Category Archives: disasters

You who sit there in your glutted complacency, are you aware that this could be your final hour?

The Black Death, Dalrymple points out,

killed perhaps a third or a half of the population of Europe.

However,

that was nearly 700 years ago. And in any case a disaster can be a lot smaller than that and still be a disaster. We are not trying to get into the Guinness Book of Records.

Exponential growth

cannot but alarm us when we see those histograms showing the daily toll of death from the infection (or at least with the infection) in ever steeper ascent.

The Chinese flu histograms

strongly resemble the Burj Khalifa. We forget that exponential growth cannot continue for ever and must reach a peak.

Such growth

is not going to continue until the whole of humanity is extinct,

though such a consummation is

devoutly to be wished according to some of the more extreme of the pagan ecologists, who believe in the intrinsic value of the earth whether or not there are any self-conscious beings existent to enjoy it.

But so long as a peak for the Wuhan virus has not been reached,

we are free to imagine the worst.

Dalrymple notes that during the Middle Ages, when the cause of epidemics was unknown, other than the justified wrath of God,

there were long processions of self-flagellating penitents through the streets, who no doubt thought that the blood that they drew from themselves and the pain that they suffered would abate the epidemic by causing God to relent. We have a pale version of this even today, with calls to prayer by clerics. I believe a mullah somewhere has claimed that the only way to put an end to the epidemic is jihad, as a result of which the world will convert to Islam, causing God to withdraw the virus from circulation.

‘God has condemned us: we are all sentenced to perish in the Black Death. You, standing there like gaping cattle, you who sit there in your glutted complacency, are you aware that this could be your final hour? Death stands right behind you; I see his crown gleaming in the sun — his scythe flashes as he raises it above your heads. Which one of you will he strike first? You, standing there staring like a goat, will your mouth be twisted in a last unfinished gasp before nightfall? And you, woman, blooming with life and self-satisfaction, will you pale and be extinguished before the morning dawns? You back there, with your swollen nose and stupid grin, d’you think you might have another year left to sully the earth with your filth? Are you aware, insensible fools, that you will die today, or tomorrow, or the next day — because all of you have been condemned? D’you hear what I say? Doomed! D’you hear the word? You’re doomed, doomed, doomed!’

Candles, my dear, candles. Teddy-bears are infra dig

Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 21.05.48As soon as Dalrymple heard of the Orlando nightclub shooting and of the Jo Cox murder,

I knew that within a few hours the candles would be out.

Sure enough,

like the ants that appear on my kitchen surface when there is something sweet left about, lit candles in little glasses appeared. Where do they come from, these candles, and where are they hiding before a massacre, an assassination or a disaster?

Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 21.06.57Dalrymple thinks it likely

that all those who light candles and stand or sit looking sad but beatific and virtuous behind or beside them after a terrible event are not religious. They would not be seen dead lighting a candle in a church. But they are probably the kind of people who say they are ‘spiritual but not religious’, that is to say who indulge in all kinds of spiritual kitsch, for instance

  • reiki therapy
  • healing chakras of the earth
  • wind chimes
  • strategically-placed crystals

Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 21.11.24What, he asks, is the message?

That they are opposed to massacre or assassination and regret disaster? Does this have to be expressed? Perhaps they are trying to recapture a belief in the transcendent whose very existence they doubt or, in other circumstances, vehemently deny.

Dalrymple says that candles

are a couple of rungs up the spiritual ladder from teddy-bears, the intermediate rung on the ladder being bouquets in cellophane piled high at or near the site of death. The black armband and the mourning dress have been replaced by the teddy-bear, the unwrapped bouquet and the candle in its little glass.

Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 21.14.01Candles are also

a couple of rungs up the social ladder; the lighters of candles would probably regard teddy-bears as infra dig.

Dalrymple notes that the candles and teddy-bears

must be very comforting for Islamists. When they see them, they must think, ‘These are weak and feeble people, easily intimidated and eminently destructible.

Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 21.15.38 Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 21.18.09 Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 21.19.43 Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 21.16.25

A whining pretension to goodness

Screen Shot 2016-04-23 at 15.44.03

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?

Screen Shot 2016-04-23 at 15.28.36

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.