Monday, 1 April 2013

An Easter Tale

And as Jesus was upon the cross, his disciples gathered before him and called unto him, ‘Lord, you are not alone, for we are with you.’

And Jesus replied unto them, ‘Oh come off it, you’re down there, all safe and sound, not a care in the world, while I’m up here, nailed to a cross – you’re hardly with me.’
And they spake thus, ‘Certainly, Lord, we see you have a point. But know then that from henceforth we shall remember this day as Good Friday.’

And Jesus replied unto them, ‘I’m sorry, what did you say? Good Friday? You’ll remember today as Good Friday? Exactly which part about today has been good, would you say? The flogging? The stabbing? Or perhaps the crucifixion itself – is that what you had in mind? Am I missing something here – is there something about this particular crucifixion that strikes you as especially good?!’
And his disciples replied, ‘Well ,sure, when you put it like that, Lord, we can see the day’s not been exactly ideal for you, but, well, we were sort of thinking about it from our point of view – you know, thanks to you, we’re cleansed of our sins and we’ll be going to heaven – so you see, Lord, it’s at least a reasonably good day.’

And Jesus replied unto them, ‘ You self-centred, self-absorbed, solipsistic little . . . oh forget it – sure, fine, whatever, it’s a great day, a wonderful day, actually, why not call it Fantastic Friday, I mean, why not really emphasise just what a fan-bloody-tastic day today really is . . .’
And his disciples did interrupt him, for they were sore on this point, feeling both rightly chastised and a little irritated, ‘It’s an interesting thought, Lord, but unfortunately we’ve already sent out word to everyone that the day’s to be Good Friday and so it’s a bit late. And speaking of being late, we really need to be off now – it’s dinner time.’

And so they departed hence and Jesus was alone upon the cross and he called unto God and said, ‘My Lord, why have you abandoned me?’ And the skies darkened and thunder did rumble and lightning flashed and Jesus did feel as if perhaps he had adopted the wrong tone.
And then did God speak unto Jesus, ‘For pity’s sake, would you stop your whining – you’re supposed to be the Son of God, a little dignity wouldn’t hurt, you know.’

And Jesus did reply, ‘But it really hurts up here, and there’s an itch between my shoulder blades that I can’t quite reach – funnily enough – and would you mind awfully?’
And God did reach down His mighty hand and lo, the itch was scratched. And Jesus gave thanks.

Some three days later, the disciples did enter unto the tomb into which Jesus had been placed, but Jesus was not (there) – instead, where his body had lain, was a single, dark chocolate Easter bunny, with a little jingly bell around its neck. And the disciples did take the Easter bunny and held it aloft, saying ‘Lo, a miracle, for our Father in Heaven hath taken his only Son and given us this dark chocolate Easter bunny with a little jingly bell. Amen.’

And the disciples did break the Easter bunny into little bits, although the portions were not even as it’s hard to get chocolate to break evenly, and they did give thanks and declared, ‘This is the body of Christ, who through the power of Our Father in Heaven hast become dark chocolate. Yum.’

And so it was done.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Pope Francis the Simple

With the election this week of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio to the giddy heights of Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, and Occasional Midfielder for the Vatican First XI, the Church of Rome took all manner of new and courageous steps. He is the first Jesuit - an order long considered suspicious by the Vatican for its emphasis on poverty and its refusal to have secret Swiss bank accounts - he is the first non-European to lead the church in over 1,000 years (although, God be praised, he more or less comes from Europe, so he's not altogether without culture) and he is the most simple man ever to sit on the Chair of St Peter.

Indeed, much has been made of how simple he is ever since he was named as Pope. The media has been beside itself to describe just how simple a man he is - he takes the bus, he doesn't wear the kind of bling jewellery other prelates wear, he washes people's feet. But, in breaking news, I can report a little more on just how simple a man he is. Curious to know more about this new papal father, I called up an old friend, Cardinal G. and he kindly offered to give me the inside word on this simple new Pope.

'Well, yes, it's true, he is simple,' began G., 'but if we're to be a bit more precise about things, we really ought to say that he's not just simple, but a simpleton.'

'What's that!' I cried. 'The Pope, a simpleton?'

'Yes, I mean, it's really quite simple, actually, much like the Pope. We were sitting around the big table in the Sistine Chapel, people were getting a bit scratchy because it had been over an hour since we'd last gorged oursel...I mean, had last had some bread and water, and someone, Cardinal L., I think, you know, that fool from America, said that we needed someone totally fresh, totally new, someone who could rebuild the Church's reputation which, I grant you, is a bit tatty at the minute.'

