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.

Friday Flotsam: Some Aphorisms

1. Loving your enemy does not mean forgetting that he is your enemy.

2. That we cannot judge what we don’t know doesn’t mean that we can’t judge what we do know. E.g. I don’t know the state of X’s soul, nor the internal motions that lead him to act as he does, but I do know that he steals and that stealing is wrong. To say as much is not to be ‘judgmental’.

3. Art direction is always more important than graphical fidelity.

4. Democracy is not intended to give people power, but to take power away from specific people.

5. Most successful revolutions, political or otherwise, amount to different people doing the same thing under different names, only with less restraint.

6. And as a final entry: my latest post is up at The Everyman, applying the lessons of Chesterton’s surreal classic The Man Who Was Thursday to the modern situation:

As may be found from this brief synopsis, the book is very strange and often surreal. It’s sometimes called a ‘metaphysical thriller’. At the same time there is a sharp and at times disturbing exactness of its vision of the world and the philosophies at work in the modern day. Consider, for instance, Gregory’s assertion of what the anarchists really want:

“To abolish God! We do not want to upset a few despotism and police regulations…We dig deeper and we blow you higher. We wish to deny all those arbitrary distinctions of vice and virtue, honour and treachery, upon which mere rebels base themselves.”

Indeed, though they lack the capacity to put it in such terms, the modern woke anarchist would likely agree with such sentiments in his heart. What is the common thread in their insane rhetoric but the destruction of the hard lines of reality: not just right and wrong, but male and female, family and stranger, citizen and foreigner, living and dead, man and beast? All subsumed into a morass of self-will. Yet a will founded in a self that, removing these solid foundations, is as insubstantial and pliable as a cloud.

And as is said later in the novel, “When duty and religion are really destroyed, it will be by the rich.” The poor, Chesterton suggests, will never truly be anarchists or anything of the kind. It is the rich, the educated, the sophisticates who play with such fire. “The scientific and artistic worlds are silently bound in a crusade against the Family and the State,” says the man who recruits Syme to the police, before going on to lay out how much more wholesome mere criminals are than the kind of modern philosophers who hate marriage as marriage, property as property, and life as life.

Meanwhile, there is a deluded ‘outer-ring’ of anarchists who believe that “all the evil results of human crime are the results of the system that has called it crime.” That is to say, the kind of people who condemn ‘slut-shaming,’ who call ‘mis-gendering’ violence, or who rail about the demographics of prison populations without once mentioning the words ‘guilty’ or ‘innocent.’

Yet even these are only the dupes, the willing tools of their leaders, who though they mouth the same platitudes understand as the rank and file do not the true meaning behind them and “have but two objects, to destroy humanity and then themselves.”

It is sometimes hard to believe, looking at the current crop of politicians and other social elites, that this is not precisely what they have in mind.

Syme, standing against the anarchists, stands explicitly for sanity, respectability, and the “common and kindly people in the street.” His backstory tells of his being “surrounded by every conceivable kind of revolt since infancy,” leaving him with only one thing to rebel into: sanity. In this he is an early prototype of the strange fact that to defend the values that once defined our civilization is now itself an act of rebellion.

And the only motive for such a hopeless and Quixotic rebellion is “that unanswerable and terrible truism of the song of Roland”: Pagans are wrong and Christians are right.

Liberal broadmindedness has nothing to say in answer to such reckless hate as the anarchists bring. Only the great counter assertion of right and wrong, of true and false, and of the real, solid distinctions of real natures will do. “Perhaps we are both doing what we think right,” Syme tells Gregory early in the novel. “But what we think right is so damned different that there can be nothing between us in the way of concession. There is nothing possible between us but honour and death.”

Read the rest here.

Friday Flotsam: Dean Koontz and more Agatha Christie

1. It has been an odd week for me. I’ve been strangely listless and unable to settle down to anything (I mean, more so than usual). I really don’t know what to ascribe it to: depression, anxiety, medication side-effects, or just old-fashioned vice. Suppose the only way to find out is simply to keep working at it and see what works.

