Stating the Obvious

Once again the BBC is running a story on Trump as headline news. Are those protests still going on in Iran? Do we know yet why some dude in Las Vegas shot around 600 people? Has Germany formed a government? Secondary concerns, apparently, to:

US President Donald Trump has reportedly lashed out at immigrants in a foul-mouthed Oval Office outburst.

Oh. But now we’re here, let’s take a closer look.

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Mr Trump told lawmakers on Thursday, according to the Washington Post.

Frankly, I ask this question on a daily basis using precisely that terminology. The only difference is I ask it rhetorically because I already know the answer: it’s contained in the question.

But first let’s note the BBC’s use of the term “foul-mouthed” because Trump said “shithole”. All of a sudden this ultra-modern organisation, which cheers each act of destruction visited on aspects of our culture it deems “outdated” and signs up to every virtue-signalling progressive fad, is clutching its pearls because Trump said “shithole”. This in an age when the words “fuck” and “cunt” are the staple of seemingly every scriptwriter.

Secondly, this meeting was closed and Trump’s remarks leaked. It’s not as if he said this during a press conference, and personally I’d prefer presidents to speak freely and frankly in such discussions using terminology which is wholly appropriate than couch their language in ever-shifting politically correct terms because the permanently offended might get upset.

But what’s most amusing is the reaction on social media. Not from the left, they’re a lost cause; I mean from so-called conservatives. They’re busy wringing their hands, denouncing Trump for his blatant racism, looking absolutely no different from the Democrats and still wondering why Trump got elected in the first place. Trump’s comments are pretty innocuous to anyone who is not a deranged anti-Trumper or a fully paid-up member of the media or political establishments. He’s asked the question millions of people across America and Europe have been asking for years, waiting in vain for their leaders to do so. And now he has, and the reason his opponents have gone apoplectic is because they know how much this will resonate with ordinary people they wish didn’t exist. That, and they wish to virtue-signal in order to keep their places in what they think is polite society.

The fact is some countries are shitholes, and calling them such is not racist. Hell, I’d even go further and say the reason they are shitholes is precisely because of the people living in them. The root cause of a country being a shithole is the prevailing culture, and what else is culture but the aggregate behaviour, attitude, and customs of a population? This doesn’t mean any individual from a shithole is to blame, or you should judge them according to the place they’re from. As I said here, you should take individuals as you find them, but that ought not to stop you labeling a place a shithole and placing the blame squarely on the population as a whole. People say the reason East Germany was a shithole was because of communism, but that only prevailed because the Stasi had 100,000 workers and approximately 400,000 informants. If you have half a million people willing to absolutely fuck-over their fellow countryman for personal gain or ideological gratification then yes, that place will be a shithole. Blaming it on abstract political arrangements such as communism, as if it were imposed from a clear blue sky with no involvement from the people themselves, is comforting but it fails to address the root cause of the problem. And as I said in my infamous post on Nigeria:

The problem these decent people have is that they are vastly outnumbered by those who are not.  For every Nigerian who is honest, well-mannered, and diligent you’ll find a hundred whose only goal is to get some money whilst expending the minimum amount of effort possible.  If they can use personal connections, lies, or trickery in lieu of learning a useful skill and applying it, they’ll take that option every time.  It’s a numbers thing: if 50% of Nigerians were more like 10% of them, the country would be okay.  And that’s the fundamental problem of Nigeria summed up in one sentence: way too many dickheads.

This idea that every culture is equal and basket cases that have been that way for centuries without the slightest homegrown improvement are somehow unlucky, and to hold them to any kind of standard is racist, has pervaded every nook and cranny of western culture. Only people aren’t buying it any more, and those people vote. Trump is merely recognising that, while his establishment opponents prefer to banish any such thoughts from the political discourse. Which is why they lost, of course.

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Natural Limits

To kick this post off, here’s a photo of the world’s largest dump truck, the BelAz 75710 made in Belarus.

I once read that a rubber tyre with a diameter larger than about 18 feet (5.4m) quickly becomes impractical. Similarly, even though an Airbus A380 is considerably larger than the Wright brothers’ flyer, nobody has built an aeroplane a mile long capable of carrying several thousand passengers. We’re probably approaching the limit on ship size, and although skyscrapers are getting ever-taller they’ll top-out eventually. My point is that there is a limit to things, and in these examples they are governed by the laws of physics and the physical properties of materials, air, and water.