'So you went for a simpleton? That's the answer to the Church's problems?'

Pope Francis - all rather simple.

'Quite. You see, if you recall from the Book of Matthew, Christ once said, 'Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.' And so it seemed obvious, really - what we needed was a Pontiff as simple as a child. And Bergoglio was just the man, er, boy, for the job. You see, he may be 76, but he's actually got the mental ability of a four year old. Amazing, isn't it!'

'Quite,' I said, rather nonplussed by the news.

'For a while we considered getting an actual four year old, but then someone pointed out that the Tibetans had already done it with the Dalai Lama.'

'So what can we expect from this simple pope?' I enquired.

'Well, his routine will have to be a bit different - for instance, mornings will include playtime and a nap, so there won't be much papal business done then, but we think he might be able to concentrate for a half hour or so after lunch, sign a few papal bulls, that sort of thing. What's important is that people will see that the Church is good and pure and simple - I mean, obviously, the Church isn't any of those things - it's a festering sore of corruption and debauchery, thank goodness - but it will at least look like it is. We're all really thrilled.'

And there you have it, all rather simple, really.

Monday, 11 March 2013

In praise of Chandler

‘It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window.’ – Raymond Chandler

Raymond Chandler (1888-1959) was born in Chicago, but his family left that city of thieves and vagabonds when he was still too young to notice. The family settled in a nowhere town in Nebraska for a while, before Chandler’s violent and unstable father decided he’d gone right off the whole family idea and left them to it, taking with him the only thing to which he had ever made a genuine commitment – a bottle of booze. With a mother’s perspicacity, Mrs Chandler decided that there was no future for her boy in that small town, so they upped sticks again and made for England. Here they were supported by a well-to-do uncle, a Quaker who, like so many of those of that particular persuasion, combined his unwavering faith with a robust engagement with the seamier side of life (he was a lawyer). Educated at the celebrated Dulwich College, Chandler the young man gave university a miss in favour of experiencing life at first hand, imbibing deeply from the cup of culture on the Continent. Returning to England, he took English citizenship and settled down to a life of the dullest conformity as a public servant. He remained settled in this way for precisely one year. Fleeing this death-in-life existence, Chandler then began a career of many things: journalism (unsuccessfully), writing romantic verse (the folly of youth), reviewing books, stringing tennis racquets, picking fruit, and shooting at Germans in WWI. Back in the United States after the War, he married a woman eighteen years his senior, with whom he would happily spend the remainder of her days (the remainder of his days were less happy). By 1931, he had inadvertently become a senior executive, well remunerated, of an oil company. But this was to be his last moment as a man of business: his own commitment to alcohol, a related failure to turn up to work every day, his rather too forward manner with the secretaries, and his entirely unsettling habit of threatening to commit suicide led to his being let go just a year later. And so he turned to what he loved best, writing.

In Philip Marlowe, Chandler created the perfect alter ego for his own view of the circus of life. Marlowe is a man of few words, but those he speaks are like an assassin’s stiletto that pierces to the quiddity of being. He sees through the light to the darkness, while his wisdom is that of one who has suffered and expects nothing more. He drinks alone and he plays chess against dead men. And he’s surprised by nothing that people will do to themselves and to others.

His books teem with drunks and adulterers and hard men and women of the kind of beauty that makes those hard men suddenly very weak. And they teem with lines of startling originality so apt you have to pause to wonder at the genius that could create them seemingly without end. Everything is like something else, and yet like nothing else. It’s obvious once Chandler has shown it to you, but you’d never have thought of it yourself in a million years of floundering in the dark.

Those seeking to imitate Chandler face two hurdles, each as intractable as an heiress on her third martini. The first was his ability, which seemingly never ran dry, to find that perfect likeness between two things no one had ever previously thought to bring together. It’s easier enough to say the clouds look like cotton-wool, or that the tough guy who’s just walked into the bar looks like he could tear doors off hinges; it’s not so simple to see that dead men are heavier than broken hearts. And the cumulative effect of all this is to create a literary vision that hits you harder than any right-hook from the heavyweight champ.
Chandler - a sharp-eyed alcoholic.
The second problem for would-be imitators is that Chandler’s noir is not merely noir, and anyone who writes a book like that isn’t coming close to doing what Chandler was doing. The noir in Chandler is the vehicle with which he delivers the goods; it’s essential, but it’s far from everything. The goods which Chandler delivers are nothing less than his sharped-eyed alcoholic’s take on the human condition, the frailties and weaknesses and foibles and aches and lost dreams which beset anyone who breathes. But the imitators don’t see this, they see only the noir, and they think that the secret is there, that all you need is a laconic shamus chasing up dead-beats and wasters and the idle rich who have enough money to buy the time they need to be truly miserable. And so all they achieve is the weakest verisimilitude, if that (I say ‘if that’ because most can’t even fashion a reasonable simile or metaphor, so there’s not even that to commend them).