2. On the way home from my sister’s place I listened to Dean Koontz’s Tick-Tock (well, after finishing another Agatha Christie: Lord Edgware Dies. That one’s pretty good, though in retrospect it depends on Poirot making a major mistake early on to avoid solving the mystery in about ten minutes). It was…odd. The more I read of Mr. Koontz, the more I find that he has a tendency to let his stories get away from him, where things start to go absolutely nuts as the plot progresses. This was one of those: it starts off as a creepy supernatural horror thriller, then maybe half-way through takes a hard left into an almost cartoonish comedy, while maintaining the gruesome imagery and concepts of the early parts. Or maybe that was intended from the get go, but it was an odd experience nonetheless, and I confess I think I would have preferred a more straight-fire thriller, since the premise itself was really good. I chalk this and similar books up to his being a pantser who works things out as he goes.

(Also, this book hails from the mid-nineties, when ‘super-witty and competent chick paired with nervous, out-of-his-depth, wimpy hero’ was still considered cute. That aspect hasn’t aged well at all).

3. I don’t want anyone to run away with the idea that I dislike Mr. Koontz’s work. On the contrary, I usually enjoy him a lot. The Odd Thomas series is great, as is From the Corner of His Eye and The Good Guy (among the ones I’ve read). Strangers had a great opening, but I thought the payoff was a letdown (though to be fair, it’s really hard to come up with a good payoff to books like that), ditto, though to a less extent, for Phantoms. I remember liking Watchers a good deal too. I didn’t finish Intensity because, well, it was too intense. I took a breather and never went back. Not ‘light’ reading that one.

In any case, as I say, I generally like Mr. Koontz’s work, and even in his more disappointing books I love his style. He’s a wordsmith with a sense of humor, and you can’t ask for more than that.

4. Speaking of Agatha Christie, I also recently revisited Murder on the Orient Express. I think that’s probably the best gateway book if you want to begin reading her work (not least because Poirot spoils the ending in many subsequent books): it’s a strong premise and a fantastic plot, and Poirot has to make some brilliant deduction to solve it. It’s also a pretty delightful cross-section of interwar European society, if you’re into that sort of thing (and who isn’t?).

Of course, the only trouble is that it’s a very famous book and most people already know the solution. If you, by any chance, haven’t already heard it, I urge you to do your best to avoid finding out! Just pick up a copy and read it: you’ll be glad you did.

Then after you’ve done that, pick up the 1974 film version starring Albert Finny as Poirot and a truly staggering collection of stars as everyone else. It’s a great film, even apart from the mystery and the sheer delight of seeing Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Perkins, Sir John Gielgud, Richard Widmark, Ingrid Bergman, and more acting together.

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
“Mais oui!”

(I haven’t seen the 2017 Kenneth Branagh version, but I think it’s fair to say the odds of its being as good are tres petit).

Friday (Saturday) Flotsam: Agatha Christie

1. Missed yesterday, obviously. I’m currently on a kind of personal mini-retreat at my sister’s, which meant being on the road or otherwise occupied for the past few days.

2. On the way up I listened to the Miss Marple novel They Do it With Mirrors. It isn’t one of Dame Agatha Christie’s best (I successfully guessed the solution the first time I read it), but like most of her work is hugely entertaining anyway.

Agatha Christie’s storytelling really does not get enough appreciation, I think; her intricate detective plots are brilliant, of course, but she also excels at mixing up a lot of different subplots in her work to try to keep you guessing. Usually, I find, there’s the actual plot (the murder), at least one major subplot (typically a romance: Dame Christie almost always worked romantic subplots into her books) that serves as a key smokescreen, plus two or three minor ones.

So, an Agatha Christie novel is set up as more or less a series of different, semi-connected plot lines all laid one on top of the other. Most have nothing to do with the murder, but they seem like they might. This also (I suspect) gave her the chance to explore other kinds of stories that she wanted to write anyway, but which were outside of the detective form.

