The Pit

We are used to catalogues about the woes of modern society. The party’s over is no exception and a breeding ground for simplistic right-wing jingoistic solutions: Spare the rod…

Of course, it is all cogent. We have just as much if not more in France. In the years following World War II, there was a boom in scouting, the Glénans sailing school, the Sea Scouts and many more youth movements. Myself, I lived through the 1960’s and went along with some of the reaction against the old conservative order. My parents were convinced that I needed an education especially suited to building up the character and the ability to get on in life, to overcome the difficulties I had to live with. We all have our problems, and none can pretend not to have suffered from our own sense of disorientation.

Much of psychiatry is pure bunk and many of the medicines used for mental conditions do more harm than good. At the same time, mental illness can be very real and distressing. All too often, the cure is a change in life, in attitude and in one’s fundamental philosophy of life.

About a month ago, I had a long conversation with my father about the tendency of people to high high expectations of life and a sense of entitlement. I do believe in essential human rights to life, freedom and happiness – but with corresponding duties.

Technocratic or bureaucratic solutions to the problems of mankind… Don’t I know it! I had a car break down in England. One solution was to have me wait several days for spare parts and spend a fortune for a car that was at the end of its road. Some great guys in Yorkshire did some improvised repairs, and the car got back to France under its own power, giving up the ghost as it arrived home. I seem to have come from a background that considers things to have been built to last, only needing repairs within the capabilities of someone who has skills in woodwork and metalwork. Bureaucracy refuses the humanity of those who have to address themselves to it, for the simple reason that it is not human. Increasingly, our relations with banks are with computers, not with a human who can give sound financial advice.

I don’t know about drugs. I stopped smoking nearly nine years ago. I had occasionally taken a puff or two of cannabis in my student days. I did well to listen to the warnings of my father – never even try heroin, cocaine, LSD, etc. Nicotine was a nasty one to beat, but I know it is almost entirely psychological rather than physical addiction. Addiction as a concept of dependence against which the will is impotent is something that needs a lot of study. The solutions aren’t simplistic, but they are hardly rocket science either!

It is particularly important to do everything we can to preserve high culture. Classic FM in England is a tedious station to listen to, but it has got many people to appreciate classical, baroque and romantic music. I admire such initiatives. I don’t know about schools these days, but we learned about music, art and poetry. They were often insensitively taught by masters who seemed to lack personal interest in their subject. The problem goes back a long way.

The welfare state is a part of technocracy and bureaucracy. Vast amounts of money are squandered and we all have to pay this money for the privilege to work! Health and social security (stealth and total obscurity) have become a lumbering and inefficient monster. One thing that causes resentment with mass immigration is that immigrants seem to be getting more entitlement to state handouts than us natives. Many of us who are working have to give to richer people than ourselves!

Civil behaviour gets rarer. There are exceptions and there are still good, civil and polite people everywhere. I don’t buy the idea that we are less civil than in the 1970’s or earlier. Some people are really horrible and aggressive, and many others are as virtuous as in any “good old days”.

The ideology of political correctness, paired with technocracy and bureaucracy, will be a tough one to crack. We have to be cunning and detached, and above all critical and capable of challenging it with satire. You never challenge a problem by head-on confrontation, but by eroding it by the edges. That is the way of France, Italy and other Latin countries: everything is regulated and forbidden, but there is always a way round the problem – la combinazione! You just have to get used to it.

There are real problems in society and we all feel concerned. It is a part of our human condition to want to improve life and society. I read many different articles. Would four dozen with the lash do more to correct a delinquent than ten years in prison? I would be tempted to advocate a sharp way of dealing with delinquency and crime, but it has to be just. Prisons do more harm than good, and they are more vindictive than medicinal. Again, the bureaucratic spirit rather than freedom of judges to judge…

It is indeed tempting to want to remake the world, but we will not succeed in doing so. We do well to work on ourselves lest we be the worst hypocrites in our conservative rhetoric. We can either live with it or go and live somewhere else – but beware lest the grass be found not to be greener on the other side!

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Perceptio is of a rare subtlety in understanding many of the issues that dog us. Churches concerned with political correctness are described in Make of it what you will.

