Cashing in on Grief for a “Better Tomorrow”: More Than a Little Sick

Love! his affections do not that way tend;
Nor what he spake, though it lack’d form a little,
Was not like madness. There’s something in his soul,
O’er which his melancholy sits on brood…

Hamlet III.i.163-166

It was almost exactly a year ago that a “shooting incident” struck my institution… sort of.  The alarm turned out to be false: someone had dropped a book down a stairwell, and hyperactive imaginations with no real-world experience of a gunshots phoned in the “active shooter” report.  What followed was a fiasco.  Some trembling functionary or other entered my class, interrupted my lecture, and communicated to me in whispers that we needed to evacuate at once.  The hush-hush attitude as we urged students to leave their books and file outdoors “in an orderly fashion” was meant to avert panic, I suppose.  In fact, it naturally induced everyone to picture the worst-case scenario.  Fingers worked feverishly on iPhones.  A few women were almost in tears.

I myself started walking home from the parking lot (having previously gathered up my books as I was advised not to do).  Others told me later that somebody with a bull horn ordered them into an auditorium.  Really stupid idea.  What shooter would have any success trying to run down targets in a vast sea of cars?  But if even a single entry to a crowded interior space were improperly secured… fish in a barrel.

Obviously, there was no coherent plan.  (The original evacuation certainly contradicted the instructions for lockdown posted at every classroom’s door.)  What with the eventual arrival of state troopers by the dozen, all in riot gear and with weapons drawn, I suppose you could say that the event was traumatic for many.

But there was no shooter.  And here I will extend an observation to the Parkland shooting a month ago: for the vast majority of students, the trauma grew out of initial panic and later confirmation that seventeen students had been slain… but more out of the former than the latter.  You’re shocked when you hear that a friend has died in a car wreck—but life on earth is made of such shocks.  Whatever special trauma was stirred into the situation for most came from the mounting suspicion that this wasn’t just another fire drill.

Most students were not shot at.  Quite a few would not personally have known any of the victims in so large a high school.  Nobody who “looked down the bore of the shooter’s rifle” would have been upright to tell Marco Rubio, mere hours later, that his presence inspired the same sensation.

I don’t recall the student’s name who uttered that fatuously theatrical remark on national television, and I’m not going to look it up.  He doesn’t deserve the publicity.  There seem to be two, in fact, whose youthful mugs keep occupying our screens with the same “scolding nanny” look of prophetically monomaniacal dedication.  They’re beginning to annoy me.  I say here and now that their response is an affront to anyone who truly wishes to grieve.  Their immediate and highly rehearsed—sometimes even slur-laced—diatribes are not the normal reaction of someone who has met mortality head-on around a tight corner.  We’re so insulated from life in our various artificial alternatives to it that we no more know the face true mourning wears than we know how to distinguish between a gunshot and a falling book.  A mourner looks into the void.  He has no words… and then too many.  He asks God why the horror happened, why it happened to this one and not that one, and why anyone—in the dark dawn of such nonsense—should believe that there IS a god.  He becomes profane, perhaps.  He rambles.  He remembers.  He weeps.  He shouts furiously and incoherently, accusing the clock for not running backward.

He doesn’t uncork cool, sarcastic indictments of the NRA and its lobbying activities.

This is crap.  I’m sorry, but these two over-exposed young brats have been fed with it by their parents and other handlers… and now they’re spewing it back on cue.  That’s all I see.  Call me insensitive to the grieving process: I’ll see you and raise you in that game, because you’re being inconsiderate of true grief by indulging such a charade.

One more thing—and this is perhaps the main thing.  I have written often before that people opposed to the murder of adolescents in schools should also be opposed to the murder of babies in the womb.  This past month has led me to recognize my error: there is, in fact, no inconsistency of position here.  My confusion arose from identifying  the sentiments expressed with a concern for individual lives.  No such concern exists in the progressive mind.  To make an omelet, you have to break some eggs.  Specifically, X millions of fetuses must die so that, at long last, we may have a society freed of the nuclear family’s retrograde influence.  The state must guarantee women the right to “evacuate” the consequences of rash sexual behavior rather than draw men into a tangle of personal responsibility and investment in the future.  When and if a woman decides to bear a child, the state will raise that child.  Fathers are not needed.  Mothers, indeed, may soon be unneeded as the blueprint grows more Huxleyan.

