Peritus Parasitus Wants Its Host Alive But Not Healthy

It turns out that the virus that has laid waste to our common life was almost certainly produced in a Chinese laboratory. Whether it was by design or by accident hardly matters in this case, since the effect has been the same, and since it will not be the first such enervating virus let loose upon the people of the world by those who have an interest in keeping them perpetually weak and unable to rise up in revolt.

For our experts, it has been the worst of years, and the best of years: the worst, because their failures and foolishness have been manifest; the best, because they have, by managed and controlled failure, increased their power and extended their reach. 

We must no longer assume that such failure is a fault of the system. It is a kind of recirculating product and fuel. The system feeds upon failure, managed and controlled. Outside of those ventures wherein failure is soon obvious and meets a ruthless punishment—your bridge collapses, the power plant explodes, your patrons die of food poisoning—the expert can provide for himself an endless supply of patients for his expertise. It need not be, and it rarely is, a conscious swindle. The expert usually does believe that he can benefit the patient, even though, when you stand back from the enterprise and regard its results from the vantage of the health and sickness of cultures and nations, you see little but colossal failure.

So let us call them periti parasiti, the “expert parasites who sicken the host and keep it sick, and multiply the ways in which it is sick, and multiply treatments for the sicknesses they have caused, which in turn corroborate the sicknesses while allowing the host to go about some of its ordinary business, but always in a low fever, with a trembling in the joints, and no confidence in the heart.

Let me illustrate first by contrast. Before the Mexican-American war, who were the wealthiest people north of the Rio Grande and west of the Mississippi? Very likely they were the Indians who lived in the California missions. The priests kept precise and detailed accounts of how many thousands of heads of cattle the mission owned, how many bushels of flour they milled from the grain they grew, how much wine they made each year from the winepress, and how much olive oil. They took the most brutalized of the Indian tribes, and taught them, and gave them a good life beyond compare. Each mission was like a man-made oasis in a desert of despair. The success in worldly terms alone was spectacular.

But that was what monks and friars had been doing for centuries, wherever they went. They got results. Who cleared the forests in fruitful Germany and drained off the standing water from rich low-lying lands? The monks did. No surprise, monasteries became the seeds of villages and towns; people who had nothing would turn to them, where there was work, and food, and a common and vigorous life, and that is not even to discuss the hope instilled in them for eternal things.

The monks and friars were the precise reverse of the parasitical. They created their own place and their own wealth, and they built up the people who joined them, and who would themselves go on to learn of things whose existence they had never conceived, and to do things that their ancestors would have regarded with wonder.

The peritus parasitus is not like that at all. Examples are ready to hand. American schools have long been good, fat, hosts for the expert, because no matter how bad and destructive the parasite’s action is, people still have brains of a sort, and there are floors below which their stupidity is not going to fall. It is true that the checker at the store will be sent spinning by the trivial question, “What is a 20 percent discount on an item that costs $35?” But the machine works in any case, and enough people can do the operation, which is rather like counting to twenty on your fingers and toes, to keep the market from collapsing.

Now imagine you are in an American school in 1890. You have a well-defined job to get done, fast. Not many students are going to graduate from high school, because they have more urgent things to do, so you have to teach them to read and write and reckon up numbers before they leave: you have no time to waste. 

But 40 years later, periti parasiti have taken hold of the schools that school the teachers, and the “new and improved” way of teaching English sets in like a simmering plague—to teach it as if it were composed of Chinese pictograms; as if it were not a language that, with all its quirky exceptions, is phonetic in its spelling. It destroys whole generations of readers, and it still does, because more than 60 years after the publication of Why Johnny Can’t Read, teachers have still not caught on, possibly because there is no reward for catching on. Imagine how many posts for remedial teachers would disappear by virtue of success.

Or imagine you are in an American school in 1960, and the day is about to begin. You and your classmates say a prayer or sing a hymn. The people want it that way, and it has been so in America since its inception. It too is a study in competence: the citizens of a town, the parents of the school children, and the teachers and the one or two administrators of the school come up with a solution that is generally satisfactory. 

But the peritus parasitus attacks: legal minds find in the Constitution what is not there, imposing upon the document an interpretation that only someone advanced in self-deceit and pride could find. One of the results, and by far not the worst, is that the diktat of the governing parasites breeds endless litigation, on what is and what is not permitted, and where, and how, and for whom, so that nobody really knows—not even the periti parasiti know—what is or is not constitutional when it comes to religious expression in a public school. The ordinary citizen either concedes and walks away, or applies the least sensible but safest measure, which is to banish such expression from schools altogether.

Consider the same school in 1980. It’s a bad place, but at least it does not yet preach utter moral confusion and depravity. People understand that boys are boys and girls are girls, and they take for granted that one of the crucial jobs the older generation must do—and they have not been doing well at it—is to get the boys and girls married. But the periti parasiti intrude, and now it is all confusion and ideologically constructed ignorance. 

In old days, everybody took for granted what they saw with their own eyes, that there were boys and girls, just as they still see and take for granted that dogs come in two sexes, as do cats, and horses and cows and pigs and birds and so on. In these new days, you have to do due diligence among the experts to determine how many genders there are, and what is held to distinguish them. You must sweat to attain to a stupidity that unassisted Nature had never conferred upon a single human being in the history of the world.

If I need to fix my water pipes, I call a plumber, and I can evaluate his work quickly and easily: the water goes into the sink and not all over the floor. But most work in our time is not like that. Government at all levels is certainly not like that; even our armies are no longer like that. We are astonished to see colleges sucking more and more blood from the body politic, most of it going not to instruction but to administration—for self-caused problems, as when the parasite gives the host a rash, or for the proliferation and the extension of problems already in existence. 

Students are encouraged to think of themselves as dependent upon, and assisted by, services that keep them largely infantile, that protect them (sort of) from their own foolishness, and that can threaten any upstart professor who refuses to go along. Conflicts that used to be settled in two minutes by a dean knocking a couple of heads together and saying, “Wise up, shake hands, and don’t let me see you here again,” now require months of investigation, the intrusive work of committees, much surveillance and indirection, and huge expense; and they are not settled.

No surprise. Peritus parasitus wants the host alive, not healthy.

About Anthony Esolen

Anthony Esolen is a professor and writer in residence at Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts, in Warner, New Hampshire. Dr. Esolen is a senior editor for Touchstone Magazine and a contributing editor for Chronicles. He is a regular contributor to Crisis Magazine and the author of many books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regnery Press, 2008); Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI Books, 2010) and Reflections on the Christian Life (Sophia Institute Press, 2013). His most recent books are Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching (Sophia Institute Press, 2014); Defending Marriage (Tan Books, 2014); Life Under Compulsion (ISI Books, 2015); Real Music: A Guide to the Timeless Hymns of the Church (Tan Books, 2016); Out of the Ashes (Regnery, 2017); Nostalgia (Regnery, 2018); and Sex and the Unreal City (Ignatius, 2020).

Photo: iStock/GettyImages

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