Does the world seem to you, as it does to me, to be more than just a little off-kilter these days? The air is filled with histrionics, people’s heads are bouncing from one extreme to another, there are nagging portents of disaster (every time the latest disaster finishes); there is a sense that the guide rails of life have disintegrated, and violence seems to lurk in every shadow. And those are just the better days, when you can see straight. It has seemed to me for the past several years now that God has had His foot heavily on the gas pedal of history, and most of us are without seatbelts.
We sure could use some steady heads: some calm, understated, competent, and genuinely decent people to look to for their example and leadership. And I don’t mean anybody second rate. These times demand the best.
For some reason this came to my benighted mind when I was watching clips of the actor/dancer/singer Fred Astaire on the Dick Cavett show. I’ll try to explain.
There are multiple clips on YouTube of Fred Astaire being interviewed by Dick Cavett, and also performing some songs. The one I’m embedding below particularly struck me. He’s sitting in the interviewee’s chair beside Cavett, and at the point where this starts, the name of Cole Porter has come up, and—as if spontaneously, but certainly not—Fred sings the Porter song “Miss Otis Regrets,” followed by “Night and Day.” Without getting up from his chair, mind you: without going over to stand near the pianist and the rest of the band (as he does on other occasions). It may be watched and enjoyed in the clip right here, beginning at about the 2:55 mark:
For me, it truly calms the soul to watch and listen as Astaire seems to just off-handedly knock out those tunes with such grace and excellence. To do it without leaving his chair makes it seem spontaneous, but it has to be significantly harder to perform with perfect timing when the musicians are at a distance like that. And that’s the theme with Fred Astaire, throughout his incredible career (the twilight of which he was in here): making very difficult things look effortless. Astaire was known for rehearsing to a punishing degree when it came to his dancing, doing take after take of all those famous routines, so that when the audience finally saw it they saw only perfection: a man floating in poetic rhythm without a hint of strain. He could deal with the aches and pains later. There’s no question he rehearsed his songs too, and he certainly rehearsed for these performances on Cavett’s show. He would not do anything sloppily. But the aim of the rehearsal was to deliver in the end to the audience a little bit of pure magic, a seemingly casual rendition of these timeless tunes by one of the great interpreters of popular song. Famously, those great songwriters like Gershwin and Berlin loved it when Fred Astaire would be the singer to debut one of their songs; they thought he just sang them right, the weak pipes notwithstanding (and not-grandstanding either).
Listen to him being interviewed, too, and the charm and grace is there again, but without a trace of glitz. For a man who had seen so much and knew so much, and could say so much, he is utterly unassuming, even shy, with a kind and generous word for everyone. The jokes are self-effacing ones. He’s a gentleman, but one who makes everyone feel more gentle and at ease. He surely makes an all-but-ideal role model, personifying dedication, excellence, good humor and good will towards his fellow man and woman. If only he were around today, it’s impossible to imagine things would be as bad as they are. Not in a world with Fred Astaire.
So, Q.E.D.—we need to get him back. I don’t know if he should be made president or king, but making him the latter would eliminate a lot of complications. And here’s the thing: We have the technology now. With advanced biotech, AI and those new semiconductors, it can certainly be done (and all with renewable energy, I’d bet). There has to be a hairbrush with some of his DNA on it—though admittedly he didn’t have a lot of actual DNA on his head—kept by someone as a memento. There must be something. This is a project that simply has to be pursued, and I’ll post the GoFundMe link first thing tomorrow morning.
As for Dick Cavett, we don’t need to get him back, because he’s still here (at the time of writing). I don’t count myself as one of the biggest fans of his style, but you have to hand it to him: He was there, he seized his moment, and he got interviews with many of the greats who otherwise did not seem to risk such exposure on the small screen. In part, he must have communicated a certain level of safety and comfort, although once or twice he did get under someone’s skin (just ask Lester Maddox, or, um, Randy Newman). If I’m not mistaken, it’s Cavett himself essentially curating the material on the relevant YouTube channel, so now he gets to revive those glory days and profit anew from them.
It is one of the harshest responses Jesus is ever reported to have delivered to someone seeking his help; indeed, it’s arguably the only occasion recorded in the gospels where he responded to a sincere supplicant in a harsh manner. It is when, in initially rejecting her plea, he seems to compare a Gentile woman to a dog. As the old King James has it:
But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs. (Matthew 15:26)
To call someone a dog is generally understood as intending insult even in today’s super pooch-friendly Western society, but in the Middle East, and 2000 years ago, there could be no mistaking the implication. Them’s fightin’ words. Although, culturally, it wouldn’t have been so unusual for Jews of that time and place to react negatively to Gentiles, the gospels do not otherwise show Jesus comporting himself in this way. (Earlier in the same Gospel of Matthew, Jesus had answered the Roman Centurion’s plea to heal his sick servant without any hesitation.)
