Flotsam: Snobbery, Revolutions, and the Fourth of July

1. Still in the ‘awkward transition’ phase regarding my new job, where I haven’t even begun to do the actual job I’ve been hired for (which itself is a trainee position), and I’m still getting used to the new schedule and what is and is not an option now. I’m at least keeping regular writing times, though, so that’s making me feel grounded, though I haven’t figured out how to fit blogging in.

2. At work the subject of arbitrary enforcement came up: the thing where people will create completely meaningless standards – e.g. “you take cream in your coffee? What kind of man are you?” – and enforce them for the group. I said (and the conversation moved on) that this is an authority thing: people assuming a position of authority in the social hierarchy. Status means that you are the one who sets the standard (giving nicknames is another way of assuming authority), so when you have an otherwise ‘equal’ group, those of an aggressive temperament will naturally try to seize the highest position they can.

Again, allowing for human wickedness and stupidity, this tends to only occur between ostensible equals as a means of setting the social hierarchy. It occurs between privates in a platoon, not between privates and officers. It occurs between priests in a parish, not between priests and bishops. It occurs among the gentry, not between the gentry and the artisans. Not to say you won’t find a stupid aristocrat who sneers at his tenants for not liking the right music or something, but generally vices directed at inferiors are of a different kind than snobbery: more of officiousness or arbitrary rule or selfishness.

3. Reading a piece at The Orthosphere I had one of those ‘oh, of course,’ moments, where you’re told something and realize that you should have known that all along from the nature of the case.

“highly egalitarian societies… have high homicide rates.”

Well, of course they do. When no one is any better or higher than anyone else, officially, then when there’s a dispute, the principles have to settle the matter themselves. But the only final, ‘authoritative’ way that two equal individuals have of settling matters is violence. The ‘talk it out’ solution advocated in schools only works when both sides are prepared to be reasonable and look at the matter objectively, which will be so in only a tiny minority of cases. How many times do kids on a playground actually ‘talk things out’ to the satisfaction of both? Not saying it never happens, but it would require exceptional kids on both sides.

What actually happens probably ninety-nine cases out of a hundred is that one kid, the one with the more extroverted and aggressive temperament, talks down the other and gets the rest of the group to gang up on him to force him to concede.

Because there’s another factor at play which the Orthosphere author doesn’t bring up: the fact that in the absence of an official hierarchy (or even in the presence of one, but wherever it doesn’t operate), people will create their own, even in something as petty as ‘what kind of shirt do you wear?’ or ‘what kind of car do you drive’? And people will be much more aggressive and quick to enforce these kinds of ‘unofficial’ hierarchies because they don’t rest on anything but the vigilance of the individual. A king doesn’t have to keep pushing arbitrary rules to remind people he is the king, but a ‘free and equal citizen’ does, because it’s the only way he can keep his place.

The more egalitarian you try to make a society, the more socially repressive, mistrustful, and violent it will become as people try to claw out and maintain their position.

Because the fact is that all human societies are hierarchical: that is just part of the form of society as such. If you don’t have a structure, a hierarchy, then you don’t actually have a society, just a collection of individuals, who will operate as individuals (like how if you get the parts of your computer ‘out of form’, you no longer have a computer as such, just a lot of metal and plastic operating as metal and plastic).

And one thing individuals naturally try to do is to form societies and establish social status. So that even if you could create a perfectly egalitarian state, the people living within it would quickly set up their own competing tribes and hierarchies. It would be like trying to keep the sea perfectly flat: that is just not how the thing works.

4. The evil of snobbery lies in the fact that it is someone laying claim to a status that he doesn’t actually deserve and that he misuses in any case. Mrs. Elton in Emma is a snob because she assumes a position she doesn’t actually merit, defends it aggressively by cutting down people who aren’t actually a threat to it, and uses her position bluntly and officiously once she’s in it. Emma herself is also a bit of a snob, but much less so because A). she has a right to her position, and B). she mostly uses it responsibly, except in trying to encourage Harriet to lay claim to a higher position than she’s actually entitled to (so, sort of a snobbery by proxy).

