The day the music died

Yuri Kerpatenko, chief conductor of the Kherson Music and Drama Theatre, dropped out of sight in September. His friends feared the worst – with good reason.

Yuri Kerpatenko, RIP

Kherson is one of only two major Ukrainian cities the Russians have managed to seize during their bandit raid launched eight months ago (Mariupol is the other). There and everywhere else they showed the world how to win the hearts and minds of the locals.

Wanton murders, rapes, mass torture, looting, destruction of property – really, a lesson in community relations seems to be in order. Kherson is no exception.

Quite apart from the usual murderous rampage perpetrated on hoi polloi en masse, the Russians have also kidnapped 457 prominent Khersonians, including mayors, government officials and priests.

So much more important it is for them to quieten things down by communicating to the terrified population that normal life will soon return. To that end, a month ago the Russians announced a gala concert to be held on 1 October, which happens to be International Music Day.

Maestro Kerpatenko was invited to conduct his orchestra, and Putin’s bandits didn’t expect a problem. They should have known better.

For Kerpatenko was made of stern stuff. Thus he refused to get out of the city while the getting was good – and now he refused to act as a performing seal to Russian fascists. Having been flatly turned down, the Russian officers left, promising to come back for Kerpatenko.

This is the only kind of promise those ghouls can be counted on to keep. And they have. Shortly thereafter Kerpatenko disappeared, and now reports have come out that the Russians shot him dead in his home.

His heroism stands in stark contrast to the behaviour of many of his Russian colleagues. Gergiev, Matsuev, Bashment, Spivakov, Berezovsky et al., not only happily play at Kremlin concerts, but some of them also make hateful blood-thirsty pronouncements on Russian TV.

Coming to mind is the spineless, sycophantic behaviour of the great Dutch conductor Joseph Mengelberg. When the Germans occupied his country in 1940, Mengelberg gave an interview to the Nazi newspaper Völkische Beobachter.

The conductor spoke glowingly about the cultural bond between Germany and Holland, adding that he had cracked a bottle of champagne to toast the Nazi victory. He then continued to conduct throughout the war all over Germany and the occupied countries, posing for snapshots with Seyss-Inquart (later hanged at Nuremberg) and other Nazi dignitaries.

Meanwhile celebrated German conductors, such as Furtwängler, Strauss and Karajan, happily filled the vacancies left by other celebrated German conductors, such as Walter and Klemperer, who had to flee the country for obvious reasons.

Furtwängler and Strauss also wrote, or rather signed, articles pondering the seminal differences between Aryan and Jewish music, but Karajan went much further. Unlike his pragmatic colleagues, he was a fervent Nazi who joined the Nazi Party twice, first in his native Austria and then in Germany.

When the Führer graced the royal box at the Berlin Philharmonic with his presence, Karajan arranged the audience in the shape of the swastika. That doubtless put a smile under that famous moustache.

Soviet musicians, including geniuses like Prokofiev and Shostakovich, kowtowed to Stalin, but there was a major difference there. The Nazis didn’t kill artists who refused to cooperate with them, but the Soviets did.

Furtwängler and Strauss risked only a hiatus in their careers. Prokofiev and Shostakovich risked a bullet in the Lubyanka cellar or, even worse, slower, torturous death in an Arctic labour camp.

The murder of Yuri Kerpatenko shows where Putin falls in the ranking of murderous European despots, at least in their treatment of artists: as hard as Stalin, harder than Hitler.

When the Russian hordes are driven out of Kherson, which is bound to happen later this year, I hope there will be a statue to Kerpatenko erected opposite his theatre. He wasn’t a musical titan like Mengelberg or Furtwängler, but he towered over them as a moral giant.

As for the moral pygmies among his Russian colleagues, I hope they’ll never be allowed to befoul any civilised country with their presence. In a famous 1772 ruling on slavery, Lord Mansfield stated: “The air of England is too pure for a slave to breathe in”. And for fascist collaborators.

Too bad we have no laws to apply to our domestic shills for Putin. Otherwise it would be nice to see them deported to the country run by the strong leader they wish we had.

P.S. Yesterday Lieut-Col. Lapin, in charge of training Russian recruits at Belgorod, shared with his trainees his frank, which is to say derogatory, opinion of Allah. Three Tajik soldiers took exception to that theological position and opened up with their AKs, killing Lapin and any number of their comrades. Official Russian sources have owned up to 11 killed and 15 wounded, but the eyewitnesses cite numbers three times as large. Perhaps the Ukrainians should just sit back and wait for the snake to devour its own tail.

P.P.S. Army recruitment centres have so far been set ablaze in 67 Russian towns. The locals must be using the fireworks to celebrate their unreserved support for Putin and his war.

Bare truths of exhibitionism

In common with other sexual perversions, exhibitionism is taking on every characteristic of an ideological crusade. And in common with everything rotten about modernity, the crusade has an accelerator built in.  

Things have got much worse than they were four years ago, when I wrote this:

“First a disclaimer: I love naked women’s bodies. Some of the happiest moments of my life have been spent in their presence, and I cherish every one, especially those I can remember.

“Moreover, at the risk of enraging my more devout friends, I even enjoy female nudity vicariously, by looking without touching.

“Photographs of naked women don’t upset me, quite the opposite. And I even like explicit sex scenes in films, provided they’re gratuitous and pursue no artistic ends whatsoever.

“Having thus established my dissipated, tasteless and probably misogynistic credentials in three paragraphs of self-lacerating disclaimers, I now feel it’s safe to say what it is I dislike, nay despise.

“That’s nudity practised for a cause and thus pretending to be something it isn’t (virtue), while concealing what it actually is: exhibitionism covering itself with an ideological fig leaf.

“What the cause is doesn’t really matter: no good one can be promoted by parading flesh in the buff. And even if the cause starts out as good, it’ll be compromised by the striptease.

“Actually, the original Calendar Girls dropped their kit in 1999 allegedly to support a worthy cause, Leukaemia Research. Yet, even though a film was made about them, with Helen Mirren starring, they only succeeded in trivialising that deadly disease.

“Miss Mirren, incidentally, has struggled to keep her clothes on throughout her distinguished career. Even now, in her dotage, she likes to parade her superannuated flesh at every opportunity, making one suspect that such exposure is an aim in itself.

“Anyway, the idea caught on, and exhibitionism for commercial or ideological causes became a standard technique. Actually, Pirelli tyres have always been promoted that way, which is tasteless but otherwise unobjectionable.

“Famous actresses stripping for the anti-fur campaign, on the other hand, was not only tasteless but also actively revolting.

“Various naked celebrities would drag their fur coats behind them, each leaving trails of blood. ‘I’d rather go naked than wear fur,’ was the line.

“Ladies, this side of puerile, onanistic fantasies, there’s usually something worn between one’s skin and an overcoat. Hence the choice didn’t have to be as stark as that, as it were. It’s possible to shed a fur coat and still sport, say, a jumper and a skirt for decorum’s sake.

“Yet the ‘celebs’ jumped at the chance to parade what the Americans call T & A. Exhibitionism is as much of a compulsion as is drug addiction.”

However, as the recent Mori poll confirms, exhibitionism doesn’t just have to function in support of various ideological causes. It can act as an ideological cause all on its own.

The poll shows that almost half of young adults in the UK now identify as naturists. Some merely like skinny-dipping and nude sunbathing, others frequent nudist beaches, clubs and resorts.

