Howling at the Sun

Please keep 2 meters’ distance between yourself and your screen while reading.

If good for anything at all, a “blog”–a word I still find impossible to hear or say without a facial souring—seems good for ranting. It bears just the sort of construction amenable to the brief, bloviating burst. Its colloquial tone, swift pace, arbitrary subject matter, and informal design, make it the ideal spittoon for the receiving of an emotional expectoration (or, if you don’t mind me translating into the French, the perfect pissoir for a passionate purgation).

Peter Hitchens writes a blog for The Daily Mail, the popular London magazine, under the somewhat generic and colourless (here we Americans are entitled to the use of that quaint, superfluous ‘u’) title, The Mail on Sunday.

He has made a proper and moral use of his platform to sound off frumpily against the post-Enlightenment-&-Reason world in which he finds his reasonable self. Since he began with his periodic column some years ago, he has been commemorating past tragedy while working to prevent tragedy’s recurrence. He has declared for peace, by disclosing candidly and unsparingly the character of war; and for freedom, by revealing no less frankly the nature of governments. You may find his conservatism a bit stiff (he simply refuses the designation “soft drug” as applied to marijuana) and his libertarianism at times somewhat soft (when it comes to war, his ultimate advice is invariable: don’t make it) while still respecting, even admiring, the fact that the principles informing those sometimes aberrant conclusions are firm.

Corona, the imperial ‘crown’

With the sharp end of his pencil raised like a rapier, he thrushes and slashes against what he terms a “war on reason”; or, in an inverse way, a recent surge of “unreason”. Specifically, during the past two years, against the government’s enaction, and the peoples’ acceptance, of what he views as feckless Corona policy: the various inanities and vapidities which we have seen evolve over its (unnecessarily prolonged) course. A flood of columns flame against the insipid and exaggerated behaviour of Her Majesty’s subjects, on the bottom end, and the martinet and illogical policy enforced by Her Majesty’s government, at the top.

While in general remaining adult and conservative (in the non-political sense), one can, with an ear against the page, just detect the breathy exasperation behind each swelling word. The comic relief induced by witnessing in real time the unreal behaviour of the fleeced herd with its blind shepherd has not softened or lessened the indignant choler and resentment which characterize the columns of the cantankerous social corrector.

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(That Hitchens–author, journalist, tele reg.– can write seriously and engagingly for what by all contours and angles appears to be my least favorite B word in English, has made me less the blushing blogger I would perhaps have been without his good example.)

In myriad, brief textual bursts, Hitchens has reminded us all of a critical societal and human point: just because a thing is frequent, widespread, and accepted by all, does not by those qualities mean that it is natural, or in any degree acceptable. To draw this point under a different shade of pencil, just because a thing is regular or habitual, in no ways denotes that it is, in the cognitive sense, normal.

Among those departments of life he lists as once normal but since warped into a weird simulacrum of themselves are: education, travel, media, and—that glorious British establishment—pubgoing. The classroom, vis-à-vis teachers, was once felt the natural habitat for students, who now  enact with their educators from a zoo-like partition; travel abroad once required scarce more than one’s personal effects and a passport; the public once had a right to congregate publicly and unmolested. The brave new world has never been so cowardly.

Hitchens begs us not to adopt such (melo)dramatic change with such banality, or so unthinkingly. It is reasonable to keep dear nana outta the gym and the pub (even if misogynistically quarantined to the snug). But the great flowing mass shouldn’t be constricted or shamed for not treating themselves and everyone alongside as if they were one collective body of the octogenarian obese with a history of illness and an infamously weak immune system.

The media, all the while, taking a role exactly opposite that which they ought, bellows the inflamed sentiments behind the crisis, while the resulting smoke prevents us from being witness and judges to the facts.

With no lower high dungeon does Hitchens rage against the pietistic posturing of what we term the “celebrity class” and literati. He is especially unkind to those snarky voices to be heard bleating on the BBC, who make a sport of shaming those who would fain appear in public in states of facial undress. (As the times dictate, if you believe in masking policy you are, of course, a docile spirit and supporter of tyranny; and if you don’t, you are a preposterous conspiracy theorist, likely with ties to white nationalism.)

Notwithstanding the interdict, some societal rakes—such as he, such as I, perhaps such as you—choose rather to decline the mouth-sleeve. This is made, by the above-mentioned voices, to seem like an act of betrayal against the species. If you show lip, you will get it. Selfish, insensate, an endangerment to everyone else–such is the general cadence of their voicings.