But what if there has long been an error or inadequacy in translation from the Greek that puts the episode in a significantly different light?
I am not a credentialed Bible scholar, but fortunately I do not come up with this all by my lonesome. Multiple important Biblical translators going back 500 years have taken the same view, as we’ll see; however, those translations have not become the dominant ones. Doubtless, also, many preachers, struggling to give a sermon on the passage, have looked more closely at the Greek for inspiration and have noted this issue for themselves and their congregants. Personally, however, I’ve never sat in a pew and heard it spoken of from the pulpit, although I’ve heard quite a few sermons on this story over my lifetime. So I think it is something that more people should be aware of, and I’d like to go at it in my own way. (It seems, in any case, that no one can stop me.)
Therefore, let’s get to the specifics. The story in question is recounted both in chapter 15 of the Gospel of Matthew and in chapter 7 of the Gospel of Mark. Jesus had traveled to the region of Tyre and Sidon and was staying in a house there.
22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.”24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
In Mark 7, the woman is described as being “a Syrophoenician by birth.” Mark also says of the house where Jesus was staying that Jesus “did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden.” The issue of translation, which relates to that word “dogs,” is common to both gospels.
To look at the Greek, one can these days utilize an interlinear translation. You can find one in a downloadable version for Windows at this link. They also provide PDFs. This is a link to Matthew 15.
You will be able to see there, in Matthew 15:26, that when Jesus speaks the fateful line about not casting the children’s bread to dogs, the word in Greek that he uses is kunariois. This is the diminutive form for dogs, and this passage (and the corresponding one in Mark 7) is the only time in the New Testament in which the diminutive form for dogs is used. Translated literally it means “little dogs;” it’s been suggested that alternative ways of rendering it would be puppies, house dogs, pets, or even, if you want to be cute, doggies.
Well! Does this not change everything? Instead of comparing the woman to a dirty and predacious beast in the street, Jesus is comparing her to a puppy or a little pet. Not exactly a compliment, I guess, but nowhere near the aggressive insult of the former translation. You could even make the case that it contains elements of affection. It also provides the Canaanite woman with her opening, because of-course where would you find these little pet dogs except under the table during meals, hoping for crumbs—and this is exactly what she expresses back to Jesus. Her answer shows her great faith, certainly; but it does not come after such a cruel put-down.
I am not a preacher, but I would speculate that this makes the story much easier to preach on. I’ve never heard anyone come up with a satisfactory answer as to why Jesus spoke so harshly in this instance. It turns out, he didn’t.
So how did this come to be mistranslated in the first place? Well, turns out, it didn’t—in the first place—if by the “first place” we consider the first time the New Testament was translated directly from the Greek text into English (as opposed to previous English renderings from the Latin Vulgate). This great task was accomplished by William Tyndale in 1525. And in translating Matthew 15 and Mark 7, Tyndale renders the word as “whelps,” a synonym for puppies. (I love the edition edited by David Daniell of Tyndale’s work, with modern spelling, a gift from my better half.)
So the first try at it got it right. One of the next major translations of the Bible into English was the Geneva Bible, which first emerged in 1560. In this case you can find it (the 1599 edition) online at Bible Gateway. Here is a link to Matthew 15; scroll down to verse 26 and there you are: whelps is the word, and the same in Mark 7.
So what happened to send it all to the dogs? Well, I’m not sure what happened, but I know when it happened, and that was in 1611. The inestimable treasure that is the King James Bible, repository of so much beautiful language, still read by millions today, and which borrowed much from Tyndale’s earlier work, instead renders the word in Matthew 15:26 and the related verses (including in Mark 7) as just plain ol’ dogs. Why? I can only assume that it is impossible now to know. (Please drop me a line if you are more knowledgeable.) However, the overwhelming dominance of the King James, and its influence on later translations, basically put paid to the poor little puppies.
Still, if that was some kind of sin, there exists something of a story of redemption. The only English translation in anything like popular use today which renders the words in Matthew 15 and Mark 7 as “little dogs” instead of “dogs” is none other than the New King James Version (NKJV), first published in 1982 (and not to be confused with the 21st Century King James Version). As for the Revised Standard, the New Revised Standard, the English Standard, the New American Standard, the New International, and the (Catholic) New American versions: all of these, and more—just dogs.
An honorable mention must be given to Young’s Literal Translation, of 1898, which lives up to its name, translating the Greek literally as “little dogs.”
