Thursday, August 31, 2017

Another Thought on Language Death

I've been pondering the whole question of language death again today. This seems to me like a very interesting fault-line between my own outlook and the outlook of many opponents of leftism, liberalism, and political correctness; the Alt Right, the Alt Light, classical liberals, cultural libertarians, etc.

A frequent argument made against cultural relativism, and in favour of the West (and especially in favour of American exceptionalism) is: "Well, if we're so bad, why does everybody want to come here? If these other cultures are so great, why are so many people eager to leave them?"

I sympathise with this argument as a way of shutting up liberals. However, it troubles me in a broader sense. I don't think we should worship success.

When you apply this attitude towards language death we see how grim it really is. Presumably, lamenting language decline and language death is "linguistic relativism"; the best languages succeed and the lesser languages die; people vote with their tongues. I think few people would really want to follow this line of logic through when it comes to languages. I think the same perspective could be applied to cultures and traditions.

Personally, I have mixed feelings about success as a measure of how good or bad an institution is. In some ways, success-- especially over time- seems to be a sign that something is healthy and admirable. For instance, progressives lament ideals of masculinity and femininity, nationhood, and family life, but they are enormously and enduring popular. They are also good. (Of course, I am judging this by my own set of values.) 

Perhaps time is the critical element. Anything that maintains its popularity over generations must surely have merit. The problem is that, if it loses its popularity in a single generation, it can be lost forever, or at least it can be extremely difficult to revive it. I think this is one of the insights that separates traditionalist conservatism from libertarianism.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Nostalgia for the Church of England

About an hour ago, I was watching a documentary about the British TV comedy Only Fools and Horses. My international readers might not know about this show. In various forms, it was broadcast from 1981 to 2003. It concerned two brothers who lived together in a working-class area of London, and who were traders on the black market. It was distinguished by its longevity, its working class ambience, and its intermittent sentimentality (one of its strengths, in my view). Like the fiction of Stephen King, it's one of these cultural treasures that are so omnipresent and familiar, they tend to be undervalued.

Watching this documentary, I was particularly moved by a clip from a Christmas episode. In this episode, the brothers donate a Christmas tree to a local church, one which stands beside the open-air market where they sell their goods. As one brother explains to the other, it was the custom of the traders to donate a tree to the church every year, but times were so hard in that particular year that they couldn't afford it. We see the younger brother donate a tree (an aluminum tree) to the vicar, familiarly addressing him as "rev". It turns out to have been a scheme by the older brother-- he now tells his customers that their tree has been "endorsed by the Church of England."

Watching it, I was overwhelmed by an emotion that strikes me quite often-- nostalgia for the Church of England, and for the place it held in England culture up until very recently. (This episode was from the eighties.) Attendance at its services has now declined to such a sad nadir that I can't even bear to look up the figures again, never mind link to any source giving them.

I'm often disappointed by the attitude of my fellow Catholics towards the Church of England's decline. Whenever I mention it to them, I tend to encounter triumphalism and derision. I think that's a shame.

As an anglophile, I can't help mourning the Church of England. Yes, we are talking about the church (or ecclesial community) of Henry the Eighth and Thomas Cranmner. But it was also the church of pre-conversion Newman, pre-conversion Chesterton, pre-conversion Ronald Knox. It was the church of Betjeman, Auden, T.S. Eliot, Christina Rossetti, Anthony Trollope, C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, and any number of other literary luminaries. It is the church of Roger Scruton and Peter Hitchens. The atheist George Orwell asked for an Anglican funeral, and the equally godless Philip Larkin haunted its churches.

When I think of the Church of England, I can't help recalling the words of Gandalf to Frodo. Anglicans will find them patronising, but I can't help that: "It would be a grievous blow to the world, if the Dark Power overcame the Shire; if all your kind, jolly, stupid Bolgers, Hornblowers, Boffins, Bracegirdles, and the rest, not to mention the ridiculous Bagginses, became enslaved." Sadly, this has now happened.

When I think of the Church of England, I think of weak-chinned curates, tea parties, garden parties, jumble sales, cake sales, hearty headmasters, hymns echoing in cold college chapels, fussy and effeminate bishops, bell-ringers, the Reverend Green in Cluedo...all the clichés. But somehow, all of this seems like the "saltiness" that salted England until it became as thoroughly secularized as it is today. Even a sprinkling of Christianity makes an enormous difference to a culture. I'm reminded of the scene in Trollope where a cleric resolves to have an argument with another character before his morning prayers, as he knows he will be too softened after having asked God to give him charity. Or the scene in Carry On Dick where the "Bow City Runners" refrain from arresting the Reverend Flasher (who they've learned is Dick Turpin) while a church service is ongoing. Or one of the brothers in Only Fools and Horses familiarly calling the vicar "Rev".

(I keep intending to write a defence of cultural Christianity. I will get around to it.)

As I was watching that scene, I was struck by a sense of almost unbearable loss, one I've become accustomed to. I feel it very often, and on all sorts of occasions. Earlier today, I was overwhelmed by it as I was reading the book about language death, mentioned in the previous post. Perhaps this is what makes me a conservative, more than anything else. I have no defences against it. It's devastating, when it hits me. But why should I care? What difference will most of these things make to me? All the same I do care, and I can't help caring.

Language Death, Globalization and Western Values

If language is viewed as a kind of symbolic glue which holds a "nation" together, then the natural run of human linguistic diversity is likely to be perceived as  threat to the existing structures of power and to those whose interests the structures of the nation-state are meant to serve. Linguistic repression, in one form or another, is the common consequence.....When European nations were able to seize control of large areas of the Americas, Africa and Asia in the colonial expansion of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, such ideas and the policies they inspired become global in their reach. Three languages in particular-- English, Spanishand French-- were established as imperial languages over large areas of the world.... With the establishment of languages of global reach and with the foundation everywhere of nation-states, people everywhere came under enormous pressure to learn and use the languages of power.