(Upon reflection, I suppose all stories could be thought of like that, though in the case of a mystery novel, the subplots don’t have to contribute to the main plot at all. Their simply being there to muddy the waters is an adequate reason for their existence).

3. Another thing about Dame Christie’s work: she mastered the trick of making the most logical person guilty without making the solution obvious.

In most good murder mysteries, there are at least three suspects: the one everyone in the book thinks is obviously guilty, the one the audience is supposed to think is guilty, and the one who is actually guilty.

Say you have a man shot in his study. Is the killer A). his unscrupulous butler who was embezzling from him and about to get caught? B). the secretary in love with the man’s much-younger wife and whose story doesn’t quite hold together? or C). his very respectable lawyer who has a cast iron alibi and no obvious motive?

Of course it’s C (the lawyer actually had been embezzling from him for years and was about to be ruined). Dame Christie’s particular genius, however, was to make it turn out to be A after all, but in such a way that you would think he had already been cleared of suspicion. She didn’t do this all the time, but often enough. It keeps you on your toes.

4. The thing is, Dame Christie’s characterization and so forth isn’t usually brilliant: the characters are generally fairly clear ‘types’ with a few tweaks added on, but they’re well-realized and appealing types, which is really the important thing. The point of the story is to entertain, and as far as that’s concerned familiarity, or at least being able to get a picture of the character quickly is more important than depth. Not that you shouldn’t have both if you can, but in a detective story you usually don’t have the time for a whole lot of depth.

Besides which, the driving question of a detective story is ‘who did it’? And what gives the question its sting is the fear that someone you like is going to turn out to be the killer. So we need to set the characters quickly and clearly, in fairly broad strokes (the gruff military man, the pretty young woman, the middle-aged widow, etc.) so that the reader knows what’s at stake and can begin to try to figure out which one he thinks did the deed.

But then again, I’m generally of the opinion that vividness – that the characters stand out or stick in the reader’s mind – is more important than depth – that the characters show many different sides or layers and have a complex psychology. But that’s a topic for another time.

Friday Flotsam: Hodgepodge

1. Most of what’s been on my mind lately has been personal stuff that I don’t particularly feel like sharing over the interwebs. Plus I’ve been generally just tired lately, so it’ll probably be a thin one this time.

2. Doing a lot of outlining lately. In fact I’m starting to think I’ve been writing entirely the wrong way for all these years: outlining is a great way to get a handle on what you’re trying to write. And it’s a heck of a lot less demanding, making it easier to pick up and just do some work and feel like you’ve done something. Plus you can get a lot of different works outlined, have them in the back file, and then take them out and make them something. Simply knowing what you’re trying to write ahead of time makes the whole writing process a hundred times easier.

3. Drawing quotes recently, I found this one from The Man Who Was Thursday: I had vaguely remembered it, but had forgotten just how darn fitting it is to the current climate:

He was one of those who are driven early in life into too conservative an attitude by the bewildering folly of most revolutionists. He had not attained to it by any tame tradition. His respectability was spontaneous and sudden, a rebellion against rebellion.

I honestly think a lot of people these days are poised for that kind of attitude, if only anyone had the sense to take advantage of it. Present a workable set of traditional principles to set against progressivism, give it a good push and some charismatic voices, and it will become a power in very short order.

4. Heard a suggestion today that Alice Cooper might be a good choice to recruit into politics. I doubt he’d do it, but am entirely in favor of that, and there are comparatively few celebrities I can say that of.

Alice Cooper meets a plush pony version of himself.

5. To me the great fantasy of a time travel story would be simply the fact of knowing what is going to happen. If you go back in time to, say, 1890, you would at least be proof against uncertainty. Assuming, of course, you did your research ahead of time.

Friday Flotsam: Mostly Random

1. Something has intruded on my personal life, which I’m still learning to deal with. It’s knocked my attention (already unbalanced) for a real loop, so this’ll be kind of haphazard. It’s a personal matter, but just know that…well, I don’t know what things will be like going forward.