So far we’ve focused on the Bibles of reformers and Protestants, but our dogged pursuit of the matter cannot leave out the Roman Catholic Church. And I think this is quite interesting. In the fourth century (Saint) Jerome translated the Hebrew and Greek scriptures into Latin. This became the Latin Vulgate, and was the definitive Bible text of the Western church for centuries. How did Jerome handle the issue, translating from Greek to Latin? You can find his Mark 7 at this link. When Jesus speaks, the word is rendered as “canibus,” or dogs; when the woman replies, the word is rendered as “catelli,” or whelps. The same is true for Matthew 15. You could say Jerome split the difference; but, then, there wasn’t really a difference to split, in the Greek. I guess he just liked it that way. Yet it leaves Jesus using the harsher word, and that after all is the key point which has made the story unnecessarily difficult.
The Douay-Rheims was at first a Roman Catholic translation from the Latin Vulgate to English in the 16th century, but apparently it then went through multiple substantial revisions without changing its name. The 1899 American Edition is accessible via Bible Gateway, and it does follow the Vulgate on the question at hand. In Matthew 15, Jesus says dogs, and the woman says whelps.
The American Roman Catholic Confraternity Version (my mother’s old copy having the Imprimatur of Francis Cardinal Spellman in 1961) dispenses entirely with the whelps, and has both Jesus and the woman, in both Mark 7 and Matthew 15, speaking only of dogs. The current Roman Catholic New American Bible, as noted earlier, does the same.
So, why? Why any of it? Well, we can’t go back and ask those long dead translators for their reasoning. We can, however, and more relevantly, wonder why modern and indeed contemporary translators have not corrected the text (outside of the NKJV folks).
What is certainly true with regard to new Bible translations is that the the notion of correction is often relative. One man’s correction is another man’s destruction or vandalism. That has to be one of the main reasons why we have so many competing translations in English these days. Where is the line drawn?
In this case, I submit that the line should be drawn with those poor, long-neglected little dogs, by including them in. I believe it would have the triple advantage of being more accurate, more beautiful and more edifying.
Compare it, for example, to another instance, where a “correction” has been made in most translations, but it arguably does not satisfy the above criteria. (And there are undoubtedly many more such.)
Who—Christian or otherwise—has not heard the phrase, “[i]n my father’s house are many mansions”? This is a line that is referenced in vast swathes of English literature, and frequently invoked to this day, whether in a strictly religious context or simply as a matter of allusion.
From chapter 14 of the Gospel of John, the second verse, the King James Version (and likewise how Tyndale had rendered it):
In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
It seems to me that what makes these words so very memorable and powerful is exactly the incongruity of having mansions contained within a house. Mansions themselves are very big houses, no? But Jesus is talking about the house of God here, and what He has waiting for us therein. It fires the imagination, and has fueled countless encouraging, eloquent and fortifying sermons over the centuries, as well as innumerable hymns.
But is it actually an accurate rendering of the Greek text, and in particular for modern readers? Harrumph. The modern translators don’t seem to think so. As early as the Revised Standard Version of 1946, it had been changed to rooms. “In my Father’s house are many rooms.” Other translators say “dwelling places.” Phooey! I know it’s the same fundamental point, but it’s been stripped of its poetry, and to what end? What has been gained, versus what has been lost?
And certainly, if that kind of strictness is going to be applied in cases where so much is lost in the name of gaining some supposed superior accuracy, then how much more should it be applied in the case of the little dogs of Matthew 15 and Mark 7, who are neither hurting anyone nor robbing the world of its poetry, but are merely waiting, tails humbly wagging, to receive our crumbs?
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In loving memory of all of those good dogs, both the little and the large.
I personally made the above image of the crossed-out robot to symbolize “AI Free Zone,” in order to stick it on my website. It took me days. Shucks, using AI, it probably would have taken mere seconds. But then that would have defeated the purpose. (And try explaining that to a robot.)
For years we’ve been hearing about the steady approach of the age of artificial intelligence. It sounded to me like dystopian sci-fi but I was too busy listening to old Bing Crosby LPs to spend any real time worrying. I bet the same goes for you. Then, whoops, I go look at Twitter and everyone’s talking about ChatGPT, which has come out of the “OpenAI” project (and it turns out that project is not so “open” anymore). In this and other incarnations AI is coming online but fast and it’s a highly commercial proposition. It’s about ready to do your job, supply your news, buy your house and play pretty melodies of its own composition on a banjo while you retire to another realm entirely.
