A Wilful Refusal To Learn

Jared Diamond once wrote that the West had achieved it's extraordinary success because it was never fully unified after Rome. Other multinational areas may have created vast Empires and zones of peace--I think that Iran and Russia have the most countries on their borders of all the countries of the earth, and the Chinese, the Moghuls and the Mauryans were almost cosmopolitan--but Europe cultivated disunity. I can understand this point. I mean by this not to convey any inflated respect for the Medieval, as is common amongst Catholics like myself. After all, we all imagine ourselves in history inside the palaces, whereas the bulk of people would have been living in ordure and dying of what are now, thanks to science, easily treatable conditions at an obscenely early age (unless they were women, in which case the likelihood is that the majority would be die of childbirth).

What I mean is that the West has, historically, had an incentive to be disputatious, expansionary and forgetful. Forgetting is one of our core strengths. Start a fight, win it, forget it. The Chinese may remember the Opium Wars, and the Middle East the Crusades, but most European peoples have barely a clue. The mechanisms which normally inculcate memory--traceable genealogy, tribalism, historical subordination, or the oral tradition of national history--are more or less lost on most of us. Truly democratic and excellent systems of education have never been the norm here. Though the Church remembers things, it has historically been in the interests of Rome to recast herself from time to time, and--from the Council of Trent to the Second Vatican Conference of the 1960s--to massage history a little, and let other things rest in the Secret Archives or the Holy Office. These are necessary things if you wish to survive, which is a core duty of the Holy See, after all.

So we forget. In the past thirty years, however, that process seems to have accelerated into something between mass stupidity and delusion on such a scale that the observer ends up wondering if some rich elite actually wanted this to happen. From top to bottom, we refuse now to remember and to think. Afghanistan is celebrating 'impossible' concerts, for instance, and 'unthinkable' gains; just like it was a couple of years ago, and a couple of years before that. Financial sages are studying a train crash, and celebrating the party in the latter carriages since only the front of the engine has gone over the cliff. Whatever excuse was given for the Libyan war last week differed from this week and will differ from the next. We stare at Japan and forget, or perhaps cannot comprehend, the hundreds and thousands of lives that are ruined. We debase science everytime someone mentions global warming.

In Britain, we ignore the insistent questions; what sort of a country is it that takes something as useful and efficient as the NHS and wants to sell it to foreigners; where members of parliament make small business almost impossible with tax regulations from which they exempt themselves; where public figures cannot tell the difference between debts and deficits, where everyone in power lies about Europe, about the voting system, about how welfare reforms will put the taxman in every bank account; where stagflation has a grip, the central bank is attempting to inflate away a vast debt, and where everyone is waiting for the economic shoe to drop?

It's a country with its head in its hands, and pods in its ears. Personally, I wonder if the education system should not just be rebooted; abolish GCSEs, reintroduce grammar schools run by the Russell Group, the Open University taking over the bottom fifty 'unis' and making them a distributed university--that sort of thing. We need to do something. People need to think more, and to rest on their own talents more. Lower, flatter taxes, more coal, more nuclear power, more mutual banks, fewer 'professionals' and more people on real jobs. Children need to be taught calculus and Latin not sex and truculent narcissism.

And we all need to wake up to the understanding that there is no money left. What there was was invented. Indeed, a good case can be made that the only liquid cash in the global boom of 1984-2005 was either skimmed from trade deficits or procured by the drug cartels, then washed through banks. We have, throughout the West, elevated a rich elite who refuse to pay taxes, and whose client media can drum up angry serfs at the drop of a hat, and then clothed them in forgetting whatever they do, whether it be stealing assets or destroying presidencies.

This has all got to stop. I am not convinced that it will, and it is almost as ferociously depressing to me that it happens as the realisation that I will either be pigeonholed as a cynic, a depressive, or a crank for pointing it all out. The image that these posts convey is not the one which I would wish. After all, I have enjoyed myself at the end of this particular Rome, I have good jobs which I love, and I have enough to be happy on, including the love of a passionate woman. I'm more than capable of standing on a station platform in the bright sun and enjoying everything, including the mixture of concrete acid and hot tarmac cinnamon that emerges from the heated stones. I just can't fail to note that no one else seems to 'get' how much later it is than they think.

