Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Disraeli and perspective

In the morning, on my way to work, I am usually one of the nebechs who take the Hammersmith and City Line to work. This is a great time to catch up on some reading, and this morning I was hacking away at the October issue of Commentary magazine. In a review of a book about Benjamin Disraeli I came across a phrase that struck me:
Plainly he could never have succeeded in translating his power fantasies into reality if he had not been exceptionally intelligent and a notably gifted writer and orator. But he owed at least as much to his nerve, and to his spirit of defiance. He was reckless in his handling of money, bold in his approach to women, and undeterred (except for a period in his twenties when he suffered a breakdown) by insults and setbacks.
The phrase I set in bold made me think about how easily we lose sight of perspective. If someone I knew now, in their twenties, "suffered a breakdown" I would never for a moment think they could end up becoming prime minister, or some such. I would say that it is almost impossible for us to escape the urge to give proximate events more weight than they are due. I surmise that it is for this reason that, for instance, every US election seems to be widely billed as the "most important" in a generation and all sorts of current problems are described as debilitating and unprecedented despite the fact that humanity has endured sorer trials. Remembering that is one of the keys to peace of mind.