Science is alluded to (and oftentimes given the definite article; i.e., “the science tells us…”, thus implying the consensus behind one’s opinion). But it ain’t so definite, reminds Hitchens (for which they might consider dropping that pedagogical and cocksure tone). And to show how indefinite and, in fact, contradictory, science (namely, the the kind) can be, he proffers some experimental results and statistics of his own (not, no, based on theurgy, but on those same applied methods of trial and measurement). The takeaway is very less daunting than you would be had to believe. This leads Hitchens to compare science to a “hard mistress, which simply discards beliefs that have been overthrown by experiment.” “What the zealots have is reverence for individual scientists who happen to agree with them, a very different thing” from a reverence for science itself. He submits his own prescription: Reader, cura te ipsum.

(And as for immunizations, I, alongside Mr Hitchens, will choose, thanks very much, to inoculate my way–that is, with continued visits to the pub.)

As an Annex, Annexation

The same distaste for hyperbole and emotional overreach informs Hitchens’s writings over the martial imbroglio in Ukraine, which has afforded him fresh ground over which to curb the jingoistic enthusiasm and racialist oratory touched off by this criminal war. The line he takes is neither as straight nor as stark as you might expect of a proud and prominent member of W. Civ. In fact, he scorns those compatriots who, in wars between the brutal and the merely thuggish, invariably go in for that side—if not exactly liberal—less illiberal, forgetting the while that the country they presently view as noble in the light of something sinister, would seem sinister in the light of something truly noble. The Left used to be chastised for exhibiting a habit similar to this; that of invariably enlisting on the side of the ‘underdog’—investing all their feeling and support and focus in the ‘under,’ while opportunistically forgetting, and negligently, the canine nature of those in whom they invest it (we may example the Left’s approaches towards Israel relative to those terrorist entities operating out of Gaza or the West Bank, toward which is displayed an ignorance of convenience.)

Per this script, the present war—or invasion, or annexation; or no war, really, but a defense operation (all depending on which channel you subscribe to)—has seen the various contingents fix themselves unthinkingly on one side of an arbitrarily drawn Manichaean divide.

To blur to gray the black and white view that most people take of the current feud, Hitchens makes mention of a distasteful fact in the ugly form of Stepan Bandera (think: one Soviet man’s terrorist is another Ukrainian’s nationalist freedom fighter), and makes further mention of the fact that the Ukrainian government’s feting of that national hero tended to a provocative and unnecessary riling of the local Russian population–though he may have made even more of this by mentioning yet another fact, that of Bandera’s Nazi alliance, at first in politics and throughout in spirit, a fact, indeed, very much worth the mentioning. But what he views as an instigative poking does not, in the end, much excuse or mitigate, and only in part does it explain, the ursine reaction on the part of Moscow.

—a reaction that seemed predictable either way. The genocidal language (for to speak of a people, and then speak of the illegitimacy and erasure of their peoplehood, confirms near enough to our understanding of genocide’s implications) with which Putin taints any mention of “the” Ukraine, can now been viewed as having indicated a carnivorous intention. To question the sovereignty of something so manifest and alive as Ukrainian nationhood and patriotism is akin (I say this to the leftists) of the sort of Zionist who maintains that Palestinian nationhood is not a real entity, but rather a post British Mandate phenomenon inspired more by a rejection of the Jews than acceptance of themselves as an en bloc group; or (I say this to the rightists), on the reverse, that Israel is a post-WWII creation and Zionism but a confabulated notion. This game of telling millions of people that their self identification does not really exist is a dangerous one on every scale.

We shall not dwell on the details of his positions (you are gently encouraged to discover them for yourself). But, in the whirl of high sentiment and vague outcomes and unstable institutions and tergiversating politicians, his views remain uninfluenced. And his general feeling towards all this murky sentimentality and as regards the ‘politics of the day’ is no less decided. When he asks: can we not, please, “call off this carnival of hypocrisy?”; we are quite certain that he asks this question in the fear that it answers itself.

From Mother to Human Nature

And thus in our day we have on view both man- and nature-made calamity. The former might be the worse for its preventable aspect, though the latter is little better for its arbitrary and unnecessary prolongation.

On two fronts, then, we’d do well to keep in mind how ingrained is the tendency to hyperbole and hysteria. Orwell (don’t tell me you didn’t expect a reference) surely has a maxim somewhere encompassing this idea: guard against the warp and distortion to the social body, which can occur before society’s eyes while its mind in absorbed in a passing crisis: You might hardly recognize its face. Liberty is often vacates its place in safety’s name. (One need only look to the “redefinition of liberty” which our wayward Western cousins in Australia were so foolish as to effect during the broodier periods of COVID.) Gaia forbid we should fall for such toxic poppycock, lest such policies become permanent. We might find ourselves living in quite the bizarre new state of normal.

About the Author
American by birth; Israeli by birthright. TLVivian by residence. By the year, enough of them. Haim, namely.
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