The Lessons of Working Up an Honest Sweat

Lately, I have been struggling to put up any new posts or to spend much time polishing what does get up. The reason is that the revision of a book I finished a year ago has sucked me in. Once I begin a project like this one, I can’t juggle very much else at the same time. I acquire a kind of vision of where the work should be going, and I need for my mind to cling closely to that vision as I wade through all the chapters that stray hither and yon from it. I can’t simply give the thing an hour’s attention one day and half an hour’s two days later: I have to maintain focus.

Before I start making myself sound like Michel de Montaigne, I should confess that the work in question is about baseball swings as taken a century ago with very different bats. Most people would find that admission a big let-down… “Oh! I thought maybe you were writing about the possibility of preserving our humanity as Artificial Intelligence absorbs more and more of our mental function.” I would scarcely redeem myself before such a commentator if I added that no book whatever exists on the subject, that casual references to yesteryear’s hitting techniques are ludicrously imprecise and inept, and that my crazy dream is eventually to teach some of what I’ve learned through research and experimentation to young people who’ve been told that they’re too small to play the game.

For, yes, there’s a kind of mission involved in this project. I watched my son get nudged aside and passed over for the better part of two decades as he tried to advance and improve in the game he so loved, all because of his size. It ticked me off. It still does, in retrospect. And so I started learning about hitting, and learning more… all of it too late to do him any good, of course; but one of the morals of my study is indeed that much of this sport depends on technique rather than size, and that it seems otherwise only because the professional gurus no longer know the old techniques.

I will add in this forum, though, that yet further and broader lessons might be gleaned from my work. One is that life generally is a terrain occupied by mutually supporting groups of “specialists” who understand nothing beyond their microscopic sphere of expertise—and who often don’t understand that, either, but unite to conceal their ignorance before a dazed public of “uninitiated outsiders”. I can say this confidently, because I have made myself an expert on the subject of yesteryear’s hitting in the game of baseball—and yet much of what I wrote about year ago in the book’s first version is utter crap. My satisfaction in how much I’ve learned lately is more or less neutralized by my chagrin at how wrong I got it all just a few months ago. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, we should always remember that we don’t know what we don’t know.

Another lesson is that we forget our culture’s past at our own considerable risk. The assumption has been made in hitting instruction that the oldtimers were comical amateurs who practiced their art about the same way that the Wright brothers practiced flying. You don’t really think that Wilbur and Orville could teach you anything about your Cessna, do you? Probably not, in terms of handling the controls… but maybe they could tell you something about the fear of the unknown or about how to keep a cool head in a crisis.

Finally (just because I need to get on with it today), I have learned that a boy needs to try his hand at something physical, and that a man needs to retain that interest in the active. As politically incorrect as it is to say, boys are in more trouble than girls today because the insulated, safety-net society is more damaging to them. They need to undertake, to initiate… and that means that they must come to know failure well and learn to attack a resistant problem from a different angle. Baseball offers all sorts of opportunity to earn an advanced degree in failure: it breaks you heart. But it can also, for that very reason, teach you how to put a heart back together again.

As for grown men, they—we—need to get out from behind our keyboards once in a while and swing a bat, throw a ball, bail some hay, drive some nails (not with a pneumatic nail-gun, please)… they need to do something other than vegetate with their “ideas”. I’m convinced that quality of thought actually deteriorates as physical contact with the world of hard labor is lost. Indeed, almost all of our political and existential dilemmas in the West are owed somewhat to our losing touch with basic reality. When I was still trying to be a “scholar”, many moons ago, I wrote a little piece about a 2,500-year-old fragment of Sappho’s where she compares a woman getting married rather late in life to an apple that has grown high on the tree, out of reach of the pickers. I pointed out that these are the best fruit because they get so much sun: they grow the largest and taste the sweetest. Any ancient Greek hearing Sappho’s poem would have known that… but the great “scholar” who reviewed my piece could only sniff and turn up his nose because I hadn’t indicated another poet from whom Sappho might have borrowed the image. She borrowed it from life, stupid!

Thank God—and baseball—that my son hasn’t grown up to be a “scholar”!

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Concerning Nixon…

Since mentioning Richard Nixon last time (in whose administration Pat Buchanan worked), I’ve been wanting to get a few things off my chest. I came of age during the Watergate years, and I think the picture that young people are painted of that most unfortunate time—by their teachers, their textbooks, and popular culture—is an utter travesty.