There are anthropologists and linguists (Ken Hale of MIT for instance) who have argued that the casual multingualism that still prevails over much of the third world is, in some sense, the natural state for a human being to be in, that to know and use only one language is a recent aberration, characteristic only of first-world nation states....

Europe is now the most impoverished region in the world in terms of linguistic diversity, home to just three per cent of the world's languages, desptie having roughly 15 per cent of global population.

That's from an excellent book entitled Voices Silenced: Has Irish a Future? by the linguist James McCloskey, published in 2001. (It's a short book, and contains an Irish version of the text as well.)

The reference to "the casual multilingualism that still prevails over much of the third world" explains why I can't share the Western chauvinism of many upon the Alt Right, Alt Lite, the New Right, and many of the other ideologies which have risen up in opposition to political correctness. (Gavan McInnes explicitly uses the term "Western chauvinism".)

Don't get me wrong. I don't have anything against chauvinism in general. I'm rather in favour of it.

But it just doesn't make sense to me to oppose globalism in the name of Western values. Surely Western values-- which are good and bad in themselves-- created globalization? Surely it was Western man, with his relentless drive towards rationalization, expansion and exploration, who brought about this phase of homogenization in world history?

I don't say this to bash Western man. After all, I'm Western man, and I don't go in for self-flagellation. But I think we have to be clear-sighted about this. If we are going to fight globalism, we are going to have to repress some of our own drives and urges, at least in some respects.

The book is deeply depressing. Do you know how many languages have been created in the last century? The author can only think of three: Tok Pisin (an English creole in Papua New Guinea), Nicaraguan Sign Language, and modern Hebrew. And on the other side of the ledger: "Ask me to list languages which have come to the point of extinction in the same period, and I could list thousands". Indeed, in an earlier passage, he gives us this bleak prognostication: "[Mike] Krauss's calculation suggests that ninety per cent of all the languages currently spoken will be lost in the next century or so. I know of no serious challenge to the validity of these calculations."

I haven't even come to the part about the Irish language yet. 

Updated later: I'm finished the book now. (It's very short.) Interestingly enough, Irish is not included in the ninety per cent of languages which are in danger of dying in the next century. The fact that it has the support of a state behind it lifts it out of this category.

McCloskey has some interesting things to say about the Irish language revival. He describes it as the first concerted effort to revive a dying language. He also says that its achievements were (and are) extraordinary, considering the difficulty of such a project.

However, he's also quite dismissive of nationalism. To an extent, I understand this-- he argues that nationalism has contributed to language loss, since nationalists have generally wanted a single language as a symbol of national togetherness, and have often actively suppressed regional languages and dialects to this end. He also takes a dim view of coercion as a tool of language revival-- compulsory Irish in schools and the civil service, for instance. Finally, he complains about the Irish language revivalists associating the Irish language with a conservatism and nationalism which alienated many actual speakers.

But these arguments don't make much sense to me. What else would have motivated the Irish language revival, whose achievements he admires, except nationalism? And how does he know that coercion and compulsion didn't play an essential part in that? I wouldn't have any Irish if it wasn't for coercion and compulsion, and now I'm very glad I was coerced and compelled! Furthermore, the fact that the language has the backing of the state involves an element of coercion, since Irish people's taxes are used to fund it.

As for conservatism, surely caring about language preservation is intrinsically conservative. It makes no sense to me to be conservative in this department but not in others.

On the whole, however, it's an eye-opening and eloquent book.

Monday, August 28, 2017

This Blog Is Quoted!

I was happy to see my musings on romantic nationalism, from a few months ago, quoted extensively on the excellent Some Definite Service blog, in a meditation on Englishness which can be read here.

My blog is rarely quoted or linked to, and it doesn't appear on many blogrolls. One other blog that does link to it (I can see from my traffic flows) is a neo-reactionary blog which is so erudite that I've never managed to read a single one of its articles without losing the thread about half-way down. So that's very flattering. But, on the whole, I get very little traffic from other blogs, or from social media. This makes me despondent sometimes, especially since this blog has been going for six years. I guess it means that readers seek me out of their own accord-- that might be a better way of looking at it.

Anyway, being referenced by another blog gives me an opportunity to write about something which has been much on my mind recently.

I mentioned a while back that I was reading some literary criticism of the poetry of Christina Rossetti. I like Christina Rossetti very much (apart from her tiresome obsession with love stories), but in truth I was eager for any poetry criticism, rather than for criticism of Christina Rossetti in particular. One day, working in the library, I was suddenly seized with the urge to read poetry criticism.

One thing I like about poetry criticism is that the critic is applying so much thought and attention to what, after all, are simply words on a page-- not hospital waiting lists, not microchip processing speeds, not the vagaries of the stock market, but simple words on a page. This is delightful in itself.

But I also like the fact that poetry criticism is rarely just a critic writing about a poet-- more often, it is a critic writing about what other critics have written, too. And this seems to raise the dignity of the poem itself. It becomes something enigmatic, shimmering, heightened.

It's not just poetry criticism. I love any discourse that addresses itself to some text (in the broadest sense of that word) which has been discussed by others, and which also addresses those other commentaries. Similarly, I like any text which is itself a detailed response to a previous text.

