Tuesday, 28 February 2006

Fewtril #75

It is to be suspected that we have some very wonderful and complex theories because there are no prizes for stating the obvious.

Radical Posturing

“Sure, I know this isn’t the time for a gender war; I know I should be concentrating on the class war.”
(Zoe Williams, “The old school lie”, The Guardian, 28th February 2006.)
For pretentious middle-class flatheads such as Zoe Williams, urging on class war seems like an exciting and authentic thing to do, and so long as it does not halt the supply of couscous or novels or documentaries on the plight of inner-city children, over which they might shed a very visible tear, then all is well. The last thing they would wish is that a mob of proletarian idealists should take them seriously and burn down their toddlers’ nurseries. That would be ghastly, and not what they mean by class war at all. What they mean by class war is the chance to stir up trouble from what they believe is a safe distance and to say silly and frivolous things that sound all daring and bold—but at no obvious risk to themselves. It is a game they play to bring meaning to their empty lives and to demonstrate to one another that their lives have authentic meaning after all—and to demonstrate above all that they care about something other than themselves. It is ultimately a dangerous game, for sure, but they are far too busy indulging in their vapid pastimes of reading novels or talking at one another at dinner parties to take the time to study anything that might bring them an understanding of this.

Fewtril #74

Only when one has detached oneself through ideological rectitude from the factual premises of the world can one then proceed with faultless logic to insane and confident error.

Friday, 24 February 2006

Fewtril #73

Those ministers of the State who believe that social order can arise from rational planning flatter themselves in regard to their powers of reasoning; and in order to consolidate power it becomes useful for them to flatter the people in regard to theirs.

Fewtril #72

For every thinker who has hit the nail on the head, there are a hundred blackguards to say that he missed; and amongst them there are still those who would swear he was a blind lunatic wielding a carrot.

Fewtril #71

The foolish and the wise may share many beliefs; for what is evidently true may be known to both; but many a fool, in a effort to distance himself from the foolish, is wont to eschew any belief that he might have in common with them, and thus he establishes himself as a greater fool in the denial of evident truths.

Thursday, 23 February 2006


“Our imperial road signs . . . contradict the image – and the reality – of our country as a modern, multicultural, dynamic place where the past is valued and respected and the future is approached with creativity and confidence.”

Lord Kinnock, quoted in “Call for metric road sign switch”, BBC News Online, 23rd February 2006

The reality of this modern, multicultural, dynamic place must be rather fragile if it can be contradicted by imperial road-signs, or is the fragility only in Lord Kinnock’s sense of proportion? They’re only road-signs, after all; but then in so disproportionate a term as he uses, we might glimpse that Lord Kinnock and his ilk will not tolerate even little differences in this modern, multicultural, and dynamic place; and so I suppose that even over such small matters, great battles of principle must be fought, lest we find ourselves travelling “with creativity and confidence” up the road to a fully rationalised and homogenised future.
.....In losing my sense of proportion for a moment, I wish Lord Kinnock and his ilk be strung up from imperial road-signs until they stink in accordance with the odour of their ideals.

Wednesday, 22 February 2006

A Draught from a Disordered Mind

There are things against which a teacher might usefully warn his students, so that they might avoid some common pitfalls of thought and thereafter lead a fruitful life: for instance, not to distribute in a conclusion a term that is undistributed in its premises, is one such useful warning; not to play table tennis in the buff, is another. Amongst French psychoanalysts, however, such warnings lack the requisite je ne sais quoi, being that they are altogether too sensible. Monsieur Jacques Lacan, for one, thought it worthwhile to warn his acolytes against the belief that doors are entirely real:
Please give this a thought—a door isn’t entirely real. To take it for such would result in strange misunderstandings. If you observe a door, and you deduce from it that it produces draughts, you’d take it under your arm to the desert to cool you down.
Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: Book II, The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis 1954‑1955, ed., J.-A. Miller, tr. S. Tomaselli, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), p. 301.
I might wonder who on the banks of the Seine would be so silly that he might need to be warned against believing that a door produces draughts by itself, but then I suppose Monsieur Lacan must have known his audience. But assuming a number of sensible persons amongst them, I wonder how many would have inferred from the fact that a door does not produce draughts by itself that a door is not entirely real; for that is Monsieur Lacan’s underlying inference, as far as I can ascertain. So great a silliness hardly needs to be warned against, since it is the product of a rare and disordered mind.