But I don’t think most people really mind class distinctions. The structure would hardly have persisted so long and so universally if they did. The people who object to hierarchies are those who want to move from one level to another and find it more difficult than they think it ought to be (trouble is that these are often the very same kind of ne’er-do-wells who like to write books). The common farmer generally doesn’t mind living under a duke: it is the nouveau-riche industrialist who chafes at aristocratic privilege.

5. And it’s the latter who leads revolutions. We like to think of rebellions as the poor, downtrodden masses rising up against their aristocratic overlords. Actually, from all I can tell, it’s the rich classes who are the revolutionaries: the ones who are powerful, but feel they aren’t as powerful as they deserve to be. That is, the ones who have more practical power than official power.

(There’s another element of the ones who feel ashamed for being rich, but don’t know what to do about it. Those who lack either the training or the stomach to be Saints become Revolutionaries as an easier alternative. And part of me wants to make a ‘Navy – Coast Guard’ joke here).

The impoverished masses tend to be conservative, at least until the propaganda gets to them. Because, of course, it really makes very little difference to the average tenant farmer or artisan or factory hand whether he lives under a republic or a monarchy, except that his sense of cultural identity (and thus tribal belonging) is bound up in whichever one he happens to have been born in. Thus the very same populations who were Loyalist in 1776 tended to be Union in 1861.

So, in summary, Revolutions tend to be rich men convincing poor men that they are being oppressed so that the poor men will go risk death to gain a higher status for the rich men.

6. On that note, happy Fourth of July everyone!

Perhaps it’ll help if I say that however the nation came to be, now that it’s established I would have it continue and improve. I would see it restored to the days of its glory, and I would be thankful even for the optimism of the early-mid twentieth century. Basically, I’d hold my tongue about this whole subject if it meant we could have a functional society again.

This, by the way, is why I’m still a Union proponent in the Late Unpleasantness, even though in many ways I sympathize more with the Confederacy. Revolution is a genie that is very hard to get back into the bottle once it gets out, and I think that if the Confederacy had been established, both it and the Union would only have experienced an endless string of bloody, petty uprisings as one state or another decided it was being oppressed and took up arms against another (heck, it nearly happened between Michigan and Ohio in 1835, and again between Arizona and California in 1934). The real necessity of the war was to firmly establish that we were done with in this country, and the result is that, after the ‘simmering down’ period, we had a more-or-less unified national identity all the way up to a couple decades ago.

7. Just so there’s no misunderstanding (yeah, right), I don’t think slavery would have outlived the 19th century, whatever happened. World opinion (i.e. the British Empire) was too set against it, and I don’t think the Confederacy, or whatever Balkanized collection of states resulted from it could have survived as the lone Western slave-holding nation. Probably would have been better overall if it slavery hadn’t been settled in the war and had simply been allowed to die a natural death, but that’s another issue entirely.

8. Let’s try to end on a high note here (wish the image quality was better, but it was the only one I could find). This is the kind of thing I’d like to see come back, my own disillusionment notwithstanding:

Friday Flotsam: The Importance of the Things of This World

1. I think the thing that people hate and fear most about Christianity, especially Catholicism, is how important it makes the things of this world.

Nobody objects to deism – belief in a creator God who is largely indifferent to humanity. Nobody seriously objects to ‘spirituality’ or a general belief in the afterlife or something more than the material world. What they object to, what frightens them, is the connection of this material world to those things.

We do not want the things we do to mean anything beyond what we can see. We want this world to be self-contained, so that we can decide what our actions mean and what things are worth doing or having or not. Despite its application as an inspirational quote, the very last thing most people want is for “what we do in life to echo in eternity.” Because if it does, that imposes real consequences and real obligations outside of what we can see and feel in day-to-day life. It’s the difference between playing a video game and acting in real life. Most people would rather it be a game.

But the trouble is that if God became Incarnate as a man, and if what He did as a man held consequences that echo into eternity, then there is no such dividing line. The actions of flesh and blood men mean more than what they appear to mean, like the shadows in Plato’s cave or like someone in the throes of a fever dream, where everything only approximately appears to be what it truly is.

2. When we say that someone is ‘fixed upon the things of this world’, what we mean is that he values these things – money, pleasure, power, etc. – in isolation, as being no more than what they appear to be. But the very last thing such a man would want is for these things to be given a significance beyond what he can see. If a self-aggrandizing, power-hungry courtier were to understand power to be a stewardship of God’s authority for which he will be answerable for, he would divest himself of all political rank as fast as he possibly could. It would be far more importance than he bargained for!

