Saturday, 30 April 2011

The devil is inaccurate

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Charles Williams always insisted on what he termed accuracy - a trait essential to an editor of the Oxford University Press; but more than this, C.W. regarded inaccuracy as a sin: characteristic of evil.

And he was right!

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What is accuracy? the main components are validity and precision.

Validity mean that a measurement is truly representative of what it claims to measure.

Precision refers to the statistical exactitude of a measurement.

So, if we were measuring the average height of the adult English population it might be valid but not accurate if the sample was 1000 randomly chosen subjects (because a random sample is representative of the whole population), but if the scale was only segmented in metre lengths, the estimate would not be precise - because the measure would only be to the nearest metre.

A sample using a one millimetre scale applied to a non-random sample (e.g. the first 1000 people you found in the telephone directory or met in the street, or 1000 women but no men) would be 1000 times more precise (because measured in millimtres not metres) but would not be valid, because the sample would not be representative of the English population.

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As a professional epidemiologist I fought a constant, losing, battle to emphaisize the greater importance of validity than precision.

e.g. http://preview.trialsjournal.com/content/2/1/2 and references.

It is more accurate to have imprecise but valid knowledge than precise but non-valid knowledge - yet precisely measured garbage is the material of modern science, administration and politics.

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This applies to everything in life - it is always infinitely better to be approximately right than precisely wrong.

The sin of inaccuracy is in claiming or assuming that precision somehow compensates for invalidity, or that greater precision somehow renders validity irrelevant.

This sin is endemic in modern administration - large, complex, quantitative databases are regarded as both essential and sufficient for policy - despite that the information in such databases is always invalid.

Always invalid because the process of data collection is not-even-trying to be valid - the data collection is indeed part of the policy, designed to support policy and not trying to understand the world.

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I once termed this system Infostat -

http://www.hedweb.com/bgcharlton/cargocult.html

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So accuracy properly implies maximum validity as an iron rule, and precision only as an optional aspiration.

And this is not a technical, methodological point: it is a moral imperative.

 

Friday, 29 April 2011

Science and sin

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There is a dark side to science - indeed science is now almost exclusively dark - in the sense that science is done for reasons of power rather than love.

There was a time when science really was done - mostly - for love; by people who loved knowledge, and were not intending to *use* it.

Naturally, this was an amateur science.

Professional science always always trends to become a means to an end - science purports to generate power: Professional science - in effect - sells power.

Medical science is the dominant world science - and it (falsely, in practice) promises to cure disease, relieve suffering etc: pursues knowledge, therefore, purely a means to an end.

But originally even medical science was done for love, by doctors and other clinicians, as an overflow from their practice: they wanted to understand, not to control.

As a by-product, in practice, the old medical scientists actually made more frequent, more useful, more powerful discoveries than we do nowadays in the vast industry of careerist drones - and this efficiency was not a paradox, because theirs was true knowledge, knowledge less-tainted by expediency, more dependable: in other words it was knowledge rather than marketing, spin, hype and BS.

Understanding enabled control, control came via understanding - aiming directly at control yielded not control but merely corruption. 

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Thursday, 28 April 2011

The facetiousness of (?English) intellectual conversation

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In days when I depended more on the physical company of other people, I was endemically frustrated by the facetiousness of conversation among people of my acquaintance.

In theory, there were plenty of well-informed people with similar interests around me; in practice the conversation was unrelentingly superficial and continually attempting wit, jokes - a light and unattached attitude to life was prevalent.

I found this diet of daily discourse profoundly unsatisfying, and would travel the length of the country for a few hours of 'deep' talk with one of the handful of friends who were able and willing to provide it.

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Whether this is specifically English, and whether things have always been like this - I don't know.

But things are still the same - as far as I can judge.

Intellectual life is still populated almost exclusively by people who never drop their facade of unseriousness - indeed, who have perhaps become the facade such that there is nothing to drop. They are not 'hiding' anything; what you see is what there is.

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This applies even to writers, scholars, scientists whose work is interesting - whose work I admire and have benefited-from; many of them come across as utterly superficial people.

Specifically, the intellect seems to be dissociated from the emotions - so that there is no depth: nothing behind the surface rationality.

The facial expression, the eyes, are 'glassy' - even while the words may be eloquent.  

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I wonder, too, whether this could be a class thing, and an hereditary thing. My ancestors are 'working class', and I find that social conversation among people whose ancestors are solidly upper middle class generally strikes me as afflicted with this species of apparently inescapable triviality.

Presumably I strike them as dull, naive and over-serious.

But there it is!

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At the end of the day, the general intellectual discourse among English intellectuals is - I find, on the whole - disappointingly annoying and uninteresting: even at the highest level, among people that I would expect or hope to be enlightening.

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Professional, specialist conversation can, by contrast, be very interesting; and that was the basis for most of the best types of discourse; at least it *was*, until professional conversation became afflicted by political correctness, dishonesty, and fear.

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Monday, 18 April 2011

Political correctness and power-seeking egalitarians

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Since political correctness is (more or less) egalitarian in its aim, it is superficially hard to explain why the PC is so power-seeking: why they seek to subordinate every human decision (public or private) to government regulation. Surely this is to favour one group (the PC elite) above all others?

The answer is simple - albeit unconvincing.

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The aim is to take all power into the PC elite, who will use this power to make the world safe for PC - by using power to extirpate all trace of resistance to political correctness (all trace of racism, sexism and the various 'phobias') - and then to relinquish this power.

More exactly, to install systems that prevent all forms of prejudice - then when these systems are indestructibly installed - to walk away from power.

So that no individual human being or group of persons will have any more power than another human being or group of persons: all will be subject to the same algorithmic processes of social justice.