Some things don’t scale, and even when they do, it’s not necessarily in a linear manner. I first went to Singapore when I was 23 and couldn’t believe how well-run the place was. My first thought was that everywhere should be run as well as Singapore, using the same methods. Now I’m a bit older I realise that running a city state of 5.6m people condensed into an island of 278 square miles isn’t the same as running a country of 70m people spread across 93,600 square miles. As societies grow from families to tribes to towns to cities to nation states, different methods of maintaining cohesion and control are needed at each step. In short, human societies don’t scale.

In my previous post I wrote about the behaviour of Pope Francis. Now if the Pope can’t be bothered defending the Catholic church and prefers to pander to people who will, once they have the numbers, kill his followers and burn his palace to the ground, it’s a sign that things have gone badly wrong somewhere. I cite this because it exemplifies what is going on in the western world today: every single major institution I can think of seems to be in the final throes of self-destruction, abject surrender to its enemies, or suicide. Many of these institutions have for centuries formed the foundation of western societies and have contributed substantially to their success, yet they are being destroyed by the very people who have been charged with their guardianship.

I’ve spent a while thinking about this and I reckon it has something to do with what I described earlier. Just as mechanical systems run into physical limitations beyond which they don’t work, there is probably a point beyond which human societies simply fail to hold themselves together and self-destruct. Human’s are odd creatures, and thrive when faced with hardship. The capacity of humans to overcome the most appalling conditions and adapt in order to survive is incredible, matched only by our ability to constantly seek to improve our lives. There is an optimum level of stress for humans: too much and we can’t function beyond the basics to stay alive, but too little and we become equally useless.

Insofar as western, Christian societies have gone most societal and technological advances appear to have come about as a result of people wanting to ensure Maslow’s hierarchy of needs are not only met, but permanently assured – particularly those at the bottom of the pyramid. These societies have become so wealthy that Maslow’s needs are now met by default for tens of millions of people. Furthermore, this has been going on so long that anyone born in western society who ever worried about these things is well over seventy. Anyone younger than that, generally speaking, has had the easiest ride in the entire history of mankind.

It is probably no coincidence that it’s these younger people who now seem so determined to destroy the foundations of the society they’ve been raised in. I found when I lived in under-developed countries that people there are completely unconcerned about the minutiae of politics; they are only interested in the important matters that directly affect them and their families. As an example, the only people in the entire world interested in transgender rights are white, western liberals. For everyone else, it is simply a non-issue. Russians were mainly interested in their salaries, their mothers’ pensions, and the price of a decent car. Nigerians were chiefly concerned about their salaries, job security, and the levels of violence and corruption in their country. People who come from places where the lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs are not assured tend to focus on important issues and ignore the rest.

So I have a theory. Just as a you can’t use a rubber tyre beyond 18 feet in diameter due to natural limitations, there is a limit to which human societies can grow in terms of wealth and comfort. Beyond a certain point, the bonds which hold the society together, which have been painstakingly constructed over centuries, get cut because people no longer realise what they’re for and the whole thing collapses. It might be that this societal limit is relative – either in terms of other societies around it, or perhaps the rate of change from earlier generations – but I am reasonably sure that such a limit nonetheless exists.

One thing I notice in the language of progressives is a hubristic certainty that their version of society, once shaped, will last forever because there is nothing left to discuss, as if their vision is inevitable. Personally, I don’t think we’ll see a whole lot of advancement from this point on; I don’t think we’re going to be looking at a future of interstellar travel and permanent luxury, but a world where everyone now needs to remember how much hard work, cooperation, and violence is required to get the bottom of that pyramid of needs met. Perhaps in time humankind will recover from the setback and rebuild, just as Europeans eventually managed to meet and then surpass the levels of sophistication the Romans achieved, but it may take centuries if not longer.

