Friday, August 31, 2007


At the time of her engagement to Prince Charles in 1981 she was just another dim, round-faced Sloaney girl of the kind you could see on almost every street in Pimlico, Kensington or Earl’s Court, clad in the unprepossessing uniform that prompted some observers to liken her, cruelly but accurately, to a stewardess from Air Bulgaria. By the time of her funeral sixteen years later she was routinely if ludicrously described as one of the most beautiful women in the world, and the most saintly. […] The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, wondered if the anniversary of her death should henceforth be a public holiday, Diana Day.

Thus Francis Wheen, on pages 199-201 of his fab book, How Mumbo-Jumbo conquered the World. Today is, of course, Di’s tenth deathday (and the fiftieth anniversary of Malayan independence from Britain), so what shall I say about Di’s death? Not much (but I want to practice blockquoting, so:) many people believe it remains mysterious, but it seems like an ordinary accident to me—relatively ordinary anyway. Whatever made Di useful to the royal Family also seems to have made her dangerous, when their scorn inclined her towards telling tales; but then, what then made the media Circus useful to her may also have made it more dangerous, via the resulting reduction in her immunity from accidents—maybe, although I’m sure I wouldn’t know (although to see the popular story of her personal survival turn out so suddenly (and naturally tragically) to have been from such a different genre was certainly surprising). What such things mostly remind me of are a couple of relatively ordinary paradoxes (mentioned in Michael Clark’s nice Paradoxes from A to Z).
......Firstly placebos are a bit paradoxical, because if we believe that something acts only as a placebo (e.g. homeopathic medicine) then it won’t so act for us, not if we know the meaning of ‘placebo’ (which only half-explains homeopathy (which does after all do the medically important job of curing some people), although the placebo effect may well be easier to explain (e.g. as like social grooming))... so this paradox resembles Moore’s; and furthermore philosophers naturally find it paradoxical when knowledge tends to keep one unhealthy, if only personally (despite history showing that to be quite common). Anyway, I’m reminded of this paradox because Diana was (so I learn from Wheen) a fan of reflexology who lunched with Deepak Chopra shortly before her death, and also because of the following premonition of that (Wheen 2004: 154-5).

Nine months after the accident, the Mail serialised a book by Rita Rogers, the Derbyshire psychic whose ‘extraordinary powers’ had so impressed Diana and Dodi. She disclosed that at her first meeting with Dodi Fayed the previous summer she immediately had ‘a feeling of danger’: she saw a black Mercedes and a tunnel, and ‘felt there was a connection with France’. Extraordinary indeed: only the most mean-spirited sceptic could have wished for some sort of corroborative evidence, such as a letter from Fayed thanking Rogers for the warning about driving through French tunnels.

Secondly there is the paradox of deterrence, or mutually assured destruction (MAD), where the enemy is deterred from completely destroying you because your inevitable (if posthumous) retaliation, whilst being completely ineffective defensively had things got to that point, would destroy them and hence (Clark 2002: 42) “where it is rational to make yourself less rational.” Perhaps we will be safest voting for leaders who can be relied upon to behave irrationally, to act when the justification for acting (in such an extreme fashion) is absent (which shines an interesting light on their relatively proportionate reaction to 9/11). I’m reminded of this paradox because thinking of Di and Family makes me realise how remote from our world such powerful people must be; I mean, they can’t just go for a walk in the park, can they? They have to live in palaces (nice as that must be) and walk in their expensive grounds; and it seems to be difficult for them to meet up with their peers by using the usual systems of roads etc.
......In short, our ruling classes would clearly have relatively few problems adapting to life in palatial bunkers (perhaps with Eden-project-style grounds, with tulips) connected by tunnels (social and aggressive) and surrounded by dead land, surrounded as they are now by such dangerous (and increasingly useless) people—which helps to keep us safe (paradoxically) if there are such bunkers, but are there? Now, I’m sure I wouldn’t know (although maybe we should hope that it looks like there are), but intriguingly Wheen (2004: 174-5) also mentioned the billions spent by the US on procurement (without seeming to have procured much:)

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