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The unconvincing bit is that there will be nothing and nobody that makes the PC elite walk away from power. There is only the PC elite's trust in their own good intentions, and trust in their own ability to carry-out these good intentions.

Of course, the time to walk away from power will never come if there is any residual trace of non-PC resistance (real, or imagined)...

And since PC is social constructivist (believes neither in God/s nor in human nature) this means that to ensure they will indeed walk away from power, when the time comes, the PC elite must be sure first to brainwash themselves completely and irrevocably...

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Tolerance or Lukewarmness - from Monk Vsevolod (Filipyev)

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By Monk Vsevolod (Filipyev)

Reprinted from “Orthodox Russia,” No. 14, 2006

http://www.holy-transfiguration.org/library_en/mod_tolerance.html

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Nowadays in Russia and in the whole world a certain principle has become topical – that of “tolerance.” The modern meaning of “tolerance” comes from the Latin tolerantia and is interpreted as “religious tolerance.” The concept of tolerance is being actively introduced into mass consciousness: entire books are written about tolerance, and diversely-scaled events are being conducted within its framework.

For Russian society the apotheosis of the policy of tolerance was the World Summit of Religious Leaders, which took place in Moscow on 3-5 July 2006 at the initiative of official representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate and clearly with the active support of the government. The summit gathered the leaders and delegates of Christian, Moslem, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, and Shinto communities from 49 countries. The final result of the work of this interfaith assembly was a joint “Declaration of the summit of religious leaders.”

(...)

The document states: “We need to build a world order which combines democracy – as the way of harmonizing different interests and as people’s participation in national and global decision-making – with respect for the moral feeling, way of life, various legal and political systems, and national and religious traditions of people.” That is, the superstructures may be different, but the base must be the same – democracy.

At this point the words of the righteous Saint John of Kronstadt come to mind, that “in hell there is democracy and in Heaven there is a Kingdom.” No matter how strange such words may appear to the modern “civilized” Christian, but if one stops to think, he will invariably come to the conclusion that at least the second part of the statement is correct.

Truly in Heaven – to which all Christians are striving – there is the Kingdom of God, and not a republic or a democracy.

(...)

 In the above-mentioned citation [the leaders of world religions] indicate directly the kind of world order we must establish, and they further explain that “the world should have many poles and many systems, meeting the requirements of all individuals and nations.” Thus not only all expressions of religious zeal, but all monocultures in general (which Christianity is to some degree) fall under the suspicion of being untrustworthy.

(...)
It seems to us that a substitution of concepts is now taking place: there is an attempt to replace genuine religious tolerance and love of mankind with indifference and lukewarmness.

Christ taught tolerance and love for all people, no matter what their faith: if a person is in need of help, he should be fed, clothed, visited in prison, or simply offered compassion. But Christ did not teach tolerance for such a person’s false beliefs. We must love people, but at the same time reject their false faiths.

(...)

Aside from the above-mentioned citations, the “Declaration” contains many more general words and utopian slogans, which are crowned, from the Orthodox point of view, with a truly apocalyptic appeal: “Let us help one another and all well-intentioned people in building a better future for the entire human family.”

Belief in a better future here on earth for the entire human family is – at best – the chiliastic heresy condemned by the Church, and – at worst – a conscious attempt to participate in the creation of the universal government of the universal ruler who, according to the Scriptures, will be the Antichrist. Such an appeal is already an open apostasy from the Christian doctrine expressed in the Creed: “I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come.”

Nowhere in the Creed does it speak of an expectation of earthly happiness for the entire human family, but it does clearly speak of an expectation of a forthcoming eternal life in Christ. In general, the entire contemporary principle of tolerance, with its fruits that are similar to the current Moscow summit – is very earthy and worldly.

*

We are subjected to an inexhaustible fund of naive (or hypocritical?) speeches about a bright future, about mankind’s universal overcoming of natural disasters, illnesses, and wars.

And not a word about the repentance that is truly needful for the salvation of mankind!

(***)


H/T Joanna Higginbotham - http://startingontheroyalpath.blogspot.com/

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Sunday, 17 April 2011

A culture of suicide

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We live in a culture of suicide: a culture in which pleasure is the only good must inevitably be a culture of suicide since pleasure cannot be guaranteed - and when life has more suffering than pleasure, and the future prospect is bleak: why not suicide?

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It is ironic that when 'life' - vitality, gratification, comfort, fun - is the primary goal, then the opposite predominates.

So that the whole argument boils down to short-termism versus long-termism.

The short-termist lives on a knife edge; but usually obliterates suffering ASAP with technology or any other available distraction.

The long-termist response is that when suffering overtops pleasure, then suicide should be considered seriously, and postponed (never utterly rejected) only if the long term quantity of pleasure outweighs the short term quantity of pain.

(But why should we suppose that gratification is arithmetical?)

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"But, who knows what the future will bring... The safest thing is to die now, before there is a chance for anything bad to happen..." This sounds like parody - but surely it is precisely mainstream belief of teenage ethics, mainstream pop culture ethics, mainstream media ethics: the positive value placed on a beautiful corpse.

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Then there is the intense interest in euthanasia, when pleasure is insufficient to compensate suffering then die; indeed why not die - get yourself killed - before you get to that point, to be on the safe side.

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(Of course, it is equally insane to hold the view - which seems mainstream in the Roman Catholic Church, that it is on the one hand a duty for society to do anything and everything that the application of modern technology can devise to sustain human existence, and at the same time to regard the hastening of death - for instance by withdrawal of this modern technology - as utterly morally abhorrent.

(Apparently - by this reasoning - people must intervene technologically to prevent corporeal death, then must sustain at all or any cost whatever form of living-death may be a consequence of such intervention.

