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Stupidity and self-destruction

Theodore Dalrymple, Taki's Magazine, 09-01-2016.

When it comes to the forms of self-evident stupidity and self-destruction, man’s inventiveness is infinite. (...)

Every day I used to go to my hospital thinking, “I’ve heard everything,” but I never had. “They can’t surprise me anymore,” I said to myself, but they could, and they did. People who in all other respects seemed deeply unimaginative managed to devise entirely new means to make their own lives and those of the people about them unutterably miserable. The Russian writer V.G. Korolenko (a watered-down Chekhov) once said that man is born for happiness as a bird for flight, which seems to me now about as true as that earthworms are made for ice hockey. I don’t believe in Freud’s death instinct exactly, but many people do seem to have a genius both for misery itself and for the creation of misery in others. Time and again I saw people with no “objective” reasons for unhappiness, but who, with a determination worthy of a better object, pursued courses of action that would obviously lead to disaster, and that they knew would lead to disaster. The fact is that disaster is dramatic and never dull, which happiness can appear to be. We can without difficulty imagine a thousand hells, but even a single heaven escapes our imagination. Seventy-two virgins would pall after a time (whether it is heaven for them also seems not to be very often discussed).

Not everyone is self-destructive in this fashion, of course, but there are sufficient numbers sometimes to affect the course of human history. Certainly we cannot always rely on the pursuit of their self-interest to assess the likely course of the conduct of others, which is why the explosion of an H-bomb by North Korea (if it turns out to be true, and not just a Potemkin bomb) is so disturbing. No one who has been to North Korea could have many illusions as to what such a regime is capable of.

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