European Diary

Rotten to the Core

“Let us gamble with reason in the name of life,” urges Pascal in his celebrated statistical proof for the existence of God.  “Let us risk it, for the sake of a win that is infinitely great and just as probable as the loss, which is to say nonexistence.”  With the cynicism of an inveterate gambler, he then anticipates the cautious layman’s objection: “As in any game, the risk is indubitable while the win is doubtful, yet the player accepts the odds for the sake of that doubtful win without even the slightest offence to his reason.”

I am writing this in Palermo on New Year’s Eve, with exploding firecrackers, unanswered car alarms, and the joyous barking of stray dogs for a backdrop.  Here, the voice of reason is possibly the weakest in all of Europe, while the presence of chance is palpable in every passerby’s face, at every footstep, on every street corner.  Even a Muslim citizen of France, or a British subject from some colonial hole that no longer appears on any map—or, to pick an example closer to home, a native of Honduras residing in the United States as an illegal alien—may easily deceive himself into believing that the history of any of these great and important countries is a reasonable progression, if not always in the direction of ever-increasing grandeur, then at least in some definite direction.  No Sicilian is capable of such folly,...

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