Sunday, October 01, 2006

War

No, not with an external enemy. I'm talking about possible internal strife...

Are we really close to being in a state of war with ourselves? Not quite. Besides, by the time things get so bad that the persecutions of Christians begins, it will be too late to resist with force. (Unless some sort of disaster happens before then and governments collapse, leaving citizens to either create a new government or to fend for themselves.)

While the majority of people focus on their own interest, and not on the needs of others, those who deem themselves to be "liberally-minded" seek to impose their beliefs and punish accordingly, even if it is not through law. One could object that those seeking to legislate well (in accordance with the common good and natural law) would be doing the same thing; they would rely even more on extra-legal measures to foster moral training. However, just because the the use of coercion is similar does it mean that the justification is necessarily false? Does God leave us in ignorance of the truth without giving us help?

Who is holding the power right now in the West? Whose standards of right and wrong are winning out? Sooner or later, some will resent this sort of oppression by those who are morally inferiors. Even if they have their own failings, they know what is good and necessary for their children, and will do what they can to defend their children. And when the State starts to prosecute parents for bad parenting because they refuse to send them to public schools, or for teaching them "intolerance" of sin? Society is already fragmented, communal bonds are weak. Would "balkanization" really be possible in this country?

The battle of ideas is really a clash of wills--the question is: who is on the side of what is true and good and right? I say clash of wills, not because I agree with Nietzsche or the post-moderns, that there is no intelligible good to be discovered, but because appetite is either reasonable or it dominates reason, and I believe that it is a mistake to assume that everyone is of "good will." I certainly don't agree with the Enlightenment assumption that everyone is reasonable, and can be easily persuaded to adopt one standard of action over another, so long as they are shown that it is reasonable to do so. When reason is discarded or becomes a slave of disordered appetite, then no dialogue can be possible--all one can do is defend one's family and one's self as much as possible from the onslaught of bad examples and worldly wisdom.

Often it is argued that the program elaborated in Aristotle's Politics goes too far, and is "totalitarian" since the state is given the authority to determine the program of education proper to children. One can certainly understand the statements of the popes of the last two centuries on the authority and right of parents to educate their children as a response to the growing power of the state, and to events like Bismarck's Kulturkampf. It seems indisputable that parents have a duty to educate their children, and the fulfilling of this responsibility belongs primarily to them. Nonetheless, this does not mean that the government has no role to play whatsoever. After all, laws are a form of moral education. And we should note that Aristotle is interested first of all in moral education in the Politics, not in education in the speculative sciences--the goal, after all, is to produce virtuous citizens and rulers, not "complete philosophers." If the virtuous are governing, and the subjects are virtuous, would there be much opposition to the goal and a plan of education on which they should all agree?

Now there may be some objections to particular details--should education in common be required of all, or just the elites? And so on. But one should keep in mind that children are not members of the family alone, but also of society, and they need to become acquainted with the community and the common good. Legislated communal education may not be necessary for children under a certain age, but the socialization (provided that is with those who are being brought up well, and this is Aristotle's assumption--not the mingling of those who have good habits with those who have bad habits) of adolescents surely is beneficial to their development as citizens who will be living and working together? Aristotle is advocating the ideal--if the citizens, for the most part, were virtuous and wanted to bring about the best constitution possible. I think he would agree that in a decadent constitution one should keep one's children away from bad influences, and that this decision is justifiable. The ideal is not something that can be universally applied to all situations, nor is it the standard by which one's actions are to be evaluated, without consideration of the circumstances. (Especially the major consideration of whether virtue is really being brought about or if it is actually being destroyed by the state and its organs.)

Now if "peaceful resistance" to "atheistic liberals" cannot be effectively organized because our numbers are insufficient and spread out, and if armed resistance cannot be justified, then Christians will be given the strength to bear with the onslaught of the world. It is a form of persecution, though not an overt one. In the meantime, when dealing with others who are devoted to licentiousness, we maintain a polite facade because civility demands it, and because there is no point in confronting those ruled by their appetites. Nonetheless, those bastions of "traditionalism" and "conservatism" that still exist should do what they can to resist the demands of the Federal government and the culture of death. It may ultimately be a losing battle, given the resources the other side has, but God's grace is bounteous and He will abide with them as they give witness to Him.

