SILENT AND (WHO KNOW?) MAYBE A MAJORITY

The Cato Institute, venerable libertarian think tank, has published a national survey showing that self-censorship is on the rise. The Institute’s survey might also be filed under the heading of the Cancel Culture. Partisans, most of them liberal, are the new blue stockings wielding a big blue pencil in the newsroom and elsewhere.

Reportedly, some 62 percent of those consultant say the climate in their workplaces has become very polarized. They’ve learned to bite their tongues lest they cause offense or find themselves in a row. Hence, they are not stating things that they feel to be true. They don’t want to cause offense.

In 2017, Cato put the number of the self-censorious at 58 percent. Then things in this survey get very unsettling — at least to lovers of truth and open dialogue: 50 percent say they support firing donors to President Trump’s Presidential campaign. However, 36 percent say they support firing Biden donors. We have equal opportunity Cancel-culling here.

Among Republicans with a post-graduate degree, 60 percent fear they could lose their jobs if they expressed an unpopular political view.

So — sounds like there’s a cancelled world of silent folk out there. Around election day, we may begin to learn if they are a majority.

HONOR ON TAP: A FABLE

This was during a stop at The Last Mile. Same place, if you were reading deep into this blog, where you’d find those drinking buddies and regulars known as “Sticky,” the retired carpenter and house painter and “Jackie the Crow”, the bricklayer. Sticky and Crow weren’t there that night. Every so often they stay at their boarding house and conduct a book club. (Yeah, believe it or not. Some night I’ve got to stop by and see what the book de jure is.) Anyway, I was having my drink of choice, a ginger ale.

Let me tell you, first, about ginger ale and me. An old editor of mine recalled the day his wife found in the pocket of pants he’d left for the laundry some of those beads they throw off floats during Madi Gras. Now she knew where he’d been when he said he was doing some lat night editing FOR THREE STRAIGHT DAYS. He’d used some frequent flyer miles on the old red eye to The Big Easy. His wife suggested he switch to ginger ale after that. I thought it a good rule of life to follow suit.

Anyway — this guy comes into The Last Mile. We’d never seen him before. For purposes of this story, we’ll call him Guy #1. He was apparently on a lay-over at the airport. The Mile, as we like to call it, is not all that far from the airport and in some way known only to God, strangers of every stripe find their way there instead of to the multitude of bars in the airport. They must be looking for that Golden Watering Hole where a golden destiny awaits them. Go figure.

Anyway, Guy#1 takes a stool at the end of the bar and Deano, the bartender, sets him up with a Micholob draft and a shot of rye. And he tells Deano within my hearing that he’s from Florida and starts talking about the night he drove by the house of this woman he’d suddenly decided he really liked who lived around Fort Myers. As it happened, he was on his way out of town that night to see ANOTHER woman outside Orlando — a woman he used to really like and, keeping all options opened, wanted to see if she might still like him — “like” being a very broadly defined term here. It was before dawn. There was a car in the driveway of the woman whom we’ll call WOMAN #1 in For Myers– belonging to a guy he knew; a good friend of his. This told him WOMAN #1 was actually kind of a speed, a rounder, a two-timer. In great sorrow and disillusionment he got back on the flat pre-dawn Florida roads headed toward WOMAN #2 place outside Orlando. By the time he got there, he’d decided he might want to re-ignite things with WOMAN #2 as a way of softening his disappointment over WOMAN #1. But WOMAN #2, after they’d shared dinner and as night came on, seemed a little tentative about that “proposition” and asked if it wasn’t a little too late for all that and didn’t he want a little more privacy during his visit which, she suggested, could be achieved by checking — alone — into a nearby motel and, by the way, she was busy the next day, but he should feel free to use this free pass she had to DisneyWorld issued by this real estate office where she worked. Perplexed as well as disappointed ( for a second time) but persistent, he informed her that he really wanted to stay at HER place and that they really could make beautiful music together — once again. I mean, didn’t she still like him, after all? I mean hadn’t she actually told him once that she LOVED him? At right about that moment, WOMAN #2’S cell phone rang and she went into her bedroom to answer it. Guy #1 took that moment to go out to his car for his overnight bag. That’s when he noticed a guy we’ll call GUY #3 sitting in a Volvo across the street from WOMAN #2’S house. He was on his cell phone. (Any guesses who he was talking to?)