I distinctly recall reading (though I read it only once or twice; the media feeding frenzy quickly obscured such fine details in froth and body parts) that Nixon suspected McGovern of communicating with Fidel Castro. This may seem of no account to most of you now; but if you retained anything from your history books about the early Sixties, you remember that the Cuban Missile Crisis is rated as having had the potential to begin of World War III.   Now, I put it to you: if Castro was such a desperate character that Kennedy’s facing him and Khrushchev down saved the human race from extermination, as is popularly let out, then why should he have been considered a pussy cat a mere decade later?

Or if Trump’s colluding with Putin to steal our last election is a scenario whose mere specter should put all other business on indefinite hold, then why would credible intelligence that a presidential candidate had covertly communicated with a despot eager to nuke our shores not warrant looking into?

Nixon, of course, was loathed by the Left since the days when he successfully prosecuted Alger Hiss, a Soviet spy deeply secreted in D.C.’s corridors of power. Younger Americans will have been told that no threat from the Soviets (except the Cuban Missile Crisis) ever existed, and that the hunt for spies on our shores and within our government, especially, was an indefensible witch hunt. The idiotic word “McCarthyism” has now entered the parlance of both sides of the aisle—as if poor Joe McCarthy, a war hero and a simple man of the people, had any “-ism” behind his clumsy attempt to weed out traitors from his nation’s most sensitive sources of power and influence. Nixon’s star rose as McCarthy’s plunged into flaming descent.

McCarthy, to be sure, stirred up a deal of hysteria. Why wouldn’t he have? The nation’s children were being drilled in their schools for an all-out nuclear attack during these years. Nixon, likewise, was no black belt in public relations. His homely mug, his sanctimonious style, his irrepressible persecution complex, his self-consciousness about his humble origins… a walking target, he was, for all the bullies on the playground. And then there was his vanity. If only he had burned all the damn tapes, as William F. Buckley urged him to do in print, the nation would have been spared a lot of misery. They were his private property—he could legally have done whatever he wanted to with them. As his “legacy”, however, they were sacrosanct… and he dragged himself and the country through disgrace that the record of his years in office might be preserved.

Sad. But not deserving of the caricature which has been visited upon the man. Meanwhile, Lyndon Johnson, having left a couple of bodies in his wake (I do not speak figuratively) during his climb to power in South Texas, is remembered as the compassionate architect of the Great Society.

Try, just try, to remember that you know less than nothing about the historical personages presented to you by textbooks and movies; for the lies with which we have been programmed are worse than utter, abject ignorance.

 

How Many Millions of Lives Could the “Purists” Cost Us?

I used to be a Pat Buchanan fan. His willingness to question received orthodoxy and to advance conclusions that made sense, even though they set everyone on edge, impressed me. As wicked as Hitler surely was, how could his tally of carnage be said to rival Stalin’s or Mao’s? Were the tens of millions of additional victims claimed by the latter two to be excused because communists always “have their hearts in the right place”? And in any case (another Buchanan proposition), why could we not have left Hitler and Stalin to duke it out rather than so quickly and decisively siding with Papa Joe? Was Churchill really so admirable for selling out Eastern Europe at Yalta in his monomaniacal loathing of Hitler? (Stalin, he would explain in Chamberlainesque terms, had to be “appeased”.)

Where Pat and I suffered a definitive parting of the ways was over his “demography is destiny” comments. The notion that our genetic material determines the kind of citizens and neighbors we will be flies in the face of American idealism, Christian ethics, and indeed any operative concept of human free will. In an age when the word is so grossly abused as to be practically senseless, this notion is genuinely racist: it renders us prisoners of our DNA.

Yet I remain willing to accept Buchanan’s testimony about certain historical events in which he played a part or had a ring-side seat. In a column about a month ago, he detailed how Nixon’s preoccupation with the Watergate scandal so weakened America’s hand internationally that the Viet Cong recovered their flagging spirits and eventually (under Ford) forced our disorderly retreat. There followed such slaughter of innocents as no Westerner can imagine… ah, but Tricky Dick the Tyrant had been deposed, and journalists and the political Left generally were in such a celebratory mood that, if “high fives” had existed in the early Seventies, ER’s would have overflowed with sprained wrists.

Hundreds of thousands of people were butchered… but the American intelligentsia had bagged its “tyrant”!

Now we are witnessing both Russia and North Korea ramp up tensions as our crusading, utopian Fourth Estate again seeks to topple a “tyrant” by whatever means possible, ignoring real news while sensationalizing one nugatory gaffe or out-of-context utterance after another. We may be plunged into World War III—the inhabitants of Seoul may be obliterated and Japan may grow so soaked in nuclear fallout that Hiroshima will look like a stubbed toe; but the important thing is to “get Trump” at all costs, regardless of how much this may incite a genocidal psychopath like Kim Jong Un.