In the same way, I have done the anti-gun crusade an injustice in assuming that its minions do not imagine scenarios where a woman must endure a brutal rape or a parent cower with the children behind a flimsy door as home invaders rifle the premises.  The gun-banners don’t lack imagination: they just don’t care.  Their imagination is riveted on the higher vision of a futuristic society where only uniformed, designated enforcers carry deadly weapons.  To get from here to there, yes, many women will have to be savaged helplessly and many children abducted and sold into slavery or murdered for the joy of bloodletting.  That’s how you make an omelet.  Eventually, as more and more guns are rounded up and more and more malefactors forcibly donate their sick brains to science, Earth’s one society will make a great leap forward.  Next stop: Mars.

That hard, unblinking stare of the smooth-browed, slick-haired snot who has now become the poster child for firearm round-up says it all: “You egotistical self-defenders deserve to die.  You’re standing in the way of progress!”


More on the Death of the Spirit: Why English Majors Can’t Read Literature

I wrote last time about the truly spiritual life—a life of forcing one’s principles to engage a hostile world and one’s preferred order to negotiate inconvenient necessities. In opposition to this stands the spirit-stifling life of embedding oneself in fantasy and demanding that everything and everyone around one flatter the assembly of illusions.  As in all human truths, there’s great irony here.  People who stifle the spirit will insist that they are “engaged”. Yet manipulation, intimidation, distortion, suppression, and prevarication don’t get at the kind of engagement I have in mind.  I suppose they could work, for a verbal contortionist; I suppose plowing a house under and leaving a rubble with an entry point to crawl through could be called “redesign”.

Certainly the people who declare the mud hole where they nestle to be holy ground and then rail against passers-by might be said to expend a kind of energy in their endeavor.  They never seem to know a moment’s peace, for practically everyone is moving in relation to them and thus needs a good dressing down.  When you declare your entire life a safe space, denounce all that you see beyond your narrow borders as offensive, and charge every intruder who doesn’t utter the password with failing to give a trigger alert, you probably won’t get much rest.

But that’s perfectly okay; because, as I wrote earlier, the ultimate objective of the exercise is precisely to keep one busy denouncing morally inferior people—to prove over and over again, every day, that one belongs to a unique group of higher beings.

I know this subject well.  I’ve passed virtually my entire adult life in Academe, as a formal college student and a teacher employed in some capacity: six or seven years as the former, and about thirty-five as the latter.  From either side of the lectern, I have observed “professionals” mutilate classic literature by insisting that no such qualities as “the classic” or “the literary” ever existed, but that—instead—only some specific socio-political dialectic or other is for real: only the struggle of women, or Hispanics, or blacks, or gays, to rise above white male patriarchal oppression.  All else is smokescreen.  All else is the established power structure conditioning you to revere a value system that locates its elite members on top of the heap; and by “mystifying” your conditioning so that its parameters appear holy and questioning them becomes strictly tabu, your masters spellbind you into mistaking your chains for artistic worth—for “beauty”.

If this sounds exactly like the hoodwinking our educational gurus are trying to work upon the upcoming generation, we shouldn’t be surprised.  An integral part of the mud-dweller’s m.o. is to project the ugliest impulses of his own soul upon that surrounding world which he strives constantly to condemn as inferior.  The snobby elitism, the abuse of power, the intolerance of open exchanges, and the magnification of a self-serving design to the authenticity of religious revelation all belong to the Playbook of Dead Souls.  There can be no more classic case of the Pot calling the Kettle black.