We can read Chandler merely to be entertained by the sort of intoxicating yarn with which the best storytellers have been captivating audiences since humankind began telling itself stories. And we can read him to be astonished and surprised and beguiled by his verbal dexterity. And, finally, we can read him because he tells us so vividly and humanely about life and what it means to be human, with all the concomitant suffering and failure and disappointment which that kind of being entails.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Secret New Government Initiative Announced Unintentionally

While recently attending yet another function held by the government designed to pointlessly spend taxpayers’ money, I found myself unexpectedly in deep conversation with the Minister for the Generation of Revenue. After a few glasses of the Ch√Ęteau Margaux, the Minister let slip that the government is poised to implement an initiative more cunning than the time it tried to sell Antarctica to a passing American billionaire.

'This plan,' gabbled the Minister, 'can't fail. Even we won't be able to stuff this one up!'
Indeed, so excited was the Minister there were disgusting flecks of spittle at the corners of his mouth which I was hoping he might wipe off but which he instead just played at with his tongue.
As I was no doubt aware, the Minister chortled on, Australia had recently passed a law requiring all cigarettes to be sold in plain packages.
'If the Australians are stupid enough to be first up against the tobacco companies, it's hardly our fault, is it?' he chirped. 'Still, good on them for taking it on, and at the same time opening the door to us to make a whole lot of money!'
'What's that,' I said, 'a whole lot of money? Howso?'
'Well,' the Minister giggled, 'we've just secretly created a company that will serve as a front for the New Zealand government—no one will ever know that we actually own it!—and can you guess what this company is going to produce, on the cheap, in China?'
'Houses?' I suggested, thinking it would be a real vote-winner, although I couldn't see its immediate connection to cigarettes.
'Don't be stupid,' yelped the Minister, 'who needs cheap housing? No, no, this company will produce'—and here he paused for what I think was supposed to be dramatic effect, but became instead a chance for him to belch—'lots and lots and lots of bling bling cigarette cases!'
'Cigarette cases?' I cried, 'but who can live in a cigarette case?'
An early prototype of the cigarette cases to be produced by the NZ government
'Fool, they're not for living in, they're for people to express their individuality, to say, this is me, I'm incredibly interesting and clever and creative and have lots of money and whatever! Do you think people are going to stop smoking because cigarettes come in plain brown packages? Of course not! But don't  you also think they might like to be able to choose their very own cigarette cases—they'll even be able to personalise them if they want—and they can even have one for every occasion—it can't fail!'
By this time the Minister was more or less screaming at me in his breathless excitement and it was all I could do to avoid the flying bits of voulevant hurtling from his mouth.
'Do you mean to tell me,' I said, 'that the New Zealand government's contribution to reducing smoking will be to sell personalised cigarette cases so that consumers will be able to enjoy the sweet and soothing deliciousness of their favourite tobacco while also being able to express their individuality and personal style?'

'Yes!' thundered the Minister, 'brilliant, isn't it!'

'Rather!', I said. 

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Arsenal and Cologne Cathedral

He is the studious, professorial manager of the English Premier League. His cold, steely eyes are forever weighing, calculating, analysing—nothing is missed and everything is gathered for dissection by his penetrating intellect. But he is not merely a scholar of the beautiful game, for as he paces the touchline, occasionally throwing and kicking unfortunate bottles of water, we can see, too, the frenzied passion that storms within his breast. He is Arsene Wenger and he is building something, something great, something magnificent, something that will stand forever. 'I am building something,' he recently commented to no one in particular. 'It will be great.'

And so what is this mysterious thing he is building, this thing that will be so magnificent? It is none other than an Arsenal team that will win. Something. And when it is unveiled, the waters will be stilled, no dogs will bark, no birds will sing, and the stars will shine in the daylight hours.

Doubters there are who say that the scholar's head is too far gone into the clouds, but at a recent news conference he made clear just how grounded are both his perfectly well-heeled shoes. Before a select gathering of journalists, he revealed the true magesty of his vision. 'The edifice I am constructing'—his voice was hushed as if in reverence for the awesome thing of which he spoke—'will be greater than the Tower of London, it will be greater than the Empire State Building, it will be greater even than the Cologne Cathedral.' A collective intake of breath from the assembled journalists—greater even than the cathedral at Cologne!

