One of the prime needs is to look down on and despise

It is, writes Dalrymple,

almost as great as the need for love.

Everyone

wants to feel superior to, or better than, someone.

  • Prisoners despise sex offenders
  • Rapists despise child molesters
  • Child molesters look down on the children they molest

We so want to contemn

Historically speaking, Dalrymple points out,

those who committed the most atrocious large-scale crimes first stimulated hatred, both their own and that of other people, by the use of zoological terms to describe the objects of their hatred, terms such as vermin, cockroaches, rats.

Thus

the desire to limit expressions of hatred is not in itself an ignoble one.

The problem comes

in defining what constitutes an expression of hatred. The offended claim to be made of psychological eggshells. Inevitably the definition will be used by one part of the population to impose its views on the whole of society.

Lord’s in the great days

The young Dalrymple wasted many a happy day at the ground. The Great War had not yet broken out, and

there were no clouds, only clear blue skies. (Like the game itself, the weather has since changed for the worse.)

The crowd, except for Test matches,

was exiguous, but it struck me as in no way peculiar that professionals should play a three-day match in front of only a smattering of spectators in a very large ground, only to end in a draw. On the contrary, this only reassured me as to the importance of what they were doing: there was something almost hieratic about it.

It was a world, says Dalrymple,

in which people would rather lose than cheat.

And cricket today? It is less

namby-pamby gentlemanly play up, play up, and play the game; more all’s fair in love and war.

Tolerance means shutting people up

Debate will wither away

Intellectual freedom, writes Dalrymple, is

in retreat in liberal democracies, curtailed not so much by tyrannical governments as by the action of the class of person who one might have supposed was most attached to it, the intelligentsia. In institutions such as universities, freedom of opinion (if the reports I read are true; I do not frequent them myself, not even by disinvitation) has receded because diversity means uniformity.

The kind of arguments used by students and others to justify the attack on free speech in universities is

of the form that the Soviet Union employed in casting doubt on the reality and sincerity of the Western world’s commitment to rights. What use was it to have the right to free speech if the media were owned by the capitalist class, and there was no assured right to housing, healthcare, education and so on, which the bourgeoisie appropriated to itself? The freedom of expression in such circumstances was formal rather than real. There could be genuine freedom only after social equality had been brought about. Until then, freedom of expression was a snare and a delusion, a covert way of maintaining the hegemony of the privileged.

Although, says Dalrymple,

this argument was bogus (otherwise it could hardly even have been made in the West), and was merely a tool or instrument in the struggle, it entered the soul of the West. Now, nearly thirty years after the demise of the Soviet Union, one often hears that it is right to stifle free speech to redress the balance of power between traditionally privileged and unprivileged groups.

Dalrymple points to an article he has just read in the Guardian newspaper inveighing against public debate, not only because it is often trivial in content and trivialising in format, but because it offers advantages to ‘posh boys’ and is ‘structurally biased in favour of conservative bromides’. The existence of debate

is evidence that it is at best pointless and at worst harmful, insofar as it reinforces hierarchies of power. Once the proper radical reforms have been undertaken, there will be no need for it because everything will be so perfect. Debate will, like the State, wither away.

The pleasures of denunciation

Young people, Dalrymple writes, are creating

a totalitarian environment in which they denounce one another.

Thus

the social media that were going to set opinion free and give voice to everyone end by stifling expression and creating fear.

The world is full of people like Madame Defarge. Denunciation, Dalrymple notes,

combines the delights of self-righteousness with those of revenge and the contemplation of the discomfort or worse of other people. It requires no courage and is within the capacity of all. In Nazi Germany and occupied France people wrote denunciations of their neighbours and others by the millions, often for the sheer pleasure of doing so and usually in the hope that they would have serious consequences for the persons denounced.

The day cannot be far off

when people will viscerally understand the danger to themselves of saying certain things on social media and will censor themselves automatically. If this continues long enough, certain things will not only become unsayable but unthinkable, for habit eventually is transformed into character. This is the point of political correctness: it aims at the most radical of dictatorships, that which requires the enforcement of no police because everyone is incapable of breaking the rules.

Meanwhile the appetite for public expressions of contrition is insatiable. Dalrymple points out that

it is not contrition that is wanted, but the humiliation inflicted on those who are forced to express it. The enjoyment is in the spectacle of the squirming of the wrongdoer.

The logic of the combination of social media and a taste for burning witches at the stake

will reduce us to a strange state of malice and blandness. The ambitious will refrain from saying anything that could offend anyone; the bland will lead the bland. Any deviation from current orthodoxy will be punished with vengeful vituperation or worse.

The orthodoxy to be adhered to

will change — as the enemy changed during the two-minute hate sessions in Nineteen Eighty-Four — as a test of the obedience and loyalty of the population. The politically correct will find new orthodoxies to enforce, new locutions to prescribe or proscribe, to keep decent society in a state of subliminal fear.