2. I saw Godzilla vs. Kong last weekend, and intended to write up something about it, but the aforementioned something has rather gotten in the way of sitting down to it.

The short, spoiler-free version is that I enjoyed it a lot. There are a lot of stupid bits and the human story, especially on Team Godzilla’s side, needed a lot of work, but the two stars were given full and wonderful scope and the fights were very satisfying. I’ll probably do a post detailing fuller, more spoiler-filled thoughts sometime in the future.

3. My own ‘ideal’ for the Monsterverse moving forward would actually be to end it here and take a break for a few years, then come back with a full-on MCU-style ‘verse’, with solo films for Godzilla, Mothra, Gamera, and Ultraman before bringing them all together for a massive team up film. Save Ghidorah for the team-up, maybe start Godzilla on Biollante or Hedorah (whom I really would like to see done with modern special effects), Mothra on Battra, Gamera on Gyaos (who can always come back, since she’s a species more than an individual), and Ultraman on Bemular/The One (saving the Baltan for later).

Either that or, even more ideally, a Spectacular Spider-Man / Batman: The Animated Series animated show to serve as a kind of synthesis of the entire mythos (e.g. having the Red Bamboo as the arc villains of the first season and building up to King Ghidorah, etc.). Never going to happen unless / until my schemes of world domination take off, but I can dream.

4. Coming down from writing about the Snyderverse. Something that i noticed in looking back over the films (via clips, etc) was how unimaginative and blunt Superman is with his powers. I mentioned this in the rundown, but it irks me a lot. The writers seem to have no notion of either having any kind of fun with his abilities or even just using them in a half-way restrained and sensible manner. It’s like the only things he can think to do are “hit things really hard” or “laser them into oblivion.” No squeezing gun barrels shut or finger-flicking people to the ground for this Superman: gotta just smash everything.

By the way, the many creative ways that Superman uses his different powers is another source of the immense amount of fun you can get out of him. Like, in the animated series there’s a bit where he shaves by reflecting his heat-vision off of a mirror. Or in Lois & Clark, where Clark lies there absentmindedly juggling a basketball with nothing but his breath before sending it into a trashcan in the same way. Superman’s supposed to be a pure fantasy figure in many ways: a ‘wouldn’t it be cool if…’ character. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could just fly to China to get authentic Chinese takeout? Wouldn’t it be cool if you could type 5000 words a minute? Wouldn’t it be cool if you could refurbish your whole apartment in about five minutes?

Come to think of it, this is a major reason why I liked Godzilla vs. Kong so much: it’s fun. Not just ‘so stupid it’s enjoyable’, but it actually tries hard to give the audience a good time, to adopt that ‘wouldn’t it be cool if…’ mentality. “Wouldn’t it be cool if Kong had a giant ax? Wouldn’t it be cool if Godzilla just sliced right through a battleship? Wouldn’t it be cool if they duked it out on an aircraft carrier?”

I’m reminded of a line from the extremely profane and kind of unpleasant, but oft-amusing video-game critic/comedian Yahtzee: “Remember fun? That thing video games were supposed to be before they became an ‘experience’?” That comes to my mind a lot these days.

5. As a post-Lenten treat, I recently re-listened to my audiobook version of Emma. You know, one of the things I love about Jane Austen is just how comfortable she is: that 18th-19th century England sense of being a well-established, ordered society where, if you keep out of trouble, nothing too terrible can be expected to happen: no invading armies, no desperate criminals, no prospect of total societal collapse; a society that can be counted on to be there and to function the way it’s supposed to.

I have often wished heartily that I could retire to an English country village about the late 18th, early 19th century, just for the quiet and the retirement. I’m the kind of person who really doesn’t want much happening around him. Quiet, secluded country living: that’s my goal.

Friday Flotsam – Mostly on Superman

1. Been adjusting lately to various life developments (yeah, I’m gonna go with that), which means I haven’t quite worked out how to fit blogging into the picture. I intend to blog more regularly going forward, but so far I haven’t worked out how.

