“Dignity? How can there be dignity if we care so little for the dignity of others?”
In December 1983, it was a common thing to speculate about how similar (and different) the world was from that anticipated (proposed?) by George Orwell’s classic dystopia, 1984.
A few days ago I picked up P.D. James’ 1992 novel for the first time in 15 or 20 years and was surprised to rediscover that the first entry in Theo’s diary was for this coming Friday:
Friday 1 January 2021 Early this morning, 1 January 2021, three minutes after midnight, the last human being born on earth was killed in a pub brawl in a suburb of Buenos Aires, aged twenty-five years, two months and twelve days. . . .
I had forgotten that in The Children of Men (1992) the events all occur in 2021. The premise (no spoilers if you haven’t read it) is that human fertility declines so that no one is born after 1995. The implications are frightening, as the aging population comes to trade freedom for security (in the normal way) as it faces the coming disintegration of the social order.
Boris Johnson is not the Warden of England, and the disaster James speculated about is not upon us, but the cautions James weaves into this “hopeful dystopia” are ones we may benefit from in this, the age of the latest pandemic.
*I have no opinion about the 2006 movie, which (in any case) is set in 2027, not 2021.
If I vote for Biden, I will be complicit in abortions on a mass scale.
If I vote for Trump, I will be complicit in cementing a worldview in which the ends justify the means, power replaces truth, and thus the very truths by which we define and understand ourselves as human are at stake.
Here’s your semi-regular reminder: You don’t have to be there. You can quit Twitter and Facebook and never go back.
Alan Jacobs, “it’s time,” Snakes and Ladders (Oct. 28, 2020) [link].
but it is also the best of times:
There have been many men on the court who seemed deep and were celebrated for their scholarly musings but were essentially, as individuals and in their conception of life, immature. But this is not a child, a sentimentalist, an ideological warrior. This is a thinker who thinks about reality.
Peggy Noonan, “Everyone Has Gone Crazy in Washington,” The Wall Street Journal (Oct. 15, 2020) [link].
Sad tales are generally accepted, but when you share joy it is likely that someone somewhere might be hurt by it, especially in a year marked by such sweeping stress. We are all secretly afraid that there might not be enough happiness to go around, and that we will perpetually be that kid that gets left behind.
Sarah Willard, “Reader, I Married Him,” Blind Mule Blog (Oct. 27, 2020) [link].
and indeed, it is like all times:
And all shall be well and All manner of thing shall be well When the tongues of flames are in-folded Into the crowned knot of fire And the fire and the rose are one
T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding,” The Four Quartets [link].
It is not how we vote, or what we read, or who we support or oppose, or even how well we love. We live in a comedy, not a tragedy, for there is One to rescue us from ourselves.
There is One who does good, and the world is certainly in his hand. He will judge and he will redeem.
Christ has no body but yours, No hands, no feet on earth but yours, Yours are the eyes with which he looks Compassion on this world, Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good, Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, Yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now but yours, No hands, no feet on earth but yours, Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
It is always terribly hard to be sure exactly what happened, but it is easy to collect opinions.
Dieu a établi la prière pour communiquer à ses ceatures la dignité de la causalité. Pascal
The Bible says Sennacherib’s campaign was foiled By angels: in Herodotus it says, by mice— Innumerably nibbling all one night they toiled To eat away his bowstrings as warm wind eats ice.
But muscular archangels, I suggest, employed Seven little jaws to labour at each slender string, And by their aid, weak masters though they be, destroyed The smiling-lipped Assyrian, cruel bearded king.
No stranger that omnipotence should choose to need Small helps than great—no stranger if His action lingers Till men have prayed, and suffers their weak prayers indeed To move as very muscles in his delaying fingers,
Who, in His longanimity and love for our Small dignities, enfeebles, for a time, His power.
C.S. Lewis, “Sonnet” (Oxford Magazine, May 14, 1936) [link]
The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold, And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold; And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea, When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.
Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green, That host with their banners at sunset were seen: Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown, That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.
For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast, And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed; And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill, And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!
And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide, But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride; And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf, And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.
And there lay the rider distorted and pale, With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail: And the tents were all silent, the banners alone, The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.