I've had some very harsh words to say about the Catholic writer Mark Shea on this blog-- and, indeed, I've said some harsh words in the comment section of his own blog. So I'll say something nice about him. His trilogy Mary: The Mother of the Son is one of my favourite religious books ever. Not only did it unlock the idea of Marian devotion and Sacred Tradition for me, but the style in which it is written appeals to me vastly, to a great extent because of the phenomenon I'm discussing here. In the book, Shea engages with a whole series of other texts, from Scripture passages to internet pages written by nutty anti-Catholics. In each case, he comments upon them with a considerable degree of care and attentiveness. That appealed to me very much.

What is that pleases to me about such considered responses? It's hard to say, exactly. Partly it's the leisureliness of the thing. Partly it's the respectfulness-- even when you are writing a polemic, actually responding to what somebody has written shows a satisfying amount of respect, or recognition.

More than anything else, I think, it's the sense of connection. The randomness of life, though it can be quite pleasurable in some moods, can also be deeply depressing. Sometimes it seems like nobody is really listening to anybody else. Sometimes our own train of thought can be depressingly disjointed, inconsequential, haphazard. Macbeth's soliloquy on life as a "tale told by the idiot" is one of the greatest flights of lyricism ever written, for this very reason-- it captures this chilling, sickening waywardness so remarkable in human life.

So when one person responds to something another person has said or written-- and when it is a considered, reflective response to a considered, reflective original utterance-- that chill of randomness is replaced by a warmth of meaningfulness, of presence.

This is even truer when there are more than two participants, or more than a few participants, to the discussion-- when the discussion, in fact, is a particularly active or venerable one. Was Hamlet mad? Was World War One a just war? Was Jesus God? Why is Groundhog Day such a great movie?

This is one of the reasons I enjoy homilies, even boring homilies-- that is, homilies that are in some way Scriptural. It is an inspiring thought, to think that this particular passage of Scripture has been commented on innumerable times, from pulpits down through the ages and all over the world, and in works of exegesis, and even in everyday discussion. It gives me a thrill.

When it comes to cyberspace, "response videos" are a bang up-to-date manifestation of this phenomenon. One vlogger (video blogger) will very often make a video responding to a video made by another vlogger. These can be straightforward bitch-fests, but quite as often they can be leisurely and thoughtful responses.

"Leisurely". That word is very relevant, in seeking to describe the appeal of this phenomenon. When one person take the trouble to really address the ideas of somebody else-- especially when they concern something more consequential than why one of them didn't hang the laundry out to dry-- they seem to occupy a sphere of leisure, of contemplation, almost of timelessness. A twenty-first century writer who writes a commentary on a work of Plato is entering into a realm outside time, or at least a realm very distant from the time of the clock and the calendar.

The word "dialogue" has been abused so horrifically that it's now one of my least favourite words. Ironically, however, the concept is one that appeals to me tremendously. 

And, although I'm writing specifically about responses to texts here, I think the poetry I'm trying to evoke goes to the depths of human existence. One evening some years ago, I was walking along and looking at the moon. It occurred to me that I could never see the moon "for the first time", with fresh eyes-- and I was very glad of it. I didn't just see a disc of cloudy white. I saw it through a hundred thousands associations that I had inherited from the ages, through the eyes of innumerable human beings who had gone before me. And I could imagine nothing more wonderful.

A Brief Encounter

I was leaving the library this evening, feeling particularly gloomy. I stopped (as usual) by the book exchange which is directly outside. (It is outside the library, but still inside the larger building which contains the library.) I always stop to look at what books are there, as do many others.

"Anything good today?" somebody asked me.

I looked around. It was a retired philosophy lecturer who is still a regular visitor to the library. He can sometimes be "difficult", but on the whole he's very friendly, and quite the lover of reading. Indeed, I once found a note he'd left inside a library book, asking other readers who were interested in discussing the book to email him.

"You might be interested in this", I said, handing him a book of commentaries on the Epistles of John.

For this philosopher is, unless I am much mistaken, a Catholic. Indeed, he was one of quite a number of Catholics in the philosophy department, back when I briefly studied there.

He glanced at it, a bit dubiously, and said, "Well, there are so many good books to read". He put it back on the shelf and kept browsing.

"I actually picked up a copy, here, of that book you put out." And I mentioned the title.

This was rather ingratiating on my part, perhaps. But it was true. This retired professor had been one of the editors of a feschtrift that paid tribute to a deceased colleague-- actually, a priest as well as a philosopher. It was a very handsomely produced volume, and there had been a fair amount of promotion behind it at the time. It comprised a series of essays which various philosopher friends of the deceased wrote, all touching on the ultimate meaning of human life-- some from a religious perspective, others from a secular perspective. I had read several of the essays, relishing the book's atmosphere of consequence and seriousness. I've written about my love for the whole concept of a feschrift on this blog before. (Or was that on Facebook?)

The professor looked up at me sharply. "You're kidding me!" he said, with surprising severity. "The library copy?"

Instantly I saw my mistake. Some years ago, the library had made the miscalculation of selling off some of our weeded books at knock-down prices, to our own users. Academics had snapped them up, often bringing tall piles to the counter at a time, but had also complained about the practice. Their indignation was compounded by the fact that many of the books had been donated by the various academic departments in the first place. My sympathies were mostly with the academics-- I don't like getting rid of books-- but partly with the library-- dammit, working libraries have to weed, unless they are going to be given more storage space every year. The books would have simply been chucked out if they hadn't been sold, but the fact that we were selling them off made it look like a cynical cash-in. Perhaps it had raised the spectre of Thatcherism, something academics are always eager to rail against. This man had been one of the most vocal critics of the book sale-- as well as one of its most enthusiastic customers.

"No, no, no", I hurried to assure him. "Not the library copy. Someone had put their own copy here." That calmed him down, I was happy to see.

