Category Archives: compassion bureaucracy

The cultural triumph of psychobabble

Theresa May: the little ones shall experience distress no more

The British prime minister, Dalrymple reports, has

spotted an opportunity to demonstrate to her sentimental electorate how much she cares for even the least of them by announcing that she wants to put a mental health professional, i.e. form-filler, in every school.

There is, says Dalrymple, a new social contract:

I will listen to your shallow clichés about yourself if you will listen to mine.


compassion by proxy, at taxpayers’ expense, is typical of the behaviour of modern politicians, who need to show their electorates that they are not the heartless or ruthless ambitious nonentities that they might otherwise appear to be. An uncritically sentimental population is a perfect flock to be fleeced in this way, sheep for the shearing.

May’s project, Dalrymple points out,

is also typical of the process of simultaneous work creation and work avoidance that marks the modern state, a process that turns it into a trough from which many may feed.

Compassion is better as a retail than as a wholesale virtue

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 21.31.17No doubt, writes Dalrymple, there are exceptional people

who are able to feel compassion towards populations or categories of humans. But they are few. The more widely a person’s compassion is cast, the thinner it tends to be spread, until we begin to suspect that it is not compassion but a pose or an exhibition of virtue — humbug, at best an aspiration, at worst a career move.

State-subsidised bogus charity

State-subsidised bogus charity

The welfare state, Dalrymple points out,

  • protects people from the consequences of bad choices and fosters and encourages those choices, which follow the line of least resistance or favour instant gratification over longer-term desiderata
  • undermines the taking of individual responsibility, especially where the economic difference between taking it and not taking it tends to be small
  • favours the undeserving more than the deserving, in so far as the undeserving have a capacity or talent for generating more neediness than the deserving. (They also tend to be more vocal)
  • dissolves the notion of desert. There is no requirement that a beneficiary prove he deserves what he is legally entitled to. Where what is given is given as of right, not only will a recipient feel no gratitude, it must be given without compassion — without regard to any individual’s situation
Save the aid workers

Save the aid workers

The difference between public and private charity

is not that the former does not consider personal desert while the latter does; Christian charity does not require that recipients be guiltless of their predicament. It is the spirit in which the charity is given that is different. That is why large charities so closely resemble government departments: you cannot expect a bureaucracy to be charitable in spirit.

The compassion bureaucrats

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 16.13.54Dalrymple points out that homelessness is

a source of employment for not negligible numbers of the middle classes.

He pays a visit to a hostel for the homeless sited in

a rather grand but disused and deconsecrated Victorian church.

He discovers that

there were 91 residents and 41 staff members, only a handful of whom had any direct contact with the objects of their ministrations.

The homeless

slept in dormitories in which there was no privacy whatever. There was a rank smell that every doctor recognises (but never records in the medical notes) as the smell of homelessness.

And then,

passing along a corridor and through a door with a combination lock to prevent untoward intrusions, one suddenly entered another world: the sanitised, air-conditioned (and airtight) world of the bureaucracy of compassion.

The number of offices,

all computerised, was astonishing.

The staff,

dressed in smart casual clothes, were absorbed in their tasks, earnestly peering into their computer screens, printing documents, and rushing off for urgent consultations with one another. The amount of activity was impressive, the sense of purpose evident.

It takes some effort for Dalrymple

to recall the residents I had encountered as I entered the hostel, scattered in what had been the churchyard.

They were

swaying if upright and snoring if horizontal, surrounded by empty cans and plastic bottles of 9% alcohol cider (which permits the highest alcohol-to-pence ratio available in England at the moment).


the hostel administrators made pie charts while the residents drank themselves into oblivion.