Silly Stuff on a Saturday Night

How often do you think about the Roman empire?

I first saw this internet trend in the Babylon Bee, and was confused:

Man Who Hasn't Thought About The Roman Empire In Over A Week Worried He Might Be Trans


Then, I thought I'd listen to some music on YouTube and there was Brett Cooper, talking about this:

Well, now I (we) know.

So, how often do you think about the Roman empire?

Edward Gibbon comes up in my research from time to time, so once a week or so for me, I guess?

Why Should You Care?

An article at First Things has a stunning opening, then leads to a deep question.
There’s a very short and very brutal poem by the Scottish poet Hollie McNish, written in 2019 and titled “Conversation with an archaeologist”:

he said they’d found a brothel
on the dig he did last night
I asked him how they know
he sighed:
a pit of babies’ bones
a pit of newborn babies’ bones was how to spot a brothel

“It’s true, you know,” said the writer and lawyer Helen Dale when we had lunch in London last year and I mentioned this poem, which I chose as one of the epigraphs to my book The Case Against the Sexual Revolution. Helen was a classicist before she was a lawyer, and as a younger woman she had taken part in archaeological excavations of ancient Roman sites. “First you find the erotic statuary,” she went on, “and then you dig a bit more and you find the male infant skeletons.” Male, of course, because the males were of no use to the keepers of Roman brothels, whereas the female infants born to prostituted women were raised into prostitution themselves.

She of course ties this to our own addiction to abortion, a move she herself describes as "a provocation." I think there's a real division between those to whom the connection is obvious and those to whom it is a provocation. But she is not fully opposed to abortion; as she notes, she might want one herself someday. 

What she's really worried about is the end of Christianity's heritage in our moral understanding, including her own:

I’m emotionally and intellectually drawn to Christianity, and—like everyone else—I was raised in a culture suffused with fading Christian morality and symbolism. But I don’t believe, not really. 

So if you don't believe, why do you care? I mean the question sincerely: it's worthy of exploration. 

One possibility is that it's just a kind of hangover, a product of having grown up in a society that believed certain things, having rubbed up against those things until they were somewhat internalized, and now having the residue of that even though you aren't convicted. If that’s all that’s driving your moral feelings, you might as well abandon them; they were only ever an accident anyway. Nothing hangs on their passage, well, but for some lives of children.

Another possibility is that at least some of the claims of the faith are true: that there is a thing in us that longs for justice, and finds justice outraged by the killing of the innocent to serve the interests of those stronger and bigger than they are. (Even if this is not, as she suggests, 'murder,' noting that both infanticide and abortion almost could not be convicted in court in England or Scotland even while juries were all male and the society much more Christian than presently.) 

If there is something true to which you are responding, perhaps others will continue to respond. Even if you don't believe in the whole, you must at least believe some part of that to think it even matters if the morality of the public changes. 

She closes with another striking passage, which deserves mention. 

What if... we understand the Christian era as a clearing in a forest? The forest is paganism: dark, wild, vigorous, and menacing, but also magical in its way. For two thousand years, Christians pushed the forest back, with burning and hacking, but also with pruning and cultivating, creating a garden in the clearing with a view upward to heaven.

But watch as roots outstretch themselves and new shoots spring up from the ground. The patch of sky recedes. “Paganism has not needed to be reinvented,” writes Steven Smith: It never went away. “In a certain sense, the Western world has arguably always remained more pagan than Christian. In some ways Christianity has been more of a veneer than a substantial reality.””

With no one left to tend the garden, the forest is reclaiming its ground.

Paganism is also a clearing in the forest, though: we know that from the Venerable Bede, who recorded a conversation with a converting pagan on just this point. He likened the passage through life to that of a bird appearing in a fire-lit hall of an evening and flying to the other side. While it was in the hall and visible to others, it was bright and beautiful; but before it came in the hall, and after it left, nothing could be said about it at all. We knew nothing about the bird, as the pagan knows nothing about where the soul is before death or what happens after; the man is only visible for a short space. A clearing in the forest would do exactly as well in this metaphor as the fire-lit hall. 

Chesterton transformed that story into a few lines of his famous ballad, in which he characterizes the pagan's worldview even more despairingly than that.

‘For this is a heavy matter,
And the truth is cold to tell;
Do we not know, have we not heard,
The soul is like a lost bird,
The body a broken shell.

‘And a man hopes, being ignorant,
Till in white woods apart
He finds at last the lost bird dead;
And a man may still lift up his head
But never more his heart.

Chesterton wasn't quite right about that. The pagan thought of death as a return, of sorts; to the ancestors, or the land of the dead where souls wait to be reborn (perhaps, as in Valhalla, after a destructive turning that causes the whole world to be reborn). Still, a return to paganism doesn't create an escape from the problem; and the question of what, if anything, is owed to the weak and the helpless will remain. The reasons why we care about that are important. 

