Wanted: egalitarian-élitist with a good sense of humour

Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 15.25.19Dalrymple enjoys Paul Hollander’s 2008 work The Only Superpower: Reflections on Strength, Weakness and Anti-Americanism, especially the analysis of the personal advertisements in the Review of Books of New York.

The personal adverts

suggest a degree of social isolation: substantial numbers of people are unable to find partners by the customary routes of work, friendship, community, and so forth.

The self-descriptions of the people who place the personal ads

are revealing of the tastes, worldview, and ideals of a sector of the population that is important well beyond its demographic size.

Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 16.04.23The ‘personals’

give a powerful impression not so much of hypocrisy as of lack of self-knowledge.

The ads’ authors

claim to be profoundly individual, yet there is an underlying uniformity and conventionality to everything that they say about themselves. Their desire to escape convention is deeply conventional.

Their opinions

are democratic, but their tastes are exclusive. Tuscany and good claret mean more to them than beach resorts and the Boston Red Sox.

Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 16.10.11They think of themselves as funny

and demand humour in others, but they succeed in conveying only earnestness and the impression of deadening solemnity. (Demanding that someone be funny is a bit like demanding that he be natural for the camera.)

Contented with,

and even complacent about, their position in the world, they somehow see themselves as enemies of the status quo. They are ideologically egalitarian, but psychologically élitist: Lord, make everyone equal, but not just yet.

With their memories of the 60s,

when to be young was very heaven, they still believe that an oppositional stance in pursuit of perfection is virtuous in itself—indeed, is the prime or sole content of virtue. And it is this belief that makes genuine moral reflection about the nature of various governments and policies impossible. It transforms merely personal discontents into matters of supposedly great general importance.

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