Category Archives: Theodore Dalrymple

You who sit there in your glutted complacency, are you aware that this could be your final hour?

The Black Death, Dalrymple points out,

killed perhaps a third or a half of the population of Europe.

However,

that was nearly 700 years ago. And in any case a disaster can be a lot smaller than that and still be a disaster. We are not trying to get into the Guinness Book of Records.

Exponential growth

cannot but alarm us when we see those histograms showing the daily toll of death from the infection (or at least with the infection) in ever steeper ascent. They strongly resemble the Burj Khalifa. We forget that exponential growth cannot continue for ever and must reach a peak.

Such growth

is not going to continue until the whole of humanity is extinct,

though such a consummation is

devoutly to be wished according to some of the more extreme of the pagan ecologists, who believe in the intrinsic value of the earth whether or not there are any self-conscious beings existent to enjoy it.

But so long as a peak has not been reached,

we are free to imagine the worst.

Dalrymple notes that during the Middle Ages, when the cause of epidemics was unknown, other than the justified wrath of God,

there were long processions of self-flagellating penitents through the streets, who no doubt thought that the blood that they drew from themselves and the pain that they suffered would abate the epidemic by causing God to relent. We have a pale version of this even today, with calls to prayer by clerics. I believe a mullah somewhere has claimed that the only way to put an end to the epidemic is jihad, as a result of which the world will convert to Islam, causing God to withdraw the virus from circulation.

‘God has condemned us: we are all sentenced to perish in the Black Death. You, standing there like gaping cattle, you who sit there in your glutted complacency, are you aware that this could be your final hour? Death stands right behind you; I see his crown gleaming in the sun — his scythe flashes as he raises it above your heads. Which one of you will he strike first? You, standing there staring like a goat, will your mouth be twisted in a last unfinished gasp before nightfall? And you, woman, blooming with life and self-satisfaction, will you pale and be extinguished before the morning dawns? You back there, with your swollen nose and stupid grin, d’you think you might have another year left to sully the earth with your filth? Are you aware, insensible fools, that you will die today, or tomorrow, or the next day — because all of you have been condemned? D’you hear what I say? Doomed! D’you hear the word? You’re doomed, doomed, doomed!’

A woman peeling apples with a small child

‘There was a private reason for my attachment to the painting, namely the beautiful and straightforward emotional calm that reigned between the figures, their uncomplicated and unconditional love of one another—something that I longed for as a child but never had, instead continually experiencing the petty Sturm und Drang of domestic conflict. To the inherent melancholy of any capture of a beautiful moment that is fleeting (the child, so fresh and tender, so full of trust, would grow old and die), I added a personal sorrow over the fact that I would never experience anything like the little girl’s quiet, careless rapture.’

The Great Plague

Dalrymple points out that the Black Death

killed a third to a half of the population of Europe, because, unknown at the time, the disease was carried mainly by a non-human vector.

He notes that the methods used during the Bubonic Plague are being employed today in the face of the coronavirus outbreak. Containment relies on

  • case-finding
  • contact-tracing
  • isolation or quarantine

Those who have symptoms of the disease, and those who have been in contact with them,

are asked to isolate themselves for two weeks, until they are no longer—according to current ideas—infectious to others. Large gatherings are to be cancelled or postponed, as during the Pestilence of 1347-51, and people are advised to travel as little as possible, especially by public transport, where the possibility of contagion is high. In the 14th century, walls were washed with vinegar and fumigated with burning herbs; we are told to wash our hands often and not to touch our eyes or mouths, though how far this is effective in preventing spread to oneself is unknown.

The Triumph of Death, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, c. 1562

The economic consequences of the coronavirus

The epidemic, writes Dalrymple,

might well have effects far beyond any that its death rate could account for.

The world

has suddenly woken up to the dangers of allowing China to be the workshop of the world and of relying on it as the ultimate source for supply chains for almost everything, from cars to medicines, from computers to telephones.

No doubt, he says,

normal service will soon resume once the epidemic is over, even if at a lower level, but at the very least, supply chains should be diversified politically and perhaps geographically; dependence on a single country is to industry what dependence on monoculture is to agriculture.

And

just as the heart has its reasons that reason knows not of, so countries may have strategic reasons that economic reasons know not of.

The danger is that the epidemic

will be used as a justification for beggar-thy-neighbour protectionism, and for zero-sum-game economics, to the great impoverishment of the world. Judgment, that mysterious faculty that is so difficult to define or quantify, but which undoubtedly exists, will be needed to adjudicate the claims of strategic security and economic efficiency.

Why did such a brilliantly gifted person waste his talents on politics?

Enoch Powell’s political concerns were, writes Dalrymple,

responses to Britain’s precipitous national decline, the steepest part of which occurred in his lifetime, but which is continuing apace to the extent that Britain might cease to be a nation.

Powell

was born in a great power and died in an enfeebled country with no industrial or military might, precious little patriotism, and no sense of grandeur or collective purpose. That this decline — relative rather than absolute, except in such fields as the maintenance of law and order — was inevitable given the conjunctures of the age, was evident to Powell (though not at first).

This relative decline

was implicit in Disraeli’s dictum that ‘the Continent will not suffer England to be the workshop of the world’.

