Friday, March 31, 2017

Crackpots and Conservatives

From the transcript of a recent "Vortex" segment on Church Militant TV:

The revolution in education has been fought and won by secularist humanists, and they completely dominate the academy now with no end in sight. And while this is true across all the disciplines, it is most pronounced in the very disciplines that give them the greatest access to the minds of the youth — the humanities, social sciences and history. One recent study revealed that the ratio of tenured crackpots to conservatives on college campuses in these particular fields was approaching 30:1.

What an interesting survey! Was it self-reported, I wonder? Perhaps the questionnaire was something like this:

Are you:

A) A conservative
B) A tenured crackpot?

I'm not saying they're wrong, by the way. I suppose my sentimental side would like to think there's a little bit of middle ground-- those who are tenured and only mildly delusional, for instance.

Gratitude for Good Priests

Why do we spend so little time thanking God for the good priests? Indeed, most of the priests I have encountered have been good priests.

When I started regularly attending Mass in Ballymun (after a few trial attendances in Glasnevin, just to familiarize myself with the liturgy), the parish priest was called Fr. Gerard. Soon he knew me by name (I've often wondered how) and I remember him saying to me: "It's great to see you coming along."

He's a good priest. He came to the priesthood relatively late in life. He often said, before Mass, how thankful we should be that we could celebrate the Mass that day, since so many people around the world wanted to but couldn't. One expression of his I particularly liked, which he would usually say during the opening prayer, was: "We put all the bits and pieces of our lives on the table before the Lord."

The priest who heard my first adult confession, which was a massive hurdle for me, was one of the current chaplains in UCD-- Father Leon. (I don't expect any of these priests to read this post, so I don't fear flattering or embarrassing them.) He was so very gentle on me that I left his office in some distress, thinking that he couldn't believe in God because he wasn't taking my sins seriously enough. In the years since then, I've learned he is a very serious priest with a thoroughly supernatural outlook. Every time there is a memorial Mass in UCD, or some Mass where people who might rarely attend Mass will be present, he makes sure to preach a solidly supernatural and evangelistic homily. I've seen him at pro-life rallies and he often urges us to be courageous in defending the Faith. He is an Irish language enthusiast who once heard my confession in (broken) Irish and who taught me a post-communion prayer in Irish, which I now use all the time.

The other priest in UCD at the time, Fr. Eamonn, is also an excellent priest. His homilies, again, are thoroughly supernatural and Christological, and he celebrates the Mass very reverently, with long silences. (A mixed blessing for me, as it can make me late back to work.) He also makes himself very available for confession, as does Fr. Leon. He's quite a young man, as far as I can tell.

One of the priests in Ballymun right now, a Nigerian priest named Fr. Anthony, is an excellent homilist-- his homilies are full of Scriptural knowledge and background, so that I actually learn something new about the gospel when I listen to him. One St. Patrick's Day, he described himself as "a son of St. Patrick" because Irish missionaries had evangelized his area. He also spoke against gay marriage from the ambo at the time of the referendum, saying we had brought about a generation who could not tell good from evil.

I have a friend who is an Opus Dei priest, who I met when I gave a talk in Maynooth. (One of only two talks I've ever given.) I won't give his name because he is such a modest soul. He always wears his clerical garb. I asked him if he'd ever got grief for this. Only once, he said-- but far more often, people come up to thank him for doing so.

The priest who most regularly celebrates the Irish language Mass in Glasnevin, as well as having beautiful Irish and a beautiful voice, always preaches undiluted Christianity. Once, he asked rhetorically whether being evangelists meant we should be knocking on doors and telling people about Jesus. To my surprise, he answered his own question in the affirmative. (Although he didn't hold us to quite that standard, to the relief of this introverted listener; his point was that we shouldn't be afraid to be so evangelistic. I can't imagine knocking on someone's door and telling them about my faith, though I admire those who do.)

I have encountered many more excellent priests. Yes, I have also encountered bad priests, and sometimes the good priests disappoint me by lapses into political correctness, messing with the words of the liturgy, leading applause during Mass, etc. But the good experiences by far outweigh the bad.

Thank you, God, for all the wonderful priests you send us! Watch over them, encourage them, and send us more!

Some Thoughts on Race and Identity for the Post-Conservative

I've had an exchange of blog posts with a blogger called The Post-Conservative, all of which can be found below. I've been arguing in favour of Irish identity being based on a shared culture, while the Post-Conservative believes that genetics and race are central to identity. (I think that's a fair summation; I hope he will correct me if I'm wrong.)

