Mollie Tibbetts, R.I.P.—and God Help Your “Sisters”

It is incredible to me that any person alive, let alone several women of public note, would have responded to the murder of Mollie Tibbetts by a young man illegally resident in the U.S. with comments on the order of, “Well, the man’s legal status is irrelevant.  There is no issue here but toxic masculinity.  Every woman runs Mollie’s risk whenever she’s with her boyfriend.  More women are shot by their boyfriends every year than by illegal aliens.”

I saw similar remarks all over Twitter—where, of course, one always goes to find profound diagnosis of the day’s news.  But all sneering aside—or as much of it as possible—let me take that response at face value.  One concession I cannot make in my attempt to resist the sneer is using the word “boyfriend” out of quotation marks.  That anybody should consider a person to be a friend of any kind who’s capable of spontaneous combustion into homicidal violence is… just let me keep my quotes, or I won’t be able to continue.

In the first place, there appear to be no statistics to arbitrate the claim.  President Trump famously (or infamously) claimed that “thousands” of American citizens have been murdered by illegal aliens.  The website Politifact ruled his claim “half true”, since the number of thousands and the time frame for the murders were both unspecified.  The website’s operators clearly wanted to drag Trump to the woodshed for slinging about vicious accusations carelessly.  In their dedication to this mission, they ironically failed to notice the broader issue: that reliable, objective figures about the criminal activity of illegal residents are seldom made available.  We’re supposed to be snorting, “Well, Donald… do you mean two thousand over the past hundred years?  That seems like a pretty sure bet!”  But what if it’s two thousand in the past year?  How do we know?  If the elusive Trump isn’t going to tell us, why can’t we get that information from the Bureau of Justice Statistics?

Yet the claim, “More women die at the hands of their ‘boyfriends’ that of illegal aliens,” is surely true, if we tally bodies instead of calculating probability.  How many males between the ages of 16 and 60 are illegally resident in the U.S.?  Those figures, too, appear to live in the twilight.  Make it five million.  Now, how many of our three hundred million legal residents are females within that same age group; and of these, how many are occasionally engaged in sexual relationships with males?  The figure could easily be thirty or forty million.  One must assume that there’s a small contingent of psychopaths within both male groups.  That condition by itself, tiny though the “psychopath subset” might be, would confirm the statement.  Since the one killer in ten thousand becomes three or four thousand among legal residents, the same proportion plus a whopping number of habitual lawbreakers who break skulls for their gangs would still scarcely make a blip on the comparative graph.

In other words, we could echo Politifact by calling the statement half true—or, more accurately, labeling it an inane, mean-nothing claim couched in terms that seek the respectability of statistical evidence.  It’s a stupid statement, at least as stupid as Trump’s is supposed to have been.

I’m more interested, honestly, in what makes young women hang out with men whom they suspect of having such a dark side… and then they claim that all men are of this sort!  I well remember pondering the question as a young single male.  Why did she leave the party with that guy?  Why does she go to bars looking for a mate to share her life?  Why do girls never want to see the guy again who respectfully leaves them at their front door with a light kiss?  And then we hear that all men are animals! I recall getting really tired of that refrain.

In the original black-and-white version of Cape Fear, a girl that the homicidal convict (played brilliantly by Robert Mitchum) picked up in a bar says something like, “What I like about you, Max Cady, is that a girl knows she can’t sink any lower once she reaches you.”  If we’re going to talk about toxic character traits related to gender, it seems like this one should make the docket.

To me, that’s the real story behind these Tweeted remarks (and some of them, too, were written in an ostensibly more reflective context, or even spoken on national television—more’s the shame and the disgrace).  The claims made have nothing to do with Mollie Tibbetts, may she know eternal peace.  They are, to me, yet further evidence that we have among us an “educated, thinking” class incapable of feeling the anguish of others—capable only of squinting at every reality through the fractured prism of their egocentric obsessions.  For crying out loud… we’re not talking about your bad date—we’re talking about an innocent girl murdered in the park!

This kind of disconnect frightens me, frankly, in a way that a thug in the shadows doesn’t.  Thugs have always lurked in the shadows: they always will, alas.  That’s not the issue, though it appears to be closer to the sentiment of the Tweets.  The difference is that which separates being knifed as you walk to your car and knifed as you pour another drink for the stranger who knocked at your door.  We can’t protect young women from the consequences of their self-destructive judgments if they want no advice, and especially if they fight the learning curve by ascribing every brutal outcome to “toxic masculinity”.  We ought to be able, however, to assure young women of a reasonable degree of safety as they traverse a parking lot, or a sidewalk, or a city park.

Instead, we who would draw such distinctions are told to shut up.  We’re denied public venues to voice our opinions sometimes—particularly on college campuses and, yes, even on Facebook and Twitter—and perhaps efforts are made to vandalize our websites (as has been happening to mine for the past month).  “No speech but my speech… no opinions but mine… and whatever’s in the news didn’t really happen unless it bears upon my bad day and my bad week.”

You call people “boyfriends” who might murder you on any given night—and you don’t want any advice?  Really? Just what do you want? A long line of mourners at your funeral?

Posing With Mother Nature in Selfies Doesn’t Help Her

October 1 will be an important day for me.  That’s when the summer burn ban for Floyd County terminates.  I would guess on the fly that at least fifty trees, mostly pines of under twenty feet in height, were shouldered to the lot’s edge by heavy equipment when my house was built.  The process is known as “clearing”, apparently.  “Clearing” doesn’t include cleaning up the mess you left along the periphery of the work zone—which, yes, also contains plenty of crumpled Shasta cans, shredded Nabisco wrappers, and rounded tins of Skoal.

These latter I cannot completely burn into oblivion; but I’m much more concerned, frankly, about the biodegradable debris, both because it’s infinitely more abundant in volume and because it creates hazards well beyond unsightliness.  A good little footsoldier of the Green Movement would exhort me to pick up the wrappers and cans while keeping my fingers away from matches: just let Mother Nature go her natural way!  But, you see, it’s not nearly so simple as that.

In the first place, the production of vast debris piles around the felled trunks—and I mean natural debris, such as dead leaves and dense briars—would become a major fire hazard if next summer proves more to resemble a dry 2017 than a wet 2018.  Not just my own house, but the entire North Georgia countryside, would stand at risk should tinder of this kind be allowed to collect.  How is Mother Nature helped when we pack her skirts with deadwood and then hold our collective breath in hopes that one cigarette or one lightning strike doesn’t incinerate several counties?  The practice of burning the fuel beforehand may seem counterintuitive to the ingénue, but those are the real-world options: a controlled burn or a conflagration of the “not if, but when” category.

California’s rash of devastating wildfires, by the way, owes much of its genesis (pace Jerry Brown, Blessed Be His Name) to idiotic “conservation” practices that forbid the culling of dry, dead underbrush.  Add to that environment populations of tent-city itinerants living on Mulligan stew… and you have proof positive of ruinous Climate Change, so it is said.

Then there’s the wildlife so precious to our acolytes of Diana.  Understand this.  Any disruption whatever of the environment, be it fully natural are wholly manmade, sends ripples of impact (if not tsunamis) among the routines of flora and fauna.  Granted, the thick growth of weeds and briars on and around stacks of deadwood is a natural phenomenon… but the specific pattern is also quite unnatural.  A forest left alone would not permit jungle-like underbrush to take over; and once given the run of the devastated scene, the low underbrush chokes out opportunities for other vegetation.

This, in turn, changes patterns of animal behavior.  I’ve noticed that bird activity has grown much more lively where I’ve cleared the underbrush (or at least moved it free of the forest to await disposal).  Deer are also much more likely to move through my cleared patches.  I would speculate that the thorny litter must obviously have impeded low-flying songbirds and animals that trust in speed to survive; it also probably became an artificial incubator for snakes, which are never a bird’s best friend.  I like snakes in their proper place: they eat mice and rats.  But I see no need to erect Super 8 Motels for them all around my property.

My property… what a smug, bourgeois phrase (sneers the green saint from his lofty perch).  The land would never have been cleared, in the first place, if I had just stayed away!  Why didn’t I keep out of the forest?

It wouldn’t have interested this Jeremiah, I’m sure, that the property was already being “seeded” by deer hunters to gun down Bambi mom and gnawed away by developers who would have turned every last acre into a playground for lawnmowers.  In other words, my intrusion would never be viewed as itself an act of conservation by the Green Crusade: no, that would deprive Righteous Eco-Warrior of a chance to claim moral superiority over yet another human being.

So allow me merely to repeat this observation.  Everything we do has an ecological impact.  The addicts and drifters who are living out of San Francisco’s dumpsters and defecating on her sidewalks may have a minuscule carbon footprint—but they aren’t simply throwing themselves into the bay to feed the fish.  Their maintenance requires tax dollars that are raised, at least in some measure, through industrial activity.  Sanitizing the environment they pollute also consumes resources; and those among them who stoke campfires on the edge of town to blunt the evening’s chill are not a negligible factor (I must also repeat) in California’s horrendous wildfire problem.  No human has no environmental effect.  Some end up having major destructive effects precisely through their ill-calculated efforts to “live as one” with the growing grass.

