The Pit

We are used to catalogues about the woes of modern society. The party’s over is no exception and a breeding ground for simplistic right-wing jingoistic solutions: Spare the rod…

Of course, it is all cogent. We have just as much if not more in France. In the years following World War II, there was a boom in scouting, the Glénans sailing school, the Sea Scouts and many more youth movements. Myself, I lived through the 1960’s and went along with some of the reaction against the old conservative order. My parents were convinced that I needed an education especially suited to building up the character and the ability to get on in life, to overcome the difficulties I had to live with. We all have our problems, and none can pretend not to have suffered from our own sense of disorientation.

Much of psychiatry is pure bunk and many of the medicines used for mental conditions do more harm than good. At the same time, mental illness can be very real and distressing. All too often, the cure is a change in life, in attitude and in one’s fundamental philosophy of life.

About a month ago, I had a long conversation with my father about the tendency of people to high expectations of life and a sense of entitlement. I do believe in essential human rights to life, freedom and happiness – but with corresponding duties.

Technocratic or bureaucratic solutions to the problems of mankind… Don’t I know it! I had a car break down in England. One solution was to have me wait several days for spare parts and spend a fortune for a car that was at the end of its road. Some great guys in Yorkshire did some improvised repairs, and the car got back to France under its own power, giving up the ghost as it arrived home. I seem to have come from a background that considers things to have been built to last, only needing repairs within the capabilities of someone who has skills in woodwork and metalwork. Bureaucracy refuses the humanity of those who have to address themselves to it, for the simple reason that it is not human. Increasingly, our relations with banks are with computers, not with a human who can give sound financial advice.

I don’t know about drugs. I stopped smoking nearly nine years ago. I had occasionally taken a puff or two of cannabis in my student days. I did well to listen to the warnings of my father – never even try heroin, cocaine, LSD, etc. Nicotine was a nasty one to beat, but I know it is almost entirely psychological rather than physical addiction. Addiction as a concept of dependence against which the will is impotent is something that needs a lot of study. The solutions aren’t simplistic, but they are hardly rocket science either!

It is particularly important to do everything we can to preserve high culture. Classic FM in England is a tedious station to listen to, but it has got many people to appreciate classical, baroque and romantic music. I admire such initiatives. I don’t know about schools these days, but we learned about music, art and poetry. They were often insensitively taught by masters who seemed to lack personal interest in their subject. The problem goes back a long way.

The welfare state is a part of technocracy and bureaucracy. Vast amounts of money are squandered and we all have to pay this money for the privilege to work! Health and social security (stealth and total obscurity) have become a lumbering and inefficient monster. One thing that causes resentment with mass immigration is that immigrants seem to be getting more entitlement to state handouts than us natives. Many of us who are working have to give to richer people than ourselves!

Civil behaviour gets rarer. There are exceptions and there are still good, civil and polite people everywhere. I don’t buy the idea that we are less civil than in the 1970’s or earlier. Some people are really horrible and aggressive, and many others are as virtuous as in any “good old days”.

The ideology of political correctness, paired with technocracy and bureaucracy, will be a tough one to crack. We have to be cunning and detached, and above all critical and capable of challenging it with satire. You never challenge a problem by head-on confrontation, but by eroding it by the edges. That is the way of France, Italy and other Latin countries: everything is regulated and forbidden, but there is always a way round the problem – la combinazione! You just have to get used to it.

There are real problems in society and we all feel concerned. It is a part of our human condition to want to improve life and society. I read many different articles. Would four dozen with the lash do more to correct a delinquent than ten years in prison? I would be tempted to advocate a sharp way of dealing with delinquency and crime, but it has to be just. Prisons do more harm than good, and they are more vindictive than medicinal. Again, the bureaucratic spirit rather than freedom of judges to judge…

It is indeed tempting to want to remake the world, but we will not succeed in doing so. We do well to work on ourselves lest we be the worst hypocrites in our conservative rhetoric. We can either live with it or go and live somewhere else – but beware lest the grass be found not to be greener on the other side!