As a result, I have for several years now taught senior-level English majors—within months of receiving their degree—who cannot read a classical text like the Iliad without inveighing against how women are carried off as chattels, or one like the Odyssey without harping on the hero’s detainment by Circe and Calypso as if he were whoring in Las Vegas.  To them, Euripides’ Medea slays her two sons because of post-partum depression, or because male-dominated society has left her no other options.  As a teacher, I should say that I fail more than half the time ever to convince them that the mythic backdrop of such narratives puts them closer to symbolic commentaries about the human psyche than to social histories.  Our latest graduates don’t understand how there may be a “Medea side” in all of us: too tribal, too passionate, too irrational.  This ancient text and every other are all about men versus women: that’s as far as most of them can go.

Or else they instantly, almost reflexively (thanks again to their academic conditioning) see a Marxist class struggle unfolding.  I was at considerable pains last month to sell a class on the notion that clannish cultures do NOT have an autocratic ruler atop a steep pyramid and masses of slaving peasants beneath—that such stratification occurs only with the rise of complex settlements, as certain people abandon herding or tilling to learn martial arts and protect the community.  And while class struggles are by no means invisible in, say, the Odyssey (whose hero spends much of the epic disguised as an abused beggar), I’m uncomfortable with a student of literature’s retreating immediately to that level of interpretation as the right and only one.  Odysseus is not leading some kind of Marxist revolution.  If anything, he’s showing us that humility and awareness of others are increasingly esteemed virtues in a society where lions and floods are no longer the only kind of existential threat.

Where do students learn to apply such hermeneutical hacksaws to great books?  Why, from their “mentors”, of course!  Only look at the “cutting-edge” publications in a literary database: this same level of severely reductive thought is on display in all the “best” journals.

In my view, we need to know much about a distant work’s cultural environment precisely so that we may filter out those practices that keep us from the common humanity of its creators.  I’m not sure that I will ever quite understand what induced the Aztecs to cut the pumping hearts out of young girls in hideous human sacrifice… but I’m willing to keep trying.  And, yes, it’s grotesque that Achilles should have bestowed his love upon a woman whom he carried off as plunder after murdering her husband and family; but not only was this an unfortunate custom of the times—it is very likely intended by Homer as an ironic indication of how tragically cut off from normal human exchange the shamanic superhero is.  Can we really not get beyond the wounded feelings of the twenty-first century coed who has “sexual harassment” ringing through her head like a persistent migraine?

The squirrels in my back yard have destroyed my apricot harvest for years.  They start when the fruits are green and bitter, taking one bite and then throwing the rest away.  It continues until the tree is bare, usually before a single apricot has actually turned golden.  That’s the Ivory Tower: that’s the “engaged” mud-dweller who sits deeply where he is and slings grime at anyone who won’t stop and jump in.  It’s a world without beauty—a world without spiritual fruition: a mere hall of mirrors whose occupants can see nothing but themselves.

Where Dusk Turns Night: The Moral Putrefaction That Infects Utopianism

In recent weeks, I have thought more and more about what I can only call the “spiritual vector”.  It seems that we are surrounded by so very many people telling us that they are so very good and we so very naughty or depraved… they want to throw open our borders to the poor while we Scrooges want only to hoard our wealth, they want to collect and melt down all firearms while we sadists want only for more children to die in school shootings, they want to liberate women and finance the health care and education of minorities while we patriarchalists want only to keep women pregnant in the kitchen and minorities scrubbing toilets and mowing lawns.  We’re bad, so bad… and they are so very good—oh, is even Heaven worthy of them?

This level of hypocrisy has gnawed away at many of us for years, and even decades.  The open-borders multiculturalist professor who gripes incessantly because his students write poor English and his research on Mycenaean tholos tombs is underfunded… the gun-banning crusader for innocent lives who considers the murder of an unborn child tantamount to wart-removal and turns abusive if the word “baby” appears… the woman-and-minority rights advocate who insists that all the sisters must abjectly “vote their genitals” and that all people of color are genetically too unpromising to make their own way… the list’s could grow by dozens with a moment’s reflection.  If Heaven is populated by such whited sepulchers, I’ll take the other place.

