Pick Your Pronoun

Most of the time that I have spent informing myself about the world we live in, with only partial success, has been wasted, at least as far as practical effect is concerned. During the Cold War I read a lot about Marxism; then came Islam and Islamism; now it is COVID-19. My influence on world events has, of course, been zero, and will remain so, however much I inform myself, which given my bad temper is perhaps just as well. I would have been more profitably employed collecting stamps or growing tomatoes.

The books about the COVID-19 epidemic continue to pour off the presses, faster even than I can buy them, let alone read them. Most of them are discouraging, that is to say disparaging about the various efforts of Western governments to deal with the crisis, pointing out the anomalies, U-turns, inconsistencies, scientific errors, moral cowardice, and so forth of our so-called leaders. Every author is particularly hard on the government of his own country, though the results in many countries are very similar and the difference in the statistics are probably within the margin of error of all such measurement. Besides, there may well be factors outside the immediate control of governments that might account for any real differences.

Yesterday I spent much of my time reading a French book titled Is There an Error They Have Not Made? This concentrates, naturally enough, on the failures of the French government and the incompetence of the French state despite (or possibly because of) its immense size and self-arrogated omnicompetence. The author (a professor of medicine called Christian Perronne, much appreciated in conspiracy-theory circles) brings every possible charge against it and makes no allowance for human weakness. No doubt many of the charges are true; the pronouncements of the government have often been contradictory, its decrees inconsistent and verging sometimes on the absurd as well as dictatorial, and the results bad—though (you would never guess it from reading the book) no worse than some of its immediate neighbors, Spain, Italy, Great Britain, and Belgium, for example. The United States is no better. The author, I suppose, would reply that similar books could be written about those countries, and indeed probably have been. If there is “a holy alliance between incompetence and arrogance”—the subtitle of the book—it is an alliance that is international.

Professor Perronne’s book has been a great success: more than 100,000 copies sold. It is easy to read and some of it is good knockabout fun, or at least would be good knockabout fun if the situation were not so grave, where it points out the way in which government ministers contradict not only each other but themselves, often within the space of a day or two, or even within 24 hours. But what caught my eye when I bought the book when it first came out was its cover, brilliantly designed to appeal to the disgruntled, the temperamentally critical, and the paranoid.

The title, on a plain jet-black background, is all in the lower case, and in white lettering, except for the word THEY, which is capitalized, in a much larger font size, and in bright, devilish scarlet, the very color of wickedness.

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