Category Archives: egalitarianism

The NHS egalitarian? Far from it

The justification for Britain’s nationalisation of healthcare was egalitarianism. Yet the National Health Service, writes Dalrymple,

has failed even in the matter of equality. The difference between the health of the richest and poorest sections of the population has increased rather than decreased under the NHS.

The gap between the life expectancy of unskilled workers and that of the upper echelons, which had been stable for decades before the foundation of the NHS,

began to widen afterwards, and is now far wider than it ever was. If systems are to be judged by their effects, the NHS has failed in its initial goal.

It is a matter of common experience, Dalrymple notes,

that members of the middle classes are far better able to derive benefits from the system than the lower classes. Members of the middle classes complain where the lower orders swear, and bureaucrats are aware that articulacy is a more dangerous enemy than assaults on staff can ever be.

What lies behind Grant’s adoption of gutter language?

Dalrymple explains that Hugh Grant (left) was the star of the film Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) and once had some kind of trouble with the police

A tweet by the actor and thinker Hugh Grant, addressing the British prime minister, reads:

You will not fuck with my children’s future. You will not destroy the freedoms my grandfather fought two world wars to defend. Fuck off you over-promoted rubber bath toy. Britain is revolted by you and you [sic] little gang of masturbatory prefects.

Dalrymple comments:

No doubt the space allowed by Twitter does not encourage profound or logical reflection (though in the Analects, Confucius manages concision and compression somewhat better than Mr Grant). What is important in the above mental eructation is not its thought, or even feeling, but its mode of expression.

Grant’s dull and tedious adoption of the language of the gutter is

much more significant in the long term than Brexit or the actions of the prime minister. It points to the cultural degeneration of a nation that, insofar as it has an ideology at all, has made vulgarity posing as egalitarianism its ideology.

Grant’s greatest rôle: defender of freedom and democracy

Grant, says Dalrymple,

if I have understood correctly — though I am open to correction — has made something of his character as an upper-middle-class Englishman. But he is at one with the British cultural élite in vulgarity of expression.

We may be sure that,

irrespective of what the prime minister does, Mr Grant will be able to arrange for a bright future, at least in the material sense. We may be sure that, if any government were to threaten that assured material future by genuinely and inescapably egalitarian economic measures, his howls of indignation would be a good deal more sincere than in the tweet above.

Dalrymple notes that vulgarity as an ideology

is a substitute for economic egalitarianism, in which neither I nor the ideological vulgarians such as Mr Grant believe, and which both of us fear. Mr Grant, however, thinks that he can deflect some of the envy no doubt directed at him if he can show by his employment of vulgar language that he is really in the same boat as the most subterranean members of the underclass. He is asserting some kind of equality with them by his use of debased and inexpressive language.

The tendency to act down,

which occurs in spheres other than language, does not derive from any guilt about social or economic inequality, which, on the contrary, it is designed to preserve and maintain. It is rather a camouflage or smokescreen for privilege, whether that privilege be earned or not. But though it is playacting — indeed, defender of freedom and democracy may be Mr Grant’s greatest rôle — it is not without real cultural effect, an effect that is baleful if you do not approve of the coarsening that it brings with it.

Moreover,

lack of verbal restraint is not liberation, it is impoverishment of thought.

Equality of outcome is a chimera

Ugandan Asians

Dalrymple writes that

there is no possible way, short of extreme force, in which outcomes between different groups of people can be equalised or smoothed out; and therefore, in liberal economies, and probably even in illiberal ones (for egalitarianism is rarely carried out equally), differences between groups, often very large, will persist. This has been so throughout history and will remain so, short of genocide.

He notes that

superficial or demagogic egalitarian objections to spontaneously-generated differences have brought us such delights as

  • Nazism
  • the slaughter of Chinese in Indonesia
  • the expulsion of Asians from East Africa

Indonesia pogrom

German fascism

Dalrymple lands in England

Disembarking after the Channel crossing, Dalrymple notices that large numbers of young Englishwomen

have facial expressions simultaneously ovine and lupine, and bare their pudgy midriffs, with a tattooed lizard or butterfly for individuality.

They are, he says,

fried food and alcoholic Friday nights made flesh.

British vulgarity, he observes,

enters the fabric of life and seems to omit no detail.

Dalrymple walks into a small supermarket, where a spotty youth addresses him as ‘mate’. Dalrymple demands that the youth not address him thus. The cur returns

a look of sullen malevolence.

On the train, an 11-year-old girl, in tight pink leggings, keeps her feet and shoes securely on the seat next to her, under the gaze of her mother, who is tattooed, pierced in the nose and lower lip, and eating crisps. The girl’s six-year-old brother has already had his ear pierced, and wears a diamante stud in it. Dalrymple comments:

It is never too early for the English to teach their offspring vulgarity.