I have given a lot of thought to the issue of gender identity and the tendency some of us might entertain to want to caricature our own sex or the opposite sex. In earlier articles, I have speculated on things like androgyny: a man remains identified with his gender but enjoys assimilating feminine characteristics, whether physical or psychological or both. I intensely dislike labels and names which we are all wont to use in the way doctors typify diseases and other pathological disorders in their efforts to help the sick. We can be humans without worrying whether our image is sufficiently stereotypical of our gender or the opposite. Ideally, a human being integrates the two genders in his or her personality in that delicate balance between art, intuition, empathy and the things usually attributed to “real men”. I fail to understand the person who decides to have a surgeon alter his or her body to appear like the opposite sex, the so-called transgender or transsexual. A person thus becomes a caricature of the desired gender identity. The person remains human and enjoys the same rights to life, freedom and happiness as the rest of us. But, why single that person (with mutilated body) out for special treatment in the name of political correctness?

The more recent article Frithjof Schoun, Perennialism, and Christology is of particular interest. I have come across people of the Perennialist tendency in France and read some their works. Schoun and René Guénon felt compelled to forsake Christianity as something not viable or able to reach the deepest aspiration of the human spirit. They embraced Sufism, a mystical version of Islam, which if studied would reveal something beautiful and profound. The only thing is that I see no reason to abandon Christianity but rather the shallow and parasitical caricatures that have emerged over the centuries. Schoun and Guénon saw Christianity as emptied of its metaphysical content and replaced by shallow moralism. I agree, but would differ in believing that there is an almost unknown Christianity that has survived alongside institutional orthodox Church religion. It has never left us, but we have to seek it within ourselves, in the immanent Kingdom. This was one of the most shining intuitions of the Modernist George Tyrrell. Many eyes have been opened by the discovery shortly before our own lifetimes of the Nag Hammadi Scriptures.

A serious counter-force against modernity? By modernity, it is not so much the invention and use of technology by man but the tendency to allow his humanity to be replaced by the Machine and hyper-rationalism. It is the theme of the Romantics when they re-claimed the imagination and sensuality. Julius Evola too evoked the theme of Christianity’s impotence. There are some very unhealthy tendencies who take their inspiration from such forms of Perennialism. We find Nietzsche at the root of some of this philosophy with its determined criticism of Christianity. Evola eschewed the totalitarianisms of the twentieth century, but shared many of the themes used by Nazism to persecute those who were deemed to be of “inferior races”. We have to be careful how far down this road we go!

Our friend seems to have a clear appreciations of the excesses of Perennialism. Like Gnosticism, I could never completely assimilate a way that is fraught with many dangers to one’s spirituality and our very mental health. There are better ways to relate with modernity (hyper rationalism and anti-humanism) and keep it at arm’s length through a critical spirit. Christianity is both esoteric and exoteric. Exoterism is to Christianity what the skeleton is to the human body. We need a way to follow…

Perennialism shows a critical attitude to shallowness and the moralism of pious cant. It is the aspiration of a restless souls. Without this aspiration, we would be left only with the steamroller of modern rationalist bureaucracy. Many of us will spend our whole lives in conflict or find the way to the coniunctio oppositorum as Jung coined the notion. Perhaps this will give a clue to the reason why many of us live through a crisis of gender identity.

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Interesting Ideas – and their Limitations

For the first time in a few weeks, I have found a subject that strikes me as being of interest. There was the Semaine du Golfe when I was totally off-line. The only electricity I was using was a rechargeable lantern, a transistor radio for the news and some music on France Musique, my camera, mobile phone and VHF radio – all with low voltage batteries. Other than that, my life was dinghy cruising in the raw and meeting others on the basis of our common interest. Strangely, the conversation mostly was not about boats. I occasionally “came out” about being a priest, but not with a view to getting a person into a church – but rather share life with them.