I conclude, then, with yet further insistence on a theme that my harp has strummed all week long.  We need to engage the world around us in detail: we need to learn its intricacies rather than roping in select parts of it as background for a selfie.  Too many of us too uncritically embrace childishly facile notions of “nature” and “green consciousness” only because we want to feel good about ourselves.  The focus of our noisy advocacy is ourselves—our egotistical quest for moral superiority—and not the benefit of the cause for which we clamor.  If you are among these boisterous “sensitive” youths, please stop sucking in all the air around you.  Depart from your “avatar” long enough to make a tour of reality.  Know something about your holy mission.  Stop marveling over what it does for your image in the mirror, and start thinking about what you might do, sensibly and maturely, on its behalf.

And for the record… I have used as much deadwood as I can physically manipulate to build up terraces for my fruit trees, which will need well-draining ground.  But I’m not Gilgamesh: I can’t take on the entire remains of Humbaba’s cedar forest.  The burnt ash will fertilize the soil—that’s the best I can do for you.

If you’re so very worried about the Greenhouse Effect, how about turning your attention to studying the reduction of catastrophic pressures in volcanoes—a fearful phenomenon that happens to be an immensely more credible path to multi-species extinction?  (Google “Yellowstone super-volcano”.) A young, environmentally conscious biology major once responded to that question, “Well… but there’s something we could do about the climate, and there’s nothing we can do about volcanoes.”  Try parsing that one, without my help, for arrogance and a paradoxical defeatism!

Meanwhile… go cuddle a snake, and see how much joy it really brings you.

The Radiant Star and the Black Hole

Apologies for my last post: I was interrupted repeatedly; and upon a final hasty proofread of the bits and pieces, I ignored the clear evidence of a train wreck and ascribed the incoherence to a headache that interfered with my reading.  Not my best day.

Let me try to compress my intentions into one idea, which I’ve probed before but which seems to me to reward incessant probing.  This is it: the good life consists of negotiating an existence with the realities around us, while the bad life consists of arranging and reinforcing artificial retreats from reality.  I do not mean anything so facile as that the active life of the entrepreneur or the politician is superior to the contemplative life of the artist or the scholar.  If that were true, then heaven help me, because I am nobody’s notion of an extrovert.  A contemplative can be deeply immersed in reality, fortunately: the connections of “is” with “may be” are supposed to be what he contemplates, after all.  He can move outward constantly from his fond theories of how things work to practical observation.  Then he can become a scholar as scholars were meant to be: humble, inquisitive, and endowed with a sense of humor bred in him by frequent self-correction.

We all know, alas, that professional scholars tend to follow a different path.  They may be far more extroverted than the genuine enquirer: they usually are.  They need their entourage of fawning disciples and their audience of applauding (but envious—and highly select) conferees no less than the addict needs his fix.  They are not really curious about the world at all—after an initial apprenticeship, perhaps, that will define the rest of their earthly existence; for having studied at the feet of the legendary Professor Merlin, they themselves inherit the purple robe and spend the next forty years sneering at anything contrary to the arcane solar system they’ve assembled from big wheels and little wheels.  They suck energy out of the universe.  Everything and everyone must serve their enlightened view of reality—which is ever more artificially propped up and fantastical.

Nothing seems to draw more contempt from these egocentric black holes of nullity than the amateur—yet the broadening circle of insight that describes a life integrated into surrounding realities would be impossible without amateurish sallies beyond the castle walls.  Pardon my arrogance in offering my own experience as an example: I will at least stress that what’s being called into evidence here is rank amateurism!  I mentioned a few days ago the abundance of quartz on my new property.  Now, all quartz is crystal… but not all crystal is quartz.  I realized within hours of writing those words that my ignorance was on full display to the world.  I need to study rocks more closely.  Yet the rocks in question are crystalline, and they may indeed be quartz.

If I did not begin in a somewhat half-baked theory, I should never enjoy the opportunity of making a discovery.  Maybe there’s one waiting for me beneath the red dust caked on my gems-in-the-rough.

To descend from the sublime to the profane… some of you also know (much more thoroughly than you’d care to) of my obsessive interest in how to hit a baseball.  I won’t defend that interest here, though I believe that a) a healthy mind needs the regular “purgative” of physical activity and that b) there is in fact much science to executing intricate physical actions effectively.  I am within days of publishing a manual through Amazon Kindle about how shorter body types may dominate the hitting game by reviving techniques used a century ago.  My formula actually works; but, no, I am neither coach nor ballplayer by profession.  If I had shut down my years of research early on thanks to the condescending treatment of all the “professionals” I consulted, I would never have figured out certain tactics that they will never know.  I was willing to look like a fool on occasion and expose several of my initial mistakes to this elite inner circle.  Its initiates, for their part, were entirely unwilling to relax any article of their inherited faith and daily-recited gospel; so they will continue squeezing certain types of player from the game whom they’re incapable of instructing… and the little guy will continue (quite literally, in this case) to get passed over.

Okay, so that second example shows me to great advantage… but I could offer analogous instances from a lifelong study of literature, where there are no low line drives carrying to the wall to demonstrate who has the more potent swing, but where scholarly conferences (as I write in my forthcoming book) are just coaches’ meetings without tobacco and swearing.  A classicist, for instance, would rather join a chorus hundreds of years old and accuse Virgil of forgetting what he has just written in the Aeneid than allow that the poet gave the one word responsible for the controversy a mild creative twist.  An artist cannot be an artist because his commentators must have the answer to every verse or stroke.  This is the energy-draining, “black hole”mentality par excellence.  Things are steadily being bundled up into greater groups of things.  At last, there is no more space to raise an elbow in the room, because one huge snowballed Thing has penned everyone up against the wall.

I was trying to peck away at this point in arguing last Wednesday about the disappearance of specific real objects from our ken, to be replaced—always—by the stereotypes and tribal feathers that we variously call icons, emojis, avatars, keywords, mottoes, slogans, bumper stickers, and the rest.  We’re such a “bundling” culture that we can no longer draw any particular article out of the bag for a closer look; and we can’t see what stands plainly in front of us unless it conforms to one of our paradigms for “things that may be seen”.

In conclusion—for this kind of reflection must finish in a note of moral urgency—any person who cannot make significant contact with particular realities runs grave risks.  I contrasted the “bad life” with the “good life” above.  It’s not my intent that the inward-turned, insulated mind is necessarily a wicked one… but it faces a path of tragic futility which may indeed end in celebrating the strangulation of the spirit.  Think of what misery it must be to have certain words forbidden to you because they may “offend” someone (and the list grows every day, having long ago gobbled up personal pronouns); to have certain facts of history sealed from your eyes because they contradict the new orthodoxy (e.g., the existence of black slaveholders, many of them in Northern states); to have certain texts strictly prohibited to your view because they condone the horrors of the patriarchy (e.g., Homer’s tales of Greek “heroes” amply supplied with captured concubines); and to have even your immediate ancestors or close neighbors airbrushed from your perceptual sphere because some affiliation detectable in their habits has been branded heretical (e.g., a grandfather who was a cop or those nice Redmonds who, however, were irredeemable Catholics).

Think of what a tight, tight box you must live within because you cannot lift a hand and examine the components of reality.  You are told that the box is liberating—that it is delivering your true self to your doorstep like a futuristic drone-shuttled package.  Yet how may you be said to have discovered anything about yourself when you cannot like people to whom you feel drawn, when you cannot read books that stir your interest, when you cannot examine puzzling aspects of the past more closely… when you dare not even utter a sentence without passing its every word under reiterated scrutiny?  How is any of this liberating?

On the contrary… as you sever one tie to reality after another, you find that dozens of tributary cords were linked to those cables—and you must keep cutting and hacking.  The very bottle that finally squeezes you, too tightly even for your cheeks to release a squeal, is further shrunk until your eyes are permanently fixed and glazed like a fish’s gazing from its fishbowl.  This, my friend, is Hell.

The world remains wide open for those who wish to breathe its clean air.  And in that live-giving exchange of gasses that all of us of a certain age learned when science was still taught in grade school—oxygen to carbon dioxide, CO2 to oxygen—nestles a perfect analogue for the life of the spirit: as we release ourselves into reality, we draw our true self more deeply back in.  The foundation of “do unto other” morality is indeed implicit in such genuine involvement.  For how can you wantonly harm your neighbor or your environment when you recognize that everything around you may signify the next juncture in your chain of ideas or the next leap of your imagination?  It all belongs to you, and to mutilate it would be a kind of suicide.

On the Value of Inanimate Things to the Human Soul

Making a major physical move forces one to throw things away.  In the process of sifting through drawers of old clothes and boxes of old papers, one says goodbye to certain habits that won’t return, to certain friendships or projects that aren’t going to be resuscitated.  It’s sobering, of course.  Anything that constrains an outright admission of life’s limits—not just of roads untraveled, but of roads never or no longer to be traveled—is a strong nudge from mortality.