(But this is monstrous nonsense, and is indeed a variant of political correctness. A proper moral perspective on death surely entails an understanding that there is a right time and situation to die, and right level of intervention to prevent death - varying by context - and an acceptance of fate insofar as it can be discerned. And a recognition of the moral chasm between killing and letting-die.)

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What is remarkable is that suicide is not endemic.

But maybe it is endemic, in the sense that political correctness is suicide - since any self-blinding, mandatorially non-consequential reasoning is implicitly suicidal.

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[Note added - plus of course, the endemic suicide of awareness - the suicide of awareness from continuous distraction by compulsive and continuous usage of the mass media and electronic interpersonal communications, organized busyness, overwhelming pleasurable inputs including - junk food/ high cuisine, intoxicating or energizing drinks, drugs, sex, dreamy physical pleasures such as baths and sunbathing, exercise, shopping, fashion, fantasy... or whatever. Without the ability for most modern secular people most of the time to escape at will into such immersive stimuli - so abundantly provided by modern society - it is likely either that 'things would change' or else that actual physical suicide would be much commoner.)

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(The politically correct are engaged in creating a society which they, personally, would find intolerable. How do they imagine that they would cope? Answer: they won't cope. They imagine that will either let themselves die or, if that is too slow or creates too much suffering, they will take matters into their own hands.)

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I strongly suspect that a suicide fantasy lies behind the hedonism and political correctness of modern society. The idea that if, when, things don't work out - and it is time to pay the costs of recklessly self-gratifying and evasive policies, then there is a 'way out'.

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All of this depends on the belief - unique to intellectuals living under modernity - that the soul is unreal and that there is no existence after death.

A belief in the unreality of the soul is a crutch to hedonism.

Extinction after death is the 'get out of jail free' card for political correctness.

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Firkins on Emerson

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From Ralph Waldo Emerson, by Oscar W Firkins, 1915

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The secret of Emerson may be conveyed in one word, the superlative, even the superhuman, value which he found in the unit of experience, the direct, momentary, individual act of consciousness. This is the centre from which the man radiates; it begets all and explains all.

He may be defined as an experiment made by nature in the raising of the single perception or impression to a hitherto unimaginable value.

(...)

...the theory of the conduct of life is plain.

Life is a quest of thoughts, a pursuit of inspirations.

Beside these ends, land and goods and house and fame are nothing, and wife and child may count themselves lucky if they escape relegation to the class of baggage.

...for Emerson all values, even truth-values, are experimental; nothing counts that is not enjoyable, consumable, digestible; even knowledge is either nutriment or refuse.

(...)

Life is subjective, life is internal.

Receptiveness is the normal and happy state and conduct is instrumental to reception.

(...)

If the single experience is to be uniformly exalted, the universe must be cleared of evil; the grossest act or heaviest calamity must be viewed as the stammering of the divine power in its first untrained efforts to articulate.

Love, also, must be removed from individuals and concentrated on universal powers, if its riches are to be continuously available as the ornament and sustenance of life.

So, again, with the virtues. To give the moment its acme of exaltation, virtue must be viewed not in its special or partial aspect as justice, benevolence or fortitude, but in its supreme and pervasive aspect as the outcome and expression of the divine mind.

The whole philosophy contributes to the ascension and irradiation of the moment."

***


Comment.

Firkins' masterly compression of Emerson's masterly exposition of the philosophy of the moment is not - nowadays - distinctively Emersonian, but mainstream in the thought of the 'spiritual but not religious', New Age mode among the intellectual elites of the West.

This has been an expanding line of thought from the beginning of the industrial revolution and through the decline of Christianity among the elite (Emerson got it (selectively) from the Romantics and Transcendental philosophers - the difference being that for Emerson it was primary and primarily a matter of conduct).

For Emerson, the journal, a collection of such epiphanic moments, was the primary mode of literary production - from which all others (lectures, essays, poems) were derived.

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To live consistently by the philosophy of the moment - which Emerson did only very intermittently, since he functioned as a respectable and industrious patriarch - would be the act of a conscienceless psychopath: a parasite at best and perhaps something much worse.

But that is mere name-calling - what is wrong with this philosophy is that it is self-refuting: a self-conscious celebration of un-self-conscious life: an intellectuals abstract reflection upon the unreflective animism of the child or tribesman.

The intellectual takes his best moments, his moments of animistic connection, of bliss; and constructs from them (or tries to construct) his life: these moments are (presumably) to be held in mind, in memory, and used as a background to the mundane - or at least as a holiday from the mundane.

But the act of identifying, collecting, reflecting upon these moments is itself a movement away from them; a movement into abstraction.

So that life is an oscillation; what is worse an oscillation in which the meaningless predominates.

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But then, why continue to live?

If life is about the moment, best it is perhaps to die during the absolute moment - rather than trying (and mostly failing) to capture more such moments.

Indeed, if each moment - properly appreciated - is all; then why should we spend our efforts in trying to accumulate such pearls; why try to make life a continuous chain of pearls if a single pearl contains everything?

And yet life goes on.

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Hence the Emersonian life contains meaning but no purpose; and its meaning is (or ought to be) once for all - except for the deficiencies of the human mind - of memory - or the limitations of circumstance.

So, even regarded strictly on its own terms (and leaving aside its incompatibility with Christian truth), the Emersonian life is impossible, paradoxical, un-liveable.

Yet at the same time it captures - magnificently, a partial truth: that every moment potentially contains eternity.

Humans glimpse this partial truth, but for creatures such as we are, living in time, this truth is properly subordinate.