Talking to The Guardian, Dr Mark Bass, President of British Naturism, said: “It turns out there’s a huge, hidden enthusiasm for nude recreation. Attitudes to nudity are changing with the taboos and stigma being eroded.

“Modern society is weighed down by a body confidence crisis and more and more people are discovering the benefits that nudity brings to mental, emotional and physical health by allowing us to reclaim ownership of our identities.”

This shows what a tiny step separates starkers from barkers. For, rather than being healthy, the desire to parade one’s nudity in public is well-documented in medical books on sexual pathology.

The stigma and taboos that Dr Bass finds objectionable go back rather a long time, as documented in a formerly popular book: “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.”

Since Adam and Eve rebelled against God, people who belong to the civilisation based in part on that story cover their bodies to keep them away from prying eyes.

Conversely, people who belong to other civilisations, especially those enjoying sunnier climes, ignore such conventions. They happily pose nude for National Geographic, while wisely refraining from talking to The Guardian.

Those unsophisticated tribesmen are sufficiently secure in their identity not to feel they have to assert it by parading their genitalia. They go naked simply because that’s how they are. Actually, I doubt they bother about identity politics at all.

Not so Dr Bass, along with Guardian readers and writers. But I am confused.

Surely, by exposing their primary sex characteristics, people reinforce binary identification, thereby upholding those same taboos and stigmas that Dr Bass finds oh-so-yesterday. If nudity is tantamount to “reclaiming ownership of our identities”, we have a conflict.

Normal, civilised people don’t have a problem that can be solved by dropping their underwear. Modern Western savages may have such problems, but then they also pray at the altar of 70-odd sexes, which they eccentrically call genders.

Yet every time I’ve seen naked people, they displayed the characteristics of only one of two sexes, or genders if you’d rather. Wouldn’t the cause of modernity be better served then by them preserving what for millennia has been regarded as decency? Just to keep us guessing?

I rejoice every time I see a clash of modern pieties. Yet this time my triumphant joy is marred by sadness and fear. If nearly half of young Britons are eager to “erode” the “stigmas and taboos” of our civilisation and revert to times prehistoric, where will they stop?

Incest? Human sacrifice? Culling every first-born male child? More important, why would they ever stop at anything, if they get their marching orders from the likes of Dr Bass?

Those scavenging wagons

As a life-long student of languages, I’m fascinated by, to use Eric Partridge’s phrase, both usages and abusages.

And this isn’t merely an academic interest. For a study of language is a study of people.

After all, language is a reliable indicator of a person’s class, education, culture, even character. And comparing two languages gives a clue to the differences between two nations.

The current political turmoil in Britain provides a couple of helpful examples of the former benefit, and we have Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng to thank for it.

Yesterday Liz sacked Kwasi in the last-ditch hope of saving her own job. No such luck, prophesied Mr Kwarteng in his good-bye letter.

By stabbing him in the back, Liz only bought herself “a few weeks”, he wrote, because “the wagons are circling” her premiership.

Mrs Malaprop would be happy to discover a kindred spirit. For Kwasi – an Old Etonian and Cambridge PhD! – misused the expression badly.

Contrary to what he evidently thinks, “to circle the wagons” doesn’t mean getting ready to pounce. In fact, it means exactly the opposite: people defending themselves by pooling their resources.

The expression dates back to the American westward expansion, when settlers travelled in horse-drawn wagons. Their caravans were constantly harassed by Indians, wielding bows, tomahawks and scalping knives.

Hence, when they stopped for the night, settlers would form a defensive perimeter by arranging their wagons in a circle around their tents. That’s a far cry from what Mr Kwarteng was trying to say.

What he had in mind should have been conveyed by the idiom of “the vultures are circling”. Those birds of prey scavenge on carrion, the decaying flesh of dead animals. Sometimes they get ahead of themselves and begin to circle a moribund animal in its last throes.

Hence “the vultures are circling” would have been a proper metaphor for both the state of Miss Truss’s premiership and the Tory MPs who can’t wait to tear her to shreds. Unless Mr Kwarteng can provide historical evidence of scavenging wagons, or at least those deployed in an offensive formation, he must own up to an annoying malapropism.

His knife-wielding boss herself is no slouch in that department. When Liz Truss won the Tory leadership contest, she promised that, as PM, she would “hit the ground”. Splat! Ow! Ouch!

Any criticism of that usage has to be qualified by allowances made for the possibility that Miss Truss meant exactly what she said. An outside chance exists that she actually planned to shatter her tenure by falling on the flinty political ground from a great height.

Barring that unlikely possibility, she probably meant to promise to “hit the ground running”, to take a fast start on the road to becoming a statesman of Periclean proportions. Alas, her wrong usage has proved to be factually true, while the correct idiom would have delivered a promise Miss Truss was ill-qualified to keep.

At least, unlike the Eton-educated Kwasi, little Lizzie went to a comprehensive school, if not of the bog-standard variety. While we’re in the business of clichés, that enables her to hit two birds (vultures? wagons?) with one stone.

First, she can score political points by claiming to be as prole as the next woman. And then she can use her educationally disadvantaged background to absolve herself of any personal responsibility for not speaking English proper like. Tories, after all, are no longer in the personal responsibility business.

Getting out of personalities (and politics, come to think of it), comparative linguistics is a good tool of comparative anthropology. For example, one can learn much by comparing English and Russian sayings.

Just compare these two: “Let bygones be bygones” and “Gouge the eye out of anyone who mentions the past”. The first is English, the second, conveying the same idea, is a translation from the Russian.

Far be it from me to suggest that this juxtaposition explains exhaustively the carpet bombing of the Ukraine’s residential areas, but we are beginning to get a tiny hint of a clue.

Or how about this pair: “Too many cooks spoil the broth” and “A child with seven nannies will lose an eye”. Are you beginning to detect a tendency?     

Not yet? Then look at this duo: “No use crying over spilt milk” and “Having lost your head, don’t cry over your lost hair”. Still no traction? Then consider this: “At a loose end” and “Like a turd in an ice-hole”.

Even violent English sayings are more violent in Russian. To wit: “Curiosity killed the cat” and “Curious Barbara had her nose ripped out at the market”.

On and on in the same vein. “Still waters run deep” and “Devils live in still waters”. “A bad workman always blames his tools” and “A bad dancer is always hampered by his balls.” “Make a note” and “Make a notch on your nose.” “The cold hard truth” and “Truth will prick your eye”.

Some Russian proverbs don’t have obvious English equivalents, which in itself provides valuable insights into various aspects of Russia. Such as relations between the sexes:

“A chicken isn’t a bird, a wench isn’t a human being.” And its companion: “A wench falls off the cart, the horse’s life is easier”. Or, “If he beats a woman, he loves her”, a proverb I don’t recommend for the defence counsel in a domestic violence case.

If you wonder how a country with the world’s richest natural resources can remain so dirt-poor, look at the Russian proverbs dealing with related subjects: “You can’t earn all the money in the world”, “Work isn’t a wolf, it won’t run away into the forest”, “Work likes fools”, “You won’t build a stone house by honest work”, “You don’t steal, you won’t survive”.

Aren’t languages wonderful? I can never understand why anyone ever bothers to study anything else.

Killing mental patients isn’t new

Belgium and Holland lead the way in euthanasia, but many other countries, including our own, are in hot pursuit.