We spoke about the book for a few seconds more, and I said: "See you later" as I left. He didn't look around.

I realized that the brief encounter had lifted my mood. I like thinking about the casual connections we have with people we barely know-- "nodding acquaintances"-- people we run into, people we recognize, people that we may chat with occasionally, but who we can also quite freely walk past without any rudeness. Similarly, I like the easy freemasonry of shared interests, even a shared interest as vague as reading. I tried to express this idea in a blog I wrote some month ago, coining the term "soft bonds". I don't think I succeeded too well, but I still like the concept.

This retired professor wouldn't know my name, and he certainly wouldn't remember that I sat in his class more than twelve years ago. All the same he recognizes me well enough for some chat at a book exchange, and he's not at all surprised that I'm familiar with one of his books. There's something deliciously cosy in such undemanding familiarity!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Thoughts on Paternalism

This morning, as I was walking into work, I found myself looking appreciatively around the Newman building, the arts block which is attached to the library by a covered walkway (or "tunnel"). I very often do this. I try to avoid becoming blasé about the good things in my life. I looked around at all the familiar sights I love; the posters, the art-works, the decorative wooden plaques which list the auditors and Presidents of various UCD societies down the decades. (For some reason, they haven't been updated since the first few years of this century.) I also contemplated, with considerable relish, the relatively new inscription embossed on the wall outside the women's bathrooms: "As a story, so is life; not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters." (Seneca, apparently.)

I pondered upon chance and destiny. How much of our life is happenstance, and how much is chosen? Interestingly, I'd found myself working in an environment which is like an expression of my own personality, of my own fascinations. I've always loved environments that are self-contained, distinctive, little worlds of their own. Islands are the perfect example. An island always seemed to me like the perfect setting for almost any story, to the extent that it was almost a kind of cheating for an author to resort to it. (I really did think about such things, in my teens, when reading Lord of the Flies and similar works!)

It's not just islands, though. I've always loved fictional settings of a communitarian nature-- like the Enterprise in Star Trek, or Hogswart in Harry Potter, or Tar Valon in The Wheel of Time, or Gormenghast in Mervn Peake's series of that title, or the various colleges in Tom Sharpe's books.

I love working in a university. I like the fact that the campus has a definite geographical area, all to itself. I like the fact that it has its own post office, bus routes, emergency services, health centre, sports centre, cinema, restaurants, shops, bank, telephone switchboard, and so on. (And well might I say "so on"...I've been working in UCD for sixteen years, and there always seems to be more departments and units I've never heard of.) I like the fact that it has a clear hierarchy and settled procedures.

And I must acknowledge that I also like the whole idea of a paternalistic society. Despite having some libertarian leanings when it comes to free speech and other issues, I'm not at all in sympathy with the libertarian temperament, still less the anarchist temperament. I want society to have hierarchy, expectations, obligations, privileges, roles-- I don't want the shared life of society to consist simply of housekeeping. I want it to be much more than that. I want it to be more like the life of a family.

Admitting this is a bit dicey. I realize that I'm laying myself open to the charge of infantilism, or insecurity, or some similar personal failing. As I said recently, I'm becoming quite sensitive to such imputations, but I also feel the need to be honest. Nor can I imagine "outgrowing" these desires, which I take to be far too deeply rooted in my soul for that.

This is why I am drawn to the Ireland of De Valera and Archbishop McQuaid-- not only because I happen to be a Catholic and a nationalist, but also because of its paternalistic aspects. I like the idea that the state, and indeed civil society, are not neutral, but actively seek to foster particular aspirations. And it should be noted that dissident minorities are, in a strange way, a part of this shared life. Let me again quote a very appropriate Patrick Kavanagh couplet, regarding the liberal dissidents in the Ireland of his own day:

They are not Lilliputian cranks, as some outsiders deem;
They are the Official Liberal Opposition and part of the regime.

Of course, Kavanagh meant this disparagingly, but I don't see it that way. It seems perfectly natural and desirable that dissident minorities should have their own niche in a particular society.

So what about the Ireland of today, where the situation has flip-flopped? After all, Catholics and conservatives are now the dissident minority in twenty-first century Ireland, and to a great extent enjoy the role of "official opposition".

Well, if I'm really honest, I have to admit that I accept these terms. Political correctness is the religion of contemporary Ireland-- and, to my mind, it's better than no religion. Yes, in all honesty, I prefer that the universities and schools and media of contemporary Ireland should dispense political correctness, than that they should be pervaded by a genuine pluralism, a genuine neutrality. I don't really believe pluralism is possible; but, if it was possible, I wouldn't want it. I would rather have something to push against.

(Of course, all these statements have to be understood with certain qualifications-- for instance, abortion is unspeakably wicked and the fact that Official Ireland is pushing abortion so eagerly is quite simply a terrible thing, not in any way a good thing.)

I'm drawn to other paternalistic societies, at least in the sense of being fascinated by them-- societies such as Puritan New England, the Soviet Union (especially in its latter decades), Jonestown, and Orania in South Africa. I remember once hearing a Russian playwright bewail the post-Soviet era in these terms: "The communists banned us, but at least they cared what we wrote." I can absolutely understand that sentiment. When I learned about Mussolini's Italy in secondary school, I was very attracted to the idea of the corporate state.