At about this point in the telling of the story, bartender Deano, a fellow impatient with illusions to the point where we call him The Iceman, popped the obvious question about whether GUY #1’S intentions with either of these women was — honorable. Guy #1, working by now on Mic and rye #2 and having informed Deano that he minored in philosophy in college, asked Deano to define his terms. Deano the Iceman, dishrag in hand, who has never, so far as any of us knows, taken any philosophy classes, replied that honor was something like that plaque over the bar. He pointed to it now — a dusty, dimmed hunk of wood and brass, badly in need of buffing and awarded to The Last Mile’s golf team a generation ago for coming in first place in some long forgotten North Shore charity tournament. Deano the Iceman, I’m told, a fair golfer and a stand-up guy, adheres to an icy variety of honor since, if anybody gets to fool around it’s bartenders, provided, like Deano, they’re reasonably good-looking. Deano is actually much admired by female patrons, all of whom, when they turn amorous, he keeps at a minimum length of ten yards, regularly shuts off and cajoles into concentrating on Keno while he pours them a complimentary bitters and soda for a remedy before calling them a cab, an uber or their husband to come get them.

Anyway, here’s Deano asking GUY#1 a question he’d probably never been asked before — even in philosophy class. I mean GUY #1 didn’t like the fact that the woman he liked was apparently fooling around, unless the guy — we’ll call him GUY #2 — whose car was in Guy #1’s new heartthrobe’s driveway — just happened to have come over for a game of penochle and was sleeping on her couch. ( Of course, most card parties consist of more than two players. So maybe they’d just watched a movie and was too tired to drive home. Maybe his car didn’t start. Maybe neither of their cars started. Huh!! I’m sitting there on my bar stood, smiling, still eaves dropping, running through this list of lame excuses GUY #2 might have told his wife — because apparently Guy #2 (who’s car — in case your confused — was in WOMAN #1’s driveway) was, according to GUY#1, married.

So Deano told Guy #1, who’d just about drained Mic and shot #3, that honor was just one of those things you know when you see it, sort of like pornography. Sort of like that golf plaque on the barroom wall. About that time, GUY #1 had been advised by Deano to abstain from Mic and shot #4, and obligingly sat for a good long while over a bitters and soda, playing Keno, then settled up with Deano, stood ( not all that steadily) took out his cell, called for an uber and went out on the street to wait for that ride to the airport. We saw him get in the car and disappear, never to return, I’m sure. He’d had enough of The Iceman. I felt a little sad for him.

Deano did get out of him where he was headed.

“California, LA area,” Deano said, wiping up the bar, clearing away the guy’s empty pilsner and shot glass. “He met a woman out there he likes.”. Deano gave me a wink.

“He ever been married?”

“He didn’t say. I didn’t see a ring.”

“He’s looking for Mrs. Right. Someone more honorable than himself.”

“Let’s wish him luck, then.”

I finished off my ginger ale. At least once during my eaves-dropping session, I’d missed parts of GUY#1’s saga during a trip to the john.

“Deano,” I said,”did that guy ever say who was in the car — the one outside his lady’s place outside Orlando?” (Referring here to GUY#3 on the cell phone — obviously to WOMAN #2 in her bedroom, spotted when GUY#1 went outside for his bag — just in case you’ve lost track.)

Deano shrugged and moved down the bar. We both knew the answer. Deano, being honorable — and the Iceman — was done with the topic. We both knew GUY #3 was somebody like GUY#1, disappointed like him, since GUY #1 was spoiling his overnight plans with WOMAN #2. Or was he?

I drank two ginger ales that night. I admit, for a fraction of a second I thought about how nice it would be to pound down a couple of boilermakers and how it would send a golden glow over those three women farther down the bar who’d been flirting most of the night with Deano. But there was only one left now — and she was playing Keno. Her husband came in and Deano made them both his late night special — iced coffee. Just what you’d expect from The Iceman.

