Saturday, June 24, 2017

children, marriage and society

A couple of days ago I wrote a post on our looming aged care crisis and I made the point that a society that values nothing but hedonism, autonomy and freedom is not going to be capable of (or willing) to deal with the problem of caring for the elderly. It should also be noted that such a society is not going to be well equipped for the task of raising children. A society that cannot adequately rear children is hardly worth describing as a society at all.

A society that thinks that sex is purely a recreational activity is also not going to be child-friendly. A society that sees marriage as a vehicle to satisfy the selfish desires of two people rather than a basis for a family is not going to do too well raising kids. A society that thinks that homosexual marriage is normal and healthy is a very poor environment for children. 

It’s terrifying to think that we are actually allowing homosexuals to raise children. This is not going to end well.

It’s not just homosexual marriage that is a problem. Heterosexual marriage is not a satisfactory arrangement for child-rearing unless it is accepted that marriage is permanent.   If people think it’s fine to get a divorce because they’re bored, or they’ve met someone younger and hotter, or they’ve decided that marriage no longer satisfies their need for freedom and autonomy then children are going to suffer. Half a century ago people understood this. Why don’t people today understand it?

Single mothers cannot raise children successfully. It’s not just that they can’t raise sons, they can’t raise daughters either. Both girls and boys need fathers. Of course it goes without saying that single fathers cannot raise kids properly either - both girls and boys need mothers. Homosexual couples certainly cannot raise children, for this very reason.

A society awash with pornography is also a terrible environment for children.

De facto relationships cannot form a successful basis for raising children. They are by their very nature temporary arrangements. if you can’t handle the idea of making the commitment involved in marriage you have no business even contemplating children.

It should also be obvious that children need to grow up in a society that understands, accepts and celebrates the differences between men and women. And accepts that biological sex is not something that can be altered by surgery. It's not like getting a nose job. Children need to learn to accept their biological sex and to be happy with it. If they don't they're just going to add to the numbers of unhappy and confused adults.

Children are a massive commitment. We have to accept that. But children are the only reason for having a society in the first place. We have accept that as well.

Friday, June 23, 2017

the aged crisis and why it isn't going to go away

One of the biggest problems that western societies must face over the next few decades is what to do about aged care. We’re going to have an awful lot of old people to care for and it’s going to be very expensive. It’s a problem that most of us simply do not want to face, and governments are reluctant to confront the issue because there is no easy way to provide the necessary money.

The aged crisis is partly a product of the many undesirable social changes that have occurred since the Second World War. Partly, but not entirely. A major component of the problem is simply that old people are living much longer, and they have fewer children to look after them. It’s no good saying that in the past people cared for their elderly parents so people today should be able to as well. It’s not that simple. Those elderly parents could live long enough to reach their nineties and by that time their children are going to be rapidly approaching old age themselves (a member of my family was in her seventies and still having to care for her mother who lived to be 99). A century ago an old person would typically have three living children to share the burden. These days many aged people are lucky if they have a single child to shoulder the burden.

It’s also not realistic to think that families can still care for elderly relatives without government assistance. It just isn’t possible. A frail elderly person might still have a decade or more of life ahead of them, and when people live to extreme old age there is more often than not the complication of dementia, and caring for an old person with dementia is not possible without a good deal of support. I can tell you that from personal experience. We have to accept that the government will have to be involved. The family, and private charity, are not sufficient.

Of course those social changes I mentioned earlier have made the crisis much worse. People today are not keen on accepting any kind of responsibility and are inclined to see elderly family members as an inconvenience best dealt with by putting them in a nursing home as soon as possible. The problem with that is that nursing home care is much much more expensive than caring for the person at home, and that’s quite apart from the fact that while a nursing home is sometimes the only option it is generally not a very good option.

A society that values hedonism, autonomy and freedom is not well equipped to deal with the problem of caring for the elderly, and it’s amazing how many people who embrace these values seem to be able to pretend that it’s not going to happen to them, that they are not going to face the prospect of one day being shipped off to a nursing home when they become an inconvenience.

There aren’t any easy answers but somehow we’re going to have to find some kind of answer. I have a feeling that we will continue to pretend the problem isn’t there and the results are going to be very unpleasant.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

stability or progress

I’ve just been reading one of Robert Van Gulik’s Judge Dee mysteries. Why is this relevant? I’ll explain in a moment. Van Gulik was a Dutch diplomat who wrote a series of detective novels describing the cases confronting a magistrate in China during the Tang Dynasty (7th century AD).