I didn’t vote for Donald Trump and am not a member of his marching band… but there comes a point when the greater good demands a closing of the ranks. If the slavering hounds chasing after that thin but expensive red brush get their trophy only as radioactive ruins glow in the distance, I hope they will live to realize that their obsession has spoiled the planet a helluva lot more than climate change on steroids could have done.

 

The Dehumanizing Religion of “Progress”

Can a political ideology be a religion? I suggested in my post entry that people who are willing to countenance the murder of their political adversaries in pursuit of a glorious cause are in fact not engaged in politics at all: they are members of a religious cult. But how can a belief system be styled “religious” if acknowledges no deliberate agency in cosmic affairs other than the human? If it recognizes no spiritual reality but only the material version, if it accepts no afterlife other than the bequest of technical learning that allows one’s grandchildren to live longer and better… then where is the religion?

Let me try to state this “faith” as fair-mindedly as I can. Jules Romains, a French novelist whose most successful works were penned almost a century ago and about whom I’ve written quite a lot, authored a manifesto early in his career for a movement he called “unanism”. I can bring its general terms to mind without too much effort–and it’s about as eloquent an expression of the progressivist vision as I have ever seen.

The unanimist (or exponent of “one spirit uniting us all”) sees the human race as fulfilling a kind of destiny into which it has stumbled, but which is now its grand and inescapable calling. We might have continued living in trees and caves… but we didn’t; and once we evolved the ability to manipulate our environment and to organize our societies, we became permanently endowed with the power to perfect ourselves. Diseases could be conquered; violent weather events could be mitigated; hunger could be minimized through agricultural innovation and social discipline; crime could be bred out of us slowly through education; even the inevitable degeneration of our planetary home as the solar system entropically wears out could be averted if only we might reverse certain forces, travel to a new solar system, or create one ex nihilo out of our genius.

In a sense, we would live forever; and individuals might quite literally live for thousands of years with the help of nano-technology and cybernetics. Yet that failing, our species–our human collective–would bear our vision and our values undyingly into the future. And in that certainty within each of us that our efforts had laid one more brick onto the great ascending wall, we would partake of a kind of eternity, even though our personal consciousness would have been terminated somewhere along the way.

If this is not a religion rivaling others on earth today–if it is not, indeed, the dominant religion of the Western political and economic elite and of our educational institutions–then I can’t think why it should not be so. Its faithful may protest, “But the system you have outlined has nothing of the irrational about it! Religion clings to belief in invisible spirits flitting about behind the scenes: this is all science and reason!” No, actually: it’s not. The most basic assumption that we have some high duty or other to continue evolving has no empirical basis whatever. Where would this duty come from? If it was always in our genetic material, then some mysterious Creator must have put it there; but if we just happened to beat dolphins and crows out in the battle to survive, then our “mission” would be to continue surviving and thriving at the expense of anything in our way. We might build spaceships in the future–but we would do so to keep from getting fried when the Sun explodes–not “to boldly go where no man has gone before” (splitting infinitives and dropping sexist referents along the way).

Finally, the whole “grand’ enterprise would end up an exercise in futility–an instance of what the deconstructionists liked to call “postponement”. No matter how many solar systems we might create or colonize, all suns all throughout the cosmos must eventually burn out; or if the universe’s matter collapses upon itself and re-ignites, then we and everything belonging to us or stemming from us must all likewise be melted down utterly. So where is the omega in this quest for perfection if not in a fantasy to which no materialist has a right?

Yet the votaries of progress are willing to kill people who get in their way right here, right now–or at least to crack jokes about such murders and shrug. “Small loss… no big deal.” About the only thing that can make people forget their common humanity to this degree and morph into the glassy-eyed nightmare-robots of a sci-fi flick is cultic fanaticism. Naturally, the fanatic resents his faith being labeled a faith, a belief system, because… because it’s true, damn you!

 

The Fanatical Cultists Among Us

There’s a good chance that people aspiring to murder those who disagree with them about politics are, among other things, fanatical cultists. We tend not to view them as such because they espouse no traditional religion, and indeed often profess atheism; but an immovable conviction in the existence of a universe that bears no resemblance to the realities before us isn’t just metaphysical in nature, but fanatically so.

If you believe that everyone deserves state-of-the-art health care and that politicians who stand in that initiative’s way should be executed as murderers, then you’re a fanatical cultist. What you desire is a real-world impossibility. We must all die in the flesh of something someday, and most of us—alas—will be ill on many days along the way to our last one. It’s the human condition. Miracle drugs may come along occasionally, but they are so expensive to concoct in their early stages that not everyone can afford them. A triage of some sort is inevitable. Maybe it shouldn’t be based on degree of wealth… but should it be based on degree of poverty? Maybe the young should go first—but is it not more sane to appeal to the community for charitable donations that a child might be saved than to legislate that the older guy has to get the ticket to the next world?

