“He who excuses himself accuses himself” – Gabriel Meurier

A regular, longstanding Slogger sent me a clip from today’s papers about the former Chairman of Lloyds ‘explaining’ why his purchase of HBOS in 2009 had saved the
UK banking industry. In it, the retired banker made this cracker of an observation:

“Look, when it comes down to it, the only people who really lost were the shareholders”

Rather like, I’d say, somebody saying in Washington in the late 1850s, “Look, it was a pretty dull play and the only bloke who really lost was the President”. But such sociopathic chutzpah appeals to me on one level as a means to an end: for this sort of unfeeling, flying-brick sensitivity could become a powerful weapon against the pc mob.

Their version of the Lincoln assassination would be, “Becoming alarmed when Wilkes-Booth pulled out the derringer would’ve been an act of unforgivable Confederatist stereotyping, and it should therefore be a matter of great pride for the American People that base emotions were eschewed in favour of taking the objective view”. People who think like this, to steal from Lou Reed’s Dirty Boulevard lyrics – ‘need a lesson to be taught’.

Take for example the mangled knots Progressives get into when dealing with Islam. They boff on for Africa about fgm, and then invent the term Islamophobia to brand anyone who questions Muslim marital misogyny as some kind of obsessively compulsive bigot. Wouldn’t it be wonderful – just once before you die – to smile and say, “Yes, but at the end of the day, right, the only gender that suffers is yours”?

One thinks of the Titanic, and feeling able to give free rein to the opinion that “it wasn’t that big a disaster…the iceberg came out of it without a scratch”. Don’t laugh: just three weeks ago, the Labour MP Dianne Abbott remarked, “Yes, millions of people died, but Mao did some very good things too”.

Thomas Szasz said, “Two wrongs don’t make a right, but they make for a good excuse” and I had personal experience of this during the 1960s when I spent a summer in West Berlin. An older German chap spent the best part of an hour in a bar near Zoo Bahnhof telling me that Hitler probably only killed three maybe four million people, whereas Stalin was far worse in that he rubbed out over eighteen million humans. It’s hard to know what facial expression to adopt when that sort of exculpation is in progress, but Mel Brooks picked up the ball wonderfully in his screenplay for The Producers, having the bitter expat Nazi say, “Everyone says Churchill was a great painter – pfaff! Hitler, now there was a painter – one apartment, two coats, half a day”.

Perhaps it comes down in the end to our contemporary empathy with the villain not the victim – what I call ‘antiempathy’.

GPs have long specialised in the art of antiempathy. Tell one that your left arm hurts when  raised above shoulder level, and the doc may well say, “Let’s face it – it’s a minor disability, and only likely to become a problem when a bank robber tells you to get your hands up”.

Antiempathy is simply the conferring of innocence upon an act of solid-gold guilt: ironically, it’s what makes the ranting comment threader from Liberal Conspiracy indistinguishable from RBS’s nihilistic dickhead Fred Goodwin. I spent many years with a lady who, when occasionally faced with incontrovertible evidence of having done something inhuman, would excuse the act by saying, “I’m only human”.

That’s the sort of excuse that goes beyond lame and into the territory called quadraplegic. It was exemplified as never before when the then British Culture & Media Secretary Jeremy Hunt MP told 400+ fellow MPs – following his attempt to hide 120 incriminating emails from the House – “I have done nothing wrong”. The flaw in his defence lay in the final two words.

The era we inhabit is one where there’s an ever-present need for terms like ‘moral compass’ and ‘ethical hazard’ in order to rationalise the launch of products obviously designed to cheat those customers without whom the originators would be foraging in the hedgrows for puffball mushrooms and blackberries. When caught pulling this kind of stunt, service and manufacturing companies go full volume on the “there will be a full enquiry, full compensation and fulsome apologies to those who inadvertently suffered from this regrettable oversight” PR. What the senior management of such concerns never do is go to jail.

Without incessant euphemism – and the 21st century destruction of civilised behaviour – the present day public excuse would be laughable. It makes me more certain than ever of just how important my original discipline of History is. For while we airily talk about “telling it like it is”, having the knowledge to tell is like it was will always be infinitely more condemnatory.

Earlier at The Slog: the Clinton-Syria-Murdoch-Brexit connection