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Saturday, 16 April 2011

Ralph Waldo Emerson - my changing evaluations

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Around 1995-1999 Ralph Waldo Emerson was probably my number one spiritual mentor  - the period culminated in a pilgrimage to Emerson's house in Concord, Massachusetts through which I wandered as if in a dream.

I never found him easy to read nor to understand, never found myself able to read much at a stretch; but I regarded Emerson as a great soul and an example of how to live - I consciously modelled my life on his.

As well as Emerson's essays, journals and letters; I read great quantities of biographies and memoirs - of which there are exceptional numbers in exceptionally high quality.

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The first biography which made a really big impact was Robert D Richardson's Emerson: the mind on fire (1995).

My memories of the under-employed summers of 1996 and 1997 are sitting in the back garden on a blanket under the tree, reading this book, again and again.

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Richardson provides a handy list of Emerson's key ideas (which did not change through his mature life). I would then have subscribed to all of these ideas, insofar as I understood them:

1. The days are gods. That is, everything is divine.
2. Creation is continuous. There is no other world; this one is all there is.
3. Every day is the day of judgment.
4. The purpose of life is individual self-cultivation, self-expression, and fulfillment.
5. Poetry liberates. Thought is also free.
6. The powers of the soul are commensurate with its needs; each new day challenges us with its adequacy and our own.
8. Fundamental perceptions are intuitive and inarguable; all important truths, whether of physics or ethics, must at last be self--evident.
9. Nothing great is ever accomplished without enthusiasm.
10. Life is an ecstasy; Thoreau has it right when he says, “Surely joy is the condition of life.”
11. Criticism and commentary, if they are not in the service of enthusiasm and ecstasy, are idle at best, destructive at worst. Your work, as Ruskin says, should be the praise of what you love.”



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Now I would regard them all - except perhaps number 11 - as wrong, profoundly wrong, dangerously wrong!


They were fine for Emerson himself, a good and gentle man who was brought up as a strict Calvinist then as a mild Unitarian - but lethal for elite consumption in a secular and materialist society - where indeed such ideas are more or less mainstream among people who have anything like a spirituality.


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Emerson was reacting against the harshness and legalism of Calvinism, and against the arid rationality of  Unitarianism - and these were, indeed, indefensible.


It is the old, old story of heresy piled upon heresy - each new heresy forged by a genius who achieves remarkable results, great things; but who is followed by generations of disciples that progressively reveal the dark side of the Master - the incoherence, nihilism, selfishness and pride (that above all) which lies beneath the superficially exciting and liberating message.


*

I still read and enjoy Emerson, albeit in a bracketted and more selective way, and love to daydream of that brief decade or two of fresh, innocent New England Transcendentalism; but can never again let myself fall wholly under his intoxicating spell - or, at least, not for long.


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Friday, 15 April 2011

Zooey high the roofbeam, Seymour

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Ever since the summer of 1981 I have been periodically re-reading a trilogy of JD Salinger novellas: Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters, Zooey and Seymour: an introduction (supplemented by the linked long short story of For Esme - with love and squalor.

(At the time I also loved Catcher in the Rye, but have never felt inclined to re-read it since.)

Sometimes I think I have left behind the Glass family saga, but it turns out not; I keep returning.

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The reason is probably somewhat related to my loving for Tolkien - the sense of reality, depth, detail - the impression that these are not fictions but windows onto a world.

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I also revel in the precision and (yet) flexibility of the writing. Every re-read I seem to notice things I hadn't noticed before.

This corresponds to the way the stories were written. They were revised (and the last two were edited, by William Shawm - editor of the New Yorker) over many months and hundreds of hours, literally word by word.

While this minute obsessiveness would probably kill most authors (it would certainly kill me!), and would certainly kill their prose - it created something unique and wonderful in this instance.

*

My favourite sentence - from RHTRBC is the first in this passage:

It was a day, God knows, not only of rampant signs and symbols but of wildly extensive communication via the written word. If you jumped into crowded cars, Fate took circuitous pains, before you did any jumping, that you had a pad and pencil with you, just in case one of your fellow-passengers was a deaf-mute. If you slipped into bathrooms, you did well to look up to see if there were any little messages, faintly apocalyptical or otherwise, posted high over the washbowl.

*

Salinger was also a very interesting personality, and was last year the subject of one of the most impressive biographies of my experience: J.D.Salinger: a life raised high, by Kenneth Slawenski.

The most surprising discovery of which was to learn that Salinger experienced just about the most arduous conceivable frontline military campaign of the Western Sphere of WWII, from the D-Day landings, through the Battle of the Bulge and up to the surrender of Germany.

That fact is worth holding at the back of the mind when contemplating the jewelled fastidiousness of his fiction.

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Not taking sides...

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One of the reasons that mainstream moral commentary is asinine is that people pretend to evaluate issues impartially - this is regarded as the only sophisticated approach, the only sound and decent approach.

For instance, in discussing wars, or religious conflicts, or national conflicts; educated people are extremely careful not to talk in terms of a good and bad side - that would be to descend to the level of children - at best - and more likely that of genocidal Nazis (or whatever...).

This is, of course, complete and utter nonsense.

Moral disputes can only be evaluated after a decision concerning who are the 'goodies' and who are the 'baddies'

- everyone throughout human history knew this until a few decades ago; and the vast majority of the people in the world still regard this as obvious and unchallengeable common sense.

Yet, within the bubble of Western political correctness, the media, the education system, public administration, NGOs, and (especially) the mass media - everybody insists upon and operates on the insane, self-destructive and evil assumption that ethical maturity entails impartiality!

