I hope you are having a nice week. I hope that you are staying healthy. I hope the tendrils of boredom have not wrapped themselves around your throat so tightly as to cut the flow of oxygen to your brain. I hope, at least, that this letter will be diverting.
Home front. Mask-wearing in public places became mandatory in Poland this week. Poles have easily adapted to this, being a reticent people who feel no compulsion to make eye contact with strangers, still less to smile at them. Britain would be different, as the strained good cheer of pedestrians would be hard to maintain. But at least Londoners could walk down the street without getting high on second-hand fumes.
Fusionist follies. Michael Knowles writes for the American Mind that conservatives and libertarians should come together in opposition to the “woke” left. He writes about the “fusionism” of the 1960s which brought conservatives and libertarians together in opposition to communism. I agree this kind of “fusion” can be useful in a narrow sense. Conservatives and libertarians can unite against excesses of political correctness, for example. But in an essay for First Things, from 2019, I wrote about how fusionism collapsed into a vacuous liberal tendency once the anti-communist cause that had sustained it had triumphed. Knowlesian fusionists would be on even weaker grounds given that the woke left is a vaguer, less substantive enemy than communism. We cannot define ourselves by what we dislike: in part because we dislike different things, at least in many cases, and in part because the world is changing so rapidly and so dramatically that mere againstism is not enough to build a worthy future.
Obligatory shilling. I wrote a column for paid subscribers about the effect of COVID-19 and the lockdown on our sense of scale. I also wrote an article for Spectator USA about my seething hatred for “quirky" brand accounts, specifically that of Steak-umm.
On style. Quarantine boredom has encouraged some people on social media to resurrect one of the most tedious arguments in letters: should one's prose be simple, clear and unrefined or lavish, allusive and adventurous? Almost without exception, people who maintain that one style is good and all others are bad are boring, clumsy, witless writers. For as H.L. Mencken wrote, style:
...is a living and breathing thing, with something of the demoniacal in it – [and] it fits its proprietor tightly and yet ever so loosely, as his skin fits him.
If you do not own a copy of Mencken's Chrestomathy I cannot recommend it enough. You might disagree with the opinions but the style is superb.
The crooked banana of humanity. Integral Banana has written a clever, thought-provoking piece about “ignoring” and civilisation.
Masochistic narcissism. Blake Smith has written a quietly subversive essay for Tablet which explores the “masochistic narcissism” that leads progressive commentators to wallow in shame over their privilege and prejudice. While Smith's essay analyses racial discourse, I think the phenomenon is broader than that. One can see it in the “male feminist”, for example. In proclaiming one's own sin, while also attributing this sin to others, one elevates oneself above them by virtue of one's guilt.
Mexican takeaway. Delicious Tacos, a pseudonymous author of darkly comic fiction, has a new collection out.
Home front 2. This weekend I was drinking beer over Skype with a friend who got married and became a father last year, when I realised that on any of the nights when he had been too busy babysitting to go out for a drink we could have done this. Sure, it was not the same as meeting in person - but it was better than nothing! The problem is that if some women find out that men enjoy these little online drinking sessions they might think they can replace the pub even when the country has re-opened. Paranoid? Perhaps. But am I?
Must there be an outgroup? Edward Feser, who has defended lockdowns as a response to coronavirus, defends the right of critics of lockdowns to a place in the public sphere. I agree with him. People are desperate to divide the world into “smart” and “stupid” in terms of their responses to coronavirus but the reality of the world makes this look foolish. If it is so obvious that sweeping lockdowns were required you have to explain why – against my expectations, as well as those of many others – Sweden has not been absolutely devastated. If it is so obvious that sweeping lockdowns were a mistake you have to explain why the Czech Republic, which was among the first to implement them, has had only eighty deaths. Either one of these countries could see their strategies fail in the future. My only point is that that failure will look inevitable with hindsight. It is not obvious now.
Suffering in silence. The Washington Post reports that many patients one would expect to visit hospitals with heart disease, diabetes and other serious conditions appear to be staying at home. Having criticised people for thinking it is obvious that some people are stupid and others smart in the midst of this tragedy, I will say it does seem obvious to me that it is a scandal that authorities have plowed so many times more efforts into persecuting sunbathers than into trying to convince people with more damaging illnesses than coronavirus to avoid hospitals out of fear of coronavirus.
You're fired! Wrestling is less “fake”, in many ways, than reality turned up to eleven, and Vince McMahon insisting that the company continue to run weekly live shows during a pandemic and then laying off dozens of wrestlers and producers unnecessarily to make sure everybody on his roster is too anxious to object is a comical parody of corporate malfeasance.
Advice section. I'm feeling intense stabbing pains in my chest. Should I stay at home and hope they go away?
I hope everybody has a good week,