Wednesday, March 29, 2017

the addiction myth

One of the more all-pervasive myths of modern society is addiction. You can not only get addicted to cigarettes, booze and drugs but also to gambling, sex and the internet. 

The only problem with all this is that there’s no such thing as addiction. We’re not dealing with addictions, we’re dealing with moral choices. We live in a world in which the idea of moral choices is not very popular. Not only is it not PC, it also makes life seem like hard work. If bad things happen to us not because we’re addicted but because we make poor choices then that means we have to take responsibility for our own lives. It’s so much easier to  believe that addiction is a disease, or that some people are born with addictive personalities. 

If we’re sick or we were just born that way then it’s up to the government to do something about it. It’s a problem that requires funding. It requires an army of doctors and nurses and counsellors and social workers.

The truth is that an alcoholic is someone who chooses to drink more than he should. A problem gambler is someone who refuses to face up to reality and to adult responsibilities. A heroin addict is someone who chooses to use heroin. A sexual pervert is someone who chooses to indulge in perverted sex. These are all moral choices. 

Of course the society in which a person lives can make things easier or more difficult by either encouraging good moral choices or bad moral choices. When Christianity was still a force in the western world it encouraged good moral choices. When parents still knew how to raise kids properly they taught kids that moral choices were part and parcel of life.

If we have much bigger problems today with drugs, alcoholism, homosexuality and other self-destructive (and socially destructive) behaviours that’s a reflection of the decline of our society but moral choices still come down to individual choices. You can choose not to drink or take drugs or indulge in homosexual behaviour. To pretend that these things are illnesses or that some people are “born that way” is to delude ourselves. It also encourages foolish people to continue destroying themselves.

For a thorough demolition of the heroin addiction myth see Theodore Dalrymple's Junk Medicine which I reviewed here quite a while back.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

the lie of binary oppositions

Binary oppositions are an often overlooked factor in the problems afflicting the western world these days. They’re also one of the more subtle ways in which the elites keep us in control. As long as we keep thinking in terms of binary oppositions we don’t realise that we actually have more choices.

Left/right, Republican/Democrat, Labour/Conservative, climate change true believer/climate change sceptic - these are the more obvious examples but binary thinking tends to creep into just about all ideological debates.

All binary oppositions have the effect of closing off options, and closing off debate. If you suggest that democracy is an unworkable mess you’re shut down by the reply that in that case you must be in favour of totalitarian dictatorships. Apparently those are the only two forms of political organisation that human beings have ever been able to devise. Of course what’s really going on is that your opponent doesn’t want to acknowledge that there are many other types of political system.

You’ll get the same response on the subject of capitalism. You can believe in capitalism or you can believe in socialism. Although there are in fact many other alternatives considering those alternatives would require some thought. It’s much easier to see things in either/or terms.

Whenever the world seems to present a binary opposition, or whenever the media and the politicians try to present something in that light, it’s always worth looking into the matter more deeply. It’s amazing how many choices there actually are.

Monday, March 27, 2017

quotes for the day, March 27 2017

"Atheism in legislation, indifference in matters of religion, and the pernicious maxims which go under the name of Liberal Catholicism are the true causes of the destruction of states; they have been the ruin of France. Believe me, the evil I denounce is more terrible than the Revolution, more terrible even than The Commune. I have always condemned Liberal Catholicism, and I will condemn it again forty times over if it be necessary." - Pope Pius IX

"The civil liberty of every mode of worship, and full power given to all of openly and publicly manifesting their opinions and their ideas conduce more easily to corrupt the morals and minds of the people... The Roman Pontiff cannot and ought not to reconcile himself or agree with, progress, liberalism and modern civilization." - Pope Pius IX

"If a future Pope teaches anything contrary to the Catholic Faith, do not follow him." - Pope Pius IX

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Spengler on classical Greek culture

Oswald Spengler (1880-1936)
I’ve been reading Spengler. Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West, a book as capable of arousing controversy today as it was when first published in 1918.

Incidentally the title was not inspired by the First World War. Spengler had already started work on the book, and chosen the title, as early as 1912.

Whether or not one accepts Spengler’s theory in its entirety (and I haven’t read enough even to contemplate making such a judgment yet) there’s no question that he throws out some striking and provocative ideas along the way.

One of the most interesting such provocative ideas so far is his view of the Classical Greek world. Spengler sees the Classical Greek culture as being entirely alien, to the point that any kind of understanding of that culture is quite challenging. Spengler claims that the Greeks lived entirely in the “pure present” and had no real sense of either past or future. For the Greeks of the Classical era the past hardly existed and to the extent that it did exist it was hopelessly confused with myth. The idea of organising past events into an ordered linear sequence did not occur to them, although it had certainly occurred to both the Egyptians and the Babylonians. The idea of the future held no interest for them either. It’s a way of looking at life that is so different from the later western outlook that there is virtually no common ground.