This historic moment, it is true, was almost tarnished when, from the back of the room, a whiny little voice piped up: 'But didn't the cathedral take over 700 years to build, Arsene?' A fearsome silence! Minutes ticked audibly by as Wenger looked over the heads of those before him, gazing into a magical future only he could see: 'Precisely,' he replied. From the back of the room came that same, whining voice: 'I don't mean to be difficult, but won't you be dead by then, Arsene?' Wenger's expression did not change, only a slight twitch just below the left eye betrayed the contempt he had for such a question: 'Yes, it is possible. Death, after all, excuses no one'—at this point his face suddenly began to look like that of the Buddha as he spoke of life's verities—'but I do not think I will be dead just then, for I feel I have a few good years left in me yet.' 'Seven hundred good years, Arsene?' 'Precisely.'

In Arsene do the Arsenal fans trust, and they have shown remarkable faith in his wisdom and his promise to build a team like nothing before seen. While other teams have seen managers come and then go, Arsene has been there steadily at Arsenal's helm, his presence as predictable as the rising of the sun, the coming in of the tide, or Arsenal's fifth (or third or fourth or sixth) place finish in the premiership. His vision is immense, his wisdom boundless, and in just 700 years he will reveal the greatest football team ever assembled. I, for one, can't wait.
Arsene's Arsenal - it really is great!

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Simple Habits of the Tide

Rose earlier than usual. At least, I think it was earlier. We don't bother with clocks here. But the sun seemed to be just setting out on its diurnal travels, so it seems a reasonable assumption. Went across to the house and put water on for coffee. Made the fire, although took longer than would normally be the case as I kept stopping to read old news in the papers I was screwing up. Not quite the same as reading breaking news, but seemingly alluring all the same - it has a charm of its own, as if it is more a fable than something that actually happened to someone somewhere. Got the fire going, consuming all the old news in the process - so easy is it to erase catastrophe, suffering, disaster - then made my coffee and sat out on the verandah. Read Sherlock Holmes and contemplated the mudflats, deserted now by the tide. It goes out, it comes in, goes out again, for all eternity, or at least until an end of days of some sort interrupts the flow. Contemplating the simple habits of the tide for too long can set a man's mind adrift, and he can't be sure of getting it back any time soon. 

The tides goes in, it goes out. Then in again. Wow.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Mother and Baby Beauty Contests

All right-thinking people were no doubt filled with lashings of rage and indignation at the sight recently of four-year-old girls parading themselves across a catwalk, attired only in bikinis. Each seemingly an aspiring Lolita, they pouted and posed and did all that any self-respecting siren would do to win the hearts of the judges, the pride of the adoring parents, and the esteem of those less attractive than themselves. Yes, I am sure, rage and indignation swelled many a breast, but perhaps this is one of those instances when our concern for the wellbeing of our children leads us only into error and confusion. So, let me, for a moment, suggest another way of thinking about this.

An early instance of a 'mother & baby' beauty contest
Why not start such beauty contests even earlier? The sooner the girls learn the true nature of this world into which they have been so rudely thrust, the better for all concerned. Indeed, I am persuaded that the competitions should begin with mothers and babies, although the babies should be at least six weeks old (not out of any concern for their welfare, mind you, but because all newborns, regardless of their sex, look like nothing so much as wizened old men for whom life has gone dreadfully wrong, and all the encomia paid by friends and family to new parents notwithstanding, most of us would rather look upon them when they have become more accustomed to being seen in public). And so mother and baby could perambulate across the catwalk and be judged according to their style and poise and whether or not either one of them screams (and if so, for how long, at what pitch, and at how many decibels). Actually, while we're at it, and in the interests of gender equity, boys too might be allowed to compete, although they would be demonstrating not their beauty, of course, but their manly strength. They could strut and flex—or try to flex—their as yet unformed muscles, too modest yet to be seen, each a little Hercules ready to take the world upon his shoulders.

In this way might children be better prepared for the rough and tumble of life, in a world quite indifferent to our better notions of fairness and our beliefs in the right of everyone to go gently through their days. In a world, as I say, not only profoundly indifferent to fairness but in which beauty and strength are assets richly rewarded with friendship, preferment, wealth and contentment, why pretend otherwise?

