Category Archives: ignorance

Trump, his fans and his foes on the couch

A psychiatrist writes

It is a discomfiting thought, notes Dalrymple, that

the very qualities that make Donald Trump so repellent a man even for many of those who voted for him should be the very qualities that others of his voters liked and admired. They liked him for his

  • crudity
  • vulgarity
  • boastfulness
  • insensitivity
  • shamelessness
  • ignorance

The still small voice within the orthodox

Yet, says the psychiatrist-essayist,

the vehemence directed against Mr Trump is, like his exaggerated self-regard, reaction formation. Except that in this case it is against an awareness that, in rejecting past orthodoxies, he is not only right but appeals to the still small voice within the orthodox themselves — the voice that tells them they were deluding themselves all along, or saying things that they knew not to be true but said nevertheless to establish their reputation as good, caring, generous-minded, liberal people.

The frenzy of their hatred for Mr Trump is

an inverted sign of their secret illicit agreement with him, which they repress by means of their continual insults.

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The British educational system

Dalrymple describes it as

a conspiracy by the Department for Education.

This arm of the British bureaucracy, he explains,

acts as a sub-committee on behalf of the bourgeoisie, to protect the bourgeoisie from any competition from the lower orders by keeping them in a state of preternatural ignorance and uncouthness.

British social policy defined

An idiocy wrapped in a lunacy wrapped in an absurdity, to produce misery and squalor

Dalrymple writes:

A tax on knowledge is a terrible thing, but a tax on ignorance, prejudice, evasion and half-truth is worse. That is what every British household with a television must pay, for the privilege of having the earnest but frivolous lucubrations of the BBC purveyed to it, whether it wants them or not.

This poll tax — or licence fee, as it is known — is the equivalent of nearly $200 per household a year, and is thus worth evading. Unfortunately, it costs nearly three times as much to catch evaders as the licence fees would have raised if paid. One proposal is to halve the licence fee for single mothers. Dalrymple comments:

In other words, we should subsidise a subsidy, in the name of a universal right to misinformation and trashy entertainment (and at the same time confer yet another incentive for single parenthood).

Maria-Antonietta the shepherdess torn to pieces

Leys turns wolf and eats Macchiocchi for breakfast

Sometimes Marxist baloney requires to be countered — and vigorously

Simon Leys, writes Dalrymple,

conveyed his authority—moral and literary—from the first sentence of everything he wrote. He never descended into obscurity and could say the most serious things with a light touch and in the simplest language.

He was a mild-mannered, restrained and courteous man,

as remote from self-advertisement or self-promotion

as it is possible to be, yet he once unaccountably found himself on television, on a talk show called Apostrophes. He was pitted against a conceited Maoist by the name of Maria-Antonietta Macchiocchi, a journalist-politician who had briefly visited China for the Gramsci-founded newspaper L’Unità. Speaking not a word of the language and knowing almost nothing about the country, she had been led by the nose by her guides. Her ignorance did not prevent her from publishing Dalla Cina (1971; 433 pages), which on the subject of the Cultural Revolution was, Dalrymple notes,

full of gushing sentiment. Because of the ideology she espoused, she was utterly credulous and foolish. She believed she was witnessing a dream come true — when she was in the midst of a nightmare involving scores of millions of people and the total destruction of much that was precious. In terms of deaths, the Cultural Revolution was not as bad as the Great Leap Forward, but it was bad enough.

The immensely learned China scholar Leys — who among many other things, produced an outstanding translation of the Confucian Analects — was outraged by people like Macchiocchi and their abominable ideas

because he loved the people and civilisation of China.

Leys rightly regarded Macchiocchi and her kind as

frivolous and ignorant, fundamentally uninterested in that of which they wrote, and using China as a tool in the resolution of their trivial personal psychodramas.

Macchiocchi: mammouth de la bêtise

On the TV show, the presenter asked Macchiocchi to speak first. She prattled about her life having been one of chastity and of devotion: the saints were wedded to God, she to the People. And she would redeem the People; she positively immolated herself day and night for the People.

Rot of such egregiousness, says Dalrymple, was too much for Leys, who remarked:

Je pense que les idiots disent des idioties, c’est comme les pommiers produisent des pommes. C’est dans la nature, c’est normal.