You’re not living in any world possible within our given dimensions if you refuse to weigh any of these questions, plug your ears, and keep droning, “All for everyone! All for everyone!”

If you believe that anyone who opposes the complete disarming of society is an accomplice to every murder that occurs and hence deserves execution himself, then you are a fanatical cultist. If only cops have guns, then Black Bart can drop a brick on a bypassing cop, steal his revolver, and inaugurate an irresistible crime wave. If you disarm even the cops, then the brick itself becomes a highly effective assault weapon… or a pitchfork or baseball bat or steak knife. A 98-pound female can currently chase off a 250-pound male just by waving her Smith and Wesson. Once we return to the Stone Age, her assailant will not need any weapon at all to do with her as he pleases. Your insistence that things would not degenerate to this point is childish and, beyond a certain point, lunatic. A responsible adult has no right to walk around with a kindergartener’s estimate of human nature. Your lunacy is probably attributable to a cultic belief system… which makes you yourself a potentially dangerous quantity in any society that allows you to vote.

If you say that anyone who obstructs the complete dissolution of national borders is impeding beleaguered people from finding food, shelter, and freedom and hence deserves to be executed as a passive mass-murderer, then consider yourself a fanatical cultist. Among other things, we must consider what diseases an alien population might introduce among us if not screened. Particularly in societies that offer an extensive net of social services, we must realize that thousands will rush our cities to gain access to free food, free police protection, free education, free medical attention, and so forth. Such resources are not inexhaustible; on the contrary, they must be doled out very carefully to those most in need and in a manner that encourages eventual self-sufficiency. Along with the poor and oppressed, as well, a criminal element will be sure to cross any unenforced border to a wealthier community. The situation is a goldmine for evil-doers: gather loot where it proliferates, then skip back across to another territory that will not pursue criminal acts committed “over there”.

If, in spite of all these liabilities, you really believe that we can and must exist as one big happy family in one great house—and that naysayers should be shot like mad dogs because of the obstacle they pose to “real progress”—then you are seriously delusional and a menace to yourself and others. You are a fanatical cultist who has no use for the world as it was made and must ever be.

How many of these are out there, I wonder? And why are we preoccupied with ISIS when our own society is nourishing a variety of fanaticism at least as dangerous and—now, it seems—homicidal?

 

On the Absurdity of “Gender Multiplicity”

Cogar leat, as the Irish used to say: “a whisper with you.” If gender is now to be considered mere cultural conditioning (like the preference for trousers or a kilt) rather than biological hardwiring, then why are we as a culture expected to tolerate all genders? I can put on a tie if it offends the group into which I seek acceptance for me to have an open collar. Why, then, should we not expect people to desist from, say, transgender behavior if it isn’t part of our broader culture? People eat stray cats and dogs in some parts of the world, but we don’t. If your puppy wanders off and ends up on my table, do you have a right to be upset with me? I should think so, in the context of the culture that we’re supposed to share! Do you have a right to sit in a restaurant without having to listen to people all around you slurp, burp, and smack their lips? Inasmuch as our cultural context disapproves of such behavior, I should say, “Yes, absolutely!”

So why should I be expected to tolerate without a whimper the teaching to my children of promiscuous sexual practices or a complete comfort with homosexual marriage? To the extent that the educational establishment has ever been able to construct a rational case for imposing such a curriculum upon us, it has done so on the assumption that sexual behaviors are dictates of nature rather than free choices—and that persecuting someone for being attracted to the same gender is as unfair as persecution of redheads or people of short stature. (Personally, I would strongly contest that restricting the definition of marriage constitutes persecution, any more than the limited opportunities for employment as jockeys indicate a persecution of six-footers… but let that pass for now.)

If the new doctrine of the educational elite has now abandoned that moral premise (i.e., that our sexual habits are in fact forced upon us by an irresistible genetic program), then why should we any longer be required to be lectured and schooled in matters of taste and preference? If you as a teacher insist that my child not only be allowed to belch, but that he accept that behavior in others and even wag his finger at me if I show disapproval, then you’re not teaching “diversity” or “tolerance”: you’re imposing one set of cultural values—your own—upon another culture that rejects them. You are manifesting an intolerance of my culture and demanding that my divergent ways fall into lockstep behind yours. You’re not just a dictator: you’re a pious hypocrite.