You haven’t heard as much about it as you should have in the mainstream press, but then, by the time you read this, AI itself might be writing all those stories about the Trump indictment and the price of eggs, and supplying evidentiary photos and videos to boot. One of the things we’re going to have get used to most quickly is that AI does not merely have the ability to generate false news (on an unutterably massive scale) but because this ability exists it will be increasingly hard to persuade any critical mass of people (remember them?) of the undeniable truth of any actual news. And you thought it was hard enough already to keep track of which conspiracy theories have come true, which ones will come true in six months, and which ones will take another couple of years to mature. The existence of AI will demand a much larger set of file folders to separate each day’s mis-information, dis-information, mal-information, and that rare but potential actual plain old information. The good news is that AI can print all the necessary labels for you.
Do you want to listen to music composed by AI, or read stories and poetry written by a machine, no matter how seemingly beautiful and compelling? I don’t. I think the very concept has a strong scent of evil about it. Yet, I’m fully anticipating that anyone who thinks like me will very soon be regarded much like a member of some primitive tribe in the wilderness who thinks that having his photo taken steals his soul.
But advanced computerization is not really the problem. It can achieve amazingly good things, like new medicines and more evocative emojis. The problem is to whose service the technology is ultimately devoted. Is it for average Joes? Well, it’s not an auspicious time to be born as an average human being. Populations have been in decline in many societies across the globe, and this extinction syndrome is spreading. Notwithstanding this, humans continue to be under attack at the beginning of their lives, with abortion, and at the later stages, with euthanasia, and increasingly at points in-between, with judgments being made about the worthiness of the lives of people afflicted with any kind of suffering that defies easy cure.
And since multiple generations of schoolchildren have been taught that humans are responsible for world-ending global warming, many self-identifying homo-sapiens are inclined to believe that the universe would be better off without us.
Enter artificial intelligence, which promises to be able to do many of the things that used to be the sole bailiwick of the human animal, and the average Joe and Jill are soon going to be wondering what they’re even here for. They won’t be the only ones wondering. AI becomes the latest tool which the powerful possess to corral the regular folk into being controllable citizens.
Somebody once wrote:
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)
That was some pretty good stuff someone came up with, before the computer, before the typewriter, before the ballpoint pen, before paper. That notion of the human being having been made in the image of God has been a touchstone; it has not made this world perfect, but it has been invoked countless times to reverse great injustice and horrible cruelty. Even if you’re an atheist, you need some rationale that asserts a special sanctity to human life, or else everything becomes utilitarian, and people are valued only for what they can do, instead of simply for what they are.
Artificial intelligence is going to test such notions to an extent they’ve never been tested. And it’s screaming into the station at about 200 miles per hour. The only thing the techies seem to agree on is that the engine has no brakes. And they built it!
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But never fear. Anytime you need a goofy little article by a flawed piece of flesh and blood on music, occasionally one about a book or a movie, maybe with a bit of topical commentary, and a good indigestible swirl of half-baked philosophizing, this human will be somewhere in the vicinity of this website writing one (or at least thinking about it).
That is, until my plug gets pulled, by AI, or the real Big Guy—whichever comes first.
In New York City a few days ago, a deranged and homeless 61-year-old man pushed a 40-year-old woman directly into the path of an arriving subway train, causing her immediate death. It’s far from an unprecedented crime, and the New York news has been filled with disturbing events for some time now, but this was one of those incidents that rises above the stream and engages people’s sense of horror for a little more than the typical 10 minutes. The woman was by all accounts an exceptionally lovely and decent person, and one who actually did voluntary work on behalf of the homeless. The man pushed her in front of the train without warning and for no reason at all. Later he publicly confessed the crime, shouting to reporters, “Yes I did. I’m God, I can do it.”
It’s a haunting statement, even from a lunatic, because we can actually understand his logic. “I’m God”—I possess the power of life and of death. That woman was alive, with friends, family, energies, affections, things to do, a future; he just gave her a quick push and now she no longer exists in the material realm. He delivered death, to be sure. Unlike God, however, he does not have the power to give life. That’s where his logic breaks down. He can neither create life where none is manifested nor resurrect what once was living. Dishing out random death is a cheap and evil imitation of God. But it does get people’s attention. This man should have been receiving compassion and help—in the form of mandatory treatment as needed—as should countless other broken human beings wandering the streets of New York City and similar places. Allowing them the right to horribly degrade and destroy themselves in full public view is not compassionate, as if that should even need to be said; and yet this society is so off the rails that it does need to be said.
Nevertheless, that statement of his—“I’m God, I can do it”—has been lingering in my mind, and it has seemed to me that he is far from alone in that aspect of his derangement. There are a lot of mad things going on in the world. And two particular afflictions which have descended upon us in very recent years can both be seen to be springing from extremely arrogant and ham-handed attempts to take the place of God.