Though the Post-Conservative does not consider himself Alt Right, our discussion is against the background of that ideology, which seems to be gaining tremendous traction on the right. How much traction it is gaining, is difficult to say.

I heard one Alt Right figure describe his own journey to "race realism", one which passed through the very stage of cultural nationalism and anti-political correctness which I myself espouse. His suggestion was that conservatives have so internalized the taboo on this matter that they can't bear to take the final, logical step-- to admit that, yes, it is about race after all.

I simply don't believe this of myself. If I'm suppressing my true feelings about race, I've been doing it very effectively for decades, because culture and tradition have always been the terms in which I understood nationalism and Irishness, from my earliest childhood. I've passed through anti-nationalist phases as well as nationalist phases, and race simply never came into it either way.

Here are some very quick points about race and identity, and my views on the matter:

1) I agree that discussion on matters of race have been hysterical for decades now, and the subject should be discussed calmly, without impugning motives or the ridiculous slinging around of the ubiquitous r-word. If we keep a lid on the subject of race, resentment and reaction builds up and explodes, over time. I'm sad to read that the Post-Conservative seems to have had some hostile correspondence as a result of his posts.

2) In terms of identity, race just seems to me to be too general to satisfy the human need for belonging. When someone from the Alt Right talks about "our people" or "my people", he (or she) seems to mean whites, or perhaps European whites. Well, there are hundreds of millions of white people in the world, living all around the world, speaking many different languages and having many different heritages. It's far too many to be "my people", even if it's narrowed down to mean "European whites".

To base identity on race seems to me to be giving in to globalisation, and to internationalisation, rather than resisting it. The nation, or the tribe, seems to me the right-sized "unit" for cultural identity, and one that is hallowed by tradition. I'm not a "European" (except in the most descriptive sense) because Europe is just too big and to diverse for me to feel any sense of belonging towards it, despite being subjected to Europhile propaganda all my life. How much more this applies to the white race! (Perhaps I might point out here that all the worst troubles in Irish history came from white Europeans, from the Vikings to the European Commission..)

Also, I'm a traditionalist and the fact that race-discourse is something that began in the nineteenth century, and is based on a biological and scientistic outlook, is a black mark against it for me. It doesn't arise organically from folklife and folkways. It's too clinical to be warm and human.

3) I can agree that race isn't literally "skin deep", in that our biological differences may be non-trivial in some regards. My lack of interest in this matter reflects my lack of scientific curiosity in general. However, I think the differences are not as important as all that. Equality of opportunity and colour-blindness of public policy seem the right attitude to me. No discrimination, positive or negative.

4) The argument that Europe and America must be doing something right to attract so many people from the rest of the world is, to me, a fair argument when it's made against hysterical leftists who have nothing good to say about the West, but I'm less keen on it intrinsically. Success is a crude measure of merit. Dan Brown is not a better writer than W.B. Yeats.

I don't accept that some tribal village in the Congo is inferior to Las Vegas just because lots of people want to go to Las Vegas. In fact, I could even be called a cultural relativist (though I don't think of myself as one) in that I don't think you can say one culture is better than another, on the whole. Yes, we can criticize cultures on various grounds, but I think every distinct culture is equally precious in itself. (I'm not talking about religion here.)

The Alt Right seem to equate the white race with "progress" and to glorify this. But I'm not a progressive. I'll take every claim of progress on its merits-- and many of them I consider to be "improvements for the worse".

5) I feel I should make it clear that I'm against mass immigration, as I think it usually (perhaps always) leads to problems in the long run, and because I'm a conservative and I think mass immigration breaks the thread of tradition. If mass immigration is required for humanitarian or economic purposes, I think it should be a temporary measure as far as possible. I certainly don't sympathise with the left-wing, internationalist project to mix everybody up as quickly and thoroughly as possible.

However, that still leaves small-scale immigration, which most people accept. Then there is marriage and adoption of children. Plenty of time-honoured routes for people of other nations, cultures and races to become naturalised and nationalised.

Ireland (to take this example) is a multiracial society already, and there are Irish people of Asian and African extraction. I have first cousins who are half-Filippino! In my job in UCD university library, I very often find myself dealing with students who look entirely African or Asian but whose names are Conor or Sinéad and who have Irish accents. And what about black Irish people such as Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy, who was passionately proud of his Irishness, and the soccer legend Paul McGrath?

