Slippery Words and Evil Deeds

Terrorists are often not cowardly, but brave, says Dalrymple at the Library of Law and Liberty. But is acknowledging that really to compliment them?

The reason we call terrorists cowardly is that bravery is generally considered a virtue, and we are reluctant to accord people whom we abhor any virtues at all. We want our enemies to be endowed only with detestable qualities, and we are only too aware that courage is the virtue without which other virtues cannot be exercised. If someone were to say “these brave terrorist attacks,” we should suspect him of sympathizing with them.

This is all based on a confusion about the nature of the virtuousness of bravery. Bravery is not a free-standing virtue, as it were, such that anybody who displays it is thereby virtuous. It is like originality in art or architecture: originality is not a virtue unless in the production of something worthwhile sub specie aeternitatis, that is to say judged by a criterion other than originality itself.

Redemption Through Cruelty

In Taki’s Magazine Dalrymple explains the mindset of the lone-wolf Islamic terrorists responsible for recent attacks in Europe:

Armed at huge public expense with the worst education which could possibly be provided over the prolonged period of his childhood and adolescence (an adolescence from which he would never emerge into adulthood), made aware neither of the possibility or necessity of personal effort, his mind filled with ideas and values derived from debased products for consumption by proletarians manufactured by a cynical culture industry, neither obliged or able to earn a living, and aware of the disdain and contempt with which he would be viewed by anyone minimally successful, his mind a bubbling cauldron of inchoate resentment; how wonderful for him to have found a providential—and enjoyable—role and purpose in the world, namely to kill or injure people!

What We Can Learn from Today’s Medical Experiment Failures

In the latest installment of his Pajamas Media column, Dalrymple disagrees with the criticism medical researchers have received for publishing only their successes:

On reading the New England Journal of Medicine and other medical journals, I sometimes wonder whether the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction, in accentuating the negative. To read of so many bright ideas that did not work could act as a discouragement to others and even lead to that permanent temptation of ageing doctors, therapeutic nihilism. But the truth is the truth, and we must follow it wherever it leads.

The Despots of Democracy

There is much to be said about the problems in Greece, and Dalrymple has said much of it, but for now just consider the statements from the victorious Syriza party and the supportive media about the recent Greek elections. Syriza only won 36 percent of the vote, so is it really accurate to say they “swept into power”?

…in our political systems, minorities can pose as, and be taken for, majorities, while the leaders of those minorities comport themselves as if they were endowed with the divine right of kings to rule as they see fit just because they received more votes than anyone else. And this is in turn possible first because the state has now become so preponderant in our lives, and second because those who are duly elected according to the constitution have very little interior sense of personal limitation which might induce either caution or prudence.

Read the rest at Taki’s Magazine

France’s “Submission”

This review, in The New Criterion, of Michel Houellebecq’s new book Soumission (Submission) is a provocative introduction to the French author and his work, and also interesting in that it’s a review of a book about a profound topic, and one that Dalrymple often addresses himself:

Houellebecq is a writer with a single underlying theme: the emptiness of human existence in a consumer society devoid of religious belief, political project, or cultural continuity in which, moreover, thanks to material abundance and social security, there is no real struggle for existence that might give meaning to the life of millions…This tone is in a way worse than mere despair, which has at least the merit of strength and of posing a possible solution, namely suicide; the Houellebeckian mood is as chronic illness is to acute, an ache rather than a pain.

The novel itself sounds fascinating, profound and extraordinarily well-timed in its relevance to recent events in France:

The subtlety of Houellebecq’s book consists of demonstrating that the spiritual need of the protagonist can be made to coincide with his material interest. The universities are closed for a time after the accession of [France’s new Muslim president] Ben Abbes to power, but re-open sometime thereafter. Teachers such as the protagonist of Soumission are offered redundancy on full pension, which he at any rate is happy to take. The alternative is continuing in his post, at a salary three times greater than that before, the difference being paid for by subventions from Saudi Arabia and Qatar—subventions which, incidentally, allow the universities of Paris to escape from their dispiriting grunginess under French state finance to some semblance of the grandeur of the medieval Sorbonne. But the quid pro quo for receiving the higher salary and being permitted to teach at the university at all is conversion to Islam.

Note, however, that there is a major spoiler in the review.

Lunch Conquers All, Part 2

Cash is nice, but nothing corrupts like a free lunch:

Yes, lunch conquers all, more than love. When, as happens occasionally, some politician’s corruption stands revealed in the press, what shocks me about it is often the trifling amount by which he has benefited and by which he had allowed himself to be corrupted. Just as it is the small insults, humiliations and acts of disdain that people have suffered rather than frightful injustices that move them to political anger and even violence, so it is small obligations that are more corrupting than large. Large sums of money transferred to a secret account are impersonal; lunch is a social event.

Chinese Puzzles

A photograph can say a lot, says Dalrymple, but it’s still a subjective look at one corner of a complex world. Take those old photos of Shanghai he recently saw. The city looked relatively prosperous.

Did the camera lie? Not in the sense that it produced an image of what was not there to be seen, or in the sense that something had been airbrushed out in Stalinist fashion. But of course no number of photographs could capture the whole of reality, and everyone who wields a camera has a point of view, something that he wants to convey to others, and many things that he does not want to convey to others. Even the framing of a photograph for purely aesthetic reasons excludes what disturbs a composition, an ugly building next to a beautiful one, for instance. The camera is susceptible to all the rhetorical tricks of speech.

Of Public Sector Millionaires

There is a lot of ad hominem argumentation around, and often the arguments attempt to disprove someone’s beliefs or statements based upon the supposed financial gain they will derive from the outcome for which they argue. There is some truth in this line of attack, Dalrymple says at the Library of Law and Liberty, but it’s more complex than all that:

If someone does something of which we disapprove, something dishonest, and we discover that he has benefited financially from it, we say aha, now we understand!

Often, of course, we are not wrong; yet sometimes the situation is psychologically more complex than what is captured in that cynical “aha” moment. People can easily persuade themselves that what is in their own interest is also in the interest of humanity, their country, the town in which they live. Even the most unimaginative people can be highly inventive when it comes to rationalization. There is scarcely anyone so dull of intellect that he cannot make a thousand excuses for himself when the occasion requires.

….

It is a crude view of human life and psychology, however, to suppose that only financial inducement can constitute a vested interest. A worldview, one could say, is as much a vested interest as a block of shares….Worldviews determine economic interests as much as economic interests determine worldviews.

The Parents’ Impossible Choice: Increase Your Premature Baby’s Risk of Death or Blindness?

This column at Pajamas Media gives some sense of the ethical dilemmas faced in medical research:

How informed is informed? What is the psychological effect of being told of every last possible complication of a treatment? Do all people react the same way to information, or does their reaction depend upon such factors as their intelligence, level of education, cultural presuppositions, and if so does the informing doctor have to the account of them, and if so how and to what degree? An orthopedic surgeon once told me that obtaining informed consent from patients now takes him so long that he had had to reduce the number of patients that he treats.