Category Archives: wisdom

Full-bearded enlightenment

Wisdom resides in beards

Dalrymple is transfixed by the beard of Robert Sapolsky. He writes:

A man with a beard such as this must be very wise, a bit like Tolstoy or Darwin or Ruskin or Khomeini or Castro.

The Santa Claus of neuroscience: Robert Sapolsky

The British got wise to the EU

Screen Shot 2016-07-03 at 08.44.55Educated people, writes Dalrymple,

are not ipso facto always wiser than the uneducated, but they are usually surer of themselves.

He points out that education

and wisdom, let alone foresight, are not the same thing.

He cites

  • the Russian intelligentsia, not notable for their political prudence
  • the German professoriate, not notable for its resistance to Nazi ideas
  • the educated leaders of the Khmers rouges, not notable for their humanity
  • highly educated persons in Britain, not notable for voting to leave the EU

Theodore is priceless

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New York: Horace Liveright, 1928

Faithful friend of the Soviet Union

Strolling in Amsterdam, Dalrymple finds that

there are some excellent second-hand bookshops.

At one of them he picks up

an irresistible book entitled Dreiser Looks At Russia. It ends with the unintentionally hilarious words:

Sleep well, Ilitch, father of a new and possibly — how shall we say? — world-altering force. How fortunate, you, its chosen if martyred instrument. How fortunate indeed.

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Theodore Dreiser: ‘a friend of the Soviet Union because he is a friend of Man, a champion of the democratic masses everywhere’

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Our Ilitch: ‘only the humanity of his spirit, enveloping aura-wise, could have evoked in those underprivileged millions the necessary faith in, if not an understanding of, his immense wisdom and human charity’

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Sleep well, Ilitch

Sleep of the righteous: Ilitch in his mausoleum

Charitable and wise

Ilitch the charitable and wise

'Chosen if martyred instrument of the world-altering force. How fortunate are the Russian masses!'

Ilitch the chosen one, the martyr

'Father of a new and possibly — how shall we say? — world-altering force'

Radiant Ilitch: ‘father of a new and possibly — how shall we say? — world-altering force’

‘Lenin, his Russia, the humanithy and justice which at last, and fully, he introduced into its government and statecraft, will succeed. The social illustration which he provided and which his associates and followers have since carried to its present great power and beauty will never be lost on future generations'

Power and beauty: ‘his Russia, the humanity and justice which at last, and fully, he introduced into its government and statecraft, will succeed. The social illustration which he provided and which his associates and followers have since carried to its present great power and beauty will never be lost on future generations’

The Russian masses, Dreiser wrote, ‘are determined never again to be enslaved. I do not doubt the outcome. Lenin, his Soviet empire, will triumph’

Ilitch triumphant: ‘the Russian masses are determined never again to be enslaved. I do not doubt the outcome. His Soviet empire will triumph’

When he was in Russia in 1927-28 in Russia Dreiser saw 'peasants and mechanics, women and men, kneeling here and there in worship, if not prayer, before Ilitch's candle-lighted bust, or standing uncovered with bowed heads before it, feeling him to be, as I assumed (and truly enough in my judgment), their saviour'

Ilitch the saviour: ‘I saw peasants and mechanics, women and men, kneeling here and there in worship, if not prayer, before his candle-lighted bust, or standing uncovered with bowed heads before it, feeling him to be, as I assumed (and truly enough in my judgment), their saviour’

Why drug-takers are such crashing bores

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 06.46.55Dalrymple points out that drugs,

far from being expanders of consciousness, severely limit it. One of the characteristics of drug-takers is their intense and tedious self-absorption; their journeys into inner space are forays into inner vacuums. Drug-taking is a lazy man’s way of pursuing happiness and wisdom, and the shortcut turns out to be the deadest of dead ends.

Use of narcotics

has the effect of reducing men’s freedom by circumscribing the range of their interests. It impairs their ability to pursue more important human aims, such as raising a family and fulfilling civic obligations. Very often it impairs their ability to pursue gainful employment and promotes parasitism.

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Triumph of the antinomians

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 12.05.15Dalrymple writes in the preface to Our Culture, What’s Left of It: The Mandarins and the Masses that in much of the world, the miseries of poverty

are no longer those of raw physical deprivation but those induced by comparison with the vast numbers of prosperous people by whom the relatively poor are surrounded and whose comparative wealth the poor feel as a wound, a reproach, and an injustice.

Ronnie Kaufman's photo on a jacket by Jen Huppert Design

Photo by Ronnie Kaufman on a jacket by Jen Huppert Design for the Ivan R. Dee (Chicago) 2005 edition

In the 20th century,

the hope of progress has not proved altogether illusory,

but

neither has the fear of retrogression proved unjustified.

The First World War

destroyed facile optimism that progress towards heaven on earth was inevitable or even possible.

Then came communism and Nazism, which between them

destroyed scores of millions of lives in a fashion that only a few short decades before would have appeared inconceivable.

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 12.47.50Many of the disasters of the 20th century

could be characterised as revolts against civilisation itself: the Cultural Revolution, or the Khmers Rouges.

Only recently, in Rwanda,

ordinary people were transformed into pitiless murderers by demagogic appeals over the radio. They achieved a rate of slaughter with their machetes never equalled even by the Nazis.

In the circumstances,

one might have supposed that a principal preoccupation of intellectuals would be the maintenance of the boundaries that separate civilisation from barbarism.

One would be wrong.

Some have embraced barbarism; others have remained unaware that boundaries do not maintain themselves and are in need of maintenance and sometimes vigorous defence.

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 12.54.10The prestige intellectuals confer upon antinomianism

soon communicates itself to nonintellectuals. What is good for the bohemian sooner or later becomes good for the unskilled worker, the unemployed, the welfare recipient — the very people most in need of boundaries to make their lives tolerable or allow them hope of improvement. The result is moral, spiritual, and emotional squalor, engendering fleeting pleasures and prolonged suffering.

Civilisation

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 12.55.17needs conservation as much as it needs change, and immoderate criticism, or criticism from the standpoint of utopian first principles, is capable of doing much — indeed devastating — harm. No man is so brilliant that he can work everything out for himself, so that the wisdom of the ages has nothing useful to tell him. To imagine otherwise is to indulge in the most egotistical of hubris.

The disastrous notions of the underclass about how to live

derive from the unrealistic, self-indulgent, and often fatuous ideas of social critics.