According to Spengler the fact that the Greek lived and thought totally in the here-and-now explains a great deal of their art and their philosophy, and even their mathematics. The Greeks made great progress in in this field but their geometry was always limited to concrete concepts that could be visualised. Their art also reflected their here-and-now approach to life. Greek tragedy for example bears no resemblance whatsoever to Elizabethan tragedy. Even Greek sculpture bears a characteristic impress to their view of life. 

One very interesting point he makes is that we use many words (such as democracy and republic and freedom) and concepts borrowed from the Classical culture and this misleads us into believing that the thought processes of Greeks of the fifth century BC were pretty similar to our own. Nothing could be further from the truth. We also need to be aware that to the Greeks words such as democracy and republic and freedom had very different and to us very alien meanings.

Of course it’s obvious enough that different cultures have different ways of seeing and understanding the world but in the West we tend to assume that the worldview of the Classical Greeks was very similar to our own. In fact we assume that Classical culture was the bedrock on which our own culture was built. Spengler argues that this is entirely false. In his view the Renaissance was in no sense a revival or rediscovery of Classical Culture. Classical Culture has actually had no real influence on western culture. 

Of course there’s a great deal more to Spengler than this. His theory of world-history is vast and complex and at times fiendishly impenetrable. I’ll undoubtedly have more to say about Spengler when I’ve finished the book. It’s very heavy going indeed, but worth the effort. You plough through page after page of esoteric philosophical-mystical theorising and just as you’re about to give up he suddenly comes up with an extraordinary and terrifyingly bold insight that turns all your ideas upside down. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

it hasn’t happened in my street so it doesn’t matter

So there’s been another terror attack in Britain. And what will change as a result? Of course you know the answer - absolutely nothing. There will of course be candlelit vigils and people will sing Imagine and one or two news reporters might cry on screen. But absolutely nothing will change. 

The reason for this is of course the “it hasn’t happened in my street so it doesn’t matter” syndrome. People don’t care about bad stuff until it gets very close to them personally. They don’t care about crime until houses in their street get burgled. They don’t care about unemployment until it’s their kids who can’t find jobs. They don’t care about immigration until their suburb starts to get culturally enriched. They don’t care about terrorism until bombs start going off in their street.

Partly this is quite normal and healthy. We can only deal with so many worrying things and most of us have quite enough worries in our own personal lives. If we worried about everything, even things that don’t directly affect us, we’d all be in straitjackets in the local mental hospital.

Partly it reflects the fundamentally unnatural and unhealthy nature of modern life. We were not meant to live in huge cities and we were not meant to be constantly awash in a sea of mass media. We suffer from sensory overload, and more to the point we suffer from emotional overload. We cannot get upset by every single bad thing that happens anywhere in the world. So we have three choices - we can go mad, we can increase our dose of Prozac, or we can filter out stuff that isn’t relevant to us. Most normal people choose option three.

So it’s actually quite normal to take the “it hasn’t happened in my street so it doesn’t matter” approach. The problem is that it’s very important to distinguish between events that happen elsewhere that really are irrelevant to us and events that happen elsewhere that are actually likely to affect us in the not-too-distant future. It’s also important to distinguish between events that we might conceivably be able to do something about and things that we can do absolutely nothing about.

A rail disaster in Bolivia or an earthquake in Guatemala are both events that can quite reasonably be put into the category of things that are irrelevant to us and that we can’t do anything about.

On the other hand if crime has suddenly skyrocketed in a neighbouring town that should concern us since it could be an indication that we’re about to experience the same thing in our town. Unemployment should concern all of us because our jobs could be next on the chopping block. Immigration should worry us all because it could slowly but surely destroy our whole society. Terrorism should worry us. It could happen in my street. All of these things could happen in my street.

The real problem is that democracy is based on the idea that ordinary people can make these distinctions and can identify the things that they can and should be worried about. Even worse, democracy is based on the assumption that ordinary people can not only identify the important issues but also understand them, and understand what needs to be done, and send the right message to their elected representatives.

Unfortunately the things that really matter tend to be rather complicated. Do you have a clear and thorough understanding of which economic policies are best for the country? I have to confess that I don’t. Crime is complicated. It’s easy to assume that the best way to fight crime is to have more police but in fact the type of policing is more important than the quantity. Understanding terrorism might seem straightforward but there’s the difficulty that cynical and wrong-headed foreign policy decisions really have contributed to the problem, and foreign policy tends to be fiendishly complex.

