Category Archives: triviality

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.

The cretin’s lantern

screen-shot-2016-10-28-at-10-26-55Television promised much but disappointed greatly, emerging as an inherently vacuous, trivialising medium. Dalrymple goes further and describes it as

a terrible social evil.

There are few more frustrating experiences, he says,

than trying to discuss a serious subject on television. Discussion programmes are soundbite programmes, from which that person emerges triumphant who says something striking in the very few seconds allocated to him. The content of what he says is unimportant: it is the form and feeling-tone that count.

There are, he notes,

many erroneous statements whose erroneousness cannot be exposed in a single sentence, however brilliantly compressed. Concision is a virtue unless it come at the expense of truth, whereupon it be not only a vice, but a public danger.

Blair: dishonesty and dishonour

Screen Shot 2016-07-09 at 09.52.04

Lack of character plus moral grandiosity, a lethal combination

The grandiose are found out by reality, and left squirming

Tony Blair, writes Dalrymple, exhibits

the most frivolous earnestness. He is given to gushes of cheap moral enthusiasm — cheap, that is, for him, not for others who have to pay for it.

Blair has been

exposed as the frog in Æsop’s fable that puffs and puffs himself up in an attempt to prove himself as big as the cow, until he explodes. But we cannot blame him entirely. He is one of us, the new Britons. The least we can do is to put some teddy-bears by the railings outside his home to help him come to terms with his humiliation.

Screen Shot 2016-07-09 at 09.50.34Britain, Dalrymple reminds us, is

of very slight account, with a population increasingly unable to distinguish the trivial from the important and the virtual from the real. It has over several decades undergone profound social and psychological changes, of which Blair is both a symptom and an accelerating cause.

When moral grandiosity meets lack of character,

no good can result. Grandiosity and lack of character are two sides of the same coin. When someone believes that he is born with Original Virtue, he comes to believe that all his opinions, all his ends and all his actions are pure, moral and right. He is able to change from moment to moment, and to act in a completely unscrupulous manner. He may act in contradictory ways and change his opinions to their very opposites, but the purity of motive remains when everything else has disappeared.

Screen Shot 2016-07-09 at 09.19.39Such a person

can have no honour, for honour implies a loyalty to a fixed standard, even or especially when it is not in that person’s immediate or instrumental interest to uphold it.

The lack of character

derives also from the elevation of sensibility over sense and of personal opinion over personal probity. Purity of sentiment and opinion become the whole of virtue, and the louder one expresses it the better the person is; morality is not a discipline and an abjuration but an opportunity to shine in front of one’s peers.

Screen Shot 2016-07-09 at 10.23.23Needless to say,

purity of sentiment and opinion are not incompatible with our old and trusted friend, the thirst for power, a combination which naturally enough results in a bullying sentimentality and a self-righteous lack of scruple.

The desire to be

both policeman and lady almoner, General Patton and Gandhi, Rambo and Elizabeth Fry, is not conducive to clear thinking or clear policy.

Screen Shot 2016-07-09 at 10.28.26Screen Shot 2016-07-09 at 10.20.38

A chilling epigraph

Screen Shot 2015-12-25 at 07.58.21It is contained, Dalrymple writes, in Jürgen Thorwald’s The Dismissal: The Last Days of Ferdinand Sauerbruch (1960). It is by Josef Naas, director of the Akademie der Wissenschaften der DDR, and reads:

In the coming struggle of the proletariat, in the clash between socialism and capitalism, millions will lose their lives. In the face of this fact it is a trivial matter whether Sauerbruch kills a few dozen people on his operating table. We need the name of Sauerbruch.

Sauerbruch, Dalrymple explains, was

a brilliant but arrogant surgeon who began to dement and did not realise his powers were declining. He persisted in operating, though he started to kill patients. He did this with the complaisance of the authorities because, after the war, the East Germans were pleased, for reasons of propaganda, that he continued to work in Berlin.

Loathsome poll-tax-funded purveyor of pap

The idiot's lantern

Moral idiot’s lantern

The corrupt British state broadcaster

The contempt of the upper echelons of the BBC for the intelligence of the British public could not be better illustrated than by its website, writes Dalrymple.

His experience of those working at the lower levels of the organisation

is of intelligent, dedicated and often talented people frustrated in their wish to do a good job by the mandate from the top to produce prolefeed, a pabulum of sport, gossip, celebrity and trivial sensation.

Compared to the BBC’s website, the Daily Mail‘s is

like a work of the deepest and most serious scholarship.

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’ is ‘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.

(1998)