Wednesday, 28 February 2018
There is a sort of Darwinian selection in punditry and indeed academia: those who are too shy or self conscious or simply aware of the strawfulness of their speech will select themselves out of the struggle for publicity, whilst those who lack this basic sense of shame will proclaim their latest thoughts with abandon.
Shame at one's own inadequacies is perhaps only one of a cluster of selective disadvantages that gather around the area of public speech. I remember, for example, thinking while in the middle of a period of postgraduate study that an academic apprenticeship was rather like accustoming oneself to gavage: learning to suppress the natural gag reflex in the face of amounts, or detail or type of work was essential to achieving the academic perspective. Certainly, entry into politics seems to require some highly abnormal personality traits.
But why should conservatives (and I mean by this as normal in this blog the sort of Burkean/Kirkian conservative rather than an adherent of one of the Conservative political machines such as the GOP or indeed the Conservative Party) suffer particularly from this? In politics, the conservative emphasis on the 'little platoons' means that any attempt to articulate their importance in party politics requires individuals to devote all their energies to a field which, ex hypothesi, they think of little importance. A religious sense, a sense which I grow more and more convinced is essential to conservative thought, pushes one to regard the natural end of human life as only of secondary importance to the supernatural end. Moreover the pursuit of personal virtue forces one to confront the shabbiness of one's own contributions sub specie aeterna. Simply a sense of politeness is a grave disadvantage in much contemporary public life.
The thought that conservative values (or perhaps simply civilised values) are selecting themselves out of the market of ideas is one that regularly strikes me. But here are two recent occasions which prompted such reflection. The first was Jordan Peterson's interview with Cathy Newman. Although I thought Newman came off particularly badly in this interview, I don't think Peterson came out of it well either. More precisely, Peterson himself in the interview seemed to endorse the aggressive contest of ideas that the interview itself embodied: whatever else Newman and Peterson disagreed on, they seemed to agree on the fact that disagreeableness (aka 'assertiveness') was a key feature of modern intellectual and social success. This is probably true as a description of modern Western society. It is certainly not true of all societies (I found myself contrasting Confucian ideas of the junzi with the video while watching it) and not even of our own not so very long ago ('the gentleman').
The other occasion was in this account of the conductor Carlos Kleiber:
In a 2012 documentary, Traces To Nowhere (also the title of the second episode of the first series of Twin Peaks, Lynch fans), it’s revealed by his sister Veronika that Kleiber’s “bedside book” was the Zhuangzi, an ancient text written by Chinese philosopher Zhuang Zhou. He was particularly consumed by one phrase: “Leave no trace,” or, to quote the line in full, “The Perfect man leaves no traces of his conduct.” In the same film, German mezzo-soprano Brigitte Fassbaender says he gave her a book, probably written by an Indian guru (he’d intentionally ripped off the cover), throughout which he’d underlined many passages, including: “We all know the fearsome emptiness lurking behind the way we live. Convictions give life the content we desire. Work becomes an indispensable drug. For its sake we accept all the depravations and disadvantages, and every illusion is welcome.”
The causality behind the current Western attraction to shameless speech is probably complex. Certainly capitalism with its tendency to convert all goods to the salable, democracy with its emphasis on contest and debate, and social media with the person as a brand are all involved in the mix somewhere. The fact that we do in fact live thus is no reason to believe that in the long term at least we have to and no reason that we should. But certainly, while we do live in such an eristic society, those who are committed to living otherwise will tend to find that they have excluded themselves from contributing to a debate that might be the only way to change it.
Saturday, 24 February 2018
Mark 9: 2-10
Ande eftir sex dais Jesus tuke Petir, and James, and Johnne, and led thame be thame self alaan into ane hie hill; ande he was transfigurit before thame. And his clathis war made ful schynyng, and quhyte as snaw; quhilk maner quhite clathis a fullare (or walcare) may nocht mak on erde. And Helie with Moyses apperit to thame: and thai spak with Jesu. And Petir ansuerd and said to Jesus, "Maistir, it is gude vs to be here and mak we here thre tabernacilis; aan to thee, aan to Moyses, and aan to Helie." For he wist nocht quhat he sulde say; for thai war agast be drede. And thar was a cloude made ouerschaddowing thame and a voce com out of the cloude, and said, "This is my maast dereworthe sonn: here ye him." And anon thai beheld about, and saw na maire ony man, bot Jesus aanly with thame.
