Books and movies nowadays have settled on a comfortable position regarding bad people. A bad adult was very likely abused as a child, and this has something to do with why they ended up bad, without, of course, excusing it.
Regarding the influence of countries on their citizens as opposed to families on their children, we take a curiously different position. Some governments are bad, we agree. The people of these countries, however, are good. We may criticize the wicked practices of the regime that has driven country X into the ground in the past 50 years, but we have nothing against the ordinary citizens of X, who are fine, decent people.
I wish it were so, but I think our model of families may be more accurate than our model of nations. My suspicion is that if a society is prosperous and fair, its citizens tend to be trustworthy and open, and if a society is venal and corrupt, they tend to be grasping. Of course, these are statistical statements, with a thousand exceptions. But I suspect it’s true on average.
Americans used to be famous for their corn-fed openness. Here in the age of Trump, they may be changing.
[22 February 2020]
Fifty years ago today, as a young teenager in Lexington, Massachusetts, I typed my first index card note. Naturally I have an interest in others who have followed a similar habit. Lichtenberg, Leopardi, Maugham, Manguso. Emily Dickinson, Michael Frayn, Samuel Butler. B. F. Skinner, N. N. Taleb. I happily regard these as kindred spirits through the ages, and I keep their books on a special shelf.
Lichtenberg wrote notes for more than 30 years, and Butler more than 40. Tomorrow I’ll be past 50!
[14 February 2020]
Edward VII was 59 when he ascended the throne, and Prince Charles is already 71. As Wikipedia puts it, he is “the oldest and longest-serving heir apparent in British history”.
I’ve realized that three different effects conspire to make it particularly unfortunate to succeed a Queen — a perfect storm of actuarial bad luck. First, of course, women live longer than men (Victoria to 81, Elizabeth to 93 so far). Second, women marry younger than men (Victoria was 20, Elizabeth 21).
Now these two effects apply to all of us, making our mothers last a decade longer than our fathers. But there’s a third factor that hits royals especially. If you are the Queen, or destined to be crowned as such, don’t imagine you can spend a few years after the wedding working on the relationship! No, the babies must come immediately. Edward arrived 12 months into the marriage, and Charles 21. Their mothers were practically teenagers.
[8 February 2020]