Category Archives: cant

Canting humbugs in their hundreds of thousands

Hard feelings in the East Indies

The sentencing of the Christian governor of Jakarta to two years’ imprisonment for blasphemy might, writes Dalrymple,

seem like a throwback to medieval intolerance,

but, he says,

it is more than that. It is a reminder that the suppression of the freedom of others is more fun than the exercise of freedom.

The Muslim masses who demanded the prosecution of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama

enjoyed their virtuous anger,

which is

among the pleasures that their religion does not deny them.

Islamic humbug

Dalrymple notes that although intellectually primitive, the condemnation and sentencing of Ahok, as he is known,

was in one respect modern. One of the judges said that punishment was justified because the governor had hurt the feelings of Muslims—which must have been as delicate as those of Western students who need safe spaces and teddy-bears to hug if they hear something that contradicts their preconceptions.

The desire not to have one’s feelings hurt

has been erected into a right increasingly enforceable at law. Not everyone’s feelings are treated with the solicitude that we show a nice fluffy colourful species of animal that is on the verge of extinction. But treating people’s feelings with this solicitude tends not only to preserve them but to cause them to flourish.

Dalrymple avers that

we have a duty to control our indignation, for most of the time it will be liberally admixed with humbug.

He does not expect his message to be heard in Jakarta,

to judge from the pictures of those hundreds of thousands of canting humbugs in the city’s streets.

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Determinate sentences unalterable by parole are a requisite of the rule of law

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In the cant or psychobabblish modern expression, they wanted their lives back

Dalrymple writes:

The rule of law is the rule of law, not another thing. Determinate sentences are not the same as inflexible ones: mitigating (and aggravating) circumstances must always be taken into account, but they should be matters of discoverable fact about the past, not of inevitably amateurish speculations as to the future. Parole introduces avoidable arbitrariness into the criminal justice system, and while arbitrariness cannot be avoided altogether, it should be kept to a minimum.

Dalrymple’s quaint and archaic dialect

Compared to the prose of NHS managers, that of the British Medical Journal is as Edward Gibbon

From Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage, ed. Jeremy Butterfield, 2015

From Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage, ed. Jeremy Butterfield, 2015

Dalrymple bashes bank bunkum

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Unctuous cant

An advertisement for a big bank pretends that it is

working for the creation of a more equal world.

This

cannot possibly be the case and is, in effect, a lie. At least, one hopes it is a lie, for that is the most charitable interpretation of the slogan.

It is obvious, writes Dalrymple, that

the aim of a commercial bank cannot be a more equal world, if only because it has financial obligations to its shareholders that it does not have to the rest of humanity.

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Bank poppycock

The bank’s shareholders

have not invested to provide everyone in the world with paid dividends; and while they might hope that the bank’s activities are honest and contribute to the growth of the economy, this is not at all the same thing as equalising the world.

A world in which everyone were starving

might be a more equal world, indeed a perfectly equal one. Equality of misery is equality all right, but is not therefore either a just or desirable goal that the bank might pride itself on having brought about.

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Bank balderdash

What the bank really meant — if it meant anything at all — was that

it was working towards a richer, more prosperous world. But working for wealth does not have the same moral cachet as working for equality.

In short,

the bank was indulging in humbug; unctuously proclaiming ideals that it cannot, will never and ought not to have.

Humbug, Dalrymple points out, is

an insidious pollutant of the mind, which not only distorts but perverts. It clears the primrose path to earthly damnation.

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Bank baloney

A whining pretension to goodness

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From Johnson’s 1755 dictionary

Dalrymple says his father

was always espousing great and grand principles expressive of his love for humanity, but had difficulty in expressing love for anyone in particular.

Dalrymple points out that cant, or humbug,

stands in the way of achieving an authentic relationship with the world. To be a humbug is to wear distorting lenses.

He confesses that

I am a humbug on occasion, and in my youth was a humbug practically all the time. Youth is the golden age of humbug — the expression of supposedly generous emotions that it has to a much lesser extent than claimed.

Dalrymple explains the difference between hypocrisy and cant.

  • Johnson

    Ibid.

    hypocrisy is, or can be, a social virtue. To express a sympathy or an interest that you do not in the slightest feel can be almost heroic when it is done for humane reasons, and is often socially necessary. Hypocrisy is to social life what oil is to axles

  • cant is always poisonous, among other reasons because it is designed to deceive not only others but ourselves. It doesn’t entirely succeed in this latter task because a still, small voice tells us that we are canting, to which our preferred solution is often to cant harder, like drowning out something we don’t want to hear by turning up the wireless. That is why there is so much shrillness: people are defending themselves against the horrible thought that they don’t really believe what they are saying

There is no subject, says Dalrymple, to which cant attaches more than humanity.

