Category Archives: shallowness

Save the koala

Along with the wickedness of man, we must always remember his shallowness

Dalrymple likes to read online commentary by ordinary people, i.e. non-professional commentators. He notes that in the British commentary on the 2019–20 Australian bushfire season,

apart from outrage that Britain has done nothing to help Australia (by sending its rain, perhaps), sorrow for the half-billion wild animals killed in the fires is prominent. By wild animals, the commentators don’t mean flies and snakes, they mean koalas and kangaroos. No one says, ‘Pity the poor insects,’ though they are animals and number incalculably more than half a billion. No, it is the koalas that we worry about, stuck up their gum trees. At least the kangaroos have a chance of fleeing before the flames.

He says that if he were a betting man,

I should liquidate my assets and place the money in the shares of companies that make koala stuffed toys. I think there is about to be a worldwide boom in them.

Jewelled prose disguising narcissistic rage

Dalrymple asks of Virginia Woolf:

Might the revelation by the war of the utter frivolity of her attitudinising have contributed to her decision to commit suicide? If the good life is a matter of judgment, the war proved that all her adult life she had none.

Yet he notes that had she survived to our time,

she would have had the satisfaction of observing that her cast of mind — shallow, dishonest, resentful, envious, snobbish, self-absorbed, trivial, philistine, brutal — had triumphed among the élites of the Western world.

A patient of Dalrymple’s

Screen Shot 2016-08-25 at 23.48.53

From fresco cycle, Cappella degli Scrovegni, Padua. Giotto, c. 1305

She was, writes Dalrymple,

a working-class woman of dignified mien. Her brother died in a submarine sunk during the war, and her sister-in-law was killed in an air raid, leaving her the task of bringing up their orphaned child. Her husband had died comparatively young, and her first son had died of a heart attack at 42. (‘He had just finished a game of football, doctor, and was in the changing rooms. He fell on the floor, and his mates thought he had slipped, and they told him to stop messing about. He just looked up at them—smiled—and he was gone.’)

The bitterest blow

was the death of another son, killed in an accident in which a truck, carelessly driven, crushed his car. He was 50. She brought me his photo, her hand trembling slightly as she gave it to me. He was a businessman who had devoted his spare time to raising money for the Children’s Hospital. ‘It doesn’t seem right, somehow,’ she said, ‘that he should have gone before me.’ Did she still cry? ‘Yes, doctor, but only when I’m on my own. It’s not right, is it, to let anyone see you. After all, life has to go on.’

Could anyone, says Dalrymple,

have doubted either the depth of her feeling or of her character? Could any decent person fail to have been moved by the self-mastery she had achieved, the foundation of her strength?

Yet such fortitude

is the virtue that the acolytes of the hug-and-confess culture wish to extirpate from the British national character as obsolete, in favour of a banal, self-pitying, witless, and shallow emotional incontinence.

The 70-year-old adolescents

Screen Shot 2015-09-16 at 07.55.41Forever a teenager

When one sees pictures of ageing rock stars, writes Dalrymple,

one is torn between repulsion and pity. Their faces are canyoned by age, but with their uncompromisingly youthful hairstyles, dress and comportment, they look like revenants in a budget horror film, as if they have just brushed the clay of the churchyard in which they were buried from their face and body. There are more and more people in our streets who look like this but who have never been rock stars; we grow older as a population, but not with acceptance, let alone grace.

Western culture is one of eternal adolescence, keeping us permanently immature.

First comes precocity, then arrested development.

Dalrymple points out that adolescence

is an age of bad taste, when all that is garish and meretricious attracts, and all that is subtle and meritorious repels. To make of adolescence the state in which one wishes to remain is to wish upon the world the permanent triumph of the kitsch, the shallow and the gimcrack.

Accordingly, the adolescent sensibility

is one that prevails in much of the art world, where the most adolescent of goals, transgression, is still aimed at. Shock the parents, épater le bourgeois.

The problem is that

the parents have long since refused to grow up and the bourgeoisie has long since decamped to Bohemia. It is hardly surprising that so much artistic production now has all the freshness of last week’s bread, for few are so conformist as rebellious youth.

African epiphany

Screen Shot 2014-01-04 at 08.50.31Dalrymple recalls a simple experience after which he would

never laugh again at the taste of people of limited means to make a comfortable home for themselves.

He describes his moment of understanding that rejection of bourgeois proprieties and respectability was

shallow, trivial, and adolescent.

Moreover,

my rejection of bourgeois virtues as mean-spirited and antithetical to real human development could not long survive contact with situations in which those virtues were entirely absent.