Perhaps I have become of the same radical ways as the French worker priests of the 1940’s or Fr Guy Gilbert. Christianity is lived at several levels: contemplative, seeking to transform humanity to make empathy replace competition and seeing other people as lower elements of a food chain. There is also the vocation of some to bang the drum of a number of symbolic issues such as the family and sexual morality as a way to influence secular politics as a sine qua non to the notion of Christian witness. The latter way is shared between American traditionalist Roman Catholics, converts to Eastern Orthodoxy and fundamentalist Protestants – and with the tiny minority in France of monarchists, legitimists, Le Pen supporters and intégristes.

Could it be that the drum-banging against legal abortion and same-sex “marriage” is no longer conducive to Christian witness? There will always be fanatics and right-wing radicals, which is a fact of life. Thought is emerging about introducing a rift between Christianity and the ideology. Politics turn me off, since between conservative capitalism and state socialism, it is all about money, who exploits who.

I discovered The Benedict Option: Why the religious right is considering an all-out withdrawal from politics through Facebook, and more particularly one of our priests in America. I’m not American, so it is difficult to discern the meaning behind the words used in the title. Firstly, I wondered if it was something based on an idea promoted by Pope Benedict XVI, though it wasn’t without accident that Cardinal Ratzinger chose that name (Benedict XIV, Benedict XV or St Benedict of Nursia). My other question is knowing whether the “Christian Right” is an organisation, a movement or a tendency among certain individuals who express themselves through speech and writing. The Americans love putting names to things, even when the concept is not yet defined and mature. The article needs to be read.

The central concept seems to be one of abandoning attempts to work with secular politics and moving towards a more contemplative notion of Christian life and witness. Putting it in simple terms, you can’t stop people from doing what they want, even if sinful, but they cannot be influenced or constrained if they don’t have the faith we have. They will do what they want – we can’t stop them – but we can try to teach through example. Some can have big families, if they can afford them. Others would adopt a more contemplative life as monks or ordinary people living a marginal and “simple” life in communities (the reality of intentional communities is often fraught with problems of the cult guru or internal conflict management). The theme especially rings true to my own feelings and ideas. The kind of Christian ideal I tried to live between about 1982 to the early 1990’s, namely French traditionalist Roman Catholicism, profoundly alienated me – as did the emerging Parisian bourgeois Catholicism of the 1980’s. Does that leave me without any political ideas?

No, but I have no confidence in the existing system in the western world. Elsewhere on this earth, people are also governed by the principle that wealth and might are right. I find conservatism based on the same power struggle as state socialism. Human society cannot work at the mega-level of nations, states and anonymous bureaucracies. We seem to be going towards a kind of world socialism or private capitalism – and it spells dystopia. I am naturally pessimistic, but I have hope that something will crack and bring humanity to live at a more realistic and human level – and old Romantic dream.

The problem for me is not homosexual “marriage” (marriage being a Sacrament uniting a man and a woman) or even abortion (which is more serious since it involves the destruction of human life). The problem is one of a world becoming a “machine” that feeds on human “food”, that takes away humanity and the sublime of the human person. However, if that is the way the world is going to go, we can’t stop it any more than we can halt a hurricane or a tornado.

Since the French Revolution, churches and Christian people have tried to influence the political system with a “brick-by-brick” approach. This is certainly why easily identifiable issues are targeted, like the homosexual agenda, human life and the family. The world becomes less and less Christian. Why not let it go? It seems a selfish idea to live in a world like Nazi Germany and dig ourselves into a hole. Eventually, we would be found and sent to a concentration camp, and our only witness would be offering our lives in the gas chambers and cremation ovens.

Christianity began in the catacombs, divided internally as well as persecuted from the outside (Jewish establishment, Roman Empire, etc.). Much is said about the Constantinian Church, that as power and money were given to the clerical structures, and the Church became like the Temple of Jerusalem between the end of the Second Exile to the time of Christ, Christianity became less a matter of personal gnosis and transfiguration but of domination of the world in the name of moral principles.

I see America sliding towards the pessimistic realism of us Europeans. Maybe things are on the horizon to resist the drift towards world socialism. I have always been interested in the idea of micro-societies based on monastic concepts adapted for lay people and secular (married) priests. Benedictine monasticism of the sixth century resumed earlier monastic ideals and rules of life to produce something that would be a viable alternative to the crumbling of mainstream society leaving a “dark age”. Parallels between the fall of the Roman Empire and our own times are nothing new.

