Category Archives: Theodore Dalrymple

Threats and balderdash combined

Ferocious self-righteousness

Dalrymple writes that British venting of pseudo-virtue over the killing of George Floyd

had a strong flavour of humbug, that is to say the desire of protesters to make themselves look and feel good without having to go to the trouble of behaving well.

London alive with the sound of baloney

The menace of their poppycock lay, he says, in this: that if you did not participate in expressions of outrage, you were in some sense responsible for what happened. One of the demonstrators held aloft a placard saying ‘White silence is complience [sic]’.

By this token, the demonstrator’s silence on the Chinese occupation of Tibet, or on the war in the eastern Congo, was complicity with horrors far greater in extent than the death of Floyd.

But

silence is not even approval, let alone complicity, and to imply that everyone must express equal outrage about what one is outraged about oneself is self-righteousness carried to the level of megalomania.

‘No justice, no peace’ read another placard,

as if to justify anticipated looting and burning, perhaps even killing.

The pleasures of righteous indignation, he says,

are among the greatest enemies of clear thought.

Without corruption, communist states could not survive

Communist countries would not have been able to function without corruption because, writes Dalrymple, political decision-making was substituted for the price system.

Where there are no prices, and the economy is largely demonetarised, goods and services can be distributed only by corruption.

He says the mystery of the Soviet Union and of the other Cold-War-era people’s republics is not why they produced so little, but why they produced anything at all. The answer is

corruption. An ‘honest’ communist state would produce nothing.

 

Hulot’s high-sounding bilge

In the French legacy media, Dalrymple comes across an item titled Les 100 principes de Nicolas Hulot pour un nouveau monde by a man who was until recently ministre d’État, ministre de la Transition écologique et solidaire. (‘By their job titles shall ye know them,’ the doctor-writer remarks.)

Dalrymple notes

the banality of mind, or the cynicism, of a person who could have written and published such a manifesto,

and the lack of judgment of the Paris newspaper the Monde in publishing it.

Each principle is

a cliché, a truism, or a banal falsehood, expressed with a self-satisfaction that would have made Mr Pecksniff seem like a self-doubter.

Seth Pecksniff: ‘Let us be moral. Let us contemplate existence.’

The principles take up almost two pages under the rubric of Ideas, but

they are to ideas what stale cheese sandwiches are to haute cuisine.

Dalrymple feels pity, but also experiences nausea:

  • pity because if the thoughts corresponded to anything running through their author’s mind more than fleetingly, it must be agonising to be him;
  • nausea because of the saccharine nature of most of the sentiments expressed, which make those of Hallmark cards seem acerbic.

And hiding in the great mound of baloney are

quite nasty sentiments that would, if taken seriously, lead to a totalitarian society. Inside every sentimentalist is a despot trying to get out. Hulot’s principles illustrate the proximity of sentimentality to the potential of great brutality: for it would probably require a civil war for some of his principles to be put into practice.

Here are the principles:

Le temps est venu, ensemble, de poser les premières pierres d’un nouveau monde.

Le temps est venu de transcender la peur en espoir.

Le temps est venu pour une nouvelle façon de penser.

Le temps est venu de la lucidité.

Le temps est venu de dresser un horizon commun.

Le temps est venu de ne plus sacrifier le futur au présent.

Le temps est venu de résister à la fatalité.

Le temps est venu de ne plus laisser l’avenir décider à notre place.

Le temps est venu de ne plus se mentir.

Le temps est venu de réanimer notre humanité.

Le temps est venu de la résilience.

hangeLe temps est venu de prendre soin et de réparer la planète.

Le temps est venu de traiter les racines des crises.

Le temps est venu d’appréhender l’ensemble des crises écologiques, climatiques, sociales, économiques et sanitaires comme une seule et même crise: une crise de l’excès.

Le temps est venu d’entendre la jeunesse et d’apprendre des anciens.

Le temps est venu d’entendre la jeunesse et d’apprendre des anciens.

Le temps est venu de créer du lien.

Le temps est venu de miser sur l’entraide.

Le temps est venu d’applaudir la vie.

Le temps est venu d’honorer la beauté du monde.