The fact that these things are themselves all much less important than the higher, eternal matters only makes it worse: the scale of values becomes overall much larger than he would have liked, and his own obligations grow proportionally.

3. On a possibly related note, I notice that Progressives / Liberals tend to have a massive blind-spot, in that they never seem to consider the power of tradition or what might be called ‘generational consequences.’

A person is shaped far less by any education or instruction than in the basic, fundamental, unquestioned assumptions and habits of mind that he picks up, mostly from watching his parents and teachers. Children imitate what the adults in their lives do much more than they obey what they teach.

This is why Tradition is so vital: the unspoken, acted structure of society passed down through generations. Because this, more than anything else, is what shapes the minds and characters of the great mass of mankind. As Progressives are so fond of reminding us, what we perceive and how we understand it is in large part determined by our traditions and culture. Therefore, it’s really quite important to not mess with that tradition if you can possibly avoid it, given the serious and unpredictable consequences involved in altering how the next generation will fundamentally perceive the world.

(This would also seem to imply the necessity of an infallible Tradition as a corollary to an unerring Scripture, since how we read and understand something is largely determined by our tradition-based context, so that a sacred text requires a sacred tradition to maintain the ability for anyone to understand it properly. But that’s another topic).

So, the important questions here are things like what are the children of men who rebelled against their forefathers to pick up? What kind of environment for the raising of children will be created by the new actions and values being advocated? And what kind of person will this produce?

See, the problem with changing the world to suit your tastes and ideals is that the world thus produced will naturally produce children with different ideals (since they are raised in a different context from that which produced their fathers), while simultaneously teaching them that it is right and just to overthrow the existing order for the sake of their ideals. And thus the cycle repeats as every change creates a new understanding of the world in every succeeding generation and thus a new desire to change the world to suit the understanding (this could also be why Progressives tend toward being sexual libertines: they don’t consider generational consequences).

It’s the pattern of the gods: Saturn overthrows Uranus, and in so doing divests himself of any right to not be overthrown by his own children, leading him to try to maintain his power through sheer force. His own son, Jupiter, overthrows him in the end, but likewise forfeits his paternal right and can only maintain his power in turn by sheer force and doesn’t dare lie with a woman prophesied to produce a son greater than his father.

4. See, this is the sort of thing that worldly reformers do not want to be true. They don’t want to think that their reforms will be that important or that serious. They expect it to go so far and no further. Heck, one of their stock phrases is “what does it matter? What does a title / sex / tradition really matter in the end?”. The whole tend of their arguments is to downplay the importance of whatever they are focusing on so that there will be no reason why they can’t do with it as they like.

The great nightmare of reformers is that the things they are reforming really matter.

The Last Battle

5th of May, 1945, saw one of the last (and strangest) battle of the Second World War in Europe, where American troops, Wehrmacht soldiers, a defecting SS officer, and one tank named ‘Jenny’ defended a Medieval Austrian castle full of French political prisoners against an assault by SS troops.

This video provides a fascinating historical rundown of the battle:

Polybius

I like video game history, I like urban legends, and I really like seeing people put a tremendous amount of research and effort into their videos.

With that, I present you Retro Ahoy‘s documentary on Polybius, one of the most prominent myths of the video game world.

First a summary: according to the story, Polybius was a mysterious arcade game available for a brief time in Portland in the early 1980s. Descriptions of the gameplay are vague, but was said to be abstract and strange, combination puzzle and shooting, supposedly highly addictive despite its abstract nature. However, those who played it began to experience odd side-effects such as nausea, amnesia, night-terrors, and behavioral changes. Then a few months after its first appearance, mysterious men in black appeared and wheeled the machines away, never to be seen again.

The rumor is that the game was a CIA experiment: testing mind-control or personality-alteration technology on the general population.

The video goes into greater detail of the story, its history, place in video game culture, and (most impressively) seems to track the legend back to its source. Though even then, there’s still a potential mystery left unanswered to tickle the fancy.

It’s a long video (over an hour), but well-worth it.

I recommend you check out the rest of Retro Ahoy’s channel: the guy puts a ton of research into his work, especially for his longer videos. If you have any interest in video games or video game history, he’s well worth the time (his equally-long and in-depth documentary on ‘The First Video Game‘ is also a must-view).