The first, I would suggest, is the COVID-19 virus, and its associated global dislocations. When it first emerged in Wuhan, the desperate attempts at cover-up undertaken by the Chinese regime were strong evidence that it had escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where it was well known that they were experimenting with coronaviruses. At this point—over two years later—the continued refusal of the Chinese regime to release all of their data, along with the total global failure to identify a natural origin, make it a lead-pipe cinch that it did indeed come from that laboratory. If the Chinese regime could provide strong evidence to the contrary, they would assuredly have done so by now. The conclusion by U.S. intelligence agencies (who have unlimited resources!) some months ago that they couldn’t come to a conclusion on the origin of Covid-19—because the Chinese weren’t being open enough!—is laughable to the point of obscenity, and is alone reason to burn those organizations to the ground and build something superior in their place.
Yet for everything that has happened due to COVID—five and half million deaths and counting, the disruption of every aspect of human activity—there remains a stunning lack of interest in identifying the true cause of the disaster and taking action to prevent a repeat of something similar or even worse. We fight amongst ourselves about masks and lockdowns and vaccine mandates, and meanwhile as far as we know there are continuing experiments being done in China (and other places) on dangerous viruses, to enhance their transmissibility and lethality. It is as if we just accept that this is OK. Or, at least, it’s probably OK; it just doesn’t rise to the level of real concern. Time is much better spent yelling at each other about masks. Well, maybe it is OK: maybe that experiment that went wrong has been worth all of the deaths, the suffering, the damage to societies all over the world. After all, the smart people seem to think so. In 2012, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the United States anticipated such a turn of events and said it would be worth it. Addressing the risks of gain-of-function viral research, he said:
In an unlikely but conceivable turn of events, what if that scientist becomes infected with the virus, which leads to an outbreak and ultimately triggers a pandemic? Many ask reasonable questions: given the possibility of such a scenario – however remote – should the initial experiments have been performed and/or published in the first place, and what were the processes involved in this decision?
Scientists working in this field might say – as indeed I have said – that the benefits of such experiments and the resulting knowledge outweigh the risks. It is more likely that a pandemic would occur in nature, and the need to stay ahead of such a threat is a primary reason for performing an experiment that might appear to be risky.
However, there’s no evidence that this pandemic came from nature, despite the continued attempts to obfuscate by the Chinese regime and others who have an incalculable stake in evading blame. So it seems the wrong bet was placed. The consequences of this kind of experimentation going awry have now been felt, and are continuing to be felt and to multiply. Should we not be asking, and very, very loudly: Was it worth it? And what can we do to prevent it happening again?
Yet other than a precious few, those in a position of responsibility in our societies don’t seem to be asking these crucial questions at all, and the rest of us in the seething masses seem satisfied enough to continue being consumed with our distractions. The man who made that statement in 2012 about how it would all be worth it is currently the Chief Medical Advisor to the President of the United States, and someone we all know very well from listening to his advice these past two years about how to protect ourselves from this escaped gain-of-function experiment.
To summarize: the rationale for doing work that some would simply call evil on its face—fiddling in a lab with viruses to deliberately make them more contagious and more deadly—was that it was scientifically necessary in order to “stay ahead” of a similar virus appearing in nature. But how “ahead” were we, for all this experimentation, when COVID-19 did emerge? Two years into it, the best U.S. and global medical scientists are still utterly failing to come up with a way to end the pandemic and its associated miseries. And since it’s all but certain it didn’t come from nature, we can add that scientists have also failed to come with a way of stopping the very menace that scientists themselves created in a laboratory.
Simply put, this is unacceptable. These gain of function experiments which have cost the world so much constitute a clear example of recklessly and stupidly playing at being God. They create new and lethal pathogens which no one can prove that nature would ever generate on its own. Yet, instead of outrage, it is as if a fog has descended on everyone’s mind. We argue and brawl on the sidelines while the architects of the disaster supply us with brickbats to use against one another. Why are people so far unwilling to rise up and demand a certain end to this horrific research, in China and anywhere else it may occur, and for accountability from those who created and (we can only assume) accidentally released COVID-19?
One reason, I’d suggest, is that science itself is today held up as something to revere, and never to question. Yet science is merely a method of acquiring knowledge through experimentation, and through trial and error. It is a tool: an effective one, but one which has no consciousness of its own. Science as such possesses no inherent rightness or morality or concern. It is up to us to impose and expect those things of those who use the tool, i.e., those who practice science. As with any tool, it can be used for good or for evil. You can worship science if you like—and it seems many do—but you would be just as well off in worshiping a rock. Just like the rock, science as such has no knowledge of you, and has no salvific quality in and of itself. The rock can fall and crush you and it will never know or care. It is exactly the same with science. And scientists who believe themselves to be qualified to operate on a God-like level are deeply wrong and they are among the most dangerous people on Earth today.