Funnily enough, today we had a "library staff day", a whole afternoon in which we listened to speakers from the library and the wider universities give various presentations about their work. They were mostly very boring, but I quite liked being bored (just as I rather enjoy being bored by dull homilies). The first speaker was from Human Resources, and the second speaker was from Healthy UCD, a department whose mission is to promote health in the university. It was extraordinary how relevant his presentation was to this blog post, which I'd begun writing in my head hours earlier. He told us that his goal was to get us beyond seeing UCD as simply a place of work, that he wanted us to also see it as a place where we could improve our mental, physical and spiritual health. (Yes, he did say "spiritual".) 

It would be very easy to roll one's eyes at such a speech, and to mutter: "Hogwash!" under one's breath. Or perhaps to say: "Just give me more money and I'll take care of my physical, mental and spiritual health on my own, thanks." But I am not tempted to such a response. I cherish the fact that somebody was even saying this. The aspiration itself, aside from any actual realization of it, pleases me greatly. 

What does any of this matter?  As I've mentioned before, I'm experiencing a good deal of intellectual (and general) insecurity these days, so I really do question the importance of my own thoughts and emotions on such subjects. I can't present these ideas as a rigorous critique of some aspect of society, because they're not. They're from a particular perspective, my perspective, and that perspective is a minority one-- perhaps a minority of a minority, or more.

And yet, aside from the satisfaction of expressing them, I hope that they may have value. I'm surprised how often I encounter a thought of my own, one which I may have considered nothing but a quirk, and which I may have been rather bashful about, echoed in some unexpected place-- sometimes to considerable acclaim and agreement! So I have learned to be more forthcoming. I think human beings are rarely as idiosyncratic as all that-- it's rare that a feeling or an idea is unique to a particular person. I suspect that the feelings I describe in this blog post are shared more widely than may be suspected, despite all the rhetoric of unbridled personal freedom and personal agency that resounds in the world today.


Pope Francis says the liturgical reforms of Vatican II are irreversible, and puts his magisterial authority behind this statement.

The article says there is still room for "rethinking the reform", but also notes that the Pope has discouraged the concept of "a reform of the reform".

As I'm not a traditionalist, this doesn't hit me as hard as it's going to hit a lot of others. But I still worry about the effect it will have. I'm amazed I only learned about it incidentally, a half an hour ago, when I visited The Catholic Herald website.

Post-script, a little later: OK, perhaps this is not as big a deal as I thought it was at first. I have not paid as much attention to liturgical controversies as other people.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017


Many saints have scourged themselves, so we must take it that it's a wholesome practice, if undertaken  the right spirit. However, in this post I'm not so much thinking about literal self-flagellation as rhetorical flagellation. Furthermore, I'm thinking not so much of self-flagellation aimed at oneself, as self-flagellation aimed at a group of which you are a member.

And, in fact, I'm not even going to make an argument in this post. I'm going to express an emotion. The emotion is distaste, and the context in which it arises is when a member of any group lambasts that group, regardless of how much that person may include himself in the condemnation.

C.S. Lewis's excellent essay "The Dangers of National Repentance" criticized young British people after World War Two who were eager for Britain to repent of its sins during the war. As he explains, they weren't really thinking of their own sins-- they were thinking of the sins of their elders, of jingoists, of patriots. Chastising Britain cost them nothing at all. Indeed, they took pleasure from it.

This is how I feel when I hear a male feminist, or a white person who is simmering in white guilt, or an American who never stops bashing America, or a Catholic who is denouncing the Catholic Church for its sexism, homophobia, etc. etc. Does it really hurt a liberal Catholic to bewail his Church's sins? Does he feel the lash on his own skin? I very much doubt it.

But even if he did, I would still find it icky. It's a noble and salutary thing for someone to to hold up his hands and say: "Sorry, that was my fault." But...isn't there something cringe-inducing about somebody who is always doing this? Don't you want to flee from someone who is perpetually apologizing? Don't their apologies feel strangely aggressive? Is grovelling ever anything other than odious? And don't the answers to all these questions apply to the group, as much as to the individual?

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Googie Architecture

I've recently discovered Googie architecture-- well, I suppose I'd always known buildings of this type existed, but I didn't know it was a specific architectural style, or that it had a name.

This kind of thing:

This is what Wikipedia says about Googie:

Googie (/ˈɡuːɡi/ GOO-gee[1]) architecture is a form of modern architecture, a subdivision of futurist architecture influenced by car culture, jets, the Space Age, and the Atomic Age. Originating in Southern California during the late 1940s and continuing approximately into the mid-1960s, Googie-themed architecture was popular among motels, coffee houses and gas stations. The style later became widely known as part of the Mid-century modern style, elements of which represent the populuxe aesthetic, as in Eero Saarinen's TWA Flight Center. The term "Googie" comes from a now-defunct cafe in West Hollywood designed by John Lautner. Similar architectural styles are also referred to as Populuxe or Doo Wop.

Features of Googie include upswept roofs, curvaceous, geometric shapes, and bold use of glass, steel and neon. Googie was also characterized by Space Age designs symbolic of motion, such as boomerangs, flying saucers, atoms and parabolas, and free-form designs such as "soft" parallelograms and an artist's palette motif. These stylistic conventions represented American society's fascination with Space Age themes and marketing emphasis on futuristic designs. As with the Art Deco style of the 1930s, Googie became less valued as time passed, and many buildings in this style have been destroyed. Some examples have been preserved, though, such as the oldest McDonald's stand (located in Downey, California).

I like Googie! For these reasons:

1) I like its "spacey", otherworldly look.

2) There's something child-like about it; all the buildings look like big plastic toys.

3) I like how American it is.

4) I like that it's futuristic and archaic at once.

5) I like its elongated, gravity-defying appearance.

6) I like the centrality of text to so many of the buildings.

7) I like how redolent it is of the open road, and the vast stretching spaces of the American landscape.

