1 September 2013

Delingpole in love

Professional contrarian James Delingpole has taken a look into the mad, staring eyes of Ayn Rand and fallen head over heels:

I’m now half way through Atlas Shrugged and I’m loving almost every moment. But Ayn Rand isn’t someone you read for pleasure, I’m beginning to realise. She’s someone you read so you can underline sentences and scrawl in the margins ‘Yes’, ‘God that is so TRUE!’ and ‘YES!!!’

It's a coup de foudre: as he admits, he's only halfway through the book. The intemperate marginalia suggest a loss of balance.

Discounting for a moment the possibility that he's gushing annoyingly because it might increase his chances of another booking for Any Questions?, I have to wonder why it's necessary to counter one extreme with another. Is the only answer to Communism, Objectivism? If all that matters is opposites, would Mein Kampf do just as well? After all, Rand appears to have been very taken with the triumph of the superior person's will.

I recall a Conservative election advert - was it as early as 1979, or would it have been in the Eighties? - where the voter's choice was represented as being either Tory or Labour, and nothing in between: the Liberals were symbolised by a contemptible little boneshaker of a car rattling down the centre line and meeting a noisy end round the corner, with only a hubcap rolling back into view. On the other hand, I also remember the first time I tried punting: you head towards a holly bush on the left, correct hard and find yourself making straight for some thicket on the right. Very clever of the ad firm (the Saatchis?) to persuade us that dualism is the only way.

Words, phrases, images can be intoxicating and misleading. We translate reality into our code system and then stick to the translation - think of our false memories of places and events, and Alistair Campbell's subordination of fact to "narrative".

One has to distrust stirring prose that divides us into camps: shale frackers vs "hard-left, deep-green pressure groups", "wealth creators" vs "looters". One can see that fracking may give us a few years' opportunity to reform the ergonomics of our economy, without either believing that the boom will last for a century or that we will all be poisoned and our homes disappear into sinkholes. Similarly, one can value the contribution of entrepreneurs without seeing everyone else as a bloodsucker.

But maybe Delingpole is just doing a Matt Ridley. Maybe he's not really nuts, just crazy like a fox, dressing up in whatever meretricious opinion will scandalise. After all, as Wilde said, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.

On the other hand, instead of throwing sticks of TNT around in the attempt to get attention, you could try taking your coat off and work up a sweat, digging for the truth.

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