Who will admit that he doesn’t love humanity, that it wouldn’t matter to him in the slightest if half of it disappeared, that he can sit through the news of the worst disaster imaginable (provided far away) and eat his dinner with good appetite?

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José de Páez, Sacred Heart of Jesus with St Ignatius of Loyola and St Aloysius Gonzaga, Mexico, c. 1770

No,

in order to be a good person you have to pretend to be lacerated by awareness of suffering anywhere and show your wounds like Christ showing his heart in one of the Baroque Spanish colonial paintings.

But in fact

most people do not love humanity; misanthropy is far more widespread than love of humanity.

As soon as we are in the public arena,

we must start to mouth sentiments that are not ours in words that mean nothing. We start to cant. We must display the wounds we feel at the imperfections of the world. We must award ourselves, and pronounce, creditable motives that we know are not ours.

Commercial concerns

are in the canting game. They claim to be working to bring about greater equality, survival of rainforests, amelioration of climate change, participation of fat children in sport, and anything other than their true aim, which is mostly to sell products that are superfluous to people who don’t need them. (I accept that this is the necessary force that makes our economic world go round.)

We are now

chronically humanitarian.

Clinical governance

Dalrymple remembers a remark by a Bristol professor, that this term

is untranslatable into any other language, including English.

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Bathtime at the Pecksniff Hotel

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 22.29.39Ne sutor ultra crepidam

Entering his hotel room, Dalrymple finds an

unctuous, mendacious, and mildly hectoring and even bullying notice on the towels in the bathroom.

It reads:

You care, we care, we all care about our environment and carbon footprint. Please take care and only have towels washed when needed.

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to step outside the hotel to prove that ‘we’ do not all care about the environment. Many of us drop litter; many of us tread our chewing gum into the ground; many of us make unnecessary noise; many of us render the world slightly more ugly than it need be by our careless appearance in public. Many, indeed most, of us consume vastly more than we need. Many of us take unnecessary journeys because we cannot think of anything else to do. Many of us would not even be able to define our carbon footprint, let alone care about it.

Seth Pecksniff, shield of virtue

Seth Pecksniff, shield of virtue

The very word ‘care’

now has a Pecksniffian ring to it, thanks to its use in this kind of canting message. ‘Let us be moral,’ said Mr Pecksniff. ‘Let us contemplate existence.’

The notion that ‘we’ of the hotel chain

do and ought to care more about the environment than, say, about reducing the chain’s laundry bill and thereby increasing its margin of profit (a perfectly respectable and reasonable thing for ‘us’ of the chain to do) is absurd and to me repellent.

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A worthwhile movement

We despise

the Victorians for their habit of dishonest moralising,

but ours

is an age of ultracrepidarian hypocrisy in which everyone claims to care deeply for everything except that which concerns him most.

Impenetrable drivel unworthy of the faculty of speech

The linguistic effluent that has engulfed Western society and economy

The linguistic effluent that is engulfing Western society and economy

Managerialese is the revenge of the unscrupulous and mediocre on the talented and principled

People who become managers in public service organisations and in large commercial firms, writes Dalrymple,

speak a kind of language that is neither colloquial nor technical nor philosophical nor literary nor precise nor poetic nor even quite human.

He asks whether their utterances correspond to what is going through their mind, or whether they have to translate their thoughts

into this simulacrum of language.

The bullshit piles up so fast you need wings to stay above it

The bullshit has piled up so fast you need wings to stay above it

No man of education and feeling can bear the tedium of it. A virus has entered the brain to

disarrange its language centres, rather as a stroke does.

Scourge of the talking robots

The source of the malady might, he suggests, lie with industrial concerns

and perhaps the business schools that trained their managers, as primates in the forests of Central Africa were the source of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. Infection often escapes its original nidus to infect the surrounding population of the susceptible, in this case managers in and of the public service made susceptible by Margaret Thatcher’s ill-fated notion that the public service could be some kind of replica of private business.

Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 11.26.35Verbigeration

Dalrymple points out that the argot is both a symptom and a sustainer of a social revolution. Those who consult its claims are

ruthless and ambitious, mediocre in everything except in the scale of their determination to rule some tiny roost or other, and be paid accordingly. The quid pro quo is that they must learn a new language, whose mastery is far from easy: I am sure that if my readers will try to speak for only a few minutes in managerialese they will find it almost impossible, for meaning will keep breaking through their best attempts at meaninglessness.

Xyloglots of the NHS

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 08.20.50Brezhnevian jargon of managers in the UK’s National Health Service

The language these managers use, writes Dalrymple, is

a mixture of moral exaltation and tedious bureaucratese.

He wonders whether what the NHS managers say

actually corresponds to the thoughts that run through their heads, or whether they have to translate them into langue de bois.