Vulgarity, says Dalrymple,

has its place as a counterweight to pretension, of course.

But

as a ruling national characteristic it is charmless, stupid and without virtue.

He suspects that it is connected with

the equality that we feel it necessary to pretend is our ruling political passion. Since economic equality is no longer deemed desirable, the only other equality possible is that of cultural mores; and since it is much easier to level down than up (which, after all, was once the Labour party’s aim), the middle classes can best express their political virtue by embracing and promoting the vulgarity that they assume — wrongly — was the only cultural characteristic of the proletariat.

The problem with adopting such a pose

is that if you keep it up long enough it ceases to be merely a pose. It is what you are: in the case of the English, vulgar.

How a certain celebrated journalist conducted himself

The acclaimed journalist — a theoretical egalitarian outraged (in print) by injustice — was dismissive of his social inferiors

Dalrymple hears a story from an eyewitness

about the behaviour of a late journalist, undoubtedly of very great talent, that lowered him in my estimate far more than any intellectual disagreements I might have had with him had ever done.

The renowned journalist

was, I learnt from this eyewitness, rude and condescending to, and dismissive of, his social inferiors, especially those who performed services for him.

Dalrymple comments:

Of all human qualities, this seems to me to be one of the most disagreeable, and to reflect worst on a person’s character. As the eyewitness to this behaviour had no axe to grind, and might rather have been expected to evince admiration for this journalist, I believed what she told me.

He asks:

What difference did this knowledge of his character make to my judgment of his work? His wit was just as witty, his facts as accurate or inaccurate, his deductions from them just as valid or invalid, as they had been before.

Yet

it coloured everything, for the man had been a theoretical egalitarian, outraged, in print, by the injustices, inequities and inequalities of the world.

If the lionised journalist’s disdain for subordinates were habitual rather than occasional (and Dalrymple’s eyewitness, who met him on several occasions, suggested that it was habitual), then

his professions of egalitarianism were insincere.

Fillon’s sin

It was, writes Dalrymple haltingly, perhaps

venial. They are all at it, I tell myself.

It is hypocritical, to be sure, for Fillon to attack the State whose finances he has exploited. But

is his hypocrisy any worse than that of the Leftists who argue for equality and live like élites, who are egalitarian in everything except their lives?

The NHS belief system

screen-shot-2017-01-14-at-09-27-00National religion

One of the most curious political phenomena of the Western world, writes Dalrymple, is

the indestructible affection in which the British hold their National Health Service. No argument, no criticism, no evidence can diminish, let alone destroy, it. The only permissible criticism of it is that the government does not spend enough on it, a ‘meanness’ (with other people’s money) to which all the service’s shortcomings are attributable. In effect, the NHS is the national religion.

Sacred cow

Very quickly after its inception, the NHS

established itself as a sacred cow in the mind of the British population. A certain historiography of healthcare became an unassailable orthodoxy: that before the service was established, proper healthcare was not available for the majority of the population which, if it was treated at all, was maltreated.

Egalitarianism

The NHS was founded, Dalrymple explains,

in the great egalitarian aftermath of the Second World War, when a brave new equal world would arise from the ashes of the old. If healthcare were provided to everyone irrespective of his ability to pay, on a foundation of a highly progressive tax system, how could the system fail to be egalitarian? It was its egalitarianism that appealed so strongly to the population. Perhaps there was also the hope that one would get more out of it than one had put into it, that it was a kind of lottery with a much higher chance of a winning ticket than in a normal lottery.

Ideological hallelujahs

Unnoticed by the population or by the NHS’s ideological praise-singers, Dalrymple points out,

the NHS had no egalitarian effect, rather the opposite. The difference between the health of the top economic decile of the population and that of the bottom decile, which had been more or less steady for decades, began to widen immediately. The difference in the standard mortality rate of the richest and poorest is now almost double what it was when the NHS began.

Mythology

But the myth that it is egalitarian

lives on, perhaps because it appears to spread its inconveniences over the entire population equally (but only appears to do so – the reality is very different).

Another myth that persists among the British, Dalrymple notes,

is that foreigners somehow envy them their health service, which might just be true in Nigeria but is certainly not true of any European anyone has ever met. On the contrary, the NHS has a dismal reputation among all Western Europeans and its hospitals are to be avoided like night-time excursions in Dracula country.

The operation was a success but the patient died

Very occasionally, support for the mythology comes from elsewhere in the world and is given wide publicity. For example, in 2014 the Commonwealth Fund published a report comparing 11 Western health care systems. According to the report, the British NHS

was best on all measures except one, in which it was the worst apart from the US system. The measure on which it was next to worst was the number of deaths preventable by healthcare. On every other measure it was simply splendid. This rather reminded me of the 19th-century surgeon’s refrain, ‘The operation was a success but the patient died.’ No doubt it is naïve of me, but the prevention of preventable deaths seems to me the whole, or at least the most important, purpose of a health care system. If it fails in that, it fails in everything.