What’s interesting is that Van Gulik’s knowledge of Chinese history, culture and jurisprudence was profound. And in his stories there is not the faintest hint of the cult of progress. He describes a society that valued stability and order to an extreme degree. This reflects the view that historians have always taken about Imperial China, although western historians have mostly seen this as a weakness. The Chinese developed a very advanced civilisation and then stopped. No further progress was considered to be necessary and in fact further progress would lead to instability and was therefore a bad thing.

While it might be an over-simplistic view of Chinese civilisation there’s undoubtedly a lot of truth in this view of a society committed to preserving what it already had rather than pursuing the phantom of progress. 

Looking at the world today it’s easy to believe that the Chinese had the right idea. This is especially so when you consider the misery and chaos that followed the overthrow of the last Imperial government in the early part of the 20th century.

The cult of progress is always tied up with utopianism. If we just keep progressing then sooner or later we’ll have a perfect society composed of perfect people leading amazingly happy and fulfilling lives. This is the philosophical view that started to emerge in Europe in the 16th century and it has taken a firmer and firmer hold with every year that has passed since then. By the beginning of the 20th century it was the one unchallenged dogma of our civilisation. Imperial China was dominated by Confucian thought and Confucian thought most certainly did not see things in this light. Medieval Europe was dominated by Christianity and medieval Christianity did not see things that way either. 

The point is that it is possible to have a fully functional and quite advanced civilisation based on the cult of stability rather than the cult of progress. 

The cult of progress is, by it very nature, destructive. To build a new society we must first destroy the old one. Everything that has happened has been an inevitable consequence of this. Whenever utopia fails to materialise it just means that more destruction is needed.

Should we abandon the idea of progress altogether? Surely the cult of progress has brought us many benefits? There is a genuine dilemma here. The answer is perhaps that the cult of progress needs to be balanced by an equally strong force advocating stability and order. Perhaps if progress could be slowed and controlled it might not be so socially destructive? It’s possible, but progress has a way of continually getting out of control.

Perhaps we need to ask ourselves exactly what kind of progress is actually useful? Technological progress has on the whole been pretty useful. Social progress on the other hand has brought us to the brink of ruin. We might need to accept the harsh reality that there is no such thing as social progress. We probably should ask ourselves also exactly what kind of scientific and technological progress we need. Do we need ever more advanced weaponry? Do we need faster and faster personal computers? Do we need smarter and smarter smartphones?

One conclusion that logically follows from this is likely to be unpalatable to many people who consider themselves to be right-wing. Taking control of progress would require a very strong government. Almost certainly not a democratic one. Imperial China survived for millennia because mostly it had a strong government. It also survived because those who ran the government, the countless bureaucrats that characterised Chinese government, were educated to believe in stability and order and the tenets of Confucianism. It seems to follow inexorably from this that rigid control of education is necessary for the preservation of civilisation and that dangerous and destructive ideas need to be suppressed. Perhaps that is the price that has to be paid if you want a successful stable culture.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Dr Strangelove, then and now

The first time I saw Stankey Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove I wasn’t overly impressed by it. Today I find I can enjoy it a lot more. The most disturbing thing about it is that this Cold War thriller has more punch today than it had in 1964.

In 1964 the world seemed like a crazy place. A dangerously crazy place. In 2017 that insane world seems positively reassuring. The nuclear balance might have threatened total destruction but at least the Cold War was vaguely comprehensible. We could see how it had happened and why it was going to be difficult to sort out. Can anyone explain the bizarre foreign policy machinations of 2017? Can anyone explain why we still live under the threat of nuclear Armageddon? 

In Dr Stangelove Kubrick had to come up with an extraordinary circumstance to make his nuclear crisis convincing, because he knew that even though the nuclear standoff was dangerous in normal circumstances no sane person was going to push that button. He could make the President of the United States in the film a muddle-headed buffoon but even in fiction, even in black comedy, it would have stretched credibility too far to have the President deliberately and intentionally launching a nuclear war out of the blue. Even the crazy general played by George C. Scott only comes around to the idea of war when it seems like it’s going to happen anyway. To spark the crisis Kubrick had to imagine a middle-ranking officer becoming clinically insane and by a series of accidents being in a position to light the fuse. 

