A few months ago in this space I described the Pecorino Effect, referring not so much to the Italian cheese as to the shopper’s inability to refuse any merchandise he has sampled, irrespective of what he thinks of the quality. I diagnosed this modern malady, with myself as a specimen of social tissue in the Petri dish of a farmers’ market in Palermo, only to realize later that the disease was pandemic, for the incontrovertible reason that, in today’s world, anything from political affiliations to lifestyle decisions qualifies as merchandise.
If the Pecorino Effect is the centripetal force of modern life, its antisocial, centrifugal complement is the Salami Fallacy. In this case I borrow the trope from the expression “salami tactics,” which is what cunning tyrants use on bleating democracies to win strategic concessions and anecdotal wives use on husbands whose Budweiser habit they want to break.
The Salami Fallacy is the belief that the world as one knows it will go on forever, that the length of the sausage in question is a workable definition of infinity, and that the stealthy, incremental surrender of what once made life what it was is a matter of evolution, of one’s changing location on the infinitely long cutting board of time. “Love is lost?” wonders a famous Russian gypsy romance of the 1900’s, adding, with melancholy irony, “You can live without it!” Only, in the mental condition I am describing, irony does not enter into it.
No, modern man samples whatever he is offered by the merchandise mongers and buys into it straightaway, mindful that these purchases are bound to have a cumulative impact on culture and civilization, yet reassured by the thought of progress and evolution. The thought serves as a blanket indulgence and excuses him from the task of figuring out just what sort of impact is in the offing, positive or negative. After all, given eternity—which has been secretly wired into the dual notion of progress and evolution like a religiosity microchip—there is no such thing as a really negative impact.
We no longer strive for a paradise on earth, as my compatriots had been told they were doing when building communism; we no longer fear a hell on earth, which, as my compatriots discovered, was what they had been building; we have finally settled on the prospect of living in a purgatory on earth, where nothing matters because everything is reversible, negotiable, and adjustable. Love is lost? You will find it again, don’t worry! And anyway, if you don’t, you can always get yourself a silicone doll off the internet. Might even be better than the real thing.
The House of Lords is abolished in Britain to make way for an elected body of child molesters and petty thieves? We can live without it, and besides, maybe the people who get elected to the new senate will be very nice. Trident is scrapped to finance housing for indigent single mothers who drink to forget that their children sniff glue? We can live without it, because national sovereignty is an outdated geopolitical concept, nuclear submarines are useless thanks to the changed nature of the threat to free societies, everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds, and single mothers, unlike Edmund Burke and all the other ghosts of the lost Atlantis that once was the British Empire, can vote. Atlantis is lost? Precisely. We’ve got on all right without it, haven’t we? And anyway, there is always the Kirk Douglas movie.
In the main, modern ratiocination takes the Panglossian form of appeasement, which is salami tactics used on one’s own conscience. It consists of suppressing questions of fact along with all possible answers, disturbing and, since eternity is at our disposal, unnecessary. In 1962, in a neglected work of genius entitled The Triumph of Provocation, now published in English for the first time, the Polish writer Józef Mackiewicz addressed a list of such questions to newly “de-Stalinized” Western intellectuals with sarcasm that Orwell might appreciate:
1. Was life in Russia before the revolution better or worse than life after the revolution? Since everything indicates that it was better, it was decided not to discuss this embarrassing question. 2. Is the Leninist model of the Bolshevik Revolution more closely related to Fascism than to the liberal “reactionariness” of the prerevolutionary era? Since everything indicates that there is a closer affinity between Communism and Fascism than between Communism and “reaction” of the old type, it was decided not to discuss this embarrassing question. 3. Is it possible to find any inherent differences between Stalinism and classic Leninism? Since everything indicates that no inherent differences can be found, but only differences in method, it has been decided not to discuss this embarrassing question.
I hope to be reviewing Mackiewicz’s book, so for the moment I will only note my frustration at the discovery that the Salami Fallacy had been diagnosed by a Pole, and at a time when hell on earth must have seemed less of a foregone conclusion than it does today. At least the Pecorino Effect is still mine to gloat over.