2. Working on a post summarizing how I think Zack Synder butchered Superman and Batman. There’s a lot there, but I’m realizing that, if I want to be entirely fair, I should probably revisit the DCEU. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen any of the Snyder films (mostly because I hated them), and in that time I’ve become a much more fervent and informed Superman fan. Watching clips now I keep thinking “that’s wrong. That’s stupid. Man, they really didn’t care there, did they?” So at some point in the future I may do a DCEU rundown as a companion to my Marvel rundown (though, as the DCEU has no real ending nor any plans for one, I’ll probably cut myself off at some point. Maybe with the *shudder* Snyder cut…).

3. Speaking of which, I also need to revisit the Christopher Reeves films. I saw them long, long ago and remember not really liking them that much, despite Mr. Reeves’ definitive performance. Mostly it was because I didn’t at all like some of the story choices (e.g. the turning back time in the first film, the de-powering subplot in the second, etc.). But perhaps they’ll play better now.

4. Honestly, one of my favorite iterations so far is Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman from the mid nineties. Despite the lackluster special effects, reduced Superman powerlevel, and the oft-cheesy scripts I think Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher are among the best incarnations of Clark and Lois, especially Mr. Cain, who makes Clark perfectly the ‘normal, decent guy’ he’s supposed to be. Like, I love the detail that his fridge is full of junk food since, while he doesn’t need to eat, he likes it and so goes for whatever tastes the best because why not? That’s the kind of development onto Superman’s character that I like: thinking through the logical implications of his powers and asking how a guy like Clark would respond. Or the way he regularly calls home to his parents to discuss how his life is going. And I like the Kents’ charmingly casual approach to his powers (when Clark’s a little dubious about the cape his mother insists “It’ll look great when you’re flying”). Or, one of my favorite touches, Clark gets his job at the Planet by interviewing an old actress as she says goodbye to a theater being torn down. That’s the kind of guy he needs to be; sympathetic, open, and showing interest in and value for everyone he meets.

Miss Hatcher’s Lois is on point as well, with that delightful blend of sarcasm, self-assurance, and vulnerability that makes the character. She and Mr. Cain have fantastic chemistry and really come across as honest-to-goodness friends in spite of their chop-busting antics.

5. See, here’s what I think most people get wrong: when making a Superman adaptation, the most important thing is to get Clark Kent right. Because if you do Clark right, Superman will follow. But if you focus on Superman, you’re liable to miss the whole point. You see, Clark Kent is the real character. Even if you have Superman in costume most of the time, you have to remember that Clark is the true identity. Fundamentally, whatever crazy stuff you’re having him do, carrying a satellite into orbit or fighting psychic vigilantes on the Moon, you have to keep in mind that it’s the kid from Kansas who is doing all this (as Lois says in Superman vs. the Elite: “You can take the kid out of the cornfield…”).

4. I think another problem filmmakers run into when adapting Superman (and similar properties) is simply that they overthink things. See, I suspect that a lot of filmmakers will approach a major cultural touchstone like that and think “Since this is such a big, important property, there must be some real depth to it. It must be full of hidden meaning and subtle complexities, and if I’m going to really do this right, I have to be just as deep and complex. I have to really make this an event!”

What they’re missing is that it is precisely the simplicity of the story, the straightforward, unapologetic nature of it that gives it it’s power. The fundamental Superman story is “man has the power to save the day in every circumstance, but never takes the credit for it so the woman he loves has no idea what he does.” You can sum it up in a sentence (I just did), but there are almost an infinitude of things you can do with it.

Now, you can do things with Superman beyond that simple formula, but the point is that the Superman idea is a pretty straightforward one. The more you try to make it ‘deep’ and complex, the more you add to it, the more specificity you give it, the more likely you’re going to lose the thing that made it interesting in the first place.

To put it more simply, I remember someone saying that if you want to make a good Superman movie, just take the airplane sequence from Superman Returns and do that for ninety minutes. Which is pretty accurate.