I’ve had many such nudges over the past half-year; and I am also sentimental in a “where are the snows of yesteryear?” vein, as I haven’t tried to conceal.  Today I may finally decide to throw away a pair of old shoes whose soles I can no longer Gorilla-glue into service.  I began wearing them to a teaching gig in Tennessee over twenty-five years ago.  They were somewhat casual for the assignment, being New Balance jogging shoes (though of a quiet monochrome greenish-brown); but aching heels are the one physical cross I have had to bear since youth—and the office environment of the 1990’s was not exactly formal, anyway.  As the two old boys aged along with me, I at last had to relegate them to rough duty in the yard, like racehorses reduced to drawing a plough.  Then they couldn’t even drag themselves through furrow and flowerbed.  I’ll give them a little salute as I drop them in the garbage bag, because… because I’m sentimental.  (I will not write, “Shoes have soles, too, you know.”

Seriously, I’m more and more convinced that there are conditions in which “thingness” is entitled to higher consideration.  After all, we express ourselves through things—through clothes and cars, yes, but also through less conventional, more intimate acquisitions like framed pictures and furniture.  (That these latter two examples are in short supply among today’s younger set deserves note: more of that later.)  Furthermore, the relationship between us and our “expressions” is reciprocal.  To some extent, the surroundings we suppose ourselves to have brought into being ex nihilo, like a little god engineering a mini-Creation, draw us into their orbit after a routine of months and years.  We thought we had planted the boxwoods about the windows to show the neighbors that we had genteel taste: now their shaggy overgrowth seems insidiously to whisper, “Let it slide… everything changes on the outside, nothing within is visible, and all will soon be forgotten,” as we drearily retreat to our castle for a weekend of licking psychic wounds.

To live is to develop a lengthy and complex relationship with things.  They are your points of contact with the outside world.  I know, I know… the cliché has it that people are those points; but people, as individuals, are themselves constantly seeking stable points of reference or of definition.  Using one of them to be your anchor in a shifting sea is not only inviting major drift—it is denying whatever individual stands in question, I should say, the same right to create a framework as you have claimed.  It is a kind of selfishness, whose advanced stages might be called narcissism.  Don’t show me the signed photo of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump smiling into the camera with you: show me the sunrise in Yosemite that you snapped—or, just maybe, the Vermeer reproduction whose bourgeois “mass art” flaws don’t impede you from seeing genius.

Have you noticed (as I have) how very dated the terms of this discussion sound?  For “selfies” are pretty much the only “pictures” (or “images”) we produce any more; and we don’t confer upon them as much permanence as mortals can muster by sealing them in a frame, but we “post” them, rather, on some fluid Internet platform, one after another after another.  These are our walls: this our gallery.

And if influential or cool or crazy people do not figure in the post, then something partaking of the “icon” or “emoji” is probably center-staged, as if we were communicating with fellow extra-terrestrials through a kind of secret semaphore.  The things around us every day—trees, stars, clouds… a window sill, an old spoon, an ancient straw hat—don’t appear on our New Age radar.  We have lost contact with “things”.  We express ourselves precisely through the unwritten language of tribal identification transmitted by the posted JPEG, as if we were beating drums in a dense jungle.  Our individuality has been consumed by membership, and our creativity commandeered by shibboleth.

Last night I blundered upon an episode of Fixer Upper (the “rockstar booster” of household celebrities Chip and Joanna)… and I took special care to notice what appeared on the refurbished walls of the overhauled dream house du jour, since my wife and I realized that we hadn’t really penetrated any “cutting edge” suburban dwellings for years.  The answer was… nothing.  Sure enough.  Or virtually nothing.  Certainly no framed pictures: a bit of tarnished Thirties signage such as American Pickers would have retrieved from a garage attic, and also three god-awful mock-ups of life-sized cellos crucified side by side over a sofa.  Of course, the surprised and delighted home-buying couple had not previously seen the decor, so it can scarcely be laid at the doorstep of their personal taste… but they squealed on cue with joy, and I got the feeling that one of them must have loved stringed instruments.  Is it Piet Mondrian who, about a century ago, painted the flat portrait of a chauffeur sitting cross-kneed before the painting of a car?  Have we really been caught in this descending loop for about a hundred years?  “You like horses?  See, Gustave adorn your walls with the horse hooves and a bridle, I think, over here.  Yes?  Is exquisite, no?  Is so you, darling!”

Ugh.  And “you” are so… so nothing, so instantly and utterly absorbed into images of what you claim to love, worship, or endorse, without any thoughtful articulation of them or integration of their contours into your broader existence.  You are just… a snapshot, a selfie where the person or object sharing the frame steals the show.  You are not knitted or kneaded into surroundings where you have labored purposefully and zealously: you’re another object that just happens to be “there then”.

I can almost understand, in this context, how the word “property” has acquired such sordid connotations to young people.  Property: props.  The stuff you gather about you to strike an instant’s pose, to play a part long enough for the image to upload.  Fake… fake news.  Your property is your personal fake news, the “statement” in which you wrap your nullity as in the layers of skin concealing an onion’s emptiness (to borrow an epiphany from that great faker, Pier Gynt).

Yet young people, alas, cannot escape this labyrinth-without-exit.  They run to embrace socialism as if it were the systematic opposition of posing, fraud, and property-clinging statements… and the embrace is itself another selfie, a statement bidding for instant and superficial effect without any engagement of depth or detail.  Why, if I were to attempt starting some kind of intellectual movement with this article as a springboard, I would almost immediately have to select a URL for a website and half a dozen keyword phrases.  Who am I, as viewed by the world through my website?  “IndividualExpression.com”?  “AuthenticArt.org”?  Should I give it a spiritual twist, or would that identify me with the wrong set?

People who dedicate themselves to saving stray cats are “all cat”.  People who reject the crass materialism of our time are “all shamanism” or “all health food” or “all UFO”.  Our fierce suction into the Charybdis of electronic caricature—which I so very much wished to resist in my final years as a teacher—has snared us in a nightmare where every breakout simply follows another corridor down the same narrowing hole.

We have objectified the object to the point where it can no longer convey our subjective intent.  It cannot express us: it can only devour us.

And so all images are merely “fake news”, and people themselves merely the content of fake news; and as we scorn the fraud of all broadcast images defacing our day’s channels and passages, so we increasingly scorn the people wearing those images like tribal masks.  Young black dude… Lexus Republican… emo chick… Hispanic male… white girl who eats way too much….

Oddly enough… could this degenerative disease, as we talk on and on about “respecting the other” and “celebrating diversity”, possibly be rooted in a contempt for things—real, visible, tangible things—as vehicles of the human soul’s identity?

Things I’ve Learned While Toiling on “The Hill”

As I write these words, my mind vacillates between “eager” and “apprehensive”.  Last night brought us the first fairly heavy rain since my latest attempt to render our driveway passable—a quarter-mile stretch of treacherous up-and-down terrain that I prefer to call “the road”.  If I’ve learned nothing else about engineering over the past month, I have come to realize that the course naturally chosen by water deserves respect.  You work against it and seek to impose a superior path upon it through an act of human will only at great risk of receiving a lesson in human folly and puniness.

I hope I have at last figured out where the water wants to go and how I can take it there while keeping my road from being gnawed away.  We’ll see.  Deepening certain drainage ditches so that the dominant one would suck in all the troublesome strays was no easy labor.  I’ve devoted myself to a backbreaking waste of time if the steep slopes are again feathered in dozens of rock-strewn ruts.

Speaking of rocks… to my amazement, I have also discovered that “the hill” (my name for the elevated clearing where our house sits) contains a lot of natural crystal.  I was highly annoyed (still am) about the job of “clearing” done on—or to—the lot, which left excavated stone tightly compacted with gluey clay and random colonies of straw gumming up drainage rather than sheltering non-existent grass seed.  Why, the natural grass that I’m uncovering as I hack my way to the tree line, scything down three feet of opportunistic weeds that took over after the initial bulldozer passed months ago, is much more benign than the crawling, low-lying, star-shaped nuisance fighting me for control of the yard!  Did some idiot really sow that stuff?  I have to believe that it, too, was opportunistic growth; otherwise, the wicked neighbor who sows tares in the farmer’s fields must have paid me a midnight visit.

Anyway, as I have grubbed and hacked about in the red clay, I’ve discovered case after case of straight-edged, flat-surfaced, or perfectly right-angled stone.  At first, I carelessly mistook this evidence for the industrial leavings of laborers that had shown themselves none too eager to clean up.  At some point the scales fell suddenly from my eyes.  The hill has a quartz core, it seems!

I can’t explain why this so fascinates me.  I do wish I had perhaps directed my professional life in the direction of geology… but then I’d just be telling drillers where to sink holes, if I were lucky enough to find a job.  My grandfather was a geologist, both by profession and by amateur enthusiasm.  He was also descended from a long line of “planters” (as they were called in South Carolina).  What would he have said about quartz?  I know that it possesses unusual conductive properties.  I strongly suspect, besides, that our electricity-saturated environments at work and home are not entirely healthy for us.  Could a background of quartz siphon off some of the buzz that sets us postmoderns on edge, making nervous insomniacs of us in the mold of electricity’s anti-social patron saint, Nicola Tesla?