This fallen world possesses countless diseases already. Science should not be put to work in devising new, Frankenstein viruses that no one can understand or control. It is appallingly arrogant and plainly evil to do so. How about devoting those brains and resources instead to creating broad spectrum medicines, therapeutics and treatments aimed at making people well? That, God knows, is the proper business of scientists.
The second example of an affliction of very recent years that I’d suggest has sprung from a false sense of being God is the amazingly successful movement to abolish the concept of biological sex. The idea that maleness and femaleness are simply social constructs has been around for a long time, of-course, brought up intermittently by lovable kooks. But the lovable kooks have turned into therapists, doctors, teachers, administrators, bureaucrats, lawmakers, judges, and much more. This doesn’t make the abolition of biological sex any more sensible or based upon fact. A denial of reality on that scale, for an individual or a society, can only end in catastrophe. We are already seeing the blowback in terms of an increasing number of those who “transitioned” since the hysteria began on this subject seeking “de-transitioning,” but the abuse inflicted upon their bodies and minds by ready and willing medical professionals will never be completely undone.
There used to be a line you’d hear—I’m sure it’s out of fashion now—that goes something like: “God doesn’t make mistakes.” There are variations. “God don’t make no junk.” But lucky us: we’ve moved on from all that kind of thinking now. Another mantra used to be, “Love yourself.” Also there was the idea of demanding others to “accept me as I am.” All of these concepts can be abused, but they all are getting at a fundamental truth. You are neither born useless nor broken. Everyone is precious and has a purpose and worth in the eyes of his or her Creator, and should likewise be valued by others. When it comes to sex, there have always been girls or women who favored more “masculine” styles or pursuits, just as there have always been boys or men who have inclined towards the “effeminate.” This is not even to talk of sexual behavior, which is, after all, another subject; this is simply about personality and identity. There’s nothing wrong with being a butchy female or a flamboyant guy, or anything along the spectrum. There never has been anything wrong with it. People get made fun of, naturally, especially as schoolchildren, but it’s the people making fun who are in the wrong.
Or at least that’s how decent people used to think. We’ve forgotten all that now. Now, being a somewhat masculine female or a slightly feminine male is something that is all wrong; in fact it’s something that needs to be fixed. You need surgery, hormones: you need to shape up! Chop off the breasts, slice up the genitals, get the silicone, swallow the chemicals: get right, get happy! Now kids are being raised to look in the mirror—even as toddlers!—and question if they’re in the right body or not. (And I thought childhood in the 1970s was hard.) This is all so utterly crazy and cruel that no amount of browbeating and politically correct intimidation should ever force anyone to accept that it is in any way right.
Life is very properly a journey in finding out both who you are and who you want to be, but this is in a holistic and especially a spiritual sense. Allowing your body to be mutilated by unscrupulous quacks in the name of “fixing” some mistake allegedly made by your Creator is not a path to happiness, but rather an exercise in self-hatred. People, and children most of all, should not be encouraged to hate themselves. They need to be encouraged to hold themselves in high regard, despite the inevitable confusions that are part of growing up. And they need—what’s that word?—oh yeah, love.
The other notion in vogue—that people can simply call themselves by any gender or invented gender they like regardless of their biological reality—is obviously even more absurd, although at least bodies aren’t wrecked by it if it goes no further. But compelling others to use patently false pronouns and other deceitful language is an assault on truth that seriously impoverishes and demeans us all.
At the root of these problems, again, is a failure to acknowledge the role of God, and to instead take it upon oneself, or to be taught that one needs to take it upon oneself. But we didn’t create ourselves, and taking knives and chemicals to supposedly make our bodies match our identities is like trying to use a hammer to bang a snowflake into a better shape. It is destruction and not creation. Those who are at the present time successfully selling this hideous lie to helpless children ought to rethink it, or failing that, find themselves some millstones and a sea to swallow them up.
In all of the above, and much more besides, things seem so wrong these days. But in the long-term, the terrible conceit inherent in presuming oneself to be God and acting accordingly always brings its punishment upon itself, and a correction occurs. As someone once sang, “There’s a law, there’s an arm, there’s a hand.”
Of-course what one longs for is an ultimate correction, so we can’t make the same mistakes over and over again.
That, I guess, is still somewhere beyond the horizon.
“The person will get into the capsule and lie down. It’s very comfortable.”So says Philip Nitschke, he of the organization Exit International, which has developed a device called the Sarco. It is a lovely, blue, pod-shaped machine. You get in, get comfortable, answer a few questions on a computer screen, and then press a button which causes the interior of the device to be flooded with nitrogen gas. Within 30 seconds you’re expected to be even more comfortable—if unconsciousness equates to comfort—and in 5-10 minutes you can look forward to being dead as a doornail. Luxurious indeed!