Le temps est venu de se rappeler que la vie ne tient qu’à un fil. 

Le temps est venu de nous réconcilier avec la nature.

Le temps est venu de respecter la diversité et l’intégrité du vivant.

Le temps est venu de laisser de l’espace au monde sauvage.

Le temps est venu de traiter les animaux en respectant leurs intérêts propres.

Le temps est venu de reconnaître l’humanité plurielle.

Le temps est venu de lier notre je au nous.

Le temps est venu d’écouter les peuples premiers.

Le temps est venu de cultiver la différence.

Le temps est venu d’acter notre communauté de destin avec la famille humaine et tous les êtres vivants. 

Le temps est venu de reconnaître notre vulnérabilité.

Le temps et venu d’apprendre de nos erreurs.

Le temps est venu de l’inventaire de nos faiblesses et de nos vertus. 

Le temps est venu de nous concilier avec les limites planétaires.

Le temps est venu de changer de paradigme. 

Le temps est venu d’opérer la mue d’un système périmé.

Le temps est venu de redéfinir les fins et les moyens.

Le temps est venu de redonner du sens au progrès.

Le temps est venu de l’indulgence et de l’exigence. 

Le temps est venu de s’émanciper des dogmes.

Le temps est venu de l’intelligence collective. 

Le temps est venu d’une mondialisation qui partage, qui coopère et qui donne aux plus faibles.

Le temps est venu de préférer le juste échange au libre-échange.

Le temps est venu de préférer le juste échange au libre-échange.

Le temps est venu de globaliser ce qui est vertueux et de dé globaliser ce qui est néfaste.

Le temps est venu de définir, préserver et protéger les biens communs. 

Le temps est venu de la solidarité universelle.

Le temps est venu de la transparence et de la responsabilité.

Le temps est venu d‘une économie qui préserve et redistribue à chacun.

Le temps est venu de mettre un terme à la dérégulation à la spéculation et à l’évasion fiscale.

Le temps est venu d’effacer la dette des pays pauvres.

Le temps est venu de s’émanciper des politiques partisanes. 

Le temps est venu de s’extraire des idéologies stériles.

Le temps est venu des démocraties inclusives.

Le temps est venu de s’inspirer des citoyens.

Le temps est venu d’appliquer le principe de précaution.

Le temps est venu de graver dans le droit les principes d’une politique écologique, sociale et civilisationnelle. 

Le temps est venu de faire mentir le déterminisme social.

Le temps est venu de combler les inégalités de destin.

Le temps est venu de l’égalité absolue entre les femmes et les hommes.

Le temps est venu de tendre la main aux humbles et aux invisibles.

Le temps est venu d’exprimer plus qu’une juste gratitude à celles et ceux, souvent étrangers, qui dans nos pays hier et aujourd’hui exécutent des tâches ingrates. 

Le temps est venu de valoriser prioritairement les métiers qui permettent la vie.

Le temps est venu du travail qui épanouit.

Le temps est venu de l’avènement de l’économie sociale et solidaire.

Le temps est venu de l’avènement de l’économie sociale et solidaire.

Le temps est venu d’exonérer les services publics de la loi du rendement.

Le temps est venu de relocaliser des pans entiers de l’économie.

Le temps est venu de la cohérence et de réorienter nos activités et nos investissements vers l’utile et non le nuisible.

Le temps est venu d’éduquer nos enfants à l’être, au civisme, au vivre ensemble et de leur apprendre à habiter la terre.

Le temps est venu de nous fixer des limites dans ce qui blesse et aucune dans ce qui soigne.

Le temps est venu de la sobriété.

Le temps est venu d’apprendre à vivre plus simplement.

Le temps est venu de nous réapproprier le bonheur.

Le temps est venu de nous libérer de nos addictions consuméristes.

Le temps est venu de ralentir.

Le temps est venu de voyager près de chez nous.

Le temps est venu de nous défaire de nos conditionnements mentaux individuels et collectifs.

Le temps est venu de nous fixer des limites dans ce qui blesse et aucune dans ce qui soigne.

Le temps est venu de faire naître des désirs simples.