To stay out in front, Benelux has to keep setting new records, and it fell on Belgium to answer the clarion call of modernity.

In that spirit, a physically healthy 23-year-old woman was euthanised in May as a way of treating her depression.

In 2016 Shanti De Corte witnessed a murderous Islamic attack at Brussels Airport. As a result, she developed PTSD and depression, which she has since been unable to overcome.

Those Muslim terrorists didn’t kill her, but Belgian doctors did. It was all perfectly legal, for Belgian law allows euthanasia in cases of “unbearable physical or mental pain that cannot be alleviated”.

The law has ruled, so there’s nothing anyone can say against it. Roman Law is in force in Belgium, and didn’t Roman jurists say dura lex, sed lex (“the law is harsh, but it is the law”)? So that’s it then.

Not quite. For, harsh or soft, a law must above all be just. And one has to acknowledge with sadness that not all laws satisfy this requirement.

Doctors in Nazi Germany, for example, functioned according to elaborate laws drafted by celebrated medico-legal experts. However, Nuremberg Tribunals judged that their compliance with those laws had led them to break other laws, which ought to have taken precedence.

Among other things, Nazi laws encouraged doctors to euthanise mental patients, some similar to Miss De Corte. And the medics set about that task with alacrity. About 300,000 psychiatric patients were killed by lethal injection, gas, sedative overdose or forced starvation.

You might say that the implied parallel with today’s Belgian doctors is spurious. After all, the euthanasia they performed on Miss De Corte was voluntary, while their Nazi precursors neither asked their patients’ permission nor waited for their requests.

Yet this argument is weak even on its own terms. One could object that the wishes of a schizophrenic or, in this case, a severely depressed young woman ought to be taken with a bag, not just a grain, of salt.

In any number of legal situations, the testimony of such a patient would be regarded as inadmissible. Yet when the same patient says she wants to die, the law holds that wish to be unimpeachable.

However, the issues at stake are larger than legislative inconsistencies and lapses in logic. For they bring into focus the role of the medical profession in general and individual doctors in particular.

What kind of doctor would happily kill a patient? One corrupted into institutional hubris, is the answer to that.

In fact, one of the few valid arguments against the death penalty is its corrupting effect on the executioner. This though most executioners could claim a legal justification for their actions.

Hence the argument against judicial killing: it’s not a function of the law to produce monsters for whom killing is all in a day’s work. If it does, there must be something wrong with the law.

I don’t necessarily agree with this argument. But I nonetheless consider it valid, and some of the personalities involved support it well.

For example, Charles-Henri Sanson (d. 1806), who pioneered the use of the guillotine, executed a total of 2,918 people, including the royal family and many of his own friends. However, he was a babe in the woods compared to the chief NKVD executioner Vasily Blokhin (d. 1955).

Gen. Blokhin personally shot tens of thousands, including 7,000 Poles at Katyn in less than a month. Vasily, he of the leather apron fame, took his job seriously. Thus he carried to Katyn his personal stash of German Walther pistols, dismissing the home-made TT for two reasons.

First, the TT overheated when used on that scale. More important, German rounds found in those Polish crania enabled the Soviets to lie for the next 50 years that the Nazis had been responsible for the killings.

Whatever you may think of such executioners and the laws empowering them, at least judicial killing was their job description. A doctor’s job is different, and he takes an oath to that effect.

Having consulted the text of the Hippocratic Oath, I found no mention of the God-like power of life and death it confers on doctors. But then its original texts go back to the times when God-like powers were reserved for, well, God.

Faith in the immortality of the soul put the mediator of God’s will, the priest, at the centre of the moral, and therefore legal, ethos. It stands to reason that, when the ethos changed, the priest was marginalised.

The soul was repudiated as nonexistent, and the emergent materialistic man elevated his body to the now vacant perch. His body became his religion, with the doctor its priest.

Or even more than that. Unlike a priest, a doctor isn’t just a mediator between man and a higher authority. When it comes to life and death, the doctor himself is that higher authority for none higher exists.

This isn’t to say that, until modernity got really toxic, doctors couldn’t decide who lived and who died. It’s part of their remit to make a therapeutic decision to withdraw treatment they know would be futile, and it’s hard to argue against this on any moral grounds.

Moreover, when a dying patient is in agonising pain requiring sedation with opiates, the line between an effective dose and a lethal one is often smudged. Thus doctors have always administered doses that they knew could potentially kill the patient.

But a moral chasm separates ‘could potentially’ and ‘would definitely’. A doctor putting a risky amount of drug into a writhing patient’s IV is a million moral miles away from one whose sole intention is to kill the patient.

There is no need to legislate for euthanasia to cover the cases of doctors withdrawing treatment or administering a borderline dose of opiates. Moreover, there is a need not to: such laws would make it harder for doctors to do their jobs.

Conversely, euthanasia laws turn doctors into executioners at their patients’ beck and call. This is a relationship similar to that Sanson had with Robespierre, Blokhin with Beria or, closer to my subject, Drs Brandt and Mengele with Hitler.

Granted, there still exists a vast distance separating the Belgian doctors who killed Shanti De Corte from the German doctors who killed hundreds of thousands of mental patients. But if history teaches anything, such distances can be covered fast.

Just look at the evolution of abortion laws, which started out as treating it as an operation only performed in exceptional cases and ended up as a fulfilment of a basic human right. The slippery slope theory doesn’t always work, but it does usually.

If euthanasia is made legal, sooner or later it’ll be made mandatory – it’s impossible to draft the law in such a way that the slippery slope would be off limits. Euthanasia on demand will join abortion on demand in the medical repertoire.

One is tempted to believe that our ancestors were on to something. Human life was sacrosanct to them, and not just man’s exclusive property to dispose of as he saw fit. But that was before progress really got going.

Can you define a dog?

I can’t because I’m not a zoologist. Nor can I define a house because I’m not an architect. And don’t even ask me to define a bottle – I’m neither a silicate chemist nor even a glassblower.

Humans are barking

Now, if I were to say any of these things without my tongue securely planted in my cheek, you’d be justified to question my honesty or intelligence or even sanity. Feel free to do so: since I’m not a black woman, such doubts are legitimate.

But if I could indeed boast such fortunate sex and race, your doubts would brand you as the distillation of everything evil in life: racism, sexism, misogyny, even – are you ready for this? – conservatism. And then transphobia would be just round the corner.

This brings me to the US Supreme Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, whose confirmation hearings were held earlier this year. Now, she does possess the qualifications I so lamentably lack: she is indeed a black woman, one of only a handful of females in the history of the Supreme Court, and the only off-white one.

She thus satisfied the sine qua non criteria pre-set by Joe Biden with a commendable lack of equivocation. “It’s time we had a black woman on the Supreme Court,” he said.

Biden got what he wished for, to thunderous hosannas coming from progressive quarters. But hold on a moment. Celebrations of a black woman reaching the acme of the legal professions might have been premature.

That Miss Jackson is black is undeniable, or at least no one has so far denied it, if only because the matter never came up. But is she a woman? This question is impossible to answer in the absence of a cogent definition of the Homo sapiens female.

Miss Jackson certainly couldn’t, or rather wouldn’t, answer it during her confirmation hearings. When Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn asked her whether she could define a woman, Miss Jackson replied: “No, I can’t. I’m not a biologist.”

