I sat on the bench and watched the joggers go by before I opened my book. I have never seen a happy jogger, but many joggers seem to me to wear an expression of moral self-satisfaction or superiority on their faces, much like that of evangelical preachers who know that Jesus loves them and they are going straight to heaven when they die. Perhaps I perceive what is not there on their faces from a sense of guilt that I am so physically lazy, thereby shortening my lifespan. I console myself that those who pound the asphalt will suffer, sooner or later, from osteoarthrosis of the hips and knees.
I observed the tattoos of the runners. Proletarians don’t jog, of course, unless they are also boxers, so all the tattooed joggers were middle-class. Why there has been this sudden epidemic of self-mutilation among the educated, I do not know. Looking at the way people dress, even when not jogging, I concluded that our modern mode of dress is the continuation of self-mutilation by other means.
William Hazlitt wrote, in “On the Pleasure of Hating“:
Nature seems (the more we look into it) made up of antipathies: without something to hate, we should lose the very spring of thought and action. Life would turn to a stagnant pool, were it not ruffled by the jarring interests, the unruly passions of men. The white streak in our own fortunes is brightened (or just rendered visible) by making all round it as dark as possible, so the rainbow paints its form upon the cloud. Is it pride? Is it envy? Is it force of contrast? Is it weakness or malice? But so it is, that there is a secret affinity, a hankering after evil in the human mind, and that it takes a perverse, but fortunate delight in mischief, since it is a never-failing source of satisfaction.
So it is, indeed. I have no objections to people’s petty hatreds. For example, I was amused to see the other day that there are some who would impose a two-year prison sentence on me for cracking my cappellini in half (thirds, actually, though perhaps I shouldn’t admit that without consulting my lawyer) before putting it in a pot of boiling water. Now there is a potentially rich source of conversation. I’m intrigued by the fellow who can even notice such a thing, let alone allow it to drive him to fantasies of vengeance. I have been briefly entertained, which is all I ask for.
Petty hatreds have to be reshuffled, though, or they become stale and boring. Dalrymple has been periodically complaining about fitness enthusiasts, slovenly dress and tattoos for as long as I can remember. It’s a sure sign that he lacked inspiration for a column when he trots out these predictable gripes again. Look, if you can’t find a way to put a fresh spin on it somehow, it’s best to just let it be. Complaints repeated in earnest only make you sound like a tedious grouch. In my view, genuine criticisms should aim to be as objective and descriptive as possible, while rants should be reserved precisely for trivial topics. Dalrymple describes his bugbears here with restrained and measured tones. Perhaps he feels that the candid admission of his own pettiness somehow balances it out, but the effect to me is disappointing. Dostoyevsky already gave us an artistic rendering of the spiteful man who hates things for the bitter fun of it. Nowadays, “look how base and mean I can be” just comes off like another lamentable example of oversharing.