The Politics of Resentment and Debt

There is one group missing when we go designating those who use the resentment of populism to their advantage: the left. For example, their attempt to cap credit card interest rates, on the basis that borrowers know not what they do:

If there is any lack of understanding, I believe that it is an induced, or artificial, one in a situation where there is little motive to understand and every motive to misunderstand. Such people as indebt themselves on credit cards apply their intelligence (which is not lacking) in other ways and to other matters. Indeed, to indebt yourself when you know that, ultimately, you face no very severe consequence for doing so, other than intermittent anxiety, could be interpreted itself as a form of intelligence or rational calculation.

A Tourist at Muharram

Observing the ‪Muslim processions ‬of the first day of the Islamic ‪m‬onth of Muharram, in the Persian Gulf:

…perhaps my greatest surprise of the evening was when my friends showed me videos afterward of a Sunni comedian satirically mocking the Shia. He was dressed as an ayatollah who spoke pious idiocies, slapping himself on his chest in histrionic gestures of mourning, rendering ridiculous those of the Shia who do likewise in all seriousness, and all accompanied by raucous studio laughter. As far as I am aware, this intentionally insulting video, which if made and shown in the West would have resulted in howls of outrage (and not only from the Shia) and demands for prosecution under hate-crime laws, resulted in no threats or violence; only, perhaps, in a reinforcement of the age-old and reciprocated antagonism of the Shia toward the Sunni.

Turkish Delight

On a visit to Turkey:

The crowd in Istanbul Airport is very interesting to observe. On the one hand are the women who are dressed in a strange fashion that I have not noticed anywhere else in the Muslim world: a kind of long and shapeless gabardine sack of the most negative possible allure in the dullest of shades, that of concrete in the rain, that makes women look like a harvest of potatoes. By comparison with this, the burka is attractive and elegant.

On the other hand are the young men and women bearing tattoos. There has been a sudden explosion in their numbers: I noticed an increase in the last year alone since I was last there.

What is happening? It looks as if people are digging themselves into one of two incompatible identities, rather as they seem to be doing in many other countries. I sense that it will end badly (a friend of mine predicted a Mussolinian end for Erdogan): but a bad end is often also a bad beginning.

Love rats: Paris’s sentimental struggle with its rodents

We missed this piece from the Spectator in September in which Dalrymple reported on the growing population of rats in Paris. (That is not a metaphor.) An effort by the city to reduce their numbers is actually being met with opposition from some quarters — the usual ones.

Rat catchers have been accused of ‘genocide’ by Parisians: pity the poor rats! They too are sentient creatures, with as much a right to live as we, even if they sometimes give us rat-bite fever and leptospirosis (and pity the poor spirochaete, the causative organism of leptospirosis, which without the rat would be reduced to mice as a reservoir). At the last count, 25,000 people have signed a petition to halt the slaughter.

Fear of rats is socially constructed, don’t you know?

Read it here

What Happened to Memoirs?

Hillary Clinton has a new memoir called What Happened, in which she explains why she thinks she lost the election to Donald Trump. At City Journal, Dalrymple quotes from an acerbic review of the book by a French intellectual. He won’t review it himself, he says, because nothing could induce him to read it.

In fact, no memoir by any modern politician would tempt me to read it, since the main characteristic of such politicians is mediocrity tempered by unbridled ambition and lust for power. Better to reread Macbeth. Hillary Clinton, after all, is Lady Macbeth to Bill Clinton’s Felix Krull, the confidence trickster.

Perfecting Fear in Bureaucratic Society

Disclaimers, waivers, acknowledgements, assumptions of liability. We are surrounded, in an environment of legalistic arcana, by pointless forms that do nothing but create an atmosphere of threat and fear:

We pride ourselves on living in free societies, but I think that, more and more, that is not how we experience them. As our obligations weigh on us, we live in an atmosphere of fear— though not the kind that results from finding a snake under the bed. It is a miasma rather than focussed on any specific threat. It is composed of a thousand petty worries.