Don’t know, don’t really care so very much.  Just know that “the hill” is extraordinarily peaceful.  And I will admit that I’ve begun circling certain of my trees that are struggling in quartz rings… just to see, you know.  An experiment.

And speaking, finally, of sloppy builders… here’s where I shift into political incorrectness.  Feel free to cease reading now and retreat to a safe zone.

So far we have found the following spectacularly careless gaffes in our new house’s construction: a washing-room door whose latch didn’t engage the plate in the doorframe, a pantry door with an entirely different kind of catch but showing the same lack of alignment, a screw missing from a light-switch plate, at least three instances (and counting) of molding that was neither nailed nor glued in place, other instances of poorly trimmed molding where holes remain at junctures… a drain-pan not installed (as per code) under the hot-water heater, a front door painted the wrong color, light fixtures hung in the wrong rooms, a doorbell box that randomly buzzes daily for about ten seconds, a window installed with a hunk broken out in the corner, nails sticking out of the deck’s rail where they were supposed to enter another two-by-four… and forget about the grass seed that was never sown and the “leveling” that shuttled all my good topsoil into artificially created varmint-habitat.  I’m focusing on the actual domicile.

The builder is responsible for the behavior of his sub-contractors as a captain is responsible for his crew.  The blame belongs at the top.  Nevertheless, I recognize that this particular builder was being pulled in several directions at once: I recognize that the crew, at some point, should be capable of adult professional behavior without having an overseer crack a whip overhead.  The jokers who did the detailed work on our house half-assed it: pardon my bluntness, but it comes from the heart (or somewhere nearby).  They couldn’t even close a door to see if the latch entered the plate.  They couldn’t even peek beneath a rail to see if the bullets they were merrily shooting from generator-powered guns were close to the target.

One lesson I have learned from these disappointments is to rely on no one but yourself whenever possible.  We have corrected, or will correct, most of these flaws ourselves.  Harassing the builder with one phone call after another, only to have the same hack show up at last to half-correct a half-finished job, isn’t worth the grief.  And lawsuits… come on!  They know you’re not suing, and you know you’re not suing.  Who can afford a lawyer?

Every group of subs that we encountered spoke Spanish among themselves, and some seemed to understand no English at all.  (They also understood my Spanish only when they felt like it.)  I’m going to say it: part of the problem here is workmanship on the part of journeymen who will be a hundred miles away next week and who have no stake whatever—social, cultural, or even economic—in your community.  They’re hired guns.  They wish they were somewhere else, but here is where the pay runs highest.  They put on their tool belts, turn up their radios, whip out their drills or sanders, and start thinking about lunch.

Gone are the days when the Klausmeiers, a family of stonemasons whose shop front has adorned Main Street for three generations (or ever since old Werner senior arrived from Bavaria), rush to serve your every need with a true craftsman’s pride.  We don’t live in that world any more.  We’re a society of guns for hire and contractors who hire guns.  The cultural circumstances that made a “village” no longer obtain.  Anything that takes a village now will end up like the marred lumber discarded hither and yon along my quarter-mile driveway.  Thanks, by the way: I’ll find a use for all that.  But the village will not.  The village is now a myth—or, more accurately, a sales gimmick.  Don’t buy it.

Some will say (in a Pavlovian reaction produced by four years of “higher education”) that my comments are “racist”.  No, they’re strictly and explicitly indexed to culture.  Culture is not race: race is DNA, but culture must be “cultivated”.  (I used to teach freshmen how to comb out such fine distinctions before my composition class became a crash-course in website design and the word “freshman” was banned.)  A culture without borders, where labor roams freely like a shark smelling out its next feed, does not generate work of high quality.  I scarcely even know how to confer the word “culture” upon it (at least if I observe the rigors that I once demanded of my students).  What you have, instead, is a wide-open frontier of tasks that need “knocking off” and assesinos who underbid one another in volunteering their bullets.  “What’s the difference?  He’s dead—you didn’t pay me to put a frame around him.”

No, I don’t like that world… but I can’t get from there to another by magically transporting myself to the Wild Wood.  What you do in the woods is learn to become your own carpenter, your own electrician, your own engineer.  I knew it would be this way, so I have no room to gripe.  Do you realize that this is “the road” ahead of us, and that you’ll have to do on your own whatever maintenance needs doing?

Why the American Dream Sometimes Makes You Wake Up in Tears

Thoughtless people confuse being sentimental with wearing your heart on your sleeve.  If that association of ideas were true, I’d be the least sentimental person in any group.  But two days before I departed my home of twenty years forever, as my wife and I ate supper in the designated “breakfast nook” while a mid-July Texas sun drifted far west behind the hickories in a rhythm grown hauntingly familiar, I found myself sniveling into my napkin.  It shocked me, that surge of emotion.  I couldn’t explain why I should feel such sudden attachment to a place I’d made extraordinary efforts to leave.  I had raised my boy here, true enough, and we had staged many a contest of many a kind (he and I) in the back yard that now stared at me rather shaggily.  (Why mow it one last time when the buyers would soon be paying some “lawn care professional” to raze everything while riding on a rig the size of my truck?)  My son had himself left the old nest for good some four—almost five—years earlier, however.  No, it didn’t seem as though this was transferred grief for the lapsed golden age of fatherhood.

I’ve wanted to write a few lines about that sentimental moment for weeks now, but I find that the flurry of activity in the intervening weeks is quickly dulling my resolution.  I’d better say my farewells to the old place while I retain enough “sentimentality” to get to the source of my grief.  I think I know, at last, what it is.

Goodbye, old house.  You were an odd structure.  Your slit-like windows looked ultra-modern when they were built in the late Sixties, but when we knew you they had long acquired that insipid irony of things gone very much out of style by bidding too feverishly for stylishness earlier.  Maybe your interior cabinets wrapping the den were also “the bee’s knees” once upon a time.  We could never figure out what to put in them; and the bookcases that imitated their wide meanders from above were quite convenient for someone like me… yet, like the cabinets, were too deep, as if their makers didn’t really know the size of a book (or as if the imagined inhabitants were not intended to own actual books; plates and china statuary, perhaps—a huge conch from Maui, a fleet of Belleek dishes or Waterford crystal from Ireland?).

The place always felt smaller than it was, for reasons such as this.  It seemed to gesture at the next step up in luxury; and for that reason, it sacrificed the virtues of its proper level on the socio-economic staircase.  It squeezed us, and we abused it unfairly until, in our new home, we realized how much space was actually squandered hither and yon in the old one.  Sorry, old thing.  I gave you a hard time over that.

Let’s admit that you really were a bit schizophrenic.  I used to dig up fragments of suspiciously flat and well-groomed bitumen in doing my gardening, as if a rural road might have run through our back yard at one time.  Your two hot-water heaters were a mystery to everyone, as well.  Your size couldn’t justify them.  You must have had add-on work at some point—maybe a garage turned into a bedroom and bathroom (with those pretentiously huge closets, once again)and a new garage opening on a side street.  The buyer, or new owner, or whatever we call him, discovered that your ancient sprinkler system still worked in places (presumably not in the place where my son dug up one of its heads in excavating the mother of all foxholes).  You kept quite a few secrets from us, you know.  We might have spoken more kindly of you if you hadn’t been so evasive.

Yet for me, the worst problems were none of your own making.  Twenty years ago, Owen had playmates of his on age immediately on either side of him, and another couple within instant walking or biking distance.  That changed before he left elementary school.  Americans, they say, spread their bedsheets in something like thirty different dwellings over the course of a lifetime: they average one move every three years or so.  What a frightening statistic!  How can so many people be so unsatisfied or so insecurely employed?  (My wife and I managed to cram ten residences into a dozen years… but that was a result of my seeking a stable career in academe.)  What I saw that Sunday evening, old house, as I looked out the kitchen/dining room window and fought to suppress a sob was—among other things—a neighborhood that had long ceased to have neighbors.  As former residents “moved up”, properties turned rental; and as this and that property was rented, the one over there was drawn into the same orbit by a vaguely less “family-friendly” ambience.  The school ground down the street where I used to jog and where our first baseball team used to practice was rumored to have drawn a collection of pedophiles into the surrounding houses.  After a major overhaul, which destroyed whatever flat ground it once possessed for chasing long fly balls, it was cautiously fenced in.  The school buildings themselves morphed from a random string of separate structures to a megalithic Taj Mahal that must have made some city councilman’s nephew very wealthy (but that probably didn’t see the quality of instruction take a great leap forward).

“Progress” of some kind had eaten away the quiet shoal waters all around you, old girl. Now the waves gnash unimpeded at your curbs.  Dollars rule the currents that have reshaped your streets.  It couldn’t have been nostalgia, then, that made me choke on my rice as I looked down toward the school.  There were no old friends that way—or even any old enemies.  Only strangers.  My wife and I had invested in this neighborhood the twenty years of our existence commonly said to be the prime of life, the acme… and we were surrounded by strangers.

