Sunday, September 4, 2016

Wit and Wisdom of Theodore Dalrymple

“In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is...in some small way to become evil oneself. One's standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.”



“To regret religion is to regret Western civilization.”

 “When every benefit received is a right, there is no place for good manners, let alone for gratitude.”

 “The purpose of those who argue for cultural diversity is to impose ideological uniformity.”

“If the history of the 20th Century proved anything, it proved that however bad things were, human ingenuity could usually find a way to make them worse.”

“The loss of the religious understanding of the human condition—that Man is a fallen creature for whom virtue is necessary but never fully attainable—is a loss, not a gain, in true sophistication. The secular substitute—the belief in the perfection of life on earth by the endless extension of a choice of pleasures—is not merely callow by comparison but much less realistic in its understanding of human nature.”


“I sometimes astonish my patients by telling them that it is far more important that they should be able to lose themselves than that they should be able to find themselves. For it is only in losing oneself that one does find oneself.”

“Of the thousands of patients I have seen, only two or three have ever claimed to be unhappy: all the rest have said that they were depressed. This semantic shift is deeply significant, for it implies that dissatisfaction with life is itself pathological, a medical condition, which it is the responsibility of the doctor to alleviate by medical means. Everyone has a right to health; depression is unhealthy; therefore everyone has a right to be happy (the opposite of being depressed). This idea in turn implies that one’s state of mind, or one’s mood, is or should be independent of the way that one lives one’s life, a belief that must deprive human existence of all meaning, radically disconnecting reward from conduct. A ridiculous pas de deux between doctor and patient ensues: the patient pretends to be ill, and the doctor pretends to cure him. In the process, the patient is wilfully blinded to the conduct that inevitably causes his misery in the first place.”

“It is only by having desire thwarted, and thereby learning to control it — in other words, by becoming civilized — that men become fully human.”

“The idea that freedom is merely the ability to act upon one's whims is surely very thin and hardly begins to capture the complexities of human existence; a man whose appetite is his law strikes us not as liberated but enslaved.”

“All that is necessary for evil to triumph, said Burke, is for good men to do nothing; and most good men nowadays can be relied upon to do precisely that. Where a reputation for intolerance is more feared than a reputation for vice itself, all manner of evil may be expected to flourish.”


“No man was more sensitive than Zweig to the destructive effects upon individual liberty of the demands of large or strident collectivities. He would have viewed with horror the cacophony of monomanias—sexual, racial, social, egalitarian—that marks the intellectual life of our societies, each monomaniac demanding legislative restriction on the freedom of others in the name of a supposed greater, collective good.”

“Turgenev saw human beings as individuals always endowed with consciousness, character, feelings, and moral strengths and weaknesses; Marx saw them always as snowflakes in an avalanche, as instances of general forces, as not yet fully human because utterly conditioned by their circumstances. Where Turgenev saw men, Marx saw classes of men; where Turgenev saw people, Marx saw the People. These two ways of looking at the world persist into our own time and profoundly affect, for better or for worse, the solutions we propose to our social problems.”

“A crude culture makes a coarse people, and private refinement cannot long survive public excess. There is a Gresham's law of culture as well as of money: the bad drives out the good, unless the good is defended.”

“How can one respect people as members of the human race unless one holds them to a standard of conduct and truthfulness?”


“In the psychotherapeutic worldview to which all good liberals subscribe, there is no evil, only victimhood. The robber and the robbed, the murderer and the murdered, are alike the victims of circumstance, united by the events that overtook them. Future generations (I hope) will find it curious how, in the century of Stalin and Hitler, we have been so eager to deny man's capacity for evil.”

“Political correctness is often the attempt to make sentimentality socially obligatory or legally enforceable.”

“Political correctness is the means by which we try to control others; decency is the means by which we try to control ourselves.”

“I've heard a hundred different variations of instances of unadulterated female victimhood, yet the silence of the feminists is deafening. Where two pieties--feminism and multi-culturalism--come into conflict, the only way of preserving both is an indecent silence.”

“I have the not altogether unsatisfying impression that civilisation is collapsing around me.  Is it my age, I wonder, or the age we live in? I am not sure. Civilisations do collapse, after all, but on the other hand people grow old with rather greater frequency.”