We fear to say anything much lest we give offense, and there are subjects that we avoid entirely. We commit innumerable passwords, codes and PIN numbers to memory lest we be swindled. Everywhere we go we are cajoled into safety. People now often say “Take care” to one another as they part, as if catastrophe were just round the corner for the unwary.

Only today, at a barber’s in France, I saw a notice to the effect that the use of razors was forbidden, as if every barber were a potential Sweeney Todd. If we travel, we spend hours taking security precautions against the rarest eventualities, while reluctantly half-acknowledging that they are necessary. We sign lengthy documents that we have not read and possibly could not understand if we did read them, but which might be used one day against us by faceless organizations. If we are professionals, we conform to procedures we know to be pointless but which it is too much trouble to protest against.

An Air-Conditioned Life

Having spent a week in the Persian Gulf, Dalrymple notes the extremely difficult lives of the Indian day laborers there and wonders whether such a system should be stopped:

If we did so, hundreds of thousands of people (and presumably their dependents) would have lost a chance of betterment of their lives. Only if, by losing that chance, they would have a better chance of betterment, which is intrinsically uncertain, would the prohibition or destruction of the system be a benefit. And this would suggest in turn that, at least in certain circumstances, there are desiderata more important than justice. So all is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds, after all: a comforting thought.

The Devil’s in the Diction

In City Journal Dalrymple discusses three words whose use “encourage[s] lazy and often deeply biased thinking”: liberalism, austerity and (below) poverty…

The connotation of poverty is that of Dr. Johnson’s definition: the want of necessities. And no one will be found to defend hunger, lack of shelter from the elements, or nakedness. But the denotation of poverty nowadays is not the same as its connotation. Almost always, the denotation of poverty nowadays is the possession of an income below 60 percent of the median income, so that what is meant is not so much poverty as inequality. A society in which everyone had a guaranteed six-figure income could thus have a great deal of “poverty,” and an incomparably poorer country could have much less poverty, in the technical sense of the word. In recessions, poverty of this sort decreases not because anyone is richer—quite the contrary: because the higher incomes decline, while (at least where there is Social Security) the lowest do not. But no one is materially better off as a result. Of course, this leaves quite untouched the question as to whether equality of outcome is desirable, which is a separate issue.

The Unanswerable

The Las Vegas killer’s motivation(s), says Dalrymple in City Journal, will never be understood:

Whatever background factors supposedly contributory to his commission of an atrocity are found, their explanatory power is almost certain to be minimal, because the number of people who share them, and yet do not mow down people from the heights of hotels in Las Vegas, is likely to be large, possibly vast. In any case, the connection between such factors and the behavior in question is very far from a Euclidean proof. How does a disturbed childhood, a failed love affair, low self-esteem, or whatever else, lead to the murder of 59 strangers?

The Necessity of Judgment

In First Things Dalrymple reviews Montaigne: A Life by Phillipe Desan, which he finds useful and “the product of immense and admirable erudition” but inelegantly written and incorrectly portrays the man as more a product of his times than as representative of universal truth:

When the author says, however, that “we have to demystify the conventional image of the essayist isolated in his tower, far from the agitations of his time, playing with his cat and inquiring into the human condition,” I think he sets up a false dichotomy between the particular and the universal. No human being lives in a world of complete abstraction (or abstractions), as if free from all circumstance whatever. To say that a man is affected by his surroundings and the times in which he lives is to say nothing more than that he is a man—for a man without any particular circumstances could not exist and is literally unimaginable (this is one of the reasons why heaven is so difficult to imagine and hell so easy, because the latter at least has events). But not every man who takes part in public events and writes about them is read more than four hundred years after his death, even by people who have no special interest in the times in which he lived or in events that he witnessed. For every thousand readers of Montaigne, there is only one person who makes the French wars of religion his special subject. Montaigne is not principally of antiquarian interest, though he may be that as well.

H/t Bill L.