Category Archives: authority

Why should anyone take any notice of what such people say?

screen-shot-2017-01-14-at-21-55-48The question of intellectual and moral authority, writes Dalrymple,

is an important one. I mean the authority that derives from thought or knowledge that is out of the ordinary.

Dalrymple supposes that

all ages have had their charlatans, and in no age has credence been placed in what someone says precisely in proportion to his real authority to say it. Is there anyone who has never been taken in by false credentials or by a bogus air of competence and knowledge? As a doctor I have often exuded a confidence to my patients that I by no means felt. Having been seriously ill myself, however, I know only too well that the last thing a patient wants is a Dr Hamlet, scrupulously doubting the veracity of his own opinion.

The attention given to the opinions of people from the world of entertainment—essentially actors and pop stars—irritates Dalrymple.

Actors strike me as unlikely gurus because those who spend their lives imitating others are unlikely to have firm principles or even personalities of their own. In practice, moreover, the opinions of actors and pop stars are drearily uniform: when it comes to bad things that might cause suffering, they are always against them.

He cannot imagine

why anyone should take any notice of what such people say—except, of course, that being kept constantly entertained is the main purpose of many people’s lives, and they naturally assume that those who entertain them are therefore of immense importance and authority. At any rate, this must be the premise on which the news media report that rock guitarist A wants to save the whales, and actor B is worried about the fate of children in Burkina Faso (formerly the Upper Volta).

Such people

have as much right to their opinions as anyone else, but the deference given them by the publicity they receive is rather odd. It is a bit like the publicity given more than a century ago to the testimonials of aristocrats about the value of patent medicines, as if a hereditary title conferred special insight into the pharmacology of bowel movements.

Delirious joy of rioting and looting

Panama City

Panama City

A day out that combines the pleasures of destruction with those of moral indignation

Dalrymple recounts that while working as a journalist, he once reported on a riot in Panama City

in which I saw middle-class people throwing bricks through windows and making bonfires in the street. I recognised one of the rioters dining in an expensive restaurant that same night.



Rioters, writes Dalrymple, are

a self-selected group, who are fully aware of what rioters are likely to do.

He points out that in the London riots of 2011, rioters

smashed and looted every store in a street except the bookstore, the only one to remain with its windows and stock entirely intact. The rioters had no use or desire for books.



And when eventually the police,

who took a long time to intervene, arrested some of the rioters engaged in the gravest actions, it turned out that the majority had serious criminal records.

During the Parisian riots of 2005, the rioters

burned thousands of cars belonging to people very similar to themselves, and who lived in the same area as they.



This, Dalrymple points out, was hardly

the manifestation of an acute sense of injustice. If anything, it was a manifestation of wounded amour propre, for the rioters would never have rioted against the kind of injustices that people such as they committed every day.

The rioters

expect from the authorities a completely different standard of behaviour from that they exhibit themselves: they are children, the authorities parents.



Blind disobedience is not a sign of spiritual election

Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 21.59.30It is a sign of egotism.

Dalrymple describes the kind of upbringing, all too common in modern Europe and North America, and especially in England, that results in a deep problem with authority:

Discipline in the home is without principle or consistency, but is experienced by the child as the arbitrary expression of the brute power of others over himself. The conduct that on one occasion results in a slap results on another occasion in a Mars bar. The child learns that discipline is an expression not of a rule that has a social purpose, but of a stronger person’s momentary emotional state.

Luca Signorelli, The Elect Being Called to Paradise. Fresco, 1499-1502. Chapel of San Brizio, Duomo, Orvieto

Luca Signorelli, The Elect Being Called to Paradise, fresco, 1499-1502. Chapel of San Brizio, Duomo, Orvieto

The child concludes that

the important determinants of a relationship with others are first how you feel, second what you can get away with by virtue of your comparative strength. Nothing else is involved. All human relationships are essentially expressions of power.

An order given by another person

is a threat to his ego, because following orders is submission to power and nothing else: there can be no other reason for it. The distinction between service and slavery collapses. To obey is to extinguish your existence as an autonomous being.