I might be wrong, but there is one thing I am absolutely sure of. Historians will look back on this era and prevailing opinions regarding matters such as immigration, religion, political violence, war, economics, taxation, redistribution, procreation, welfare, race, law and order, and politics and marvel at how we blindly assumed western civilisation would survive. I’d also make a tidy bet they too will talk about how the collapse was inevitable once we’d reached a certain level of wealth and comfort. I concede they might not use a dump truck to illustrate the point, though.

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The Bigotry of Low Expectations

Via the comments at Tim Worstall’s I found this article which, if it had been written as a parody, would have made the author a genius:

I’m a young Indigenous man from the south coast of New South Wales.

While growing up, I was faced with a different kind of racism.

I have always been proud of being Aboriginal, but people have always told me that I’m not.

They would say that I’m too white and I have red hair — and that these features mean I can’t be Indigenous.

Adam Piggott did a good post back in July on the Australian Aboriginal industry which allows pasty folk with dubious claims to Aboriginal ancestry to access monies, privileges, and programmes intended to assist genuine Aboriginal communities out in the bush. US Senator Elizabeth Warren did much the same, claiming Cherokee ancestry in order to land an affirmative action place at Harvard Law School, so it’s not just an Australian thing. Is this kid in the article Aborigine? Well, if Linda Sarsour can call herself black I guess he can be anything he likes. He’s not easily dissuaded, anyway:

But luckily, I’m not very good at listening to people who tell me things that I don’t want to hear.

The options in front of this boy are wide indeed, ranging from politician to corporate manager to divorced woman. But this is the passage that really stood out:

So, straight away I think of a way to show my Aboriginal background either through art, didgeridoo playing, language, stories, culture, and Aboriginal songs and dances.

I’ve created artworks for my friends and family and I’ve taught other students how to circular breathe while playing a didgeridoo.

When I was in Melbourne some government body or other put on a display of “Aboriginal culture” in Federation Square and advertised it all over town. I guessed in advance that it would consist of a bunch of primitives sat around bashing drums while metropolitan white folk looked on as if they were visiting a zoo. Child-like art would be on display wrapped in copious quantities of mumbo-jumbo. I passed by one Saturday afternoon and sure enough, that’s exactly what it was. A more patronising exhibition I couldn’t imagine, and it must have been soul-destroying for any Aborigine who aspires to be something more than a museum piece for liberal whites. Any who did would find ginger palefaces have crowded them out and, to rub salt in the wound, are now boasting about how they’ve learned the didgeridoo and circular breathing. What is absolutely certain is the urban elites don’t want these Aborigines getting off their knees any time soon or – horror! – turning up to live next door. Which is why they keep reminding them that their place in Australian society is as little more than curios, and an excuse to keep the guilt-industry motoring along on taxpayer cash.

I mentioned drums earlier for a reason. One thing supposedly right-on palefaces like to do is marvel at dark people’s “sense of rhythm”. Nobody would be interested in an Aborigine – or an African – who’d learned the violin, clarinet, or piano (none of which require rhythm, of course); all they want to do is see them whack drums in an ethnically-authentic fashion while marvelling at their supposed natural talent. South Park covered this brilliantly here:

I had occasion to stumble into some anecdotal evidence on this topic. A friend and colleague is from Jamaica but her daughter – whose father is also Jamaican – grew up in Scotland. My friend can dance as all good Jamaicans can; alas, her daughter is absolutely hopeless and has no sense of rhythm whatsoever. It seems dancing in a Caribbean manner is dependent on growing up in the Caribbean rather than genes or skin-colour. Fortunately my friend, who holds a Masters in Engineering and a PhD in something similar, grew up in an environment where education, self-sufficiency, and genuine achievement were considered more important than “keeping it real” as defined by wealthy, privileged whites; she also believes her daughter’s education is more important than her lack of dancing ability.

Maybe one day Australia’s Aborigines will enjoy such an environment, too?

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Poor Man’s Goose

I found this tweet interesting:

When I was growing up my mother, whose recipes dated from 1920-60, would cook a dish called Poor Man’s Goose. Given it was made from pork I always thought this was rather odd; now I’m an adult I can see the dish derives its name from the disparity in price between pork and goose.

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A Fear of Heights

From the BBC:

An Australian diplomat has died after falling from a New York City balcony while socialising with friends.

