Category Archives: self-congratulation

Vulgarity of expression in the British cultural élite

Leafing through the cultural section of the Observer, which Dalrymple explains is

the Sunday newspaper of the intelligentsia (at least, that part of it that still reads a newspaper),

he comes across the following statement, by a playwright called Lucy Prebble, about her latest work:

It’s a risky, clumsy motherfucker, this play.

The accompanying picture is of the playwright,

dressed in a rather pretty and no doubt expensive flowered frock, smiling and looking exceedingly pleased with herself.

Dalrymple notes that

apart from the obviously bogus self-deprecation of the statement,

the use of the word motherfucker

is clearly intended as a signal of her liberation from supposedly bourgeois restraint and her desire to assert her membership in the linguistic underclass. We may assume that as a successful playwright she is capable of more expressive, less uninformatively vulgar ways of describing her doubts about the value of her play. Her choice of word is not to convey anything meaningful about her play, which it is clearly incapable of doing, but to establish her social and political virtue, that is to say her nonmembership of an élite that once upon a time would not have used such a word, and certainly would not have wished it to be published that it had used it.

Exceedingly pleased with herself: Lucy Prebble

Hide a bushel under your light

screen-shot-2017-03-05-at-17-20-51Dalrymple writes that there was a time in his life, many, many years ago, when

people were not expected to boast about their accomplishments: they were expected not to boast about their accomplishments. Self-praise was regarded as no praise: someone who praised himself was thought to be a bad character.

These days,

boasting and the expression of self-satisfaction are essential to getting on in life, to climbing a hierarchy. You have to recommend yourself, not wait to be recommended by others (which might never happen).

screen-shot-2017-03-05-at-17-17-46Dalrymple reads an article in which an interviewee is asked to summarise his or her personality in three words.

This is a question that should not have been asked, that is almost obscene, being an invitation either to self-congratulation or to arch self-deprecation, the higher and slightly more acceptable form of self-congratulation. To adapt slightly the final sentence of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, whereof one ought not to speak, thereof one ought to be silent.

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Fillon sounds false note of national self-congratulation

screen-shot-2017-02-12-at-19-01-42Dalrymple observes that anyone who would be a candidate for the French presidency must write, or have ghost-written for him, a book, just as anyone who wants to be Britain’s prime minister must pretend to be a fan of some soccer team. This is not to say that the French are better at writing books than the English, or that the English are better at football than the French (for a start, English players tend to drink too much the night before the match).

Zowat elke persoon die Frans presidentskandidaat is, vindt het noodzakelijk om een boek te schrijven. Net zoals iedereen die in Groot-Brittannië premier wil worden, moet doen alsof hij voor een of ander Brits voetbalteam supportert. Dat wil niet zeggen dat de Fransen beter zijn in boeken schrijven dan de Britten, net zo min dat de Britten beter voetballen dan de Fransen. (Om te beginnen zijn Britse voetballers geneigd om veel te veel te drinken de avond voor de wedstrijd.)

screen-shot-2017-02-12-at-19-25-51One of the things Dalrymple finds annoying in books written by French politicians who hope to win election is the tone. It is one of national self-congratulation. The books refer to France as the country of human rights, in the same way as many Britons believe that the world envies them their health. Nobody is jealous of Britons for having miserable health and terrible hospitals, and the greatest of Francophils would hardly think of France as the country of human rights.

Een van de zaken die ik irritant vind aan boeken geschreven door Franse politici die hopen om verkozen te geraken, is de toon die je er in vindt: één van nationale zelf-felicitatie. De boeken verwijzen naar Frankrijk als hét land van mensenrechten. Precies dezelfde soort van mythe als die van de Britten die geloven dat heel de wereld hen hun gezondheidszorg benijdt. Niemand is jaloers op de Britten hun miserabele gezondheidszorg en verschrikkelijke ziekenhuizen en niemand, zelfs niet de grootste francofiel in de wereld, denkt over Frankrijk als zijnde hét land van de mensenrechten.

