Dalrymple has long expressed a special respect and liking for Africans, and a recent visit to an African restaurant offers another occasion to express it, as described in this piece in The Salisbury Review:
My welcome was warm, however, and my praise of the food (which was sincere) pleased the owners no end. But I have no ambition or qualification to be a restaurant critic: what I really wanted to mention was the music played, not very loud, over the public address system in the restaurant. It was West African popular music that no doubt has a certain monotony after a time, but which nevertheless conveys a joie de vivre, an enjoyment of and tenderness towards life, that is so missing in our own popular music. It lifts the spirit, it does not depress: one does not want to stop one’s ears from it.
If a Martian were to descend to earth and were played West African and our own popular music and then asked which represented the higher civilisation, I have no doubt what answer he would return.
This commentary from Dalrymple is very timely for me, for my husband and I were just noting a similar phenomenon last night while at a local, highly recommended restaurant. We were trying to have a quiet meal to celebrate our eleventh wedding anniversary. The food was very good, but the “quiet” was not to be had, apparently, at any price. Actually, this a horrible trend we’ve noticed, lately – restaurants are loud. Whether it’s the music that’s the culprit and people are struggling to communicate over it, or the music is struggling to create “ambiance” despite the costumers communicating loudly, is sometimes hard to tell. My father, who is in his seventies, tried to convince us that it’s just because we are getting old … It’s our fault, somehow. I refuse to accept that. Ironically, last night, the music could hardly be heard and most of the people in the restaurant looked to be in the same age range as my husband and I. Why were they talking so loudly? It made the entire “celebration” very uncomfortable. Needless to say, we didn’t stay for a dessert that was sure to be wonderful, but instead went to a quiet, neighborhood, hole in the wall cafe – not nearly as well-appointed or clean, to enjoy some cheap coffee and overly sweet dessert. The lack of people and, therefore, subsequent quiet? Priceless.
I agree, modern life has given new meaning to Sartre’s “Hell is other people”, sadly. It seems impossible for most people to have the slightest sense of “personal space” any more, all must speak to entire rooms, as if anybody would be interested in what they have to say. Dalrymple has written of this well, of course – I remember a recent one article in which he described a typical train journey. One needs to make money now, just to achieve peace and quiet.
If it’s not inconsiderate people, it is indeed music which drives one away from establishments! Often I have sat in a pub for a “quiet pint” but this has been impossible because they put complete rubbish on the sound system! One never hears classical music used instead – presumably because this drives customers away in the developing idiocracy.
TD does seem to have a special admiration of African culture, and sees it as having been corrupted by Western influence (Spoilt Rotten). Isn’t this rather rose tinted though? Africans believe all kinds of ridiculous things (voodoo) etc. and many of those ignorant beliefs are now being imported wholesale into the western world (itself currently corrupt, granted) under the guise of multiculturalism. Also Africans have arguably made little of their societies, and their governments are more corrupt than ours. No amount of “aid” seems to make any difference. We’ve made space shuttles whereas African societies have not, to my knowledge, made any comparable contributions in any fields. As to why, who knows – there are a lot of debates about that, and genuine free inquiry into this topic is often disallowed.
Also TD seems to ignore the fashions and level of criminality generally associated with black culture in the West. For example “gangsta rap” the looting one usually sees after natural disasters and so on. Obviously all black people are not culpable, but you won’t really see TD writing about these matters (perhaps understandably since the Left would then call him a racist). I agree with him that our society has seriously lost its way now – one only needs to glance at popular culture to see this – but I wonder if we ought to hark back to our own heyday (in some ways the 1950s) rather than have particular admiration for Africa.
Peter Bauer, one of Dalrymple’s friends, viewed the plight of independent Africa as stemming to a significant extent from faulty policies pursued by African governments: the development of heavy industry as the road to economic prosperity, the squeezing of the peasantry to pay for the aforementioned industry as well as to subsidize the urban population, confiscation of the assets of merchants and other middle-men as either exploiters or otherwise inefficient for achieving the rapid growth of the economy, and other statist policies which pretty much obliterated private enterprise and individual initiative.
According to Bauer, what compounded these problems was the official endorsement of said policies by not just Soviet and Chinese (as is to be expected) but also many Scandinavian, Western European and American economists as well. Liberals and social-democrats in particular saw foreign aid as an important part of economic growth, whereas Bauer argued that such aid only strengthened the hand of governments and gave them a strong financial incentive to keep on pursuing bad policies.
Living standards in Africa obviously wouldn’t be comparable to those in Western Europe even if every single country was led by ardent champions of the free market, but Bauer argued that things would have been noticeably better for Africa’s first few decades of independence if a different course was taken. For example, when an African government either directly or indirectly controlled just about every important aspect of the country’s economy this made military coups much more attractive since the victors could dole out all sorts of lucrative positions to themselves.
If you read Dalrymple’s books on Africa, his opposition to these sort of governments and the absurd societies their policies created (particularly in Tanzania) are contrasted to Africans as a whole. I think this helps explain part of his admiration.