A More Successful Approach

As an addendum to the last, here's another young female singer whose work I have heard and do like. She has a similar problem -- her situation, in the song, is the sort of thing that might provoke rage. Yet this is not a song of rage; it's a song of joy and friendship in spite of legitimately bad conditions.

What strikes me here is that she has adopted as her frame not sex but class. Suddenly, instead of looking at the men around her as oppressors, she is able to see them as friends and allies against the way in which they are all being kept down by economic and social class features. They're all suffering, but they're suffering together, and recognizing that they can build relationships that can help them both endure the suffering and find ways to live a life you can be happy to live. 

This is one of the genuine insights the Marxists had, I think: that American institutions in some sense strive to divide us by things like race and sex because those differences can distract us from oppression by class. The institutions serve the actually privileged, who benefit from keeping those they are oppressing (and from whom they are extracting wealth and power to support their position) squabbling over things that can't be fixed.

In any case, this approach leads her to friendship across the sex divide, a comradery made up of a recognition of shared problems and shared situations. Whiskey and rum may not lead them out of the situation they are in, but at least they're not stewing in rage and misery.

An Inversion of Categories

Via Instapundit, a 'sociological law' (subject to the same limitation as all such 'laws,' which is that they are not laws if they do not apply).

I had a crack at coming up with my own sociological ‘law’ and my first effort went as follows: “The more progressive a country is when it comes to sex and gender, the more authoritarian it is when it comes to speech and language.” I was thinking of Ireland which, having legalised abortion in 2018, is about to impose the most draconian speech restrictions in Europe. I now propose a second law: “^Any group described as privileged is in fact marginalised; and any group described as marginalised is in fact privileged.’

A case in point is white men – and in particular cisgendered, heterosexual, able-bodied, middle-class white men – who are now at the bottom of the intersectional hierarchy of oppression in most professions. But to add to their misery, these poor, benighted souls have to pretend they’re at the top of that self-same pyramid if they’re to retain their jobs, apologising for their ‘privilege’ in front of their more powerful black, female, non-binary, gay and disabled colleagues.

The author is apparently British; he goes on to provide some data backing up that claim.  

Some will think I’m being deliberately provocative, so I’ll reel off some facts and figures to illustrate this point with respect to just two groups: men and women. Their relative status is the exact opposite of how it’s usually described, making it the perfect illustration of Young’s Second Law. Some of the stats about just how underprivileged men are probably won’t come as a surprise. We all know boys fare worse than girls at school, one reason 35,000 fewer 18-year-old boys will go to university this month than 18-year-old girls. We also know that men are more likely to be addicted to drugs and alcohol, account for three-quarters of all suicides and almost 90 per cent of the homeless. But did you know men make up 96.2 per cent of Britain’s prison population and are 23 times more likely to die at work than women? Research carried out by the Future Men charity found that 29 per cent of young men feel ignored, which perhaps isn’t surprising given that we have a minister for women and equalities and a women’s health ambassador, but no minister for men.

The figures are similar in the United States, where men are on the order of 90% of the (much larger) prison population, and the majority of suicides; we hear a great deal in our media about the problem of teenage girls' suicidal ideation (which is clearly undesirable) and not much about the fact that teenage males actually kill themselves more. Men are the victims of all forms of violent crime at higher rates, including rape once you include the ubiquitous rape culture of our detestable prison system and it's 90+% male population.

What strikes me often, though, is the cultural blindness attendant to all of this. I got an ad somewhere advising me to read an article about a young singer named Olivia Rodrigo -- perhaps all of you but me know who that is -- who has a new album expressing female rage against the unfair 'expectations' of her society. "The singer-songwriter says “All-American Bitch” is “sort of about that,” and is a song she’s 'very proud of.'"

It's presumptively impolite to suggest that someone's feelings aren't valid, and she has doubtless felt such things at times. Yet it should be striking that such an expression receives not disapproval, but elevation including not only an article in People magazine but purchased internet ads distributing it so far as to have it on my desk, who must be as far from the demographic who listens to her music as is possible to get within America's context. Nor is she a rare exception to a generalized hostility to 'female rage'; the Barbie movie the sociological piece begins with is a billion dollar project; the most famous singer in the world right now, I gather, is one Taylor Swift who, I also gather having not listened to her music, made her name with a series of angry songs about men generalized to men in general. Nor is this in any way new; a generation ago (when I was more likely to hear such music) Alanis Morissette also sang about how "I'm a bitch" and made millions doing it; Tori Amos, who really was a fantastic musician capable of crafting songs of great beauty, sang about almost nothing else than her rage. 