Houellebecq the seer

Michel Houellebecq, writes Dalrymple,

is a pornographer. Once you’ve read a few of his books, you recognise what are almost certainly his sexual fantasies.

He notes that Houellebecq is also

a visionary. Houellebecq predicted the rise of Islamic terrorism in France, and his new book predicted the eruption of mass protest in provincial France known as the gilets jaunes.

Dalrymple explains that Houellebecq’s theme is

the lack of transcendent purpose in Western consumer society, especially among the middle classes and the educated. According to him, they are exhausted and disabused pleasure-seekers with no purpose but short-term enjoyment or sensation-seeking, pleasure and sensation becoming themselves ever more fleeting and ever less rewarding. In a society with little religious faith, little respect for tradition, and no collective political goal, everything becomes superficial, even sexual relations (as his pornographic passages are supposed to illustrate). And no one is sharper than Houellebecq in observations of the absurdity of modern life.

The novelist with his wife Qianyum Lysis Li

At least benefit scroungers are alive

The pleasure of being nasty to neighbours through the State’s mediation

Dalrymple is not much in favour of public denunciations, especially in a situation in which they are easily made. He reminds us that in France and Germany under Nazi rule,

millions of people denounced one another with a variety of unpleasant or downright evil motives.

He notes that one idea of the incompetent British government is to

encourage people to denounce those whom they know to be cheating the social security system, for example working while claiming unemployment benefits. The poster promises anonymity to the informer.

However, as Dalrymple points out, the fact is that the British benefits system

is tailor-made for fraud, and in my experience people who defraud it rather than merely accept its cold comforts passively save their sanity thereby.

At least they show that they are alive;

they have initiative and are even entrepreneurs of a kind, in an environment in which practically all genuine entrepreneurialism—for example, by selling on a small scale—is closed to them by regulation.

In England,

if you set up a stall in the street to sell something, you will be apprehended quicker than if you rob your neighbour.

Arguably the most vacuous large monument of them all

Britishers are the worst architects in the world today, and Dalrymple reports sadly that one of them, Ian Ritchie, creator of the grotesque Spire of Dublin, believes Notre Dame’s spire should be ‘a refracting, super-slender reflecting crystal to heaven’, a glass version of his Irish monument. God help the French.

The world’s worst architect

Dalrymple explains that among Norman Foster‘s creations is

the bulbous London skyscraper known without affection by Londoners as the Gherkin.

Foster is also the designer of

a new tower that resembles a Brobdingnagian spring onion stuck upside down in the ground.

Foster has said that the spire of Notre Dame should be ‘a work of art about light’. Dalrymple comments:

This papalistic pronouncement is typical of architectural newspeak that permits architects to do what they please, irrespective of context. A church spire is, or ought to be, a monument to the glory of God, not to that of an architect, and rebuilding Notre-Dame should not be taken as an opportunity to show off.

Thunberg’s face oozes sanctimony almost as a secretion

This Swedish girl is odious

Dalrymple writes:

When few lived long, old age was respected.

But

now that almost everyone seems to go on for ever and, thanks to a declining birthrate, youth is a rare commodity, it is the young who are looked up to and accorded the kind of reverence African tribes once accorded their elders.

This is why so much attention is paid to

that odious Swedish girl, who makes Mr Podsnap in Our Mutual Friend seem about as self-doubting as Hamlet, and whose face oozes sanctimony almost as a secretion.

Dalrymple counsels:

She needs to be sent to her room and told not to come down before breakfast.

Dalrymple notes that

the cult of youth is, at heart, a very sad one. It implies that the peak of life is reached early and thenceforward it is downhill all the way.

Youth: a narrative

Dalrymple writes that

contrary to what is frequently supposed (as if no one were capable of serious or sincere reflection on his own past, or had forgotten what it was to be young), youth is not idealistic but profoundly egotistical. Even where it is hedonistic, it is censorious – towards all those who are not hedonistic. Its hedonism is not that of spontaneous enjoyment but that of putting two fingers up to Mum and Dad.

Youth

  • never ceases to think of itself even as it is claiming to agitate for the betterment of the world.
  • wants to save the planet but forgets to pick up the litter when it leaves, as (for example) attendance at the Glastonbury Festival would soon convince anyone.
  • is an unavoidable condition that we all have to go through, as diseases such as measles and whooping cough once were. Dalrymple doubts that there will ever be an immunisation against it, and perhaps it is better that this is so (one of the explanations for the rise of allergic conditions is that children grow up in too clean an environment, with not enough immunological challenges).

Dalrymple affirms that

there is no reason to make adolescence our cynosure or youth the object of a cult.