May 3, 2018


You Just Cant: The longer I live, the more humbug there is. (THEODORE DALRYMPLE, 5/02/18, CERC)

Like almost everyone, I am a humbug on occasion and in my youth was a humbug practically all the time.  Youth, in fact, is the golden age of humbug, that is to say of the expression of supposedly generous emotions that it has to a much lesser extent than claimed.  "Sincerity," said Hazlitt, "has to do with the connexion between our words and thoughts, and not between our beliefs and actions." Hypocrisy is not the same as cant.

Hypocrisy is, or at any rate can be, a social virtue.  To express a sympathy or an interest that you do not in the slightest feel can be almost heroic when it is done for humane reasons, and is often socially necessary.  Hypocrisy is to social life what oil is to axles.  Cant or humbug, on the other hand, is always poisonous, among other reasons because it is designed to deceive not only others but ourselves.  It doesn't entirely succeed in this latter task because a still, small voice tells us that we are canting, to which our preferred solution is often to cant even harder, like drowning out something we don't want to hear by turning up the wireless.  That is why there is so much shrillness in the world: People are defending themselves against the horrible thought that they don't really believe what they themselves are saying.

There is no subject to which humbug attaches more than humanity, of course.  Who will admit that he doesn't love humanity, that it wouldn't matter to him in the slightest if half of it disappeared, that he can sit through the news of the worst disaster imaginable (provided far away) and eat his dinner nonetheless with good appetite? No, in order to be a good person you have to pretend to be lacerated by awareness of suffering anywhere in the world and show your wounds like Christ showing his heart in one of the Baroque Spanish colonial paintings. 

One of the things that makes the Left and Right--but I repeat myself--so enjoyable is the hysteria with which they denounce the hypocrisy of each other. No well-adjusted human being is troubled by hypocrisy.

Posted by at May 3, 2018 4:21 AM