In the Land of Canaan

The painting is a depiction of the madness of city life in 1914, by Kasimir Malevich. It was or is the subject of litigation between the painter's heirs and the city of Amsterdam. Malevich in a somewhat mad way, believed that art developed regardless of human beings. I prefer Auden's bar-fly and melancholy take on things myself. These ways do all secular thoughts go....

The numbers of Korean and Irish immigrants in the United States who commit suicide in the face of the Great Recession are growing. May eternal light shine upon them, and may they rest in peace.

I think that that outcome, knowing both as I do, is an illustration of two very different things about the peoples of either end of Eurasia. Koreans tend to value hierarchy, and professional achievement profoundly, and seem strung on very taut and often electrified wires of academic progress. The Irish who leave Ireland and try for the big prizes are gamblers, but without the religion or the historical comfort of their shadowed past. As surely as any Korean in the grip of a culture of over-achievement, they are subject to tidal forces that they can't always direct themselves.

It's all quite sad, though I expect that the deaths now are the leading wave of the personal destruction to come as the recession works through. The Lancet, a respected British medical publication, has already weighed in earlier this year. It suggested a link between heart attacks, suicides and recession, but then it spoiled itself by allowing a number to be put on the figure, accompanied in good social science style by a putative solution that involved spending more public money.

It was all so avoidable. Derivatives were so complicated, the greedy could leverage themselves out of capital requirements in secret. By hiding behind commercial confidentiality, and by driving staff who wanted to be driven hard, bank bosses stretched the original collateralised mortgage device into a product whose only meaning was insane profit. This in itself would not have mattered had the west still substantially made things, and had we diversified our energy requirements. But we went on hoovering up cheap oil and exporting jobs without thinking about where it would all lead, and without thinking what a world focussed on the Indian Ocean would really be like. Then, of course, we blamed poor people for taking mortgages they were offered in America and here.

The immigrants in America, wracked with shame at not having achieved high standards contrast with those who learned the lessons taught in the west since the nineteen sixties. Go with the flow; hide in environmentalism and diversity; don't save; take up credit; worship yourself, define yourself by some physical thing; diss God. We've lived through the creation of a lumpen middle class whose desperate and growing sense that they must return to traditional values, is going to meet with failure in the new year as equity in houses, or job losses, eat at their sense of who they should be.

I've noticed, for instance, right through this decade that the thirteen percent or so of the populations of Britain and America who don't believe in God define themselves as humanists. I really should say that I have no problems with a lack of belief, and nor should anyone of true faith;
He with body waged a fight
His body won
He walks upright
Then he battled with the heart
Innocence and Peace depart
Then he battled with the mind
A conscious heart he left behind
And now his wars on God begin
At stroke of midnight
God shall win
Really though, does anyone using that term have any sense of what humanism means? It comes close, now at the end of half a millennium of brilliant tradition, to being the patrimony of the west. Do people mean Erasmus, or classical knowledge, or a sense of the mixture of proportionality and the sublime linked to the passing of things typical of the renaissance artists?
Do they heck as like. They mean worship of the self.

Worshipping the self has been sensible for the mass of the aspirant middle classes in the past decades. Fuelled by governments that have been able to take illusory wealth in tax and to provide social 'services', many but not all have been able to forget their obligations to the old. Schools have happily taught business propaganda reinforced by activist green religion to people who have been funnelled through universities that have grown like algae over the life of the mind, just as civic humanism and a real sense of other cultures has been smothered. Food has been put on plates and the apparent standard of living, in the west, has continuously risen.

And to perdition, many came. Those brave immigrants who stepped into the maw in America, and for that matter across the west, some of whom are now faced with the loss of what they thought they had. What can I say, except to cling to those things in yourself that give you some sense of the ideas in the mind of God? If that fails, there is always the comedy of the absurd recognition of one's own meaninglessness. It delivers, after all, a kind of peace. Many came before, many will afterward. That makes you more, connects you to the main, and you don't have to believe in nonsense immortalities of race or soul to gain a peace from it. Remember this, too; your bosses can not care about you. Remember this blog's old favourite, Rudi Holzapfel?
Is all that fire put out, that passion spent
On bugger all, that now I worry what the boss
May think, and how to pay the bloody rent?
So I'm the rebel digit on his loss
Account...well damn him and his cookie shop!
Can't I dream, and love, or try and treat all
Passers-by as human beings and drop
A bob from off some battered article?
I tell you, Mate, to please one poor old face,
To make it laugh again or even smile,
I'd T.N.T. their bastard commonplace
And have them running up and down the aisle.
It is not time, but give my ghost re-birth--
I'd burn away such sickness from the earth!

I cannot of course endorse such a strategy in the workplace, since it seems calculated to somewhat undermine the implied contractual term of trust and confidence vital to most employment in the private sector. I can sympathise, though.

Evil is a matter of pettiness, and of the appearance of control. Sometimes, good is a matter of surfing, and of guiding yourself through only by a moral compass, because the clash of your reason with the reality of the world leads to absurd outcomes.

Suicide is evil--and understandable-- for the same reason abortion is. It isn't that those poor souls who give in to it are bad (often they are some of the most admirable people in their strength that one could meet), but because the idea somehow convinces them that they are ending their own drama when all other power is taken away from them on their own terms. Yet the terms are almost always those of some government or social contract or corporation that cannot mandate a human route out. Such is the perversity of the rules of insurance and bankruptcy that it may even seem to make a sort of brutal economic sense, to some, to end yourself. But its awful and sad and wrong and absurd to end a world, which is what all of us are. People have been so maimed by the destruction of faith, though I realise that is partly because faith at its height imposed such inhuman badness on souls.

I keep coming back to that trinity of St Paul; Love, Hope and Faith, the greatest being love, will save us all even if we cannot see that they are reflections of our salvation in Christ.

And, of course, if all else fails, one can stamp a foot, like O Rathaille in 1721; but remember that Valentine Brown is dust and Ireland's problems are now largely her own. Time has a way of fixing things.
Darkness spreading over my age-crusted heart
As the foreign devils march through the green fields of Conn
A cloud on the western sun that was Munster's throne
Have made me a beggar before you, Valentine Brown

Cashel without company, or horses, outgrown
Brian's great palace the home of otters
The royal race of Munster left with no King
All these have made me a beggar before you, Valentine Brown

The deer defrocked of its famous grace
The foreign raven nested in the dark trees of Ross
Fish avoiding the water of pools and sunlit brooks
These have commanded me to visit you, Valentine Brown

Dar-inish in the West mourning her earl of high renown
In hamburg our exiled lord
An old grey eye weeping hard for all that is lost
have made me a beggar before you, Valentine Brown

Don't ever give in. If these words should fall beneath the eye of anyone on the edge of despair, all I can say is remember how absurd it all is and, even if you have to adapt or change course, never ever ever ever give in. Here's one of the most beautiful voices of the twentieth century just to remind you that even Roy Orbison sometimes sang uplifting songs, though you could still wallow in them. Really, isn't it a great world that can produce a voice like this?

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