Category Archives: irony

Like a butterfly to an entomologist’s board

The essays of Simon Leys, writes Dalrymple,

often combine delicacy with irony—a combination that few writers, especially in our times of stridency and parti pris, achieve.

Dalrymple cites the opening of Leys’ An Introduction to Confucius:

If we consider humanity’s greatest teachers of wisdom—the Buddha, Confucius, Socrates, Jesus—we are struck by a curious paradox: today, not one of them could obtain even the most modest of teaching posts in any of our universities.

Leys goes on to explain:

The reason is simple: their qualifications are insufficient—they have published nothing.

In two sentences, writes Dalrymple, Leys

has pinned, like a butterfly to an entomologist’s board, the bureaucratic sickness that has overtaken our institutions of higher learning (and not only those institutions). There is no madness more difficult to treat than that which believes itself sane, and there is no irrationality greater than that which believes itself perfect.

It is no surprise that Leys

retired early from his university chair because the university no longer bore any resemblance to what it had once been, and misled students and the rest of society into believing it still was. A community of scholars had become an organisation of foremen on a production line.

Postcards from Costa Mesa

screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-17-15-11Political correctness

Olga Pérez Stable Cox is professor of human sexuality at Orange Coast College, Costa Mesa. She recently delivered herself of the view, in the course of a lecture at the college, that the election of Donald Trump, whom she described as a ‘white supremacist’, was ‘an act of terrorism’. Moreover, she said, ‘we have been assaulted’.

Ms Cox should not have spoken in this way, Dalrymple contends.

As a characterisation of events in America it is so inaccurate or imprecise, at the same time so feeble and inflammatory, that it bespeaks either an inability to control herself or a lack of intellect (or both), neither of them admirable qualities in a university lecturer.

The lecture theatre, he says, is no place for teachers to express their raw political opinions to young people who are dependent upon them for good marks.

screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-17-12-26A North Korea of the soul

On the other hand, says Dalrymple,

the student who recorded and spread her comments widely was also acting in a destructive fashion, perhaps without fully realising it. If everything we say or do can be recorded and published without our consent, we shall soon be living in a North Korea of the soul. No conversation will be truly private, no group of people will be trusted not to contain its digital Judas. The only safety will be in silence.

screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-17-09-56How to parry

The proper response to political correctness, Dalrymple argues,

is not unbridled insult, or vituperation that is supposedly equal and opposite to whatever it is that political correctness asserts. It is resort, incessant if necessary, to reason, which may employ irony and mockery but not crudity.

screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-17-36-23 screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-17-37-33 screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-17-38-02screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-17-09-42 screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-17-08-41 screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-17-08-17 screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-17-07-47 screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-17-07-11 screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-17-06-56 screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-17-06-39 screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-17-06-17 screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-17-06-00 screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-17-04-49

What Blair says about the British people

A modern Briton

A modern Briton

One of Blair’s motives for going to war might have been

an eye to his post-retirement value on the very lucrative American lecture circuit.

Blair, Dalrymple notes,

shows a greater avidity for vulgar high living than any recent holder of his office.

Dalrymple says Blair

presents us with a special puzzle. Although by no means an interesting man, in the sense that Doctor Johnson was an interesting man, we all find ourselves thinking about him at frustrating length. He is like a tune, neither loved nor lovely, that one cannot get out of one’s head.

In some ways

he appears to resemble that product of the diseased communist imagination, particularly beloved of Che Guevara, the New Man, at least in the sense that he does not resemble previous generations.

Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 11.06.14Blair

is neither honest nor dishonest: he escapes entirely the criteria by which such a judgment of him could be made. To argue with him that what he says or does now is incompatible with what he said or did yesterday is about as fruitful as arguing a paranoid man out of his belief that the secret services of many countries are after him, or that his neighbours are listening to his thoughts through a screening device that they have invented. In short, Blair, having been born with Original Virtue, suffers from delusions of honesty.

Leaders, Dalrymple notes,

grow out of societies and a social context: they do not fall like bolts from the blue. Blair both represents, and is a cause of an acceleration in, a change in character of the British people. He is far from unique in his ability to find the happy coincidence between his thirst for money and power and the highest moral principles.

Anyone who has had dealings with the British public service, Dalrymple points out, will know that the principal qualities required for advancement within it are

  • unceasing sanctimony
  • brazenness
  • a craven dedication to orders from on high
  • an ability to justify a complete change of direction at a moment’s notice
  • a capacity for bullying those lower down the feeding chain, or those jostling for a place at the trough
  • a rigid self-control, to suppress any independence of mind or a tendency to consider the ethics of orders to be implemented

What is required in the civil servant is the ability, for example,

to present cancelled operations as an inestimable benefit to the patients concerned, while at the same time spotting niches for a little commercial activity of his own, whether it be by using the rules of employment to his own financial benefit or setting up a consultancy to advise his former employers.