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Endless Government

Showing the kind of leadership which has marked his time at the helm, calmly steering the ship of state through the many Scyllas and Charybdises which have beset us of late, John Key this week announced his support for a four-year parliamentary term. This, I think, is an ingenious idea which ought to have been implemented eons ago. Given that the raison d'etre of our governments of all political hues is largely to do nothing, it makes little sense to keep chopping and changing from one party to the other, when they are both equally as good at doing nothing. We might as well extend the term over which each party can do nothing, thereby saving us considerable sums of money otherwise wasted in pointless elections, held merely to determine which party will be in charge of doing nothing for the allotted time. It will also spare us the pain we suffer every third year of the current cycle when each party hoists itself onto its collective feet to announce various initiatives that won't be implemented should they be elected.

Frankly, I get fairly giddy at just the thought of how much each party could not be doing over the course of four, rather than three, years. To put it in a manner beloved of economists, thereby making it look as if it might have a passing relationship to the actual world we live in, if x represents the amount of nothing that can be done in three years, then x + (1 x y) must equal the amount that might not be done in four years. It's astoundingly clever and the Prime Minister is to be heartily commended for his stance. Of course, there is an insistent logic underlying this which won't be ignored: surely, the very best thing to do would be to scrap elections altogether, and simply have a permanent government doing more or less nothing for the foreseeable future. Imagine the savings!

The Prime Minister finds all manner of fun things to do to while away the time.

A word, meanwhile, in passing on something the current government has done recently, which is to oversee an impressive reduction in the unemployment figures. Admittedly, this has happened, not because lots of people have found work, but because lots of people have given up looking for work, and so they no longer count as 'job-seekers'. Now, in the interests of keeping up morale, I believe the government should see here an opportunity and should actively promote to those currently unemployed the hopelessness of their situation, thereby encouraging them to join the ranks of those who have given up looking for work, in turn bringing about a further stellar reduction in the unemployment figures. On the back of these figures, New Zealand will then be able to stand proud amongst the developed nations of the world, and even those who are starving and homeless will at least be able to feel good about their contribution to making New Zealand look just that little bit better!

Friday, 18 January 2013

The Importance of a Sound Thrashing

In the wake of the beating of a policeman in a sleepy New Zealand town, a meeting of citizens was held to plot a better future. One of the concerned members was heard to say that the source of the problem was shamefully clear: 'Too many bloody do-gooders'. He elaborated on this expostulation by ruefully noting the fact that we can no longer administer a sound thrashing to our children, as happily we could in the past, and that therein lies all that is wrong with our world. And I would like to suggest he was quite correct.

We have become too soft. Our children are too mollycoddled. They are misled as to the ways of the world and have come to think that life is all about them and that it should be pleasant and enjoyable and diverting, one endless stream of good times and satisfying moments. We may think it a service that we are doing them, easing their way, forming their fragile inner selves so that they are unshakable in their faith that around each of them revolves the planets and the stars. But this is no service. It is a dreadful disservice, for all of them will—with the odd, odious exception—at some time or other come terribly a-cropper on the very sharp rocks of reality. They will learn that life is no lark, that individually they feature pretty much nowhere in the grander scheme of things, and when they do learn this, they will be very annoyed. And rightly so.

We need only look to history to see what happens when we indulge our children in this way. Gibbon was only partially correct in attributing the Roman decline to indolence and luxury. It was at least as much to do with the lax views on child-rearing, of which little note has, unfortunately, been taken (historians having decided that their careers were unlikely to be promoted by focusing on domestic concerns at the expense of invading hordes of Goths and instances of gargantuan excess and licentiousness).

So what are we to do? The first step is to ensure that every child receives a regular beating. Perhaps once a week, regardless of behaviour or attitude. This will teach them that life is not always fair and that they should respect others. In the privacy of each home, all will learn to become worthy members of their families. But it is not enough that children learn how to behave in the home. They must learn how to behave as good citizens, as members of the res publica. To this end, the state must administer, for a time at least, some particularly stringent punishments for minor offences, to teach our youngsters that putting just one foot out of line will lead to most unpleasant consequences, whereas the straight and narrow path of blind obedience will lead to the contented bearing of the virtuous. What I have in mind, therefore, is that the next child caught shop-lifting or perhaps skipping class should be shot. Or hanged. It hardly matters how the punishment is carried out, although it should be done in public. What matters is that there is a brief but unrelenting demonstration of state power, for this will soon have the children back in line.