She thus took advantage of the loophole carelessly left by Sen. Blackburn, who probably thought she was setting a trap. The ease with which Miss Jackson evaded it shows that the trap was far too obvious.

She could have been snared inescapably with a different wording: “Can a woman have, or be born with, a penis?” Only three replies would have been possible: “yes”, “no” or “shut up, you reactionary scum”. The trap would have snapped shut in any case.

This way Miss Jackson could have it both ways. On the one hand she could rejoice in being a highly successful woman, while on the other hand claiming ignorance of what a woman is.

Reading up on Jordan Peterson the other day, I came across his comments about the sheer stupidity and immorality of selecting officials on any basis other than their ability to do the job. I agree wholeheartedly – so much so that I shan’t try to tread the same ground.

Instead I’ll comment on a problem that’s both broader and deeper than simply introducing irrelevant selection criteria for any job, and especially one that’s crucial constitutionally. The key to it isn’t Miss Jackson’s reply, but the comment on it in The Washington Post:   

“It was clear what kind of answer Blackburn wanted: Something chromosomal. Something to do with uteri or double X’s or estrogen – never mind the millions of women (postmenopausal, post-hysterectomied, infertile or living with Turner syndrome) who would not fit those definitions. Or maybe what Blackburn wanted was exactly what she got: Jackson declining to answer so that conservative groups could use that as political fodder.”

The author is doubtless correct about Sen. Blackburn’s intent. But her previous sentence highlights a civilisational catastrophe, while, more immediately, vindicating my lifelong belief that all left-wingers are either fools or knaves or both.

Surely the author can’t be so imbecilic as to think she was debunking any chromosomal or oestrogenic definition of a woman by mentioning postmenopausal or post-hysterectomised females. That’s like saying that a double amputee isn’t human because human beings have legs.

No, nobody is as stupid as that. That leaves dishonesty as the clear winner or rather, much worse, dishonesty motivated by an ideology. The circle is vicious, for mandated universal stupidity is the key demand imposed by the ideology in question.

In a widely misquoted passage, Dostoyevsky’s Dmitry Karamazov asks what his creator called accursed questions: “And without God and without life everlasting? That means then that everything is permitted, that one can do anything?”

That’s debatable. But one can certainly say anything – and insist on one’s right not only to an opinion but also to an audience.

I don’t know if atheists will be punished in the next life, but in this life a predominantly atheist society suffers dire cultural, social and intellectual consequences. For religion doesn’t just create a system of worship and morality. It creates a civilisation, whose vital constituent is intellectual.

A religion, in our case Christianity, imbues its adherents with a highly disciplined cognitive methodology, a way of thinking about life and everything in it. When the flesh of a civilisation grows on the skeleton of this methodology, it pervades every walk of life, going far beyond religion as such.

Natural science, for example, flourished specifically in the Western world because scientists growing up in Christendom thought like Christians, even if they weren’t in any confessional sense.

They knew – were trained to know – that the world was rationally knowable because it was created by a rational God. They also knew that matter functioned according to absolute, universal laws because it was created by an absolute, universal God. Scientists were thus intellectually equipped to uncover those laws because they knew the laws were there, waiting to be uncovered.

Westerners were also trained to direct their search towards a specific end because Christian thinking is teleological. Knowing that life continues in perpetuity until it has reached the ultimate end, Christians used the same knowledge to ponder more mundane issues as well.

When Aquinas brought Aristotle into Christianity, he equipped Westerners with an inductive methodology essential to any understanding of reality. This, according to Chesterton, “simply meant that the study of the humblest fact will lead to the study of the highest truth”.

Hence, no understanding of reality is possible unless it’s initiated and anchored by facts, humble or otherwise, that are accepted as such. Facts can be not only physical. Once the very existence of material facts is accepted as a given, we are ready to extend the same courtesy to intellectual facts as well.

Indeed, the Western perception of reality was woven out of material facts and the metaphysical premises enabling people to understand and interpret the facts (R.G. Collingwood called these premises “absolute presuppositions”).

Once checked against the premises, the facts themselves became absolute and universal, accepted as such by anyone who bothered to consider them. Logically, this cognitive process is impossible without an intellectual discipline based on the notions of the absolute and the universal.

This discipline is what we lost when God was relegated to the status of a quaint personal idiosyncrasy. The loss was incremental.

First we lost Collingwood’s absolute predispositions, premises accepted as intellectual facts. Then, with the certainty of night following day, we lost – or rather blithely tossed away – the very understanding that absolute facts exist or even can exist.

From there it was but a small step towards discrediting the very concept of an objective fact. No absolutes exist. Everything is open to subjective interpretation, with all subjects and all interpretations accepted as equal.

Such is the theory. The practice is that women can have penises with which they can impregnate men who have wombs. The practice is that a member of the highest judicial authority in the US can’t take issue with this lunacy on pain of ostracism and professional oblivion.

And a writer for one of the top US newspapers can get away with saying, albeit in a convoluted way, that objective reality doesn’t exist. And there I was, thinking that modernity swears by science.

It doesn’t. The only thing modernity swears by is itself, with its own puny relativities, superstitions and resentments. When science encroaches on them with its ridiculous chromosomes and oestrogens, it’s shoved aside with contempt. When modernity speaks, facts flee.    

Peterson is a friend, but…

Amicus Plato, sed magis amica veritas, was how Roger Bacon paraphrased Aristotle (… but truth is a bigger friend). It’s in that spirit that I’ll comment on Jordan Peterson, for whom I have that warm feeling I reserve for people who say the same things I could have said.

In fact, I did say most of them, and long before Prof. Peterson became a household name (as any reader of my book How the West Was Lost, written 25 years ago, will confirm).

Hence, when he did become a household name, I watched a few of his lectures, with the joy of recognising a kindred spirit. I instantly developed boundless respect for Prof. Peterson. But I never really trusted him.

Call it petty snobbery, but I can’t fully trust a man who wears any jewellery other than a watch and cufflinks – and, almost as bad, brown shoes with dark suits. Le style, after all, c’est l’homme même.

His delivery, ranging from histrionic to hysterical, was another factor, for Prof. Peterson made me uncomfortable. He seemed to be all a single pulsating nerve ready to snap at any moment. His oratory could be described in musical terms, what with its constant modulations, crescendos, diminuendos and dynamic shifts.

Or perhaps the terms borrowed from his core discipline, clinical psychology, are more appropriate. For I sensed something was wrong with Prof. Peterson even before he revealed his struggle against clinical depression.

This disease calls for much sympathy, but the treatment he prescribed for himself was bizarre. He started to eat nothing but beef, claiming a curative effect for that diet. My psychiatrist friend whirled his finger at his temple when I told him about it.

Long story short, I stopped watching Prof. Peterson’s lectures, quoting to myself the apocryphal saying attributed to Caliph Umar who supposedly burned the Great Library of Alexandria: “If those books say all the same things as the Koran, they are redundant.”

That self-imposed moratorium ended yesterday, when the New York host of the podcast on which I appear every Tuesday mentioned that Prof. Peterson is one of Putin’s useful idiots. Now useful he may be, but Prof Peterson is as far from an idiot as it’s possible to be without being, well, Aristotle.

That’s why I made a point of viewing his lecture of three months ago, only to have my confirmation bias richly rewarded. For Prof. Peterson has finally gone off the rails.

He seems to be hellbent on vindicating Laurence J. Peter’s famous principle: everyone rises to the level of his incompetence. If that was his aim, he succeeded.