8) All of the buildings seem to scream "fun"!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Excellent Article on the National Party's Website

There's a new political party in Ireland called The National Party. They are a populist party, like UKIP in Brtain. I'm not sure what to think of them, especially since they don't seem to prioritize Irish cultural revival or the Irish language, and they seem rather cool towards Catholic social teaching, although they are prolife.

However, there is an excellent article on their blog, which is a very articulate response to a recent article by Fintan O'Toole, in which he wrote about Ireland's shared narratives and sense of identity. (Aside from anything else, I love it when one writer addresses the ideas of another in a detailed, leisurely way!) Worth reading. It was brought to my attention by somebody on the Irish Conservatives Forum.

Amoris Laetitia and the Catholic Faithful

Steve Ray is a Catholic apologist I rarely read, but I was intrigued to find this article on his website, regarding the whole Amoris Laetitia controversy.

It's an extraordinary thing. As far as I can see, there are virtually no major Catholic commentators who don't (to put it simply) agree with Cardinal Burke in this controversy. Edward Feser, George Weigel, Ross Douthat, Raymond Arroyo, Karl Keating, Fr. Dwight Longenecker, Steve Ray, the entire staff of the Catholic Herald in England....other commentators, such as Archbishop Robert Barron, have been noticeably quiet. Perhaps things are different in the non-Anglophone world. I don't know.

Of course, I'm not talking about publications such as America or the National Catholic Reporter. But they won't be happy until there are married lesbian bishops, so I think we can safely disregard them.

Mark Shea is almost the only Catholic pundit who has enthusiastically supported Amoris Laetitia, and criticized the dubia cardinals. And he's gone off the deep end, anyway. I forced myself to stop looking at his blog after a heated exchange in the comment box, where him and his fanboys said some nasty things about me. Then again, I did provoke it-- I chimed in on unrelated thread to tell Mr. Shea he'd lost the right to quote Chesterton, which he'd just done. He replied that he wasn't aware I was head of the Chesterton Quotations Licensing Bureau. Good one.

The funny thing is that the majority of Catholics seem blissfully unaware of this whole controversy. I envy them. Maybe it's best not to get worked up about it. What can the faithful do, except keep practicing their faith? As we delighted in saying in happier days, the Church is not a democracy. God help us.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Flickering Screen

I'm reading Seeing is Believing: How Hollywood Taught us to Stop Worrying and Love the Fifties by Peter Siskind. (I should warn the reader at the outset that this is one of those posts where I'm not really trying to make any point, just describing some of my own mental quirks for the sake of it-- and always with the hope that others may feel the same).

It's one of those books that analyze movies, and decipher the cultural messages they contain. It's stylishly written, and not noticeably politically correct. Unlike many cultural commentators who simply want to uncover all the racism, sexism, etc. lurking in any given movie, Siskind sees various different philosophies informing fifties movies; conservative, liberal, centrist, and others. He also sees complexity and contradiction, rather than simple messages.

I really love the idea of the cinema as a place where society dreams, where its hopes and fears and contradictions are projected (literally and figuratively!) onto an enormous screen. I've spent a lot of time wondering why this idea appeals to me so much. I think there are several reasons. One is that I find my fellow human beings most endearing when I see them as child-like, and there's something regressive and child-like about a cinema audience. They gasp, they cry, they cheer, and they sit there glued to the screen, lost in the story.

Another reason this idea appeals to me so much is that it lends dignity to every historical moment. I like difference. I like one place to be different from another, and one time to be different from another. I like the fact that eighties action films tell us a lot about that era, while today's zombie films tells us (and posterity) a lot about our era. It's a pleasant thought that the drama on screen is reflected by the psycho-drama in the theatre, and in the wider society. And films reflect social trends in a way that is much more rapid and finely-grained than TV or fiction can; not only the zeitgeist of the decade, but the mood of the summer.

Another reason the idea appeals to me is because it adds to the aura of the movie itself. Imagine if TV really had killed off the cinema, and if movies were all released straight to DVD. Wouldn't they be diminished? They would for me, at any rate. For me, it's part of the appeal of any movie that it was shown in cinemas first-- all those cinema audiences hover over the film forever more, like phantoms. Usually we know something about their response, their interaction with the film, and this is part of the life of the film.

A cinema audience is so much more public, so much more a representation of the demos, than faceless multitudes in their living rooms. The fact that you have to go to a particular place at a particular time, and follow certain expectations of behaviour, and not be in the comfort and anonymity of your home, makes it much more of an event-- as well as the fact that you experience the reactions of the audience, in addition to your own.

The thought that any particular cinema release, and the audience reaction to it, is a reflection of social and cultural trends is very pleasing to me-- even thrilling. From as early as I can remember, I've been enchanted by this idea that society is a battleground of ideas, or perhaps a playground of ideas-- that, at any given moment, social and cultural forces are exerting themselves in every conversation, work of art, ceremony, chance encounter, daydream, speech, joke, and so forth. In this sense, I'm very happy I was born in the twenty-first century and not in the Neolithic era. Aside from everything else, how could you enjoy being a conservative in a society where nothing ever changed?

I love the whole iconography of the cinema-- the projector beam, the spotlights, the curtains, the plush seats, the film reels (an archaism now), the marquee, all that. It's so easily evoked, by a simple piece of clip-art or cartoon.

I love TV shows where the presenter is sitting in an empty cinema. It's a deliciously contemplative atmosphere.

