Sunday, February 6, 2022


We're having a more normal Vermont winter this year, which is what I prefer. If there isn't at least a foot of snow on the ground and the temperature never hits -20, something feels wrong. The only problem is that, with COVID-19, you get sort of a double-cabin-fever effect. Fortunately, we are able to socialize a little and had someone over for dinner last night. COVID is declining rapidly here, and it looks as if this spring will be similar to last spring, with activities widening again. The winter is a problem for William, though. He doesn't spend much time outdoors hunting when the snow is deep and, because he is wilder than most cats, he gets restless indoors. He doesn't lounge around, look at birds through the window or play with cat toys. He eats too much and gets fat. The first winter that we had him, he was incautious and spent so much time outdoors that his ears froze, but now he is more careful. He has to be locked in the basement for much of the day because he can be a real pest. I've cleared away the snow from his cat exit, and he goes out on his own when he likes. I don't think he's caught a mouse since November or December, whereas he often catches two or three a day during the summer. They are still out there, and you can see their tracks in the snow.

Over the last few winters I've usually had longer books to read. Now that I'm finished with Voltaire, I'm also getting tired of the Enlightenment. When you look closely at the past, you can clearly see how historians have oversimplified and idealized it: they like to create national myths with heroic figures and, especially in the U.S., to congratulate their forebears on their wisdom. A more thorough investigation usually indicates that there was actually little wisdom to be found, and, if there was any, it may already have been forgotten. This is why I have always found it difficult to take historians seriously. The French Revolution occurred not because the philosophes enlightened the public, but because the monarchy and the Catholic Church governed very poorly. The problem of poor governance has never been solved, and many of the same risks exist today. While the separation of church and state is still technically holding up in some countries, if you broaden the definition of "church" to "baseless ideology," practically nothing has changed in three hundred years. France was like a medieval kingdom until 1789, and, though I often prefer French culture to English culture, at least the English were able to remove both the monarchy and the church with less violence. What we are witnessing now are overpopulation, climate change and increased wealth inequality, and, among the competing ideologies, there is no frontrunner. There are still monarchies, theocracies, dictatorships and oligarchies, and although some of the democracies are wealthy, wealth inequality is causing political instability. I find it embarrassing to live in a country led by an inarticulate Catholic president, with a demonstrably corrupt and incompetent figure dominating the other major political party. If this were a rational country, presidents would never attend church services and Donald Trump would be in jail. Meanwhile, the masters of the universe in high-tech industries are either getting divorces, making ridiculous plans to colonize Mars or creating products for consumers to live in fantasy worlds full-time.

I have some books on hand to read, but at the moment most of them don't appeal to me. I just started on The Collected Stories of Katherine Mansfield, because I still like her writing a lot. This book includes The Garden Party and Other Stories, which I read and discussed earlier, and I may discuss other stories after I've read them.

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