And quhen thai com doun fra the hill, he comandit thame that thai suld nocht tell to ony man
tha thingis that thai had sene, bot quhen mannis sonn has risen agane fra deid. And thai held the word at thame self, seking quhat this suld be, quhen he had risen agane fra deid.
[From The New Testament in Scots Murdoch Nisbet [c.1520] (1901) vol 1 here]
Saturday, 17 February 2018
Mark 1: 12-15
And noo the Spirit leads [Jesus] oot intil the muirlands. And he was i’ the muirlands forty days, tempit o’ Sautan; and he was wi' the wild beasts; and the Angels waitit on him.
And eftir John was deliver’t up, Jesus cam intil Galilee, giean oot the Blythe-Message o’ God; and sayin, “The waitin-time is by-past, and the Kingdom o’ God has come; turn ye, and lippen the
[From The New Testament in Braid Scots William Wye Smith (1904) here]
Tuesday, 13 February 2018
The Lord sais thir thingis:
Be ye conuertit to me in al your hart
in fasting, and weping, and wailing.
And kerue ye your hartis, and nocht your claathis,
and be ye conuertit to our Lord God;
for he is benigne and merciful,
padent and of mekile mercy,
and abidand (or forgevand) on malice.
Quha wate gif God be conuertit, and foigeue,
and lefe blessing eftir him,
sacrifice and moist sacrifice
to our Lord God?
Sing ye with trumpet in Sion,
halow ye fasting,
and call ye cumpany.
Gader ye togiddir the pepile,
halow ye the kirk,
gader ye togiddir aldmen,
gader ye togiddir litil childir,
and souking the breestis;
a spouse ga out of his bed,
and a spouses of hir chalmir.
Preestis, the mynistris of the Lord,
sal wepe betuix the porche and the altare,
and sal say,
'Lord, spare thou, spare thi pepile;
and geue thou nocht thin heretage into confusioun,
that nationnis be lordis of thame.
Quhy say thai amang pepilis,
"Quhare is the God of thame?" '
The Lord luvit jalouslie his land,
and sparit his pepile.
[From The New Testament in Scots Murdoch Nisbet [c.1520] (1905) vol 3 here]
Tak' tent that ye dinna your aumis afore men, to be seen o’ them; itherwaise ye hae nae reward o’ your Father wha is in heaven. Therefore whan thou doest thine aumis, dinna toot a trumpet afore thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues an’ in the throwgangs, that they may hae glory o’ men. Verily I say unto you, They hae their reward. But whan thou doest thine aumis, letna thy left han’ ken what thy richt han’ doeth: that thine aumis may be in secret; an’ thy Father wha seeth in secret, himsel sall reward thee openly.
An’ whan thou prayest, thou salltna be as the hypocrites are; for they loe to pray stan’in’ in the synagogues an’ in the neuks o’ the throwgangs, that they may be seen o’ men. Verily I say unto you, they hae their reward. But thou, whan thou prayest, gae intil thy closet, an’ whan thou hast steeket thy door, pray til thy Father wha is in secret; an’ thy Father, wha seeth in secret, sall reward thee openly.
Mairowrere whan ye fast, binna as the hypocrites, o’ a dowie leuk, for they disﬁgure their faces that they may kythe until men to fast. Verily I say unto you, they hae their reward. But then, whan thou fastest, aneynt thy head, an’ wash thy face: that thou dinna kythe until men to fast, but until thy Father wha is in secret; an’ thy Father, wha seeth in secret, sall reward thee openly.
[From The Gospel of St. Matthew, Translated Into Lowland Scotch, by George Henderson (1862) here]
Saturday, 10 February 2018
Mark 1: 40-45
And a leprouse man com to him, and besoucht and knelit, and said, "Gif thou will, thou may clenge me." And Jesus had mercy on him, and straucht out his hand, and tuichet him, and said, "I will; be thou made cleen." And quhen he had said this, anon the lepire partit away fra him, and he was clenget. Ande Jesus thretnyt him, and put him out; and said to him, "Se thou say to na man; bot ga, schaw thee to the princis of preestis, and offir for thi clengeing into witnessing to thame tha thingis that Moyses bad." And he yede out, and begann to preche and publisit the word, sa that now he mycht nocht opinlie ga into the citee, bot be without in desert places; and thai com to him on all sides.
