Author Archives: Clinton

The Predictability of Predictions

We missed this piece from last month in New English Review, on the differences between projection, prediction and prophecy:

We love projections, however, because they always lead to immoderate (if only imaginary) results. The human mind loves the dramatic and the sensational and abhors the banal and the ordinary. La Rochefoucauld said that there is in the misfortune of our friends something not entirely displeasing; he might justly have added that there is in the contemplation of future catastrophe something extremely pleasing. No one ever gained notice by pointing out that a deleterious trend was now at an end, and that the rapid growth of a particular problem was over; but many a person has enjoyed his quarter of an hour of fame by projecting exponential growth of something or other to the point of the abyss.

The Way of Che

That way being, of course, fraudulence:

On catching glimpses in the past of American television evangelists, it was always a cause of wonderment to me that anyone could look at or listen to them without immediately perceiving their fraudulence. This fraudulence was so obvious that it was like a physical characteristic, such as height or weight or color of hair, or alternatively like an emanation, such as body odor (incidentally, pictures of Guevara always suggest, to me at any rate, that he smelled). How could people fail to perceive it? Obviously, many did not, for the evangelists were very successful—financially, that is, the only criterion that counted for them.

Euthanasia in the Netherlands: A Case Study

On the website of the Library of Law and Liberty Dalrymple parses the arguments for and against assisted suicide:

There are many subjects on which decent people may disagree and some subjects on which a person may not entirely agree with himself, in so far as he can see both sides of an argument at the same time (assuming there to be only two sides, when often there are more).

One such subject is that of assisted suicide and euthanasia. I can easily conceive of circumstances in which I should want it for myself, and circumstances in which it would be the kindest thing for others. And yet, at the same time, I can see the objections to it.

Evening all! Actually not at all.

Questioning the police and crime commissioner at a recent town meeting:

The editor of the local newspaper, the Journal (which my neighbour calls the Gerbil), piped up, ‘How many of the culprits have you actually caught?’

This question the commissioner dismissed with contempt as if it were a low blow in boxing. Surely anyone with the slightest brain could see that it is far easier to identify the victims than the culprits, and that therefore it was a far more efficient use of police time (in very short supply) to attend to the former rather than to the latter? It did not seem to have occurred to the commissioner – a Conservative, by the way – that most victims of crime would be more reassured by the arrest and punishment of the culprit than by counselling carried out by men or women in stab-proof vests.

The Matter of the Meat

A book about slaughterhouses raises questions about eating meat:

On the matter of animals and meat I am, as amateur psychologists would put it, conflicted, veering between the ruthless and the sentimental. In my heart, I believe that I ought to be a vegetarian, though I continue to enjoy eating meat. A couple of months ago, for example, I had the best veal chop of my life, furnished by our excellent and amiable butcher. But even while enjoying it, I knew that my enjoyment was bought at the cost of avoidable suffering.

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.

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.