Only in the past few weeks, however, has it occurred to me that something significantly directional distinguishes the humble person of faith from the fire-eating utopian.  Faith draws the spirit outward in constant efforts of clarification and qualification—a challenging, intimate struggle with surrounding realities; theatrical self-righteousness draws everything inward like a black hole to orbit a narcissistic core.  The believer finds and expresses his individuality by channeling his conviction through daily opportunities that exact compromises or require courageous declarations; the spiritual poseur strikes an inflexible posture, as before a mirror (or, these days, a lens framing a “selfie”), and demands that reality arrange itself into appropriate background.  Guns, for instance, must be categorically hideous things whose complete abolition is the only morally tenable stance.  If their use were nuanced (as, say, in the defense of children from psychopaths), then our Saint would not show forth with such éclat.  Resistance to the minimum wage can only be processed as overt racism and class warfare.  If the real-life economic catastrophe posed to blue-collar workers by such thoughtless rigidity were weighed, this would-be personification of society’s moral conscience would have no prancing charger from whose saddle to strike a Napoleonic pose.

In its most elemental form, we see here the wicked delirium of playing God.  The utopian seeks to recreate the human universe just as he would like it to be—just in the fashion that puts him, with his superior moral lights, securely at the summit, handing down laws to Moses and the children, thundering away when he is disobeyed.

A sincere believer is probably distressed that guns exist—but he recognizes an overriding interest in preserving through deadly force the lives of innocents, who must not be left exposed to the mercies of a lunatic ready to harvest them with the joy of a wanton grump whacking down roses with his cane.  For that matter, the believer understands that objects in wild nature, though not endowed with free will, should not be destroyed merely to create an amusement park or a speedier bypass; for the soul profits from acknowledging its partnership with the rest of creation and from sensing the imaginative outpouring that we call aesthetic perception.  To ruin things that stir us just to put more cash in our pockets or to save our lazy bodies five minutes of walking is ignoble and degrading.  A lot of self-styled believers spend too little time reflecting upon this.

But is our Saint Utopian any better off?  I saw two unrelated documentaries last month that portrayed the same shocking variety of self-absorption in different venues.  In one case, protesters were insisting (in the streets and at well-funded conferences) that lions, rhinos, and elephants must be allowed to roam free throughout Africa.  In their incalculable ignorance, they obviously did not know that such creatures would starve themselves into oblivion in their already imbalanced ecosystem if not managed—and, of course, there was no detectable awareness of the stresses placed upon the continent’s burgeoning human population.  In the second case, an equal ignorance was fueling a vigorous lobbying effort to let mustangs range free throughout the American Southwest.  Yet mustang numbers are already so excessive that mass starvations occur regularly, while dozens of plant and other animal species are also imperiled by locust-like over-grazing.

Doesn’t matter.  These zealots have their full reward when they pack up their placards to retreat to Olive Garden in the evening or repair to the hotel bar after the day’s final conference paper.  They are better than you and I: more caring, more animated, more “woke”.  The very animals or people on whose behalf they make endless noise (as others of us work for a living) will likely suffer further—if not die—should their protests effect “meaningful change”.  None of that matters.  The mission is, and always was, to establish their moral superiority.  Mission accomplished.

At some point, naive souls foolishly misled into this maelstrom of egotism must either lose their innocence or paddle out of the whirlpool upon recognizing it as a death trap.  At some point, error morphs into evil.  A person whose life is dedicated to a kind of perpetual “selfie” is a corrupt being from whom no good can be expected.  I could float several theories about why such beings are among us today in such abundance.  Perhaps the electronic lifestyle itself is largely at fault, drawing us deeper into the service of mere appearance—the utterly artificial existence of the supporting actor tossing on something from the wardrobe chest and mouthing a few cliché lines.  Or perhaps the steady accumulation of our sins—our history of hook-ups, abortions, slanders, betrayals, and cowardly flights—has left us (certain ones among us) suffering from so severe a self-respect deficit that we crave an instant and constant infusion of moral superiority.  In this, of course, we only mire ourselves more profoundly in moral squalor.