The long march of sentimentality

Screenshot 2020-02-11 at 08.28.46

Sudesh Amman

The absurdity of British criminal-justice policy over several decades at the behest of penological liberals

The British criminal-justice system, writes Dalrymple, is one of

elaborate and ceremonious frivolity.

The frivolity

is serious in its effects, not only for its immediate consequences on Britain’s crime rate but also because it undermines the legitimacy of the State, whose first and inescapable duty is to maintain enough order to secure the safety of citizens as they go about their lawful business.

Remission of prison sentences is automatic,

turning all judges into liars. When a judge says, ‘I sentence you to three years’ imprisonment,’ what he means is: ‘I sentence you to 18 months’ imprisonment.’

Appalling as terrorist violence is, the average person in Britain is many times more likely to be the victim of violent common crime than of terrorism, so that Boris Johnson’s announcement that the laws governing the sentencing of terrorists will be made more severe,

by fixing attention on what remains an uncommon problem and ignoring a far more prevalent one, may be doing a disservice.

Dalrymple says that good sense on criminal justice in Britain

will be difficult to put into practice, for a long march of sentimentality has occurred through the minds of the intelligentsia and élites in general. The father of the last man to be murdered by a terrorist recently released from prison said that he hoped his son’s death would not be used as an argument for more drastic sentencing of terrorists.

Screenshot 2020-02-11 at 08.34.03

Does one laugh or cry?

The fruits of liberation

Screenshot 2020-02-08 at 08.14.24Dalrymple notes that the first fruit of the liberation of the former Rhodesia was

repeated massacres in Matabeleland.

The second fruit was

to turn a land of immigration into a land of mass emigration, thanks to corruption and idiotic economic policies — without any increase in individual freedom.

Liberation meant

only the replacement of white by black government.

The liberation movement

was fighting for power, not for freedom. The wish for access to power is not the same as the wish that others be free.

Pronunciamento of the philosopher-shrinks

Screenshot 2020-02-05 at 08.23.27An attempt to invalidate the political opinions and choices of opponents on spurious, potentially dictatorial, psychiatric grounds

Dalrymple points out that the assertion by a group of psychiatrists that Donald Trump is unfit psychiatrically to be president of the USA is

absurd and unethical.

It is

political prejudice masquerading as medical diagnosis and prognosis.

The psychiatrists

presumably take comfort in the unanimity of their opinion, as did the 100 German physicists who denounced relativity theory because Einstein was Jewish. If they had been right, said Einstein, one would have been enough.

Regarding the president’s paranoid style of thought, Dalrymple notes that

if Mr Trump did not believe that there were plots against him, if he were convinced that there were not, this would be delusional. For him blandly to say that he had no enemies in Congress, and that no members of Congress were meeting together to plan his downfall, would be a sign of madness, a loss of grasp of the most obvious reality.

The quack psychiatrists

must have a very unflattering view of the United States and its system of government—something like an electoral tinpot dictatorship—if they suppose that the fate of the country, indeed the world, rests upon the mental state of one man.

It seems, says Dalrymple, that they

would prefer the rule of philosopher-psychiatrists to that of people with psychiatric pathology (the vast majority of the population, if the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is to be believed).

The philosopher-shrinks believe in

a version of the basket-of-deplorables hypothesis. People who voted for or supported the president did not have a different opinion, they had an illness. Mr Trump is incapable for medical reasons of making a rational choice, and this applies to millions, tens of millions, of Americans.

Dalrymple points out that psychiatry

is not an exact science, and much of it—psychoanalysis, for example—is not a science at all. To leave the State to the discretion of psychiatrists is like leaving industrial policy to alchemists or public health policy to astrologers.

Educated voters for, and supporters of, Trump

are well aware of his character defects, which require no very great psychological acuity to descry, but prefer him to the alternatives for political and economic reasons.

Why politicians want to lower the voting age further

Screenshot 2020-02-02 at 07.52.21

Mila

Dalrymple notes that

the widening and lengthening of education has gone hand in hand with a decline in the civility of discourse.

Adolescence

is the age neither of good taste nor of wisdom, which no doubt is why some politicians want to lower the voting age even further. After all, what many politicians most value in voters is gullibility.

Screenshot 2020-02-02 at 07.55.34

Psychiatric imperialism

Screenshot 2020-01-30 at 09.42.36The growing pseudo-sophistication of credulity

Under the empire of the shrinks, writes Dalrymple (himself a shrink), there is a dialectical tendency to reinforce people’s wish to

objectify themselves and their behaviour, the better to escape personal responsibility and avoid genuine but painful self-reflection.

He observes that

the doctor wants to give patients a diagnosis, and patients want the doctor to give them a diagnosis. Every unhappy person leaves the doctor clutching a prescription. And every study shows that, whatever they are given as an antidepressant, their pills have a powerful placebo effect. Unfortunately, they can have serious and unpleasant side-effects. Gone are the days when doctors can dish out coloured water as a placebo to a credulous clientèle.

We don’t believe any more in spirit possession, he says,

but we do believe in serotonin – too much or too little or in the wrong place – as the root of all our troubles.