And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail, And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal; And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword, Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!
Lord Byron, “The Destruction of Sennacherib” [link].
The next king was the priest of Hephaestus whose name was Sethos. He despised and had no regard for the warrior Egyptians, thinking he would never need them; besides otherwise dishonoring them, he took away the chosen lands which had been given to them, twelve fields to each man, in the reign of former kings. So when presently king Sanacharib came against Egypt, with a great force of Arabians and Assyrians, the warrior Egyptians would not march against him.
The priest, in this quandary, went into the temple shrine and there before the god’s image bitterly lamented over what he expected to suffer. Sleep came on him while he was lamenting, and it seemed to him the god stood over him and told him to take heart, that he would come to no harm encountering the power of Arabia: “I shall send you champions,” said the god.
So he trusted the vision, and together with those Egyptians who would follow him camped at Pelusium, where the road comes into Egypt; and none of the warriors would go with him, but only merchants and craftsmen and traders. Their enemies came there, too, and during the night were overrun by a horde of field mice that gnawed quivers and bows and the handles of shields, with the result that many were killed fleeing unarmed the next day.
And to this day a stone statue of the Egyptian king stands in Hephaestus’ temple, with a mouse in his hand, and an inscription to this effect:
“Look at me, and believe.”
Herodotus, Histories, II, 141, 1-6 (tr. A.D. Godley) [link].
[The Lord says] “I will shield this city [Jerusalem] and rescue it for the sake of my reputation and because of my promise to David my servant.” That very night the Lord’s messenger went out and killed 185,000 men in the Assyrian camp. When they got up early the next morning, there were all the corpses. So King Sennacherib of Assyria broke camp and went on his way. He went home and stayed in Nineveh.
In mathematics, Cromwell’s Rule represents the important concept that prior probabilities may be set arbitrarily close to zero or one, but should not be exactly so. In politics, theology and other life pursuits, a recognition of the possibility that we may be mistaken is what allows each of us to listen to others with respect.
As believers, we know well that we fall short of perfect truth in what we believe (as surely as we fall short of perfect obedience in what we do).
Let us rejoice that God does not grant his grace on the basis of our theological perfection.
The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected. Even when the revolutionist might himself repent of his revolution, the traditionalist is already defending it as part of his tradition. Thus we have two great types—the advanced person who rushes us into ruin, and the retrospective person who admires the ruins. He admires them especially by moonlight, not to say moonshine. Each new blunder of the progressive or prig becomes instantly a legend of immemorial antiquity for the snob. This is called the balance, or mutual check, in our Constitution.
G. K. Chesterton, Illustrated London News, April 19, 1924.
Some good stuff, here (review forthcoming in The Champion):
I’d seen guys in my neighborhood come back from Angola throughout my childhood. They were given the highest respect. I thought it would be an honor to go there. I chose Angola.
Writing about this time in my life is very difficult. I robbed people, scared them, threatened them, intimidated them. I stole from people who had almost nothing. My people, black people. I broke into their homes and took possessions they worked hard for; took their wallets out of their pockets. I beat people up. I was a chauvinist pig. I took advantage of people, manipulated people. I never thought about the pain I caused. I never felt the fear or despair people had around me.
Prison is prison. First you figure out the routine, which doesn’t take long because every day is the same. Then you learn the culture and how to play between the lines. The faster you do that the quicker you adjust. . . . Conditions were horrible — filthy, overcrowded, and run-down.
Nelson Mandela taught me that if you have a noble cause you are able to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. Malcolm X taught me that it doesn’t matter where you start out; what matters is where you end up. George Jackson taught me that if you’re not willing to die for what you believe in, you don’t believe in anything.
In my forties, I chose to take my pain and turn it into compassion, and not hate. Whenever I experience pain of any origin I always made a promise to myself never to do anything else to suffer the pain I was feeling at that moment. I still had moments of bitterness and anger. But by then I had the wisdom to know that bitterness and anger are destructive. I was dedicated to building things, not to tearing them down.
Albert Woodfox with Leslie George, Solitary: Unbroken by four decades in solitary confinement. My story of transformation and hope. Grove Press (2019).