Julian Simpson, 30, accidentally slipped from a seventh-floor ledge of his Manhattan building to a landing on the second floor, the NYPD said.

US media reported he was playing a “trust game” with a friend when he fell.

This is tragic for his family and friends, and 30 seems a bit old to be pulling stunts like this. Then again, I’ve found a lot of Australian men shed the reckless bravado of youth rather later than most, if at all.

One thing’s for sure, you’d not catch me playing “trust games” seven stories up. I have a very mixed relationship with heights: I am fine in a tall building, I don’t mind being hoiked in the air by a crane while sat in a frog, helicopters and planes are okay, and working on the outside of tall structures while clipped on doesn’t bother me (but takes a little getting used to). But put me on a balcony with a low railing, or near a ledge, and I go weak at the knees and start to feel sick. The fear is twofold: I am petrified of someone pushing me over the edge either on purpose or by accident, but also I have a burning desire to jump off which I am never convinced I can overcome. This means I can abseil without much fear, but if I were to visit somewhere like the Trolltunga in Norway you’d not see me taking selfies at the edge, or sat with my legs dangling into the void. You’re more likely to find me a mile away, looking at it through binoculars. There’s something about being up high and unsecured that terrifies me, which is why I’d not be hanging out of windows seven floors up in New York.

Sometimes just for fun I lie in bed and watch videos of those Russian or Ukrainan nutters who climb buildings and cranes with GoPros on their heads. There are two in particular that I like, both in China:

Even in bed these videos make my stomach churn, which makes them fun to watch in a masochist kind of way. This one of a couple of Romanians climbing a chimney in Slovenia is good too:

Frankly, I think the people who do this sort of thing are complete idiots but at the same time astonishingly brave. It’s a shame this Australian lad didn’t stick to watching videos of other people doing stupid things rather than having a go himself.

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The Mellowing of Men

Commenter Ljh makes the following remark under my post about passion attracting women:

Men compete with each other for ranking. I’ve observed it at meetings, dinner parties and other events where alpha males attempt to dominate the others and brag of their various achievements: pure anthropology.

This is undoubtedly true for young men between 16 and 25, who are constantly vying for the attention of any women in the vicinity. Men between these ages are forever fighting, squaring up to one another, mocking each other, and engaging in all manner of silly games intended to demonstrate dominance over their peers and establish a pecking order.

What surprises me a little about Ljh’s comment is that he still sees it going on, whereas in my experience this all starts to fade away after age 25 or so, and past 30 is almost gone completely. There was a time when meeting a bunch of men for the first time would put me on edge a little, knowing I was in direct competition with them. Nowadays I’m happy just to make friends, relax, and talk bullshit (I’m especially good at that last one).

It could be that Ljh moves in different circles from me. Perhaps in banking, law, and other industries where a big ego and alpha-male characteristics are advantageous you encounter men who still feel the need to establish dominance over their peers, even in middle-age. In engineering, or at least that branch which deals with oil and gas, there isn’t so much of that. I’ve found most of my colleagues to be very easy going and cooperative, more interested in getting along with people than outranking them. I put this down to them mostly being settled with wives and children. Why would you continue fighting for female attention when you already have a mate? There are better, less painful things to do with your time.

Something else I noticed was how little trouble you tend to get into when you pass a certain age. When you’re between 16 and 25 it seems remarkably easy to get into fights in bars, or attract the wrong sort of attention on the street. As you get older that stops happening (unless you encounter proper criminals), and I reckon it’s because most of the aggravation is posturing and establishing street cred among peers. A lary teenager doesn’t see a bloke of 35 as his peer, so won’t start kicking off with him to impress his mates, but if another teenager walks by he will. (There’s also the issue which young men are subconsciously aware of that older men can be fucking dangerous, as likely to kill them as fight them.)

In summary, as men settle down and the testosterone reduces they mellow out and become less competitive, generally speaking. Women, on the other hand? That’s a rather different matter.

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We need to talk about Laurie Penny

I don’t wish to necessarily single out Laurie Penny for criticism in this post, but she’s such a typical example of the phenomenon I want to write about that I don’t have much choice. If a Nickelodeon was asked to come up with a cartoon of a hard-left third-wave feminist, they’d simply ask an artist to follow Laurie around all day.

