Category Archives: Theodore Dalrymple

At a Mauritanian bus station

Dalrymple remembers certain medical students in England whom he used to examine. They

brought bottles of water with them to the exam as if it were being held at an open-air bus station in Nouakchott.

Stay hydrated

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Dalrymple gets in touch with his inner H.W. Fowler

A couple of elementary howlers

Call him fuddy-duddy if you like, but Dalrymple insists on the proper distinction between refute and deny and between disinterest and uninterest. He writes:

Attendance to language may sometimes be pedantic in the worst sense, but it may also be vitally important. We should not demand more precision of words than their subject matter permits; neither should we demand less.

H.W. Fowler: athletic grammarian and lexicographer

Dubai-sur-Seine

In the Champs-Élysées, writes Dalrymple,

hordes search for and buy exactly the kind of products that they can, and do, buy in Dubai, and indeed everywhere else in the globalised world.

A museum made of butter

Originality, writes Dalrymple,

is no virtue by itself unless it partakes of other virtues.

Indeed, without them,

it is a vice.

For instance,

a museum constructed of refrigerated butter would be original, but one would not therefore call it good.

The curse of inflation

Dalrymple writes:

Asset inflation—ultimately, the debasement of the currency—as the principal source of wealth corrodes the character of people. It not only undermines the traditional bourgeois virtues but makes them ridiculous and even reverses them.

He notes that

  • prudence becomes imprudence
  • thrift becomes improvidence
  • sobriety becomes mean-spiritedness
  • modesty becomes lack of ambition
  • self-control becomes betrayal of the inner self
  • patience becomes lack of foresight
  • steadiness becomes inflexibility
  • all that was wisdom becomes foolishness

Everyone must join in the dance, except in one circumstance,

the possession of a salary and a pension that the government promises, implicitly or explicitly, to index against inflation. This is the situation of public-sector workers and is a pyramid scheme, since events may require the government to renege on its obligations.

But in the meantime,

such employment will seem a haven, and the temptation will be for government to expand it, with the happy consequence—for itself—of increasing dependence. And dependence, too, undermines character.

Inflation

is not a bogey for everyone—not for those who wish to restructure society, for example, or for those who want government control of ever more aspects of people’s lives. But for the rest of us, the consequences of its full-blown return are not likely to be good: for inflation is not an economic problem only, or even mainly, but one that afflicts the human soul.

Hatred of the rich is an emotion that must be sated

France in the good old days, writes Dalrymple,

could have debauched the currency to cancel its debt. But its room for manœuvre is now severely circumscribed; for historical reasons, its German neighbours, who prop up the currency they share, are averse to such debauchery.

In Western countries today, to refrain from taking money from someone

is now to give him a present, which suggests that he had no right to the money in the first place, and that what remains to him is only by grace and favour.

The point seems lost on most of the French that

you don’t raise the most revenue by taxing highly, as if people with money were a herd of unmilked cows in a rich pasture, ever able to produce more.

Even, says Dalrymple, if people were to grasp

that wealth is dynamic rather than static, that the tax on fortunes lowers the sum raised, they would still want the tax. Its symbolism is more important than its effect.

A Lady Macbeth for the modern age

Dalrymple says that

with a little rewriting, plays such as Macbeth that reinforce sex stereotypes of violence could help to destroy them.

It would involve

reversing the roles of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, so that Lady Macbeth returns from the wars to her househusband Macbeth, who encourages her to seek power.

The three witches

would become three wizards, and on meeting them Lady Macbeth would exclaim, ‘How now, you secret, white, and midday lads!’ instead of ‘How now, you secret, black, and midnight hags!’

Lady Macbeth

would tell Macbeth (who by now would have had a uterus transplant) to bring forth girl children only, instead of Macbeth telling Lady Macbeth to bring forth men children only.

It would be easy, Dalrymple believes,

to work out the rest of the details of the necessary changes. Children in school, particularly in Scotland, could be obliged to learn the new version.

Attributes of the French president

Emmanuel Macron, writes Dalrymple, has

all the charm of a hornet and all the sense of humour of a caliph.

Proto-totalitarianism of the Western intelligentsia

Dalrymple writes:

The purpose of elections is to produce a predetermined result, the predetermination being that of the élite of the correct-thinking.

Because the British electorate got the answer wrong in the EU membership referendum,

it is necessary to change the electorate.

The population

is divided into the People and the Enemies of the People. The referendum, in which the wrong answer was returned, could not have been a People’s Vote but something different.

The emotional falsity of the age

It is a consequence, Dalrymple points out, of

the decline of religious belief and cultural confidence.

These days, he writes,

we have come to expect the lighting of candles whenever anybody loses his life in an unusual or spectacular way.

It is necessary to pour out kitschy emotion,

there being no point in having an emotion unless you can show it in public.

Candles come out, and are lit in prominent places at what are called vigils.

People at these vigils—mainly women—stand around and look mournful, and I daresay they hug one another. They shed tears.

Dalrymple asks:

Do people have vigil candles at the ready at home, and joss sticks, just waiting for the occasion to demonstrate to the world the depth of their feeling and their inner goodness, or do they have to go and buy them and, if so, from where? 

No sooner had three people been murdered by a Muslim terrorist in Strasbourg than

out came the candles, as if they had been held in waiting precisely for such an event.

Dalrymple comments:

With what contempt must sympathisers with such terrorism view this response; how much encouragement it must give them that their opponents, though overwhelmingly numerous and wealthy, have no stomach for a fight and have all the courage of mice!