Le temps est venu de distinguer l’essentiel du superflu. 

Le temps est venu d’arbitrer dans les possibles.

Le temps est venu de renoncer à ce qui compromet l’avenir. 

Le temps est venu de la créativité et de l’impact positif.

Le temps est venu de lier notre je au nous.

Le temps est venu de croire en l’autre.

Le temps est venu de revisiter nos préjugés. 

Le temps est venu du discernement.

Le temps est devenu d’admettre la complexité.

Le temps est venu de synchroniser science et conscience.

Le temps est venu de l’unité.

Le temps est venu de l’humilité.

Le temps est venu de la bienveillance.

Le temps est venu de traiter les animaux en respectant leurs intérêts propres.

Le temps est venu de l’empathie.

Le temps est venu de la dignité pour tous.

Le temps est venu de déclarer que le racisme est la pire des pollutions mentales. 

Le temps est venu de la modestie et de l’audace.

Le temps est venu de combler le vide entre nos mots et nos actes et d’agir en grand.

Le temps est venu où chacun doit faire sa part et être l’artisan du monde de demain.

Le temps est venu de l’engagement. 

Le temps est venu de croire qu’un autre monde est possible.

Le temps est venu d’un élan effréné pour ouvrir de nouvelles voies.

Le temps est venu sur cette matrice de choisir, encourager et accompagner nos dirigeants ou représentants.

Le temps est venu pour chacun de faire vivre ce manifeste.

Le temps est venu de créer un lobby des consciences.

 

Sarkozy’s blather

Extreme political vacuity

So that we don’t have to, Dalrymple once discharged the duty of listening in person to a Nicolas Sarkozy speech. Sarkozy, Dalrymple recalls,

was like a dried pea rattling about and shaken in a tin box. He jumped around the stage making a passionate verbal noise, but nothing he said had any discernible tether to anything concrete. Within seconds of his finishing, no one could have given any account of what he had said.

Like the Prince in Johnson’s Rasselas, Dalrymple says he went away

convinced of the emptiness of rhetorical sounds.

He asks:

Is mastery of this kind of meaningless verbalisation, eloquently empty and passionately delivered, the key to political success?

If so,

what does it say of us, the citizens of democracies?

Kahlil kitsch

Kahlil Gibran

Clichés, writes Dalrymple, are

the teddy-bears of the mind. They are pseudo-thoughts with comforting connotations of wisdom, generosity, goodness, kindness, benevolence, etc.

They appeal to

the kind of people who might think Kahlil Gibran’s vapourings profound.

The NHS teddy-bear

Health service agitprop

No good crisis should go to waste, writes Dalrymple, and

the priests of Britain’s secular religion, its highly centralised National Health Service, have not been sitting on their hands.

There has been so much NHS propaganda during the Chinese flu crisis that one might have believed that the propaganda

was under central direction.

The NHS evangelicals deliberately confound the health service bureaucracy with the devotion and skill of doctors and nurses, but of course

they are not the same thing — very far from it.

Emotional kitsch

Our NHS

Dalrymple points out that the propaganda in favour of Britain’s sovietised health service

has been more or less continuous since its foundation in 1948, though it has become shriller as it departs further from reality. The purpose of propaganda is to forestall any examination of reality in favour of simplistic slogans convenient to power.

There is a striking willingness in many of the people who are the objects of the propaganda

to repeat and believe a slogan without any compulsion to do so, and without the slightest inclination to examine its truth — indeed, without any awareness of the need for such an examination.

There was no oppressive force to deter these people from inquiry,

but they preferred the comfort the slogan offered to the effort and possible discomfort of finding the truth. The idea of the NHS played the role of teddy-bear to a population with many anxieties.

People will have experienced deficiencies in the failing service — long waiting times, offhand or disagreeable interactions with the bureaucracy, etc. But

like Russian peasants who believed that the Czar knew nothing of the oppression which they suffered, and would have put an end to it if he had known, the British continued to believe that the NHS had been born with original virtue and that the defects they experienced were exceptions. Repeated scandals of gross neglect or sub-standard treatment were shrugged off.