In June last year, the estimable David Thompson linked to this piece of hers in the New Statesman:

I had been struggling to find language for my growing anxiety over the fact that, at almost 30, I still have no desire to settle down and form a traditional family. I’ve been waiting, as open-mindedly as possible, for a sudden neo-Darwinian impulse to pair up and reproduce. And yet here I am, and it hasn’t happened. Despite no small amount of social pressure, I am happy as I am.

Study after study has shown that it is men, not women, who benefit most from marriage and long-term partnership. Men who marry are, on the whole, healthier and happier than single men. Married women, by contrast, were no better off than their single counterparts.

If women reject marriage and partnership en masse, the economic and social functioning of modern society will be shaken to its core.

I happen to believe in dismantling the social and economic institutions of marriage and family.

So Laurie is happy and doesn’t want to get married, and thinks marriage is bad for women and she wants to see the institution, and that of the family, destroyed. She then goes on to tell us that:

When partnership ceases to be mandatory, it only becomes more special. Next week, one of my partners is getting married, and this week I went to his stag night as part of the groom’s party. I’m happy for him, and for his fiancee, whose permission I got before mentioning her in this piece.

As regular readers know, Laurie is – or at least was – polyamorous. Well, good for her.

Now here’s what The Times says about Laurie, and they meant it as a compliment:

A writer and polemicist, a bad-ass, contrary, angry, bisexual troublemaker who is never happier than when she’s upsetting someone, or preferably everyone …

Here’s what she had to say about, erm, herself on ABC recently:

I don’t think, as political people, as activists, and as people who care about a livable future for the human race, we should be moderating our language at this point.

The opposite. I think this is when we go harder. Because, ultimately, you can’t do feminism, you can’t do anti-racism, you can’t do any kind of progressive politics if your first objective is to make the other side feel comfortable.

Well, I’m sure some people DO feel uncomfortable with the pace of social change, but I would suggest they get used to it, really. I don’t think it’s my job to make people who are sexist feel more comfortable. I’m not a politician, I’m a writer, and my job is to push the discussion forward.

Here’s what she said about herself (again) in march last year, in another New Statesman article:

I’m happy because I live in my own bubble and give zero fucks – a bit like a teenager.

Here’s Laurie praising her sister:

Here’s how she’s described her love life since her early twenties:

Over the past ten years, I have been a “single poly” with no main partner; I have been in three-person relationships; I have had open relationships and have dated people in open marriages.

Finally, the title of her latest book is called Bitch Doctrine.

Laurie has set out to portray herself, with quite some success, as a badass woman who gives zero-fucks, takes shit from nobody, does whatever the hell she wants (a bit like a teenager), and bucks every societal convention there is. Liberal use of profanity, piercings, dyed hair, and an unconventional sex life all complete the picture of someone who doesn’t care what anyone thinks.

Like I said, Penny is somewhat of a cartoon, but she’s far from alone. I follow a handful of radical feminists and polyamorists online and they try so hard to be different they end up looking and sounding exactly the same. Unfortunately they also have something else in common which I haven’t listed. Consider the following tweet, from last June:

For someone who has built a career by demanding men she doesn’t know treat women with greater respect, it is odd she appears to have neglected to ask the same of her partner. Then yesterday, this:

This was about as surprising as Christmas. A feature of the people I mention above is their habit of posting semi-coherent outbursts of raw emotion followed by wallowing self-pity; their moods are up and down like a roller-coaster, one minute saying how happy they are the next moaning how shit life is. I’m not going to link to any examples because these people are, in the main, private individuals who are daft enough to post their mental torments on the internet.

But Laurie Penny is a public figure, writing for major publications and appearing on national television. She uses these platforms to advocate for social changes and encourage others to reject societal norms which, in the opinion of anyone with half a brain, would result in increased unhappiness and the further fracturing of society. In other words, she’s fair game for criticism.

Now I don’t want to make light of her depression, but she has probably brought this on herself. She boasts of being anti-social and nasty, and brags about rejecting conventional intercourse such as engaging in monogamous relationships, and takes delight in making people with whom she disagrees uncomfortable. In short, she sounds pretty damned unpleasant. And now we find the last nine months have been mean to her, she’s been dumped by her partner, and she’s depressed.