Une certaine idée de la Chine

Leys made clear that what he was saying was nothing personal, it was just that he had to take a stand against all the frivolous idiocies that had been written about Mao and Maoism by Western intellectuals. He had this to say about Macchiocchi’s 433 pages of drivel:

Le problème c’est qu’il y ait des lecteurs pour les prendre au sérieux et là évidemment se trouve le problème qui mériterait d’être analysé. Prenons le cas de Mme Macciocchi par exemple. Je n’ai rien contre Mme Macciocchi personnellement, je n’ai jamais eu le plaisir de faire sa connaissance. Quand je parle de Mme Macciocchi, je parle d’une certaine idée de la Chine, je parle de son œuvre, pas de sa personne. Son ouvrage De la Chine, c’est — ce qu’on peut dire de plus charitable, c’est que c’est d’une stupidité totale, parce que si on ne l’accusait pas d’être stupide, il faudrait dire que c’est une escroquerie.

It was as devastating as Leys’ comment on Malraux, Barthes and and all the other frauds who thought they had grasped the essence of China:

Ces mammouths de la bêtise qui n’en finissent pas, depuis un quart de siècle, d’étirer leurs pondéreuses caravanes sur les rayons des librairies.

Leys’ ferocious television onslaught on Macchiocchi was, of course, richly earned and necessary, for as Dalrymple observes,

any Chinese who had lived and suffered through those terrible years would suffer a second time if he read the praise lavished on his tormentors by those who were so easily duped by the régime’s flattery machine. Macchiocchi deserved what she got.

A sad fate

Macchiocchi, Dalrymple explains,

never fully recovered from the humiliation that she suffered on that night because Leys was so obviously a man of integrity, intellectual quality, and attachment to the truth that she must have known that what he said was both true and justified.

She lived with this knowledge for another 24 years, dying at the age of 85. You can, Dalrymple supposes,

endure such a humiliation when you are young (though it might deform your character if you are inclined to be so deformed), but you still have time to overcome it by later success. But to live the last quarter of a long life in the shadow of such a humiliation, one that nothing will now erase, is a sad fate indeed.

Barthes in Beijing

By a Western expert

Malraux and friends

Leys delivers the coup de grâce

Bildungsroman

Extract from the opening tale of The Proper Procedure and Other Stories:

The people couldn’t even speak or spell their own language properly, and hardly knew that any other languages existed. They knew nothing of their own literature and cared even less; their pleasures were coarse and brutish, their food revolting, their manners, if such you could call them, appalling. It was not so much that they lacked refinement, these people; rather they hated refinement and persecuted it wherever they found or even suspected it.

Reductio ad Hitlerum

The comparisons of Donald Trump with Adolf Hitler are, writes Dalrymple,

coming thick and fast.

People are far from reluctant

to compare others with Hitler in a non-metaphorical way, or to espy full-blown Nazism on the faintest of analogies.

There is, Dalrymple notes,

a vast and extensive literature to help Americans (and others) to know ‘what it was like to be Jewish in the time of Hitler’, much of it of sufficient quality to supply the imagination; and if really we can ‘start to imagine’ it after ten days of Trump, this would be testimony either to our ignorance or to our lack of imagination, or both—the very ignorance or lack of imagination that allows us to make such outrageously far-fetched comparisons in the first place.

A good tool but a bad master

Dalrymple notes that information (whether true or false) without perspective may be a higher form of ignorance — and a more dangerous form, insofar as it disguises itself as knowledge.

Ik wil alleen duidelijk maken dat informatie (of die nu juist of onjuist is) op zichzelf, als perspectief ontbreekt, een hogere vorm van onwetendheid kan zijn, en een gevaarlijker vorm in zoverre ze zich vermomt als kennis; en dat daarom een enorm magazijn van kennis op zichzelf niemand daadwerkelijk iets zal bijbrengen, hoe toegankelijk dat magazijn ook is voor mensen.

However long you browse the internet, it is no substitute for slow cultivation of judgment and a critical spirit, or for the development of a mature perspective.

Hoe lang je ook surft op internet, het kan geen vervanging zijn voor het langzame aankweken van beoordelingsvermogen en een kritische geest, of voor het ontwikkelen van een volwassen perspectief. Overmatig vertrouwen op gemakkelijk toegankelijke bronnen zou kunnen leiden tot een permanent oppervlakkige kijk op de dingen.