Greatness in storytelling is not a matter of complexity, ambiguity, believability, relatability, or anything of the kind. It is a matter of a unique idea perfectly realized.

Friday Flotsam – Psych Issues and I Get a Review!

1. First and foremost, my appalling ego requires me to advise you all to hop over to A Song of Joy for a review of my first published book: The Wisdom of Walt Disney. It’s also the first review of that book that I’ve received. To say more would be unpardonably self-aggrandizing.

2. In celebration of this fact, I offer the accompanying video tribute to Mr. Disney that I made to go along with an updated release of the book a few years back. All the films shown in the video are discussed in the book.

3. As I’ve noted before, I suffer from what I’ve been calling ‘Depression’. Now, the thing to keep in mind is that psychological issues are different from diseases. In a typical disease (at least, most of them) you have an objective constant in the form of the micro-organism that is causing it: the Smallpox virus or the pneumonia bacteria are species of organism that have certain characteristics and behave a certain way. But psychological issues don’t really have this; the brain begins acting in a particular way which may or may not stem from one of several causes and which may or may not follow the pattern of other brains under similar circumstances. In any case, when it comes to the brain, we only have the symptoms: there is no ‘depression virus’ where we can say ‘Ah, there’s the constant!’ In other words, as far as we know (at least from what I understand), a bodily illness is a substance – an objective thing – while a mental illness is an accident – a pattern.

Yes, I know that we have brain chemistry, but the thing is that 1. there’s a chicken-and-egg problem with that: do the chemicals cause the thoughts or the thoughts release the chemicals? The fact that we can direct our thoughts and recognize them as rational or irrational suggests the latter, at least in part. 2. Neurochemistry is such a new field that I wouldn’t hazard anything upon it that isn’t backed up by more established knowledge (brain scans have gotten results from dead salmon, so something’s not quite right there) and 3. Whether we call the symptoms thoughts or brain chemicals doesn’t really change the question: it’s still something that is happening in or being done by the brain, not, as far as we know, an objective entity that is reacting with it.

Which means that there is no real limit to the form of the pattern. The Bubonic Plague always acts within a certain range of behaviors because the Plague is only a particular bacteria. But theoretically there could be as many mental illnesses as there are potential unwanted connections in the brain.

4. Anyway, long story short, after being frustrated by various different approaches for recovery I’m working on developing my own. My particular issues seem to be an odd cocktail of depression, anxiety, a dash of OCD, and maybe a few other things (not that these ‘official’ diseases aren’t often found together), all tumbled together with a base character that’s fairly out-of-the-ordinary to begin with. So I’m trying to draw whatever seems useful from a bunch of different approaches designed to combat these various constituent issues and work out something tailor-made to my own situation.

Just starting off, in the ‘gathering info’ stage, but so far there have been some interesting results. At the moment I’m working through ‘Brain Lock’ by Jeffry M. Schwartz, which details a self-directed therapy for combating OCD. I’d definitely recommend it, even if you don’t think you have OCD, since I believe the approach could easily be modified to other issues: it’s simple, but makes sense and the methods advised have a solid pedigree, such as the insight that behavior changes thought, so that the key to change is to act contrary to inclinations: a fact embodied in the practice of ritual and objective moral law. Seeking to alter unwanted thoughts by recognizing their irrationality, dwelling upon the truth and acting accordingly is essentially just “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”

In short, your feelings are secondary: your actions and your beliefs are primary.

I tend to trust insights and advice that A). recur across multiple different books from different authors dealing with different problems – the ‘action reinforces thought and thought directs action and both trump feelings’ insight keeps coming back again and again – and B). harmonize with traditional philosophical and religious thought: that is, with the ideas of the people who actually built functioning societies rather than the people who parasite off of them.

I’ll probably share more of this as time goes on.

Friday Flotsam: The Feast of St. Joseph

1. A blessed Feast of St. Joseph to you all! May the foster father of Our Lord Jesus intercede on behalf of everyone who reads this and for the Church and our nation as a whole.