I grieve for our sick society.  I pity the gullible fools who flirt with lapse into real and abiding wickedness.  I wish I could warn the away from the radioactive company of “God-substitutes” who declare that their own heads are tingling with brave new worlds—and that everyone and everything in the real world must be made to comply if “happiness” is ever to come.  Milton’s Satan is brimming with just such visionary futurism when he looks about Hell and decides that the furniture can be pleasantly rearranged.

We need to recognize this pernicious influence for what it is and mount an effective resistance to it, or else the victims of extermination may include more than equids and pachyderms.


Suicide: Dark Goddess of a Youthful Cult?

I learned yesterday that one of my favorite students had committed suicide.  As far as I knew, she had continued on from her Bachelor’s to a graduate program.  I don’t think she managed to be admitted into the university of first choice, but she had settled into a program that would prepare her to be a professional editor.  She seemed to “have it together”.  While I was aware that she suffered from severe insomnia and was on medication, I had supposed that the problem had been brought under control.  She had a boyfriend of whom she spoke with much warmth, so I wouldn’t have imagined her to be agonizingly lonely and isolated.  She was not unattractive, though the average male these days would likely have been drawn neither by her looks at first glance nor by her quiet, retiring manner.

The person who broke the news to me explained that the girl was bipolar, as if that accounted for everything.  My informant was almost in tears, and I’m certainly not criticizing her individually; but I’m a little vexed when someone hands down the bipolar diagnosis as being sufficient reason for tragedies like this.  We can resist, we can fight—all of us can.  A genetic or hormonal predisposition to gloom means only that some have to fight harder than others.

I couldn’t help but recall, as well, that our victim had been enrolled in that class about which I’ve written so many times—the one whose members (well, three or four of them) howled at me when I once remarked, “I guess the homework assignments drove them to suicide,” in an effort to wave away my irritation at certain frequently absent students.  I have always made clear (including when the incident happened) that I was NOT joking about suicide, but rather about the lack of commitment in this group; and I have since stressed, upon reflection, that I view the manner in which my remarks were received by the loud few as willful, wanton belligerence.  If I say, “I’m out of ammunition,” am I showing insensitivity to the school children slaughtered at Parkland?  If I say, “I’m kind of spacey today,” does someone whose sibling died of a drug overdose have a grievance against me?

But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that I was indeed joking about suicide.  Why shouldn’t I, or why shouldn’t anyone?  Why should the word “suicide” only be whispered, and always with fear and awe, as if she were some ancient goddess from the dark side like Hecate or the Erinyes?  Why should not Suicide be scorned and derided like the opportunistic, cowardly assassin that she is?  At the end of The Haunting—original version, directed by Robert Wise—Richard Johnson’s character subdues a murderous poltergeist by openly, mockingly laughing at her.  Why should not Suicide be shown the same degree of respect… which is to say, none at all?

When I was suicidal in my mid-twenties (as I, too, enjoyed the delights of graduate school), I fought my way out of the haunted house by observing to myself how melodramatic I was being, and how stupid and cowardly an exit by way of The Pit would be.  I can hear one of my detractors from two years ago right now: “Well, that’s fine for you—but it doesn’t mean that other people feel that way.”  No… and your style of “sensitivity” doesn’t mean, either, that you’ve shown more mercy or saved more lives than I have by refusing to venerate the dark goddess.  What if you have actually contributed to the problem by inducing those around you to bow before spirits from hell?  Are you so sure that you haven’t?