His whole argument rests on the flimsy foundation of a non sequitur: the West is decadent to the point of being degenerate. Therefore, Putin is richly justified in his manifest intention to reduce the Ukraine to rubble.

About half of the hour-long lecture is devoted to supporting his premise of the West’s cultural catastrophe. There Prof. Peterson is his usual brilliant self, diagnosing precisely, arguing convincingly, concluding irrefutably.

However, when he gets to the ‘therefore’ part, his compatriot Laurence J. Peter must be smiling from his grave. For Prof. Peterson demonstrably knows next to nothing about Russia and understands even less.

Unfortunately, his well-deserved fame must have gone to his head and he began to believe his press notices. That sort of thing has happened to even better men than Prof. Peterson, so no surprises there. He must see himself as an oracle whose pronouncements elucidate any subject, including those outside his expertise.

In this case, his pronouncements aren’t even his own. For Prof. Peterson regurgitates – self-admittedly and proudly – the lies spread by Putin’s propagandists and Putin himself.

He feels Putin’s and Russia’s pain caused by the Ukraine edging towards Europe. After all, “Europe” twice tried to conquer Russia in the past, in 1812 and 1941.

That’s adding inanity to ignorance. It wasn’t “Europe” that attacked Russia, but Napoleon’s France and Hitler’s Germany. While they were at it, the same countries occupied most of Europe, and both were at war with the very same dastardly Anglo-Saxons who personify the West for Putin.

In fact, Peterson could have expanded his argument without, however, strengthening it. He could have mentioned, for example, the 16th-century Livonian War, when “Europe”, then represented by Norway, Sweden, Poland and Lithuania fought Ivan the Terrible tooth and nail. Or the Northern War of the next century, when Peter I defeated Sweden’s Charles XII, who was undeniably European. And don’t get me started on the 19th-century Crimean War.

Hence, when the Ukraine gained her independence by ousting Russia’s stooge Yanukovych, explains the Putinversteher, the images of European, in this case Nato, invaders flashed through Putin’s mind.

He simply had to do something about it, to thwart the Nato invasion by proxy. And you know what? While the West desperately wants to “humiliate” Putin, it really “doesn’t give a damn about Ukraine. It never did” – not even during “the Holomodor”.

It took me a few seconds to realise that Prof. Peterson was referring to the Holodomor, the mass murder by artificial famine the Ukraine suffered at Russia’s hands in the early 1930s. He obviously never studied Russian history, for the term is common currency.

Yet the neophyte oracle he seems to feel he has become won’t be held back by such incidentals. Russia isn’t fighting the Ukraine as such, explains Prof. Peterson. She is waging culture war on the West, with Putin seeking to protect his country from Western degeneracy.

Russia, he vouchsafes to his audience in the weighty manner of a recent autodidact, is neither Catholic nor Protestant. She is Orthodox, and deeply devout. Putin himself is “a practising Christian”, so he doesn’t care how many children he’ll have to kill to protect his country’s spiritual purity.

Prof. Peterson knows even less about Russian religious history than about her history in general. I could recommend a small library of books by Russian religious thinkers, such as Solovyov, Merezkovsky and Rozanov, who treated the beliefs of most Russians as being closer to superstition than religion.

This the Russians proved after the revolution, when they started murdering priests and their parishioners with unquenchable bloodlust. The murders were spearheaded by the typological predecessor to Putin’s own KGB, an organisation to which he has pledged undying loyalty.

When he decided to vindicate his criminal regime by an appeal to the traditional values of Mother Russia, Putin began to profess faith. However, it took him quite some time to realise that the Orthodox don’t cross themselves the way he saw actors do in Hollywood films. As for Putin’s actions both before and after his Damascene experience, they don’t seem to have been mainly informed by the Sermon on the Mount.

But Prof. Peterson doesn’t refer to Solovyov and Merezkovsky. He refers to Alexander Dugin, whom he describes as a “genuine philosopher” and a major influence on Putin. This shows Prof. Peterson’s grasp of philosophy is as uncertain as his knowledge of history.

(If rhetoric is part of philosophy, he is on shaky grounds there as well: he misuses “beg the question”. Any rhetorician knows this doesn’t mean “raise the question”, which is what Prof. Peterson was trying to say. He ought to look up petitio principii.)

Dugin is a rabid Russian jingoist with strong fascist tendencies. That’s all he is, as anyone who has ever opened a single book of real philosophy would know. If we put this in the German context, Dugin is much closer to Julius Streicher than to Immanuel Kant.

Dostoyevsky and Solzhenitsyn also merit a mention, both Russian chauvinists by the way. I don’t know how much Dostoyevsky Prof. Peterson has read, but he mentions only Crime and Punishment, The Possessed and Brothers Karamazov.

If he looks for cultural influences on Putin, he’d be better off focusing on A Writer’s Diary, which Dostoyevsky himself rated higher than his great novels. Every volume of that tract is jampacked with rants spewing hatred of the West and the glorification of the saintly Russian peasant. Hatred of Jews also drips from most pages, and this is the only vice Putin so far hasn’t exhibited.

Everything Prof. Peterson says comes right out of the Kremlin’s press briefings, as do Putin’s apocalyptic threats Prof. Peterson is happy to share with us. Russia is an energy superpower that can destroy our economy. She’s also a nuclear superpower that can destroy us, full stop. “One Russian Sarmat missile,” intones Prof. Peterson in a stage half-whisper, “can annihilate Britain once and for all”.

He then parrots Putin’s oft-repeated anecdote of a cornered rat that lashed out at young Vova when he tried to prod it with a stick. Putin, explains Prof. Peterson hastily, is no rat. But that’s exactly what he’ll do if cornered.

Somehow Prof. Peterson uses this possibility as proof that Putin’s regime is neither authoritarian nor aggressive. Putin is a cultural warrior, who is prepared to level all Ukrainian cities and kill millions of Ukrainians (and Westerners, if it comes to that) in defence of Russia’s matchless spirituality. And the Russian language, let’s not forget that:

“Zelensky, the current president and supporter of all things Western, was and is supported by the Ukrainian speakers who live in the northeast. Add to that as well the fact that the Ukrainian speaking supported government has placed increasingly draconian restrictions on the language rights of the Russian speakers in the northwest… All this to say that Putin and the Russians have their reasons for concern over the situation in Ukraine.”

Every word in that diatribe is a lie, including, to quote Mary McCarthy, “and” and “the”. Prof. Peterson should get a copy of the Ukraine’s language atlas and put it next to the country’s map. He’ll find out where Ukrainian and Russian are mostly spoken, so next time he might desist from ignoring most of the country altogether.

He should also study the “draconian restrictions” and how they were applied. He may find that Zelensky and most members of his government are native Russian speakers, whose “language rights” were in no way impinged. All the Ukrainian spokesmen I follow speak a Russian that’s not only grammatical, but also accentless.

Putin’s “reasons for concern” are clear enough, and they have nothing to do with matters cultural or linguistic. Prof. Peterson’s reasons for repeating Kremlin propaganda word for word are less obvious, and my podcast host suggested he is in Putin’s pay. I doubt it.

Prof. Peterson understands better than most the cultural abyss into which the West is falling. And hard as he tries, he can’t find a home-made safety net that could arrest the plunge. Hence he, in common with many other Right-leaning Western intellectuals, is looking for an external saviour who could lead the West out of the wilderness.    

