November jottings

Newsfeeds are all about Clinton & Trump these days and it does quite tiresome. Seems like a choice between two lesser evils, the warmonger missus or the conservative hophead.

When the TLS [October 28th issue, n°5926] adorned its cover with some dubious art depicting Ms Clinton, it is, clearly, a bridge too far. The missus who writes about it, the academic Elaine Showalter (from Princeton), in the opening page of the TLS, says right away say that Ms Clinton is a person who "has dedicated her life to public service", whereas Mr Trump is the horrid little shit who "epitomizes everything most reprehensible, greedy and selfish in American capitalism".

Shit! Not again!

Of course, I stopped reading then and there. This is way off the usual standards of the TLS. There isn't even a book under review. It's just missus Showalter voicing her shrill plea for the Democrat candidate. Campaign stuff, quite tiresome, I've said that already. (Nonetheless: when Zizek says he prefers Trump as the lesser evil, it gives pause for thought.)

One does wonder however if there's some kind of editorial policy shift at the TLS. Not so long ago, it did a big partisan spread for the Remain campaign, inviting a seemingly selected (biased) number of British authors to voice their shrill pleas against the Brexit, quite a few of them obviously fearing they'd stand to loose juicy EU-grants.

Nervousness at the top

Whether it's about the Brexit or the US elections, one cannot but be struck by the panicky nervousness at the top and its frantic appeals for people to make the right choice, that is: make the same choice as they do at the top.

Nothing new there, really, it just has become so plain to see.

Will I go on reading the TLS? No doubt about that. It has some good stuff. And quite revealing, at times.

The next paper in the latest issue, written by the Londoner Tom Startup, is a review of three new books on the subject of happiness.

Money can't buy me love

Nobody gives a hoot about happiness probably but there it is: our new-born century has seen "an explosion in happiness research" and it's presently "a flourishing academic subject", our reviewer adding that it has been attracting "some of the best thinkers from across the social sciences". This self-serving remark is a bit hard to believe. The best thinkers? Are those still around?

The thing is: everyone wants to be happy, no question about it, if you can't make ends meet, you're unhappy, if you walk on a turd of dog-shit, it doesn't make you happy and if you die in a stupid car-accident, you're forever unhappy. No doubt about that. But why academics all of a sudden bother about the matter is another question. It started around and about 2008 when the then French president Sarkozy asked the academical do-gooders Amartya Sen and Joseph Stiglitz to produce alternative growth criterias, the big idea being that wealth isn't the best measure of well-being (also known as happiness).

But it can buy me a meal

It stands to reason. When wages are stagnant, when unemployment hits ever larger numbers of people, when good well-paid jobs get scarser by the day, then it is good policy to claim that you can be happy without it. I wrote about that at the time (in French, check footnote).

As things don't get better, it's only natural there's an "explosion" of politically-propelled academic research in the field.

So? So let's be sardonic about it.

Hey! This is offensive!

There was yet another quaint item in the TLS. This time, a review by Peter Frankopan of the book Minoo Dinshaw has written on the British historian Steven Runciman whose books on the crusades and the Byzantine empire made the headlines in the thirties and fifties. Obviously, the biographer doesn't like Runciman very much. It's very much a demolition-job.

For one thing, Runciman isn't very PC, politically correct. As an example of this, Dinshaw brings up what he calls Runciman's "unthinking anti-Semitism", for instance when he stated about the Jews, rather unpleasantly, that "the fundamental fault of that race is a lack of moral courage." Using the word "race" is already bad enough. You don't do that anymore. It's plainly offensive. But then to add that they lack moral courage...

It so happened that, at the same time, I was reading a collection of articles written by Kurt Tucholsky between 1914 and 1935 (he died that year, 45 years old) and, in a letter to his friend Arnold Zweig, a few days before his death, that's exactly what he also thought. The Jew, his own people, fundamentally lacked moral courage. Tucholsky is someone one ought to read. He fought uncompromisingly German militarism, bourgeois stupidity and social injustice, and paid its heavy price in exile. (The book is in French, check footnote).

He said this for instance: "Humanity doesn't solve questions, it forgets them." It was in 1926. Things haven't changed much.

On the happiness propaganda: E. Rydberg, Brouillage sur la décroissance (des salaires), January 2008,

Kurt Tucholsky, Moment d'angoisse chez les riches - Chroniques allemandes, Éditions Héros-Limite, Genève, 2012, ISBN 978-2-940358-87-8