Contemplative is the word I would use to describe movies in general. The movie is timeless in one sense-- if you play it a thousand times, it will always be the same-- but it's also redolent of its era, even if it's a sword-and--sandals epic or a science fiction story. Sometimes I think contemplation could be described as "the distance that gives intimacy". Looking at a photograph that was taken twenty or thirty years ago, in a strange way, opens up an intimacy that would have been lacking if you saw the same face or scene on the street, at the very moment the picture was taken. Seeing the psychological dramas of your own time projected onto a screen somehow makes them closer than when they are in your own head. It certainly seems to make them grander.


What is happening in the world and the Church depresses me no end, and yet I'm also very vulnerable to the personal attacks and innuendoes unleashed on anyone who complains. I could defend the things I believe against all comers all day long, but once it comes to personal attacks, I feel defenceless, since I'm always inclined to believe anything bad anyone says against me.

And not even against me personally. A few weeks ago I was browsing a book by John Waters, Feckers: Fifty People Who Fecked up Ireland. It was entertaining enough, but one of the last "feckers" was "Paddy O'Blogger"-- a long rant against bloggers, portraying them as pathetic and angry and frustrated figures.

I wish I was the kind of person who just takes such things in their stride, but I'm not. Doubtless John Waters was writing mostly about left-wing bloggers (he was quite vague). He also took issue with them for their anonymity, and my blog has never been anonymous-- I've always put up my name, my picture, and my place of employment. He contrasts online writing with print journalism and letters to the editor, much to the former's disfavour. Well, I've had plenty of articles published, and plenty of letters to the editor too. Do I somehow stop being "Paddy O'Blog" when my words are in print, even when I'm saying exactly the same thing?

I can reason thus with myself, but it doesn't really make any difference.

I left Facebook some time ago. While I was there, I had a lot of very positive interactions-- indeed, a good few people said nice things about my posts. But I also got a lot of sniping and bitching-- and, once again, I don't give two hoots when it's addressed to my ideas or beliefs, but when it's a personal attack, it gets to me.

One of my own relatives posted a still from The Simpsons, a picture of a newspaper which showed Grandpa Simpson waving his fist at a cloud, with the headline: "Old Man Waves Fist at Cloud", and tagging me, in response to some conservative opinion I'd expressed. Another of my relatives saw fit to "like" this. I pretended to take it in good part, but the truth is I found it extremely hurtful, and still do. Once again, this was because of the implication that my opinions are based in personal failings or flaws or inadequacies. And there was a lot of this.

I'm not good with interpersonal conflict, and I find it gets harder rather than easier. I love my job, but I find it more and more difficult dealing with angry customers (while knowing that a library couldn't even begin to compare with a call centre or many other places of work). The fantasy of a life without interpersonal conflict is one I increasingly indulge in. (I'm not talking about an end to conflict per se. I like C.S. Lewis's speculation that, if he had killed a German soldier who had simultaneously killed him in World War One, they might have laughed about it in the next world. I like films where two fellows are having a sword-fight, one has his sword knocked from his hand, and the other chivalrously allows him to pick it up again. That is the kind of conflict I can dig.)

I'm not bothered with ridicule when it is aimed at what I say rather than me personally. Some months ago, I was in the audience for the TV show Claire Byrne Live. I made a comment that the Church had apologized too much rather than too little, and almost everyone in the studio laughed. That didn't bother me in the least-- I even found it bracing.

I've always done my best to refrain from ad hominem attacks myself. In this post, for instance, where I make a case for attacking ideas, not people. Doubtless I've lapsed here and there, but I think I've kept fairly rigorously to this policy, and avoided personal attacks and insinuations, whether against particular people or bearers of a particular opinion.

Writing is like breathing to me. If it wasn't, I would probably stop-- at least, give up any writing that involved social commentary, I'm so bothered by such attacks and insinuations. Now and again, I've thought of pouring my creative energies into something less polemical, such as horror novels. The sneering and scorn really gets to me.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

John D. Sheridan's Account of a Parish Mission

Here is an account of a parish mission from the book "Half in Earnest" by John D. Sheridan, a collection of articles which was published in 1948. The author thanks the editors of The Irish Independent and the Massachussets Teachers' Journal for allowing him to reproduce material. I imagine this article appeared in the former, rather than the latter.

I have written about John D. Sheridan on this blog before. I am an admirer of his work of Catholic apologetics, The Hungry Sheep, which among other things is an early condemnation of post-Vatican II madness. Some years ago, when I had fewer expenses than I do now, I went through a phase of buying the various collections of his articles on Amazon. They are a good size for sticking in a pocket, so I still find myself doing that when I'm expecting to be standing in a queue-- I was reading this article in a pharmacy this morning.

My fondness for his "funny" writings, which wasn't all that high to begin with, has diminished still further recently. I've grown more and more fastidious about prose style as I've got older. Anything too mannered bothers me. And few things bother me more than the tone of sustained flippancy which so many humorous writers adopt. Along with this, I detest the knowing, sardonic, man-of-the-world tone in which Sheridan, along with many others, constantly indulges.

But what I find most irritating in this author's work is something that he shares with many (supposedly) comic writers; a conviction that hilarity is to be found in disappointment, indignation, frustration, boredom, and so on. The stubbed toe, the angry wife, the bus that you just miss (and that splashes you with water from a puddle as it drives away), the old guy dancing badly at the wedding, etc. etc. Somehow, such writers think that multiplying allusions like these adds up to a comic vision. But it's not comic. It's depressing. Chesterton is a rare example of a comic writer who seeks to convey wonder, rather than weariness.

All the same, I doubt I have to explain why I've gone to the trouble of typing out this particular article. To me, for all Sheridan's disenchanted style, it's an enchanting window onto Catholic Ireland. How things have changed, from the time that an article such as this might appear in a national daily newspaper! The author seems to simply assume that his readers are Catholic and that most would have attended a parish mission.