*

Watch out for this! Before embarking on a moral discussion insist that protagonists define who they regard as the goodies and who as the baddies - insist that all participants state who they want to win

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Lucid Dreaming and Tolkien

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The Notion Club Papers - an unfinished, posthumously published novel by JRR Tolkien - open with the character Ramer's accounts of what are often termed Lucid Dreams - that is, dreams in which the dreamer is aware they are dreaming, has some degree of control of the dream, and in which the dream experience feels real.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucid_dream

One question is whether Tolkien uses Lucid Dreaming as a literary device (although at the time he was writing there was no concept of Lucid Dreaming - but there was a long tradition of dreams of this type - whether shamanic, mystical, prophetic or pure imagination or fantasy - e.g. 'opium dreams'); or whether, on the other hand, Tolkien was using Ramer to report his own experiences.

I have argued in my Notion Club Papers blog that there is sufficient evidence to suggest that Tolkien was indeed expressing his own dream experiences in a fictional form.

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.com/

*

This inference has now been confirmed for me by a personal experience of Lucid Dreaming.

From this it is even clearer that Ramer's experiences are consistent with being precise reports of Tolkien's experience of Lucid Dreaming.

*

From the perspective of the NCPs, the striking feature of a Lucid Dream is the feeling of sensory contact with the dream world.

In most instances, dreams are 'dreamy' - they have a feeling of imprecise unreality due to the constant shifting of association and the shortness of memory - so that the dream is happening to the dreamer (who is trying, but failing, to make sense of it), rather than in Lucid Dreams being dreamed-by the dreamer.

The Lucid Dream is not 'dreamy' - except in that it is known to be a dream, and that events unfold in a somewhat slow motion and emphatically experienced way. By contrast, it is more sensitively appreciated and considered than normal everyday reality: as if realer than real.

*

Furthermore, in a Lucid Dream moral agency is preserved: the dreamer consciously makes choices. This chimes with Tolkien's discussion in NCPs that there is potential for evil influences to enter dreams, but that this can only happen if the influences are invited by the dreamer.

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.com/2010/10/evil-minds-attacking-during-sleep.html

By contrast, normal dreaming is not subject to the agency of the dreamer, and the dreamer is not responsible for what he dreams - because he cannot help what he dreams.

*

Assuming that Tolkien was indeed a Lucid Dreamer - and one for whom this was a regular experience, rather than my own one off experience - this leads onto further speculations.

The Lucid Dream turns out to be phenomenologically (experientially) identical to Tolkien's description of how elves might create Faerian Drama (as described in the essay On Fairy Stories and again discussed in the NCPs) - I mean the presumed elves experience of creating this kind of drama.

*

Furthermore, the rather overwhelming experience of Lucid Dreaming raises may of the problems about fantasy, its validity - and the nature of that validity, and the potential benefits and hazards; matters with which Tolkien so often grappled in his writings.

After all, Lucid Dreaming approximates to being given Absolute Power, and none knew better than Tolkien that Absolute Power has a strong tendency to corrupt.

*

In sum, I am suggesting that Faery, for Tolkien, was directly experienced via Lucid Dreams; and in that sense he was an intermittent visitor to Faery; and perhaps in that sense it was fear of a cessation of Lucid Dreaming which provoked Tolkiens mid-life poem The Sea Bell/ Frodo's Dreme/ Looney - and when the Lucid Dreams had actually stopped in Tolkien's experience, provoked Tolkien's late story of Smith of Wootton Major. The story was his farewell to Faery.

*

I make the tentative guess that Tolkien was always aware of the fragility and unpredictability of his ability to experience Lucid Dreams of Faery; and that when Tolkien stopped having Lucid Dreams in later life, he was (as it were) no longer 'allowed' to visit Faery himself, but had only fading memories of these experiences, and the hope that the ability would be passed-on to others - as the Faery star was passed-on by the eponymous Smith.

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Thursday, 14 April 2011

PC is the cause of the elite education bubble

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Why are the most selective schools and universities so highly valued?

After all, if you control for intelligence and personality, differences between schools and colleges make approximately zero difference to 'hard' life outcomes such as jobs and salaries

http://medicalhypotheses.blogspot.com/2009/07/replacing-education-with-psychometrics.html

So, as we realize that elite education nowadays makes no real difference, people are ever-more hysterical about its importance.

The reason for the elite education bubble, regular readers will not be surprised to hear, comes down to political correctness.

*

Of course, what content you learn does make a difference - but a big feature of the education bubble is that people are all-but-indifferent to educational content: what is important is going to the prestigious schools and colleges - simply attending elite educational institutions, as a warm body...

(And of course, it must be officially attending the institution: since 'merely' getting the benefit of teaching - as an elective student or or 'auditing' courses - does not count. This relies on elite institutions as proving a reliable 'screen' for admissions - but implicitly acknowledges that, aside from this, they are not superior.)

(Yet we know for sure that admission to elite institutions are not a reliable screen - since they all deploy affirmative action, and also admit women and men in equal proportions - or an excess of women, both of which mean they cannot be picking the highest aptitude students.)

*

Well, it doesn't make sense until you remember what intellectuals 'know' when (as they almost all are) in thrall to political correctness.

1. PC Intellectuals know (correctly) that there are big differences in average success between the graduates of different educational institutions - they know (correctly) that the children in their PC Intellectual social circles almost-all get into elite educational institutions and move onto elite jobs.

So they seek an explanation...

2. PC Intellectuals 'know' (falsely) that all humans are equal in ability when they are conceived, because they 'know' that intelligence and personality (and other factors that influence success) are equally distributed between sexes, social classes, and races.

3. PC Intellectuals also 'know' that the intelligence and personality are NOT hereditary (or, at least, not to any significant extent) - these are 'known' to be shaped by childhood experience.

4. PC Intellectuals therefore 'know' that intrinsically everybody can do anything - unless prevented from doing so by their environment.

