Syntagma Digital
Editor, John Evans

DIARY: EU purgatory, Dan Brown’s purgatory, Leveson online, French drones, Poppycock Watch: A banker’s wisdom?, Profundity of the Week: Emerson

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There is a view being spread around that David Cameron is more Eurosceptic than Margaret Thatcher ever was. Putting aside the fact that during most of her period in office, the full horror of the European Union had not yet emerged, her last book Statecraft laid that calumny to rest years ago. In it the Iron Lady -- to distinguish her from the current PM who might be the Ironing Lady -- rehearses the way she was totally duped by France's Jacques Delors, the Barroso of his day, over the Single Market proposal, which materialised into the Single European Treaty (note the profound change of emphasis in the name). After winning her opt-outs and signing, Brussels stuck them on us anyway via the newly fangled Health and Safety strand, a level of dishonesty that should be remembered and corrected in these more enlightened times. In Statecraft, published after her retirement, Mrs Thatcher called for Britain to leave the EU by simply repealing the Treaty Acts in Parliament. Too late, alas. John Major was no fighter. His speciality was the elegant cave-in. David Cameron's speech tomorrow has been brewing for months, so much so that it will probably be overcooked, emerge flat and gasless, and will please no-one. [Update: this speech has just been postponed owing to the Algerian hostage crisis.] A referendum in 2018 is totally unacceptable. Brussels thrives on time. They know elected politicians rarely last long and are prepared to wait it out until they are gone. Dave will be put on the Sit-It-Out list, a form of purgatory reserved for the awkward squad (EU code for "the British"). In the meantime, they will happily get on with building their fiscal inner core, with Britain not included in the decision-making. How does being "out of Europe" differ from that?
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Talking of purgatory, Dan Brown's new novel investigates Dante's Inferno and it's out on the 14th of May. Harvard professor of symbology, Robert Langdon, will again be on the trail of the "real meaning" of the text and all the shenanigans surrounding it. I predict it will be a cracking tale with hardly a let-up from start to finish -- a juicy prospect. I look forward to it for two reasons. First, I usually enjoy his novels, especially The Da Vinci Code, and secondly, I bought A.N. Wilson's Dante in Love, plus a magnificent presentation volume of the complete Divine Comedy early last year. I still haven't read them. The news is just the prod I needed. I can already hear the groans of the Metropolitan literati set. They really don't like Brown at all. How very vulgar that his books have sold 200million copies to date, and 80million tills have rung for Da Vinci alone. It won't win the Man Booker prize, that's for sure, but it will tingle the spines of millions worldwide. And teach them a bit of history too. You can't say fairer than that. We sometimes take ourselves too seriously.
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Recent polls show that the French are among the most mocked and disliked people on the planet. How has this happened? Is it recent, or well established? I looked through my archive of writings and came up with this little gem from October 2005. Here's an excerpt: Now here’s a conundrum. Is it possible to maximize your returns with the minimum of effort? According to a runaway bestselling book in France, it is. Bonjour Laziness (in the US), Hello Laziness (in the UK) by French economist, Corinne Maier, attempts to dethrone all those American business gurus who entreat hard work and perseverance. To prove it she has written this very slim volume, printed in large type, which … well … sort of proves her point … up to a point. A senior French newspaper correspondent in London recently said that 25 percent of the French people are still Marxists. He believed this would shock the Anglo-Saxon world. Well, it shocked me, I can tell you. Before, I’d only half-suspected it was true. This little book confirms it. Ms Maier is a senior economist with the private utility, Electricite de France, which is nothing like an American corporation. She believes that almost no work is done in France except by a small minority of drones, who work their socks off. She even likens them to slaves. Judging by the length of her book, Corinne isn’t one of them. “Business is dead”, she cries, more in hope than certainty. Her prescription for the helots? “Just play the part of the model worker, say the right words and do the right things, but without actually getting involved.” It reminds me of those student revolutionaries way back in 1960s Paris who shouted, “We have no policies, only demands!” Is it really that bad in France? But like all French anti-Americanism, you have to read between the lines to catch the envy. What do we make of: “companies aren’t funky or exciting. They’re boring ….” Have you tried Apple or Google, Ms Maier? This book will confirm every American and British prejudice against France, as well as French visceral dislike of the Anglo-Saxon business model. But, phew, it’s an eye-opening read. If someone like her can feel so badly about us, what on earth do all those Marxist drones think?
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In the Leveson aftermath, what is the position for those of us who write online? Here are some thoughts: In trying to formulate a code of practice for writers and journalists online I suggest we could start with previous attempts at defining human freedom of thought and expression. One of my favourite statements was made 2,500 years ago by Gautama Buddha. In the Kalama Sutta, sometimes called “The Charter of Freedom”, the Buddha tells the Kalama people not to bother themselves with what others think; not to listen to “wise” men’s pronouncements, or necessarily accept the views of authority. They should prove the truth of each statement by reference to their own personal experience. Even today, this is one of the most breathtaking expressions of personal liberty. It has, of course, been spun a lot, and explained away, since. But let the statement speak for itself : “It is proper for you, Kalamas, to doubt, to be uncertain; uncertainty has arisen in you about what is doubtful. Come, Kalamas. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumour; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another’s seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, ‘The monk is our teacher.’ Kalamas, when you yourselves know that these things are bad, blamable and lead to harm and ill, abandon them.” As a code for online writers and bloggers, it’s a very good start.
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Poppycock Watch In a report a while back: It Doesn’t Pay: Materialism and the Pursuit of Happiness, James Montier, once global equities strategist at Dresdner, Kleinwort Wasserstein, claimed that people who pursue materialistic goals are not happy. He singles out those who think they need the latest technological gadgets as more likely to have attention deficit disorder, paranoia, narcissism, and tendencies to histrionics and dependency. Well, that explains a lot. One other interesting bit is his view that an income of $44,000 (around £25,000) a year is enough for optimal happiness. This, he says, echoing Abraham Maslow, is all you need for food, shelter and healthcare. Beyond that, breaking with the need for fashionable designer clothes and the latest gizmos, is the first step on the road to happiness. Personal growth is what counts. We should concentrate on experiences rather than goods. One thing intrigues me. Montier is a banker. His report presumably had his bank’s imprint. Why would a bank advise us to forego the usual financial goals that banks do very well on?
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Profundity of the Week If a man write a better book, preach a better sermon, or make a better mousetrap than his neighbour, tho' he build his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door. Ralph Waldo Emerson John Evans ... who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers. Coming eventually: Mystology: A different way of looking at the world. Also a website, mystology.com. Recent Related Articles

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