Category Archives: egotism

The selfie, the tweet, the Facebook page made flesh

Screenshot 2020-01-25 at 17.14.18Prince Harry holds up a mirror to modern egotism

Dalrymple writes that the Queen and Prince Harry provide a contrast

between one conception of life, one culture, and another.

In the Queen there is

  • self-restraint
  • a kind of existential modesty despite exalted position
  • full awareness that she owes her importance to an accident of birth
  • an iron sense of duty at whatever personal cost

In Prince Harry there is

  • personal whim
  • self-expression as an imperative, the ego being the object of almost religious devotion
  • the belief that he owes an accident of birth to his importance
  • a sense of entitlement

Dalrymple comments:

There isn’t much doubt as to which of these attitudes to life is in the ascendant, sociologically and philosophically. As Blake put it, ‘Sooner strangle an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.’ To swallow down our emotions is now regarded as treason to the self, where it is not comical or a subject for derision; not to express oneself is to risk later psychological disaster.

Such is the power of modern culture

that a cosseted and highly unusual family is not immune from its influence.

There is

a desperate search for uniqueness among people who have a weak sense of self as distinguished from others. In an age of celebrity, not to be outstanding in some way is felt almost as a wound, certainly as an indication of failure.

The inflamed need for individuation

causes people to be reluctant to accept anything traditional, because the tradition did not originate with them and has no justification that they consider wholly rational. Life is all about choice: my choice. The extension of choice is why transgression is a good in itself.

Dalrymple adds that Prince Harry

is not being straightforward. He wants to destroy tradition and at the same time benefit from its continuation. He has no claim to the public’s attention except that he was born who he was in the very tradition that he wants to overthrow because he wants to be really, truly, just himself. I can well understand why a young man in his position does not want to play the part allotted him by fate; I wouldn’t have wanted such a part myself. But in order not to be a hypocrite, he should have gone off quietly into obscurity, without public subvention, to study butterflies or Sumerian epigraphy.

Vehemence is the tribute egotism pays to guilt

Jeremy Corbyn compares the Israeli government to the Nazi, appears to mean it, and is applauded by many for doing so

The easy resort to the most extreme possible descriptions of people and actions that one detests seems, writes Dalrymple,

to be a characteristic of our times.

This combination of moral imprecision and verbal inflation has occurred in the West

with the large expansion of tertiary education.

The word fascist has come to be used

lightly, almost joyously, to describe anybody or any policy which conflicts with the moral orthodoxy of the moment.

Its employment

obviates the need to examine and refute arguments, just as no one needs (or is able) to refute a paranoid delusion.

The label

by itself is enough to stifle discussion, a word without definite meaning but with a connotation like the grin of the Cheshire Cat that remains when all else of that creature has melted away.

Vehemence, Dalrymple notes, is

the tribute that egotism pays to guilt. I ought to feel the wrongs of the world deeply because that is how good people feel them: therefore if I express myself strongly enough I will at least appear to be good. The stronger the words the deeper the feeling I appear to feel.

For instance,

a possible future prime minister of Great Britain, Jeremy Corbyn, compares the Israeli government to the Nazi, appears to mean it, and is applauded by many for doing so.

Moral equivalence and egotism

The inability to distinguish between different scales of suffering

Dalrymple writes:

The inability of western intellectuals to distinguish between the major suffering of others and their own minor irritations and frustrations goes back a long way: Virginia Woolf is a prime example, as are the many who could not see the difference between the House Un-American Activities Committee and the NKVD. It is as if the suffering of a prominent Western intellectual counts many times as much as the suffering of anonymous exotics who will never so much as write a newspaper column.

It implies,

and will be understood by our enemies to mean, that we have nothing much in our tradition to defend. If there is no real difference between the oppressive practices of Moslems, including forced marriage on pain of death, and the treatment of women in the west only 50 years ago—and if any difference between the lot of western and Moslem women of today is ascribable solely to the recent efforts of a handful of feminists—then there cannot be much to choose between Western and Islamic culture.

Fidel’s fantasy of making the world anew — violently

Dictador Supremo: José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia

Dictador Supremo: José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia

Fidel Castro, writes Dalrymple,

was the José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia de nos jours. Yet Francia had one great merit by comparison with Castro and his admirers: he made no pretence that the régime represented democracy of a higher or better kind than the parliamentary variety. Francia did not pretend that it was a democracy of any kind, and came right out with it: his self-chosen title was Dictator.

Castro was the darling of the intellectuals

partly because, like them, he was so slovenly in appearance, partly because he represented their wish fulfilment (inside every rebel there’s a dictator trying to get out). To rant for hours in front of a captive audience unable to answer or object: what greater bliss for an intellectual?

Admiration for Castro in the West was, of course, from afar. Dalrymple points out that Castro’s admirers

would not have found the régime they affected to admire supportable for a single day.

The admiration in the West

for Castro and his appalling sidekick and potential rival, Ernesto Guevara, was essentially frivolous, more a question of style than of substance. It was the promise of eternal adolescence that the two revolutionary egotists held out that rendered them so attractive at a time when adolescence was regarded as the finest of the seven ages of man.

