Rereading Pliny

Dalrymple has long made no bones about the fact that he finds sports utterly worthless, or even worse than that. After quoting in Taki’s Magazine an eye-opening letter on the subject from Pliny (eye-opening as one of those items of history that so clearly connects ancient behavior to contemporary, and thus proves the permanence of the human condition), he adds:

For a brief period we had made an advance over Pliny’s time, but I suppose regression to the stupid was inevitable. And in a strange way, reading Pliny’s letter is reassuring. If human folly has remained much the same and taken a similar form over two millennia, then one finds it easier to accept it just as it is, as inevitable, and to feel no duty to reform or enlighten it. And—let us be frank—one has follies of one’s own.

Direct Democracy Produces Neither Wisdom or Enlightenment

Though he supported Brexit, Dalrymple warns against referenda as means of deciding political questions, going through the four British exercises in direct democracy since the mid-20th Century, ending of course in the recent Brexit vote:

So far, these attempts at direct democracy, alien to British tradition, cannot be said to have brought much in the way of wisdom and enlightenment, let alone happiness.

….

The referendum of remaining or leaving the European Union was, in the words of the Duke of Wellington about the Battle of Waterloo, a damned close run thing. It could have gone either way. It gave a result that was clear without being overwhelming. It exposed social and geographic divisions that were probably better-hidden. And it exposed those with only a skin-deep commitment to majority rule, for those who lost soon claimed that those who voted the other way were uneducated, ignorant, xenophobic and racist, whose votes therefore did not really count. Moreover, just 37.5 per cent of the eligible population (a slightly higher proportion than that which voted for the Scots nationalists in the general election) voted for so a momentous decision. But to object to the results of a referendum only after the results are known, and not to the referendum as a method of deciding a question, is to show utter contempt for those who voted the other way. There a[re] few better methods of sowing social discord – which we may yet reap.

The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men

A Guardian writer, among the many elites who considered all Brexit supporters xenophobes, proclaimed his “badge of shame” at being British after the vote, no matter that he now lives in France anyway. In The Salisbury Review Dalrymple notes the irony in such prideful “shame”:

But the interesting thing about the passage above is the evident and overweening pride that runs through it. The man who wrote it is middle-aged: he has kept his ‘badge of shame’ for decades after he could, if he had felt genuine shame about it, have got rid of it. No, his pride is to have a badge of shame, extravagantly exhibited, in order to demonstrate his moral superiority over other people who wear the same badge who are not as intelligent, educated or morally sensitive as he. This is the prideful shame of the poseur, of the moral exhibitionist. Moral exhibitionism is now the déformation professionelle (I use the French expression to establish that I am no xenophobe) of the intellectuals.

NOTE: I apologize for the recent gap in posts, as I was away on a very enjoyable visit to the good doctor in France.

Rise of the Middling

Dalrymple begins this piece at Taki’s Magazine with a paean to mediocrity:

Though derided and despised, there is much to be said in favor of mediocrity. It is comfortable and unthreatening, unlike excellence; it makes no demands on us. Who can stand the strain of having to be brilliant all the time, or of having to be careful never to say a banal or obvious thing? Who, when he is tired from a hard day’s work, or even from the mere passage of a large number of hours since he rose in the morning, wants to flog his brain into the maximum activity of which it is capable? One longs, then, for the anodyne, for the un-thought-provoking—in short, for the mediocre.

Mr Blair and Iraq: Was he, in a very unreal sense, right?

Dalrymple has in the past diagnosed Tony Blair as suffering from delusions of honesty, but now he wants to rethink it. After all, his condition may not meet the last requirement of a delusion:

The only question that remains, then, is whether his fixed false belief is incongruous with his culture. Here the matter is slightly more difficult to decide: after all, he won three elections and colleagues supported him for many years. And he is by no means unique in the political class to suffer from this delusion…

Multiple Personality Disorder: How many passports do you need?

The Canadian government is considering the issuance of sex-neutral identity cards to appease those who claim to have “gender dysphoria”. At Salisbury Review, Dalrymple notes that there is no such accommodation for those with Dissociative Identity Disorder, a condition many times more prevalent. So this is “unjust and intolerant discrimination”, right?

Read it here

Bastards of Privilege

Yet another horrific terrorist attack by Muslim extremists, and yet again its perpetrators are not those struggling through poverty:

On the contrary, they were scions of the small, rich, and educated local elite. They were privileged as only the rich in poor countries can be privileged.

….

Where a child is cruel to animals, thieving, lying, and disobedient from an early age, we expect little good of him later in his life. It seems the perpetrators were not like this, nor could they have expected anything but a smooth passage through life. Lack of prospects was certainly not what impelled them.