[From The New Testament in Scots Murdoch Nisbet [c.1520] (1901) vol 1 here]
Tuesday, 6 February 2018
Whilst trying to wind up Twitter by praising the wisdom of the suffragists rather than the violence of the suffragettes, I came across an interesting essay on Richmal Crompton (a suffragist):
This repetition [in her books] not only reveals the way in which a busy writer recycles her material. It also suggests that we should see Crompton's work as the expression of a consistent set of values. But what, in the end, are those values? For Owen Dudley Edwards, the Just William stories show Crompton as a Tory radical: a scourge of the establishment, an anti-snob. This is, however, only partially true. Crompton was certainly a Tory. A member of the Conservative Party from 1920 onwards, she described herself as 'true-blue'. She was also a shrewd critic of social convention and of the petty snobbery of English life. Her wiser characters are always those who come to realise 'that there is no vulgarity in an aspidistra, but there is a world of vulgarity in the conventional sneer at it'. Many of her stories likewise conclude with the recognition that 'There's only one vulgarity...and that's pretending to be something you aren't.' Nonetheless, Crompton's books as a whole reveal a rather more pessimistic sort of Conservatism than Dudley Edwards has discerned. It is not just that she had a very limited belief in the possibility of human progress -although she did, describing the passage of time as rather like a roundabout, with people going up and down but never really moving forward. Nor is it simply that she had a bleak view of the capacity of people to understand one another -although again, her description of humans as 'A set of children playing blind man's buff', unable truly to comprehend themselves or each other, suggests that this was a central aspect of her worldview. More importantly, Crompton's views on class and on human nature bear little resemblance to the crusade for 'fairness, and the consequent destruction of privilege' that Dudley Edwards sees in the wartime fiction.
This analysis, combining confidence in social stability with pessimism about the fundamental nature of humanity, is, of course, a classically High Tory one. It is also a High Anglican -indeed Augustinian- notion, and it comes as little surprise to learn that Crompton was an Anglo-Catholic...No one is entirely pure, no one is entirely good; indeed, 'unselfish people are sometimes much more selfish than selfish people'...True wisdom and real change, in Crompton's books, come from...an acceptance of God and his providence: his capacity to rectify the worst effects of human sin. Human efforts on their own will always fail...
[Her work] reveals a Conservative who was unthreatened by modernity. But this optimism was always tempered: first, by a rejection of social and political reform, and secondly by a highly pessimistic view of human nature.
[From here: Whyte, William (2011) 'Richmal Crompton and Conservative Fiction' in Griffiths, C. V. J, Nott, J.J & Whyte. W. (eds) (2011) Classes, Cultures, and Politics, Oxford, OUP.]
This passage sent a lot of hares running in my mind: both personal (how much have I personally been affected by a childhood immersed in her books?) and political. Sticking with the political, why is this humane, conservative view almost entirely unavailable to modern youth? I don't mean by that just the unfashionableness of her work (and I find it hard to judge how much such a claim would be true: certainly less fashionable than when I was young, but forgotten? I hope not) but rather the unavailability of such ideas as a current, half articulated worldview. Even when I was reading them, we were beginning that long, futile trek through the sixties into the modern progressive era, where humour, resignation, God and a realistic sense of possibility have been lost in favour of strident self assertion in the service of consumerism. And thus I don't think I noticed these conservative ideas: not until much later in my life when reading first Scruton, then Burke and finally Kirk, did I recognise the outline of a philosophically coherent, but culturally very, very unfashionable worldview. That's a pity, because at the least, such an Augustinian conservatism is at the very least a useful corrective to modern progressivism, and possible even just simply true.
I can hear my internal -and doubtless external- critic muttering at this point that such a politics is all very well if your position in life is quite comfortable, rather less so if you're at the bottom of the self-satisfied heap. Possibly. But (at least) three things in response. First, a personal response. My father grew up at the very bottom of the heap that Crompton describes in the sort of grinding industrial poverty that wouldn't be seen now outside the developing world (and the effects -and stories- of that world filled my childhood). Of course, that's not a philosophical answer, but is is an admission that I find assertions that only those who have never experienced wretchedness would find such a worldview plausible rather irritating when they come from those whose bloodlines trickle back to the Norman Conquest. Secondly, a realistic sense of what might be possible is essential when trying to doing something about genuine harms: tilting at a thousand and one imagined or minor harms is a good way of avoiding concentrating on what might really and imperfectly be done to remedy serious wretchedness in our society. Finally, Augustinian pessimism is primarily about valuing what really matters: there is no final solution to the problems of the earthly city, and the key thing is that such problems as there are do not get in the way of the pursuit of the heavenly city, either by distracting us by their constant noise, or by simply replacing that supernatural goal. And it is because of that final possibility that secularism destroys the possibility of a good political order: by ignoring the reality of a transcendent, supernatural order, it replaces the real possibility of achieving happiness with a constant, churning, unfulfillable desire for earthly perfection. (Which is why, demonstrably, as proved by SCIENCE, all secularists are in strict medical terms and by dint of ignoring realities nuts.)