Well, there’s a surprise, eh?

Whether she’s realised it is open to question, but Laurie is probably finding that having thousands of sycophantic followers on Twitter and media types praising her “bravery” and calling her a “badass” is no substitute for having one or two genuine close friends and a partner who loves her. The problem is, you can only get those by being occasionally pleasant, which will be difficult for someone who’s made a career out of being the exact opposite.

The fascinating question is did the unpleasantness cause the loneliness, or vice versa? Or is it a vicious circle where a slight rejection when young induces unpleasant behaviour, resulting in loneliness and further unpleasant behaviour?

Alas, I’m just a blogger so I don’t know. But there is an awful lot of this stuff about, particularly in women in their late twenties and thirties. Laurie Penny is just the best example of a widespread problem.

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People in the Wrong Job

In my wanderings through the land I hear a lot of complaints about somebody’s unreasonable behaviour, normally from a person at their work. It can take the form of angry outbursts, inconsistency, micromanagement, pettiness and a host of others, but the complaints are always the same: why the hell is this person behaving like this? It’s making my life a misery!

Why indeed? I decided to start asking some questions each time I heard this, and most of the time the person in question was in a job they were wholly unsuited for. Their knowledge, experience, or – more often – their character, personality, and temperament was completely inadequate for the position they were in. That’s not to say they were stupid or useless, simply that they were in the wrong job.

Let’s suppose you are suddenly plonked into the captain’s seat of a Boeing 777 stood on the tarmac at Heathrow and ordered to take off and fly safely to New York. Unless you’re a trained pilot, we’re going to observe some pretty wild behaviour from you over the next few minutes, most unbecoming of a captain. Being put in a strange environment and asked to perform unfamiliar tasks is highly stressful, and will induce behaviour in people which can seem very odd.

The plane example is absurd, but millions of people find themselves in a similar situation in their day-to-day jobs. The stakes might not be so great, but the expectation levels are higher: nobody will ask an untrained person to fly a plane, but people routinely find themselves in a position they are manifestly unsuited to, yet are expected to perform. Most of the time they’re in a culture – either corporate or national – which frowns upon failure, but with an endless tolerance for muddling through.

If ever I find myself faced with strange or unreasonable behaviour, I step back and try to work out what’s causing it. It’s tempting to say that a person is simply insane or an arse, but that’s a lazy approach. Instead, I look at the situation they’re in and what they’re being asked to do, and see if that matches their competence and character. You know what? It never does. If it did, you’d see different behaviours. People who are in a comfortable position act like they are. Look at the confident swagger of a champion boxer on his way to the ring. It’s because he knows he’s good.

Maybe I’m getting soft in my middle-age, but nowadays I’m less inclined to think people are complete idiots, nasty, or they have something wrong with them. Most of the time they’re simply in the wrong job, and hence under too much stress. Feeling a little sorry for people is easier than getting mad at them.

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Paternal treatment at work

In the comments under this post, dearieme talks about his former bosses:

A couple of bosses were good at directing and encouraging me, one turned out to be a crook and probably going out of his mind, several others just gave me my head. One largely neglected me; he reckoned, I suspect, that if nobody complained I must be doing a good job so he’d put his effort into coping with those who seemed to be a problem. One was scared of me because I was far cleverer than he was.

I’ve had a variety of bosses ranging from very good indeed to people I’d happily see set on fire and shoved under a bus, with plenty in between. But I’m not going to write about them.

Instead, I’ll write about something dearieme’s comments jogged in my memory. There are few advantages of growing old and your hair turning grey, but nevertheless there are some. One is that, past a certain age, people you encounter in your professional life stop trying to be your fucking dad.

I think we’ve all experienced this. You turn up in a new organisation as a relative youngster and some middle-aged bloke introduces himself and starts coming out with lines such as “You have a lot to learn, and somebody like me can show you how things are done” or “If you stick by me I can take you places”. Such statements are always unsolicited and offered soon after your arrival before you can get wind of what everyone else thinks of him. Inevitably, the bloke in question is useless and everyone knows it, hence he must target newcomers if he is to get respect from anyone.

