Friday, 16 March 2018

Model Prisons by Thomas Carlyle

Find at:
Latter Day Pamphlets

The nature of the pamphlet is of the button-holing order of rhetoric. You are stopped and searched and perhaps arrested by its inflammatory style of delivery. There is no subtle exegesis, nothing tentative in this downright shout. It comes within the general category of ‘awake ye sleepers for the day is at hand’. So it is with No.II in Latter Day Pamphlets entitled Model Prisons by Thomas Carlyle. 1850 as now in 2018 was an age of cant. We call it political correctness but it emerges from the same miserable psychic reticule. One particular paragraph that has been objected to is Carlyle’s depiction of the prisoners in what was probably Pentonville (London, England) which was generally referred to as ‘the model prison’. Strict panopticon Benthamite principles along with segregation,silence and the treadwheel were applied with an introductory several months of solitary confinement. A sure way of driving men insane. Charles Dickens in David Copperfield has his hero visit this prison now run by the sadistic ex-principal of the school he attended. That particular episode was written some months after his friend Carlyle’s publication.

In fact it was too clear, this excellent man had got a field for his faculties which, in several respects, was by no means the suitable one. To drill twelve hundred scoundrels by "the method of kindness," and of abolishing your very tread-wheel,—how could any commander rejoice to have such a work cut out for him? You had but to look in the faces of these twelve hundred, and despair, for most part, of ever "commanding" them at all. Miserable distorted blockheads, the generality; ape-faces, imp-faces, angry dog-faces, heavy sullen ox-faces; degraded underfoot perverse creatures, sons of indocility, greedy mutinous darkness, and in one word, of STUPIDITY, which is the general mother of such. 
.......These abject, ape, wolf, ox, imp and other diabolic-animal specimens of humanity, who of the very gods could ever have commanded them by love? A collar round the neck, and a cart-whip flourished over the back; these, in a just and steady human hand, were what the gods would have appointed them; and now when, by long misconduct and neglect, they had sworn themselves into the Devil's regiments of the line, and got the seal of Chaos impressed on their visage, it was very doubtful whether even these would be of avail for the unfortunate commander of twelve hundred men! By "love," without hope except of peaceably teasing oakum, or fear except of a temporary loss of dinner, he was to guide these men, and wisely constrain them,—whitherward? 

Here Carlyle is being led by the physiognomical theories of the 17th. century painter Charles Le Brun of whom the Wikipedia article states:

Charles Le Brun

The nature of his emphatic and pompous talent was in harmony with the taste of the king (Louis XIV)

A catalogue of his drawings on the topic of animal features in the types of human physiognomy can be seen at

The second half of the above citation might be termed ‘the Abu-Grahib’ model to which is added in the Homeland the threat of buggery.

It is very hard to arrive at a penology which can reconcile making the punishment fit the crime and at the same time rehabilitate the criminal. The Danes seem to be on the right track and the Americans on precisely the wrong one. (‘Cant except in the matter of money making’ as Carlyle remarked applies to the latter.) Other systems of incarceration fall between those two extremes. Taking away a man’s liberty ought to be enough to make him reconsider his direction in life.

What is the feng shui of those postal districts which supply most of the criminals in any city. It must be inauspicious.
Who you gonna call:

Monday, 12 March 2018

William Hazlitt on Public Opinion (and a little Kitty the Hare story_

Not only is it spurious and hollow in the way that Mr. Locke points out, by one man’s taking up at second hand the opinion of another, but worse than this, one man takes up what he believes another will think, and which the latter professes only because he believes it held by the first! All, therefore, that is necessary to control public opinion, is to gain possession of some organ loud and lofty enough to make yourself heard, that has power and interest on its side; and then, no sooner do you blow a blast in this trump of ill-fame, like the horn hung up on an old castle-wall, than you are answered, echoed, and accredited on all sides: the gates are thrown open to receive you, and you are admitted into the very heart of the fortress of public opinion, and can assail from the ramparts with every engine of abuse, and with privileged impunity, all those who may come forward to vindicate the truth, or to rescue their good name from the unprincipled keeping of authority, servility, sophistry, and venal falsehood!
...... and drop into an English reading-room hard by: what are you the better? You see a dozen or score of your countrymen with their faces fixed, and their eyes glued to a newspaper, a magazine, a review—reading, swallowing, profoundly ruminating on the lie, the cant, the sophism of the day! Why? It saves them the trouble of thinking; it gratifies their ill-humour, and keeps off ennui! Does a gleam of doubt, an air of ridicule, or a glance of impatience pass across their features at the shallow and monstrous things they find? No, it is all passive faith and dull security; they cannot take their eyes from the page, they cannot live without it. They believe in their adopted oracle (you see it in their faces) as implicitly as in Sir John Barleycorn, as in a sirloin of beef, as in quarter-day—as they hope to receive their rents, or to see Old England again!

When Kitty Holland of the Irish Times in the interests of Ethos, Pathos and a little light Logos told the world about her two abortions offers a story about how in a nailed down liberal vote bank like Dublin South there is uncertainty about repeal of the Eight Amendment:
kitty holland
I find that I too am shocked by such an obvious fable. Remembering Holland’s coverage of the Savita case which has been disputed as to its veracity I wonder what is the point? Are pro-life canvassers being misdirected to where their efforts will be in vain away from the working class areas where there are undecided voters? What was also being promoted by Pat Leahy a senior political correspondent in the same paper this morning was the plea for respectful disagreement. Ah the soothing muzak of political liberalism. Sweet reason and compromise must prevail.

Philosophers will, by reducing this intractable conflict to a discussion of personhood etc miss the point completely. The issue is not a matter of definition or what can be teased out and agreed on. It’s instinctive or a gut feeling about what is at the bottom of the abortionist’s bucket.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Argumentum ad Shibbolethum

In a reply to a comment on the previous post I made a typo ‘englism’ for ‘english’. I now propose ‘englism’ as a neologism useful to describe the type of sentence in which a series of ideological positions which reflect a liberal consensus are simply linked in a catenary which is believed to be adamantine.

eg.: if it was a theocracy that might be suitable but as for a secular democratic/representative nation it suck.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Irish Supreme Court upholds Immaculate Conception

Staying strictly within the letter of the constitution (8th.Amendment) a child in the womb has only the right to life and no right to the nurturance of a father when born or the support of a father to the mother of the unborn child. This sets parentage at naught. Of course we understand that it is important to have the right to deport to Nigeria a man who is the (unborn?) father of an unborn who has somehow come magically to exist in the womb of an Irishwoman. Until the unborn is born the man is not a father nor the mother a mother.

I think this is better than the American privacy ruling. It has a theological aspect to it which is fitting for a Catholic country.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Augustine, Advaita and Anti-Pelagianism

As Bergson has it we still go to the Greeks for instruction. We can discern in their religious history a progression from the Dionysian to the Orphic to the Pythagorean to the Platonic and culminating as a living force for Christianity in the Alexandrine mysticism of Plotinus. We steer a safe passage between autocthonism and parallomania by the pole star of natural human self transcendence. Those ‘spots of time’ that Wordsworth writes about are the inklings which generate a comprehensive vision.

I have been imagining Augustine under the sway of Advaitic thought but still arriving at a similar destination. My father claimed to have heard this dialogue at the checkout:

- Where did you go on your holidays?
- Spain
- Where in Spain?
- I don’t know, it was dark when we landed.

Advaitin wisdom would have fortified Augustine’s reaction to Pelagius. Do you need a teacher and is initiation, and the grace of a sat-guru required? Yes, yes and yes. The optimistic complacency of Pelagius arises from his own ascetic temperament. It is not scalable. When you generalise it, what emerges is like a philosophical rational nostrum or an enlightenment remedy which can be readily summarised as - ‘it’s nice to be nice’.


Spots of Time:

There's a steroscopic aspect to realisation. What gives depth and fullness to experience is an an ability to immerse ourselves in it in a non-dual way. The object of experience is set against the subject of experience but at the same time what makes experiencing possible is the underlying ontological unity. The object can come to be in the subject. Clearly this non-dual realisation is a rare event in the lives of most of us but as Wordsworth has said in his 'spots of time' passage they are vital.

There are in our existence spots of time,
Which with distinct pre-eminence retain
A vivifying Virtue, whence, depress'd
By false opinion and contentious thought,
Or aught of heavier or more deadly weight
In trivial occupations, and the round
Of ordinary intercourse, our minds
Are nourished and invisibly repair'd,
A virtue by which pleasure is enhanced
That penetrates, enables us to mount
When high, more high, and lift us up when fallen.
This efficacious spirit chiefly lurks
Among those passages of life in which
We have deepest feeling that the mind
Is lord and master, and that outward sense
Is but the obedient servant of her will.
Such moments worthy of all gratitude,
Are scattered everywhere, taking their date
From our first childhood: in our childhood even
Perhaps are most conspicuous.

(Bk.XI. ln.258 foll.)

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Snow Men

You thought of it too as you saw Leo V. acting presidential with the Emergency Co-Ordinating Crew all dressed in their uniforms. (But the hipsterry tight suit) A military man in a dashing berry, the somewhat abashed Inspector of Police in his blue blouson with the little belt, the orange clad heli rescue chap. A great photo-op and then it came to me -
‘In Ireland there’s two inches of snow,
In Ireland there’s no place you can go,
We’re gritting the ground,
Stay indoors and you’re sound.... etc.
I soothe myself with these marvellous cadences:

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.
(from The Dead by James Joyce)

‘faintly falling’ and ‘falling faintly’ and this swooning crack; is it not a bit Paterish? It’s good but verging on the exquisite.

I’ll get my coat.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Bergson 'Explaining' Religion

Some would regard Bergson’s explaining of the sources of religion the explaining away of religion. That is certainly not correct. As stated in the Wikipedia article on Bergson:

Bergson inclined to convert to Catholicism, writing in his will on 7 February 1937: My thinking has always brought me nearer to Catholicism, in which I saw the perfect complement to Judaism.Though wishing to convert to Catholicism, as stated in his will, he did not convert in view of the travails inflicted on the Jewish people by the rise of Nazism and anti-Semitism in Europe in the 1930s; he did not want to appear to want to leave the persecuted. On 3 January 1941 Bergson died in occupied Paris from bronchitis. A Roman Catholic priest said prayers at his funeral per his request.

The sources of religion are found because they are there to be found. What could be simpler? There is no invention involved but the evolution towards monotheism that he traces is moulded by the matrix of the culture.

The truth is that religion, being co-extensive with our species must be an effect of our structure. We have just now connected it with a fundamental experience; but that experience was such that we had an inkling of it before encountering it; in any case it is quite easily explained when it has been encountered....

The inkling, that’s the thing, the high at the tip of your mind that we are perfectly at home with because it is part of the structure of human existence. The advaitins would have it that consciousness with its immediate self awareness is the present link, the yoga or yoke or ‘religio’. It’s not that we invent Santa God and then find him and begin to bother him with lists. The power of reflection itself is the gateway:

You bring reflexion into play, however, and this conviction will vanish; man will perceive himself, will think of himself as a speck in the immensity of the universe. He would feel lost, if the effort to live did not at once project into his intelligence, into the very place that this perception and this reflexion were about to occupy, the opposing image of things and events turning towards man; whether well or ill disposed, a certain intention of his environment follows him then everywhere, just as the moon seems to run with him when he runs. If it be good, he will rely on it. If it bodes harm, he will try to avert its effects. In any case, it means that he has been taken into account. Here is no theory, no room for the arbitrary. This conviction is forced upon him, there being no philosophy about it, but a vital impulsion.
(from The Two Sources of Morality and Religion)