More than anything else, I have decided that the key to my grief lies therein: not that we were leaving so much behind, but that we were leaving almost nothing behind.  Twenty years of your life… and even the boy to whom you devoted the energy of those years doesn’t want to come back to the place.  Why would he?  A Big Nothing where people ingeniously apply themselves to devising strategies for grinding out a profit but never see a tree grow to maturity… what a waste.

That’s it: the waste.  You had potential, old house… but I was always too busy to give you a proper facelift until it was time to put you on the market.  You had never looked so pretty—and, by that point, you were already significantly not mine.  In the same way, the neighborhood and the city that surrounded you held reservoirs of untapped potential… and all of it will continue to run out into the great wide sea as this person sees an “opportunity” here and that one sees another there.  Waste.  Waste of all that really matters.

There.  I’ve done it—I’m finished.  I’ve worked myself into a state where I could almost break down again.  How we waste our time in this busy life!

The Grand Inquisitor Explains “Crypto-Conservatism”

By way of sharpening up some points which I began to chisel a week ago, let me attempt a dialogue in the vein of Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor.

There is no reason on earth why the trustee of a thriving university would want to talk to an untenured assistant professor, or would even have occasion to meet one such humble being.  Yet kings sometimes speak to cooks, and dukes sometimes address their tailors… so I will appeal to poetic license so far as to imagine the idealistic young Professor Wingo in close colloquy with the taciturn and somewhat mysterious—but not ungracious—billionaire Block, the dean of wireless security systems.

Block: So you are disappointed in Stephanos University after your first year?

Wingo: Disappointed… yes.  I had expected to find here more of a defense of the Western tradition.  The University advertises itself, you know, as a kind of liberal arts equivalent of Hillsdale College.  Anchored in humane values and classical ideas, independent of public subsidies and unbeholden to PC trends…

Block: Ah, yes.  Advertising.  Public relations.

Wingo: But the message is a strong one.  It obviously elicits enough support from like-thinking citizens that enrollment is healthy.  So why do we sabotage ourselves by becoming just another all-is-relative, don’t-want-to offend purveyor of mush when it comes to literature and history?  Why is the mandatory senior seminar a crash course in feminist criticism, always taught by a person (and I don’t intend to name names) who wants to see my World Literature Survey scrapped because of its imbalance between male and female authors?

Block: Maybe… and this would just be a shoemaker’s guess about what the baker does… maybe your unnamed adversary wants graduates to be able to sally forth from Stephanos and find a job, which will only happen if they can present their anti-literary, politically charged papers at anti-literary, politically charged conferences.  Assuming, of course, that they desire a job in academe…

Wingo: But then, all is lost.  The very purpose for which Stephanos exists… and I don’t mean to lecture you on the mission of the institution…

Block: No, no.  You’re quite right, in fact.  All is lost.  Certainly in the world of higher education—but even in the social and political world.  Especially there.  All the trends are pushing victim classes up to the front of the pack.  Everyone wishes to be victimized and entitled to restitution or special accommodation.  Naturally, those in the public sector who want their votes flatter their claims to special treatment… for the swelling “entitled victim” class has very, very many votes!

Wingo: Oh.  So… so why am I here?  I thought we were pushing back, in some small way.

Block: Your “we” is… well, not the sort of word that a man like me uses, but it’s “charming”.  You’re young, and you want to identify yourself with a worthy cause.  Many of your colleagues, too, are young, and they like the crusading atmosphere of the fight for the little guy.

Wingo: Unfortunately, Mr. Block, you would be severely disciplined in my position for using either the word “crusade” or the word “guy”!

Block: Well, there you go!  We’re screwed.  We can’t even say a plain sentence in plain English any longer.  That’s where we are, as a culture and a society.  End of the line.

Wingo:  So what would you recommend that someone like me do for the next thirty years?  Study computer programming?

Block: Not necessarily.  I would recommend that you keep right on reading Dante and Milton, if you can find a way to do so and survive.  And then be patient.  Wait for the collapse.

Wingo: Wait for the… collapse.

Block: For the end of the end.  Even endings come to an end, you know!  Let them—the Philistines, the barbarians, and the sophists—ruin this place, and others like it.  Let them ruin everything they touch.  Let them bankrupt the nation by doling out free iPhones in return for a vote, or promising free state-of-the-art health care to millions of people who eat like pigs, stay inside all day, and haven’t enough skills to get a decent job.  Free college, too.  You think the competitors of Stephanos aren’t salivating over that prospect?  Put them—put us—on the public payroll, too, and give us unlimited customers.

Wingo: So Stephanos will cease refusing federal moneys, with all the strings attached to them?

Block: You see… this is where I get very personal with you, where I glance over my shoulder and lower my voice, and where I assure you that I will deny publicly all that I’m about to say in confidence.  Stephanos will best serve its cause by becoming one of them—by precipitating the collapse.  The sooner, the better.  Of course we’ll accept federal money!  That will bankrupt the nation a little sooner.  Of course we’ll yield to the mandate to create unisex bathrooms, and drive Christian organizations off campus, and dismiss classes for Gay Pride Day, and ban Ben Shapiro from speaking, and all the rest!  The more we promote all of this suicidal idiocy, the sooner the idiots all commit suicide.  Between homosexuality and abortion, our intellectual class will have no progeny—no children into whose heads they can infuse their garbage.  Within a generation, American society will consist primarily of the offspring of Third World types who produce five, six, eight kids per family.  Oh, some of these children will be truly gifted… but most will have a very poor home environment for learning and a tradition where males aren’t expected to toil away at books and where females just marry and have babies.  So our society will be overrun with unskilled manual labor at the very time when assembly-line jobs have disappeared… and more people will go on the dole, and more voters will demand that more money be doled out, and more politicians will promise more freebies… and eventually there will be no more free iPhones for people who can’t even pay for their monthly WiFi… and eventually, not too long after that, there will be no more bread on the shelves awaiting shoppers with purses full of food stamps.

Wingo: And then you have hungry masses rioting in the streets.  Why would you want to precipitate that?

Block: Because it will come no matter what you do.  Would you rather have your limbs amputated one by one as you die of an incurable organ rot, or just go ahead and get the crossing over with?  Yes, rioting in the streets… and homicidal tribalism at a nightmare level.  The  red shirts killing the green shirts, the blue shirts killing the yellow shirts….  you can imagine the shouts and the placards.  “We have no food because of you damn people with your dark skin!  We have no food because of you people with your strange language!  Get out of my house!  Mi casa no es su casa!”  Massive unrest.  Not civil war, but civil chaos.

Wingo: Wouldn’t the dignified, principled thing to do in that case be to take the high road right into the abyss, since all will end in the abyss, anyway?  If we’re all going to die, why not be one of those who dies doing the right thing?

Block: Love the youthful idealism—love it!  But it could get us killed.  Really killed.  Because, you see, my rotting-organ analogy is inaccurate in that somebody may indeed survive—some few limbs of the body, the hands or the head.  Hopefully the head.  Maybe the blue shirts will be the last men standing.  And you want to be one of them, because then you get to dictate the terms of the society to be reconstituted.  But if, instead, you insist on letting the mob crucify you without resistance, then there will be no reconstitution, or only on the worst possible terms.  There will be no more Christ, no more Cross, for the survivors.  All will revert to the jungle.  Civilization’s only chance is to let the dog have his day… the jackals, in this case: to be the lion, to lie and watch as the hyenas fight, and then to crush the skulls of the last two or three hyenas.

Wingo: Pardon me for insisting… but there is no Christ, anyway, if you must contradict his message and his mission just to keep him alive as an artifact.

Block: That’s very well said—but also completely inept.  You’re not understanding the gravity of the situation.  To enjoy the youth and idealism that vibrate in the Christian message, one must first tame the jungle.  One must create an environment where youth and idealism can survive.  You can’t teach charity to a pack of howling baboons.  The job is going to be next to impossible even without all the objections of delicate sensibilities like yours.  The Chinese, for instance, can be expected to be very interested in walking in—like the lion after the jackal brawl—and crushing the puny victors one by one.  Their leadership desires nothing less than world domination.  That’s why the tech sector of our economy is so important: not because we have to keep producing cheaper, better iPhones for baboons who can’t show up at eight o’clock to check groceries, but because we need to stave off opportunistic predators like the PRC.  And we will do so, if only we can keep working off the grid—feeding the popular press UFO tales to cover our tests.  Also, of course, feeding stupid capitalist profiteers just enough innovation to market to the Chinese that we always know what Beijing thinks it knows about us.  Not all of us are all about profit, you see, whatever they may say about me.  I’m a patriot and a man of faith, and I’m willing to be defamed if my duty requires it.  It does.  Beneath the slurs, we dedicated few work on.  Believe me, provision is being made.  All off the radar, sub rosa, black ops.  We’ll be ready for rival lions.  A lot more is being carved out of our incalculable, unsustainable federal budget for useful R and D than anybody “out there” realizes.  They’ll all get their free tummy tucks, until the money runs out to filtrate clean water… but meanwhile, where they’re all too lazy or too stupid to look, we’re building stuff that could take us to Jupiter’s moons or transport a craft through a time portal.

