Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Blast from the past

Yes it's Hippolyte Taine again, but he blasts the political classes with such gentlemanly venom that I can't resist another quote.

Most of them are mere politicians, charlatans, and intriguers, third-class lawyers and doctors, literary failures, semi-educated stump-speakers, bar-room, club, or clique orators, and vulgar climbers. 

Left behind in private careers, in which one is closely watched and accepted for what he is worth, they launch out on a public career because, in this business, popular suffrage at once ignorant, indifferent, is a badly informed, prejudiced and passionate judge and prefers a moralist of easy conscience, instead of demanding unsullied integrity and proven competency. 

Nothing more is demanded from candidates but witty speech-making, assertiveness and showing off in public, gross flattery, a display of enthusiasm and promises to place the power about to be conferred on them by the people in the hands of those who will serve its antipathies and prejudices.

Hippolyte Taine - The Modern Regime (1893)

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Problem solved

Here's a suggestion to assist David Cameron in his EU referendum "negotiations". Why not propose a scheme to eject from the EU all those countries which cause trouble and also fall below a certain ranking in the economic freedom league table.

Below is a list of EU countries in descending order of their economic freedom ranking. For example the EU could eject all those below a rank of 65 - Rwanda. So France, Italy, Croatia, Slovenia and Greece get the elbow. Maybe a criterion of 65 is a little lax but it seems fair enough as a starting point.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Is your behaviour yours?

One of the most important and far-reaching developments of the twentieth century has been the scientific formulation of human behaviour. Its systematic analysis in terms of cause and effect continues to have an impact on all of our lives because in broad terms it works.

This is why the UK government has a Behavioural Insights Team.

The Behavioural Insights Team – also known as the Nudge Unit – is now a social purpose company. It is partly owned by the Cabinet Office, employees and Nesta.

In general we respond to external stimuli in a fairly predictable manner if our response is positively reinforced. Once this is known as it has been known for many decades or even centuries, then between genes and conditioning there is little room for free will. What little mystery there was has gone forever.

As we are exposed to global political trends, we are increasingly conditioned by them because many important trends have been designed to reinforce officially approved behaviour. There is nothing accidental about it. We usually accept what we can’t change and almost always accept what is beneficial or what has become familiar. It’s how we are made and how mass manipulation works.

In addition, something which has been said many times is that modern lives in the developed world are luxurious. Most of us are healthy, wealthy but perhaps not wise if we compare ourselves to ordinary folk only a few generations back. We have more freedom too, but we also have our own problems looming just below a complacent horizon.

By far the biggest and most fearsome is the slow but apparently inexorable drift towards global government. We are being conditioned towards a vanilla-flavoured humanity where having a nationality, a culture or even a personal philosophy will eventually become unusual.

Global government has been a dream of insane megalomaniacs and the terminally naive for some time, but whatever its defects we seem to be stuck with it as a slowly evolving reality. The prospect is not a jolly one.

Nations which play by the same rules but do not set those rules are not nations. Cultures which abide by the same norms but did not evolve those norms are not cultures. A personal philosophy absorbed from the same global trends is neither a philosophy nor personal.

Nations, cultures and individuals just disappear.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Enlisted sheep

Hippolyte Taine is scathing about the French electorate as it became when the franchise was extended after the Revolution. Harsh words, but the modern reader must wonder how much improvement there has been since then.

...a collective being in which the small intelligent, élite body is drowned in the great rude mass; of all juries, the most incompetent, the easiest duped and misled, the least able to comprehend the questions laid before it and the consequences of its answer; the worst informed, the most inattentive, the most blinded by preconceived sympathies or antipathies, the most willingly absent, a mere flock of enlisted sheep always robbed or cheated out of their vote.

Hippolyte Taine - The Modern Regime (1893)

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Yes Man


After a sweltering day yesterday an evening slump seemed to be in order. We decided to watch Yes Man, a 2008 film starring Jim Carrey as Carl and Zooey Deschanel as Allison. As usual it was a slapstick romance built around Carrey’s particular talents.

Bank loan officer Carl Allen (Jim Carrey) has become withdrawn since his divorce from ex-wife Stephanie. Routinely ignoring his friends Pete (Bradley Cooper) and Rooney (Danny Masterson), he has an increasingly negative outlook on his life...

...an old colleague suggests that he goes to a motivational "Yes!" seminar with him, which encourages its attendants to seize the opportunity to say "Yes!". Carl decides to attend the seminar and meets inspirational guru Terrence Bundley (Terence Stamp), who publicly browbeats him into making a covenant with himself. Carl reluctantly promises to stop being a "No Man" and vows to answer "Yes!" to every opportunity, request, or invitation that presents itself thereafter.

The film leaves one, or at least it left me with a reminder of how narrow film characters can be, especially modern female characters such as Allison, Carrey’s love interest. In our politically correct culture there is little latitude for female leads apart from a kind of feisty priggishness, predictable, uninteresting and uninspiring. Allison wasn't even priggish - just feisty and pretty as if that was enough.

After the seminar, saying yes to a homeless man's request only leaves Carl stranded in Elysian Park. Disillusioned, he hikes to a gas station where he meets Allison (Zooey Deschanel), an unorthodox young woman. She gives him a ride back to his car on her scooter and kisses him before leaving. After this positive experience, Carl feels more optimistic about saying yes

We watch few films so I've no notion of Ms Deschanel's acting talents partly because I'd never heard of her before and partly because acting talent wasn't required. As far as I could see the part could have been played quite satisfactorily by any one of thousands of actresses able to handle feisty and pretty at the same time and without sniggering. 

Admittedly Allison had some bolt-on eccentricities such as riding a scooter very fast, but for me they felt artificial. Instead she could have ridden around in a horse-drawn chaise or an antique steam car, although I suppose that could have made her more genuinely eccentric and undermined the Star.

Without any coherent moral dimension to a character, apart from the endless negatives of political correctness, fictional characters can be strangely uninteresting however many eccentricities they are given. There is nothing substantial enough to hold a persona together, nothing to suggest why one feature is more in tune with the character than another. Feisty isn’t enough.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Heatwave Action

Met Office language is interesting. A couple of hot days is a heatwave where a longer period of unusually cold weather would be a cold snap. A wave sounds as if it ought to be longer than a snap but it tends to be the other way round.