Saturday, 23 April 2016

Virtuous Circles

I am not entirely sure whether I've got this right but I'm assuming the phrase "virtuous circle" is an attempt to articulate the phenomenon in which someone goes so far in one direction that they end up meeting themselves coming the other way.

I encountered a perfect example of this while listening to a podcast of the Arts & Ideas programme, broadcast on Radio 3 on 21st April. In it Philip Dodd, (who is really such an astonishingly irritating broadcaster that I usually avoid him), interviews someone who makes the following observations about the recent flow of would-be migrants to Europe:

"What these people - let's call them "radical refugees" - demand is something very precise. They say, 

'I can choose the country I want; I can go there & that state is obliged to take care of me, to provide education & so on & so on, all of that'. 

This, I claim, is sheer madness. And it's avoiding the problem. We have to solve the problems there. Is the solution that all the poor people from the Middle East & then from Africa come to Europe? Then what?

And what about the extremely rich Muslim Arab countries just south of the war zone (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Emirates, to name them)? They're taking practically none of the refugees."

These comments sound to me like the kinds of remarks that extreme rightwingers might be expected to make, provided they are prepared for howls of outrage in reply. In polite liberal society they are as acceptable as telling a Brussels bureaucrat you actually think the Brexit camp have a few good points.

The comments were in fact made by the self-described Marxist Slavoj Zizek.

If you can put up with the bleated interpolations of Dodd, the full argument Zizek makes is an interesting listen, (not that he ever gets a chance to fully articulate it, thanks to Dodd's incessant interrupting). You can find it on the BBC Radio 3 Arts & Ideas website. 


  1. I have always supposed "virtuous circle" to mean what I would call "a positive feedback loop", and have supposed the expression to have been coined by someone who misunderstood the expression "vicious circle". (Or did understand it, and didn't mind setting on edge the teeth of those who do.)

    1. I'm guessing a positive feedback loop isn't what I've described - I think I'm going to just go all Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass & decided that the phrase means what it means for me. Right, Im off to the UK, as I mentioned in an earlier post - time to pack the menagerie into the back of the car