Category Archives: materialism

The vice of outsourcing everything to China

Dalrymple notes that Wuhan flu and its consequences have been rather revealing about the West’s condition. On the matter of supply chains and interdependence,

the economy, as we have constructed it, hangs by a thread.

Western folly

The speed with which so much unravelled came as a surprise —

untune that string, And, hark, what discord follows!*

If we had stopped to think,

we might have realised how unwise it was to outsource production of almost everything to distant and not necessarily benevolently-disposed foreign powers.

Ponzi scheme

Yet, says Dalrymple,

our habits — spending more than we earned for decades — required it. To maintain the illusion of solvency, money had to be created and interest rates kept low. But to avoid the appearance of inflation, prices (except for property and financial assets) had to be kept low. The only way was to outsource manufacturing to low-cost economies, and voilà, with the able assistance of the coronavirus, the economic situation that we are in.

Will we ever learn?

We discover when shortages arise that

most of the things of which we go short are not necessary to our happiness; materialism, that the good life is ever greater consumption of material goods, whether refined food or sophisticated electronics, is false, and we have run after false gods.

But

as soon as normal service is restored in the form of endless supply and huge choice of material goods, we revert to our materialism.

We were probably sincere in declaring that consumption of material goods was not all-important or necessary to happiness. It was just that

the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

*Troilus and Cressida act I, sc. 3
†Matthew 26:41

Global capitalism flattens differences in tastes and cultures

Everyone everywhere, writes Dalrymple,

consumes the same branded products.

He cites the phænomenon of large numbers of shoppers from China arriving in Britain

and being taken straight after their long journey in buses from the airport to a so-called village which consists of outlets of brands of clothes and accessories that they could have bought at home, though presumably at greater expense.

Consumption in the modern world

becomes the meaning of life, a meaning that can only be sustained if what is consumed constantly changes.

The ‘potential space’ of Islamism

With its ready-made diagnosis and prescriptions, writes Dalrymple, it

opens up and fills with the pus of implacable hatred for many in search of a reason for and a solution to their discontents.

According to Islamism, Dalrymple notes, the West can never meet the demands of justice, because it is

  • decadent
  • materialistic
  • individualistic
  • heathen
  • democratic rather than theocratic

Only

a return to the principles and practices of 7th-century Arabia will resolve all personal and political problems at the same time.

This notion, he points out, is

no more (and no less) bizarre or stupid than the Marxist notion that captivated so many Western intellectuals throughout the 20th century: that the abolition of private property would lead to final and lasting harmony among men.

The loss of a sense of a hierarchy of value

screen-shot-2017-01-03-at-22-58-44There is in Britain, says Dalrymple (from 1:01:03),

a very crude materialism, and skewed values. Parents used to ask me why their child was so horrible when they did ‘everything’ for it. I asked what they meant by ‘everything’. The answer was: providing it with the latest tennis shoes, things of no value, rubbish. I’ve known a case of murder over the brand of tennis shoes.

Why is this?

Probably because there’s nothing else. There’s no cultural continuum, no pride in country, no political project, no religion.

There is, Dalrymple points out,

a loss of a sense of a hierarchy of value, as well as of a social hierarchy.

Dalrymple remembers his father, who was born in a poor quarter of London. The education he received there

was better than 99.9% of children today. His teachers — to whom he was always grateful — never took the view that he was poor and couldn’t be expected to learn Latin or appreciate science or art. They aimed to open his eyes to science and art. He told me that they would take children to museums in their spare time.

There is very little sense of that now because

the idea that one thing is higher than another has disappeared, especially from the intellectual class, who are all playing the shepherdess like Marie Antoinette. They don’t really like their own children not to have any sense of hierarchy, but they will propound the theory that there is no higher and lower, and unfortunately this affects everyone.

What’s in it for us?

Screen Shot 2016-07-02 at 14.23.35Much of the argument about whether to stay in the European Union turns, writes Dalrymple, on whether people

will be better or worse off if their country stays or leaves, and especially whether the country derives more benefit from its membership than it pays for.

This, he says, is undignified, since it implies that

if we get back in subsidies more than we put in, this is an argument for staying.

Perhaps this is not surprising in Western countries, where

social justice has come to mean a large proportion of the population living at the expense of the remainder of the population.

Muslim zealotry and embittered materialism

Screen Shot 2015-12-06 at 14.39.01Dalrymple writes of Islamic proselytising in prisons:

An outside observer might conclude from the religious literature that he sees there that Britain is more an Islamic than a Christian country.

Prisoners are susceptible to religious conversion, by which, Dalrymple says,

they do not feel that they have simply surrendered unconditionally to society, meekly accepting its law-abiding, middle-class norms after years of flouting them. They do not simply slink away from crime, defeated by the system; they have actively chosen a new life.

A life without boundaries

is a life of torment. It is without form, a void. Islam, with its daily rituals and its list of prohibitions, is ideally suited to those who are seeking to contain their lives.

Mahometanism, Dalrymple points out, has this great advantage:

It is feared by society at large. By adopting Islam, prisoners are killing two birds with one stone: they are giving themselves boundaries so that they can commit no more crimes — of the ordinary kind — and yet do not feel that they have capitulated to the demands of society.

The extent of the secularisation of young Muslim men in prison

can hardly be exaggerated. They do not pray or keep Ramadan, or perform any other religious duties. Like their white and black counterparts, they are interested in sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.

Their difference is that, thanks to their cultural inheritance, their abuse of women

is systematic rather than unsystematic as it is with the whites and blacks. That is the way they intend to keep it, for it is a very gratifying system.

Dalrymple explains that

the match that puts the flame to the combustible mixture is a general sense of grievance and of grave injustice.