Colonic irrigation courtesy of the taxpayer

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 08.21.48The Department of Health’s tie-up with the Prince of Wales’s Foundation for Integrated Health is, writes Dalrymple,

an invincible alliance between bullying bureaucracy and social snobbery, between administrative cynicism and ignorant folly.

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 08.18.40Providing homeopathy on the NHS

is part of the persistent attempt by the government further to debase and demoralise the medical profession. The point is not to raise the status of alternative medicine, as Prince Charles has no doubt been gulled into believing, but to lower the status of orthodox medicine.

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 08.23.46This is because

doctors are trusted by the population, while politicians most certainly are not: therefore they, the doctors, represent a danger to the politicians. The people who will pay the price for the wicked folly of the Department of Health will be the British people, who will come to be treated by a professional body of uninterested timeservers while their rulers seek first-rate medical treatment elsewhere — that is to say abroad.

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 08.31.08Dalrymple has no objection to irrational whims involving

  • colonic irrigation
  • healing crystals
  • chakras in the earth
  • hopi candles

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 08.20.03But he sees no reason why he or any other taxpayer should fork out for them.

No doubt the Department of Health will present its position on alternative medicine

as being broad-minded and socially inclusive. There is another way of looking at it: the Department of Health is embezzling taxpayer’s funds for partially hidden, political purposes.

Charles II touches a patient for tuberculous swelling of the lymph glands

Charles II touches a patient for tuberculous swelling of the lymph glands

By all means

let the Prince of Wales spread propaganda for his brand of hocus-pocus. Let him touch people for the King’s Evil, if he and they so wish — the revival of the ceremony might add to the gaiety of the nation. But medicine is too serious a matter to be left to amateurs such as the Department of Health.

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 08.26.10Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 08.24.31Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 08.19.33

My hand shakes; I want to interrupt, to shout

Zeven Hoofdzonden (detail), attr. Jheronimus Bosch, c. 1485 or after. Museo del Prado

Zeven Hoofdzonden (detail), attr. Jheronimus Bosch, c. 1485 or after. Museo del Prado

Dogmatism, writes Dalrymple,

is the reaction of those who want to know best but suspect that the metaphysical foundations of their supposed knowledge are shaky. Ambiguity disturbs them: how can there be rational criticism founded on argument and evidence, when at the same time there is no disputing taste? The solution to the tension is to stand behind a stockade of indubitable truth.

The search for certainty

is much more important than the search for truth. I know a man, an eminent writer, who has changed his opinion many times in his long life, often by 180°, but never admits to having done so. He has held every successive opinion with angry intransigence. Challenges by people of another opinion make him turn red with rage: they do not merely differ from him in opinion, they are attacking him personally. It is not true that bigotry is the exclusive province of the ignorant and stupid; there is the clever and well-informed variety, the more dangerous because the less easily recognised.

Dalrymple does not exclude himself.

When someone expresses an opinion that is very different from my own, I often feel a mounting tension, though the subject may be one that, if I am honest with myself, is of little importance or consequence to me. Certainly it cannot harm me that someone thinks differently from me about it; yet my heart begins to beat wildly, and I am sure that my blood pressure has risen. I feel an excitation, I tell myself to keep calm but I don’t succeed; my hand shakes; I want to interrupt, to shout. I am not defending truth, but my opinion. Generally I succeed in controlling myself, but occasionally I do not, especially when my interlocutor is young. I immediately feel ashamed of myself afterwards; I even feel ashamed that, at my age, I am still so little capable of detachment.

Sickness of the modern aesthetic

Moseley School of Art, Birmingham. W.H.Bidlake, 1898. Closed 1975, building now owned by the Association  of British Muslims

Moseley School of Art, Balsall Heath, Birmingham. W.H. Bidlake, 1898. Closed 1975, premises owned by the Association of British Muslims

Dalrymple writes that the main purpose of the art schools of the West appears to be

to corrupt youth.

The art schools

imbue their students with the gratifying notion that originality unhindered by the weight or chains of the past is the highest goal at which they can aim, in the achievement of which ignorance will be a positive aid.

This explains why the exhibits in the graduating exhibitions of art schools

resemble the productions of kindergartens. Rare is the talent that can survive an art school education.