Today we have political leaders in the West who really seem to think that nuclear confrontations are a pretty good idea, and who think it’s an extremely good idea to provoke nuclear powers. And having provoked them, to go on provoking them.

Luckily non-western political leaders are on the whole a good deal more sensible so disaster has been averted so far.

And that’s just the foreign policy madness of today. Domestic policy is even crazier.

Kubrick’s bold decision to treat the subject of nuclear war as comedy paid off because that’s really the best way to treat such objects - pointing out the lunacy of the situation. You couldn’t do such a movie as a comedy today because today’s reality is more outrageously insane than fiction could ever be. Our world is beyond mockery.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

why do we put up with terrorism?

James at Nourishing Obscurity asks Why is there no million strong march against the cause? The answer is simple, if depressing.

The way the average Briton looks at it is, if they protest they could lose their jobs. They could lose their families. That insane harpy Theresa May could even put them in prison. On the other hand if they do nothing then a few hundred people, maybe a few thousand at most, will die every year in terror attacks. But the odds are that they won’t be among the victims. 

And besides, they still have their beer and their smartphones and reality TV shows and super-hero movies and they can still download porn from the internet. So really it’s still a great country. Living in a police state isn’t so bad. As long as you remember never to open your mouth without thinking very very carefully about what you’re going to say and you never ever express a genuine opinion, there’s a reasonable chance you’ll be left alone. OK, maybe your daughter will be gang-raped by members of the diverse community but the odds are that it will be someone else’s daughter who suffers that fate. As long as the odds are that it will be someone else’s daughter, or that it will be someone else’s daughter who gets blown to bits by a bomb, why worry about it?

Basically people are engaging in risk assessment. So far they’re confident that the risks to them personally are small enough to ignore. The risks to other people are matters of no importance to them.

Nothing is going to change unless that risk assessment starts to look more worrying from an individual perspective. 

It seems that Maggie Thatcher was right. There is no such thing as society. There are only individuals - selfish, alienated, atomised individuals motivated by short-term comfort and greed.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

the trouble with paganism

I’ve been reading Dan McCoy’s The Love of Destiny: The Sacred and the Profane in Germanic Polytheism which I guess could be described as an exercise in neo-pagan apologetics.

The problem of religion is one that has been exercising my mind for quite some time. I’m fairly clear about the natures of the problem. I don’t think atheism is healthy for society and I don’t think it’s healthy for the individual. What I’m not clear about is the solution to the problem.

It’s a problem that many (possibly even most) people in the dissident right, alt-right or whatever you want to use as an umbrella term for such groups are aware of. The two most popular solutions are a revived Christianity or some form of neo-paganism. It’s the neo-pagan solution I’m concerned with at the moment.

I understand the attraction of the neo-pagan solution. Christianity hasn’t done much of a job of defending our civilisation in the past century or so and neo-paganism has the advantage of offering a distinctively European alternative. Blood and soil and all that.

I have however always had reservations about neo-paganism. This is a short summary of my reservations (and as you’ll see they’re all pretty much related). 

Firstly, any kind of polytheistic religion by its very nature will tend towards fragmentation. There was a time when the whole of Europe was pagan but it was certainly not a golden age of religious unity. At the time that wasn’t a major problem but what we need today is unity.

Secondly, neo-paganism has always been short on doctrine. Certainly very short on anything approaching a unified doctrine. Within incredibly broad limits you can more or less choose your own beliefs. Every man can in effect have his own private religion. The difficulty with that is that it must inevitably lead to the kind of atomisation and sense of alienation which are the very things that make liberalism so deadly. One of the functions of religion is to bring people together, not to divide them.

Thirdly, there’s no standardised neo-pagan morality. Each cult can adopt its own morality and in practice every individual can adopt his or her own moral standards. Obviously that’s a recipe for social chaos.

Fourthly, neo-paganism can very easily become just a vague woolly New Age spirituality. Even worse, it can become a sort of glorified pantheism. And pantheism is itself a sort of glorified atheism.

Fifthly, not only is neo-paganism not conducive to social discipline it’s also not conducive to self-discipline. It’s an open door to every kind of self-indulgence - moral, intellectual, emotional and spiritual.

