Sunday, May 30, 2010

Of Tea-Baggers and Basilicata

I was re-reading Nicolas Belfrage's Brunello To Zibibbo the other day and ran across this passage, which struck me for reasons which will be obvious. He is talking about his experience in southern Italy, but you can substitute "tea-bagger" and get the same result, I think:

"I am bound to say that, in the course of considerable dealing with southern Italians, I have more than once come upon delay, denial and evasion, tortuous thinking and dealing, even when such behaviour seems patently to run against the subject's own interests. A southerner is likely to have an idea about this or that wedged firmly in his head, and nothing you can say will dislodge it. After a while one is simply obliged to recognise that reason will get you nowhere and that you might as well stop banging your head against the wall.1


Just below the paragraph quoted above, is another one, which I believe provides a well-reasoned critique of the type of government bureaucracy that tea-partiers love to rave against (that is, as long as it isn't a bureaucracy that provides them some tangible benefit, as in the classic "get your government hands off my Medicare.")  Thus:


"The southern Italian bureaucrat's special function in life is to make sure that he justifies his existence and covers himself, especially in relation to his superiors, in such a way that if anything goes wrong he is not to blame. The best way to ensure that nothing goes wrong is to arange for nothing to happen at all. This helps no end to frustrate inward investment and maintain status quo in a situation where rationalists might consider change to be urgently needed.1

1Nicolas Belfrage, Brunello to Zibibbo: The Wines of Tuscany, Central and Southern Italy (London, Mitchell Beazley, 2001).

 I have a slightly different take on the bureaucrat's function as it applies in the U.S., which is that an American bureaucrat justifies his existence by defending the rights of the well-heeled, whether as individuals or as corporations. But that's just me.

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