Thursday, December 28, 2023

Quote of the Day (Samuel Johnson, on Distractions Created by Evil Men)

“Every whisper of infamy is industriously circulated, every hint of suspicion eagerly improved, and every failure of conduct joyfully published by those whose interest it is that the eye and voice of the publick should be employed on any rather than on themselves.”—English man of letters Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), originally published in The Rambler, No. 76, Dec. 8, 1750 [How bad men are reconciled to themselves], republished in Samuel Johnson: Selected Works, edited by Robert DeMaria, Jr., Stephen Fix, and Howard Weinbrot (2021)

Samuel Johnson was born nearly a century and a half before Sigmund Freud, but in the above quote the English essayist shrewdly anticipated, from an ethical and religious perspective, what the founder of psychoanalysis termed “projection,” or the habit of attributing to others what are faults of one’s own.

This defense mechanism did not die with Johnson, or with Freud for that matter. Instead, it continues to be practiced, with various degrees of adroitness, in the political sphere.

One Presidential candidate, however, employs projection compulsively, and he’s been doing so since he first burst on the political scene.

Five years ago, CNN senior political analyst John Avlon analyzed how that candidate did so. What is so extraordinary is not the degree to which this politician tries to throw others off his scent (perhaps, given a revelation of the last few days, quite literally off his “scent”), but rather the eagerness with which so many of this individual’s diehard supporters fall for his instinctive acts of desperation.

(Dr. Johnson's relevance to current events—and, specifically, to the politician discussed above—is also stressed in Jeff Kaplan’s post on the “Conflict of Interest” blog, which contains this quote from James Boswell’s great biography of the older English writer: “It is more from carelessness about truth than from intentional lying, that there is so much falsehood in the world.”)

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