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6 Responses to The Pit

  1. What a lot to think about! And on the same day that a friend sent this link:

    Blessings, Fr Anthony.

    • Doesn’t Madrid strip those people bare with taxes and welfare state contributions? After all, you can’t allow a thing like that to work (irony)! It looks very interesting.

      Update – I have been reading about that village and its “Robin Hood” mayor. I admire his courage and I seem to sympathise with his kind of socialism. The thing to know is how tolerant they are of diversity of thought, religion, etc. There are some non-Spanish expatriates living there. It is possible to run one’s own small business if it isn’t something like Starbucks or McDonalds. Marinaleda seems to be unique in that it was born of the left-wing reaction against Franco, and not only the financial crisis of the 2000’s and now.

      Will this way of going on be sustainable, or will the Spanish State bring it all down with taxes and pressure to introduce more “conventional” politics. Gordillo seems a very popular figure, and it is possible that if he died or retired, he would be replaced by a councillor who supports his socialist thinking. How close is this idea to Hilaire Belloc’s Distributism? It would be interesting to see, but this kind of thing warms the heart after hearing so many woes about French state “socialism” and the Promethean monster of its bureaucracy and welfare state.

      It all intrigues me. Will the movement spread?

  2. Dale says:

    “The party’s over is no exception and a breeding ground for simplistic right-wing jingoistic solutions: Spare the rod…”

    Fr Anthony, I do not know if the above is actually an honest appraisal of the situation. I shall admit that this sentiment does correspond to the popular myth, especially in academia; but historically, when people are afraid of the future and of change, they turn to the left, not the right. And it usually is a very not so nice left; very totalitarian. Modern American academia, with its limits of free speech and thought is a modern example with its pathological persecution of students who do not tow the party line.

    Strangely, we forget that Hitler as an example neither he nor his Party were right-wing, but economically and culturally very much to the left; he was after all a national socialist; the right-wing in Germany of the 1920-30’s had been the monarchist parties, not the national socialist, and of course in Russia it was Stalin and in China Mao.

    • Thank you, Dale, for this reflection. I’m not much of a political philosopher, but I see that state socialism is the root of ideologies like Stalinism, Nazism and what Orwell imagined for his book. Academic left-wingism just about represents the same thing. Conservative liberalism is fine on a small scale, but the problem is that it is often at scales of multinational companies that it rivals the State bureaucracy. I would have to visit that village in Spain to get some idea of its veracity. If the Mayor Gordillo is a hot-headed mini-Castro – or something closer to Christianity… The “small is beautiful” is appealing.

    • ed pacht says:

      Extremes are much like each other, and when one talks of extremes, the concepts ‘right’ and ‘left’ mean little. A populism of the left is neither more nor less founded on fear and hatred than is a populism of the right. Nazism, Bolshevism, and ISISism are not too dissimilar in dynamics, however far apart they may be in ideologies. The Scripture tells us that perfect love casts out fear, and the contrary is just as true. Fear breeds anger and hatred, leads to extremist thinking, and brings shouting from both ends of the spectrum (as I certainly seem to observe in American – and world – politics in this day), a fierce disrespect for those that refuse to agree with one, and ultimately violence and repression. It is mob rule of any ideology (even, let it be said, of an ideology that I myself tend to like) that disturbs me. Such mob attitudes inevitably lead to totalitarian rule, and in the process destroy rational thinking and drive out love.

  3. Dale says:

    “I had a long conversation with my father about the tendency of people to high expectations of life and a sense of entitlement”: Fr Anthony, have you read “Life at the Bottom” by Theodore Dalrumple (Dr Anthony Daniels)? It is about just this issue, the only thing that keeps one from almost complete despair after the reading the book is his sense of humour and the fact that he is such a good writer.

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