No Ghost in the Machine

At City Journal, Dalrymple says the recent cyberattacks remind him of the short story “The Machine Stops” by E.M. Forster:

One normally associates Forster with the trembling of genteel emotions rather than with apocalyptic visions. But in this story, set at some unspecified time in the distant future, Forster brilliantly intuited certain modern developments in the life of our species…

Read it here

Once More With Feelings

Dalrymple’s reflections on his own emotions, in this piece at Taki’s Magazine, serve as a good summary of the social justice warrior phenomenon:

The desire not to have one’s feelings hurt has been erected into a right, a right increasingly enforceable at law. Of course, not everyone’s feelings are treated with the solicitude that we show to a nice fluffy colorful species of animal that is, regrettably, on the verge of extinction. But there is no doubt that treating people’s feelings with this solicitude tends not only to preserve them but to cause them to flourish and multiply. The more you are preserved from hurt feelings, the more of them you have.

But as I have already observed, hurt feelings are not as unpleasurable as the psychologically naive might suppose. All is not pain that shouts its name… The inflammation of feeling, in fact, is sometimes an end in itself, indulged in for the sheer pleasure of it, which is not, of course, to say that no outrage is ever genuine.

Read the rest here

Back to Marie Antoinette

Is society actually dividing into a succeeding class and a failing one, as many suggest?

I am generally rather sceptical of alleged divisions into two of societies as complex as ours. First, no one agrees as to where the fracture actually is. Between the richest and the poorest, the most and the least educated, the healthiest and the unhealthiest, there are many gradations, imperceptible when viewed close-up. Nor does the alleged division into two allow for social mobility or for the possibility that a young person currently at the bottom of the pile will slowly mount that pile, even if he does not ascend to the top of it.

There are, moreover, an infinite number of ways of dividing society into two, for example those who try to do so and those who don’t, those with flat feet and those without, and so on ad infinitum. The significance of the social dichotomies is not a natural fact but has to pass through the human mind in order to attain any importance. No society is divided but thinking divides it so.

Call Centres, the West’s version of North Korea

The removal of judgment and nuance is not just a feature of the modern public sector bureaucracy but also of the private. Look at those phone calls with customer support representatives, for example:

‘We need to ask you some security questions,’ said a young woman on the other end of the line.

‘Are you sure it’s not the other way around?’ I asked.

‘We need to ask you some security questions,’ repeated the young woman.

‘Why?’ I asked.

‘We need to ask you some security questions.’

Dalrymple at Salisbury Review

Death and Deterrence: Efficacy Is Not All

At the Library of Law and Liberty Dalrymple notes pro-death penalty arguments that seem valid, though he is opposed to the practice, and comments on others’ inability to maintain the same objectivity:

When I have put these arguments informally to people, I have noticed a curious divide. Those who, like me, are against capital punishment declare that they prove nothing—that there remains no evidence of its efficacy. Those who are in favor of it accept the arguments uncritically. In other words, it is not the evidence that determines their view, but their view that determines their reception of the evidence.

This is all the more striking because the efficacy of the death penalty does not decisively decide the argument either for or against it. It would be perfectly logical to accept its being an effective deterrent to murder and yet be opposed to it. After all, applying the death penalty to motorists who break the speed limit would no doubt be highly effective in slowing the traffic, but few people would argue for it. Efficacy is not all.

The Deal of the Art

The government is not a good patron of the arts, says Dalrymple at Taki’s Magazine. For one thing, it doesn’t have the taste to pick good from bad. But that’s not to say it should never have a role — as a censor, for example:

[C]ensorship is a precondition of the greatest art, at least if history is anything to go by. I mean a negative censorship, in which there are things that you can’t say, rather than a positive censorship, in which there are things that you must say: The latter is deadly. Preferably also the censorship should be light-handed, capricious, and unpredictable: The perfect recipe for the production of art (though, as every cook knows, some recipes go wrong even when you stick to them) is absolute monarchy with incompetent censorship and religious belief.

He’s quick to say he wouldn’t actually advocate censorship today. Read it here.

Mobility and Nobility

Dalrymple appears in the new Claremont Review of Books reviewing Hillbilly Elegy and also White Trash by Nancy Isenberg. This is notable because the former was certainly the book of the year in the US, and its narrative is largely an American version of Dalrymple’s tales of moral ignorance and dysfunction in the English underclass. Thus the review offers him the opportunity to apply the same analysis to a segment of American culture that he famously applied to an English one, and he does:

The world in which [Hillbilly Elegy author J.D.] Vance grew up was one in which the avoidance of shame played the part of morality, which meant that relations between people were largely those of tribal loyalty and power. Consequently, restraint and common decency were taken as signs of weakness. He could easily have been sucked wholly into this gang-like society, and if he had been, his intelligence would have made him a dangerous man, with quite likely a life sentence in front of him. The devil makes work for idle intelligence to do.

I highly recommend not only the review, but Hillbilly Elegy itself as a poignant depiction of a culture that your Skeptical bloggers understand very well from personal experience.

Let’s just admit it: the French are simply better than us

France has its fair share of problems, certainly: ghettoes filled with unassimilated immigrants, a declining educational system, hideous modern architecture and more. But Dalrymple says that, all in all, its advantages over Britain are decisive. One example:

The attention to detail in shops is another painful contrast with Britain (for a Briton, that is). A florist in France gives the impression of being a specialist in flowers, not of someone who sells flowers faute de mieux or merely as a sideline. He or she wraps the blooms with an aesthetic consideration for the flowers themselves, with matching coloured tissue, for example. This raises the price, no doubt, but also the quality; and this constant concentration on detail raises the level of the florist’s, or his employee’s, practical intelligence. This is also true of the sale of fruit, fish, meat, cheese, bread, pâtisserie, etc. And all this adds to the enjoyment of life, though like any virtue it can go too far and become mere pettiness.

Dalrymple at The Spectator

Worst Architect Prize

The Guardian recently complained that refugees into Britain are disproportionately placed in the poorest areas. Perish the thought! (says Dalrymple):

…it is true that there are fewer jobs in poorer areas than in rich, but refugees are not allowed to take jobs in any case. And it seems to have escaped the Guardian’s notice that rent tends to be cheaper in poorer areas than in rich. Under the present rules, therefore, it would be outrageous for them to be located anywhere else but the poorest areas.

But Dalrymple can imagine another reason that so many are placed in Rotherham: the architecture is so hideous that perhaps it will encourage them to return home.

Dress to Regress

The slobbish attire of Mark Zuckerberg is a great annoyance, says Dalrymple, and indicates a worldview that easily extends to other aspects of life:

As there is slobbery in clothes, so there is slobbery in manners, which often masquerades as informality. My slight acquaintance, Alexander McCall Smith, created the delightful character of Mma Ramotswe, the only lady detective in Botswana, whose attractiveness for audiences of many millions around the world is surely connected to the ceremoniousness of the African life portrayed in the books in which she appears, a ceremoniousness that has been lost almost everywhere.

That ceremoniousness is sometimes thought to be not only a waste of time (and time is money) but, far worse from the intellectuals’ point of view, to be inauthentic as well, insofar as it involves forms of words that do not express real individual thoughts or feelings. And the authentic person is under the obligation to be always sincere. If I don’t actually care a jot how you are, I shouldn’t ask you; and if I do ask you, it should be because I really want to know how your varicose veins are getting on.

Dalrymple at Taki’s Magazine