Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Less Or More?

What do all these people have in common?

The man who doesn't believe in nations and whose only allegiance is to humanity.

The man who thinks gender stereotypes and gender roles are harmful and wants to do away with them.

The woman who thinks sport is only for idiots.

The man who wants to shrink government as much as possible, and wishes it could be abolished entirely.

The woman who thinks birthday celebrations are stupid and never marks her birthday.

The woman who hates religion and dreams of a world without it.

 The man who hates Christmas.

The woman who mocks crazes such as fidget spinners and Pokemon Go.

The man who hates travel and sneers at the passion for seeing other countries.

So, I ask again, what do these people have in common?

First of all, an admission. The last person on the list used to be me.

But here is the answer: the common feature of all these people is that they want the world to be less, not more. They want to make the world more monotonous.

Even though I've sinned in this regard myself (and not only in one way), I've always been baffled by this attitude when I saw it in others.

For instance, I've never understood the hostility to religion per se. There was a time when I was not a believer, but I never thought the world would be a better place without religion. It seemed to me obvious that it would, at least, be a duller place. A dimension to life would have disappeared. All the ceremony, ritual, sacred writings, sacred architecture etc. that religion brings into the world does, at least, make the world a fuller and more multifaceted place.

I feel the same way about libertarians, or at least those libertarians who wish to essentially do away with politics. Politics is part of the drama of life, and it fosters a national consciousness. People in Ireland regularly complain about election posters. This seems incredibly miserable to me. I love election posters. I like the sense of occasion they create.

Or take my previous disdain of travel. I used to look down on travel because I thought people became travel bores, that travel narrowed the mind, that tourism eroded national cultures, that people lived for their holidays and that this was an insult to the ordinary and everyday.

I still think there's a lot of truth in all these claims, but my anti-travel attitude missed the point that travel is a fundamentally human activity. I used to argue that one could travel more in an armchair with a shelf of books than one could travel in an airplane. Well, it might be the case that someone sitting in an armchair and reading is having more of a transformative experience than someone who flies to Barbados, but he is still missing the irreducible thing-- moving a considerable distance from one place to another. This can't be replaced by anything else. This is what half the stories in human folkore are about.

Admittedly, there are aspects of life that I think should be done away with entirely. For instance, the world would be a better place without pornography. But there aren't many other examples I can think of.

There are some outright evils I would be sad to see disappear. For instance, would a world with no illness be a better place? I'm not talking about a child dying of leukemia, or anything like that. I'm talking about colds, flu, sore throats, sprained ankles, and all the other aliments which afflict us temporarily but (usually) leave no lasting damage. Would our lives be richer for never having had a night of fever dreams?

For a cultural nationalist like me, multiculturalism is an example that challenges me. I do think it would be better for countries to be more or less homogenous. But I don't want to live in a completely homogenous society-- I do think ethnic minorities and "chinatowns" add to the richness of life. But I differ with multiculturalists on two counts; I want these ethnic minorities to remain small, and I think they should be deferential to the host culture, instead of demanding an equal footing.

Another example is astrology and other superstitions. I have to admit I would feel a bit of a wrench if astrological columns disappeared from newspapers and magazines. The same with psychics and palm-readers and so forth. As a Christian, I have to disapprove of them, but I do so with a measure of reluctance.

What about supranational institutions? As a nationalist, I'm hostile to them. But I'm only really hostile to them when they encroach on the sovereignty of nations. If the European Union was simply a loose coalition of nations, I would not be hostile to it.

I could write on this topic forever. As a teenager, I used to take an aesthetic and poetic delight in the Trivial Pursuit board, as an image of life's giddy diversity.

One final point. I think one benefit of life's diversity is that it supplies metaphors and concepts which make our understanding of life more rich. The outer feeds in the inner. It's always seemed very hypocritical to me that an anti-religious novelist or poet will happily draw on the metaphors and imagery of organized religion. Anti-gender maniacs use the terminology of masculine and feminine all the time, and not just when they are discussing grammar. And so on, and so on, and so on. The richness of the outer world has value on its own, but it also has value in that it gives us imagery with which to represent the world inside us. 

I can't end this post without (once again) quoting the poem that best celebrates life's giddy diversity-- Louis Macneice's "Snow." (Incidentally, I think the poem is one of the best examples of poetry's special power-- the power to express something which it would be very difficult to express in prose, something which would be very hard to put in the form of a proposition or a statement.)

Snow by Louis Macneice
The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.

World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.

And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes—
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one's hands—
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.


  1. Séamus', AustraliaJuly 4, 2017 at 6:27 AM

    I have to admit having nice boyhood memories of Christmas trees with tinsel and lights in shops in Dublin, coming in from the cold and dark. In the southern hemisphere, however, tinsel becomes a nightmare for me, especially if there's hot snap in December.

    I don't think the world would be any less a place without SOME of the crazes that come out. I have a single-father friend, whose 10 year old I would have strangled many times over if she was my daughter,who bought a spinner for the aforementioned daughter. Far from helping her behave, she spins the damn thing in front of his eyes and pretend-slashes his face when he's trying to drive. Apparently she's also taken tantrums and ' ran away' in Kmart and Target because he won't buy her enough Num noms. The security have had to go searching for her a few times.

    Unfortunately international travel is also a nightmare if you live in our city. Six hours just getting to Sydney would kill me off.

    1. Life is just one damn thing after another!

      No, seriously, I agree with you. Some crazes may be worse than others, but what I'm really complaining about is people opposing a craze just because it's a craze.

      I've come to actually enjoy long distance plane travel!

  2. My mind was thinking of lack of tradition and norms but then I met some that didn't belong in neither.

    And you didn't want to see other countries? I'm no fan of "see-every-country-before-I-die", in fact I get a wee nauseous when people list/say, as part of their public "bio", that they love traveling. I like seeing other countries, but I haven't been bit by the travel bug yet. I try to keep traveling in perspective.

    1. Well, there were several reasons for my anti-travel animus. The ones I state in the post, they were sincere, but on another level it was excuse-making because I'd never left the country and I was rather nervous at the prospect. I was never on a plane until I flew to London in my late twenties. Of course I was interested in seeing other countries, especially England as I was an anglophile all my life. But I pretended not to be.

      I do think people who are all about travel tend to be shallow; a travel bore is the worst sort of bore.