2. A thought occurred to me this morning, listening to a sermon on St. Joseph (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-OXUfeFFjXg). The priest points out that the Holy Family was the seed of the Church, the Church in miniature. That made me wonder: do we have an image of the two swords in Mary and Joseph?

Probably need to explain that. The two swords come from Luke 22:38: “But they said: ‘Lord, behold here are two swords.’ And He said to them, ‘It is enough.'” Traditionally, this has been understood, especially in the Medieval period, as referring to the spiritual and temporal elements in the Church: the spiritual sword of the clergy and the temporal sword of the laity, embodied in the monarchy. One exists to defend against error and sin, the other against persecution, injustice, and invasion.

See, our idea of separation of Church and State would have made no sense at all to the Medievals for the simple reason that the King is himself part of the Church, being one of the lay faithful. We today (rather ironically given the stated goals of the 20th century reforms) tend to think of ‘the Church’ primarily as the clergy and religious, with the laity as a kind of external attachment. The Medievals would have thought of ‘the Church’ as comprising the whole of society, with only Jews, infidels, heretics, etc. being outside of it (and thus outside of society: essentially foreigners). The clergy had their particular duties, which were recognized as being the higher and more excellent ones of administering the Sacraments and defending against error, but the laity had their duties as well, including supporting and guarding the clergy and managing society; the ‘day-to-day’ affairs.

In fact, analogously very similar to the duties of a husband and wife: the husband’s duties being to support the family materially, to guard it, to set family policy and deal with the outside world, and to provide instruction and discipline. The mother’s duty being to keep the domestic, interior side in order, to be the chief nurturer, educator, and caregiver to the children, and to advise and assist the husband in his duties.

Focusing closer in on that very unique family, it was Mary who brought for Christ into the world, just a the clergy administers the Sacraments. Joseph’s duty was to guard her and the child and to care for them, while at the same time being their head and guide: it was he who received the messages to flee into Egypt and then to return, and he who made the judgment call to avoid Jerusalem and settle in Nazareth. Like how the lay rulers are the ones who set the general policy of their kingdoms, ideally for the good of those in their care, including the clergy.

3. The idea in all of this, you see, is that the Earthly is not simply overridden by or separate from the Spiritual: the two are part of the same whole, just as the soul and the body of a man are part of the same whole. This, it seems to me, is one of if not the core ideas of Christianity. We believe in the resurrection of the body, which is to say that the body – the earthly, material, created element of reality – will form an essential part of our eternal life. The flesh by itself availeth nothing, but the flesh enlivened by the spirit is made a vehicle for grace.

This pattern repeats itself over and over: the laity and the clergy, the grace-giving nature of the Sacraments, the two swords, the Incarnation itself. Even beyond the doctrines of the Christian worldview, we experience it in our own lives: just the simple act of reading or speaking repeats the pattern. For the letters or sounds themselves are material things, but they convey ideas, which are immaterial.

This, I believe, is one of the most important philosophical ideas to get down: human beings crave the transcendent, but we only experience the concrete. Therefore, the transcendent must come to us in concrete form. It must become incarnate as it were for us to experience it. This elevates and ennobles the material thing itself as it becomes an essential part of the transcendent thing that it is conveying.

4. Kind of drifted into deep waters there. The point of all this is that it seems to me that pattern of the Church as it was understood for most of its history and in its most vibrant ages fits the pattern of the Holy Family. The image of the two swords, and indeed of the clergy and laity in general shows itself in the image of Mary and Joseph, the parents of Christ. Christ Himself, of course, is the central figure in both arrangements, the reason both exist.

It is always encouraging – and slightly eerie – when the patterns found in doctrine and philosophy repeat themselves across seemingly disparate aspects of reality.

https://serpentsden.files.wordpress.com/2021/03/7fc8f-iu.jpg

St. Joseph, most chaste guardian of the Virgin, foster father of Our Lord Jesus, pray for us.