No Illusions at The End of Growth
Why do the Heathen Rage, and the People Imagine a Vain Thing?
I've had an odd day, with the sort of depression and flatness behind the eyes that normally follow after strong drink, except that I didn't have any. That sad Polish air crash near the site of one of Stalin's democides made me think of how many Polish nationalists had wanted, in their desperate way, to be 'the Christ of Nations' at the early nineteenth century. In truth, they could not have done anything else, of course, since their country's material robes had been torn between the Austrians, Prussians and Russians just as its people were crucified by various tyrannies. Katherine Mansfield put the narcissism of that wish well, when, almost channelling Tolstoy's childish ego she wrote of Wyspianski;
Yours a more personal labour than the Nazarene's miracles
Yours a more forceful encounter than the Nazarene's demands
Stanislaw Wyspianski- Oh man with the name of a fighter
Across these thousands of sea-shattered miles we proclaim you;
We say, 'he is lying in Poland, and Poland thinks
he is dead;
But he gave the denial to Death- he is lying there,
The blood in his giant heart pulls red through the veins
Paderewski was a common sight on the streets of late Victorian and Edwardian London, a flame-haired testament to how close Britain and Poland have been. The Tsarists hated him, of course. I always get my Wyspianskis and Paderewskis confused--well, its easily done....
Mansfield's daft words made me think of Mohammed and the legend of the two Jesuses; Mohammed because of Michel Benoit's attempt to link him to the Nazoreans, which as far as I know is false, and the medieval idea that there was a Jesus from Bethlehem and a Yeshua from Nazareth who somehow became entangled in history. You can read the bible on a Blackberry now, and the minute you start on the gospels, after all, those sorts of curiosities can be revived. That, given the dangerous power that faith has over people, is one of the better arguments for a properly intellectual priesthood and a structure of authority.
History's entanglements and their connection to the Edwardian world popped up all around me, but of course they do on the District and Circle lines, those being the most Edwardian in style, and also occasionally in service. Going off to Baker Street or Edgware Road, you do find yourself wondering which of the wooden doors or Modernist mezzanine Paderewski or Yeats or Adam Adamant are going to wander out of.
Baker Street has tiles depicting the outline of Sherlock Holmes with a pipe on its stair walls; over these are plastered 'no smoking' signs.
The painting that I've put at the top of this post, G.F.Watts' Hope, is one of my favourites, and it inspired a good many Poles too, when Helena d'Abancourt used it in her Polish compendium of British art in 1901. It lifts my sclerotic heart to see hope plucking away on the one string that she has left there, partly because I have been--in a way less easy on the eye--more or less in that state myself on a number of occasions in my life. I've mostly been lucky; hope has won through. What more could anyone ask for?
Hope, though, is no substitute for the understanding that this world has no obvious source of cheap energy and that this, along with the deliberate suppression or destruction of both pregnancies and the education of those children who make it, is making the West a very volatile place.
My girlfriend and I had been talking about the failed, and faintly absurd 'National Teenage Pregancy Strategy' that Tony Blair launched years ago and which is probably morphing into the mad language of asbos and crasbos even as I write. Why is it that Britain looks to Scandinavia and Holland, with their high abortion rates and low population growth, as examples of how to control teenage pregnancies, I thought, and not Italy, which has as low a rate of birth as the Netherlands? Are her leaders really so stupid, or are they just products of a course laid down at the reformation which shaped the neural pathways of their society, from which they can no more escape than an elephant could become a whale? After all, the present corrupt, indebted, drunken, and sourly Protestant state of this country is not that much different from any century other than that of Empire, after 1850. It's been like this for a long time.
As I helped a woman and her pram up the stairs in Edgware Road--there was a nice neat quality to it since I'd given an old woman my arm to get out of her chair on the platform--I found myself wondering why anyone plays these silly population games at all. You don't have to read about Young Ireland or Young Poland in the past to know that now, within a decade or so, most of Europe will run out of young people to pay taxes and work, a third of Chinese men will find themselves without women, and existential or thanatic tales of how a nation can turn in a gyre and run its course between race and soul, or ape 'the Nazarene' will just be words in books.
The people earth does have--humanity seems to have given up clinging to the earth and now overwhelms it, whilst plotting its own suicide--are going to drive up food and energy demands in those parts of the earth that have neither productive nor innovative cultures in them. Meanwhile, those who have the institutional memory and the science and the culture, here and in Asia, are not reproducing and won't be able to afford the basic things that let them dream and turn those dreams into practical machines and devices. Earth is overpopulated and underpopulating. Somewhere, God is laughing at that.
And how do we respond? The nuclear weapon more or less restrains too great an explosion of war. The Japanese have their robots. What we need are more pregnancies. Of course, I volunteer to get the process started.
Two people who just don't accept that growth is over, Tony Judt and Garry Wills, rounded off the part of my day that was spent travelling home to do some video-tutorials. Judt is an old Social Democrat who presumably says prayers to the ghost of Eduard Bernstein and Wills is just someone who, in many given circumstances, should just be expected to know better. Their two most recent efforts, however, struck me as issuing from the same discontent of old men who were children of the period of cheap oil and possibility and growth, in the face of radical volatility and decline. Judt rages against the market and the emptiness of the modern world in the latest edition of the New York Review of Books here.
I sympathise, a little, with his concerns about inequality and where it leads, but when he talks of the need to redistribute a wealth that it now a largely fictional, inflated cipher for sheer brutal social power and class, I wonder where he thinks that he is going to get it from. We have built a society of strata and stony hearts, and lined it with debt. Trust is being eroded by the day. The heathen are currently raging at the church, but that's only because they have corrupted the law and the universities. These are things I know of, so I can write about them; I will hold off on my opinions about anything else.
Wills on the other hand, still recovering from a very American attempt to republicanise the Church by trashing the legatee of St Peter, has written a big book about how everything is awful because of the atomic bomb and George W.Bush. The role of the liberalism that he embraced at its high, noble point, when the junior officers of world war two broke segregation and before their selfish children broke society, presumably requires him to blame something. Wills has also revealed himself to be something of an American exceptionalist too, though.
Many American Catholics are; indeed, there is a sense in which the American heresy never really went away, partly because thinking and speaking in democratic-republican ways about catholicism was a way of assimilating. Really, though, he's met the native Americans, he knows what happened to the Declaration of Independence, and as he will note at the drop of a hat, he is a Catholic. He should know better. No human thing will ever save us from eternal recurrence; only love and hope and faith, expressed as kindness and themselves just reflections will. Reason helps us cope but it is not salvation and nor is the constitution of the united states as by law and custom amended. One day, in the long future I hope, it will be history too and about as much use as the codes of Hammurabi and Justinian. God won't.
Here's a Korean version of 'The Boxer'. I sympathise with boxers; not the dancing, quick ones, nor the grand ones, but the workhorse heavyweights who get hit time and again and who just get up and get on with things. My one demented reader will know how much I liked the Rocky films, and I guess that if you are still reading this far, you might forgive my punch drunk posting. Pray for me reader, if you pray. I have a good bit on my mind.