Thus Putin’s rhetoric appeals to him. Prof. Peterson hears all the right noises, and he doesn’t bother to study the subject deeply enough to understand their source — and the evil lurking behind.

At least, I’d rather ascribe his drivel to a lapse of understanding than to bad faith. But that’s me, always looking for the good side of any man.

You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog

You’re no better than a dog, a skunk or a hyena.

Why, even a tree or a river is in no sense inferior to you. And I do mean in no sense: moral, social, intellectual, you name it.

In spite of that, you have perfidiously usurped human and legal rights, while denying them to plants, animals and minerals. That’s a gross miscarriage of justice, insist experts in jurisprudence, who are evolutionally superior to you and me.

Nor is it just empty theorising. The legal experts in question banged their heads together and came up with practical legislative proposals. These were laid down in a Law Society report, titled Law in the Emerging Bio Age and written by Dr Wendy Schultz and Dr Trish O’Flynn.

The report is long, but its conclusion can be summed up in a few words: human and legal rights must be extended to animals, trees and rivers, to start with. Otherwise climate change and diminishing biodiversity will put paid to ‘our planet’.

One would think that the case for this overdue measure would be difficult to construct in a single document. After all, its implications touch not only on law as such, but also on biology (micro- or otherwise), philosophy, history, anthropology, religion and all sorts of other disciplines that add up to our civilisation.

A daunting task, one would think, but it’s nothing The Law Society can’t handle. “We sometimes see ourselves as outside nature, that nature is something that we can manipulate,” says Dr O’Flynn. “But actually we are of nature, we are in nature, we are just another species.”

Fair enough, no modern person can argue with that. This is the canonised principle of equality, as applied to biology. Despite the self-serving claims made by some inveterate reactionaries, all species are equal. Hence they must all have equal rights, what’s not to like there?

That way a pig, a tree or a river will be “allowed to reach its full cognitive, emotional, social potential,” explains Dr Flynn. Here I must stop to think.

Granted, my neighbour’s spaniel Jack has a cognitive potential to develop. He can learn to perform increasingly difficult tasks: sit, lie down, fetch, get off the bloody sofa, and for heaven’s sake not on the floor.

Jack’s emotional potential is also beyond doubt. He wags his tail when he is excited, jumps up high in the air when my neighbour comes through the door and is vociferously enraged when anyone else does.

One can’t gainsay Jack’s social potential either. After all, ‘social’ derives from the Latin socius, which means friend. And we all know who a man’s best friend is, so no problem there.

Problems start when we extrapolate all the same thinking to your average tree or, for that matter, the Thames. True, willows can weep, but I’ve always thought that’s just a figure of speech.

‘Thought’ is the key word there. My thought is hopelessly mired in Judaeo-Christian misconceptions, which The Law Society has set out to correct.

Dr Schultz is aware of my limitations (even if she’s unaware of my existence) and she is ready to tackle them head on:  

“Granting something that is culturally numinous rights just so you can preserve it gets us to a kind of valuation that, among other things, is a cultural shift away from the Judaeo-Christian great chain of being – dominion over nature. This is reconfiguring it to place us where we have always been and where we should be thinking of ourselves as belonging, as just a node in this greater web of life on the planet.

“If that worldview can be enshrined in law, essentially granting personhood rights to the spirit of the river, the spirit of the trees or the spirit of the elephant, you’re talking about enshrining a kind of neo-pantheism into 21st-century legal frameworks.”

While in no way wishing to trespass on the legal territory where my footing is uncertain, I’d still like to signpost the area where I’m more comfortable. Thus, what the authors are describing has little to do with any kind of pantheism.

That doctrine starts from the premise of God, but then postulates that He is identical with nature. This goes back to the ancient Hindus, and in Europe pantheism is mostly associated with the 17th-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza. However, though it has been a while since I cracked his Ethics, I don’t recall reading any statement equating man with a spaniel, both being equal parts of the natural continuum.

“Granting personhood rights to the spirit of the river, the spirit of the trees or the spirit of the elephant” takes us much further back, all the way to a world of hirsute humans running away from similarly hirsute mammoths and ducking giant flying reptiles.

The reactionary in me would be happy to backtrack to the thought of the 13th century AD or, if you held a gun to my temple, perhaps of the 4th century BC. But going back to Jurassic times is a bit too far for my taste. And there I was, hanging on to my wobbly faith in steadily meliorative progress.

Arguing against this sort of thing is both tedious and futile. It’s like trying to convince a madman that he isn’t Napoleon. In the psychic world he inhabits, that’s precisely who he is, even if it’s not something any outsider can grasp.

However, I’d sleep better at night if I thought that our top legal minds realise that any kind of rights presuppose the existence of moral agency. Hence they are dialectically inalienable from responsibilities: a man has a right to legal and moral sovereignty only if he accepts the responsibility of exercising it in a legal and moral way.

Since trees and rivers can’t tell right from wrong, applying the concept of rights to them is a basic category error. They, along with that spaniel Jack, have their whole lifespan predetermined by their physical or biological makeup. In that sense, Jack is infinitely closer to the turd he left on my neighbour’s carpet than he is to the neighbour himself.

That’s me done. I told you arguing against lunatics is tedious, although one could be justified in thinking that lunacy describes not just those two academic ladies, but modernity as a whole.

After all, The Law Society of England and Wales isn’t your local loony bin or methadone clinic. It’s a highly respectable professional association that since 1825 has been the driving force of law reform.

Yet the reform it’s driving now does smack of your local asylum run by its inmates. One has to think that our sanity can survive for only as long as we stubbornly cling on to what’s left of the Judaeo-Christian worldview.

You know, the sort of thing The Law Society wishes to leapfrog, jumping back to the good old primordial times.   

Method to Musk’s madness

In the space of a few days, Elon Musk has advocated, if not in so many words, two surrenders 5,000 miles apart.

The Ukraine, he declared last week, should sue for peace, which is another way of saying she should agree to be incorporated into Russia within a couple of years if not straight away.

And yesterday Musk insisted that Taiwan should become a special administrative region of China, which means getting instantly gobbled up by that communist dictatorship.

Both pronouncements have caused an outburst of indignation in all the predictable quarters, and Musk’s statements are indeed beneath contempt. Yet others suggested his proposals must be assessed against the backdrop of his medical condition.

For Musk self-admittedly suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, known to produce what is commonly referred to as a one-track mind.

In Elon’s case, that one track is lightning fast, having enabled him to race to the world’s greatest wealth (although Putin may have something to say about that ranking). He is unquestionably one of the sharpest business operators I’ve ever observed in action, if only from afar.

As someone who has had to contend with serious illnesses all my life, I tip my hat to Elon for refusing to succumb to his condition. Yet his detractors still insist he’d be better off sticking to what he knows.

True enough, instead of simply continuing to pile up billions on top of one another, Musk forces himself to veer – actually career – off that single, beaten track into seemingly unrelated areas.

Climatology, space travel, colonising other planets, artificial intelligence, economics, domestic and international politics have all been graced with Elon’s pronouncements, ranging from dubious to mutually exclusive to frankly insane.

Yet he isn’t short of an audience. Since Elon is very much in the news all the time, the star-gazing public issues him an unlimited line of intellectual credit.