For the record, I believe that a very few people probably have, indeed, been dealt a bad hand by Mother Nature and cannot relate to the opposite sex in a manner that will give them access to the joys and comforts of family life. I regard them with commiseration, for Mother Nature has shortchanged most of us in one way or another. As old Seneca says, Nulli attigit impune nasci: “No one has entered this life without some shortcoming.”

I’m just as convinced, however, that the vast majority of people who are wrestling with their sexuality today are refugees from the sexual revolution that has raged since I was young. Heterosexual dating has grown so carnivorous that many flee the opposite sex; and as for family, our “Where’s mine?” culture of egocentrism as so undermined the ethic of self-sacrifice that only bad examples of conjugal life and bad experiences with it seem to surround us.

From some elevated perch in the high towers crowning the impenetrable citadels of politics and education, a few perverted and corrupt minds are smiling at all this and devising new ways to promote it. The fragmentation of gender into a million pieces, as a mere “cultural construct”, is one of those ways. The more we are uprooted from the significant relationships natural to human beings, the more we become putty in their squalid, ambitious hands.

 

On Pessimism and Misanthropy

Pessimism is the routine expectation that things will happen for the worst (pessimus being Latin for “worst”). Misanthropy literally means “hatred of mankind” in Greek (misos + anthropos)–but in common usage, its tone is somewhat milder, as in “not trustful of people”.

I have been called both of these; and while I certainly haven’t a lot of trust in people, especially in an age where young high school and college graduates are constantly encouraged to “follow their dreams” in idiotic commencement addresses (a recipe for disaster, given the irresponsibility of dreams nourished on video games and Netflix fantasies), I think “the worst” is most often averted when we’re suspicious of our neighbors. The founders of the republic thought the same thing. In my lifetime, it has been the optimists who typically open the door to disaster: the people whose expectations are so absurdly self-indulgent and rose-colored that cynical manipulators run circles around them and create a hell on earth. Then, when the “snowflakes” finally wake up and realize that they’ve been played, they become as naïve in their mistrust as they were formerly in their gullibility. They tend to lay the blame for all that has gone wrong at the doorstep of a certain designated group of villains, in a romantic kind of Manichaeism—good guy versus bad guy—rather than growing up and recognizing that all people have at least latent corruption nestled somewhere within them.

The trouble with optimism is that it can leave those whom it burns stupidly pessimistic. And on their way to getting badly burned, the naïve can get innocent people killed. I won’t repeat my remarks of a few weeks ago about Pope Francis.

Let me toss out just a couple of examples that sailed past my bow this week in illustration of why I don’t feel just all peachy soft and fuzzy about human civilization’s future.

One case stares at me from my Kindle almost every time I fire it up. The murder mystery seems to be to our casual reading public what oats are to a horse. Now, my mother loved mystery novels, and I think most of us enjoy a good crime drama on occasion. I had to give up watching Joe Kenda, however, because at some point I just couldn’t take any more young single moms letting strangers they’d picked up at the bar into their lives and winding up in a dumpster. Real murder, you see, is anything but glamorous. It’s the most squalid crime imaginable. The motive is generally some mix of lust, greed, egotism, and stupidity—with a very strong dose of the last: murderers are almost never evil geniuses. The murder itself is usually a brutal act of superior physical strength asserting itself over a victim screaming piteously, and pointlessly, for mercy. Even the higher predators in the animal food chain show more heart than the average murderer.

Yet nowadays, even as we create safe spaces and trigger alerts to coddle our epidermis-free sensitivity, we willingly accept murder into our amusements as an integral part of escapist fantasy. It’s the sanitization of murder in the pulp romance that gripes me—the degradation of mass taste that is implied in that makeover of human depravity. Joe Kenda’s tales were real enough to leave me mildly nauseated after a while: Joe Kindle keeps insulting my intelligence with teases about the latest “humorous, sexy murder mystery”.

One more quick example: I was looking up the Romanian word for “bull” because I know almost no Romanian whatever, and I needed to make a linguistic point about the modern languages descended from Latin. I’m not kidding you: the first full page of a dozen entries that popped up on my computer screen when I Googled my question offered Romanian street parlance for “bullsh*t”. Seems that we have all forgotten about the male bovine with a bellowing voice and what Jack Falstaff called a “pizzle”. How did we come to the point where coprologisms have more currency among us than basic words for basic realities? What does that say about us?

So, no, I’m not real happy with things. It’s because I can still generate the energy to be upset that the notion of effective action continues to mean something to me. Would we be better off just smiling every time our decadent culture serves us up a dish of “bull” when we ask for bread?