Two Apposite Apothegms

“Each period of history has some topic of predominant interest, which indicates the prevailing spirit of the age.  Certain words  . . . appear in every page of contemporary annals, and then go out of use altogether . . .”

“Constitutions,” The North American Review (1821)

“The influence of false philosophy . . . is a malaria to the general intellect, a brooding fog over the whole mind of the age . . . diffusing everywhere a pestilential, stupefying power.” 

Review of The Friend, by S. T. Coleridge, in The North American Review (1835)

Creeps, Toadies, Goons and Martinets

I remember my eighth-grade history teacher telling the class that one of the many blessings of living in these United States is that citizens could not be harassed by retroactive laws.  The quiet fervor with which I recited the Pledge of Allegiance the next morning was perceptibly amplified.  I already had a guilty conscience, and the thought that today’s acts might merit punishment under tomorrow’s law was more than I could bear. Continue reading

Is the Demisexual a Prude in Drag?

There is on this campus a Center that helps students with unusual sexual desires take pride in feeling, and perhaps acting upon, their unusual desires.  Stated dysphemistically, the Pride Center helps these students to overcome shame, since shame naturally attends deviance, be it deviance of a sexual or some other sort. Deviance that is not stigmatized as a mark of inferiority, and as a reason for shame, is normally valorized as a mark of superiority, and a reason for pride. Continue reading

The Way to Profit in Superlatively Phony Times

“I’d have this rule that nobody could do anything phony when they visited me. If anybody tried to do anything phony, they couldn’t stay.”

J. D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye (1951)

God hates phonies at least as much as Holden Caulfield hated phonies, and those who propose to call on him had best beware that he strictly observes Caulfield’s rule.  He admits no phonies to his house, and the minute you try to do anything phony he is going to show you the door. Continue reading

The Cruel Joke that Never Ends

“Whole worlds can be fake, yet carry on.”

Curtis Yarvin, née Mencius Moldbug, “2020, the year of everything fake” (Dec. 28, 2020)*

To understand Yarvin’s proposition, you must first understand that a “world” can be fake while containing any number of things that are not.  A “world” is an interpretation of things, and an interpretation can be false while the things interpreted are entirely true.  We see this in the phrase “my world fell to pieces,” and we see it more memorably in the experience that phrase describes.  “My world” that fell to pieces was my false and fanciful arrangement of those pieces.  “My world” was a misinterpretation of those facts. Continue reading

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee!

“They had not the courage, or else they were destitute of the power, to avoid, by means of their internal resources, that extermination which appeared to them, under the circumstances, to be inevitable.  They were thrown into a most anxious state of despondency and alarm.” 

John Penford Thomas, My Thought Book  (1825)

I daresay the events of this past year have thrown many of you into “a most anxious state of despondency and alarm.”  I know they have had that effect on me.  The lines in my epigraph describe the mental state of the Britons around the year A.D. 400, when the Roman Legions had withdrawn from the province of Britannia and the wild Caledonians were threatening “mischiefs of murder, pillage, and devastation.”  That day differs from ours insofar as the Roman Empire was failing and the Global Empire is triumphant, but the mental state induced is in either case the same: despondency and alarm: a conviction that a calamity has occurred and nothing can be done to reverse it. Continue reading

The Need to be Versed in Country Churches

The birds that came to it through the air
At broken windows flew out and in,
Their murmur more like the sigh we sigh
From too much dwelling on what has been.

Robert Frost, “The Need to be Versed in Country Things” (1923)

A geographer once likened the landscape to a palimpsest–to one of those medieval parchments that was used, again and again, by imperfectly scraping away one inscription and laying down another.  Like letters laid down by pen on a palimpsest, the things we lay down to make a human landscape are slowly scraped away to make room for new things.  But in both palimpsests and landscapes, legible traces of old inscriptions long remain to be read by those who have eyes to see. Continue reading

The Blessings of Lethe and Alêtheia

Greek myth tells us that there is a pool at the gates of the Underworld, and that this pool contains Lethe, the water of oblivion.  Oblivion is forgetting, and the dead must drink from this pool of Lethe because the dead neither remember nor are remembered.  Hence the Underworld, or land of the dead, is sometimes called the Land of Forgetfulness, meaning not a land of absentmindedness, but a land where mind is absent.  The eighty-eighth Psalm says that all men are destined for this “Land of Forgetfulness,” where they forget and are forgotten.  In that place, neither they nor the world remembers what, or even that, they were. Continue reading