius may not be immediately noticeable. It unfolds so inevitably, is so entertaining, so apparently effortless, that you have to stand back and slap yourself before you see how good it really is. Certainly I underrated it in my original review; I enjoyed it so easily that I was seduced into cheerful moderation. But there are a few films, and this is one of them, that burrow into our memories and become reference points. When you find yourself needing the phrase This is like "Groundhog Day" to explain how you feel, a movie has accomplished something.")

I'm tremendously moved that the last words of Ebert's last blog post, two days before his death, were: "I'll see you at the movies". As someone who didn't believe in an afterlife, I wonder what exactly that meant to him. 

To change subject completely, I tweeted this aphorism today: "With God, suffering is mysterious. Without God, suffering is meaningless." I thought that was quite well put, but it didn't get any reaction. Twitter doesn't seem to like me as much as Facebook did.