There’s a further difficulty facing us today. Making the right judgment as to which party or candidate is likely to solve these problems is not easy when the correct decisions have been declared to be politically incorrect, wicked and forbidden even to think about. Solving problems such as immigration then becomes effectively impossible.

And of course if there’s one thing that ordinary people do understand very clearly indeed it is this - no matter which party you vote for they will betray you, they will break their promises, in many cases their actions will be the exact opposite of what they promised, and they will lie.

It is natural to take the “it hasn’t happened in my street so it doesn’t matter” view, but that view becomes even more attractive when the issues are complex and you know quite well that the politicians won’t listen to you anyway.

There is a solution and it’s an easy one - simply boycott the mainstream parties. There are and always have been alternatives if only people will take the final leap of logic - if you can’t trust the professional political class then vote for outsiders. They couldn’t do a worse job than the mainstream parties and at the very least it’s a way of putting the fear of God into the establishment politicians. But people won’t do it because none of these bad things have happened in their street yet.

Monday, March 20, 2017

quotes for the day

My quotes for the day, and I've even managed to find a couple that are more or less related.

"The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists." - Hannah Arendt

and this one.

“Formerly no one was allowed to think freely; now it is permitted, but no one is capable of it any more. Now people want to think only what they are supposed to think, and this they consider freedom." - Oswald Spengler

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Hilaire Belloc’s Characters of the Reformation

Hilaire Belloc’s Characters of the Reformation, published in 1936, makes no attempt to offer us a connected narrative of the events it described, no does it offer biographies in the usual sense of the term of the major participants. It is a collection of brief character sketches, each one illuminating one aspect of the personality of the person concerned and one aspect of the Reformation itself.

Belloc’s major concern is to provide a counterweight to what he describes as English official history of the period. That official history, even when written by historians who considered themselves to be fair-minded, was marked by a very high degree of anti-Catholic bias. Even English historians who were not by any means personally anti-Catholic  could hardly avoid taking an overall view of the Reformation as a positive thing. Belloc on the other hand regards it as the greatest calamity ever to befall western civilisation.

It is a common mistake to assume that any historical event that does take place must therefore have been inevitable and this is another sometimes unconscious source of bias - since the Reformation did happen and since it left Europe divided into Catholic and Protestant camps it is easy to assume that such results were inevitable.

Belloc’s view is not based merely on anti-Protestant prejudice. In this and other books he argues his case against the Reformation logically and convincingly. The Reformation ended the unity of Christendom, in fact it ended the very idea of Christendom. Protestantism also, by undermining authority, led eventually and inevitably to scepticism and atheism. It also gave rise to Puritanism, a heresy that Belloc abhors.

Interestingly, Belloc sees England as the key to the success of the Reformation. He believes that if England had not been lost to the Catholic Church then the whole of Europe would have been reconquered by Catholicism. There is therefore a major emphasis on those who played key roles in events in England although events on the Continent are by no means neglected.

In Belloc’s view much of the support for the break with Rome came from wealthy landowners who seized the opportunity to loot the wealth of the Church. It was a political rebellion, but it was a rebellion of the rich against the poor. The Reformation encouraged the rise of nationalism but it also encouraged the rise of plutocracy.

The fact that Belloc has little time for Henry VIII is hardly surprising. Even the most enthusiastic of Protestant partisans finds it difficult to portray King Henry sympathetically. Belloc believes that Henry, for all his blustering, was a rather ineffectual figure and that it was Anne Boleyn who was really the prime mover behind the beginning of the English Reformation. He also is at pains to point out that it was most emphatically not Henry’s intention to challenge Catholic doctrine in any way, except in the one small matter of Papal authority (which of course was not a small matter at all).

Belloc demolishes the myth of the greatness of Elizabeth I, seeing her as a sad ill woman manipulated by others. 

It’s intriguing to get perspectives on so many of the major figures of the time that are so spectacularly at variance with the generally accepted views. King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden for example is so often portrayed as a hero but to Belloc he is merely an unprincipled mercenary.

Whether you’re a Catholic or not it’s difficult to deny that Belloc has a point when he argues that the collapse of the ideal of Christendom had malign long-term consequences. It’s also hard to disagree that the fragmentation of Christianity into a multiplicity of sects played a major role in encouraging the growth of scepticism and paved the way for the horrors of liberalism, modernism and atheism.

Belloc is always stimulating and thought-provoking and one can’t help suspecting that often he is being willfully provocative but it is certainly refreshing to read history written by someone who utterly rejects the dogmas of liberalism and modernism. Highly recommended.