We’re going to win, Professor Wingo.  We’re going to preserve our cultural bequest, just as the mission statement of Stephanos promises… though not quite in the terms of the promise.  We just have to clear the human litter out of the way first that our progress has unfortunately generated.  Frankly, that’s a bigger problem than China, as the Chinese well know…

Wingo: So you will help them commit suicide… that’s what you call clearing the litter.

Block: Yes.  Do you still not understand?  We will help them commit suicide before their poisoned Kool-Aid takes us all out together.  They’re the ones who abort their own babies and ruin their own health with psychedelic drugs and saturated fats.  And the tech revolution—the progress that they so pride themselves upon mastering, just because they know how to navigate a website!  They can’t talk, they can’t think for themselves, they don’t know east from west, their rare utterances are all clichés or obscenities, and they couldn’t change a tire with all year to try… but what a high opinion they have of their technical sophistication!  Why, we could make them all believe within twenty-four hours that the sun has burned out or hostile aliens have landed.  Orson Welles did that by accident with much more primitive technology, almost a century ago!  In fact, in a pinch, we could have them all do a Jonestown and off themselves with a recipe circulated on the Internet.  Like cattle lined up for slaughter…

Wingo: Would you do that?

Block: Would you not do it, if it was your children’s only chance of survival and if death for all was certain, otherwise?  We nuked Japan to save the lives of half a million American GI’s, and the innocence of many of those Japanese non-combatants would be a lot easier to argue than the innocence of your idiot snowflakes in their “safe zones”.  I would repeat, too, that the mass-lobotomy ongoing through popular technology is quite simply, quite plainly a suicide of mind and soul.  The Japanese girl returning from her seamstress work for lunch who looked up and saw the Enola Gay was not engaged every day in dislocating her tongue from her brain and rehearsing antisocial habits.

Wingo: Put that way… you make it sound almost charitable, like a mercy killing.

Block: So now, at last, you understand!

***

Two closing observations about the estimable Mr. Block’s traditionalism that works through a malicious dormancy—his “crypto-conservatism”.  Both have to do with qualities that render him indistinguishable from ideologues who are supposed (by the general public and by him, as well) to be his enemies-unto-death.  What he imagines to be tactically hidden conservatism (that is to say) is really pseudo-conservatism.

In the first place, notice how this manifestation of the Right shares the Left’s paternalistic contempt for ordinary people.  At best, they are children who need constant guidance from their superiors.  How the elite at the head of the oligarchy account for their intellectual and moral superiority is never explained by any of them; or, rather, those on the Right like Mr. Block probably assume that the superficial reverence they show to their version of religious faith makes them humble conduits of God’s will.  On the Left, I have found the same question always met with stupor, as if any educated person who could doubt the brighter light of the progressive vanguard were himself a wonder of the world.

And progress, in fact, is the second axis of identity.  This time it’s the self-styled conservative of Block’s stamp who is more likely to be kidding himself; for he believes his off-the-radar R and D and his hands-off indulgence of social collapse all to be working on behalf of the good old ways, which cannot otherwise be saved from history’s dust bin—but everything he does is manipulation, and none of it conservation.  The leftist progressive at least knows that the ever-recessive dawn of change is his god.  He slashes and burns the past out of zealous conviction—not because he deludes himself that he is clearing a space for old ways to root more securely.

These two essential principles of ideology are sufficient for the “adversaries” who subscribe to them to join in favoring the same legislative agenda from day to day.  Very few “limited government” conservatives, I imagine, ever justify their contradictory taste for growth of centralized power in Mr. Block’s sublimely speculative terms… but I think his mood probably underlies many of their compromises.  This is why we see ever less freedom in our civic and political lives regardless of which side seizes the reins of power: i.e., because both view us as incurable children, and both believe in their superior ability to effect an earthly utopia.

A certain logic may lead us to conclude that the one side and the other must fall to poisoning and backstabbing as soon as the palace is built and the people herded beyond its walls… but this may be naive—so naive that Block may awaken one day to find his brethren linking arms with the Chinese elite.  After all, a Superman is a Superman; and if you tell your rival Superman that your pedigree comes from God, he may decide that he rather likes that creed and join you at God’s right hand.

Three Good Reasons to Be Paranoid About Those in Power

After the last post, I might as well draw up the cinch with a big sigh and explain myself better, though to some a mere hint in these matters is unwelcome.

I have now, over a period of six months, discussed three reasons why we—or the vast, out-of-the-loop majority of us—should consider ourselves justified in suspecting that we have been designated expendable, if not slated for the slaughterhouse.

Item One: I’m sorry… but, yes, the first of these is related to the UFO phenomenon.  Scoff if you like.  A good nineteen out of twenty sightings that claim to identify something otherworldly in the skies are misperceptions or hoaxes, and the info-tainment industry has liberally stirred both mis- and dis-information into the pot.  None of that alters the reality of certain events like the Phoenix Lights in 1997: a series of sightings reported by hundreds, videotaped by dozens, witnessed by a personal contact of mine with a security clearance, and observed even by Arizona Governor (at the time) Fife Symington.  Though the Governor would conclude his brief researching of the incident with a lame attempt at mockery in a press conference a day later, for that one day he was as alarmed as his fellow citizens; and he has since confessed (without offering details) that the smirking dismissal of the reports was more or less ordered by Them Who Must Not Be Refused.

These silently and impossibly hovering, silently and impossibly accelerating craft could have been the result of only one of the following: an extraterrestrial visit, a military project in which extraterrestrial vehicles were reverse-engineered, or a purely terrestrial project the principles of whose engineering sophistication have been kept entirely off the academic grid.  Take your pick.  If you wish to join the coerced Symington in smirking at our collective phobia of little green men, then Option Three is clearly your choice… and is it really more consoling than the the notion that wide-eyed dwarves are cruising our skies?  Why is the physics behind this celestial parade wholly unknown at Rice and MIT?  Security?  But if secrets of such depth and consequence are routinely withheld from us, then what assurance have we that they will consistently be used to our benefit in the future?  How does a democratic society process such paternalistic “protection”?

And more immediately to the evidence of the incident… why the Phoenix Lights?  Why the in-your-face display of miraculous engineering over a major American metropolis?  Did the fleet simply veer off course?  If you’ve ever smirked in your life, this would be the time.  My own creeping suspicion is that the event was a kind of probe on the part of the covert designers to study public reaction.  That would mean… well, what else could that mean, but that powers within our state have not only developed technology of a science-fictional sophistication, but that that they—or some few high-ranking string-pullers among them—have also developed an interest in how the vast American mass would respond to an open show of miracle-machines?

So what game is being played when strings are thus pulled?  At what point do we—the great unwashed, the profane uninitiated—get to find out?

Item Two: the insecure power grid.  It is simply inconceivable to me that our nation would have blazed a path well into the twenty-first century without insulating our electricity-dependent way of life from surges of electromagnetic radiation.  These could be maliciously generated by the low-level technology of a second-rate terrorist nation like North Korea, or they could occur naturally (through solar flares).  In either event, a significant Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) could leave most of us without lighting, heating, refrigeration, phone or television service, operative automobiles, restocked grocery stores, functional hospitals, and other essentials of daily living so numerous that about nine of every ten Americans would die within a year (since our generators are not domestically produced and cannot be quickly replaced).  This is a virtual “On the Beach” scenario.  And the United States Congress, during the same two decades that saw a bankrupt Russia and a bureaucracy-heavy China secure their grids, did… precisely nothing.

Now, one must not underestimate the role of irresponsible, egotistical exuberance that overtakes the lives of our representatives when they arrive in Washington.  A kind of childishness descends upon many that, in specific cases, often mimics the influence of outright stupidity.  I do not believe that Barack Obama, for instance, had joined an evil cabal to destroy 90 percent of the nation when he ignored every single recommendation of the EMP Commission.  (As Peter Pry explained to Mark Levin, Obama probably saw the securing of our grid as a bad-faith gesture before those traditional adversaries whose favor he was courting—apparently having skipped the briefing about solar flares in that manner for which he became famous within the Beltway.)  Yet this is always the Washington fashion, it would seem.  The people’s choices wine and dine and posture and hold court insouciantly above major issues like a foolish child skating on thin ice unless and until some firebrand forces the impending disaster into their faces.  Our forty-fourth president had his face lifted too high in the air for very many issues to achieve a direct impact with it.

Nevertheless, somebody should have blown a whistle loudly, especially in the wake of 9/11.  It is incredible that no one did, and that virtually no one has.  (President Trump has in fact taken initial steps toward EMP defense, which may reach completion by about 2020.)  Why is it that we find no dearth of representatives mashing the red button because sea levels appear to creep up around the Chesapeake and the hurricane season has grown testy—yet not a one of them for years has manifested the least interest in a possible extinction event whose occurrence is as inexorable as a major California quake or an eruption of Kilauea?  Can every one of these people have been asleep at the switch for so long?