Personally, I am convinced that such “sensitivity” is somewhat implicated in the suicide epidemic.  Suicide has become an Event, perhaps the Ultimate Event (in a society that has no other use for the metaphysical or the supernatural).  It is the dramatic exit always accessible to people whose lives otherwise have no drama and attract no notice.  I’m not suggesting that the friend we lost last week was such a one: if her insomnia had returned, that alone may have driven her over the edge (or that and the useless medications so freely and heavily prescribed by “professionals”).  Yet even under such horrible torment, perhaps she would have held out if the shame of suicide were still prominently etched in everyone’s soul.  Feeling shame before certain acts is healthy.  It can protect us from catastrophe.  Now that we’ve decided that shame is “judgmental” and “lacks compassion”, our brothers and sisters have a diminished power of resistance which makes them easy prey for the spiritual parasites gnawing the human psyche.

But that doesn’t really matter, of course: the only thing that really matters is for you, generation of hair-trigger outrage, to make clear to the world—and yourselves—that you are morally superior beings.  Gee, what great friends you must all make! What comfort the despairing must find in you!

Rest in peace, S.B.


The Next Generation Is NOT Our Salvation

We’re in trouble… or maybe the die is already cast, in which case we’re beyond trouble and deep in the garbage dump.

Our young people, as was borne in upon me this past week, gather virtually all of their news from… not CNN, not Yahoo’s sidebars, not Facebook, but… Twitter.  Yeah.  Virtually everything they know about the world comes to them in bursts that cannot exceed 240 characters.

Either that, or they tune in to unfunny puppet shows staged by the Kimmel buffoon and whoever succeeded what’s-his-name’s mock newscast.  (Sorry… but I’ve never watched any such fare and don’t care enough about its purveyors to track down their handles.)  After all these years of hearing that the professoriate was responsible for radicalizing and lobotomizing our youth, I now realize (and I had long suspected as much) that it really ain’t so: students are too absorbed in their “smartphones” to be programmed by any professorial bloviation.  It is through the incoherent flickers of those devices, precisely, that they see and “learn” everything.

I had dismissed several classes of freshmen (or “beginning undergraduates”) for one class meeting so that they could go research a project, though I showed up at the usual place and time myself just in case some few should wish to discuss any issue informally.  Much to my satisfaction, two of my most thoughtful students were waiting in an otherwise empty room during two of these periods.  So I had two stimulating private conversations… whose lasting impression on me, nevertheless, was quite depressing.  Here is some of what I “learned”:

That all CEO’s everywhere have simply pocketed Trump’s tax breaks for businesses in the form of salary increases;

That private industry operates only to maximize short-term profit, whereas the public sector is staffed by people who are dedicated to helping humanity;

That the rightwing fear of gun legislation’s proving a slippery slope toward universal confiscation is mere paranoia, whereas the progression from gay marriage to man-boy and three-party marriages now evident in Germany can simply not be happening (though I’m the one who actually reads German, my sources must be wrong);

That the NRA is massively underwriting political resistance to new gun bans, whereas the talk of George Soros’s underwriting the race riots in Jefferson (for instance) is an utter canard;

That the NRA donated three million dollars to Marco Rubio last year (the leftist Guardian puts the figure at $4,950);

That the Second Amendment was intended only to put meat on the table back in frontier days;

That shooting a spray of bullets into a crowd is essentially the source of all our mass-murder incidents, and that well-aimed single shots are not a concern;

That, contradictorily, Britain’s ban of handguns has eliminated school shootings and should be emulated;

That Britain had a rash of such shootings before the ban;

That the machete attacks in Xinjiang province a few days ago which killed at least thirty and wounded over 130… wait a minute… say what?

I could go on.  These, I repeat, were two exceptionally intelligent young men.  You see what’s happened: not that some evil conspiracy has filled young skulls with mush, but that the accidental result of our massive shift to e-communication has bred a generation that hasn’t the patience to double-check dubious assertions and shows an insatiable appetite for prepackaged info-morsels, especially when these latter are soaked in a worldly cynicism sure to make their regurgitation sound “mature”.