It has reportedly passed legal review in Switzerland and could go into operation in 2022. You’ll be able to have it delivered to your home, or some idyllic pastoral setting, or even—the better to reduce transportation costs—right beside your pre-dug grave. After all, it seems sensible to make the whole thing as easy as possible. Back to Philip:
Currently [in Switzerland] a doctor or doctors need to be involved to prescribe the sodium pentobarbital and to confirm the person’s mental capacity. We want to remove any kind of psychiatric review from the process and allow the individual to control the method themselves.
It’s a wonderful world, and getting more so every day, it seems. Just for fun, I wonder if someone might start up a competing service. In this case, someone would come to your house, but without having to carry the blue Sarco suicide pod with them. They wouldn’t have to bring anything. They come in, sit beside you, and talk to you. And they listen to you, to anything you want to say, about your suffering and your hopelessness. When they do speak, it is to remind you of the immeasurable value of seeing the sun rise on another day, of breathing in the air, and of your own incalculable worth as a human being. They get to know you, and to know the things that encourage you and move you. They return regularly, and help you squeeze every drop of value from the remaining days of your precious life. In so doing, they also reap a rich reward and are themselves immeasurably improved.
But, let’s face it, that’s all quite a bit of effort. Better the blue pod: no muss, no fuss—just the nitrogen, please!
The practice of euthanasia has for some time been spreading in the Western world. This is at the same time as birth rates (and not only in the Western world) have been shrinking well below replacement level, making the extinction of particular nations and cultures something that is coming down the track with the steadiness of a freight train. As this syndrome seems to affect societies more intensely as they become more affluent, it may well turn out to be the final solution for the whole human race. Imagine!
Activists devoutly fight for the right to die, and the right of others to kill themselves without compassionate interference. And at the other end of things, activists passionately fight for the right to eliminate babies in the womb before they can take a breath for themselves or see the sun rise even once, and all this even as the population is headed for catastrophic aging and decline.
What is the source of this kind of unnatural hopelessness that is afflicting entire societies? Is it only short-term comfort and convenience that matter? Is there no higher purpose? If so, then what’s really the point? Why not just put in an order for the lovely blue pod right now? Skip whatever suffering remains; avoid those repetitive trials and obstacles. All in all, it’s most likely better not to have been born (as in the recent court decision in the UK).
“[G]et into the capsule and lie down. It’s very comfortable.” So goes a civilization. No dramatic climate catastrophes or nuclear conflagrations required. What a relief!
Yet, I just wonder if that last person, right after pushing the button for the nitrogen, will for a fleeting moment recall a flash of—oh, say something along the lines of Deuteronomy 30:19, and experience one nanosecond of terrible regret.
For all the wokeness going around, we truly need to wake up, and with unseemly haste.
Yet one more appreciation of the great Leonard Cohen, this one from yours truly at First Things:
Leonard Cohen was a Canadian, but he was the poet laureate of another nation: a nation of souls by turns sensitive, lost, alienated, ecstatic, bitter—souls seeking truth through the fog of modernity. Cohen was one of those rock-era poets (and arguably the only genuine poet among them) who sounded like he knew something of the utmost importance, even as he spent most of his time sidestepping … (click here for the rest)
Do you believe that looking at yourself in the mirror makes you smart? Do you tend to presume that other people whom you see looking into mirrors must therefore be very smart? You may fail to see the connection between mirror-gazing and intelligence—let alone wisdom—but there’s a school of scientific thought that employs it as a yardstick in judging the intelligence of animals. Coming across this idea recently (not for the first time) made me decide, in consultation with my dog, that it was time to clear it up once and for all.
The theory goes something like this: Chimpanzees can be coaxed to examine themselves in the mirror. They can identify odd things put by scientists on their faces as being on their faces, and can even be seduced into playing around with make-up, hats and funny glasses. It has yet to be proven but perhaps—given sufficient patience and the right equipment—they can eventually come to enjoy such rewarding pastimes as injecting themselves with botox or collagen. Scientists tell us that this all proves that they are self-aware, just like human beings (self-awareness being understood as “the ability to recognize oneself as an individual separate from the environment and other individuals”).
Dogs, by contrast, commonly ignore their reflections in mirrors.
Dogs, by contrast, commonly ignore their reflections in mirrors. So, we are told, they lack self-awareness, and this puts them on a lower rung of intelligence as compared to chimps or any other creature that can recognize and be fascinated by its own image in the looking-glass.
Yet, merely by observing my own little dog and making logical inferences based on her behavior, I am convinced that this is the boldest nonsense.