“I’ll have one of those, too,” I told Deano. When he served me, I just had to ask one more question. “That guy ever say where he slept that night?” (Referring here to GUY#1, then in WOMAN #2’s house in Orlando, now on his way to the airport.)

“Motel, ” said Deano. “Then he went to DisneyWorld. He had a free pass, after all.”

The Iceman chuckled.

“He meet any women there?” I asked.

“Snow White,” Deano said. “No joke. He even had a picture.”

ON THE ROAD TO DECADENCE

Ross Douthat is a writer, film critic and cultural observer I admire. He writes well on Catholic matters as well. Most recently he has written a book called, The Decadent Society: How We Became Victims of Our Own Success.

He is writing on the allegedly stagnant state of affairs in what we’ll call “Western Liberalism”. Economic stagnation, institutional decay, cultural and intellectual exhaustion at a high level of material prosperity and technological development.

The long shadow cast by many long narratives of  Rome’s decline and fall once again  falls over the pages of yet another volume. Douthat believes we must be aware that this is an insidiously gradual process. Rome lasted for centuries in a state of enervation and without any palpable hope of recovery. A slow death.

The indices Douthat cites might not seem obvious symptoms of decline. Productivity, he says, is slowing down and becoming less sustainable; richer people are having fewer kids leading to an older society. Space travel has been remarkable but is not likely to save us.  Decadence on the ground is still decadence in space. “Forever wars” have drained and demoralized us, the very divisive culture wars, and  pop culture amounts to endless recycling of material so seemingly bright and new but so very much the same old things.

And in a society seemingly so preoccupied with sex and its joys and agonies — according to Douthat, people aren’t having sex like they used to — if they ever used to as much as we’ve been led to believe. I’ve always had my doubts. As a character says somewhere in Graham Greene’s novel, The Burnt Out Case, there are only so many ways to drive a nail.

In fact, the Atlantic’s Kate Julian has identified what she calls a “sex recession.”  But the reasoning here is that proliferating “virtual vices” available via Playstation and pronography, Tik Toks and Twitter distract and divert us from the angst to a point where we don’t entirely register the fact that we are standing still, i.e., not advancing in some vital areas — pandemic or  no pandemic. There has  grown up too much simulated stimuli, though apparently this is one area where we’ve kept advancing technologically. (I did a story about an absurd device allegedly in development — but perhaps long since abandoned — in which one could kiss a pair of artificial lips, thereby causing corresponding fake lips across the world to vibrate against the lips of your beloved. Haven’t heard anymore about the long distance kiss “innovation”.)

Douthat claims, in another real downside, that networks for propaganda and disinformation (and fake news?) and “soft” censorship abound across the world. (What’s this have to do with decadence? Well, it’s hard to be creative and original with Big Brother looking over your shoulder.)

Does any of this sound familiar or plausible? My summary is far from complete or, perhaps, entirely coherent or even accurate, for I’ve not read more than excerpts from the book. Suffice it to say ( I hate that phrase!) there is much to ponder here. I guess pondering is a way of forestalling the onset of decadence.

Someone may have been fiddling, but was anyone pondering while Rome burned?

A CATHOLIC REFLECTION ON THE GOOD MAN MOST AMERICANS STILL REVERE

August wanes, statues and reputations lie in the dust, memory and reverence get lost beneath the wild scrawl of  black spray paint, the heat intensifies, at least here in Florida, and perhaps, too, in my native New England. The political climate is toxic. Violent history is being made by those who have no sense of — or respect for —  history or historic figures, even the most virtuous. For that matter, virtue, objectively defined and understood, is in eclipse.

Excuse a random political meditation, therefore, on one of those people who has suffered at the hands of vandals and historical Marxists in the current vile culture war — I speak of the the man many of us still call the Father of Our Country.