Dog in the manger

The British, Dalrymple notes,

were inclined to believe that if the NHS was unpleasant to negotiate, at least (being more or less a monopoly) it was equally unpleasant for everyone. Fairness and justice were equated with equal misery.

He explains that

the uncritical national admiration, approaching worship, of the NHS has required the subliminal acceptance of a certain historiography: before the NHS, nothing; after it, everything. Before 1948, the poor received no treatment but were left to fend for themselves when they were sick, and more or less, to die. After 1948, the ever-solicitous state system looked tenderly after the health of the population from cradle to grave.

The NHS has had no egalitarian outcome, rather the opposite,

yet the belief in its levelling effect persists.

The NHS propaganda

has been so successful that it now accords with the sentiments of the population, a triumph that no communist regime achieved despite Herculean efforts at indoctrination. The triumph has been achieved without compulsion or violence, and ought to be an interesting case for political scientists who study the successful inculcation of political mythology.

As a cur to its vomit, an architect returns to his concrete

Thamesmead (1967-72)

Dalrymple writes that compared to the slum dwellers of São Paulo who erect their shacks in a day, the average French or British architect is

an æsthetic illiterate and incompetent, or perhaps moron would be a better word. Æsthetically, if not hygienically, the favelas of Rio de Janeiro are to the modernist quarters of Paris what Fra Angelico is to Damien Hirst.

Perambulating in one of the modernist quarters of Paris, he observes:

The inhumanity of the designs bespeaks a psychological talent, that of the torturer who is able to apply electric cattle prods to people during the day and sleep soundly at night, having persuaded himself that his work is socially useful or even laudable.

Robin Hood Gardens, Poplar (1972)

He surveys

a residential wilderness of concrete in which the small open spaces have the appearance of prison yards. They are surrounded by menacing iron fences. The best you can say of the buildings — dehumanising even when on a small scale, with the appearance of a bunker rather than of a house or even of an office — is that you can usually find something worse in a radius of 200 yards.

The desolation

demonstrates that modern architects have about as as much regard for human individuality as they have for that of cockroaches.

Dalrymple believes the architects

have some subliminal idea of the evil that they have perpetrated. They utter the modernist mantra ‘Form follows function,’ the function in this case being the cooping up of African immigrants, needed as cheap labour, in the human equivalent of battery chicken farms. Yet the architects display some faint awareness that man does not live by function alone, so that, having erected concrete boxes of various dimensions from tiny to vast, they then, as an afterthought, append meaningless decoration to the boxes, say a zigzag pattern painted on a side wall, or a concrete false wall with a hole or a slash in it, the wall sometimes painted mauve or apple green in contrast to the grey behind and surrounding it.

Ronan Point, Canning Town (1968)

The architects

have thus invented something new and unprecedented in architecture, features that are neither functional nor decorative, that is to say decorative in any positive way, any way that might lend grandeur, elegance, charm, or tenderness to a building. It is a sign of a bad conscience and an inchoate awareness that the inhabitants have been treated as no human beings ought to be treated, as inanimate units. No doubt the size of the population, and bureaucratic complexities, ensure that large numbers of people are treated this way some or all of the time; but that is no excuse for incarnating this lamentable fact in architecture.

The political slogans that adorn the outer walls of the ground floor of many of the inhuman buildings are

anarchist rather than communist. Perhaps this is because of some awareness of the affinity of communism and fascism for this kind of architecture, as a factory for the production of the New Man who has only the supposed collective or national interest in his mind and no personality or character of his own. Between these buildings in Paris and those in Russia under Khrushchev or Brezhnev, or in Romania under Ceaușescu, there is nothing to choose.

Hutchesontown, Glasgow (1961-68)

Dalrymple notes that communist iconography glorified construction and was full of factories and smoking chimneys as symbols of progress. By contrast, the anarchist slogans are

much more fixated on the physical destruction of things. Looking round, it is not difficult to see why, and even to sympathise with this emphasis, albeit that Bakuninite anarchism is no more likely to bring about human happiness than is Marxist communism.

He thunders:

The hideousness of what has, on a very large scale, been constructed—at a time of prosperity unprecedented in human history—is shameful.

