Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Diary

I continue to be distracted by political events here but would rather not be, considering how ignorant the perpetrators are. It would be possible to use this as yet another example of the problematic nature of democracy within the context of capitalism, but I've already written about that and have drawn my own conclusions, and the weaknesses of the system are so obvious to me that they require no further discussion. How an intellectually bankrupt narcissist became "the leader of the free world" is going to keep pundits talking for decades, but I'd simply like to be rid of Trump as soon as possible, preferably by means of a humiliating impeachment.

At the moment I am receiving some solace from those intelligent Frenchmen of the past who noticed far better than contemporary Americans how distasteful life in the U.S. can be. As Philippe Roger writes:

It seemed extraordinary to the French (and even more so to literary Parisians) that people could go live over there without being forced to by the most stark necessity of blatant disgrace. "If I stay there for a year, I will die," Talleyrand wrote Madame de Staël. The fact that America could wrench such a heartfelt cry from the most rakish of political expatriates must have made an impression on his illustrious correspondent. Talleyrand's despair was not disingenuous. It was fairly common in the small but turbulent French colony of Pennsylvania: there was a general sense of withering away, pining for Paris, loss of any sense of existence. Whether it was hell on earth or an eternal limbo, the United States engulfed exiles so completely that if by chance one reappeared, it was as though he had come back from the dead....

Talleyrand had hardly set foot onto American soil in 1794 when he took a sudden dislike to the country for which he had fled the radicalizing Revolution. He poured out caustic remarks at dinners in Philadelphia and the émigré meetings that gathered in Moreau de Saint-Méry's bookstore and printshop....His frustration at finding himself both far from public affairs and unsuccessful in financial dealings he had thought would be lucrative were what lay behind his bitterness that was mostly aimed at the mediocrity of American life. Talleyrand was bored to death in hidebound Philadelphia for lack of entertainment and intrigues, banquets and banter. He was also so wasted by the anemic environment that, according to La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt , he ended up making "dutiful little witticisms no one appreciates." Spiteful toward the Americans, he found them, in turn, generally hostile to the French. Liancourt noted that it was "impossible to have a worse opinion of them in all regards, or to speak worse of them" than Talleyrand.

Not much has changed in the attitudes of the French toward the Americans, or vice versa, in more than two hundred years. To this day most Americans would be incredulous if anyone told them that they were comparatively crude, unsophisticated or second-rate, because, according to their criteria for evaluation, they are collectively wealthier than the French and therefore, by definition, they are superior. It would, for example, be self-evident to Donald Trump that the French are "losers."

You already know how I think this situation should be resolved, so I won't harp on it, but just to recap, my hope is that artificial intelligence will one day provide better governance than people have been able to effectuate on their own throughout history and up to the present.

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