I came across this blog entry by Peter Hitchens on Monday:
Children are the victims of our pleasure-seeking society

Many of the things we no longer disapprove of are nowadays called 'victimless crimes'. Others are just nobody's business.

What does it matter to you, asks the dope smoker, if I fry my brains in private? What does it matter to you, ask the promiscuous men and women, what I do with my life? Who says I should get married if I have children? Why is a piece of paper so important? What possible affair is it of yours?

Why should you care if I use swear-words, jump queues, let the door swing back in your face, don't give up my seat to you even if you're old, or ill or pregnant, ride my bike on the footpath when the sign says I shouldn't, have a shouted conversation on my mobile phone in the crowded railway carriage, while I shove my feet on the seat? Who's going to stop me anyway? There are no police any more, and nobody's afraid of them anyway, so what are you going to do about it?

I'm bigger than you, and for now, I'm strong and healthy, so I don't need to worry about anyone but myself. Everyone else drives through the first few seconds of the red light these days. Why shouldn't I?

Whose business is it but mine if my children watch TV till all hours? Are you seriously suggesting it's a bad idea that they should have their own TVs in their own bedrooms? What's wrong with computer games? They keep them amused and out of my hair, don't they? Do you seriously think my little boy is going to turn into a murdering car thief because he plays games which are all about murdering car thieves? Don't be silly.

Meals together? What's the point? Old-fashioned cooking's boring and they can all just get what they want and stick it in the microwave. It's my right to go out to work. How dare you make me feel guilty by suggesting that I should stay at home, stuck with squalling children and their boring conversation, with food all over my front, when I could be in a nice office wearing fashionable clothes with people of my own age?

Anyway, we need the money. We couldn't possibly afford this house, the car and our holiday if we didn't have two incomes.

And these are good questions, better than you might think. Most of us have asked some of them, often in truculent tones, at some time or another. Why can't you just leave me alone to get on with my life, and you get on with yours?

Well, quite. We can't legislate to make people behave themselves in all these little ways - or at least we can, but if large numbers of people choose to ignore the rules, the legislation won't make any difference, so it will just weaken the idea that the law has to be obeyed, without doing any good.

Personally (for example) I think all bikes should have bells, but what hope is there of such a law being observed or enforced by a police force that thinks patrolling should be done in cars and helicopters? They see nothing. I can just imagine my local police air force swooping down, rotors clattering, searchlight blazing, to see if my bike has a bell on it. Actually, in their case, I can. They use helicopters to do the things that beat coppers used to do, without seeming to realise that a man on foot would be cheaper, and would prevent these things happening in the first place.

We all just behave more and more badly, and in the end it becomes pointless to resist because you just get trampled in the rush. Good manners come to look like weakness, and to be mistaken for weakness. In fact, once they cease to be generally accepted, manners are a risky waste of effort.

I don't drive a car very often, because I think most journeys can be done in other less noisy and wasteful ways ( a view I had long before cycling was fashionable), and - let's be honest - because I loathe the responsibility of guiding a ton of steel about the place - but the other day I stopped and waited for a car coming the other way in a narrow road.

I didn't do this because I'm specially virtuous, but because it's the thing I have always assumed everyone did automatically - which is how manners function.

The driver of the car behind me thought I was mad, and promptly overtook me. The same thing quite often happens if I wait for people coming the other way through the crowded vestibule of a railway carriage. People behind me think I'm having a heart attack or something, and surge past.

This reminds of me of life in Moscow at the end of the Soviet era. While travelling on the Metro (Moscow's magnificent underground railway system) I used to hold the heavy steel and glass swing doors open for people behind me - for a bit.

Then I noticed that they looked at me strangely, as if they thought I was playing a trick and was planning to let the door swing back into their faces at the last moment (which is exactly what they did think, I later found out).

One even exclaimed, in tones of amazement "You're obviously not a Russian person".

By the time I left, more than two years later, I was treating my fellow-Muscovites like dirt as I ploughed, selfishly, through the swing-doors, and shouldering my way onto the trains and trolleybuses like a miniature tank, just like everyone else.

Little old ladies could just watch out (mind you, they had all apparently been at the battle of Stalingrad, and gave as good as they got).

Manners, like high standards of spoken Russian, had gone to hell during the years of socialism. Returning exiles, who remembered beautiful manners and a language as harmonious and musical as monastery bells, often cried when they experienced the new Russia and its coarse, brusque, inconsiderate Soviet Men and Women.