A probing into the life and legacy of George Washington reveals a man who, among all the Founders, was undeniably unique in stature. In his lifetime, he enjoyed the unequaled esteem of his countrymen. The veneration has continued into posterity — and rightly so. Ignore the testimonials of ignorant vandals.

It has become a part of the current rancorous narrative of the culture wars to point out that George Washington was a slave owner, freeing his slaves only very belatedly, though clearly, from the record and his own writings, tortured by the cultural realities from which he knew our nation — and he personally — must aspire be liberated, just as he helped liberate us from the British.

But let us speak about Washington’s well-documented magnanimity — ultimately toward those slaves but also toward the religious — especially the Catholics — of his day who regularly endured hostility in the Anglosphere out of which our nation emerged.

I have learned that when the Continental Army first mustered on Cambridge Common north of Harvard Square in 1775, some soldiers sought to re-enact the anti-Catholic English custom, so popular in the England AND New England of that day, of burning the Pope, the Vicar of Christ in effigy on Guy Fawkes Day.  This was in raucous observance of the foiling of the November 5, 1605 Gunpowder Plot, the failed attempt on the life of King James I, Guy Fawkes being one of the prime conspirators.

Washington issued a  General Order on November 5, 1775 that spoke of the “ridiculous and childish Custom” of keeping such a prejudicial observance and expressed surprise “that there should be Officers and Soldiers, in this army so void of common sense as not to see the impropriety  of such a step at this juncture at a time when we are  soliciting and have really obtain’d the friendship & alliance of the people of Canada” (which was overwhelming Catholic at the time). Washington went on, “to be insulting their religion is so monstrous as not to be suffered or excused; indeed instead of offering the most remote insult, it is our duty to address public thanks to these our Brethren, as to them we are much indebted for every late happy success over the common enemy in Canada.”

It has been noted by C.J. Doyle, Executive Director of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts, that “Washington’s sympathy for the one percent of Americans who were then Catholic was unusual, profound, longstanding and without possible political advantage.”

Just thought I’d mention this amid the current iconoclastic, venomous and decidedly anti-Catholic atmosphere in which we find ourselves at this hot and ragged end of the summer of this year we shall not soon forget — and that, to borrow another President’s phrase, shall live in infamy — unless we can redeem ourselves before it draws to a close. And I count victory not as mere tolerance of one another, but of the triumph of the kind of magnanimity and virtue so obviously manifested by, yes, our national Patriarch.

EXHAUSTED WELLS IN AUGUST

A woman drew her long black hair out tight

And fiddled whisper music on those strings

And bats with baby faces in the violet light

Whistled, and beat their wings

And crawled head downward down a blackened wall

And upside down in air were towers

Tolling reminiscent bells that kept the hours

And voices singing out of empty cisterns and ex-

hausted wells

(hyphen in the original)

T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

(This fragment I shore against my ruins…)

PEACOCK DOWN

…in O’Connor’s fictional universe, the whites in power are the only ones who can afford to be innocent of their surroundings. O’Connor’s most profound gift was her ability to describe impartially the bourgeoisie she was born into, to depict with humor and without judgment her rapidly crumbling social order.

Hilton Als, “The Lonely Place” on Flannery O’Connor on Race and Religion in the South

The New Yorker, January 29, 2001

(Note: Hilton Als is an African-American writer and essayist)

She raised and enjoyed peacocks, wrote even when she was rapidly losing her ability to walk, cast a coldly brilliant eye on life and on Southern lives in particular, both black and white, and she was dead at 39.

And now Rayber, the purblind school teacher and intellectual pretender in Flannery O’Connor’s novel, The Violent Bear It Away — joined by the contemporary and contemptuous mob of cancel–culture warriors — is finally getting retribution for O’Connor’s portrait of him in all his atheistic ludicrousness.  Sadly, this is playing out on a contemporary Catholic college campus and, as such, it is being invested with a sanctified theistic, ambiguously Catholic veneer which doesn’t make it any less pathetic.