… local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages…

Are there any such communities other than monasteries? There are the various charismatic communities like Le Chemin Neuf in France and any number of intentional communities whose members may be religious but the foundations of which are above all practical. They are certainly a little more “realistic” than many of the hippie communes of the 1960’s. There is the scouting community of Riaumont in northern France that does wonders with young people. None of them can get any degree of independence from the state, the bureaucracy, the increasing number of regulations and above all taxation. It becomes increasingly difficult to live off the grid, especially for organised communities – often labelled as cults to discredit them. Some communities are indeed totalitarian sects intended to enslave rather than liberate their adepts!

The ideal is wonderful, but what about the reality? What exists here and now? It seems about as elusive as western rite Orthodoxy! My immediate thought is that anyone wanting to go that way must sacrifice living in the western world. Go where? South America is largely corrupt and welcomes those with huge amounts of money. Like in our own world, you don’t get ought for now’t. Increasing amounts of the world are going under the jackboot of jihadist Islam. In the far east, we just cannot assimilate their culture. That would seem to leave small and remote islands. But, the warning is the famous book by William Golding, The Lord of the Flies. We are fallen humans, and we can sink very low. No amount of regulation can prevent that, and the Christian ideal can be a shallow veneer indeed!

I will keep my eyes open and watch for the emergence of new communities. If they exist, we know about them. A lot of thought will have to go into it and a lot of baggage will have to be left behind. It is my own dream, realised only very partially by living out in the country – but I am not farming but still doing things that maintain my dependence on the “system”. Alternative living is just as fraught with problems as living in a mainstream society that allows or compels its citizens to sin.

The article doesn’t go deep enough into the history and practical aspects of alternative living. It is easier for individuals to go and live in boats (since the sea is generally less regulated than the land), but all the consequences have to be considered. Doing away with money is a non-starter because we still need to buy things from those with the ability to make them. Where is the line drawn? Solitude usually leads to mental illness and deterioration.

I have read scenarios about what people would do after something on the scale of an economic crash, a pandemic or a world war. Most could not survive because we don’t have the skills people had only a hundred years ago. Most of the preppers are going to be in for a big surprise. You can live on a boat for a week, with money and the possibility of buying food and drinking water. Otherwise, life goers downhill very quickly. You don’t survive by buying “prepper” kits but through being able to withstand the “hard” life. Military training is an asset… If something like that happens, most of us will die from starvation, being killed by predatory gangs or from disease. The fall of society will be no picnic!

If this is the basis of the survival of Christianity, then little hope remains. Perhaps we just have to live in the system but as an invisible contemplative leaven. That also for most will be a dream, just as difficult as living the “hard” life. It will be a question of asceticism, not panem et circenses. That is the sort of asceticism we will have to live ourselves and not impose on others.

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First Sailing Videos

I now have a cheap video camera in a waterproof case.

Here are four very brief videos, the first on a day with little wind, the second and third running before a fresh wind and surfing on the swell. The fourth shows the starboard tack of a close haul in moderate wind before it started whipping up. I was sailing from Barfleur southwards towards the Pointe de Saire on the north-east corner of the Cotentin.

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Maman, les petits bateaux!

Such would be a cry of delight from a little child on discovering that there were not only ships and schooners at the Semaine du Golfe – but also little boats! Here is a video about Flotilla 2, the type of small dinghy, usually lug rigged, that can be sailed and rowed (with an optional outboard engine).

My boat is seen in a very brief flash from 21 seconds. It is identified by the blue deck and the red mainsail with a number on it.

For those who understand French, there is an interview with our flotilla captain Xavier Hubert and some nice sequences of our stopovers and festivities.

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Have Rubber Dinghy will Sail!

This photo (acknowledgement to Ronan Coquil) has just gone out on Facebook, so I thought I would reproduce it here. semaine-golfe20This was taken last Tuesday as I followed my Flotilla to the opening festivities on the Isle of Arz. Towing my inflatable tender slowed me down much less than I feared, but it was certainly needed for getting ashore when I had to moor my boat afloat. Sailing is very much like scouting. You make do with what you have and you value it. That goes for us all!