When I asked what we should say to the child of Nigerian parents who is growing up in Ireland, and who considers himself Irish, the Post-Conservative asked: "Why should we have to say anything to him?". My answer to that would be: "Because you can be sure he is listening." Not to this particular exchange, perhaps. But people in this category are listening to discussions such as this-- not only in Ireland, but elsewhere. Many of them, I have no doubt, despise progressivism and want to be on the same side as us, to root and fight for the things we value.

When I appealed to chivalry in such matters, the Post-Conservative suggested that the time for chivalry might have passed. I think chivalry is one of those things that must be preserved at all costs; that we are nothing without it. I do, however,  acknowledge his point that chivalry has often morphed into something distorted and perverted, a kind of self-hatred and self-destructiveness, the attitude that breeds the male third-wave feminist and the self-hating white American. But that's not chivalry; and the very people who are afflicted with this sickness would foam at the mouth if you congratulated them on their chivalric attitude.

Chivalry is, amongst other things, tenderness and consideration towards the outsider, the minority. So, given that I put such an emphasis on tradition and on heritage, I feel a corresponding eagerness to reassure those who might feel I'm excluding them on the grounds of their colour, race or ancestry; no, I'm absolutely not excluding you. I consider you just as Irish as me.

And now I must apologise for the Post-Conservative; for having said I would not respond at length for some considerable time, I have now overwhelmed him with several responses in a row, one of them rather long!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The History of my Conservatism, Part One

Today I watched a video in which a vlogger described her journey to conservatism, and it excited me to write a post along the same lines. I tried to write a quick post, but I realised that the subject will require a whole series. Part two may not appear for a long while!

I don't remember a time when I wasn't conservative in some way, even though there was a time when I was an out-and-out socialist, and there were times in my life when I professed myself an atheist.

Sometimes it's hard to excavate your own past. I have a very clear memory, for instance, of quoting in my diary-- with approval!-- the motto of Christiaan Huygens, a Dutch scientist I read about in Carl Sagan's book Cosmos: "The world is my country, science my religion".This was when I was sixteen or seventeen. (The diary is long lost.)

That seems unthinkable to me now. Not only does it seem unthinkable, but it seems to go against the feelings and reactions I can remember having all through my life-- for instance, my love of distinctive "realms", whether in science fiction or fantasy or mythology, and my lifelong interest in the supernatural and mystical. 

Indeed, around the same time (on the same computer), I wrote a poem called "On The Rise of Irish Cultural Nationalism" (or some such title), whose first verse I can imperfectly remember:

Even the sober chronicler lost hold
And could no more account for what he told
In economic circumstance
But only mutter that romance
Had come unbidden to the world once more.

Even stranger than my comment about Hugyens is a dream I once had-- I don't remember when I had it, but probably in my teens-- set in some kind of socialist utopian future.

I was sitting in a classroom. The architecture and furnishing of the school were brutalist-- every line was straight and every colour was primary. We were all wearing maroon-coloured overalls. The teacher (a young, female teacher) brought us out to the yard, where we performed some kind of drill or callisthenics. There was not only a feeling that we were at Year Zero, that everything was new, but there was also a feeling of togetherness that was utterly euphoric.

As described, that dream seems like a nightmare to me now-- a thoroughgoing Stalinist nightmare. But not only do I remember having the dream, I can vividly recall the feeling of euphoria.

Since I came from a very left-wing family, steeped over several generations in left-wing Irish republicanism, I naturally had left-wing inclinations from my earliest age-- what a Marxist would call "class consciousness". This was an intense identification with the working class (of which we were members) and a conviction that the ruling class, the employers and the government were always trying to swindle poor people and had to be resisted strenuously. The history of trade unionism particularly was seen as a heroic heritage.

I'm not a socialist anymore, and I have a dimmer view of trade unions now (especially public sector trade unions), but I'm still quite influenced by this view of the world. I've never become a cheerleader for unbridled free market capitalism. I've always identified with the working class and retained a somewhat positive view of working class life. 

The Chestertonian idea that the working classes are naturally conservative and traditionalist, however, is not entirely borne out by my experience-- for instance, my working class home of Ballymun gave a particularly big vote in favour of same-sex "marriage" in 2015. I believe the working classes are more patriotic than the middle classes-- witness Brexit-- but in terms of "lifestyle" they are probably at least as liberal. When it comes to religion, Mass attendance in working class areas of Dublin are the lowest in Ireland, although working class people are notably inclined to bless themselves when they pass a church and to show other signs of religiosity, as distinct from religious practice.