Miracle of the Vistula

In August 1920, newly independent Poland stood all-but alone against the newly risen monster of the Soviet Union. The Soviets were looking to eliminate the old bastion of the Church from their borders, as well as give themselves a route to foment and take advantage of the chaos in Germany, hoping to spark a Communist revolution in Karl Marx’s homeland, from whence it would spread through the rest of Europe.

On the Feast of the Assumption, the outnumbered and outgunned Poles smashed the advancing Soviets at the Battle of Warsaw, dubbed “The Miracle of the Vistula.”

https://external-content.duckduckgo.com/iu/?u=https%3A%2F%2Fi.pinimg.com%2Foriginals%2Fc7%2F44%2F8b%2Fc7448bfbf21d41cb59fa01f0371f3196.jpg&f=1&nofb=1
“Don’t worry everyone, I’m here to save the world. Again.”
-State Motto of Poland

One of the highlights of the battle was a Polish cavalry unit breaking through Soviet lines early on to capture an important radio tower, which they used to broadcast readings from the Book of Genesis in Polish and Latin to the Soviet troops. Which is a quintessentially Polish thing to do.

This video does a pretty good job of summarizing the context and events of the battle. I pass it along to you in the hopes that we can start making this pivotal event better known.

‘Make Mine Freedom’

Allow me to present a startlingly accurate warning from 1948, back in the days when the American system actually tried to defend itself.

You know, I have my own criticisms of the position taken by this short, but my goodness, it’s refreshing to see it actually articulated, and pretty well too.

Also, note the call for balance and unity based on the American identity as such, along with the rejection of class, racial, and religious-based conflict (including showing racially-integrated classrooms. 1948, remember: that was indeed a thing at the time). And the specific prediction that Dr. Ism would use those very things to divide and conquer.

And the depiction of the ‘Ism’ formula, its sales pitch, and its effects is dead-on, alas, though they completely missed the role of media, not to mention corporations themselves.

(By the way, I found out the name ‘Joe Doaks’ is an old slang term for the average guy (just like his neighbors, Joe Blow and Joe Sixpack). I always think of it as the name of the guy in the ‘X Marks the Spot’ short from the ‘King Dinosaur’ episode of Season Two of Mst3k. That Joe Doaks (ironically enough given his incarnation in this one) was defined as being a terrible driver who is on trial in the afterlife to see whether his driving record qualifies him for a second chance at life. It was a wartime short, emphasizing the loss of manpower caused by traffic accidents. Crow sums up the message as “If you kill yourselves here we can’t kill them over there.”)

October 21: Blessed Karl of Austria

Today is the feast of Blessed Karl of Austria, the last Hapsburg Emperor (for now).

For those who don’t know the tragic story of this holy monarch, Blessed Karl was the grand nephew of Emperor Franz Joseph and ascended the throne in 1916 at the age of twenty-six. He was an extremely pious and kindly man, a loving husband and father, and courageous soldier (the only leader of a major power during the war to have actually fought in it. And, not coincidentally, the one who tried hardest to end it as soon as possible, but his pleas fell on deaf ears). He pursued badly-needed internal reforms, seeking to bring the various states of the Empire into a more federalist-style arrangement. Like the best monarchs – and the best leaders in general – he saw his position as one of duty to his people.

After the war, President Wilson demanded the destruction of the German and Austrian Monarchies as part of the allied peace terms; envisioning a Europe dominated by democracy. Thus the Emperor and his family were sent into exile, their property seized by the allies, and financial support blocked by the allied governments. The result of this was that Bl. Karl took ill while out buying presents for his family and died a lingering, painful death. He bore his last suffering patiently, declaring his love for his wife and offering his suffering for his divided people. He summoned his eldest son, Otto, to his bedside to “witness how a Catholic and an Emperor conducts himself when dying.” He died proclaiming the Holy Name of Jesus: “Thy Holy Will be done. Jesus, Jesus, come! Yes—yes. My Jesus, Thy will be done—Jesus.”