People who love France think of her landscapes, her towns and villages, her gastronomy, her literature, her savoir-vivre, her intellectual achievements, in short, her civilisation — in fact, everything except her human rights.

Mensen die houden van Frankrijk, houden van het land omwille van haar landschappen, haar steden en dorpen, haar keuken, haar literatuur, haar savoir vivre, haar intellectuele verwezenlijkingen… Kortom omwille van haar beschaving – in feite alles, behalve haar mensenrechten.

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From P.G. Wodehouse, The Aunt and the Sluggard (1916)

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France has a ‘universal vocation’, according to François Fillon. Dalrymple is allergic to nonsense of this kind.

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The vice of self-congratulation

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To give a child lessons in moral narcissism is a dismal thing to do

Dalrymple explains that he is

allergic to the use of children for the dissemination of political messages. I think it is a form of child abuse. Poor old Kant would turn in his grave.

Dalrymple notices a newspaper photo of a girl of about 8 holding up a banner at the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., with I am kind, smart and important on it. The words, he says, are

thoroughly odious.

We teach self-congratulation early, he notes,

and far from learning that self-praise is no praise, children are taught that self-praise is the highest form. The object is to prevent that most frightful and damaging of psychological conditions, lack of self-esteem. From being insufficiently puffed-up about oneself all kinds of dire consequences flow, from repeatedly choosing the wrong mate to failure to progress in one’s career.

But Dalrymple points out that self-esteem is

an unpleasant quality, akin to conceit. Some of the most unpleasant people I have known were full of it, and it is perfectly possible for people to behave like monsters and have a very high conception of themselves. Self-esteem is dangerous as a positive invitation to appalling behavior, insofar as it is not derived from any effort, achievement, or good conduct, but is self-awarded as an inalienable right.

screen-shot-2017-02-05-at-20-24-27Does anyone, he asks,

who is kind and clever hold up a banner to the effect that he is kind and clever? A person who went round proclaiming, ‘I am important, I am important’ would seem to us either pathetic, as if he were whistling in the wind of his insignificance, or, if he used his supposed importance to push his way to the front of a queue, say, in order to be served before everyone else, very unpleasant indeed.

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On 30 March, 1933, Victor Klemperer noticed a children’s ball in a toyshop inscribed with a swastika

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Dalrymple is allergic to the use of children for the dissemination of political messages

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It is a form of child abuse. Kant would turn in his grave

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The dictatorship of libertinism

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 17.34.55The life’s work of Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister, who has died aged 70, was, writes Dalrymple,

a phænomenon of sociological and social-psychological significance, at least in the Western world.

Lemmy was to the end a rebellious adolescent, emerging as

a senile rebel who could never bear to leave his adolescence behind, proud of his degeneracy unto death. In this, he was an authentic representative of modern psychological development: a short period of precocity followed by a long one of arrested development.

Lemmy is quoted as saying:

I founded the filthiest rock group in the world.

There is in these words, says Dalrymple,

an undoubted tone of self-congratulation. He had done something not just filthy, but superlatively filthy, and therefore, according to his own inverted scale of values, outstandingly meritorious.

Lemmy once said:

If one day we come to live near you, that will be the end of your lawn.

In other words,

ugliness will be my beauty, and furthermore I will impose it on you.

Interviewed once in a place where smoking was prohibited, Lemmy is quoted as saying:

I’ll need another reason not to smoke than that it’s forbidden.

Thus

he was the sole authority as to when, where, and whether to smoke. Others counted for nothing.

When, writes Dalrymple,

one acts a part for long enough, it ceases to be a mere act and one becomes what one pretends to be. The result of careers such as Mr Kilmister’s is to encourage a culture or subculture, almost unique in my experience, lacking all beauty, value, virtue, charm, or refinement. Its apotheosis would be the dictatorship of libertinism in which personal whim would play the part of the supposed word of God.