For some reason which I’m at a loss to understand, my Facebook page has lately been bombarded with “friend requests” by Nigerians, Arabs, and residents south of our national border.  Am I becoming big in the Third World, I asked myself (skeptically but hopefully)?  Well, if Americans don’t want to listen to me, I’m only too happy to preach elsewhere.  Then this morning the truth (or part of it, at least) came crashing down on me.  Most of my requests come from young people—and most of these are trying to hook up with someone.  No, they’re not interested in my columns; they’re doing what my students do during class—looking for love and adventure.  And in that, too, they are utterly clueless.

My friends, I leave you with this cold gust of grim reality.  Any course we attempt to chart into the future must assume that the youngest generation of voters is held thrall by utter claptrap (e.g., the young libertarian enthusiasm for socialist Bernie Sanders).  If we save them, it will have to be done in spite of their best efforts to destroy us all.  We’ll have to hide the lifeboats somewhere… obviously, not on the Internet.


When Grief Veers Into Obscenity

Jonah Goldberg built up quite a deposit of good will with his classic book, Liberal Fascism.  In my estimation, his account is now overdrawn.  He and certain other editors of National Review have modeled a distinctly (and repellently) smug variety of political cultivation in recent years.  The journal’s founder, William F. Buckley, Jr., played the “snobby elitist” to the hilt, of course—but Buckley’s public persona was indeed something of an act.  Toward the end of his life, he typed up a personal response on letterhead to a rather importunate query letter of mine and signed it: not something I can imagine any of the New Guard doing.  In him, the elitism was genuine superiority diluted with noblesse oblige.  In this lot, the sporadic gestures toward popular culture (intended to stir a supercilious smile) conceal the blunt contempt characteristic of royalty gone a-slumming.

I began with these comments because I am going to unburden myself of some strong opinions about the Parkland adolescents who very overtly displayed coarse behavior for CNN’s delighted cameras.  In a piece published by Mr. Goldberg last Thursday, people like me are advised to consider themselves the lowest of the low for criticizing youths caught in the throes of grief.  Words were used in the column which William Buckley would never have touched, and which—once again—typify the new elitist’s tawdry bid for a moment of proletarian, pop-cultural “hip” (like Hillary Clinton’s “nothing-burger).

With no apologies to Mr. Goldberg, I contend that it is in extremely bad taste to carry on publicly as some of these teenagers have done.  True grieving happens most profoundly in private.  Soldiers like my father-in-law who saw real combat never want to talk about their experiences.  On the other hand, people who in fact were far from the line of fire and have little to mourn are the very ones who rush before an audience and fume volubly about the enemy’s wickedness, never breaking off a sentence or groping after a word.  I have seen the boy named Cameron on several clips now—his face and voice have indeed proved difficult to avoid lately—and a more eloquent Cicero is scarcely to be found in his peer group… but grief does not speak in torrents of rehearsed eloquence.  Neither does it spill its rancor on people far from the crime by drawing associations of a highly politicized nature.

As cameras rolled, the boy in question flung at a United States senator—Marco Rubio—the preposterous and insolent charge that Rubio’s mere face brought back images of a killer staring over the barrel of a gun.  Again, with no apologies to Mr. Goldberg, I will say that if this boy had seen the bore of a weapon waving in his face days earlier, he wouldn’t be around to see anything else.  (Or if he had indeed watched it weave right before him without firing, many victims could have wished that he had grabbed the thing and pointed it into the ground.)  Naturally, the extravagant claim made on behalf of his imagination’s vigor was pure hyperbole.

What exactly is going on inside of millennials?  What strange cogs and sprockets move their emotional responses?  Since when do you register grief by turning your back on the killer and forming a political lynch mob marching to the script of the world’s paparazzi?  Since when do you respond to a senator and one-time presidential candidate who comes to commiserate by verbally and (one might say) globally spitting in his face?  How does this help any parent bury a son or daughter?  Traumatized survivors have often tormented themselves with the question, “Why them and not me?” in the past.  No longer, apparently.  Now they hire an agent to book gigs on Oprah and Kimmel.