Or could it be, instead, that the general slumber and stupor prevalent in our nation’s capital have been nursed along by a few insiders?  Are there those in very high places (not necessarily elected positions, but with significant influence over the elected) to whom a “thinning” of our population by 90 percent wouldn’t be such a very bad thing, in the grand scheme of things?  Would not this 90 percent in the “fatality zone” include 100 percent of those who had and have no inkling as to the truth behind the Phoenix Lights?  Is indifference to unimpeachable reports of bizarre craft overhead not fully compatible with further indifference to unimpeachable reports of national calamity just waiting for a solar flare?  In other words, hasn’t our “cluelessness” been checked out, duly noted, and integrated into further calculation?  And wouldn’t it be—to these designers of the grand scheme—a very convenient thing to have the power of zapping your enemies with death rays from flying saucers, but also the freedom of devoting every resource to “progress” rather than paying well over half of the GDP to unemployed rabble and senile vegetables?

Item Three: Now I return to my overly cryptic comments about my high school alma mater’s elaborate newsletter.  I used that text to launch into a Sunday sermon about how the new “suave” and “urbane” for the socially ambitious is leftist progressivism.  This is neither surprising nor unnatural as a broad tendency.  The cutthroat nouveau riche have long been known to endure a mellowing period during which they slip their lion and elephant trophies into storage and buy Picassos for display.  They may even affect certain radical convictions (having gouged the public to amass their own fortune) in a perverse combination of penitence and victory-dance.  The Rockefellers and the Carnegies become passionate philanthropists.  Bill Gates becomes something like the Dalai Lama for forward-thinking people.  Frugality and caution are so crass, you know, darling!

Yeah, I get all that.  And I understand, too—better than most—that a pater familias might wish to advertise his arrival into the highest echelon by sending his kid to a college which actively vilifies wealth acquisition while instructing its young charges in how to change condoms rather than light bulbs.  But… but I simply can’t comprehend how the greater population of concerned donors would continuously bankroll such a meltdown in morale.  For every J.P. Morgan showing off his new social consciousness, there must still be a hundred CEO’s of small companies around.  Are they all that afraid of being “Papa Johned” by the popular press for not supporting the University’s de-gendering of restrooms?

Why have college presidents, for that matter, allowed their English programs to fizzle out, year after year, in course offerings on transgender playwrights of the Fin de Siècle and symposia on female-empowering sex toys?  Yes—again, I recognize that their fear of being branded uncouth in the Chronicle of Higher Education is precisely analogous to the D.C. politician’s fear of wearing the racist tag because he supports secure borders.  In both cases, the will of the enterprise’s true constituency is ignored in favor of placating a few effete opinion-makers.  But… really?  Not a single college president has been willing in four decades to utter these words?—“Sorry, but you’re no longer chair.  This is a conservative area with socially mainstream alumni, and our English program will continue to teach Shakespeare and Milton—without torching the Christian faith at every turn.”

My suggestion is that, with all the other influences discussed ad nauseam by the radio and Internet commentariat, the leftward slant of education has been fashioned with a certain conspiratorial complicity on the part of what should be conservative exponents.  At a very high and embedded level in specific cases—and at a fully subconscious level, no doubt, in subordinate cases—conservative cultural beacons have decided that it’s okay to let the restless masses wander down corridors inevitably leading to destruction.  The intelligentsia want to reject heterosexuality and parenthood?  Fine.  Their toxic effect will be dead in a generation.  The chattering class and the secular Christian-lite clergy want to practice charity by allowing the Third World to flood society unchecked and unvetted?  Fine.  Chaos will ensue, basic rights will be suspended, dictatorial powers will be bestowed… and then the only issue to be settled will be whether the ruling elite veers communist or monarchist.  A non-issue, really: the stronger always prevail.  A Stalin trumps a Trotsky every time, and Cesar Chavez always becomes Hugo Chavez.

Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity can inveigh against Saul Alinsky’s or Cloward and Piven’s revolutionary manual all they like.  The force that most frightens me, as a career academic, is the one I can’t see—the one that should be present in measurable quantities and, instead, shows up as statistical zero.  That force should be coming from the Right.  It’s not.  Like the designer of some diabolically brilliant computer virus, an elite few with incalculable influence have chosen at some previous stage of our cultural debacle to settle back, lace their fingers, and let the worm run through the system.  I can’t name a single one of them, and I can’t see their shadow… but I feel it, cold over my shoulder.  I wonder if they begin to comprehend what a deep place in Hell they’ve reserved for their souls by making this bid to “bail out” civilization?

Leftist Ideology as a Prerequisite to Success and Power: The Nightmare Playing Out in Our Schools

Yesterday I received the semiannual “publicity” communication from my high school alma mater—news from waves of alumni released successfully into the world, accomplishments of this year’s graduating seniors, highlights of the spring months in review, perhaps a short article contributed by a retired teacher.  It’s become quite a spread.  The thick, glossy paper is very generous with photos of young people on their way up and solid citizens reflecting back upon the headstart afforded them by Fort Worth Country Day School.

Maybe it’s because, just right now, I am so immersed in “honest work”—more honest work than my old bones can withstand, honestly… or maybe the growing sophistication of the magazine (no longer remotely like the original leaflet) woke me up… but I was never before so struck by the notion of what movers and shakers these young people are destined to become.  Oh, I knew early on—very early on—that the place had a country-club atmosphere to which I was ill suited.  From that orientation day as I began fourth grade (after which I’d begged my mother not to send me to CDS) to the afternoon a couple of years later when a blonde girl I was shyly sweet on venomously wished in dense female company that I wouldn’t be returning next year (the first and last words that ever passed between us), I got a steady stream of bad vibes.  These kids not only played golf: they lived beside golf courses, and they drove golf carts around the way I struck and retrieved my softball in the empty lot next to our home—back and forth, thirty times in an hour.

Precisely because I had learned so well and so early that I was a trespasser in their world, I passed my time there in a kind of coma.  I exerted all my psychic effort upon achieving invisibility while in that limbo and upon sealing out its faintest trace while I was “outside” (over weekends and summers).  I guess I didn’t think very much about what was staring me in the face—and I must have transported those habits of non-thought all the way into late mid-life.

Then, too, you must realize (if you are a younger reader) that our society’s privileged elite were generally private-sector dynamos who voted solid Republican and kept their children’s hair cut when I was a kid.  I’m still shocked when I encounter the evidence—as happened yesterday—that this stereotype has fallen utterly flat.  The ruling class today is staunchly center-left in tastes and associations.  Its members not only attend exclusive Ivy League universities, but often send familial shoots and runners through the academic world.  Simultaneously, they are intricately bound to the art/entertainment complex and the broadcast media’s upper echelons.  If any religious commitment or undertaking is ever mentioned in the same paragraph as their name, it is in conjunction with the receipt of some distinguished humanitarian award or the christening of some highly publicized missionary venture.  They still play golf, and they still patronize restaurants (to judge by alumni photos) where I couldn’t afford an hors-d’oeuvre… but, in the facing sidebar on the same page, one is likely to read of an impending #MeToo jogathon or see the spectacularly dark and scarfed or turbaned faces of new hires in the school’s elite positions.  The gray flannel suit has been airbrushed from these pages.

Of course, the young graduates themselves make the strongest case, and it is they who most attracted my notice.  They are accepted into colleges like Duke and Vasser and Harvard—into those magical places the mere mention of whose name opens doors.  (None of them seems to end up at some small conservative campus like Colorado Christian University, where my son finished his degree… “Oh, Colorado Christian… is that in Colorado?”)  Naturally, they also have evolving curricula vitae that already list impressive entries: an internship with an Elon Musk enterprise, an award for the politest robot at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Fair, a segment on a nationally aired Siemens commercial.  Yet a certain amount of such achievement owes much to being in the right place at the right time (and having the right connections).  The torchbearers of civilization’s future don’t actually seem to know much about life, or not anything that translates well into a sidebar-interview.  Their reflections sweep along words like “progress” and “better” and “future” and “diversity” and “justice” the way a river in spate carries dead logs.  In their way, they are bright and well educated… but there is indeed a distinct if implicit ethos, an arrangement of tribal feathers.