Adolescence is a turbulent time, of course, and some privileged young people in impoverished countries feel guilt at their own privilege (not that it prevents them from exercising it); revolutionary movements are often led by some sprig of the upper class.

Shakespeare’s greatest psychopath

Note: When Dalrymple’s long-running BMJ column ended in 2012, he had a backlog of about 60 unpublished pieces, and he kindly gave them to us to post here at Skeptical Doctor. We are posting them on Wednesdays to coincide with the schedule of his old BMJ column. We hope you enjoy them.

Is character destiny, as the ancient Greeks thought, or is it the other way round? Are people made, or do they make themselves? About this question there is still no universal agreement: it is the heart of our mystery, that I believe shall never be plucked out, as Hamlet put it.

Richard III is Shakespeare’s greatest psychopath. He seems to be that disconcerting character, the natural born criminal, who delights in evil. In Act IV, scene IV, his mother, the Duchess of York, says to him:

Thou cams’t on earth to make the earth my hell.
Tetchy and wayward was thy infancy,
Thy schooldays frightful, desp’rate, wild and furious;
Thy prime of manhood daring, bold, and venturous;
Thy age confirm’d, proud, subtle, sly, and bloody:
More mild, but yet more harmful, kind in hatred.

This is the perfect encapsulation of the career of the intelligent psychopath; to the end, Richard remains what he has always been, and therefore true (if that is quite the word) to type:

Conscience is but a word that cowards use,
Devis’d at first to keep the strong in awe.

This sounds distinctly Nietzschean, as does the following chilling line:

Our strong arms be our conscience, swords our law.

Nearly four hundred years before the so-called Me-Decade, Richard exclaims:

Richard loves Richard, that is, I and I.

Richard tells us that ‘All unavoided is the doom of destiny,’ yet his very opening speech suggests that he has choice in the matter of how to live. Of course, he cannot help that he was born:

Deform’d, unfinish’d, sent before my time
Into this breathing world scarce half made up –
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me, as I halt by them –

But yet his villainy is freely chosen:

And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain,
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.

Well, you might say, that is only too understandable in his circumstances; and yet, in the play, Richard, despite the fact that he has:

No delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun,
And descant on mine own deformity…

…he proves, in fact, an ardent and successful wooer of women. He seduces not one, but two, women whose husbands or children he has killed. After he has seduced Anne, he exults with all the pride of his evil:

Was ever woman in this humour wooed?
Was ever woman in this humour won?

Before dismissing this as preposterous caricature, it is worth recalling that serial killers of woman seldom lack for declarations of love or offers of marriage immediately afterwards. The same is not true of serial burglars.

Shakespeare gets an astonishing number of things right, but some things change nevertheless, for example forensic science. When Richard is in the presence of the corpse of Henry VI, whom he stabbed to death, the wounds open up and begin to bleed anew, indicating that the murderer is near. Now, of course, we have DNA, to say nothing of the polygraph machine. Richard III wouldn’t get away with it today – or would he?

Rejecting Post-Political Europe

At the Library of Law and Liberty, Dalrymple notes that the quality of the Brexit debate was not particularly high, but that nothing compares for sheer stupidity to the comments of France’s Minister of the Economy, Emmanuel Macron:

What did the referendum (which had not yet taken place) mean for the minister?

For me, it expresses the desire for a more efficacious Europe, the end of an ultraliberal vision of Europe that the British themselves have brought.

This is misinterpretation on an astonishing, even an heroic, scale; only a man blinded by some kind of ideology or prejudice could even entertain it for even a moment. According to Macron, British discontent with the European Union – which, incidentally, is less pronounced than in some other member countries – is due to insufficient political and bureaucratic interference in economic and social life. There has never been a demonstration, at least in the west, with ‘Less freedom, more official regulation!’ as its slogan.

Read on, as the minister’s responses get better (meaning worse) from there.

Heroin

The Guardian printed a story by an American doctor headlined, “Heroin killed my brother 38 years ago. Too many still suffer in its clutches.” You can probably imagine Dalrymple’s reaction:

It implies that in the relationship between a person and heroin, it is the heroin that is the active participant. This is entirely false: it is the person who grips the heroin, not the other way round.

The evidence that this is so is decisive. First, most heroin addicts take the drug for months before they start taking it regularly. It is inconceivable that they do not know the risks of addiction before they become addicted. They have to learn how to prepare the drug and how to inject it (most of us would have to overcome a reluctance to stick a needle in ourselves). In short, they want to be addicts, and are even determined to become so, no doubt for vague romantic reasons.

Read the rest at The Salisbury Review.