Alexandra Road Estate, Camden (1972-78)

 

Residential housing in the Bagnolet suburb of Paris

Part of the Tours Aillaud (1977) in the Parisian suburb of Nanterre

Fra Angelico, Annunciation, c. 1445

Damian Hirst, The Tranquility of Solitude (for George Dyer), 2006

São Paulo

Rio de Janeiro

The mass NHS delusion

No one on the Continent would choose Britain as their country of medical care, rather the reverse

Some people think, or pretend to believe, that if they fall seriously ill in any country other than Britain, they will be treated very badly or simply left to die. It is as if in such benighted lands without the National Health Service, doctors and nurses work with neither skill nor devotion.

But Dalrymple points out that the NHS

is neither necessary nor sufficient for medical and nursing staff to show devotion. The parents of a well-taught schoolchild do not thank the Ministry of Education.

If a German were to say, ‘For God’s sake, get me to the NHS,’ a psychiatrist would be called

Dalrymple says the UK ought to face up to the fact that

being ill and seeking treatment is a more unpleasant experience in Britain than in it is many civilised countries.

The NHS has not served the nation well, if international comparison is the criterion by which it should be judged. For example, says Dalrymple,

  • when the NHS was founded (when British healthcare was among the best rather than the worst in Europe) the population of France had a life expectancy six years lower than that of Britain; it is now two years higher.
  • The health of the population in Spain improved more under Franco than that of the British under the NHS in the same years.

Manifold deficiencies

The comparisons hardly

suggest any particular virtue to the NHS.

Survival from many serious illnesses such as cancer, heart attacks and strokes

is lower in Britain than in most European countries. These statistics are not apparent to patients or their relatives, and in any case the NHS is immune to criticism because its deficiencies are assumed to be departures from its essential goodness or the result of inadequate funding.

Innumerable scandals

No number of scandals,

such as that of Mid-Staffs in which hundreds of patients were neglected to a degree that often defied belief, all in plain sight of a large bureaucracy supposedly devoted to ensuring the quality of patient care, can dent faith in the NHS. Staff committed, and management connived at, acts of cruelty that would have made Mrs Gamp blush. Mr Cameron’s government, anxious not to seem an enemy of the NHS, which would have been politically damaging, swept the scandal under the carpet.

Dalrymple suspects that

the sheer unpleasantness of the NHS is reassuring to the British population. It evokes the Dunkirk spirit: we are all stranded on the beach of illness together. And if we cannot all live in luxury, we can at least all die in squalor. Justice is served.

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.

Wuhan flu and the public health Moloch

Cult of the (failing) state health service

Dalrymple writes that the Chinese virus crisis has in the West reinforced a tendency to authoritarianism and emboldened bureaucrats with totalitarian leanings. He has been surprised by

how meekly the population has accepted, on the say-so of technocrats, regulations so drastic that they might have made Stalin envious. There has been no demand for the evidence that supposedly justifies severe limitations on freedom.

One view is that the authorities

are trusted by the population to do the right thing. Much as we lament the intellectual and moral level of our political class, there are limits to how much we despise it. We believe that our institutions still work, even when guided or controlled by nullities.

A less optimistic interpretation, says Dalrymple, is that the population

is so used to being administered, supposedly for its good, under a régime of bread and circuses that it is no longer capable of independent thought or action. We have become what Tocqueville thought the Americans would become under their democratic régime, a herd of docile animals. Only at the margins — for example, the drug-dealers of the banlieues — do the refractory rebel against the regulations.

Creepy weekly state-sponsored ceremony of compulsory applause

The Wuhan flu has revealed that,

whatever our traditions, we are less proof against authoritarianism than we like to suppose.

Authority, says Dalrymple,

is rarely content to stay within the limits set down for it, but is like an imperial power always seeking the means of its expansion.

He warns:

There is no human activity that has no consequences for health, either individually or in the aggregate; and what is the public but an aggregate? Public health, we have learnt, is the highest good, the precondition of all other goods. A solicitous government has the right — no, the duty — to interfere in our lives to make sure that we stay healthy. And authority once taken rarely retreats of its own accord.