If countries were named after the words you first hear when you go there, England would have to be called “Damn It”.
― Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, The Waste Books
Truly, it was a more genteel time back then. Nowadays, thanks to the ambassadorial efforts of English football fans in particular, residents of that noble island are known by a different term, at least among the French. From Geoffrey Hughes’s An Encyclopedia of Swearing:
A new book, The Lonely Century by Noreena Hertz, poses an interesting challenge to the ‘biological taint’ theory by suggesting that loneliness is both responsible for a huge amount of the emotional suffering that attracts psychiatric diagnoses, and that its prevalence is a consequence of recent historical trends: family breakdown, the rise in both domestic and international migration, the disintegration of civil society, and our increasing dependence on the internet, particularly social media. We are social animals, and loneliness makes us very, very sick. While the elderly are particularly vulnerable to it, the young are also suffering terribly. Those ‘snowflake’ young people on Twitter are telling the truth when they write about their profound unhappiness. It’s just that they’re using these feelings as evidence of their special, oppressed status, rather than seeing themselves as part of a lonely generation in need of better company.
Perhaps the reluctance to face up to this peculiar sadness induced by 21st-century living is because the most reliable remedies to loneliness are disturbingly traditionalist: get married, have kids, live near your extended family, go to a weekly religious service.
In the archives of my mind, there is a steel door, flanked by guard dogs and behemoth security guards, under 24/7 video surveillance, requiring a retinal scan for entry. Inside, there is a heavy-duty safe. Inside that safe, there is a folder stamped, “Confidential: Not for Public Release.” Inside that folder, there is a heavily-redacted report stating my opinion that much of the “discourse” surrounding depression, anxiety and mental health in our time is performative, status-oriented, and socially contagious. A trend, in other words, one likely to appear as outdated several decades hence as Freudian claptrap does now. A trend that tell us more about our time in general than about any of its individual practitioners. As she says, that doesn’t mean the suffering is fake. It’s just an inarticulate way of describing the phenomenon. We dropped our keys a few blocks away in our former social arrangements, but we’re looking for them under the streetlamp of neuroscience and pharmacotherapy because the light’s better there.
Indeed, indeed, there is charm in every period, and only fools and flutterpates do not seek reverently for what is charming in their own day.
— Max Beerbohm, “The Pervasion of Rouge“
I’ve tried, on occasion, to cultivate an antiquarian mindset, to socially-distance from my own time and seclude myself among the great minds of yore, but I’m either too shallow or too curious to stick with it. (I’ll be generous and go with curious.) Everything contains Buddha-nature, no matter how ordinary or ephemeral. A mental landscape populated solely by coniferous stalwarts has its charms and consolations, but the transient beauty of individual deciduous leaves is undeniably fascinating. Why should I be in a hurry to escape the world? A true foolosopher should be able to turn any material, from current events to pop culture, into grist for contemplation.
It is a folly of too many to mistake the echo of a London coffee-house for the voice of the kingdom.
— Jonathan Swift, The Conduct of the Allies
I wish that were so, but Kristian Niemietz has been making the counterargument for some time that “Twitter is the real world,” and I’m afraid he may well be right. To paraphrase Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of monomaniacal fanatics can change the world.”
Among those whose reputation is exhausted in a short time by its own luxuriance, are the writers who take advantage of present incidents or characters which strongly interest the passions, and engage universal attention. It is not difficult to obtain readers, when we discuss a question which every one is desirous to understand, which is debated in every assembly, and has divided the nation into parties; or when we display the faults or virtues of him whose publick conduct has made almost every man his enemy or his friend. To the quick circulation of such productions all the motives of interest and vanity concur; the disputant enlarges his knowledge, the zealot animates his passion, and every man is desirous to inform himself concerning affairs so vehemently agitated and variously represented.
— Samuel Johnson, Rambler no. 106
From this, I deduce that the secret to a lasting reputation is to write about old books, personal anecdotes, and inside jokes for one’s own amusement.
Me-first capitalists who think you can separate society from business are going to be the first people lined up against the wall and shot in the revolution. I’ll happily provide video commentary.
— dick costolo (@dickc) October 1, 2020
While it is darkly hilarious to see the fabulously-wealthy former CEO of Twitter imagining himself in the vanguard of the revolution, making *pew pew* noises with his finger guns toward people who offend him, the main reason I noted this was to tell you that if you haven’t yet followed the numerous links in the last couple weeks to Gary Saul Morson’s article in First Things, you really should. It seems relevant.
Not just lawyers, teachers, doctors, and engineers, but even industrialists and bank directors raised money for the terrorists. Doing so signaled advanced opinion and good manners. A quote attributed to Lenin—“When we are ready to kill the capitalists, they will sell us the rope”—would have been more accurately rendered as: “They will buy us the rope and hire us to use it on them.” True to their word, when the Bolsheviks gained control, their organ of terror, the Cheka, “liquidated” members of all opposing parties, beginning with the Kadets. Why didn’t the liberals and businessmen see it coming?
That question has bothered many students of revolutionary movements. Revolutions never succeed without the support of wealthy, liberal, educated society. Yet revolutionaries seldom conceal that their success entails the seizure of all wealth, the suppression of dissenting opinion, and the murder of class enemies.
Anyone else just feel… bad… after this debate? Not talking about an outcome, which I can’t even make sense of. I just feel down about how much Americans seemingly hate each other based on politics.
— Ellen Carmichael (@ellencarmichael) September 30, 2020
An attitude of permanent indignation signifies great mental poverty. Politics compels its votaries to take that line and you can see their minds growing more and more impoverished every day, from one burst of righteous anger to the next.
— Paul Valéry, Tel Quel
Despite their differences, an alliance could form between “trads” and the true “nones” who reject religion but may well see it as less of a threat than the growth of woke government power. Trads have all-encompassing beliefs that offend liberal and secular sensibilities. But they affirm the reality of biological differences between the sexes. They believe that your deeds and beliefs are more important than your race. Even when they reject the political formulations of liberalism, most still believe in the virtue of liberality and tolerance. Because they believe in the fallenness of man, they uphold the possibility of forgiveness. Like the “nones,” most “trads” are not utopians. Unlike the woke, they can tolerate those with fundamentally different beliefs. Trads and nones will never agree, but they can ally.
Sounds good to me. Nothing is more conducive to fellow-feeling than a mutual enemy.