Dalrymple recently met a public servant

who had risen up the ranks and had about him the air of a successful revolutionary. He travelled to London on the train first class every week (a ticket costs the equivalent of an annual working-class holiday in the sun), and attended sumptuous functions there attended by others such as himself, under the impression that by so doing he was working.

Here was the voice

of militant mediocrity, who expressed himself even in private in the language of Health Service meetings, believing that his large salary and high living at public expense were all for the good of those who paid for them. Just as the countries of Eastern Europe once had their little Stalins, so every department of every branch of the British public service has its little Blairs.

Today the ruling characteristics of the British are

  • deviousness
  • ruthlessness
  • an eye fixed on the main chance
  • sanctimony in the midst of obvious wrongdoing
  • toadying
  • bullying

As late as 1979, the British people, including administrators in hospitals, were largely upright. Some of the old virtues were seen, such as

  • stoicism
  • honesty
  • fortitude
  • irony
  • good humour

These can still be found,

but only in people who are of no importance,

for in Britain, good people

are like a defeated class.

Dalrymple says that

when words become the test of virtue, they also become the masks of vice. That is why sanctimony and ruthless self-interest are such powerful allies.

The collectivist rot in Britain

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 07.54.19An infantilised people

Its sense of irony, writes Dalrymple, once protected the British population

from infatuation with utopian dreams and unrealistic expectations.

But the English are sadly changed.

A sense of irony is the first victim of utopian dreams. The British tolerance of eccentricity has also evaporated; uniformity is what they want now, and are prepared informally to impose. They tolerate no deviation in taste or appearance from themselves.

The pressure to conform

to the canons of (lack of) popular taste has never been stronger. Those without interest in soccer hardly dare mention it in public. A dispiriting uniformity of character, deeply shallow, has settled over a land once richer in eccentrics than any other. No more Edward Lears for us: we prefer notoriety to oddity now.

The English are no longer sturdily independent as individuals, either. They now

feel no shame or even unease at accepting government handouts. (40% of them receive such handouts.)

Many Britons

see no difference between work and parasitism.

They are left with

very little of importance to decide for themselves, even in their private spheres.

The State

  • educates them (at least nominally)
  • provides for them in old age
  • frees them of the need to save money (doing so is in many cases made uneconomic)
  • treats them when they are ill
  • houses them if they cannot afford housing

Their choices

concern only sex and shopping.

No wonder, says Dalrymple, that the British

have changed in character, their sturdy independence replaced with passivity, querulousness, or even, at the lower reaches of society, a sullen resentment that not enough has been or is being done for them. For those at the bottom, such money as they receive is pocket money, reserved for the satisfaction of whims. They are infantilised. If they behave irresponsibly it is because both the rewards for behaving responsibly and the penalties for behaving irresponsibly have vanished.

Such people

come to live in a limbo in which there is nothing much to hope or strive for and nothing much to fear or lose. Private property and consumerism coexist with collectivism, and freedom for many people means little more than choice among goods. The free market, as Hayek did not foresee, has flourished alongside collectivism.

Diagnosed with flatulent portentousness

Flatulent, and humour's worst enemy

Black swan: he suffered from (occasional, but not the less embarrassing for all that) flatulence, and was humour’s worst enemy

Unfortunately Charles Morgan succumbs to this unpleasing condition more than occasionally, according to his critics, from whom Dalrymple says he cannot

entirely demur.

Here is a representative Morgan passage (from ‘La Douceur de Vivre’ in the 1944 essay collection Reflections in a Mirror):

In the imprisonment of routine, in the midst of great labours, in spite of the temporary inconvenience of revolutions, men have always known how to let the instant rest like a petal on the stream of their lives; they have loved and painted and written verses and taken a hand at piquet; and at café tables or beside a river they have meditated on these things.

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 07.29.03Such moments of reflective ease,

while the petal floats by, are not for Rembrandt or Milton or the giants, assuredly not for Hugo; for what is in question is la douceur de vivre, and that is by no means the private property of Titans; it is in Tissot and in Fragonard, in the small lanes of history as well as on the great carriage routes; it is a flower as humble as the willow-herb which is springing up from nowhere in all the bomb craters of London, and has never been reserved to the good and great.

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 22.26.07Dalrymple points to another Morgan passage that he describes as Maugham minus

the irony or easy elegance.

It is the opening to Morgan’s 1941 novel The Empty Room:

On the last Saturday in November, the third month of the war, Richard Cannock performed, on a woman’s eye, a bold and subtle operation that gave him the satisfaction a writer may have in a flawless paragraph.

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 22.37.03Morgan is, writes Dalrymple,

that rara avis, a writer who not only had no sense of humour, but was opposed to humour.

All the same, Dalrymple notes a pleasantly civilised scene in The Empty Room in which the surgeon character lunches at the Garrick, where

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 07.36.45the wine steward brought his pint of claret.

This bird, it seems, was more wine and partridge than cakes and ale.

Rara avis in terris nigroque simillima cycno

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 23.12.03

Ses femmes