Saturday, 25 June 2016

They resemble liars


Do not always be Jesting. Wisdom is shown in serious matters, and is more appreciated than mere wit. He that is always ready for jests is never ready for serious things. They resemble liars in that men never believe either, always expecting a lie in one, a joke in the other. One never knows when you speak with judgment, which is the same as if you had none. A continual jest soon loses all zest. Many get the repute of being witty, but thereby lose the credit of being sensible. Jest has its little hour, seriousness should have all the rest.

Baltasar Gracian - The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)

As we know, Boris Johnson has a gravitas problem, much the same problem Baltasar Gracian highlighted over three and a half centuries ago.

Currently Boris leads the betting for our next Prime Minister yet his public persona is hardly statesmanlike. Even Jeremy Corbyn has more gravitas than Boris. What are we to make of that if Boris is so smart? Perhaps it suggests he isn’t because the alternative is a little hard to swallow. 

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Either you think...

Either you think — or else others have to think for you and take power from you, pervert and discipline your natural tastes, civilize and sterilize you.

F. Scott Fitzgerald  - Tender is the Night (1934)

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Know how to withdraw


Know how to Withdraw. If it is a great lesson in life to know how to deny, it is a still greater to know how to deny oneself as regards both affairs and persons. There are extraneous occupations which eat away precious time. To be occupied in what does not concern you is worse than doing nothing. It is not enough for a careful man not to interfere with others, he must see that they do not interfere with him.

Baltasar Gracian - The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)

Modern life has become too complex, too demanding for the elite. In former times they imposed narrow limits on social mores via religion, narrow cultural norms, toil and harshly repressive laws. Now things are different. We have our big bellies, our bread and circuses, our vulgar satisfactions. It is time for the elite to move on and rid themselves of the tangled mess democracy has dumped in their laps.

An enduring trait of elite classes has always been their ability to withdraw from our world to enjoy theirs. To achieve this happy state of affairs they cannot afford to spend too much time catering to the demands of the lower orders. They need their social isolation and that requires a degree of government isolation. It is time to clamp down again. Democracy, if it exists, has to be shorn of its messy tangle of demands and unpredictable possibilities.

The EU is a power structure designed to isolate European elites from the chaotic demands and inevitable failures of democratic responsibility. They intend to escape from our routine world to enjoy a golden world of unrestricted lifestyles. For those with money and social connections this is a golden age and elite classes intend to enjoy it to the full.

If this means treating people as the cheapest possible unit of production, if it means trampling on cultures, getting rid of the middle classes and subverting democracies then so be it. If it means attracting petty tyrants and martinets to manage EU structures and feed the rest of us with bread and circuses then so be it.

A vote for Leave is unlikely to make much difference in the medium to long term. Our elite classes no longer have any taste for the grind and uncertainties of good government. One way or another they intend to put the whole unrewarding business in the hands of their stewards - as their ancestors did in the good old days. These days stewards are senior bureaucrats who actually enjoy drafting and enforcing impossibly complex laws and regulations. Stewards in love with a world where everything is either forbidden or compulsory.

Not that it is likely to work out that way.

Vulgar folly

While vulgar folly wonders, wisdom watches for the trick. 

Baltasar Gracian - The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)

Monday, 20 June 2016

Venezuela collapses and nobody cares

Interesting piece from macleans on the problems in Venezuela.

We like to think that progress is irreversible. We look at our roads and supermarkets and hospitals and while we know that everything could be better, we rarely worry it will all collapse. Unhappily, right now Venezuela is proving that all of this can suddenly disappear, and it’s frightening.

The country is falling apart, rapidly and completely. By many measures, it is one of the most blessed nations in the Americas. It has the largest proven oil reserves in the world, almost twice Canada’s. It has rich agricultural land, incredible biodiversity and huge amounts of mineral wealth. And yet its people are now starving; its infrastructure is in tatters; law and order have broken down. And strangely, Canada doesn’t appear to care.

Although the issues have been widely reported, the lack of interest is probably wider than Canada. It's just a guess on my part, but I don't think anyone else cares much either. Venezuelans appear to have brought this on themselves. The richest person in Venezuela seems to be a daughter of Hugo Chavez. Isn't that a surprise?

Maria Gabriela Chavez, 35, the late president's second-oldest daughter, holds assets in American and Andorran banks totaling almost $4.2billion.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Wells of hatred

During the recent political posturing over the murder of MP Jo Cox, Jeremy Corbyn spoke of  a “well of hatred” amid wider attempts to link this event with far right politics and presumably by implication with the EU referendum Leave campaign.

Jo Cox was killed by a “well of hatred”, Jeremy Corbyn has said in an emotional tribute to the Labour MP in her constituency town of Birstall in West Yorkshire.

Alternatively, Angela Merkel says bad language is responsible.

“The exaggerations and radicalisation of part of the language do not help to foster an atmosphere of respect,” Angela Merkel said in response to a question about the killing. “That’s why we all value democratic game rules. And we know how important it is to draw limits, be it in the choice of speech, in the choice of the argument, but also in the choice of partly disparaging argument,” she said on Friday.

This is what political bubbles lead to and we should not expect anything more dignified. However it is a reminder of how impossibly tangled notions of political left and right are. For example, it has been pointed out that radical Islam exhibits a number of key traits traditionally associated with far right politics. It is intolerant, xenophobic, homophobic misogynist and supremacist.

Yet for decades Corbyn’s own party has not made a clear political distinction between moderate and radical Islam and has never been straightforward in dealing with what one could easily refer to as the far right of the Islamic political spectrum. Profiting from wells of hatred is one of his party’s many failings and under his leadership it still is.

We cannot discover anything about the real world by juggling words, but it is possible to obscure it as people like Corbyn and Merkel are apt to do. We should not be deceived.