Category Archives: gestural politics

👏🏻Clap for the NHS👏🏻 is to gestures what Jeff Koons is to art

Every Thursday at 8pm, Britishers are required to come to their windows and hail 🙏🏻the NHS bureaucracy🙏🏻. Applause must be long, loud, and accompanied, Dalrymple notes,

with ululations.

He dislikes such actions,

which seem to me empty and shallow. They are supposed to be gestures of gratitude and encouragement, but all that I have seen suggests that doctors and nurses are more irritated than pleased by them. Often they have to work in poor conditions, with essential equipment lacking despite the vast expenditure on the health service.

He points out that thus to genuflect is cheap.

It costs nothing, financially or in any other way.

The Danube of Thought: cheer him to the rafters

There is also

something unpleasant about it. When lots of people make a gesture collectively, there is often the implication that if you refrain from making it—and even worse if you actively refuse to make it—you are in some sense an enemy, in this case, of the people. Whatever your inner conviction, it is safest to join in. By doing so you avoid drawing attention to yourself and you are assumed to think and feel like everyone else, which is always safest.

It reminds Dalrymple, in its tendency to get longer and louder and almost more hysterical,

of the applause after a speech by Nicolae Ceaușescu or any other communist despot, in which everyone in the audience had to show himself to be as enthusiastic as the most enthusiastic applauder, and to continue applauding as long as someone else was applauding, for to be the first to stop might be taken as a sign of disloyalty and dissent from the official line.

His objection is also æsthetic:

I find it to be emotionally kitsch.

The sort of ‘art’ excreted by Jeff Koons: Play-Doh (five versions, 1994-2014)

Era of gestural politics

Screen Shot 2016-05-08 at 07.23.59Gestures, writes Dalrymple,

never seem to assuage resentment, rather to accentuate and aggravate it. They are never enough; more are demanded. It is a bit like the Cultural Revolution, during which no confession was grovelling enough for the Red Guards and no admission ever of sufficient crimes.

In part this may be because

deeper or more important realities – for example, the excess of crime or poor educational achievement – remain refractory to change. When people feel impotent to change what they dislike, they are apt to turn their efforts on to something that they can change, on the kick-the-cat principle.

Also, resentment

is a self-reinforcing emotion which it takes great effort to control. It is an emotion that satisfies (in a sour way) and can keep its embers burning for a lifetime, unlike any other emotion.