Category Archives: heartlessness

The part played by the public sector in this tragedy

Before and after the ‘refurbishment’, with its deadly flammable cladding

Grenfell Tower was built, Dalrymple notes,

as public housing in 1974. Like all such towers (4,000 of them in Britain) erected at the time, it was an aesthetic blot on the townscape, irredeemably hideous, and destructive of the possibility of civilised sociability.

One reason, Dalrymple explains, that the block of flats was ‘refurbished’ at a cost of more than $10m shortly before the fire

was to improve its appearance slightly, to make it look less Soviet. There was, of course, only so much that could be done in this direction.

Unfortunately, the cladding used to insulate the building, protect it from rain, and improve its appearance

was highly flammable, and it was attached to the building in such a way that it acted as a kind of chimney once the fire began.

Under construction

The local borough council

owned the building but had devolved its management to a non-profit-making management quasi-company that was, in essence, in the public sector, though it paid its senior staff, in effect local-government civil servants, private-sector-sized salaries.

This effectively public-sector management firm

was responsible for choosing the refurbishment and for guaranteeing and certifying that the work done was safe, though similar such work had previously caused fires in buildings like Grenfell Tower. It hired a private contractor, the successor to a company that had previously gone bankrupt after a large claim had been made against it for defective work.

The quasi-public-sector management company

disregarded the tenants’ repeatedly voiced concerns about the lack of proper fire precautions in the building.

An aesthetic blot on the townscape

Dalrymple’s experience of public-sector housing authorities, when he was a doctor with many patients who lived in public housing, was that

they were stone deaf to all justified tenant complaints, unless someone like me made firm representations on the tenants’ behalf.

These authorities, he relates,

were unutterably heartless and dishonest, as well as incompetent. They had to be protected from their clients by bulletproof glass.

Yet

the horrible fire, which is among the most terrifying anyone has witnessed, is being used to demand more public expenditure, raised and administered by the same kind of people who brought such joy to the residents of Grenfell Tower.

The design alone was always destructive of the possibility of civilised sociability

Before and after ‘refurbishment’, aimed at making the building less Soviet

Irredeemably hideous

Under construction

Grisly heartlessness of Eric Hobsbawm

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Companion of Honour

In his videolettera to Antonio Gramsci, Eric Hobsbawm CH says in part:

Anche se sei morto da più di settant’anni, sei vivo per tutti coloro che vogliono un mondo dove i poveri hanno la possibilità di diventare dei veri esseri umani.

Dalrymple comments:

These words to me are chilling, all the more so when you realise that they were uttered by a man who, towards the end of his very long life, said that if the deaths of the 20m people who died in the Soviet Union (it was probably many more) had brought about true socialism, then they would have been worth it.

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Please address all videoletters to A. Gramsci, c/o The Protestant Cemetery, Rome

Dalrymple has spent much of his life

among the poor or relatively poor. I can honestly say that it never occurred to me for a single moment that any one of them was not a true human being. Indeed, if they were not true human beings, their poverty would be nothing to worry about. I neither romanticised them as the fount of all goodness and wisdom nor saw them as mere objects.

Hobsbawm’s remark,

supposedly so generous but in fact utterly heartless, was of a piece with Mao’s chilling remark about the Chinese people being a blank sheet of paper on which the most beautiful characters (ideographs) could be written. For people like Mao and Hobsbawm, it is for other people not to be truly human, never themselves.

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A colourful character

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