The Seventh Gate

Note: When Dalrymple’s long-running BMJ column ended in 2012, he had a backlog of about 60 unpublished pieces, and he kindly gave them to us to post here at Skeptical Doctor.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.

Literary fame is capricious: for it would not follow from the fact (if it were indeed a fact) that no bad book is remembered that no good book is forgotten. If there were literary justice in the world, the name of Peter Greave (1910 – ) would stand considerably higher than it does, but he is almost entirely forgotten.

He published two novels and a memoir of his life, The Seventh Gate. The latter, published in 1976, bears the following words on the back cover:

The Seventh Gate was written over a period of two years, after he had been totally blinded and immobilised by his illness, dictated month by long month to a series of helpers.

That illness was leprosy.

Few books capture the joys and miseries of human life more strongly than this memoir. Greave was born in India to a father with a large and expansive personality, an infinite capacity to delude himself and others about business schemes that varied from the merely fantastic to the outright fraudulent, and an unfortunate propensity for sexual exhibitionism. He would disappear for long periods, deserting his family and then re-appear unexpectedly. His mother, who died when Peter Greave was sixteen, was utterly devoted to her husband even though he proved himself unworthy of her over and over. Greave conveys this tragic relationship with a reticence that makes the tragedy of it all the more vivid.

So irresponsible was Greave senior that his son spent time in orphanages and in various down-at-heel and cruel boarding schools in the India of the Raj. His escape from one of them reads like an adventure story, combining exotic romance with many thrills. His education was spotty, interrupted and short; his subsequent life in India, going from one absurd job to another, was rackety, unstable and precarious, and yet he was happy.

He first noticed his leprosy (without knowing what it was) in 1938. When he looked one day in the mirror “about an inch and a half above my right eyebrow a small reddish lump was visible.” 28 years old at the time, he disregarded it: “My body, my physical well-being, was the one thing that had never failed me yet, and I possessed the illogical conviction that it never would do so.” By coincidence, I was 28 when, on precisely the same grounds, I disregarded an illness that could have killed me.

A year later, a third doctor whom he consulted finally diagnosed leprosy; and “some time in 1942,” when he was living in a rented room in Calcutta, “I lost the sight of my right eye, and almost immediately the other eye became severely infected.” He continues:

I suffered weeks of excruciating pain, wincing uncontrollably whenever the pupil was exposed to light. Eventually even the flicker of a match as I attempted to light a cigarette produced a second of pure agony, forcing me to duck my head swiftly as though avoiding a blow.

Greave left India a few days before independence, on the (false) promise of a cure in England. He wrote his book, which is full of humour and of the joys as well as of the pains of existence, a quarter of a century later, and is testimony to the indomitability of the human spirit. It deserves to be much more widely known.

Will “Image Steward” Bureaucrats Decide Whether You Get the Scan Your Doctor Orders?

Scanning technology is all the rage in the medical world, but it’s expensive and exposes patients to radiation. Thus the rise of a new business niche:

Some insurers are employing radiology benefit management firms (now known as RBMs, we live in a world of acronyms) to approve or deny physicians’ requests for scans on their patients. This method reduces the number of scans performed but not necessarily costs, since a lot of medical time is used up in providing the RBMs with the information required for them to be able to make a decision.

Read the rest at PJ Media

NYC meetup for Dalrymple readers on Tuesday, December 1st

We’re looking forward to hosting another happy hour meetup of Dalrymple readers, anyone else who reads our site, and like-minded types on Tuesday evening, December 1st in Manhattan.

We had a great time at our first such event back in July, discussing our favorite writers, swapping stories of being under intellectual siege in Gotham, and conspiring to rid the world of shallowness, rudeness and Madonna (but I repeat myself). This time we will surely solve Europe’s terrorism problem, come up with a plan to defeat Bill de Blasio, and reimpose reasonable standards of etiquette and civilization on Western society.

If you’d like to join us, please email me at for the details.

Among other smart and friendly people, we’ll be joined by writer Robert Wargas, whose September Weekly Standard piece on libertarianism might make for some interesting discussion.

For Crying Out Loud

Dalrymple notices something telling in the response of many to the Paris attacks. One example:

The mother of two of the Paris terrorists, one of whom was a suicide bomber, demonstrated how far she had assimilated to contemporary Western culture from her native Algerian, and how well she understood it, when she said that she was sure that the son who blew himself up with explosives in his vest did not intend to kill anyone and acted in the way he did only because of stress. This combines two important modern tropes: that stress excuses all, and that irrespective of someone’s actual conduct, however terrible it may be, there subsists within him a core of goodness that is more real than the superficial badness, such as taking part in mass murder.

Elder Abuse on the Rise…Beginning at Age 60!

Thankfully, even the most morbid aspects of human behavior (like abuse of the elderly) are studied by specialists intently, so that you and I don’t have to:

A recent review article in the New England Journal of Medicine draws the attention of doctors to the phenomenon that they would probably rather not have to think about. Surveys suggest that about 10 per cent of the elderly (rather alarmingly, from my current personal perspective, defined as those over 60 years of age) are abused…

Europe’s Bloodless Universalism

This piece on the Library of Law and Liberty blog is an excellent look at Molenbeek, Belgium (the center of Islamic terrorism in Europe) and the prevailing ideology there and throughout Europe that has made the continent so vulnerable to Islamism:

A striking thing about the immigration debate before the massacres of November 13 was the almost complete absence of references, at least by the “respectable” politicians, to the national interest of the various countries. The debate was couched in Kantian moral terms….Europe has nothing equivalent to national interest, and if it did, it would have no way of acting on it. A kind of bloodless universalism has rushed in to fill the vacuum, whose consequences are now visible to all. The first thing President Hollande tried to do after the attacks was close the borders; he now talks (understandably, of course) of national security. He talks also of defeating ISIS militarily, but France, along with all of the other European countries, has run down its armed forces in the name of the social security that paid for at least some of the terrorists.

Race Industry reports record output figures

In the Salisbury Review:

‘British Muslims report big rise in Islamophobia’ said the headlines of an article in the Guardian for 12 November. From the headline, I thought I would read that there had been an increase in the number of vicious attacks on Muslims qua Muslims, or at least of acts of physical desecration.

Not a bit of it. What I read instead were things like the following, taken from a survey of Muslim opinion:

More than two-thirds of Muslims told the survey that they
had heard anti-Islamic comments by politicians, and half
thought that politicians condoned Islamophobic acts.

Er, F—- Monomania

At Taki’s Magazine, Dalrymple says the modern epidemic of offense-taking is in large part attributable to monomania:

…the real threat to freedom of expression comes nowadays not so much from governments but from those groups of monomaniac citizens who are prepared to devote themselves to ruining the reputation of or making life miserable for those who dare to contradict them. The struggle is an asymmetric one: For by definition the monomaniacs have their one subject, while their opponents have many subjects. The former care desperately and continually about their subject, the latter only moderately and intermittently.