McCoy is aware of these weaknesses but unfortunately he considers them to be features, not bugs. This is one of the many disturbing things about this book.

McCoy starts out in his introduction by assuring us that he has no animus against the monotheistic religions. We then move on to the first half of the book which is a sustained, hysterical, intellectually incoherent attack on what he considers to be the many evils of the three great monotheistic religions. Interestingly enough for McCoy the three great monotheistic religions are Judaism, Christianity and Science. His main beef with these religions seems to be that they’re anti-Nature and moralistic. For McCoy Nature is all good and morality is all bad. Because we’re all part of Nature, man, and it’s all good because, well, it’s just all good because it is. Morality of course is bad ’cause it’s oppressive, man. This is pretty much the hippie worldview.

The second half of this brief volume is marginally more interesting, giving us a brief rundown on Norse mythology and the Northern European pagan worldview. The problem here is that, to me at least, that worldview sounds impossibly bleak, fatalistic and depressing. Submitting to fate seems to be the essence of it. 

Of course it would be unfair to dismiss neo-paganism out of hand based on this one book. Nonetheless this book does confirm every one of my worst fears on the weaknesses of neo-paganism and the unlikelihood that it is going to be of much use in saving our civilisation. Mind you I suspect that the author would not be bothered by this, since civilisation is oppressive, man.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Hilaire Belloc’s Elizabethan Commentary

I spoke in a recent post about foundational myths. Intriguingly the foundational myth of Protestant England is centred not on Henry VIII but on his daughter. Elizabeth I, or Gloriana or Good Queen Bess, is Protestant England’s Joan of Arc.

Hilaire Belloc’s Elizabethan Commentary, published in 1942 (and issued in the US as Elizabeth, Creature of Circumstance), is an entertaining hatchet job on this myth. Belloc believed, absolutely correctly, that the Reformation was the key event in European history and he retuned to it again and again. As a result some of the ground covered in this book is also covered in his other books on the subject.

Belloc approaches his task with his usual combative zeal and it follows his usual idiosyncratic approach to history. He has no interest in a connected narrative, or in any narrative at all. That does not mean this is social history in the generally understood sense of the term although there are elements of this. When writing about the past Belloc’s main aim is to capture the spirit of the age with which he is dealing and he does so far more successfully than most modern historians.

As in his other books he stresses the importance of the rising power of the moneyed class and the greed of that class. The Reformation saw the seizure of the abbey lands in England and this despoiling of the Church was on a breath-taking scale. As much as a third of the wealth of the country was involved. Had this wealth remained in the hands of the Crown the English Crown could have been the richest in Europe and subsequent disasters like the Civil War would have been averted. England might have remained a monarchy until the present day. Unfortunately the hapless Tudors allowed all of this wealth to slip through their fingers to enrich the already wealthy. More importantly this represented a fatal shift of power from the Crown to the moneyed class.

In some ways the highlights of the book are Belloc’s many digressions. He has some interesting things to say on the nature of monarchy. 

There’s also a fascinating chapter on torture. This was a fairly uncommon practice prior to the 16th century, became extremely common during that century and then fairly quickly disappeared from the English scene. Belloc stresses that the purpose of torture was not punishment but to extract information. It was widely used in the 16th century because there were so many plots and the government therefore had a very strong incentive to extract information from suspects possibly involved in such plots. In other words governments are inclined to use torture when their own power is threatened. The history of the past hundred years would appear to confirm this, with governments being very willing to use extreme methods to protect their own power.

He makes the further point, often overlooked, that to the 16th century mind it was almost unthinkable to execute a man unless he confessed. Without modern forensic science, and (another very intriguing point) without modern legal cross-examination procedures, it was difficult to establish guilt. The most effective way was to torture a man until he confessed. Torture was considered to be morally preferable to running the risk of executing an innocent man. It’s another example of Belloc’s thesis that you can’t hope to understand history unless you accept that the past really is a foreign country and they really do do things differently there.

Belloc makes no apologies for presenting a Catholic view of English history, as a counter-balance to hundreds of years of anti-Catholic propaganda. In this instance there’s also the need to present some kind of alternative to the myth of Elizabeth I as the great queen, a myth that remained unchallenged in England for centuries. It’s a task that he approaches with relish.