Category Archives: rationalisations

Key players

Nothing is so foolish, writes Dalrymple,

that some philosopher has not said it, and no idea has been so discredited that it has not continued to be touted.

He points out that intellectuals are

particularly unsusceptible to refutation by experience, because they much prefer complex rationalisations to the patently obvious — which is a threat to their livelihood, for the patently obvious needs no priestly caste of interpreters. There is no experience that they cannot rationalise away.

Intellectuals who claim not only to be rationalists but rational are often drawn, Dalrymple notes

to gnostic doctrines that claim to reveal the hidden meaning not just of something, but of everything about human existence. Marxism, Freudianism, and, in its most recent form, Darwinism are examples of such doctrines. For many, they held, or hold, the key to reality as Mary Baker Eddy held the key to the Scriptures.

No wonder Dr Johnson is not in fashion

Engraving from James Barry’s portrait (1778-80)

An incomparably greater psychologist than Freud, having no axe to grind and no sect to found

Samuel Johnson, writes Dalrymple,

  • contrived to be a moralist without moralising
  • was humane and charitable without sentimentality

This is a contrast to today, Dalrymple points out, for

we prefer mental contortions, self-justifications, evasions, rationalisations, and all the other methods of avoiding the truth about ourselves, to Dr Johnson’s discomfiting clarity of mind.

Johnson had a gift, Dalrymple notes, for saying things that were

both startling and obvious. As he himself put it, we have more often to be reminded than informed.

Johnson’s prose style

would no doubt strike many people (if they read it) as formal—we prefer expletives and the demotic now.

Villainous company hath been the spoil of me

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 08.10.43In Henry IV, Part 1 (act 1, scene 2), Falstaff accuses Prince Henry thus:

O, thou hast damnable iteration and art indeed able to corrupt a saint. Thou hast done much harm upon me, Hal; God forgive thee for it! Before I knew thee, Hal, I knew nothing; and now am I, if a man should speak truly, little better than one of the wicked. I must give over this life, and I will give it over: by the Lord, and I do not, I am a villain: I’ll be damned for never a king’s son in Christendom.

Such rationalisations, writes Dalrymple,

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 08.15.52have particular resonance for me because I have heard them a thousand times from my patients (I would not stoop to such rationalisations, of course).

In the prison where Dalrymple works,

practically every heroin-addicted prisoner whom I ask for the reason that he started to take the drug replies: ‘I fell in with the wrong crowd.’ They say this with every appearance of sincerity, but at the same time they know it to be nonsense.

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 08.17.52They laugh when Dalrymple says to them

how strange it is that, though I have met many who have fallen in with the wrong crowd, I have never met any member of the wrong crowd itself.

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 08.18.51