I’m going to say it, even though the Goldbergs of the world will think me a heartless swine for doing so: this conduct is boorishly childish to the point of obscenity.  Gun control has nothing whatever to do with my verdict.  I dare to say, rather, that some in this forthcoming generation—perhaps many—want a lesson in manners and common decency… and, obviously, they’re not going to get it from the “conservative” likes of Jonah Goldberg.  The pampering, apparently, will continue without end.

There’s nothing worthy of indulgence in a seventeen-year-old who, say, springs up at his mother’s funeral, curses the minister up and down, and screams, “Stop with all this religious crap!  If there were a God, I’d still have my mom!”  The outburst would be understandable, but it would remain unacceptable.  Hopefully, a father or near relative would order the child to quiet down and either seat himself or leave the building—and the order would be peremptory.  Not only do such displays selfishly deny to others a chance to absorb the loss; they also plunge those who author them into an unproductive state of mind that can only prolong their anguish.  Adults are supposed to recognize as much and to nip incidents like this in the bud—not to misidentify them as sacrosanct and nudge them to center-stage.

And the crucifixion choreographed by CNN was nothing like a church service for a child’s mother.  For pity’s sake… parents are trying to come to terms with knowing that their children will never graduate from high school. Perhaps birthday presents are lying hidden in closets that will now never be opened. Has any consideration at all been paid to the misery of these people? I know we’ve all pretty much lost our minds… but have we not even the faintest vestige of taste and decency left?


The Spirit and the Flesh: Adversarial Allies

If a man asks you for food, take him to a sandwich shop and sit with him to eat.  Don’t give him a wad of bills or a card to draw infinitely upon the food bank.  You do not serve the man in him with such charity—you stifle his humanity by making your sacrifice at the altar of the Stomach.  You proclaim that the end of life is to stay alive.  You heard the word “hungry”, but you did not hear the man who said he was hungry.

If a man tells you that his child is sick and needs medicine, take him and his child to a doctor, and buy what medicine is needed.  But do not give the man’s family endless draws upon your account to buy whatever medicine they may need at any time in the future.  Charity without a setting or boundaries is an unlimited worship of the god Health; and in serving that god, you declare that life is about nothing but health, always health.  If the child is cured for no other reason than to stay cured, then he might as well grow on a stem in a garden, like a vegetable.

And if a man comes to you saying that he is so tired of life that he yearns to end it, do not give him a free pass to an amusement park or introduce him to a wild leaf that sends the bored mind into ecstasy.  The god of Escape can keep bodies alive as well as food and medicine sometimes—but what lives is only a body.  Try your best, rather, to show the man what weariness of life teaches about life: that it ends in nothing if one sets one’s goals within its boundaries.

Charity is not about feeding the hungry, but about removing hunger as an obstacle to a higher mission.  Sickness is another obstacle—and the purpose of life is not to avoid being sick, any more than it is to avoid boredom.

We always teeter on the brink of getting this wrong, because lavishing people with food or medicine or amusement is a deed, a measurable behavior… but the spirit has no measure.  The spirit is a negative presence, we might say.  We cannot bestow it as we would a sandwich of a Z-pack.  We can only remove obstacles to it.  Saving a person from death only gives him the opportunity to live; we cannot know if he will use his opportunity well.  Refusing to fuel a lie only gives the truth an opportunity to prevail; we cannot know if that truth will bring most people to insight or despair.

Health, happiness, prosperity… they all end when life ends.  And if life ends tomorrow, then it might as well end today—at least if it is to hold nothing for us but animal satisfactions won from a body that declines to torture us.  But for a person who has found purpose in life, even bodily tortures—sickness, tedium, poverty—are a small price to pay if they are a means of the spirit’s reaching its end.  A father will live on one meal a day to feed his child.  An artist will take the money that might have kept wood in his fireplace if it will buy paint and canvas.

What kind of person are we producing in our world today—a plump vegetable immobilized in a garden, or a visionary who happily suffers privation for the sake of a higher end?  I think we all know.