Cultural conservatism is the conservatism I've held the longest. I can clearly remember feeling the utmost scorn for modern art of every kind since at least my early teens. I had a particular animus towards free verse and cryptic poetry, but I also despised modern visual art. I remember feeling immeasurable contempt towards one of my class-mates who, on a class visit to an art gallery, asked one of the attendants if they had any modern art. I wanted to punch him.

When I studied the history of visual art in secondary school, in my late teens, I developed more respect for some modern artists-- Piet Mondrian, Edvard Munch, Marc Chagall, and a few others. (Indeed, Mondrian might be my single favourite visual artist, which I agree seems rather out of character.) But I still despised modern art in general, especially the sort of thing that's descended from Marcel Duchamp's urinal.

Painting by Piet Mondrian

Robert Conquest argues that everybody is conservative about the things he knows best. I'm not saying that's true. But I find it hard to believe that anyone who really appreciates W.B. Yeats or Lord Byron can take Seamus Heaney or Ezra Pound seriously.

As I've often written before, I vacillated wildly on the matter of Irishness and Irish nationalism. There was a time in my teens when I was so intensely nationalistic that it seriously bothered me when I learned that, legally speaking, foreign embassies to Ireland were not on Irish soil. (This would have been in my teens, and even at the time I think I realised how ridiculous it was-- why would I even remember it, otherwise?) I've written a lot on this subject so I won't go into it again here. Suffice it to say that my reactions against Irish nationalism were every bit as passionate as my nationalist phases, and that I didn't then make the distinction between political nationalism and social/cultural nationalism which I now make.

In my late teens and early twenties, my socialism was at its height, although it was more social democracy than socialism proper. I was in favour of as much government intervention in the economy as possible.

For me, it was not so much a case of seeking utopia as fearing dystopia. I had the firm conviction that commerce was drowning society, that before long everybody would be working every waking hour for a bare subsistence, that libraries and public parks and public swimming pools would be replaced by office blocks and supermarkets, that massive corporations were dismantling the state, and so on. I'm not sure what this conviction was based on-- perhaps reading about the Industrial Revolution-- but there are many highly qualified adults who seem permanently stuck at this same point. (There was an element of High Tory disdain for "trade" in this.)

I remember coming across this old trade union ditty which I thought perfectly enunciated my philosophy:

Eight hours work, eight hours play,
Eight hours lie-a-bed, and eight bob a day. 

That was my idea of socialism. Just that. And even back then I was very emphatic that this was all I meant-- sometimes I preferred the term "labourist" to "socialist". I was never a Marxist.

At the zenith of my socialism, I despised all "post-materialist" ideologies. What was the point of getting worked up about nationalism or discrimination or the environment if people were living in penury? I thoroughly approved of this Yeatsian couplet:

Parnell came down the road and said to a cheering man: 
'Ireland will get her freedom, and you still break stone.'

I also approved of the words of James Connolly, the Marxist whose socialist militia participated in the 1916 Rising (but who made his peace with the Church before his execution): "Ireland without her people is nothing to me, and the man who is bubbling over with love and enthusiasm for ‘Ireland’, and can yet pass unmoved through our streets and witness all the wrong and the suffering, the shame and the degradation wrought upon the people of Ireland, aye, wrought by Irishmen upon Irishmen and women, without burning to end it, is, in my opinion, a fraud and a liar in his heart, no matter how he loves that combination of chemical elements which he is pleased to call ‘Ireland’. "

To be honest, I now wonder whether I have swung too far in the opposite direction-- whether I have earned Connolly's harsh words. There is so little on this blog about the actual material sufferings of human beings, such as the homeless, or those stuck for years on hospital waiting lists. I do think that contemporary society pays too little attention to our spiritual, cultural and social needs-- but that doesn't get me off the hook for how little attention I pay to my fellow man's simple physical needs. I shudder sometimes when I read the parable of the sheep and the goats. I hope to improve in this regard, to have a more integrated view of the world.

On the other hand, I do think I had an excessively gloomy view of living standards in my socialist days, and that socialists tend to take an excessively gloomy view of living standards. I think most people in our society have had their material needs met, in most regards, and even have a more-than-adequate standard of living. Accepting for argument's sake that Abraham Maslow's famous pyramid of needs bears some resemblance to reality, I now think our post-material needs actually kick in a lot sooner than I once thought they did.

Even today, I'm not the kind of conservative who uses the term "socialism" disparagingly, to describe the "opposite" ideology to his own. To me, that is progressivism, or globalism, or secularism-- depending on the context.

To be continued!