Friday, July 06, 2007

Normblog has this gem today:

Cause and consequence

I find that it wasn't just Tacitus who anticipated this; it was also Jane Austen. Here she is writing of the dreadful Mrs Norris:

... independently of that, she disliked Fanny, because she [i.e. Mrs Norris] had neglected her...

Austen seems to give flesh and spirit to Norm's observation, articulated here:


Here is what can sometimes happen: one person wrongs another and doesn't know how to come back from that. So they deepen the wrong. They add further or worse misdemeanours, falsehoods, calumnies or what have you to the original one. This is the dynamic: to reinforce the thought that the first wrong wasn't one, anything which might diminish its recipient helps the offending party convince him or herself that the other must be a bad person, so that the first offence against them was somehow deserved. The deepening process is itself the symptom of a moral discomfort that cannot be squarely faced.

And here is Christopher Caldwell (Weekly Standard, June 5, 2002) with the same thought, writ large:

"“For anyone who inhabits Western culture, the Holocaust made that culture a much more painful place to inhabit – and for any reasonably moral person, greatly narrowed the range of acceptable political behaviour. To be human is to wish it had never happened. (Those who deny that it did may be those can’t bear to admit it happened,) but it did. If there is a will-to anti-Semitism – then the Arab style Judeophobia, which is an anti-Semitism without the West’s complexes, offers a real redemptive project to those Westerners who are willing to embrace. It can liberate guilty, decadent Europeans from a horrible moral albatross. What an anti-depressant! Saying there was no such thing as the gas chamber is, of course, not respectable. But the same purpose can be served using what Leo Strauss called the reductio ad Hitlerum to cast the Jews as having committed crimes identical to the Nazis’. They must be identical, of course, so the work of self-delusion can be accomplished. We did one, the Jews did one. Now we’re even-steven”.

This is why one may find Israel being facilely and baselessly accused of "crimes against humanity", or Jews jeered at for being offended by the Islamic instruction to the believers that the Jews are “the enemies of Allah, descendants of apes and pigs.” It is because, as Nick Cohen explains in "What's Left, [b]eyond the release from the burden of the past, lay the relief of letting out repressed emotion.... Once … a figure or group became an approved object of hatred, pent-up feeling burst over it. "

Of course, the only consolation in this scenario is that nobody can stay in this state of blithe denial interminably. It is unsustainable. That is, unless we speak of pathologically enfeebled minds resistant to reason and reality, which these comments are not addressed to, anyway. As Tacitus said: It is part of human nature to hate the man you have hurt.

As George Orwell observes in his essay : Antisemitism in Britain:

Intelligent woman, on being offered a book dealing with antisemitism and German atrocities: "Don't show it me, PLEASE don't show it to me. It'll only make me hate the Jews more than ever." ....

As the last .. of the above-quoted remarks shows, people can remain antisemitic, or at least anti-Jewish, while being fully aware that their outlook is indefensible. If you dislike somebody, you dislike him and there is an end of it: your feelings are not made any better by a recital of his virtues.


It is as I always claim that Jane Austen knew all about human fallibility and talent for malign self-deception. She may not have had the scope of Shakespeare's subject matter but she certainly managed to explore in dainty minute detail the incoherences of the human heart. As she herself attests to her humble aspirations in one of her famed letters (which I strongly suspect is just as tongue-in-cheek as the opening lines of Pride & Prejudice):

What should I do with your strong, manly, spirited sketches, full of variety and glow? How could I possibly join them on to the little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush, as produces little effect after much labour?


And speaking of Jane, here is Ibn-Warraq redressing the injustice to her moral weltanschaang which she had suffered at the hands of Edward Said. I've got lots to add to his case but I'll have to find my notes, first. Later, hopefully.


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