Alberto Korda with his photograph

Alberto Korda with his photograph

Dalrymple notes that

if the photographer Alberto Korda had not snapped Guevara in an uncharacteristically romantic pose (usually he looked dishevelled and unwashed), the cult would not have existed. This was the face that launched a thousand T-shirts, not to say berets, badges, posters, coffee mugs, car stickers, and other items of kitsch.

Dictador Dalrymple would force

anyone guilty of wearing a Guevara T-shirt to read 20 pages of his writings, which make those of Leonid Brezhnev seem like P.G. Wodehouse.

When Dalrymple contemplates

the printed acreage of praise of Castro by Western intellectuals, I recall the words of Thomas Carlyle with regard to what he calls the gauchos of Paraguay:

These men are fit to be drilled into something! Their lives stand there like empty capacious bottles, calling to the heavens and the earth. ‘Is there nothing to put into us, then?’

Dalrymple:

Yes, there is: fantasies of omnipotence, fantasies of making the world anew, with us in charge.

screen-shot-2016-12-03-at-19-43-52

Revolutionary egotists

Castro’s Cuba: a pile of rubble flying a skull and crossbones

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-22-47-22The dictator’s end came 60 years too late

Fidel Castro, writes Dalrymple,

was his own greatest admirer. His ego was more important than the fate of anything in the world, or of the entire world. As he put it in a speech, ‘The Cuban people did not hesitate to face the dangers of thermonuclear war.’ It goes without saying that Castro did not invite the Cuban people to express an opinion on the matter of their incineration by nuclear bombs. The Romans said, ‘Let justice be done, though the heavens fall.’ Castro, in effect, said, ‘Let the world end, so long as I play an important part in it.’ His willingness to approve an apocalypse for his own people was paralleled only by that of Hitler.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-22-48-22When the Russians ignored Castro in their negotiations with the Americans,

he felt humiliated by his insignificance in the larger scheme of things. The extent of his moral frivolity was demonstrated by the fact that he was reconciled with the Russians a year later after a long tour of the Soviet Union, during which the Russians fêted him as they had never fêted anyone else.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-22-49-41He liked nothing better, Dalrymple points out,

than to harangue hundreds of thousands of Cubans in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución for several hours at a time. (Attendance was compulsory.)

A diplomat in Havana told Dalrymple that he had once dined with Castro,

who had spoken uninterruptedly for seven hours, pausing only briefly to take food and drink.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-23-27-46Castro was a master at

manipulating the opinion of Western intellectuals, many of whom supported him unconditionally. His creation of an utterly servile Press and suppression of all liberty of opinion did not bother those intellectuals either. The combination of his rebellious rhetoric and defiance of the US more than compensated them for the dilapidation of Cuba, the tyranny, and the large numbers of political prisoners.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-22-54-36Dalrymple notes that Castro knew how to get the most out of foreign interviewers.

His technique was to keep journalists waiting for days or weeks, so that their tension mounted, and then suddenly call them at 3am. Their relief was so great that they were disarmed, and susceptible to Castro’s magnetic charms. Dutiful propagandists, they would trot out Castro’s achievements in health and education, which were said to counterbalance the food rationing, the deterioration of the housing stock and the absence of elementary freedoms.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-22-43-54His daughter Alina Fernández, who has inherited Castro’s temper, once shouted at him: ‘You’re a mediocrity!’ Although this sounds

absurd, given Castro’s career, it contains a truth: for all his ebullience and activity, his ideas never rose above the level of cliché, and mistaken cliché at that.

The centralised economy he established

did not work, because such economies cannot work. Havana, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, is crumbling into dust through lack of maintenance. Hundreds of thousands of people inhabit the ruins of a previous civilisation.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-22-59-07The only institution that functions in Cuba with anything approaching efficiency is

the secret police.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-23-03-12

Castro’s crude, dim-witted economics

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-21-56-22Fidel Castro, Dalrymple notes,

was born the illegitimate son of an impoverished Galician immigrant who became a landowning millionaire. No doubt his father’s great wealth had something to do with Fidel’s lifelong contempt for money: like a hidalgo, he despised it not only for himself but on behalf of everyone else as well.

It is probable that

his ambiguous social status as the illegitimate son of a very rich man caused him to be less attached to Cuban society than were others born with similar chances of prospering in it. Such an ambiguous position easily breeds both the confidence and the inclination to rebel.

But Castro’s life is also

an illustration of the maxim that inside every rebel there is a dictator trying to get out. From the very earliest age, Castro was endowed with a huge and ungovernable ego. Constantly, often violently, rebellious from his infancy on, he brooked no opposition from others from the moment he reached a position of power. At university, he took part in violent political feuds, and may have been a killer. Top dog was and is the only position he could ever accept.

He never learned to know how much he did not know. This gave him

the feeling of omnicompetence: a failing that is minor, though no doubt irritating, in a pub bore, but disastrous in a dictator whose whim is law.