By injustice,

they do not mean that they did not do what they were accused of having done. On the contrary, they know perfectly well that, like most other prisoners, they have committed between five and 15 times more crimes than they have been accused of, and celebrate the fact. No, by injustice they mean social injustice.

Their justice, says Dalrymple, is

an ideal state of affairs which includes an effortlessly acquired, endless supply of women and BMWs. Much religious zealotry is disappointed and embittered materialism.

The politico-religious fanaticism

of which we are rightly afraid is not the product of Islam alone, but of an amalgam of Islam with sociological ideas according to which people are victims of structural injustice, of the modern equivalent of djinn, such as institutionalised racism.

Fertile ground for Muslim ‘martyrs’

Screen Shot 2015-11-14 at 13.55.49The outlook in France and the rest of the West is grim, says Dalrymple. He identifies the factors which, he writes,

ensure fertile ground for the recruitment of further ‘martyrs’ for years to come.

These are:

  • a highly secularised Muslim population whose men nevertheless wish to maintain their dominance over women and need a justification for doing so
  • the hurtful experience of disdain or rejection from the surrounding society
  • the bitter disappointment of a frustrated materialism and a seemingly perpetual inferior status in the economic hierarchy
  • the extreme insufficiency and unattractiveness of modern popular culture that is without value
  • the readiness to hand of an ideological and religious solution that is flattering to self-esteem and allegedly all-sufficient, and yet in unavoidable conflict with a large element of each individual’s identity
  • an oscillation between feelings of inferiority and superiority, between humiliation about that which is Western and that which is non-Western in the self
  • the grotesque inflation of the importance of personal existential problems that is typical of modern individualism

Social-climbing cretins

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 05.06.50The novelist Michel Houellebecq’s theme, writes Dalrymple, is

the emptiness of human existence in a consumer society devoid of religious belief, political project, or cultural continuity.

Thanks to material abundance and social security,

there is no struggle for existence that might give meaning to the life of millions. Such a society will not allow you to go hungry or to live in the abject poverty that would once have been the reward of idleness. This lends an inspissated pointlessness to all human activity, which becomes nothing more than a scramble for unnecessary consumer goods that confer no happiness or (at best) a distraction from that very emptiness.

For Houellebecq,

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 05.07.42

Michel Houellebecq

intellectual or cultural activity becomes mere soap opera for the more intelligent and educated rather than something of intrinsic importance or value. That is why a university teacher of economics in one of his books describes his work as the teaching of obvious untruths to careerist morons, rather than as, say, the awakening of young minds to the fascinating task of reducing the complexity of social interactions to general principles.

Dalrymple is referring here to the character Hélène in Houellebecq’s 2010 novel La Carte et le Territoire. Here is a passage from the English-language edition (tr. Gavin Bowd):

On the whole, young people no longer interested Hélène much. Her students were at such a terrifyingly low intellectual level that, sometimes, you had to wonder what had pushed them into studying in the first place. The only reply, she knew in her heart of hearts, was that they wanted to make money, as much money as possible; aside from a few short-term humanitarian fads, that was the only thing that really got them going. Her professional life could thus be summarised as teaching contradictory absurdities to social-climbing cretins.

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 05.15.19Obvious untruths (Dalrymple); contradictory absurdities (Houellebecq). Dalrymple has stated:

I say, throw economics to the dogs; I’ll have none of it.

Houellebecq’s Hélène is no less disillusioned than Dalrymple:

Her interest in economics had waned over the years. More and more, the theories which tried to explain economic phenomena, to predict their developments, appeared almost equally inconsistent and random. She was more and more tempted to liken them to pure and simple charlatanism; it was even surprising, she occasionally thought, that they gave a Nobel prize for economics, as if this discipline could boast the methodological seriousness, the intellectual rigour, of chemistry or physics.

The fouling of Britain’s popular culture

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 08.00.31A large proportion of Britain’s population, writes Dalrymple,

has been left to the mercies of a popular culture whose main characteristic is the willing suspension of intelligence, and which does not merely fail to inculcate refinement, grace, elegance or the desire for improvement, but actively prevents them and causes them to be feared and despised. An inability and unwillingness to discriminate always leads, by default, to the overgrowth of the worst, from which the better can never recover.

England’s impoverishment is

as much of the spirit as economic: nowhere in the world (at least nowhere known to me, including very many poorer places) do you see such a concentration of people who have given up on themselves, or rather, who never had any self-respect to give up on.

Britons inhabit a purely materialist society

that is not even very good at materialism, for it does not promote even those mental and moral disciplines that promote material success.

Prosperity is not enough

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 08.06.26Dalrymple writes that in High-Rise (1975), J.G. Ballard sets a small civil war in a vast luxury apartment building, where

the regime of trivial disputes and irritations . . . provided [the] only corporate life

of the 2,000 inhabitants.

The character Robert Laing, Dalrymple explains,

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 08.00.42is a doctor who is divorced, like all of Ballard’s protagonists.

This over-priced cell, slotted almost at random into the cliff face of the apartment building, he had bought after his divorce specifically for its peace, quiet and anonymity.

It seems to be part of the modern condition, writes Dalrymple,

that people find difficulty in living together, preferring an isolation in which human contact becomes superficial, fleeting, and primarily instrumental to immediate needs or desires.

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 08.04.33Where people have few affective ties

but nonetheless live together in close proximity, the potential for conflict is great.

Though all the residents in the high-rise are well-heeled,

a version of class war breaks out, pitting the residents of the upper floors, who have paid the most for their flats, against those of the lower floors. Boredom and a lack of common purpose provoke aggression, and self-destruction follows.

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 08.06.41Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 08.26.15