Let’s consider how dogs can be observed to deal in general with two-dimensional images of living beings. Anyone who’s owned a dog will likely have observed these things, but I’ll talk about my own dog, a small female mutt named Billie. Like many owners, I directed her attention to a mirror for the first time when she was quite young — still in puppyhood. And she reacted as most dogs will on first looking into a mirror: she seemed to think she was seeing another dog, and struck a playful stance as she would with most real dogs. She lost interest pretty quickly in the dog in the mirror, however, and trying to attract her attention to her reflection in mirrors on subsequent occasions fell flat. Pointing to her image in a mirror would at best make her sniff the exact spot I pointed to, as if there might be something good or edible there. You would think from her behavior that her own image was completely invisible to her, for all the attention she paid to it.
At the same time, like many dogs, she has proven capable of recognizing images of animals on a television screen. She will pay attention to a nice nature show with good images of interesting animals for several minutes (before falling asleep). On a few occasions she has approached the screen to sniff at especially exciting animals. So it’s quite clear that she recognizes the animals as being animals and on some level wonders as to their reality. She has also reacted with evident interest (signified by perked up ears and close visual attention) to still images of, for example, the face of a wolf or of a cat or even of a person she knows. She therefore has no great difficulty in recognizing what such two-dimensional images represent. (She has no interest in images of rocks or buildings or other inanimate things.)
The inescapable answer is that she does recognize it, and recognizes it as being herself, and for that very reason considers it to be of no interest whatsoever.
But how then can she be so oblivious to her own image in a mirror, which can only be more lifelike than any image on an electronic screen? The inescapable answer is that she does recognize it, and recognizes it as being herself, and for that very reason considers it to be of no interest whatsoever. She is interested in what another animal might do, but quite logically she has no curiousity whatsoever about what she herself might do, and she possesses no scintilla of vanity regarding her own looks.
About a year ago it occurred to me at some idle moment to try the mirror test one more time: she being much older and calmer, and me being slightly wiser as to how to give her directions. I placed her on a chair she couldn’t escape from, directly facing a mirror a few inches away. Getting her to look into the mirror would not constitute success; only getting her to look directly at herself would count. Using the most careful and calm words and gestures, I am of the belief that I actually briefly succeeded. “Look at you, look at Billie.” For a few moments, at least, I saw her look directly into her own eyes. She held her own gaze long enough for it not to have been a random thing. But other than that she had no obvious related reaction. She then turned to look at me, and wagged her tail slightly. If she could speak, I think she would have been saying, “OK … now what?”
And “Now what?” is precisly the unanswerable question. There is no utility to Billie in looking at her own reflection. She is aware it is herself—i.e. she is self-aware—but in the absence of vanity or neuroticism about her appearance, there is simply no response for her to make to it. The image of herself in the looking-glass may as well be invisible.
In anticipation of writing this reflection on reflections, I harassed Billie by putting her in front of a mirror one more time. This time I wasn’t trying to get her to look pointlessly at herself; I was just trying to get an appropriate photo to go along with the piece of writing (as you have to accompany everything on the internet with a picture or else it doesn’t exist). Billie kept turning her head to look at me as I took pictures, because she now expects to get treats when she poses for pictures (she works for peanuts: dry roasted, unsalted). I didn’t want her turning to look at me, so this was a bit of a problem. It was solved when she caught a glimpse of me in the mirror. She was satisfied to keep her eye on me there for a little while — long enough to take a series of shots including the one at the top and the one below here.
So she watched me in the mirror to keep herself informed as to whether I was reaching for a treat. In other words, she used the mirror entirely appropriately, understanding its function and purpose. She knew that the reflection of me was a true representation of me, in real time. Her own reflection continued to be of no interest whatsoever to her.
I have to conclude that this is not evidence of a lack of intelligence or “self-awareness,” but evidence instead of the employment of exceedingly practical sense and the total absence of useless vanity.
I don’t know if—overall—chimpanzees are “smarter” than dogs or not, but I think this comparison of the two animals’ behavior with mirrors demonstrates only one thing for certain: the moral superiority of the canine. Unless, that is, vanity is now officially listed among the virtues rather than the vices.
And if dogs possess this moral superiority as compared to chimps, the same equation does not come out very well for the only slightly less hairy ape writing these words.
And just to prove that there is indeed nothing new under the sun, the above conclusion is mirrored, after all, in Lord Byron’s famous “Epitaph to a Dog” from 1808.
Near this Spot
are deposited the Remains of one
who possessed Beauty without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferosity,
and all the virtues of Man without his Vices.
This praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery
if inscribed over human Ashes,
is but a just tribute to the Memory of
BOATSWAIN, a DOG,
who was born in Newfoundland May 1803
and died at Newstead Nov. 18th, 1808.