Self-congratulatory posturing

Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 08.50.54Kindness, writes Dalrymple,

turns into cruelty when it helps to maintain the need for kindness to be exercised; it then becomes an exercise in self-congratulation rather than in doing good.

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An MBA’s idea of intellectual seriousness

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 09.19.55Dalrymple writes that there are two ways

for prose to impress more than it should: by incomprehensibility and by portentousness.

In another post, we looked at how Dalrymple views incomprehensibility as exemplified by the contents of an academic criminological journal. In this post it is the turn of portentousness, a good specimen of which is the British, or mid-Atlantic, Economist news-magazine. The Economist, Dalrymple explains, is

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 09.52.49dull and self-congratulatory,

characterising itself as of

the extreme centre.

Its reports at the front of the magazine do not always coincide with the economic data at the back, and its prognostications are belied by events, yet it manages to convey the impression that the disparities, insofar as it acknowledges them, are

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 09.51.56the fault of the events rather than of the Economist,

and that the world has a duty to be as the Economist says it is and will be. The articles are written anonymously, which is

intended to create the illusion that the magazine speaks from nothing so vulgar as a perspective, but from some Olympian height from which only the whole truth can be descried. It is the saving grace of every such magazine that no one remembers what he read in it the week before. Only by the amnesia of its readers can it retain its reputation.

Dalrymple finds the Economist‘s style dull, and asks how it is that

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 09.38.08correspondents from Lima to Limassol, from Cairo to Kathmandu, write in the same fashion, as if everything that happens everywhere is fundamentally the same.

The Economist, writes Dalrymple, is about as amusing as a speech by David Cameron. Its prose

is the equivalent of Ikea furniture, prefabricated according to a manual of style; it tries to combine accessibility with judiciousness and arrives only at portentousness.

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 09.41.59Dalrymple wonders who reads the Economist, and what for.

I suppose there is a type of functionary who does not want to be caught out in ignorance of the latest developments in Phnom Penh, or the supposed reasons for the latest uprising in Ouagadougou. The Economist is intellectual seriousness for middle management and MBAs. To be seen with it is a sign of belonging to, and of identifying with, a certain caste.

But at least the Economist

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 09.59.15is comprehensible—even, in its way, lucid. Publications for academic intellectuals are far worse.

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They got that right

They got that right

Help! I’m starved of self-esteem

Screen Shot 2014-04-19 at 03.55.57Our modern sages teach that this is one of the very gravest of afflictions, leading ineluctably to hidebound dysfunction and very often madness, and to all manner of enormities from torture to fascism to self-harm to uncontrollable habits of self-pollution to warlordism to sexism to unbridled lust to kidnapping to pedantry to pederasty to blood-soaked dreams of conquest to Islamophobia to drug addiction to suicide to violent abuse of minors to rape to murder and even to unconcealed, out-and-out racism.

Daumier’s generous vision

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Parade de Saltimbanques, c. 1865-67

Dalrymple writes that although conditions of life have softened ‘immeasurably’ since Honoré Daumier’s day,

his generosity of spirit is not easy to find today. Perhaps this is because we demand so much more of life than anyone demanded in his day, when even the lives of the richest hung by the narrowest of threads. Our criticisms of life are correspondingly harsher, less tolerant and forgiving of human weakness, and less fatalistic than Daumier’s. Though we are unprecedentedly fortunate, we are filled with bitterness and hate; our kindness, such as it is, has correspondingly become brittle, impersonal, theoretical, abstract, bureaucratic, and ideological, reflective of no genuine feeling.

The Western intellectual’s cheap pseudo-martyrdom

Screen Shot 2014-02-15 at 18.02.19Every intellectual, writes Dalrymple,

likes to believe that he is struggling manfully against the hostile Zeitgeist.

His belief that he is

not only in the minority but losing the battle against the opposing forces of obscurantism and wrongheadedness allows him the pleasures both of self-pity and self-congratulation.

He likes to believe that he has

suffered for his views while at the same time making a comfortable living from them.