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My Semaine du Golfe in Photos

Here are the best of the photos I took with a waterproof camera. All the same, the lens needs cleaning from time to time to get rid of the salt build-up. I arrived last Sunday afternoon (10th May), rigged and launched the boat, parked my van and trailer in the designated car park and my whole existence was in the boat.

I sailed / rowed to Vannes for the completion of my registration and spent the night moored near my launching slipway. The following day, I sailed to the mouth of the Gulf to find the boats that would be in the Little Parade, but I think I was much too early. Anxious about the tide, I returned to the north of the gulf, and moored at the north of the Isle of Arz, not knowing where my Flotilla would spend that night. My answer came on Tuesday morning when I saw my flotilla mates sailing for the east and south of the island. I followed them and managed to catch up. We spent the day on this island. Sarum can be seen beached about third of the way from the left of the photo.

semaine-golfe02Finally, I found Roger Barnes, the author of the Dinghy Cruising Companion on the beach. He had spent Easter with me this year.

semaine-golfe03Here he is packing up his boat ready for the day’s sail. The tent arrangement is described in his book.

semaine-golfe04He has just pushed away from the beach and appears to be looking at something very attentively before hoisting sail.

semaine-golfe05We sailed to our next port of call, Port Anna, where we spent Tuesday night after the festivities on the Isle of Arz. The wind died and the current was to be changing before long. I graciously accepted the offer of a tow behind these kind gentlemen from Marseilles (though the boat was local). Allez, un bon pastis et un jeu de pétanque!

semaine-golfe06This is Port Anna where we moored afloat.

semaine-golfe07We set out on Wednesday for Le Logeo on the south of the gulf. The wind was fresh and gusted at about 20 knots or force 5 Beaufort. My mainsail was reefed and we close-hauled almost all the way. I cleated both sails and regulated the boat just with the helm and my weight on the gunwale. It was exhilarating!

semaine-golfe08Thursday was washed out with rain and violent winds gusting at 7-8 Beaufort. Sailing was cancelled, so we spent the day on land. There was little to do other than talk with people, shelter as best as possible and eat as necessary. Friday would take us to Port Blanc via three possible routes. We needed to stay together as a flotilla, so we had waiting points to allow the slowest to catch up. One remarkable boat Roger and I saw was what we called Le Méchant Seil, an eighteen-foot pram in wood or plywood to a François Vivier plan. They are very fast!

semaine-golfe09Here we sail with the current.

semaine-golfe10The thrill of the day was a very narrow gap through which the entire tide would flow. It was like a weir. It was perhaps a little foolish to photograph the moment of whooshing through, but it was fun all the same. Crowds of people watched us do that! As you can see, we were looked after in case of accident.

semaine-golfe11From now, it is the Grand Parade of Saturday. I had some problems getting out of Port Navalo and found myself a considerable distance behind. I caught up before being back at Port Anna.

semaine-golfe12The photo is unclear, but that bit of land is full of spectators and journalists.

semaine-golfe13Here is where I caught up, though not yet with my own flotilla. We are all kinds of boats together, and we had to watch out for the ships!

semaine-golfe14I was in butterfly position (in a dead run with the mainsail on one tack and the jib on the other). The boats off my fore quarter were sailing on a port tack before the wind.

semaine-golfe15As we approached the entry to Port Anna, the sea was full of boats, including the passenger ferries that made a terrible wake when they went at any speed. Here, it was going very slowly at about 3 knots.

semaine-golfe16Here is the famous Maison Rose of Port Anna, built in 1879. It stands out as you sail past, and the pink colour is required by the nautical authorities.

semaine-golfe17It was also a sad moment, because it was the end of the Parade, the end of the Week and time to take the boat out of the water. As I write, I can still feel the effects of a week on the water in the form of a kind of vertigo that gives me the sensation of being at sea whilst on land. It will pass, but it is very strange.

I may have some more photos as they are sent to me by those who took them and to whom I gave my e-mail address.

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