Tuesday, 21 February 2006

Shrill Denunciation and Ritual Epithets

Few things bear the mark of this age more boldly than that one must denounce in the strongest terms and without care for temperance those unpopular views with which one disagrees; for such intemperate denunciation bears the mark of demotic politics. It appears that an unpopular opinion that is silly or wicked can hardly be remarked upon nor shown to be wrong without an accompaniment of shrill denunciation and ritual epithets, an accompaniment that serves little purpose but to advertise to one’s fellows the exaggerated view that one is a goodly and pious person utterly different from those persons whose unpopular views are deemed to be beyond the pale of public opinion.
.....In describing unpopular opinions from which he is strongly averse, must a man really spend half his time telling us that he finds them “deeply repellent”, “profoundly detestable”, “utterly vile”, and a hundred other such ritual epithets? Why must he make so bold and ostentatious a display of his aversion? Does he believe that such boldness demonstrates his moral bravery? But what moral coward cannot show so great a boldness in conformity with popularity? Does he believe that the more extravagant the denunciation, the more his righteousness is demonstrated? But what scoundrel does not make so grand a play of his morality? Methinks he protests too much. Would not many of those persons who stand now so boastfully against unpopular opinions, and who work to outdo one another in flatulent denunciations thereof, make a different sound if those same views were popular and the opposition thereto unpopular? History suggests so.

Friday, 17 February 2006

Fewtril #70

A man might go carefully in attacking an idea from which he is averse, not because he is fair-minded and temperate, but because the idea shares some of the premises upon which his aversion depends.

The Comic Play of History

In the comic play of history, the people cry out for liberty, and revel when they are set free from the authority that set them to their virtues and duties, whereupon they call out for security from the vices and rights of others. Enter stage left: the tyrant.
Under Louis Philippe, a parliamentary France, with people making all kinds of speeches about freedom; today, the consequences of that: an emperor who holds down dangerous elements with a firm hand and is therefore praised by the majority of the people as a saviour of the country.
(Johann Jacob Bachofen, Letter to Meyer-Ochsner, 29th August 1864, in Gesmmelte Werke, ed. Karl Meuli (Basel: Schwabe, 1943-1967), vol 10, p. 80; quoted by Lionel Gossman, Basel in the Age of Burckhardt, (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2002), pp. 129-130.)
The tyrant is best served first by a time of misrule and social license, against the chaos of which he might appear to the people as the best remedy.

Fewtril #69

How wonderful it is that liberalism has progressed so far as to find only compassionate understanding for the barbarism of its enemies and contempt for the virtues of its friends!

Fewtril #68

An idiot is heard to say to another: “I think you are a moral man; I mean, you are not judgmental”. Cabbages are not judgmental, though they do have trouble making moral choices.

Thursday, 16 February 2006

Fewtril #67

To err on the side of betrayal is a strategy that has no merit but its simplicity, which single quality accounts partly for its success in the sophisticated circles of Europe.

Wednesday, 15 February 2006

Fewtril #66

In our bureau-democracy, it is unlikely that there is much conscious effort on the part of the bureaucratic functionaries to bring about a tyranny, but it will come about nevertheless on their part as a result of bureaucratic instincts and habits. Nor is there a desire on the part of the people for a tyranny; but it will come about nevertheless on their part as a result of their habit of seeking security from the vicissitudes of life, not least among which are the liberties of their fellows.

Tuesday, 14 February 2006

Fewtril #65

It takes a little courage to do the right thing in defiance of public opinion. Our politicians tend to berate one another for defying public opinion. This is partly owing to cowardice, but mostly owing to the desire to do the right thing for power.

Friday, 10 February 2006

Fewtril #64

Against the overblown and all-embracing theory of a charlatan, few arguments are so damaging as when a faithful disciple, in an earnest bid to prove the theory’s claim to universal relevance, applies it to an everyday matter that makes plain its absurd and inane grandiloquence, as when the Marxist sees dialectical materialism at work in his liking for sponge pudding.

Judgment for Philistines

Philistines, whose presence in the arts is almost universal, permitting them to dispense the epithet “philistine” to anyone who dares challenge their dominance, are often quite explicit in the admission of the means by which they judge art and by which one might judge them to be philistines. Colin Furrow, for instance, in The London Review of Books, opines that:
[Anthony] Burgess . . . is politically unsituated, or politically confused, in ways that can cloud literary judgments [of his work] and perhaps even disturb them.
Colin Burrow, “Not Quite Nasty” (Book Review of The Real Life of Anthony Burgess by Andrew Biswell), London Review of Books, Vol. 28:3, 9th February 2006.
Well, quite! Without a clear understanding of its political utility, how could a philistine begin to judge a literary work?

