Speeches: dramatic and poetic

The aim of the serious dramatist is to invent a situation in which several characters reveal — in a way which is spontaneous because it is produced by the situation — the fundamental nature of their being and their attitude to life. Now the poet is someone who devotes his life to exactly such a process of self-revelation as drama attempts to produce in characters: his poems are speeches from the drama of the time in which he is living.

— Stephen Spender

Very specific tastes, vol. III

High-Level Characteristics

“You must not judge people by their country,” a lady advised me. “In South America, it is always wise to judge people by their altitude.”

She was from Bolivia herself. She explained that there were fewer national characteristics than high-level characteristics. The mountain people who lived on the heights of the Andes were formal and unapproachable; the valley people were much more hospitable, and the sea-level folk were the sweetest of all, though rather idle and lazy. Someone who lived at an altitude of about four thousand feet was just about ideal, a real good scout, whether he lived in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, or wherever.

— Paul Theroux, The Old Patagonian Express

The false consensus effect

The mistake made by those advocating this position is their certitude that this perspective is self-evident. It’s not. These advocates remind me of an apocryphal quote attributed to film critic Pauline Kael after the 1972 presidential election: “How could Nixon have won? I don’t know one person who voted for him.” Now, Kael never actually said this. But that erroneous quote survives as the best shorthand example for why smart people tend to be wrong as often as their not-so-smart peers—they work from the flawed premise that their worldview is standard.

— Chuck Klosterman

As footnoted, the actual quote reads:

‘I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.’

In some ways, it’s even more damning, because it is aristocratically judgmental, rather than innocently ignorant.