This is typical: anyone often seen on TV is accepted as an expert on every subject, not just the one that got him on TV in the first place. Thus people from Peoria to Musk’s native Pretoria take seriously the very same views that would get a lesser man sectioned.

The world, insists Musk, will soon be devastated by artificial intelligence. And if that doesn’t get it, declining population and global warming will.

The saving steps Musk proposes seem hard to reconcile with his professed libertarian views, but let’s not forget that Asperger’s. The lad doesn’t seem able to tie all the loose ends together, if none has to do with making billions.

Thus, according to him, humanity may delay the catastrophe by controlling AI and introducing a carbon tax, but these exercises in bare-knuckled statism are only palliatives. Much as we try to prevent such a gruesome end, our planet will soon become a scorched wasteland where only robots roam.

But not to worry. What do you do when termites, dry rot, bad neighbours or a subsiding foundation make your house uninhabitable? That’s right, you move.

Following this irrefutable observation, explains Elon, mankind should become a “multiplanetary species”. The first step would be to colonise Mars, creating a polity there based on direct democracy. All Tesla-driving people will have an equal say in every piece of legislation, and never mind outdated parliamentary institutions.

While his other political views are marginally less eccentric, on close examination they seem just as insane for being at odds with one another. I’ve already mentioned that Musk’s proposed carbon tax doesn’t quite jibe with his staunch libertarianism.

But he also advocates a universal basic income, which, whatever you may think of it, is as anti-libertarian as one can get this side of the Soviet economy, circa 1938.

Then in the last two elections, Musk voted for Clinton and Biden, who are to libertarianism what Fido is to a lamppost. In between, he endorsed the rapper Kanye West for president, presumably with the ticket also including Eminem as VP candidate.

Now he wants to strengthen two evil dictatorships by letting them swallow two smaller countries courageously defending their freedom. I don’t know what Asperger’s does to one’s moral sense, but on this evidence it can’t be anything healthy.

You might accuse me of trying to medicalise words and actions I find objectionable, and you’d have a point. But in fact, by ascribing Musk’s off-the-wall pronouncements to Asperger’s, I may well be too kind to him.

Could it be that his mind only pretends to be off-track, while remaining firmly on it?

For example, his politics have been described as too omnivorous for integrity, what with Musk contributing to both main parties in the US. However, a closer look will reveal that he invariably supports candidates in the states where he has vested business interests.

Or consider his proposed carbon tax. If introduced, what would it do to the sales of electric cars, such as the Tesla, to take one random example? Quite.

By the same token, Musk’s attachment to the idea of space travel is inseparable from his company SpaceX that earlier this year launched its first spacecraft. Though I doubt this will lead to the colonisation of Mars, the former adman in me admires the publicity rewards doubtless reaped by the Tesla.

Yet the economic effect of those measures would be small potatoes compared to Russia and especially China opening their markets to the Tesla. And the quickest, possibly only, way of opening those markets is to curry favour with Putin and Xi. Considering how many Teslas are already made in China, Musk must be doing something right.

One detects the cold calculating mind of a businessman behind Asperger Elon’s crazy ideas, and that worries me more than any red-hot insanity would. I’ll take irrational madness over rational amorality any day.

Honey, I shrunk the language

The title of the 1989 film wasn’t grammatical, but then it didn’t have to be.

I strongly suspect the script writers knew that the past tense of ‘shrink’ is ‘shrank’, not ‘shrunk’, but they used the solecism for stylistic effect. (Not having seen the picture, I can’t tell you what the effect was.)

However, when similar and worse atrocities are perpetrated on English out of ignorance, and when such abuse is pandemic, the problem goes beyond just recondite conventions of grammar and usage.

Language, after all, shapes and communicates thought. The two are closely interconnected, although I don’t know the exact mechanism involved. Neither does anyone else though – this in spite of the billions pumped into assorted Decades of the Brain and Genome Projects.

Yet such gaps in our knowledge don’t negate purely empirical observations. The relevant one is that language and thought are married and, like all couples, affect each other – either positively or negatively.

Hence, those who express themselves in elegant, well-shaped sentences may or may not be great intellects, but then neither can they be stupid. When God gives people an ability to play language like a musical instrument, He also tends to give them good tunes to play.

Conversely, imprecise language usually betokens woolly thinking, especially when it comes out of the mouths of educated people who ought to know better.

Thus, I didn’t have to analyse the thought of Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, in any detail to know that he is far from being the intellectual giant he is often depicted to be. All I needed was this one sentence he wrote:

“In a church that accepts the legitimacy of contraception, the absolute condemnation of same-sex relations of intimacy must rely either on an abstract fundamentalist deployment of a number of very ambiguous biblical texts, or on a problematic and nonscriptural theory about natural complementarity, applied narrowly and crudely to physical differentiation without regard to psychological structures.”

Show me a man capable of writing this sentence and I’ll show you a man who is – what’s the polite term? – intellectually challenged. But my lament isn’t about any specific personalities.

Though linguistic failings are bad enough in each individual case, they point to an individual problem only. The problem, however, becomes a collective, civilisational calamity when it is widespread and – even worse – when most people dismiss it as an irrelevance. A society that neglects language ends up neglecting thought, and this is a grave matter.

One hears assorted ignoramuses justifying bad usage by saying that language develops. That’s true to the point of being a truism. However, the underlying assumption, common to modern barbarians, that all development is meliorative, is patently false.

Things that can get better can also get worse, and the second tendency is more common – so there go Darwin’s key assumptions, along with the fix they provide for progress junkies. And if the past couple of centuries are anything to go by, when it comes to matters of the mind the second tendency isn’t just more common but prevalent.

The key point is that, a huge influx of computer terms notwithstanding, the on-going changes to English are reductive. Rather than expanding, the language is shrinking.

English is blessed with the biggest vocabulary of all Indo-European languages, three times as big as the Russian lexicon, for example. That creates a glorious opportunity for precision – not just in language qua language, but also in underlying thought.

Alas, English doesn’t just offer endless opportunities for precision. It also lays traps and imposes tests. And anyone who ignores the vital distinctions among words that sound synonymous but aren’t will fall into the traps and fail the tests.

A case in point is the current problem experienced by Associated Newspapers, the publisher of The Mail. Several celebrities (dread word), including Elton John and Prince Harry Markle, are charging it with hacking.

Responding to the accusations, the company issued a statement, saying: “We utterly and unambiguously refute these preposterous smears…”

They do nothing of the kind. They don’t refute the “smears” – they deny them. To deny something means saying it’s untrue. To refute something means proving it’s untrue.

Disregarding this distinction isn’t just ignorance of the difference between two words. It’s ignorance of the difference between two concepts, and this failing is now commonplace.

“I refute what you are saying” is these days heard everywhere, and nowhere is it followed by an actual refutation. When a successful print medium blithely ignores the problem, it perpetuates not only bad usage, but also crude thought.

A personal example, if I may. Once a lovely young lady disagreed with something I said at a dinner party, which didn’t upset me: I am prepared to brook any disagreement from lovely young ladies.

Later that night I heard the girl’s mother recount the exchange to her father, who asked if the lovely young lady had argued with me. “She did,” said the mother. “She said she disagreed.”

This is a closely related problem. Saying one disagrees doesn’t amount to an argument: I can say I disagree with the heliocentric view of the universe, but I can’t argue against it.