From the outset he

pursued policies that were economically disastrous because founded on an erroneous premise: that wealth is the mirror image of poverty, that the rich are rich because the poor are poor.

But as the Cubans

have discovered at their leisure, if you confiscate luxury cars, it does not mean everyone gets shoes.

Castro’s legacy is

a mess of gargantuan proportions which will take years and the wisdom of Solomon to sort out.

Egotistical malignity of British youth

Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 23.34.31Returning from a holiday in Spain, Dalrymple writes:

I saw more litter in a hundred yards on my return to Britain than I had seen in a thousand miles in Spain.

Britain, Dalrymple points out, is

the dirty man of Europe.

Spanish youth, he says,

while disagreeably noisy, certainly does not behave with the hideous, determined vulgarity of British youth. It does not eat in the street, is not menacing in appearance, nor does it display the egotistical malignity of its British counterpart, which turns almost any social interaction into a potentially violent confrontation.

The age of inflamed egotism

Dalrymple writes:

Never has it been more necessary, and at the same time more difficult, to mark yourself out as an individual. The slightest subordination in any circumstances is therefore felt as a wound, because the ego is so fragile, and relies on such props as the brand of trainers you are wearing.

The dictatorship of libertinism

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 17.34.55The life’s work of Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister, who has died aged 70, was, writes Dalrymple,

a phænomenon of sociological and social-psychological significance, at least in the Western world.

Lemmy was to the end a rebellious adolescent, emerging as

a senile rebel who could never bear to leave his adolescence behind, proud of his degeneracy unto death. In this, he was an authentic representative of modern psychological development: a short period of precocity followed by a long one of arrested development.

Lemmy is quoted as saying:

I founded the filthiest rock group in the world.

There is in these words, says Dalrymple,

an undoubted tone of self-congratulation. He had done something not just filthy, but superlatively filthy, and therefore, according to his own inverted scale of values, outstandingly meritorious.

Lemmy once said:

If one day we come to live near you, that will be the end of your lawn.

In other words,

ugliness will be my beauty, and furthermore I will impose it on you.

Interviewed once in a place where smoking was prohibited, Lemmy is quoted as saying:

I’ll need another reason not to smoke than that it’s forbidden.

Thus

he was the sole authority as to when, where, and whether to smoke. Others counted for nothing.

When, writes Dalrymple,

one acts a part for long enough, it ceases to be a mere act and one becomes what one pretends to be. The result of careers such as Mr Kilmister’s is to encourage a culture or subculture, almost unique in my experience, lacking all beauty, value, virtue, charm, or refinement. Its apotheosis would be the dictatorship of libertinism in which personal whim would play the part of the supposed word of God.

Triumph of the antinomians

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 12.05.15Dalrymple writes in the preface to Our Culture, What’s Left of It: The Mandarins and the Masses that in much of the world, the miseries of poverty

are no longer those of raw physical deprivation but those induced by comparison with the vast numbers of prosperous people by whom the relatively poor are surrounded and whose comparative wealth the poor feel as a wound, a reproach, and an injustice.

Ronnie Kaufman's photo on a jacket by Jen Huppert Design

Photo by Ronnie Kaufman on a jacket by Jen Huppert Design for the Ivan R. Dee (Chicago) 2005 edition

In the 20th century,

the hope of progress has not proved altogether illusory,

but

neither has the fear of retrogression proved unjustified.

The First World War

destroyed facile optimism that progress towards heaven on earth was inevitable or even possible.

Then came communism and Nazism, which between them

destroyed scores of millions of lives in a fashion that only a few short decades before would have appeared inconceivable.

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 12.47.50Many of the disasters of the 20th century

could be characterised as revolts against civilisation itself: the Cultural Revolution, or the Khmers Rouges.

Only recently, in Rwanda,

ordinary people were transformed into pitiless murderers by demagogic appeals over the radio. They achieved a rate of slaughter with their machetes never equalled even by the Nazis.

In the circumstances,

one might have supposed that a principal preoccupation of intellectuals would be the maintenance of the boundaries that separate civilisation from barbarism.

One would be wrong.

Some have embraced barbarism; others have remained unaware that boundaries do not maintain themselves and are in need of maintenance and sometimes vigorous defence.

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 12.54.10The prestige intellectuals confer upon antinomianism

soon communicates itself to nonintellectuals. What is good for the bohemian sooner or later becomes good for the unskilled worker, the unemployed, the welfare recipient — the very people most in need of boundaries to make their lives tolerable or allow them hope of improvement. The result is moral, spiritual, and emotional squalor, engendering fleeting pleasures and prolonged suffering.

Civilisation

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 12.55.17needs conservation as much as it needs change, and immoderate criticism, or criticism from the standpoint of utopian first principles, is capable of doing much — indeed devastating — harm. No man is so brilliant that he can work everything out for himself, so that the wisdom of the ages has nothing useful to tell him. To imagine otherwise is to indulge in the most egotistical of hubris.

The disastrous notions of the underclass about how to live

derive from the unrealistic, self-indulgent, and often fatuous ideas of social critics.