October 15, 2016

Source: Bigstock

When Mr. Berlusconi, then prime minister of Italy, said that the people living in tents after the earthquake that destroyed Aquila and killed more than 300 people should regard it as a camping weekend, many people (including me, I am ashamed to say) laughed, though it was an authentically heartless thing to say. We laughed because we were so tired of politicians claiming to feel other people’s pain, when obviously they felt nothing at all, that Mr. Berlusconi’s joke came to us as a relief. At least he wasn”€™t claiming an emotion he didn”€™t feel, which is the normal procedure nowadays.

I doubt, though, whether the 65,000 people made homeless by the earthquake found it quite so amusing, to put it mildly. And opposition to emotional fakery of the Clintonian stamp does not necessitate utter heartlessness, though no doubt it is in dialectical unity with it.

There is, in fact, a worldwide dialectic at present (as perhaps there always was) between humbug on the one hand and offensiveness on the other. I am not sure which is worse. When it comes to an election between the two, are you to prefer Pecksniff to Abhorson or Abhorson to Pecksniff? One averts one’s mind from the choice, even though one must choose.

It is possible to insult without being insulting. Since insult springs eternal in the human breast, at least if the human breast is anything like mine, this is an art we should all strive to cultivate in ourselves and inculcate in others. My favorite example is that of Disraeli, who said, when champagne was served at the end of a public banquet, “€œThank God for something warm at last!”€


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