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2/4/09

Theodore Dalrymple: The Politics and Culture of Decline

Theodore Dalrymple*: The Politics and Culture of Decline *(Pen name. Real name Anthony Daniels.)

Theodore Dalrymple has been compared to George Orwell. His German mother fled to Britain from the Nazis; his father had been a communist activist. He has lived as a physician in a ragged, dusty Tanzanian village. He has talked to prisoners locked away from the dizzying spin of daily London life. He has been arrested as a spy in Gabon. South African police sought to arrest him for violating apartheid. He infiltrated an English communist group to attend a youth festival in North Korea. He performed in an Afghan Shakespeare play. He smuggled books to dissidents in Ceaucescu's Romania. He was arrested and beaten by Albanian police for photographing an anti-government demonstration. He ran a psychiatric clinic in the Gilbert Islands. In East Timor police put him under surveillance. Riding with chickens, bouncing on dirt roads, he has taken public transportation across both Africa and South America. In Africa, he treated "children bitten by puff adders," and "adults mauled by leopards."

As a boy he precociously read the classics and studied arguments for and against God. He favors Shakespeare, Chekov, and Turgenev for their insights into the evils, follies, and goodness of human nature. As a doctor he worked in a London slum hospital and saw a side of modern civilization television and newspapers sweep under the carpet.

With his experiences and travels he is equipped to see through the veneer of modern Western civilization. He distrusts contemporary ideas and covert ideologies. He sees an intellectual trend toward elevating the individual at the cost of society. Conventional limits on individual behavior are being eroded. Academics embrace complex and absurd theories that are mindlessly absorbed by popular culture, only to the detriment of the masses who believe that is the way things are. Intellectuals have replaced straightforward explanations of anti-social behavior with such complex theories. For him, these theories are downright stupid.

In Africa, he saw true poverty. Yet people did not lose their work ethic, nor their dignity. Survival was itself an accomplishment to be proud of. By comparison, Dalrymple found that England’s slum-dwellers had lives “as saturated with arbitrary violence as that of the inhabitants of many a dictatorship.” The difference for Dalrymple? In England and in the West “the evil is freely chosen.” People in the West have no despots forcing them into their behavior. What, then, has happened? Western civility and values have declined because the ideas of intellectuals were absorbed willingly, without close examination, into the culture.

Theodore Dalrymple has now moved to France. The British welfare state takes care of so much in personal life that people have few options--television, shopping, sex. He considers the growth of social pathologies and the decline of cultural, moral and aesthetic standards in Britain more far-reaching and alarming than similar processes in the United States. It is happening in the States and is also a juggernaut. He does not deceive himself about France. A sign in the kitchen of his French home evokes the stiff-upper-lip Britain of yesteryear: Keep calm and carry on.

A doctor from Madras worked with Dalrymple at a London hospital. The physician was impressed with the medical care given all patients, the cleanliness, the know-how, but slowly he began to understand something else. A man over-dosed on heroin and was wheeled into intensive care where nurses and physicians cared for him around the clock. When he came to, his first words were "Get me a fuckin' roll-up." No gratitude, no courtesy, just demand for some weed.

The Indian doctor came to realize that a different kind of poverty existed in Dalrymple's country. "The squalor of England was not economic but spiritual, moral, and cultural."

Here is a review of his most recent book, Not With A Bang But A Whimper: The Politics and Culture of Decline.
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Notes:

  • Dalrymple says this of John Money, who persuaded David Reimer's parents that the boy should be "sexually reassigned" and raised as girl because of genital damage during circumcision: "By 1994, John Money, perhaps the most influential academic sexologist of the last third of the twentieth century, was still able to write in all seriousness that we live in an anti-sexual and taboo-ridden society. Get rid of the remaining taboos, he implied, and human unhappiness will take care of itself." A creature of his era and its sexual revolution, Money "insisted on the 'infinite plasticity' of gender identity."

  • As to the sexual revolution, he says this: "A schoolteacher friend recently told me how she had comforted a seven-year-old who was in tears because a girl in his class had insulted him, calling him a virgin. She asked whether he knew what the word meant.

    'No,' replied the little boy. 'But I know it's something horrible.' "

  • On Kinsey's famous sex survey: "A survey of the kind [Kinsey] conducted into financial probity would surely have revealed that there is hardly a person in the world who has never in his life been dishonest—who has never taken so much as a paper clip or overestimated expenses on a tax return. No sensible person would conclude from this that the striving for honesty is a sham, that it is pointless to have any laws regarding financial conduct, that it is perfectly all right for shopkeepers to shortchange their customers and for their customers to steal from them. And yet this is precisely what the sexual revolutionaries, Kinsey foremost among them, have argued in the realm of sex."

  • (Variously from City Journal.)

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