Perhaps the fault is in myself; perhaps, in a lesson of the West, it is in their wilful forgetting that others will survive. There are necessary and unavoidable lessons heading this way, however, and people who hold themselves out as men and women of understanding would do well to get ready to learn.

POST SCRIPT: I do like Gerald Celente, and Max Keyser, though I know why people react as they do. On the other hand, someone certainly seems to have poked Grandpa with a stick here;


Toni said…
Martin you know you will be lambasted for such a post, I feel almost exactly the same as you and I was once part of the system. Time is running out and as some one who grew up in the eighties when nuclear war was not just a possibility but almost an inevitability it pains me to say that. Europe is a collection of nation states and the Euro never really had a chance, still it allowed the corrupt billionaires of Italy and Spain to hide their ill-gotten gains. Your own county is one that benfitted more than most, but there is always a reckoning. The Yugoslavian wars should have reminded us all that we are a collection of quite disparate states and can only be unified by a dictator. Even now, near my parents house in Spain if I chat to a local he is more likely to identify himself as a Basque rather than a Spaniard.
I am currently struggling with my faith not because of my own dire situation but I have been to the Vatican and I feel sure that, even though the church does so much good. It could do so much more. The value of art and texts in the archives is immense. Jesus would want that money spent helping the less fortunate.
Martin Meenagh said…
Oh I don't know, Toni. Would a one off liquidation do anything good, except to weaken the church, deprive it of leverage, break up the monuments to the glory of God and the pointlessness of worrying about temporal things? Selling off the Vatican to those who have earned their money badly--and few large fortunes are honest--for the respite of the poor would leave the Church alone again, in the arena, waiting for the jackals. In part too, its appearance of wealth is all that one would expect of an organisation which has been around for a very long time--a sort of compound interest of the aesthetic. Most of what it has is priceless.

I can see the beginnings of a nasty stagflation, leading into a peak oil crunch here. We could reopen the mines, but we would need some social discipline, a new political and media class, and freedom from what the European prohject has become before that happened. The other problem is that the elements of the solution are exclusive; leave Europe and it will be difficult to share the energy and protect the food; stay in, and the torrent of pointless taxes and business destroying regulations will strangle people.

We live our lives out in the cicumstances in which we find ourselves, wherever we are. Britain and Ireland still have a standard of living which is high, but the quality of life for those trapped in debt and ill equipped by the education system--commuting and overworking and living off of supermarkets--is about to rapidly decline, if it has not done so already. I used to be interested in and to enjoy politics, you know--now I can barely look at what has happened. I hold to my faith, to love and reason--and my big prayer is that I am wrong!

I'm on the Spanish beers and 'Shameless' videos later, on a night off for once. I'll raise a glass to you
Anonymous said…
Martin, you are a capitalist at heart. Lets preserve the wealth of the church because that is where it's power resides. True, but morally indefensible.

I love what you write but it's inconsistent, and sometimes extreme, albeit with a whimsical overtone.

Your cheer-leaders are oddities. Some of them are crazy advocates for hard line Catholic thinking. And then you've got Toni. A great guy. You should probably listen to him.

Martin Meenagh said…
No, I disagree Mary. The Church has a duty to bear witness for all time if necessary. The Pope must be the guardian of the deposit of the faith. The Church must survive in a fallen world, world-wide.

The combination of these things means that a few billion locked up in unrealisable wealth, which has the happy Thomist effect of reflecting liturgy and purpose in aesthetic beauty, is significant. It allows for witness against the trillions locked up in the media, the great organisations, and the forces of evil whose interest is in making us stupid, forgetful, and driven by our badness. Why deliberately hobble the church for a one-off kick that effectively relegates it for all time, or turns it into the sort of anything-goes club that Anglicanism is?

The other alternative, of course, is to run things as the Greeks do and to hope that survives; but a series of national churches demanding identity with them would accentuate the worst aspects of the west, to which I referred in the post.

The West is Christendom, with a few thin strata thrown in and an awful lot of money and badness sliding around. Christendom is the Church. The Church would get nothing for abolishing itself, its core duty would have been abandoned, and the world would recur to the debased Roman Empire the financial and political elites have always wanted back.