Saturday, 3 February 2018
Job 7:1-4, 6-7
[An Job made repone an said:]
Haesna man his ordert time o tribble on the yird?
An isna his days like the days o a servand wirkin for peyment?
As a servand seekin the shades o forenicht,
an a warkman leukin for his peyment:
Sae A hae for ma heirskip months o pyne tae nae ettle,
an nichts o tire is gien me.
Whan A gang tae ma bed, A say:
Whan will it be time tae git up?
But the nicht is lang,
an A am turnin frae side tae side till forenuin licht.
Ma days gangs quicker nor the claith-wirker's threid,
an comes tae an end 'ithoot howp.
O, mynd that ma life is wind: my ee will niver again see guid.
[From The Old Testament in Scots, vol. 3, The Books of Wisdom, [Job, Psaums, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Sang o Sangs] trans. Gavin Falconer and Ross G. Arthur (2014) (translation into Plain Scots under the auspices of the Ullans Academy) ISBN 978-1-78324-006-7. Amazon US here. Amazon UK here.]
Psalm 146 1-6
Ruise the Laird;
for it is guid tae mak melody tae oor God;
ruise is pleasin an bonny.
The Laird bigs up Jerusalem;
he gars aw the ootlins o Israel com thegither.
He maks the broke-hertit weel
an slairs ile on thair wounds.
He sees the nummer o the starns;
he gies thaim aw their names.
Great is oor Laird, an great his pouer;
his wit is boondless.
The Laird gies help tae the puir in speerit;
but he sends sinners doun in shame.
[From Psalm 147 in The Old Testament in Scots, vol. 3, The Books of Wisdom, [Job, Psaums, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Sang o Sangs] trans. Gavin Falconer and Ross G. Arthur (2014) (translation into Plain Scots under the auspices of the Ullans Academy) ISBN 978-1-78324-006-7. Amazon US here. Amazon UK here.]
1 Corinthians 9: 16-19, 22-23
For gif I preche the euangele, glorie is nocht to me, for on need I mon do it; for wa to me, gif I preche nocht the gospele (or euangele). Bot gif I do this thing wilfully, I haue meed; bot gif aganis my will, dispending is betakin to me. Quhat than is my mede? Gif I precheand the gospele, put the gospele without vtheris coost, that I vse nocht my powere in the gospele.
For quhy quhen I was fre of almen, I made me servand of almen to wynn the ma men. I am made seek to seekmen, to wynn seekmen; to almen I am made althingis, to mak almen saaf. Bot
I do althingis for the euangele, that I be made part-takare of it.
[From The New Testament in Scots Murdoch Nisbet [c.1520] (1903) vol 2 here]
An the' left tha Meetin Hoose rael quïck, an the' went alang wi Jeames an Jhone til tha hoose whar Simon an Andra leeved. Noo Simon's ma-ïn-laa wus doon wi a faivir, an as shuin as Jesus cum ïn, the' toul hïm aboot hir. Sae he gaed til hir bedside, tuk hir han an puud hir up. Strecht awa she coolt doon an she stairtit tae sarve an luk eftèr thaim.
An that evenin, whan tha sin haed set, the' brocht til hïm aa tha seeck, an aa tha yins wi demons. Tha hale toon wus gethert at tha dure. An Jesus cured a quare lock o seeck fowk o thair monie ailments, an he driv oot a brave wheen o demons. But he wudnae let tha demons spake oot, fer the' kent wha he wus.
Wile earlie tha nixt moarnin, whan ït wus still dairk, Jesus got up an left tha hoose, an went awa tae a place what he cud be on hïs ain, fer tae pray. An Simon an tha yins wi hïm went oot tae luk fer him. Whaniver the' fun hïm, the' saed tae hïm, "Iverie yin's lukkin fer ye!" An Jesus cam bak wi, "Cum on an we'll gang awa frae here tae tha toons roon aboot! A hae tae praich thair as weel, fer that's what A cum here fer tae dae." Sae he trevelt aa roon aboot Galilee, praichin ïn thair Meetin Hooses, an drivin oot demons.
[From Tha Fower Gospels (2016) (Ulster-Scots), Ullans Press, ISBN: 978-1-905281-25-1, Amazon UK here, Amazon US here.) ]