5. PC Intellectuals therefore 'know' that the huge differences in adult success 'must' be caused (substantially) by educational differences.

6. Therefore, PC Intellectuals 'know' that if they can 'get their kids into' the most successful schools and colleges, their children will have the best chance of success. Therefore elite education is perceived as an investment. It may cost a lot of time, money and effort, but all this will be worth it in the long term.

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Hence the hysteria around access to elite education, and the rapidly inflating prices.

All a consequence of politically correct 'knowledge'.

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Wednesday, 13 April 2011

The terminal moraine of political correctness - Bad Vestments

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Anyone who hopes that resurgent Western Catholicism might be the force that defeats policial correctness/ liberalism should take a look at this wonderful blog:

http://badvestments.blogspot.com/

The content is very funny - at first; but then induces despair.

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For a shred of hope you might then take a look at:

http://www.sspx.co.uk/

which has an inspiring banner on Google Search that reads:

"Dedicated to providing training for the Catholic priesthood without any trace of modernist doctrine, morals or worship."

"...without any trace..." - I love that bit!

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(Sadly, there is an awful lot of Bad Vestments Catholocism: while the SSPX brand is very small and continually persecuted... although certainly things have improved consderably under Pope Benedict XVI.)

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Trouble and Anxiety - a good thing, or not?

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From Major Barbara by George Bernard Shaw:


UNDERSHAFT. Well you see, my dear boy, when you are organizing civilization you have to make up your mind whether trouble and anxiety are good things or not. If you decide that they are, then, I take it, you simply don't organize civilization; and there you are, with trouble and anxiety enough to make us all angels! But if you decide the other way, you may as well go through with it.

(...)

UNDERSHAFT. Cleanliness and respectability do not need justification, Barbara: they justify themselves. I see no darkness here, no dreadfulness. In your Salvation shelter I saw poverty, misery, cold and hunger. You gave them bread and treacle and dreams of heaven. I give from thirty shillings a week to twelve thousand a year. They find their own dreams; but I look after the drainage.

BARBARA. And their souls?

UNDERSHAFT. I save their souls just as I saved yours.

BARBARA [revolted] You saved my soul! What do you mean?

UNDERSHAFT. I fed you and clothed you and housed you. I took care that you should have money enough to live handsomely--more than enough; so that you could be wasteful, careless, generous. That saved your soul from the seven deadly sins.

BARBARA [bewildered] The seven deadly sins!

UNDERSHAFT. Yes, the deadly seven. [Counting on his fingers] Food, clothing, firing, rent, taxes, respectability and children. Nothing can lift those seven millstones from Man's neck but money; and the spirit cannot soar until the millstones are lifted. I lifted them from your spirit. I enabled Barbara to become Major Barbara; and I saved her from the crime of poverty.

CUSINS. Do you call poverty a crime?

UNDERSHAFT. The worst of crimes. All the other crimes are virtues beside it: all the other dishonors are chivalry itself by comparison.

Poverty blights whole cities; spreads horrible pestilences; strikes dead the very souls of all who come within sight, sound or smell of it. What you call crime is nothing: a murder here and a theft there, a blow now and a curse then: what do they matter? they are only the accidents and illnesses of life: there are not fifty genuine professional criminals in London.

But there are millions of poor people, abject people, dirty people, ill fed, ill clothed people. They poison us morally and physically: they kill the happiness of society: they force us to do away with our own liberties and to organize unnatural cruelties for fear they should rise against us and drag us down into their abyss. Only fools fear crime: we all fear poverty.

Pah! [turning on Barbara] you talk of your half-saved ruffian in West Ham: you accuse me of dragging his soul back to perdition. Well, bring him to me here; and I will drag his soul back again to salvation for you. Not by words and dreams; but by thirty-eight shillings a week, a sound house in a handsome street, and a permanent job.

In three weeks he will have a fancy waistcoat; in three months a tall hat and a chapel sitting; before the end of the year he will shake hands with a duchess at a Primrose League meeting, and join the Conservative Party.

BARBARA. And will he be the better for that?

UNDERSHAFT. You know he will. Don't be a hypocrite, Barbara.

He will be better fed, better housed, better clothed, better behaved; and his children will be pounds heavier and bigger. That will be better than an American cloth mattress in a shelter, chopping firewood, eating bread and treacle, and being forced to kneel down from time to time to thank heaven for it: knee drill, I think you call it.

It is cheap work converting starving men with a Bible in one hand and a slice of bread in the other. I will undertake to convert West Ham to Mahometanism on the same terms. Try your hand on my men: their souls are hungry because their bodies are full.

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The above passage had a huge impact on me as a young teenager - Shaw was one of the first adult authors I read extensively after Lord of the Rings began the process (the other from that era was Robert Graves).

"Their souls are hungry because their bodies are full" - that was the Communist, Fabian socialist hope - and it is the hope of political correctness. Indeed, the usual assumption - in Shaw then, and still nowadays - is that a hungry body obliterates a hungry soul.

Looking around the world, this idea is so obviously, completely, empirically wrong that it is difficult to understand why anybody ever believed it; why I believed it.

Our bodies are full: but our souls are dead.

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And yet: "when you are organizing civilization you have to make up your mind whether trouble and anxiety are good things or not. If you decide that they are, then, I take it, you simply don't organize civilization; and there you are, with trouble and anxiety enough to make us all angels!"

The argument seems unanswerable!

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The problem comes with: "But if you decide the other way, you may as well go through with it."

"Go through with it" - that is where the problem lies - in regarding the obliteration of trouble and anxiety as a single organizing principle to be carried right through.

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In common sense, I think we would want to improve the comfort and convenience of life up to a point: up to the point where we had enough of these things - and then we would switch our attention onto other matters.