The fact that thousands of people die every year in Britain who would have been saved in any other country in Europe

simply does not register, any more than that repeated scandals in the NHS destroy the national affection for it.

Wanted: egalitarian-élitist with a good sense of humour

Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 15.25.19Dalrymple enjoys Paul Hollander’s 2008 work The Only Superpower: Reflections on Strength, Weakness and Anti-Americanism, especially the analysis of the personal advertisements in the Review of Books of New York.

The personal adverts

suggest a degree of social isolation: substantial numbers of people are unable to find partners by the customary routes of work, friendship, community, and so forth.

The self-descriptions of the people who place the personal ads

are revealing of the tastes, worldview, and ideals of a sector of the population that is important well beyond its demographic size.

Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 16.04.23The ‘personals’

give a powerful impression not so much of hypocrisy as of lack of self-knowledge.

The ads’ authors

claim to be profoundly individual, yet there is an underlying uniformity and conventionality to everything that they say about themselves. Their desire to escape convention is deeply conventional.

Their opinions

are democratic, but their tastes are exclusive. Tuscany and good claret mean more to them than beach resorts and the Boston Red Sox.

Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 16.10.11They think of themselves as funny

and demand humour in others, but they succeed in conveying only earnestness and the impression of deadening solemnity. (Demanding that someone be funny is a bit like demanding that he be natural for the camera.)

Contented with,

and even complacent about, their position in the world, they somehow see themselves as enemies of the status quo. They are ideologically egalitarian, but psychologically élitist: Lord, make everyone equal, but not just yet.

With their memories of the 60s,

when to be young was very heaven, they still believe that an oppositional stance in pursuit of perfection is virtuous in itself—indeed, is the prime or sole content of virtue. And it is this belief that makes genuine moral reflection about the nature of various governments and policies impossible. It transforms merely personal discontents into matters of supposedly great general importance.

Comrade Madam’s commanding heights

Looking down upon the masses Looking down upon the masses from a plateau of literary, political and humanitarian achievement

Nadine Gordimer’s voice, writes Dalrymple, had a timbre that

would have penetrated the best artillery-proof armour plating.

On one occasion at a conference in Bamako that Dalrymple attended, he noticed that Gordimer

condescendingly addressed a Ghanaian lady as ‘my sister Susan’.

‘Actually, my name’s Gloria,’ said her sister Susan.

But the great writer ignored this manifestation of pedantry and continued with what she was saying.

Gordimer

exactly corresponded to the characterisation of her by the satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys as ‘Comrade Madam’: the lifetime habit of command combined with a theoretical and dogmatic egalitarianism.

Ghettoised Sweden

Screen Shot 2015-11-26 at 09.06.25Dalrymple points out that last year, Sweden took in 100,000 migrants and this year it is estimated that it will have taken in 190,000, equivalent to 3 per cent of the population. He says:

If this rate were to continue for very long, Sweden would be irreversibly changed for ever.

On the London Guardian newspaper’s website, Dalrymple comes across a video about the Sverigedemokraterna or Sweden Democrats, a political party opposed to mass immigration. Dalrymple writes:

The Guardian journalist interviewed young members and made them appear arrogant and unattractive. Whether this was the result of editing or a true representation of them, or both, I cannot say. She herself appeared intolerably smug and self-righteous, arrogant in a different way. She asked the young Swedes what was wrong with vibrant multicultural societies such as Britain and France.

Even from the video,

what was shown, no doubt unintentionally, was that Sweden was not multicultural, it was ghettoised, with practically no contact whatever between the refugees and natives.

The Swedes, says Dalrymple,

throw social security to the refugees as zookeepers throw meat to the lions.

One of the questions of the Guardian journalist to the young Swedes was

Why do you dress so smartly?

The question was asked, says Dalrymple,

in an accusatory tone, as if dressing smartly was yet another of their bad qualities, a derogation of their duty to appear casually or scruffily dressed like almost everyone else in modern society.

For the person who asked it,

any kind of formality in dress was symbolic of élitist or exclusivist political sympathies, whereas casual dress, the prevailing any-old-howism of the majority of the population, was symbolic of democratic and egalitarian sympathies, a demonstration of solidarity with the poor of the world. Whether poor people in Africa actually benefit from rich people dressing in expensively-torn jeans and T-shirts is not important: as with presents, it is the thought that counts.

There is another way of looking at it, Dalrymple says.

To dress well is a sign of respect for other people and society, to dress scruffily is a sign of disrespect for them, a sign of the purest egoism. Perhaps it is even possible to express élitism and respect at the same time.