Fewtril #63

It describes a conceptual greed when the socialist-progressive maintains that we are all determined entirely by our circumstances, such that the behaviour of the less fortunate in society, for instance, can be excused as the product solely of their less fortunate circumstances, but that nevertheless we ought to have a moral responsibility to improve the circumstances of the less fortunate. For if, as he says, we are all determined entirely by our circumstances, then the “moral responsibility” to which he exhorts us must be a product entirely of our circumstances, and it is therefore a matter of fortune and not of choice whether we possess it, for whose possession or otherwise we cannot thus be held morally responsible, as is also the case with the impulse to make the antithetical exhortation to moral responsibility itself. Perhaps then he was fortunate enough to be dropped on his head as a child.

Tuesday, 7 February 2006

Fewtril #62

When the public intellectual talks of his moral compass, he is most likely using an inappropriate metaphor which fails to convey the true nature of his moral sense. Almost certainly a more apt metaphor would be that of a moral weather-vane, being that he is more concerned to see which way the wind is blowing.

Friday, 3 February 2006

Avert Thine Eyes!

“Printing cartoons of Muhammad creates fear and insecurity in Muslims across Europe”.
Sarah Joseph, “The freedom that hurts usThe Guardian, 3rd February 2006.

A Quaint Old Muslim Saying

Less than a month ago, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen expressed surprise at the reaction of Danish Muslims to the carton-caricatures published in September 2005 in the newspaper Jyllands-Posten:
I am astonished that these people, to whom we have given the right to stay in Denmark, where they freely wished to be, are now touring Arab countries and inciting antipathy against Denmark and the Danish people.

[Jeg er forbløffet over, at disse mennesker, som vi har givet ret til ophold i Danmark, hvor de frivilligt ønsker at være, nu rejser rundt i arabiske lande og oppisker en stemning mod Danmark og danskere.]

(Anders Fogh Rasmussen, quoted by Ulla Nørby, “
Fogh forbløffet over muslimers rundrejseJyllands-Posten, 10th January 2006. H/T: The Pedant-General, and Hjörtur Godmundsson, “Danish Prime Minister Shocked at LiesThe Brussels Journal, 11th January 2005.)
But then Mr Rasmussen had forgotten the quaint old Muslim saying that goes: “When in Rome, show contempt for what the Romans do, flout their laws and customs, and seek their total destruction, the vile infidel pigs!”

Thursday, 2 February 2006

Not for Prophet

If the cartoon-caricatures of the prophet Muhammad were meant to propagate a dim view of the character of Islam, they do not do so as nearly as well as do the reactions to them in the Muslim world. But it is interesting to note the reactions here to the reactions there, though it is with a wonted suspicion that we might witness in Europe the pathetic scramble of cowards to be the first to fix their off-white underpants to sticks in order to signal surrender. Nevertheless, there have been encouraging signs that the newspapers that have published the cartoons (none of the British newspapers has done so) will not back down, with one egregious exception.

Raymond Lakah (and in keeping with the flavour of the times, I feel it appropriate to add: may he suffer a thousand torments in the camel-dung-heaps of Hell), the owner of the newspaper France Soir, has sacked its editor Jacques Lefranc, because the latter republished those caricatures. Monsieur Lakah (may his genitals wither in the arid desert of his own pusillanimity) believes the sacking of Monsieur Lefranc operates “as a powerful sign of respect for the intimate beliefs and convictions of every individual” [1], except, of course, for those individuals such as Jacques Lefranc whose conviction that “we have the right to caricature God” [2] is deemed worthy of no respect at all. A powerful sign indeed.

[1] Quoted by Luke Harding and Kim Willsher, “Anger as papers reprint cartoons of MuhammadThe Guardian, 2nd February 2006.
[2] The headline of 1st February’s France Soir, quoted ibid.

Wednesday, 1 February 2006

Fewtril #61

For so long have the politically-minded made the assumption that the answer is rational government, that the question of good government has been largely forgotten, and into its place has crept the question of how society might be best controlled for the optimum benefit of a large and centralised state, to which question the politically-minded are fortunate in having a ready answer in rational government.