So we would want enough food of good enough quality, a big enough house that was convenient enough etc...

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But that hasn't been what happened.

The point of satiation never arrived; our material wants are apparently insatiable - because they have become linked to status.

And because there is nothing else.

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Shaw's argument is compelling at the material level. It is true if you don't really believe in the soul and its needs - or if, like Shaw/ Undershaft, your belief in the soul is merely residual from childhood Christianity (the next generation of intellectuals after Shaw were mostly raised such that even to mention the soul was regarded as whimsical or ludicrous).

But Undershaft's speech implicitly assumes that the purpose of organizing civilization is done in order to improve material conditions only - the argument rules-out a religious purpose for civilization: rules out (for instance) the idea that the primary purpose of civilization might be the salvation of individual souls.

Only such a higher purpose for civilization can (in principle) set a limit to the pursuit of status (which, being a zero sum competition, is endless and insatiable), to pursuit of material goods (which, by fashion, have been co-opted to the zero sum game of status), of comfort and convenience (which is, in practice, insatiable - since the threshold for suffering can be asymptotically lowered...

Only in light of a higher purpose could humans ever have 'enough' of these things.

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Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Getting-into Middle English

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I am having the pleasant experience of becoming more-and-more able to 'appreciate' a wider range of Middle English poetry: in particular Piers the Plowman by William Langland - which makes the third leg of great English poets who were active in the 1350-1400 era (i.e. Chaucer, the anonymous 'Gawain poet' and Langland).

Aside from the wonderful opening lines: -

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"In a somer seson, whan softe was the sonne,
I shoop me into shroudes as I a shepe were,
In habite as an heremite unholy of werkes,
Wente wide in this world wondres to here.

Ac on a May morwenynge on Malverne hilles
Me bifel a ferly, of Fairye me thoghte.

I was wery forwandred and wente me to reste
Under a brood bank by a bourne syde;
And as I lay and lenede and loked on the watres,
I slombred into a slepyng, it sweyed so murye.

Thanne gan I meten a merveillous swevene —
That I was in a wildernesse, wiste I nevere where.

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Aside from this, Langland previously never did anything much for me.

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Of course, it helps greatly that I am now a Christian; when I previously tried reading it the great slabs of theology were just torture, whereas now I find them profound.

Previously, skipping - as I was - the religious bits; Piers Plowman struck me as a satirical, dystopian political treatise (a medieval Animal Farm - which is not a genre I enjoy, and never has been). Now, this aspect recedes and delicious poetic qualities jump-out.

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I should point out that I am an inept linguist; French was objectively my weakest subject at school despite that I put twice as much effort into it as anything else, and I was utterly clueless about German grammar after two years, before ditching it - I had literally no idea what was going on (yet found all the other academic subjects facile and obvious).

So my 'method' for reading Middle English is very un-scholarly - it consists in reading modern translations to get the gist (e.g. translations by JRR Tolkien for the Gawain poet, and Nevill Coghill for Chaucer and Langland), and then reading passages of Middle English through, then reading the specific translations and notes for those passages.

I am also using old editions, where possible.

At the same time I am reading literary history of the period, Coghill, C.S. Lewis etc.

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In fact I do not have any great love for the Middle Ages in England - some aspects, yes indeed; but overall not really.

Certainly I cannot see it as an ideal - not so much because it was a corrupt, uncomfortable and cruel time; but in the sense that the medieval ideal was not my ideal.

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I recently read that the Middle Ages was a distinctively Western concept - the idea of an era between the Classical and the Modern. In England we tend to think of the Middle Ages as a kind of 'natural' society, or a default state; yet it was not - it was a semi-Modern society: in abstract terms, a relatively specialized and internationalized society; with a strange dual, parallel system of leadership from monarchs and their nobles, and the Pope and his hierarchy.

And Medieval society was in a continual process of change - although relatively slowly, measured over generations for much of the time.

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The special appeal of the English Middle Ages is to intellectuals, since the achievements in the arts and crafts (especially architecture and the associated decorative crafts) were extraordinary, and an intellectual such as Chaucer could apparently encompass the whole thing.

Coghill suggests Chaucer was the most widely-read man in England, and perhaps in Europe - the range of his writing (even in the compass of a single volume) - and of his sympathy - is astonishing.

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Sunday, 10 April 2011

Coghill, Christopher Tolkien and Chaucer

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I have been re-reading Chaucer's The Nun's Priest's Tale, edited (1959) by Nevill Coghill and Christopher Tolkien in the volume I pencil-annotated for O-Level English Literature.

(In the olden days, the more academic English kids - about a quarter of the year cohort - studied nine or ten Ordinary-level GCEs between ages 14 and 16 - with six numbered pass grades up to 1974, going down to three lettered grades in 1975 - an early example of the grade blurring and inflation that has been continuous and rampant ever since.)

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Reading this edition has been an extremely enjoyable experience. The poem is marvelous, but it would not be possible to appreciate it properly without the introduction (by Coghill) and notes and glossary (by Tolkien).

What comes across is love of learning; a warmth, general wisdom and soundness of scholarship that is now gone (and I have read many hundreds of works of recent literary scholarship written over the past generation).

(At root, the difference between now and then is that Coghill and Tolkien are examples of scholars who are whole men, good men - aiming at virtue, honesty and beauty - men steeped in tradition and the life of the mind - yet (probably from their war experiences) also rooted in reality.)

Even the remarkable fact that I studied Chaucer at age 14, and in such depth, is evidence of how much has been lost. (The Coghill-Tolkien edition was apparently designed for school children.)