The mighty all-benevolent state took care of conscience and duty. So nobody bothered with these things as individuals.

But, as to the question of why it matters, I think the children tell us. Any parent who has given a bad example (and who hasn't?) will have had the experience of seeing his or her children imitating that bad example - since children are much more ready to copy than they are to listen to advice. It is no good saying: "Don't do as I do, do as I say." They will do as you do.

And the children are deeply affected by many of the other things we do, and the things we no longer do. And it is they, I think, who pay the general price of our decision to look after ourselves first.

All those victimless crimes turn out to have victims after all. Those victims are small and defenceless, and there are millions of them.

Evidence of this seems to me to be all around. They call it 'ADHD' or even 'depression', and outrageously try to treat it with powerful drugs whose long-term effects are unknown. It is not an illness at all, just a sadness and desolation, caused by being deprived of the company of their parents (the only people with any real interest in their long-term future) and left to bring each other up, under the cold eye of paid strangers.

All this is worsened by being cooped up too much, deprived of exercise, stuffed with horrible food, left gaping at TV screens and computers into the night, and drilled instead of educated, to satisfy bureaucratic targets rather than to bring them up to be good,rounded people.

As for the 'depression', this is genuine misery about the emptiness of many modern young lives, full of fast food and shiny gadgets but drained of real companionship or real freedom.

But the grandiose letter from a selection of great and good persons in the 'Daily Telegraph', warning of a generation poisoned by junk culture, is a sign that we may be beginning to realise the danger.

If these people, mostly members of the very elite that has allowed and often encouraged the damage, are worried, then there must be some hope of change.

While their epistle is a bit dim in some ways, it does at least grasp the point that something is seriously wrong. It is hard to say how much many of these people have contributed the problem they condemn . Three ex-education secretaries are on the list.

It seems to me that anyone who has been in charge of Britain's schools during the last 40-odd years would be better off keeping quiet.

Philip Pullman, that great foe of Christianity, is there too, seemingly unaware of any connection between the liberal thinking he promotes, the moral free-for-all it leads to and the effect on children that this is likely to have.

And so is Jacqueline Wilson. I am in two minds about Ms Wilson. Her books - such as 'Tracy Beaker' - seem dismal to me, but that is not to say they are bad or wicked, which they're not. They are upsetting because they faithfully describe an important, dispiriting truth. They are popular because they picture with great accuracy a world of loneliness and coldness inhabited by huge numbers of children in modern Britain.

In a way, Ms Wilson's books are not for children at all, as we used to know them, but for 12, 13 and 14-year-old adults forced into a world of knowingness and cynicism by adults who didn't think very hard about how they behaved and what might happen as a result.

A lot of this is due to my generation, perhaps the most spoiled and self-indulgent group of people ever to walk the earth, brought up by parents who wanted to make up for their own stricter childhoods in wartime or depression, supervised by authorities who had lost their nerve, thanks to the fools the governing classes made of themselves at Suez and the collapse of all the pillars of authority, from the Church and the Monarchy to the police and teachers.

We didn't mean to do harm. We thought we were beginning the world over again. That is how most harm gets done, by people who mean well - and most of all by people who are wholly convinced that they are right and that their aims are good. That is one of the reasons why the Clinton generation - baby-boomers in the USA, 'the bulge' here - have done so much damage and taken so long to recognise it.

But the worst damage of all, I think, has been done by the wholesale destruction of imagination because children are nowadays never allowed to be bored, and are always able to silence their thoughts with noise or pictures. Imagination matters because it is there that we are able to picture the results of what we do before we do it.

It is where we are most ourselves. It is the fortress where we guard our individuality and where - until now - commercialism and authority have been able to get at us.

But listen to Jacqueline Wilson, who obviously has a huge and powerful imagination. Children at book signings ask her how she writes and she replies "'Oh, you know, it's just like when you play imaginary games and you simply write it all down.'

"All I get is blank faces, I don't think children use their imaginations any more". This must be one of the saddest things ever written. Will any of these children recover from the blankness of their lives, from having become knowing teenagers at the age of about six, and conformist members of the admass at about the same age?

We can only hope that they will get better, and can be rescued. But without imaginations it is going to be very difficult.

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