“It goes without saying that the artists sympathised not with the actual working classes but with their own idea of the working classes,”

“No one seems to have noticed that a loss of a sense of shame means a loss of privacy; a loss of privacy means a loss of intimacy; and a loss of intimacy means a loss of depth. There is, in fact, no better way to produce shallow and superficial people than to let them live their lives entirely in the open, without concealment of anything.”

“This is the lie that is at the heart of our society, the lie that encourages every form of destructive self-indulgence to flourish: for while we ascribe our conduct to pressures from without, we obey the whims that well up from within, thereby awarding ourselves carte blanche to behave as we choose. Thus we feel good about behaving badly.”

“A being as dependent on his cultural inheritance as man cannot escape convention so easily: and the desire to do so has itself become a cliché.”

“It is not surprising that emotion untutored by thought results in nearly contentless blather, in which--ironically enough--genuine emotion cannot be adequately expressed.”

“Restraints upon our natural inclinations, which left to themselves do not automatically lead us to do what is good for us and often indeed lead us to evil, are not only necessary; they are the indispensable condition of civilized existence.”

“Shakespeare knows that the tension between men as they are and men as they ought to be will forever remain unresolved. Man's imperfectability is no more an excuse for total permissiveness, however, than are man's imperfections a reason for inflexible intolerance.”


“The only permissible judgment in polite society is that no judgment is permissible. A century-long reaction against Victorian prudery, repression, and hypocrisy, led by intellectuals who mistook their personal problems for those of society as a whole, has created this confusion. It is as though these intellectuals were constantly on the run from their stern, unbending, and joyless forefathers—and as if they took as an unfailing guide to wise conduct either the opposite of what their forefathers said and did, or what would have caused them most offence, had they been able even to conceive of the possibility of such conduct.”

“The state looms large in all our lives, not only in its intrusions but in our thoughts: for so thoroughly have we drunk at the wells of collectivism that we see the state always as the solution to any problem, never as an obstacle to be overcome. One can gauge how completely collectivism has entered our soul – so that we are now a people of the government, for the government, by the government – by a strange but characteristic British locution.”

“When you are harried, browbeaten, cajoled, bullied, pursued, threatened, bribed and surveyed by the state and its agencies, you have little inclination left over for obedience: least of all obedience to what one judge called the unenforceable. You have already paid your dues to society. Society can now look after itself. In the small sphere left to you, you will do exactly what you please, without regard to anyone else.”

“To base one's rejection of what exists--and hence one's prescription for a better world--upon the petty frustrations of one's youth, as surely many middle-class radicals have done, is profoundly egotistical. Unless consciously rejected, this impulse leads to a tendency throughout life to judge the rightness or wrongness of policies by one's personal emotional response to them, as if emotion were an infallible guide.”

“One's past is not one's destiny, and it is self-serving to pretend that it is. If henceforth I were miserable, it would be my own fault: and I vowed never to waste my substance on petty domestic conflict.”

“It is only the sentimentalist who imagines that the profundity of a person's response to tragedy is proportional to the length, volume, or shrillness of his lamentation.”

“When exactly did this downward cultural spiral begin, this loss of tact and refinement and understanding that some things should not be said or directly represented? When did we no longer appreciate that to dignify certain modes of behavior, manners, and ways of being with artistic representation was implicitly to glorify and promote them? There is, as Adam Smith said, a deal of ruin in a nation: and this truth applies as much to a nation's culture as to its economy. The work of cultural destruction, while often swifter, easier, and more self-conscious than that of construction, is not the work of a moment. Rome wasn't destroyed in a day.”

“One of the characteristics of modern political life is its professionalization, such that it attracts mainly the kind of people with so great an avidity for power and self-importance that they do not mind very much the humiliations of the public exposure to which they are inevitably subjected.”

“Facts are much more malleable than prejudices.”

“This posture of skepticism towards the classics displays a profound misjudgment. For the great works of Western culture are remarkable for the distance that they maintained from the norms and orthodoxies that gave birth to them. Only a very shallow reading of Chaucer or Shakespeare would see those writers as endorsing the societies in which they lived, or would overlook the far more important fact that their works hold mankind to the light of moral judgment, and examine, with all the love and all the pity that it calls for, the frailty of human nature. It is precisely the aspiration towards universal truth, towards a God’s-eye perspective on the human condition, that is the hallmark of Western culture.”