And so it is that only by administering a regular beating will we teach children that beatings are not to be administered, and certainly not to police-officers (who alone may administer beatings as they see fit). It may seem a paradox, but then so is life. Harden up.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

In Search of the Good Times

As the world drifts increasingly into dark waters, the peoples of the world's great democracies cry out to the heavens, beseeching someone to do something to make it all safe again. Usually the someone is a politician, a leader of virtue and a beacon of hope, upon whose powerful shoulders we can place our burden and rest our fondest wishes.

But politicians today are accustomed to doing their work by doing nothing. They have graven on their hearts the mantra let it be and so they do. But when a ship is listing alarmingly to port, it is no time for the captain to be standing by and letting things be; the crew expects commands, directions, at the very least some helpful suggestions as to which ropes to pull and which sails to hoist. It is one thing to have one's hands off the tiller when the sailing is smooth, quite another when the waters are rough. And so we turn to the politicians to do something, to guide us through the rough waters to a haven, sweet and gentle. Which, all things considered, the politicians seem to find rather a dashed nuisance.

John English New Zealand House Of Representatives Meet In Wellington
John Key and Bill English chuckle at the thought that they might actually do something.

Out of dubious nostalgia and unrelenting despair, we look back to the golden age of the post-war years—the years of innocence and ease, luxury and contentment—and ask ourselves what it was that our wise leaders did then that the leaders of today are failing to do. For it is obvious, we think, that the good times came about through wisdom and forethought, sound planning and rational analysis. The notion that the good times might have been little more than a serendipitous turn for the better, jollied along by a cracking good world war, does not tend to cross the minds of most; and if it does have the temerity to do so, usually at some ungodly hour when we are most vulnerable to unsettling thoughts, we muster all our mental forces to turn it out and send it packing, for it is no use to us. Our faith in reason and the ability of our leaders to work things out, it must never waver, for it is all we have left us.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

The Whirling Dervish of Rationalism

The progress of Enlightenment is limited. It hardly reaches the suburbs. The people there are too stupid, too miserable, and too busy. There it stops.—Diderot, 1759

In Diderot’s lament, we hear the anguish of all those who have resigned themselves to the inability of Enlightenment’s illumination to push its way into the dark miasma of the dreary suburbs. And there is perhaps reasonable grounds for that resignation. However much we might take comfort in the idea of universal equality—whilst taking pleasure in observing our own humble virtue—it is a simple and rather mundane fact that there are some who know much, and some who know very little indeed, and those who know little are not well placed to judge usefully on matters of importance. This is no mark against them; it is not a question of gauging who is the better human being. It is merely a statement of the way the world is, and however much querulous, hysterical tub-thumbing some might undertake in protest, it would be as futile as protesting the despicable tyranny of gravity.
Diderot lamenting the stupid, the miserable, and the busy.
But getting bogged down in ructions of that kind is, in any event, entirely pointless, for there is another simple fact which renders Diderot’s observation redundant: the matters of real importance in this world are too far beyond our ken to be susceptible to rational solutions. It is only foolhardiness underwritten by hubris—against which the old-school conservatives such as Burke, Hayek and Oakeshott warned—that convinces us otherwise. Even if we were ourselves, in some meaningful way, rational creatures (which we are so far from being, it’s odd anyone could think it were true), we can quite rationally want a diversity of ends which would make any attempt at unity impossible. To this can be added the rationally possible diversity of means to the diversity of ends which we might rationally make use of. With but a few short, rational steps we see the multiplicity of variables already beginning to spin wildly out of control, a sort of whirling dervish of rationalism.

The true rationalist would counter that we are much mistaken if we believe there to be a multiplicity of ends. Reasons is one; to any given question, the same answer must apply, to everyone, at all times, at all places. That is the essence of rationalism. And it’s the very reason why apostles of rationalism ought never be allowed to have unfettered authority over our lives, for in its essential form, rationalism becomes authoritarianism, and it in no way eases the weight of the chains to know that they have been placed about us in a rational manner.

So what does this leave us with? It leaves us with muddling along, getting by as best we can, choosing to care or not to care, as is our wont, making our way gamely through life’s trials until those trials are done. There are no grand plans, no masterful strokes by which all is made right. There is just the inordinately complex fact of billions of lives being pursued—vigorously, timidly, fretfully, ignorantly—and each one of those lives of necessity sure of its own infinitude because the mind cannot encompass something so vast as nothingness. It may not be a vision to inspire, but the universe remains obstinately indifferent to our desires, and the steamroller of reality will flatten us all, however much we might stand in its path, frantically waving our arms in our madness and delusion.