Entry from September 6, 2002

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David Hill writes: “You say there is no reason to bomb Iraq, but a few days ago Nelson Mandela told Bush that attacking Iraq would lead to the destruction of the United Nations. Isn’t that quite a good reason?” Folks, I’ve got to admit, he’s got me there.

But I don’t believe, believe it or not, that Mr. Mandela has got it right. On the contrary, the ghastly talking-shop on the East River would be so galvanized in opposition to such an attack on the innocent Mr. Hussein, so united in its already barely-disguised anti-Americanism that it would be stronger than ever — not that that would be very strong anywhere away from the tiny élite of do-gooders and intellectuals who give a good goddamn what the United Nations thinks.

David is a former pupil of mine from Portsmouth Grammar School in England who is now scraping a living as an editor at the Budapest Business Journal while pursuing a vocation for poetry. He’s a very good poet too. Here is one of my favorites among his recent verses, called “Imagine!”

In the sixties, kids in caftans had a vision
Of a peaceful world with borderlines removed,
But the folks in power, caged inside the prison
Of their patriotic values, disapproved.

Now the hippies are defending ethnic cultures
Thus perpetuating myths which lead to wars)
While prime ministers and fat big-business vultures
Long for trust, communication, open doors.

Others of his recent works and information about how to order his two published volumes of verse, Angels and Astronauts and Bald Ambition, may be found on his website at www.lyriklife.com

Budapest — like Prague and other Eastern European cities — is a good place for would-be poets and other layabouts from richer countries to live. This is because, unlike their homelands, it gives them an opportunity to be poor in some reasonable comfort. And here is a good illustration of what is so misguided about the do-gooders’ perpetual lament concerning that ever-widening “gap between rich and poor,” either in our country or in the world. For the fact is that, by world standards, the fabled “gap” and its presumptive miseries scarcely exists in our country — and this is a matter for some regret.

It’s easy to see that if your country has only poor people, your only option is to be poor, but it is less widely recognized that if it has only rich people, then your only option is to be rich. This is not just a logical conundrum. Most people would like to be rich if the money were simply handed over to them, but apart from inheritors and lottery winners, this doesn’t actually happen. Instead, when as in America your only option is to be rich — because when everyone else is rich, prices will be so high that you can’t afford to be poor — you have to do what the rich do, which is to become a money-obsessed workaholic.

I myself would quite like the option to be poor. Or at least I would if I were a bit younger. And if there are lots of poor people in a place then, by definition, it is possible to be poor there — that is without being out on the street with a plastic cup and a stolen shopping trolley. Where there are many poor people, prices are low, and you can meet basic needs without a “career” or 16-hour days at the office. But where poverty is a scandal, as it is in the developed West on account of its history of Marxist intellectuals and their mental models of economic power struggle, even to survive you have to think like a rich person. In the USA, for instance, only a madman would not take on a house and a mortgage and set up a retirement account at the earliest opportunity.

Mind you, I like having the option to be rich as well. Like most people, I wanted to be poor when I was young — that is to be free of work and routine so as to be able to learn and experience as much as possible and to engage in relatively unremunerative labors like writing poetry — but would prefer to be rich now that I have arrived at more mature years. Now being in one place and spending a lot of time in front of a desk, to say nothing of the comforts and the finer things of life, have begun to have more charm for me. But a mindless assumption that it is a form of economic, social and political “dysfunction” not to have a broad equality of incomes is foolish and untrue to the way people actually live their lives.

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