(It was a pleasure, too, to be reading the microscopic penciled annotations, including a few jokes, of my former schoolboy self - and it made it very much easier to read the poem when all the tricky bits and translations were handily written just above and alongside each line of the printed text)

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Coghill and Tolkien made a superb combination.


Coghill was an historical scholar. His introduction gives the medieval world in microcosm, with a wealth of context and specific details about the themes of the poem; information on sources, philosophical debates of the age, and an introduction to technical aspects of the language and poetry.

Coghill was also a well known director of Shakespeare and Elizabethan drama (including a movie - he 'discovered' Richard Burton - the Welsh actor - and was a lifelong friend), he was Oxford's senior Professor of English at the end of his career - but is probably best remembered for having done the standard modern (Penguin) English version of the Canterbury Tales which was made into a successful musical that I saw as a teenager.

Coghill was also one of the Inklings - and was indeed tutored alongside CS Lewis when they both did the (three year) Oxford English degree in one year (Coghill having already done a History degree, and Lewis Classics), both gaining first class honours.

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Christopher Tolkien (like his father) was a philologist, and his notes provide a running commentary on the meanings, context and hard words - especially those which have changed their meaning in subtle or misleading ways.

Anyway, copies of the Coghill & Tolkien edition of the Nun's Priests' Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer are still available online for just the cost of postage. I'd recommend buying one before they disappear, and saving it for a holiday.

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Each of these mini volumes provides a window onto another world, the mind of a great poet, and an example of the (all too brief) greatness of English literary scholarship in its twilight years. 

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Saturday, 9 April 2011

My idea of a completed Notion Club Papers, by JRR Tolkien

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http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.com/2011/04/tolikiens-notion-club-papers-completed.html

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Book draft 'finished'

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Well, I have finished the draft of the PC Book (title undecided) - which is drawn mostly from this blog.

I'm reasonably happy with it except... it is only 24 thousand words... (cut down from about 90K).

Somehow I just can't write a real book.

On the positive side, this one is set out in separate paragraphs, in an 'aphoristic' style, so it would make a (slim) book in length (in this respect rather like Wittgenstein's Tractatus - although probably not with all the numberings, and with more jokes...)

Any way, if regular commenters would like an rtf copy, then please e-mail me.

You can comment on the book if you wish, although I should warn that I will take about as much notice of the book comments as I do of the blog comments ;-)

- but seriously folks: THANK YOU.

It wouldn't (for what it is worth...) have happened without you.

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Friday, 1 April 2011

Draft Epigraph and (new) Introduction for 'the book'

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Epigraph

This book is intended for normal, mainstream, secular, modern disaffected and alienated intellectuals; those who are complicit in political correctness (as are all intellectuals) but who are (when not distracted, drugged or dreaming) in a state of despair.

This book will, I hope, help such people to understand their condition, and present the likely choices. It will not help them to save their world (too late for that) but it may help them to save their souls.

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Introduction

Political correctness (PC) is the dominant ideology of the Western intellectual world – PC is what the West has instead of a religion.

Political correctness obviously dominates its core territory of politics, public administration (the civil service), law, education and (especially!) the mass media. But PC also substantially shapes everything else: foreign policy, the military, policing, the economy, health services, and personal life: the mating game, friendships and even family life.


Therefore political correctness is objectively totalitarian. Just as with the cruder totalitarianism of the mid-twentieth century, PC has created a population that lives in fear: fear of being denounced and losing everything – committing a thought crime or uttering a hate fact for which there is no defence, and the sanctions against which range from social ostracism, through loss of job, financial penalties, impoverishment, mob violence and imprisonment (for ‘hate crimes’).


Consequently the mass of people, especially those of status - with power and influence – have learned and internalized the constraints of political correctness, so that it is now something inside us, as well as pressing upon us. The lies, shabbiness and wickedness of PC now permeate our very thought processes.

So, political correctness is the ruling ideology of the West, and it is everywhere, so it cannot be attacked or overthrown without attacking and overthrowing pretty much everything. Political correctness is therefore de facto unrefutable, immovable, expansile... and yet, of course, as we all recognize, PC is self-destroying.

Am I saying that Western civilization is doomed? Yes, very probably it is doomed.

Can anything be done to prevent this, anything political perhaps? No – I don’t think so.


So why am I bothering to write a book about it?

The answer is simple, but will strike most of my target audience of secular intellectuals as bizarre at best, nonsense at worst: the answer is so that some individuals may escape the general corruption and save their souls.

Because, PC is – more than anything else – destructive of the soul – proceeds, indeed, from the denial of the soul.

And if you don’t know what I mean by this: Read On...

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Patriarchs or monks

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Eastern Orthodox Christianity is wise - I recognise - to insist that priests be married (implicitly fathers: patriarchs) or else monks; and to choose its Bishops (who are the teachers) from among the monks.

These are, I think, the proper aspirational forms of life for men.

(Recognizing that, of course, that many - most - cannot achieve that to which they aspire.)

(The state of worldly, non-monastic celibacy (e.g. the 'secular priests' of the Roman Catholic church, most of the priests) is wholesomely possible for a few men, but is not - it seems to me - a basic form of man's life.)

A worldy, engaged, practical Christian man - most men - should hope to be a father; or else he should live celibately and spiritually among other men as a monk (a very few of whom are gifted with the vocation for solitude).

And it is among monks that the higher learning is mostly pursued; monasteries being the proper centre and leaders of learning (instead of universities).

That, then, is the ideal: in this world now, many men can become neither patriarchs (the main path) nor monks (for those few with a specific vocation) - since the one depends on a real wife and the other on real monasteries.

Nonetheless, whatever is practically possible in any particular situation - which may indeed be very little, a poor and shabby compromise - patriarch or monk should remain the ideals of manhood.

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