I've never attended a mission. I attended the first and final Mass of a parish mission, given by the Jesuits, a few years ago. (I met the priest who gave me First Communion at this, and I was very disappointed.) I didn't have time to attend the rest of it. I've attended one retreat. It was one of the best experiences of my life, and one that still lingers with me.

Anyway, here is the article.

On Missions

It might be no harm if hte regular clergy, who give missions, and the seculars, who commission them, were told the lay point of view on this salutary annual discipline; for the laity seldom gets a chance of expressing itself on such matters, except when it stands up in a body on the first night of the mission and, through the medium of the most doleful of hymns, announces that, once again, it is resolved "to turn away from crime."

First and foremost, we don't like missions, any more than we like quinine and cascara. We know that they are good for us, but you can take my word for it that the chillest Sunday of the year is the Sunday on which the priest announces that the ecclesiastical auditors are on their wway and that the reclamation of the senile delinquent is at hand.

In our parish, and, I should think, in all parishes big enough to justify a fortnight's retreat, Mother Church, in her wisdom and charity, allocates the first week to the women. This is because long experience has taught her that women, having fought their way through winter winds on seven consecutive nights and on seven chilly mornings, will hunt out the menfolk, when their times comes, with a fervour that is not wholly spiritual in origin.

The men are glad of the week's remand, and they make the most of it. They pile on the fire, put their feet on the mantelpiece, and think of everything but the life to come.

When the women come home from the mission we make room for them at the hearth, warn them-- fruitlessly-- not to make a mess of a perfectly good fire, and get a preview of the mission and the missioners. The clergy should know, I think, that though we sit quietly during the sermon, our critical faculties are not asleep. In one sense we are in the dock, but in another we are in the jury-box, and we have no difficulty at all in coming to a verdict. The old missioner is a good preacher, or a bad preacher, or a middling preacher; the young one is too severe,or not severe enough, or he keeps us too long.There are also comparisons with the great men of last year or the year before ("they were divils on the drink"), and if the vintage is a bit thin we shake our heads in memory of the fine preachers who were with us in the year of the big snow.

Sometimes a few friends come in before bedtime, and then the discussion widens a little. It moves from individuals to regiments, and the Church's missionary army is reviewed in a spirit that is anything but impartial. One swears by the Redemptorists, another by the Vincentians, and you have only to praise the Dominicans to hear the virtues of the Jesuits. But there is a limit to our bigoted partisanship-- we speak of them all as "missioners", and not, after the manner of our country cousins, as "Holy Fathers"-- a libellous phrase which seems to imply that the "Holy" would be altogether inappropriate if it were applied to the local secular clergy In our parish, I am glad to say, we are above such innuendo.

As the first week of the mission goes by, and it passes all too quickly for the guardians of the hearth, the women become more and more self-righteous and the men more and more apprehensive. Some of the lazier ones practice spells of coughing and onwder if the night air would be bad for their bronchitis. But they are only wasting their time, for a woman at the close of a week's mission is as formidable as Peter the Hermit, and will not listen to excuses from anyone who is not permanently bed-ridden. Having formally renounced the devil, she forgets that Eve was his first client, acts as if he only purpose in making the mission were to show good example to the men, and becomes a missioner in her own right.

There is something cold and austere-looking about a missioner when he appears above the edge of the pulpit on the first night of a mission-- he has the cut of a regimental sergeant-major giving his first talk to a bunch of prisoners who have been sentenced on a charge of being drunk and disorderly. We are anything but drunk and disorderly, and we know it. We know that the sum total of our misdemeanours would not make material for one good shocker, but we know too that each one of us can say, with literal truth, that it is high time he turned away from crime. We are not the great sinners who God loves and pursues; we are the lukewarm yea-and-nay people who are rated so low in Holy Writ, the people who have to be coaxed, reminded, and exhorted, who have little spurts of piety every now and again and always mean to do better the week after next. We don't beat our wives (even when they deserve it), we don't rob banks, we are on the side of law and order-- we are chock-full of tiny, respectable, negative virtues.

We feel very sorry for ourselves, and very ashamed of ourselves, and the missioner-- who knows just how much penitence we can stand--breaks the tension when we have had enough. He breaks it by means of that dialectical device which (this is pure supposition) all young missioners are taught in the novitiate. He says: "I remember once giving a mission in a little village in the west" and immediately we all sit back and relax. Once a missioner tells a story, especially a humorous story, the discipline of the class is gone for good. And there it may be remarked that a missioner who rates his stories according to the laughter they will win for him is making the biggest mistake of his life. All a missioner has to do to get a laugh is to make it clear he expects one.

When the laugh dies down we begin to cough in relays-- a seat at a time. You cough at a mission, but for sheer joy at discovering that you are only one sinner amongst many, and to break the loneliness that comes to a man when he looks into his own soul.

As you walk home from the church afterwards, this feeling of kinship, of belonging to the big family that is the parish, and of having cousins the world over, strengthens perceptibly. You walk home from the cinema with the man next door, but you walk home from the mission with your blood brother.

There is something symbolic about the lighting of candles on the last night of a mission. it dims the great lights overhead, and makes the church not just a citadel against the darkness but a citadel against the powers of darkness. Our annual mission begins rather timidly, but it finishes up in a blaze of glory. I think that our feelings on the last night might be summed up in the story of the man who-- when the missioner, not being satisfied with the volume of the first renunciation of the devil, cried "louder"-- shouted out long before his fellow had responded, and in a voice which must have been heard in regions beyond this visible world-- "louser!". The phrase is a little vulgar, perhaps even a little abusive, but it is a perfect ending to the annual mission.