Flannery’s sin: “racist” remarks she allegedly made and bigoted attitudes she seemed to have earlier in her short life. For this, her name will be taken off a college building. Continue reading “PEACOCK DOWN”

TRUTH-TELLING AND U.S. HISTORY

It was none other than “Silent” Cal Coolidge who broke his silence long enough to instruct us wisely that any act of truth-telling is an act of patriotism, because our system of government is based  on a true understanding of human relationships. Therefore Americans should never fear to learn the true story of the founding of America. We just must make certain that it is the TRUE story.

“Searching self-criticism” is good thing, Cal submitted — among individuals and among nations — especially the American nation, given our worldwide influence.

There is a great deal of “searching self-criticism” going on now in the American nation, especially over the issue of race relations.

And the truth is that our Founders worked to organize a system of ordered liberty out of pretty raw material. For instance, they did not “found” or create slavery, thought it was everywhere being practices in the new nation (and, by the way, is still practiced today in obscure parts of the globe.)  But it can truthfully be said, I believe, as did Abraham Lincoln,  that the founders laid out a structure of “self-evident” truths that would ultimately make the practice of any kind of human bondage self-contradictory.

We mortals can, out of disordered self-interest, be slow to realize truths, no matter how “self-evident” , or to adapt them into our common lives. I personally believe this will become the story of our gradual future national consensus on the truth about abortion, growing out of the emerging scientific and medical knowledge of pre-natal life and recognition of the psychological and emotional impact of  abortion on women — and men. And then this consensus will find its way into law as we uphold the principle of “liberty for all” — born and unborn.

Lincoln understood the meaning of “liberty to all” but even he, battling contemporary political and sectional realities, only gradually led the movement to legislate it into existence for Americans who were manifestly NOT free, i,e. African-born slaves whom we’d yet to regard as fully human, much less as fellow citizens. Writing after the 1860 election, Lincoln stated  that “no oppressed people will fight and endure as our fathers did (during the American Revolution) without a promise of something better than a mere change of masters,” referring to how the Founders threw off their British masters in hope of a better life.  Lincoln saw a united America as “the last best hope of earth.” And, I believe, it remains so.

It frightens me, therefore, to see our union and our common sense of hope in jeopardy, as, indeed, it is at this moment in our history.

Stephen Tootle, to name just one academic on one relatively obscure American campus ( The College of the Sequoias, a public two-year college in Visalia, California in the San Joaquin Valley) stated not long ago that his students “are mostly poor, and most of them have brown skin. But they are not stupid and they are not lazy. They have been told for most of their lives — by people claiming to help them — that the system is rigged, that the past is nothing but a record of oppression, that they should not want to participate in our sick society, that racism is the answer to racism, and that freedom exists only to crush the weak. Yet something inside them has always led them to believe that those ideas are wrong.”

Tootle wrote this exactly one year ago  — in marginally better times —  in a review of University of Oklahoma Professor Wilfred M. McClay’s newly published book called Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story. It sounds like a text book.

Any new account of the American founding comes, as I noted, at a time when our union is being severely tested by division, disease, disorder and new cries of racism.

From the sounds of it, McClay’s book could be an antidote to the late Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States, a revisionist Sixties-era version of American events widely celebrated by the left when it was published so long ago and embraced, sadly, by such contemporary great Americans — to name just one — as Bruce Springsteen (at least Bruce states his debt to Zinn at, for me, a dispiriting point in his otherwise mostly heartening  memoir Born to Run. I like Bruce; I hate it that he, in singing of America, might believe Zinn’s take on our national history — that it is essentially a story of oppression of the have-nots by the haves.

I have not read McClay’s book but, from the reviews, gather that it does not paint a jingoistic, simplistic story of America as some might fear based on my description of it —  that it is full of complex ideas that  might shed new light — if you accept McClay’s version of events — on many of the story lines about our founding that we have accepted for generations as American gospel.  I suppose such an unsettling of old assumptions is what those on the left celebrated about Zinn’s history. So be prepared to have your understanding adjusted once again by Professor McClay as we continue on the American journey of self-understanding.

For instance, McClay apparently does NOT assert that the free market or the  stock-market crash of 1929  caused the Great Depression or that FDR and the New Deal brought about an economic recovery or that isolationist in the U.S. caused Hitler to come to power in Europe.

