Some Questions

Dalrymple was recently annoyed by a letter with the leading question, “Do you care about the health of our planet?”

Frankly, the answer is that I don’t. Planets, unlike dogs, are not the kind of thing I can feel affection or concern for. My bank account occupies my mind more than the health of the planet. I am not even sure that planets can be healthy or unhealthy, any more than they can be witty or self-effacing. To call a planet healthy is to make what philosophers used to call a category mistake. This is not to say that I wish the earth any harm; on the contrary. Indeed, in a multiple-choice examination, I might even tick the box for wishing the world well rather than ill, at least if I had any reason for wanting to pass.

But of course that’s not in keeping with the zeitgeist:

…the expression of high-flown sentiment is now taken by many as the major part or even the whole of virtue. The most virtuous person is he who expresses the most all-encompassing benevolence at the highest level of abstraction. I felt like writing back to the editor of the Lancet (only he wouldn’t read it) that I disagreed with his discriminatory planetism: that I cared only for the health of the universe…

Are Diet Supplements Dangerous?

Yes, they can be. But it’s really a demand problem:

[W]hat, if anything, is to be done about the 150,000,000 Americans who feel they need to take supplements, either to grow muscular or to live forever? Where do their desires and superstitions come from? That dietary supplements are good for you is now as firmly ingrained in modern consciousness as that certain miracle-working icons could save you from various diseases was among elements of the Russian peasantry in the days of the Tsar and devastating epidemics. It seems that in the modern world everyone is skeptical except of what he should be.

 

Cruel When Not Kind

The staff at the Copenhagen Zoo recently killed a giraffe who was deemed surplus to requirements, and they literally fed him to the lions. Much of the public response to their admittedly maladroit actions was angry and threatening, perhaps not surprising given that cruelty is often based on the kind of sentimentality on display here:

It is difficult to believe that, had the zoo acted thus with, say, a warthog, or a hyena, it would have aroused anything like the same response. A giraffe engages human sympathy because it has an attractively plaintive face and, above all, big brown eyes and long eyelashes.

Read the piece at City Journal

Did Thatcher Leave a Legacy of Freedom?

Regrettably no, says Dalrymple. Sure, she helped to tame the unions, but their power was on the wane anyway. But what about her effect on government as a whole?

[D]id Mrs. Thatcher roll back the state, as it was her intention and indeed vocation to do? Here I think the answer must decisively be no. That is, at least if the question is about her long-term effect. It is true that she managed to reduce the public sector’s proportion of the Gross Domestic Product somewhat during her term in office. But 30 years after she entered office, it was higher than when she entered it. In 1979 it was 44.6 per cent; in 2009, 47.7 per cent. Her long-term effect (if 30 years counts as the long-term) on the size of the state was nil, despite her reputation as a prudent or even savage cutter of public services.

Dalrymple at the Library of Law and Liberty

A More Sinister Equality

Dalrymple writes again on the dangers of the idea of equality of opportunity, which seems to be embraced by a growing number of those on the political Left. It sounds innocuous, but its implications are troubling:

Those who believe in equality of opportunity must want, if they take the idea seriously, to make the world not only just but fair. Genetic and family influences on the fate of people have to be eliminated, because they undoubtedly affect opportunities and make them unequal. Ugly people cannot be models; the deformed cannot be professional footballers; the retarded cannot be astrophysicists; the small of stature cannot be heavyweight boxers; I don’t think I have to prolong this list, as everyone can think of a thousand examples for himself.

Read the whole piece here

The vicar-police vs the bikers

I couldn’t start this piece in Salisbury Review without a chuckle…

The belief that everyone can be persuaded by argument to behave well is, I suppose, a corollary of the notion that no man does wrong knowingly. The task of the moralist, then, is to get people to understand the true nature of their conduct, to educate them; and once this is done, the reprehensible conduct will cease by itself.

This is an optimistic theory, and like all optimism is unfounded. Men not only do wrong knowingly, but often do wrong because they know it is wrong. Of course, every false theory is an employment opportunity for someone. The truth might set you free, but it will also sometimes make you unemployed. And unemployment is more to be feared than is freedom to be welcomed.

Fifty Shades of Gray

Dalrymple actually has three pieces in this month’s New English Review, and the last one we’ll share with you is a long essay on the theme of pride in Thomas Gray’s great poem Elegy Written In a Country Churchyard, and on Doctor Johnson’s responses in his Life Of Gray and other works:

But one is never more than a few lines in Doctor Johnson from good sense, for his writing abounds, as he says that Gray’s Elegy abounds, ‘with images which find a mirrour in every mind, and with sentiments to which every bosom returns an echo… I have never seen the notions in any other place; yet he that reads them here, persuades himself that he has always felt them.’ This is the effect also of so many of Johnson’s own reflections, which are simultaneously obvious and revelatory. Referring to Gray’s various travels, both in Britain and in Europe, Dr Johnson says that ‘it is by studying at home that we must obtain the ability of travelling with intelligence and improvement.’ This is precisely so: travel should be a philosophical activity and not merely a manifestation of restlessness or boredom, though it may be those things as well. ‘Chance favours only the mind prepared,’ said Pasteur of scientific experiment; he might have said the same of travel.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

You wouldn’t think Dalrymple would spend much time reading about someone like Sid Vicious, but research on a murderer who admired the Sex Pistols star required it, and so now we have an essay in the New English Review about the man Dalrymple describes as “a specimen of the worst possible taste”. For anyone who knows anything about Mr. Vicious, it’s hard not to argue. The question Dalrymple seeks to answer is one you might have guessed: What causes someone to devote their life to such thoroughgoing ugliness, squalor and evil? Says Dalrymple, “I think the answer is twofold: egotism and mental laziness.”

Read the piece here