You can learn more at http://www.emperorcharles.org/

Me, I’m a Monarchist, which is one of the reasons I have a particular devotion to Bl. Emperor Karl. He seems to my mind to represent the best of Christendom-that-was; the great Monarchical civilization in whose crumbling ruins we make our dwelling. Arguably his deposition and death are the demarcation point of the end of that civilization: the last Hapsburg Emperor, shining as a beacon of sanctity and manly courage to remind us of just what we destroyed for the sake of what came after.

Leave it to Winston Churchill (also an unreconstructed Monarchist) to point out the obvious: “[World War II] would never have come unless, under American and modernizing pressure, we had driven the Habsburgs out of Austria and the Hohenzollerns out of Germany. By making these vacuums we gave the opening for the Hitlerite monster to crawl out of its sewer on to the vacant thrones.”

In short, the story of the end of Christendom is that we sacrificed a Saint in the name of liberty and progress and got a monster bringing death and destruction in return.

Blessed Karl, and all the martyred monarchs of Europe, pray for us and our leaders.

History and Compromise at ‘The Everyman’

My latest post at The Everyman is up, comparing our present world to Austria in the 1930s. It’s depressingly apt.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

A virulent ideological movement is spreading through a nation’s institutions. It presents itself as the wave of the future, elevating those who have been beaten down, and as a long-overdue correction of past injustices. It pretends to regard any attack on its mission as an attack on the people it claims to be advocating for and any check on its momentum as the cruelest of tyrannies. Those who oppose it are condemned as being motivated by hatred, base personal gain, or because they are beholden to entrenched interests. It is supported by student radicals who, encouraged by their professors, use protests and organized violence to silence dissent. It employs racially charged rhetoric, condemning one group in particular on account of their real or supposed past crimes. People suddenly find old friends and family members cutting ties, turning on them, or uttering shockingly brutal rhetoric. Riots and violent unrest become increasingly common as the supporters of the ideology seek to impose it upon their neighbors.

Meanwhile the Church (with a few exceptions), either mostly dithers or is complicit by focusing on the superficial points of common ground rather than the fundamentally anti-Christian nature of the ideology. Instead, the movement is chiefly opposed by an energetic, highly controversial political leader who couches his battle in terms of the nation’s historical ideals and identity.

Sound familiar?

As you probably guessed, I’m not referring to America in 2020. I’m referring to Austria in 1934. It has become gauche and tedious to make Nazi comparisons, and for good reason. The analogy has become so abused, misapplied, and overused that it now means practically nothing. And the worst of it is that we always seem to miss the real point of that sad episode of history, a point that really deserves to be brought into greater clarity.

One of the most fascinating accounts of the Nazi conquest of Germany and Austria is the memoir, My Struggle Against Hitler, by the great German philosopher Dietrich Von Hildebrand. In it he recounts his flight from Nazi Germany and his life of exile in Austria, where he used a journal called Der Christlich Standestaat (The Christian Corporate State), to wage an unending philosophical battle against the Nazis until Hitler’s Anschluss with Austria in 1938 forced him to flee once again.

What strikes me again and again in reading Von Hildebrand’s words is how willing so many people were to go along with the Nazis and how extensively and aggressively the Nazi ideology was pushed, compared to how hesitant and diffident most of the opposition was. Nazism really was the popular, dynamic, progressive ideology of the day. Those who opposed it were condemned as hating Germany and Germans, or at best considered quaintly backwards and Quixotic, since Nazism was obviously the way of the future.

The narrative then was “we have to find a way to work with Hitler” or “there are many points of similarity between Nazism and Christianity, such as value of the nation, of authority, and so on.” Or else “yes, but the Jews really are deplorable. They really do need to be taken down a peg.”

Again, this should all sound familiar (“many Communists have a truly Christian ethic” etc.), but again, to liken the American Left, or Red China, or any other evil ideological movement to the Nazis is not really the point here. For, as these examples themselves indicate, points of likeness can nearly always be found if you care to look for them. That in itself doesn’t mean much.

My point is that the rise of all these movements serves to illustrate the same lesson taught repeatedly in Scripture: that no man can serve two masters. Neither a person or a nation can hold to two contradictory ideologies. Nazism and Christianity, as are Christianity and Socialism, are essentially contradictory. This fact makes all compromise and all accommodation impossible. Worse, any such attempt to do so will mean actively damaging Christianity and Christian culture by obscuring its real character.

Read the rest here.