“I suspect, though I cannot prove, that in part this is the consequence of living in a world, including a mental world, so thoroughly saturated by the products of the media of mass communication. In such a world, what is done or happens in private is not done or has not happened at all, at least not in the fullest possible sense.”

“A taste for kitsch among the well-to-do is a sign of spiritual impoverishment; but among the poor, it represents a striving for beauty, an aspiration without the likelihood of fulfilment.”

“That civilised life cannot be lived without taboos—that some of them may indeed be justified, and that therefore taboo is not in itself an evil to be vanquished—is a thought too subtle for the aesthetes of nihilism.”

“The only way to eliminate hypocrisy from human existence is to abandon all principles whatsoever;”

“Such bureaucrats can neither be hurried in their deliberations nor made to see common sense. Indeed, the very absurdity or pedantry of these deliberations is for them the guarantee of their own fair-mindedness, impartiality, and disinterest. To treat all people with equal contempt and indifference is the bureaucrat’s idea of equity.”

“The knowledge, tastes, and social accomplishments of 13-year-olds are often the same as those of 28-year-olds. Adolescents are precociously adult; adults are permanently adolescent.”

“This is the first time in history there has been mass denial that sexual relations are a proper subject of moral reflection or need to be governed by moral restrictions. The result of this denial, not surprisingly, has been soaring divorce rates and mass illegitimacy, among other phenomena. The sexual revolution has been above all a change in moral sensibility, in the direction of a thorough coarsening of feeling, thought, and behavior.”

“The first requirement of civilisation is that men should be willing to repress their basest instincts and appetites: failure to do which makes them, on account of their intelligence, far worse than mere beasts.”

“For example, the number of patients admitted to our ward declined precipitously during the first days of the Gulf War and during the European soccer championships. People were too absorbed for a time in affairs other than their own – albeit by the proxy of television – to contemplate suicide. The boredom of self-absorption is thus one of the promoters of attempted suicide, and being attached to a cardiac monitor for a time or having an intravenous infusion in one’s arm helps to relieve it. I’m treated, therefore I am. Patterns”

 “Some of the things written by romantic educational theorists are so ludicrous that it takes a complete absence of sense of humour not to laugh at them, and an almost wilful ignorance of what children, or at least many or most children, are like to believe them. Perhaps my favourite is from Cecil Grant’s English Education and Dr Montessori, published in 1913: No child learning to write should ever be told a letter is faulty… every stupid child or man is the product of discouragement… give Nature a free hand, and there would be nobody stupid. Clearly Mr Grant was much discouraged in his youth, but not nearly enough, I fear.”

 “The only thing worse than having a family, I discovered, is not having a family. My rejection of bourgeois virtues as mean-spirited and antithetical to real human development could not long survive contact with situations in which those virtues were entirely absent; and a rejection of everything associated with one’s childhood is not so much an escape from that childhood as an imprisonment by it.”

“I remember watching rioters in Panama, for example, smashing shop windows, allegedly in the name of freedom and democracy, but laughing as they did so, searching for new fields of glass to conquer. Many of the rioters were obviously bourgeois, the scions of privileged families, as have been the leaders of so many destructive movements in modern history. That same evening, I dined in an expensive restaurant and saw there a fellow diner whom I had observed a few hours before joyfully heaving a brick through a window. How much destruction did he think his country could bear before his own life might be affected, his own existence compromised?”




“Music escapes ideological characterization. Just as there are some social scientists who believe that what cannot be measured does not truly exist, and some psychologists used to believe that consciousness does not exist because it cannot be observed by instruments, so ideologists find anything that escapes their conceptual framework threatening - because ideologists want a simple principle, or a few simple principles, by which all things may be judged. When I was a student, I lived with a hard-line dialectical materialist who said that Schubert was a typical petit bourgeois pessimist, whose music would die out once objective causes for pessimism ceased to exist. But I suspect that even he was not entirely happy with this formulation.”

“It is the breakdown of the family structure--a breakdown so complete that mothers do not consider it part of their duty to feed their own children once they have reached the age at which they can forage for themselves in a refrigerator--that promotes modern malnutrition in Britain. Such malnutrition, according to the public health establishment, now affects millions of British households. And it is hardly surprising if young people who have not learned to socialize within the walls of their own homes, who have not learned even the minimal social disciplines required by people who eat together, should be completely anti-social in other respects.”

No comments: