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It’s like the old saying goes, “Hard times create strong men, strong men create good times, good times create weak men, and weak men create hard times.”

In fact, as the saying goes, this one isn’t that old. But it’s true. There is only one thing I would add: the hard times also seem to create happy men, while the good times create a whole generation of miserable bastards.

I think of my grandfather, Warren. After growing up in poverty during the Great Depression, he fought in World War II and in Korea. Yet he was the nicest, sweetest man I have ever known. We have always been solidly from the working class; my grandfather drove an oil truck before joining the fire department. Yet he was also one of the smartest men I have ever met. And when he died we found a copy of Charles and Mary Lamb’s book Shakespeare’s Tales on his bedside table.

I don’t think he was that unusual either. Just look at the numbers. From divorce rates to drug use, the greatest generation beat us. In some demographic groups, even their life expectancy was longer. They didn’t have as much formal education as we do today, but they read a lot more. They also had skills, useful skills. They could change a tire and replace an electrical outlet.

It seems like an easy conservative topic of conversation. Instead, it’s now fashionable in right-wing circles to write “comfortable” writers like CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien. We are too wise for hobbits, elves and magic wardrobes. Right?

Well, Lewis and Tolkien were both injured during World War I, Lewis’s division was hit by a German shell, his body was riddled with shrapnel: “I discovered (or thought I discovered) that I was not breathing and I concluded that it was death. I felt no fear and certainly no courage. It didn’t seem like an opportunity for either of them. In his introduction to the Lord of the RingsTolkien notes that “By 1918, all but one of my close friends were dead.”

Yet they refused to be cynical. What’s our excuse?

Here is my theory. I think we struggle to be happy because we never really suffered together. Of course, every man has his cross to bear. But when we suffer, it is senseless and sporadic; we lose a mother to cancer or a child in a car accident. We weren’t asked to sacrifice ourselves for a cause, something bigger than ourselves.

War is generally good for bringing a nation together, and we have had no shortage of wars. Yet look how our soldiers pacifist backs like Ron Paul. Sure we fight, but no one seems quite sure what we’re fighting for.

Washington is trying to portray its shadow war with Russia as the struggle that will define our generation. Of course, the American people know that Putin is not Hitler. They don’t want to lose their treasure (much less their blood) to a millennial regional dispute in Eastern Europe.

Yet, ironically, we are told to sacrifice more for this non-war in Ukraine than we ever did for our nation-building projects in the Middle East. And wait for winter, if the price of oil doubles even triples. American families will struggle to feed themselves. Some of our compatriots could die of cold. As always, our old and rural poor will be hardest hit.

However, it is not because the fight is useless that the fight – the sacrifice – must be in vain.

I re-read the classic Dorothy Sayers essay “Why work? » Published during World War II, the great novelist explains how war teaches us the true value of things – and it teaches us the hard way. “We were forced to revert to the social morality of our great-grandparents,” she observes:

When a piece of lingerie costs three precious coupons, we must consider not only its glamorous value, but also its lifespan. When the fats are rationed, the leftovers should not be thrown away, but jealously put to good use what it has cost so much time and pain to raise and raise. When paper is scarce, we have to – or should – ask ourselves if what we have to say is worth saying before we write it down or print it. When our life depends on the land, we must pay in commons to destroy its fertility through neglect or overuse. When a booty of herrings takes valuable manpower from the armed forces and is gathered at the peril of human life by bombs, mines and machine guns, we read a new meaning in those dark words that appear so often in the fishmonger’s shop: NO FISH. TODAY…

It was, I think, the secret of our grandparents’ happiness. This is the virtue of saving.

Saving begins as a kind of necessary evil, but it survives as an act of gratitude. When you understand the true value of things, waste is impossible. You are grateful – truly grateful – for every slice of bacon, every piece of paper. You desire less, and the little you have brings you more joy. (Apparently Queen Elizabeth always keeps her corn flakes in a Tupperware container, just like she did during the Blitz.)

Even now, there are Americans who are beginning to teach themselves the virtues of saving. We learn to bake our own bread and plant our own “victory gardens”. These are good healthy pastimes. They give us more satisfaction than watching Netflix or playing Vidya. They beautify our homes. They help us to be more present both in place and in time.

Here in the Davis household, we’re getting a head start on rationing. We can’t afford to eat as much meat as we used to, but that just means we enjoy every bite even more. We had to cancel more than half of our magazine subscriptions, but now I have time to read every issue of Touchstone from cover to cover. We also had to cut our book buying budget to around $0, even though that turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Everyone knows that a true bibliophile does not sully his love of books by reading them. The object of his desire must remain pure, undefiled, like Dante’s Beatrice. Whether or not true, it’s a good excuse to let hundreds of unread books pile up around your ears. Still, to be honest, hoarding books didn’t make me like them. I think I always kind of blamed them. They seemed to be ganging up on me. Every time I sat down to read one, five more appeared on my desk. They all sat around, doing no one any good, slowly draining my bank account.

Now the flow has stopped, and I’m glad to have them around. In fact, now that our shelves have calmed down a bit, I only want to read the old favorites – Robert Frost, PG Wodehouse, the King James version. It’s a cliché, but it’s true: old books are like old friends. The ones we really love will come back to us.

Speaking of friends, I think scarcity will teach us a lot about loving your neighbor. If our country is going to weather this storm, we are all going to have to do more, much more, for those less fortunate. But I think it will also disperse a lot of the distractions that come between us and our family and friends.

For most Americans, if trends continue, going out to restaurants and bars will become totally unaffordable. Streaming services are already increasing their fees; before long, they could withdraw from the market. We may all need to spend more time sitting around the kitchen table playing cards, drinking cheap beer, swapping stories, swapping jokes – the stuff that friendship really is. done.

But the most important lesson is this: life is fragile. Prosperity and security are not the norm in human history. They are the exception.

I think that’s why it’s so hard for us to understand the past, especially times like the Middle Ages. We believe that medieval Christians softened the reality of suffering and death by retreating into fantasies about heavenly rewards. I really can’t think of anything more obviously wrong. Looking at Notre-Dame Cathedral or reading the Canterbury Tales or by studying the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, one cannot help but come away with the impression that the medievals really appreciated life – more than us, I guess.

To quote GK Chesterton (another “comfortable” writer), “The way to love something is to realize it can be lost.” This goes for life itself, as much as it does for books or bacon.

This recession can last a year, or ten years, or the rest of our lives. Who knows? But let’s hope that these difficult times will make us strong (and happy) men. And hopefully we can pass those lessons on to our children.

As Sayers points out, it only takes one generation to learn the virtue of saving, but it only takes another to forget it. As the war drew to a close, she feared that Britain was “again misled by our vanity, indolence and greed to keep the squirrel cage of economic waste going”.

Yet there is a better way: “We could, you and I, bring down the whole fantastic profitable waste economy overnight, without legislation and without revolution, simply by refusing to cooperate with it. No matter how much we suffer, or how needlessly, it must not be in vain. Ukraine’s war with Russia is not our fight, but we can still discover something worth fighting for. It’s only when life becomes a struggle that we truly learn to Direct.