I doubt that I can finish this reflection today—not because I’m running out of room, but because I really don’t know where it leads.  Frankly, this kind of evidence alarms me in the same way that what I have called the Dark Elite alarms me (a subject about which I wrote five or six consecutive columns without drawing any response, having either alarmed my readers, too, into silence or bored them to death).  I just don’t get it.  Why do the rich and famous want to embrace an ideology that undermines the very economic mechanisms responsible for vaulting them to the top?  Is it a guilty conscience—do their children, especially, having grown aware that they began life with such a generous headstart, espouse the cause of dispensing bread and fish to the masses from mystically bottomless baskets as a way of “giving back”?  A way that continues, however, to cast them in the role of savior, so that conscience and privilege may gorge upon the same sugary cake…

I’ve floated some such theory as this many a time, and it probably has some truth; but it also strikes me as insufficient in itself, because it only accounts for how naive adolescents may become caught up in progressivism.  What about Daddy, or Grandaddy?  They, the original robber barons whose names are on street signs and the pediments of public buildings: how did they come to sign off on the New World Order?  They didn’t strike me as the conscientious type when I was growing up, and they still don’t.  Why have they sent little Bradley III and lovely-and-talented Chandra off to share unisex bathrooms and dorm rooms at Yale while learning that their race is vile and their family’s wealth obscene?

Oh, some of it is just the Ascot tie or the salad fork’s placement again: the “right people” send their children to Amherst and Princeton, so of course young Baldwin must go there.  But don’t you see?  “Going there” has now also become the ultimate good investment, the really smart business decision—because “right people” mingle with “right people”, and the Left is the new “right”!  How did that happen?  What does it mean?

At some level (and this would be a very deep level—I continue to believe that most graduates of my alma mater, and their forebears, cannot imagine what a hideous monster they’ve embraced), hasn’t some ruthlessly pragmatic nexus of persons recognized the necessity of “pruning the tree” in the future?  Hasn’t this covert board of illuminati understood that the votes of the masses must be bought in worthless currency until democracy itself may be suspended?  Are certain of its academic mouthpieces not already admitting that a decimation—or more like a nine-of-ten purgation—must occur for the future to hold its ascending course?  (The proposal of “ethicists” Giubilini-Minerva to extend the abortion parameters well beyond actual birth has circulated for about a decade, Princeton “moral philosopher” Peter Singer would stretch those parameters to include handicapped children and the aging, and the war against childbearing has indeed become part of our popular culture.)  Do we not see daily, in apparent contradiction, that radical feminist advocates harbor an affection for radical Islam?  How would this sort of thing be possible if—at the highest levels, again, and not in the rank and file—the self-styled architects of the future did not perceive a need for autocratic power; and what would be one of the most obvious deployments of such concentrated influence in our progressive tomorrow, if not the severe winnowing of our needy, unskilled, unemployed, spoiled, restless, relentlessly polluting masses?

I’m right back in the middle of the Dark Elite nightmare as I sit atop my twenty-five rural acres, where I saw Sirius rise early this morning… and all thanks to a silly magazine forwarded to me from Texas!  This is all almost too much to think about—not intellectually, but too much for the soul to bear; and most of those children in the Country Day School uniform couldn’t begin to comprehend my worry, nor could most of my classmates.  So am I just imagining it all?  Will not thinking about it make it go away?

Against Linearism: Why Hammering People into Historical Frames is Wrong

I know that I must attract a certain amount of wonder when I write lengthily—as I did last time—about gross misconceptions concerning the causes of the American Civil War and, specifically, the hypocritical ascription of brutal motives to the South by the North.  I think I’ve explained some of my purpose before.  Most of my ancestors wore gray (though the clan’s dark sheep, General Thomas, donned the blue), and perhaps I sense an obligation to respond for them as their statues are defaced and their names execrated.  In a broader sense, as a Caucasian of Southern extraction, I have long since grown annoyed at the presumption that love of enslavement runs in my DNA, just as many Merkel-weary Germans refuse to concede that the support of Nazism runs in their blood.  Those who fling such charges our way, interestingly, are guilty of racist thinking of a literal and precise kind (as opposed to the “you’re arguing with me, and I happen to be brown” variety).

Yet, upon reflection (and I reflect upon this a lot as I age), I’m convinced that much more is at stake than simply defending Colonel Dixieland’s statue in Town Square.  At the highest level, the issue is this: we incur great risk as human beings when we consent to view the past in merely linear fashion, forcing an a-b-c causality upon complex events.  We thereby process history’s curious artifacts to become so many sandbags for shoring up our personally preferred view of the present—which naturally leads into our vision of the future.  We transform the past into fodder for propaganda.  Already our academics are well embarked upon an intellectual era of (in Hamlet’s words) “nothing’s either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”… or (in Pirandello’s) “so it is, if so it seems to you”.  Having accepted that the real past is inscrutable within its layers of irrecoverable context and irretrievable tastes, we allow the version to pass that best suits our current endeavors.

Need I say that this was the very sort of slovenly Pyrrhonism which has caused us to picture the Civil War as no more than the advocates of slavery fighting it out with the friends of freedom?  Again, though, the greater issue is the danger and the evil of strictly linear thinking, which always assumes that the past’s meaning must rest in where we are (or fancy ourselves to be) right now.  That the Confederate flag does in fact represent racial supremacy to many of the few redneck idiots still actively “klanning” among us is a travesty… but it’s more folly, honestly, than outrage.  That we consider ourselves, as a nation, to be blazing into a future a course of slavery-eradication scouted by that eagle of emancipation, Lincoln, is far more hazardous to our spiritual health.  Most Americans, for instance, have forgotten that Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to join Russia and were not in fact “invaded” by Putin.  We appear ready to pounce, there and elsewhere, on behalf of democracy and liberation because… well, because that’s what the children of Lincoln do.  Isn’t it?

The treatment of Hitler by historians from the cathedra to the armchair is actually very instructive.  Why is Hitler a demon escaped from Hell while Stalin and Mao are virtual saints in “educated” circles?  Isn’t it entirely because the latter, though their butcher’s bill was much longer than the Fuhrer’s, were trying to create an idyllic utopian state and unfortunately broke some eggs as they whipped up their human omelet?  The Nazi program, on the other hand, explicitly fashioned its propaganda so as to resurrect glories of the past (most of which never existed).  The over-the-shoulder gaze of fascism apparently disqualified it from satisfying the linear march of progress… or seems to have done so to the inattentive.

The truth is that the fascist, too, is a progressive “linearist”.  He cries (in that Nietzschean fashion which remains quite audible in the Green Movement), “Bourgeois capitalism has degraded us into puny insects, into identical manikins!  Cast off convention!  Leave your manners and your clothes behind, and return to the primal glory of Man the Hunter!”  The romantic scenario offered here is linear insofar as it rates our present position as “negative progress”: we had to proceed a certain way along this path to discover that it leads into the abyss.  Now we know better.  Now we can move forward by backtracking.

If Hitler had vilified Jews as guardians of a suffocating patriarchal past rather than as financiers and engineers of a cruelly dynamic future, would his project of extermination have drawn such ringing damnation from the Left?  Hasn’t the Left, indeed, “updated” anti-Semitism to vent just such hostility to the Jewish tradition’s non-linear patterns of thought?

For (to wind up what might otherwise become a very long excursion) Judaism is probably the preeminent example in our culture of a closed system—a “classical” worldview: fixed human nature governed by fixed laws and undermined by the same old temptations under fluctuating surfaces… nothing new under the sun.  Even Christianity, these days, must constantly resist (and seems constantly to be scrapping all resistance) to the ascending line of progress.  We contemporary Christians are exhorted to forgive, practice charity, and abstain from destructive behavior not to prepare the soul for a higher reality, but to create a more perfect society—a utopia—here on earth.  (If I may call but one witness, consider Pope Francis’s outspoken promotion of gun control.)

The one kind of thinker absolutely not tolerated in our sophisticated company is the thinker in cycles: the spiritual nomad lingering in this sad world who understands progress as intensely personal and oriented to immaterial dimensions.  To such a one, Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee are not steps on a staircase, the former representing the Genius of Progress and the latter the Demon of Past Privilege in some insipid morality play.  They are, rather, individual human beings like you and me, their virtues and flaws magnified thanks to display on a very public stage but not in the least alienated from movements we may spy in our own hearts as we go through our day.  They live in us, not as heroic runners in a relay race’s first leg who have lately handed off the baton, but as equal brethren—as next-door neighbors whose old house, after their funeral, is now being completely remodeled.  We remember them as if we had spoken to them yesterday… for they were rocking on their rickety porch just two years ago.  And maybe we miss one of them much more than the other; but it’s because of the kind of person we divined in each of them, and not because they mentioned us in their will.

Yes, that’s it: that’s the real reason I keep wanting to say, “Wait a minute,” when yet another figure of the past is burned in effigy.  I knew that man.  Through my own heart, I knew him.  You say he was dead before I was born?  But he left words, written and spoken, as well as deeds (which are said to surpass words in authenticity, but which often require words if they are to be properly deciphered).  You, on the other hand, yet live… but do I know you better, just because you live?  Does life not indeed provide more opportunities to obfuscate than death?

I know this much: if you respect those who can no longer speak in their own behalf, then I’m much more likely to take you as you present yourself.  If, instead, you manicure the graveyard so that it provides a grand setting for your gateway just around the next lifting turn, then I have reason to believe that you won’t handle me with great care, either; for each of us, even among the living, is always just an instant away from permanently ruptured friendship and petrification in another’s “gallery of progress”.