An argument is the enunciation of a judgement, which in turn is an opinion rationalised. These days failure to distinguish among the three italicised words is endemic, as is saying “I feel” instead of “I think”. We used to have thinkers; now we have feelers.

In other words, an argument becomes one when it contains valid reasons for rejecting a statement. If no valid counterarguments are then presented by the utterer of the original statement, it stands not only rejected but also refuted.

If one word multi-tasks (another dread word) too much, it takes on jobs hitherto done by other words, thereby making them redundant. English shrinks as a result, and the thought it expresses follows suit.

Another factor of shrinkage is blind faith in synonyms. If two words mean the same thing, what’s the difference? There’s the rub: no two words, however close in meaning, mean exactly the same thing. There’s no such thing as complete synonyms: a distinguishing nuance always exists.

Faith in synonyms is aggravated by faith in cognates. For example, one never hears the word ‘masterly’ any longer; it has been ousted by ‘masterful’. But, though the two words are etymological siblings, they mean entirely different things. ‘Masterly’ means displaying mastery; ‘masterful’, being forceful, domineering.

This is one of many examples refuting, not just denying, the oft-heard claim that modern usage is all about everyday communication, not showing off one’s vocabulary. First, if language were all about everyday communication, we’d have neither Shakespeare nor the King James Version.

Second, our shrinking language undermines the very communication it’s supposed to foster. Hence a musical performance may be masterly without being masterful and vice versa. Therefore when it’s described as ‘masterful’, I don’t know what the reviewer means. The communication chain is broken by a shrinking language.

Our ancestors left us an immense wealth of capital, arguably the richest language on God’s green earth, and certainly the most precise. This is the capital we are busily frittering away, hoping there will still be enough left to last us our lifetime. Therein lies the danger, nay certainty, of linguistic, and therefore intellectual, bankruptcy.

Does this mean we aren’t as smart as we think we are?

Spanish Civil War still raging

There’s no point letting dogs lie if they’ve never been asleep. Everywhere one looks in Spain, one hears the howling, or at least growling, barks of the Civil War.

You’d think he were still alive

It ended in 1939. One would think the ensuing 83 years should be enough time to find reconciliation. But the reservoir of posthumous hatred of Franco never seems to be depleted.

The other day the Spanish parliament, dominated by socialists of various hues, passed a law that ought to raise serious concerns about the MPs’ mental health. They removed the amnesty for Franco-era atrocities and declared the 40 years of Franco’s rule illegal.

Let’s see. No veteran of the Civil War would be under 100 years of age. I don’t know how many are still around, but I doubt they’d add up to even a platoon. I also suspect that those few crumblies have more important things to worry about than an amnesty or lack thereof.

The post-war martial law lasted until 1948, after which few atrocities were committed. Again, I don’t know how many nonagenarian veterans of Franco’s 1940s secret police still survive, but I do know they’d have to be in their 90s at least.

So the gesture is strictly symbolic, but far be it from me to downplay the importance of symbolism. Symbols are concrete messages, not just abstract representations. And Spain’s socialist government is sending them to do what socialists do everywhere: falsify history to score political points du jour.

This isn’t to say that no atrocities were committed by Franco’s men. They were, and they were horrendous. But in any internecine war it takes two to paso doble.

Franco landed on the Spanish mainland to save the country from the blood-soaked mayhem into which it had been thrown by the extreme Left government of Largo Caballero, nicknamed the ‘Spanish Lenin’. The Spanish Lenin fell short of the original’s systematic monstrosity, but he was getting there.

The Spanish Left enjoyed the support of Stalin’s Comintern, a global cabal of communist subversion run and financed out of the Kremlin. And Stalin clearly saw the disintegration of public order in Spain as the troubled waters in which he could fish.

The Loyalist side of the war was quickly turned into a Stalin proxy. Thousands of Soviet ‘advisers’, pilots, tankers and of course NKVD officers poured into Spain. The latter instantly kicked off Stalinist purges, drowning Spain in blood. Franco had no option but to seek help from Hitler and Mussolini.

But, although Franco was happy to trade salutes with them, he wouldn’t trade favours. Thus Spain never entered the Second World War, and Franco even refused the Germans right of passage to Gibraltar. Talking to Franco is worse than having one’s teeth pulled, complained a frustrated Hitler.

Today’s ‘liberal’ historians like to portray Franco as a fascist. In fact, he was anything but.

Il Caudillo was a traditional God, king and country conservative, and the fascist Falange was only one element in his army. Apart from the Moroccan troops, the bulk of it was made up of the monarchist Carlists, traditional conservatives, Catholic radicals and just regular Catholics who were aghast at the on-going butchery of their coreligionists.

Communists hate religion more than they hate even Marx’s bogeymen, capitalists. Thus every Spanish Catholic was seen as an enemy. That was the theory.

The practice was the Loyalists destroying churches, murdering priests and monks, raping and eviscerating nuns (not always in that order) – and committing wide-ranging atrocities against all other groups communists loathe with spittle-spewing passion: aristocrats, conservatives, businessmen, non-communist intellectuals and politicians.

Had Stalin been allowed to have his way, Spain would have looked forward to decades of, well… If you want to know what it would have looked forward to decades of, just consider the fate of any country that fell into Stalin’s hands. Romania? Bulgaria? Albania?

Instead Spain got four decades of Franco’s rule, of which the last three were relatively vegetarian. Franco gradually rebuilt Spain, while managing to keep the worst aspects of modernity at bay. Moreover, he provided for a lawful transition of power to parliamentary government and constitutional monarchy.

This reminds me of the American admiral Ernest J. King. Before Pearl Harbour, his truculent nature had kept him from the highest command. Yet when the war started, King was immediately appointed Commander-in-Chief of the US Fleet. “When the shooting starts,” snarled the admiral, “they send for the sons of bitches.”

That’s what happened in Spain, 1936, and the son of a bitch the country sent for was Franco. He doubtless merited that sobriquet, for Franco was no angel. Yet the other side weren’t angels either. They were demons, of the worst kind so far known to man, although that may soon change.

The people running Spain now are heirs to those demons, capitalising on every part of their legacy except, for the time being, unbridled violence. They have a vested interest in depicting the Civil War as a struggle between good and evil, with their kind representing the former. And they don’t care how illiterate and disingenuous their rewrite of history is.

What about the amnesty for all those murderers of priests and rapists of nuns, chaps? Do they even need one, or are they seen as heroes?

Both sides murdered roughly the same number of people during the Civil War, about 50,000 each. At the risk of sounding biased, I’d even dare suggest that the Loyalists murdered better people, on average, than the rebels did. But I’m prepared to accept parity.

So what about Loyalist murderers? Why, they are allowed to live out their days in peace, of course. They were on the side of the leftist angels.

Three years ago, Franco’s remains were exhumed and taken out of the moving memorial in the Valley of the Fallen. Heirs to Caballero and Comintern thus won the battle against Franco dead, avenging the battle lost by their typological ancestors to Franco alive. The law they just pushed through is another battle won – against truth, knowledge and decency.

I use the Spanish Civil War as a litmus test consisting of just one question: “Which side would you have supported?” I once put this question to a good friend, a prominent Catholic academic.

Since his politics aren’t exactly stridently conservative, the question caused him some discomfort. After much inner turmoil he had to admit that, for all his reservations and against the better side of his nature, he would have been with Franco. “The other side were murdering Catholics,” he said ruefully.

No such compunctions for the Suarez government.