What strikes me, again, is the blindness: for decades I've been hearing this talk, and the people who are culturally aligned with it really can't see that it's not true. The world oppresses women, they repeat every  year, and it won't allow women to express rage or their true feelings. Yet every year they do so to wild acclaim and success, while living in a society in which they are practically better off by all these demonstrable metrics. 

Another one: we always hear about men being paid more per hour than women, and arguments about whether or to what degree that is true; we almost never hear about the fact that, since metrics were kept, women control about 85% of spending decisions. Whoever earns the money, women mostly decide how to spend it, and for that reason they have intense cultural and economic power. Every shopping mall in America has a store or three devoted to more-or-less exclusively female interests like boutiques or pedicure places; you have to go a long way to find a store that's about mostly or exclusively male interests. 

Women may still be full of rage, even though they now have a vast amount of power and a significant set of advantages. I suppose they must be if they keep, generation after generation, being willing to shell out such coin to celebrate expressions of their rage. I wonder, though, how much that rage could be addressed if it were possible to have a clear-eyed recognition of their privileged position in much of American and British society; or if, indeed, there is any set of facts that would resolve the rage that arises in the female experience. It may not entirely be a product of the physical facts of the situation; there may be some core of it that is permanent and eternal. 

A Tail of Chickens and Snakes

That snake was in the chicken coop this afternoon, trying to feast on eggs. The only problem he had was that the real eggs get removed every morning, so what he'd found was my wife’s fake concrete eggs that are glued down in the nesting boxes. (They're to show the hens where to lay, apparently.) 

She collected him up and put him in a sack I held for her, which we tied off and then took off the property. I had to go by the VFD to sign some training forms, so we took him over there on the motorcycles. She said she'd let him go while I went in and signed the forms.

"No," I said, "bring him in so Terry can meet him." Terry's the Fire Chief. 

"Is he afraid of snakes?" she asked.

"Reckon we'll find out shortly."

Oliver Anthony Update

Since we're on the subject of country music, that artist Douglas introduced us to a few weeks ago has had an interesting few weeks. I understand there is some concern that he might have been a put-up -- I've seen D29 voice that concern at his place -- but I really don't think so. It's an understandable concern, though: in the wake of the TEA Party movement, suddenly there were all kinds of TEA Party groups emailing you for money, backed by people like Karl Rove. The idea that this too could just be an attempt to exploit and (more importantly) control people's rage is not an unreasonable one.

That said, I've been watching him now and he looks pretty genuine to me. The fake groups were all about the money: he just canceled a show because he found out people were being charged extra to meet him, and declared that his future shows will be priced between $25 and $40. He took personal responsibility for that, too, stating that it was his fault for not having been involved enough in the contract negotiations and that he would do better in the future. 

Also, I've seen him doing interviews a couple of times, and what he tends to do when asked what he wants is pull out a Bible and start reading from it. The verses he picks aren't partisan favorites -- nothing about smiting or Sodom and Gomorrah or millstones about necks -- but verses about praying for forgiveness and healing of the nation. Another time he was asked about the fact that he was apparently mentioned at the Republican presidential debate, and he laughed and said that those guys were what his song was about

He's a young man navigating sudden fame, and all kinds of people must be coming out of the woodwork to try to tempt him. He seems to be doing as well with it as can be expected. Some mistakes are sure, and it would be easy to misinterpret them in this atmosphere of understandable concern. I think he's just an honest kid who's trying to do right, and speak the truth as he sees it. 

Congratulations, Hank

Bocephus married this weekend, to a long time friend. He had spent a year in mourning for his previous wife of some 32 years after her tragic death. Congratulations and best wishes to Mr. and Mrs. Hank Williams, Jr.

Classical Guitar in Medieval Churches

James Russell along the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route

"Beorn’s Honey Cakes"

Baking on the hearth in an iron camp stove.

Someone recently bought me a cookbook of recipes "inspired by" the world of Tolkien; I do not recommend it, unless for a young person who is learning how to cook for themselves. It is in no wise an attempt at authentic versions of the meals cooked in Tolkien's stories: their version of "Beorn's Honey Cakes" is banana-bread muffins cooked in cupcake papers. Bananas and other tropical fruits were somewhat thin on the ground near northern Mirkwood, and unlike the Elvish king Beorn enjoyed no wide trade network with which to provide himself with foods. The recipe was even worse than that: the 'honey cakes' were made with no honey! You were just to drizzle honey on top when finished. 

Now admittedly baking with honey is a little advanced, and a popular cookbook targeted at a general audience might well fall back on an easy recipe like this. I will, later, construct a genuine recipe for a Beorn-style honey cake and do a separate post about that. Today, I substituted apple sauce for the ridiculous banana, and baked it in an iron oven over (and under) wood coals.