Category Archives: historical ignorance

The procrustean BMJ

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 22.38.52There is practically no liberal nostrum, writes Dalrymple, to which the British Medical Journal does not subscribe. Its pages, he writes,

are innocent of debate. When the BMJ speaks, it is ex cathedra.

A recent issue

was devoted to the subject of war. The BMJ’s attitude to war is like that of Coolidge’s to sin: it is against it. War is so bad for the health. The white man has spoken. 

Fortunately for the world, the BMJ

has discovered the causes of war. They are the same as the causes of all other evils: inequality and poverty. Eliminate these, and peace will reign.

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 23.08.19It seems to have escaped the BMJ’s notice, says Dalrymple,

that attempts during the 20th century to achieve radical equality were not entirely pacific or good for the health. Likewise, it has failed to notice that famine is much more likely to be a consequence of war than its cause.

The idea that wars are fought when ‘individuals are motivated to fight to seek redress‘ for their poverty

is laughable in its historical and psychological ignorance. Are Bin Laden and Saddam driven by poverty? Was Galtieri? Do Pakistan and India fight over Kashmir because of poverty?

The desire for someone else’s property

is not confined to the poor, nor need the property be of any value to be coveted. Ethiopia and Eritrea fought bloodily over scraps of land of use to neither nation.

The BMJ’s

procrustean theory of war is the liberal theory of crime writ large. Poverty makes men desperate, and desperation drives them to crime or (if they control an army) to war.

It is

up to us—the rich and contented portion of humanity—to prevent crime and war by paying more: for social welfare programmes in the case of crime, for foreign aid in the case of war.

It is, notes Dalrymple,

a tribute to the distorting power on educated minds of an abstract theory that anyone could believe such rubbish. Only someone with long years of formal training could deceive himself in this comforting fashion.

The fact that crime in Britain has risen along with income

should have been sufficient to persuade the BMJ that a more complex theory of human motivation was necessary.

Dalrymple points out:

The disregard of elementary reality is perhaps the distinguishing feature of much modern intellectual life.

Fuck you

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 07.57.38These words, writes Dalrymple, are

the chief motto of British service industries.

They are also chosen, he points out, by

a surprisingly large number of auto-tattooists for the exercise of their dermatographical art.

He recalls a patient who

had the two words tattooed in mirror writing upon his forehead, no doubt that he might read them in the bathroom mirror every morning and be reminded of the vanity of earthly concerns.

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 07.49.36The seemingly minor social phænomenon of tattooing affords us, says Dalrymple,

a little glimpse into the Hobbesian moral world inhabited by a section of the population with whom we normally have little contact: they actually want to be considered psychopathic.

A considerable number of the auto-tattooed inject themselves with swastikas. At first Dalrymple thought this was

profoundly nasty, a reflection of their political beliefs.

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 08.08.54But in his alarm he had failed to take into consideration the fathomless historical ignorance of those who do such things to themselves.

People who believe (as one of my recent patients did) that the Second World War started in 1918 and ended in 1960—a better approximation to the true dates than some I have heard—are unlikely to know what exactly the Nazis and their emblem stood for, beyond the everyday brutality with which they are familiar, and which they admire and aspire to.