Random Reflections: Pleasures, Parochialisms, Politics

Life in spite of everything.— A Turkish proverb: “One already wet does not feel the rain.” From which it follows that if you can withstand five seconds of discomfort, undesirable conditions ought to be no barrier.

Waste not, want not.

A student’s question: “Why shouldn’t I follow a cheap pleasure?”

The answer: “Because it leads you into the habit of more and more cheap pleasures, and cheap pleasures drain the savings that ought to be spent on expensive pleasures, meaning pleasures that cost hard effort and bring real rewards.”

“Small minds talk about other people.”

A gossip aims to lower his victims to his level, or to raise himself to theirs. What does that say about the gossip’s self-assessment?

A gossip is obsessed with those whom he sees as near to him, but not near enough. His activity is a means of forcing himself into a circle which has not accepted him.

If a gossip were more intelligent and less self-absorbed, he might naturally be interested in history or psychology. Being vain and myopic, however, he can never separate his curiosity about humans from his overriding fascination with himself and his immediate surroundings.

Foreigner friendly.During my first year in Korea, my wife and I took a taxi with a Korean co-worker. The taxi driver said something to our co-worker about us in Korean, which we didn’t understand. Our co-worker happily translated his comment to us immediately: “The driver said he is surprised how thin and healthy you look, because he thought all Westerners were fat.” They both — driver and co-worker — thought this was an appropriate conversation to have with us in the car, and further that we would be amused to hear the driver’s opinion about Western people. Amused, I suppose, because he was generously complimenting us for being different from “normal foreigners.”

People are often rude or offensive when they think they are being friendly or kind. And foreigners in any place are most likely to get this kind of friendly rudeness from local people, because the local people in every place almost invariably believe that they live in the objectively best way, and therefore that anyone different can be judged against this true standard, i.e., themselves.

Many people these days throughout the world, including many of my Korean students who have travelled abroad or are contemplating doing so, are quick to label this kind of friendly rudeness toward foreigners as “racism.” That’s unfair. It isn’t racism. What it is, to use the precise word, is “parochialism,” meaning a small-minded perspective, derived from limited experience, which assumes your own familiar way is best and all other ways are weird and objectively inferior — and also assumes that outsiders know they are inferior, and are therefore willing, if not eager, to be corrected (or approved) from your superior perspective.

Optical illusions.— If Donald Trump is the only alternative, Joe Biden looks less horrible. If Joe Biden is the only alternative, Donald Trump looks less horrible. That is the reason why “binary choices” (or indeed all pre-defined limits in choice) in politics are evil. They lend the appearance of plausibility to the morally and politically impossible. And they are intended to have that effect — which means that to succumb to the delusions of such an either-or is to surrender one’s soul to the tawdriest manipulation by the tyrannical souls who foist these false alternatives upon us, who are in turn the most deluded men of all. Democracy, as it has been bequeathed to our present day, is government of the fools, by the fools, for the fools.

Speaking of fools.— Vladimir Putin’s most vocal and popular political opponent was killed just days before his latest fake election victory. Less than a week after that election hoax, terrorists attacked a public event in downtown Moscow for over an hour, killing with impunity and then driving a good distance unimpeded before being caught. Hours later, Putin, who had dismissed American warnings of an imminent attack in Moscow, was blaming Ukraine for the terrorist attack and launching new assaults on Kiev and other cities — in other words, using the terrorist attack as a means of rallying Russians to his side and mitigating domestic and global opposition to his tyrannical election and his tyrannical war.

Make of this what you will. I know what I make of it. Garry Kasparov has had the chutzpah to say the nastiest part out loud. 

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