I will be very interested to read how McClay handles the whole story of slavery in the United States as we continue to strive to tell the truth to one another about the true nature of human relations. Remember what “Silent Cal” told us: to do so in an act of patriotism.

 

THE FORGOTTEN ENTREPRENEURS

I hope it doesn’t become too obvious that economics is not my “trump card.” But what American is sufficiently insulated from local or national economic policy to the point where he or she can ignore it?  Who, in however inchoate a way, doesn’t imagine exclusively economic solutions to their own or the nation’s problems? We know darn well from the evidence that the outcome of elections are very often  determined by economic factors, or whether or not a majority of the electorate is feeling economically secure or optimistic. You’ll no doubt recall that cynical, flat-footed declaration by Democrat advisor/pundit James Carville prior to Bill Clinton’s election, “it’s the economy, stupid.” And a temporarily flagging national economy probably did do in the Presidency of George Herbert Walker Bush. Continue reading “THE FORGOTTEN ENTREPRENEURS”

THEN THEY CAME FOR KATE SMITH….

Does it matter that Bob Dylan wrote and sang a song in romanticized tribute to Joey Gallo, the Mafia murderer and thug?  I’m just asking. I guess that was balanced out by the fact that Dylan also wrote and sang a song in defense of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the African-American boxer ruled to have been wrongfully convicted of murder after spending twenty years in prison.  And, I suppose, Dylan, when writing and singing, can do no wrong, at least in this era. I’m sure another era will measure him by its standards and, if found culpable of socially dubious acts or pronouncements and if someone was foolish enough to erect a statue to him, he’ll become an enemy of the people and his statues defaced and pulled down and all his music burned. They’ll wonder how the Nobel Committee could ever have considered for their exalted prize someone who (FILL IN THE BLANK WITH ACTIONS, SUNG OR SPOKEN, DEEMED, IN DEEP RETROSPECT, TO BE OFFENSIVE TO THE PEOPLE OF THE LATE 21ST CENTURY) Continue reading “THEN THEY CAME FOR KATE SMITH….”

TIMES EDITOR “CANCELLED”

Say, did you hear that James Bennett, the opinion editor of the New York Times, got fired this month for publishing — an opinion?

Arkansas Republic Senator Tom Cotton, a graduate of Harvard Law School and member of the Armed Services Committee and hence identifiable as no mere slouch who wandered in from Time Square, opined on the Times’ op-ed page that the U.S. should invoke the very old and seldom invoked Insurrection Act, which empowers the president to use troops to secure order and public safety when local authorities have lost the ability to do so and are seeking federal help. His reasoning apparently was that extraordinary times demand extraordinary measures. This was at a time when The Times was well aware that large sections of a dozen major American cities were being destroyed by out-of-control riotous looting and arson.

Some Times staffers went haywire, insisting Cotton’s words felt roughly as if someone were literally pointing a gun at them, exposing them to physical danger. Bennett retreated, begged for his professional life but got the proverbial bullet behind the ear anyway. Out of a job! His replacement has vowed not to publish anything that makes people uncomfortable.

Remember that it was the Marxists who came up with the phrase “politically correct.” They weren’t using it sarcastically. It was the rule.

The way things are going, we may be standing on a cold platform watching one Times editor after another board the train for the Gulag. Okay, okay….over the top! But is it far-fetched to think someday we may be handing “controversial”, which is to say Politically Incorrect, written thoughts under the table?

Meanwhile, even tonight — it’s apparently Portland’s turn — our cities are burning. And mayors are allegedly upset that the president has sent in federal agents to quell the destruction, even when it’s federal property, including a federal court house, that is being threatened. I guess they feel they don’t need any Act to handle things. Or that, if Democrats, they feel an obligation reflexively to reject anything that comes from this President.

It was the French mystic Leon Bloy who is said to have stood on Montmartre, looking out over wayward Paris and intoned for all to hear, “man left to man — that’s what I call ‘the wrath of God.’