And anyway, how would you get those paintings off that ceiling? :D

As for the commentors on here, well, no one has ever produced a pom-pom apart from your good selfx
Anonymous said…
What is a pom pom? Is that an insult? I don't know.
Anonymous said…
Apart from my good foolish self! Such distinction. I actually managed to produce a mangled message like that on another occasion. (but I saw it before I pressed send) It happens when computer illiterates like me don't delete a previous message and the whole thing amalgamates into bunkum. It's quite shocking when you come back half an hour later and read such a scrambled few sentences. I assume you are referring to that.

Believe me Martin, I've been drunk. Totally. That was not one of those occasions. I really hope it happens to you one day! That would be funny.
Martin Meenagh said…
A pom-pom is a name (outside of Australia) for 'balls' made of strands of glitter-paper or bright textile material which are shaken and jiggled by cheerleaders so as to encourage the supporters of a sporting team to cheer. Cheerleaders are normally clean-living young women in short skirts who do athletic things on a pitch to entertain as well as encourage, though Richard Nixon was one at Whittier. Which explains a reasonable amount, I would have thought.
Anonymous said…
Actually, it raises a question. Or two. It does not explain why you brought it up. And where has my last comment gone?

Martin Meenagh said…
Illustrative films of those young women at their play can be found all across the internet, via a simple youtube search.

What a piece of worke is a woman! how Noble in
Reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving
how express and admirable! in Action, how like an Angel!
in apprehension, how like a God? the beauty of the
world, the paragon of animals;
and look at the pom poms
Martin Meenagh said…
I love the internet. Here am I, warning that it is too late, the West is gone--aided by two bottles of Windhoek, an Estrella, tiredness, and a brandy laden tiramisu--and we get into pom poms.

I'm an odd drunk. If I stick to the same thing, usually red wine, I hit my limit and go to diet coke quite quickly, but if I mix, I can be paralytic and ill quite easily. I can't drink spirits beyond rum and coke, bloody maries, and certain high-end vodkas, and I am not keen on bitters, though refreshing lagers and oyster stouts are up my alley. When I was young I could drink whisky from a bottle, but not now. Though an Isle of Jura or Islay malt is tempting, whiskey (even more true of Scotch) brings out my nasty side and I don't like it.

I don't take drugs, never have--bad for the heart, and I wouldn't really want my id unlocked in that way--and had a very bad reaction when in a room with a Vietnam vet who was on a lot of weed once, in DC, so I assume that I am one of the ten per cent or so who reacts very badly immediately to it.

But you'll have to wait. I tend to blog when hungover or with a nice red wine buzz--never when 'drunk', though I think of some of the posts then. The opportunities for going out and wassailing, given how hard I work are few these days though....
Martin Meenagh said…
Just to clear up doubt I use 'reaction' to refer to breathing it in.
Anonymous said…
Martin, you are completely barmy. Isn't it morning for you? You should not be drunk, oddly or otherwise. I am as sober as a judge. My father used to say that when he'd drunk half a bottle of whisky.

Take care. Maryxx
Anonymous said…
Ha. Another one who didn't inhale.
Anonymous said…
Good night.
Martin Meenagh said…
I stick to a good 'don't drink-blog' rule and challenge anyone to say otherwise.
My advice Martin is to keeping drinking in moderation - it surely didn't hurt Chesterton or Belloc just to name a couple of writers. As far as the Church selling its assets - I have been hearing this suggestion since I was a kid. I agree with your points about it being an institution that thank God(!)has preserved through the ages the patrimony of western civilization. Our medieval ancestors understood this point but the modernists only see its dollar value. Which proves a point that secular modernism has equated everything to its secular utility economic value which Augustine would have classified as a heresy. However, these same folks would never countenance razing and selling the property of Westminster Abbey for instance or the innumerable empty churches in London and give the proceeds to the poor and oppressed in the developing world. I would imagine a property developer - there are many unscrupulous ones who never studied history or culture - who would love to build a high rise office complex across the street from Westminster. No, it is always the Vatican that has to divest itself of historical and artistic assets for temporary 'money' that indubitably would end up in some dictator's Swiss bank account. BTW, I wrote this sober.....Peace....Patrick

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