I saw a fair bit of this in my younger days and found it creepy, condescending, awkward, and sad. The language is always paternal, implying a relationship where I will admire him as some sort of mentor and life guru. I always imagined these guys have sons of their own who think their dad is a complete wanker and so they desperately try to gain adoration elsewhere. I even had a recruiter try it once, probably thinking my character was a lot more soft and pleasant than it is. He actually used the phrase “My job is to find young men who need some guidance, and put an arm around them.” He turned out to be about as useful as tits on a fish.

Thankfully this all stopped some years back. I don’t know whether it was my age or it was an Anglo-Saxon thing that the French don’t go in for, but I’m glad because it annoyed the hell out of me. I even had to tell one chap “Thanks, but I have a dad already and I don’t need another”.

None of this is to say that the old dog growling in the corner of the office with 30 plus years of experience under his belt isn’t worth talking to or having as a mentor. I’ve had that before and it’s great. I’m talking about the useless old farts who seek to address personal issues by attempting to create disciples out of unwary youngsters in the office. I’d be curious to know how common this is outside of my own industry.

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The Importance of Individuals

Bloke in Italy makes an interesting point in the comments here:

I don’t like expressing a judgement about a national characteristic – I try very hard to say about people what I would say to their face, and a statement like mine above can only be deeply unfair to most of the individuals concerned…

I was having a conversation on this very point with a friend of mine on Sunday.  My position is that I will say anything I like about a nation state or collective population, but I treat individuals in front of me as I find them.  In other words, I might not like the (say) Iranian government, its policies, the politics, collective habits and customs, and whatever falls under the description of “national character” and I would have no qualms about saying so.  But if I were to meet an Iranian then I would not treat them in a manner that is prejudiced by my feelings on the country as a whole (at least, I hope I wouldn’t).

A nation is more than a collection of individuals and for whatever reason the “national character” does not necessarily reflect the aggregate characters of each citizen.  Somewhere in the process other factors are applied with the result that the collective population can look quite different from its constituent persons.  Nowhere was this better demonstrated than in the Soviet Union, and later Russia: one of the most common things first-time visitors say is how surprised they are by the hospitality and friendliness of the people.  In his excellent book Among the Russians, Colin Thubron says early on “I never again equated the Russian system with the Russian people”.

I have offended many people by making disparaging remarks about their country, but I have offended very few individuals by making disparaging remarks about them (at least, until I’ve got to know them).  I have never understood people taking personal offence at somebody criticising their country, believing it is a reflection on them.  I’ve mentioned it before but one of the things I like about the French is you can slag off Air France, La Poste, and the prefectures and they’ll agree with you: they don’t feel personally insulted because of it.  Alas, the same is not true for many other countries, Australia and Nigeria to name but two.  Remark to an Australian than the prices in pharmacies in Melbourne are extortionate and he’ll say “Fack off home you facking whinging Pom”.

Speaking of Down Under, I remember The New Australian writing on his blog that he had little faith in humanity but plenty of faith in humans.  It was a good line, one that I agree with.  I’ve generally found people collectively to be utter shits but generally very pleasant on an individual level.  TNA also remarked that totalitarian regimes and authoritarian types always put collective humanity over individuals.  The Soviets put everything towards creating the New Soviet Man and a communist society, but had such utter disdain for actual people that they regulated the individual almost out of existence and murdered any that didn’t get with the programme.  Listen to the pronouncements of contemporary politicians worldwide and you’ll realise that viewing individual people as a problem is not unique to the Soviets.

Going back to my earlier example, it would be grossly unfair of me to make assumptions about any Iranian I meet until I’ve been given a chance to assess his individual character.  True, his government might like hanging gays from cranes and threatening to obliterate Israel, but for all I know he has spent twenty years in prison for protesting against that government.  It is hard to think of a country more dysfunctional and unpleasant than Nigeria, yet individual Nigerians are often wonderful people.  I’d like to think I treated those Nigerians I met as individuals and didn’t make sweeping generalisations about them based on what I saw of their country.  Conversely, nobody should have taken what I wrote about Nigeria here as a personal insult (although many did).

In summary, I think the world would be a better place if we stopped attributing such importance to collective groups and the feelings of nation states and just took individuals as we find them.

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