Blind means don’t see differences

January 8, 2013

Quote of the day:

Anti-racists collect statistics about race with a celerity and obsessional intrusiveness that would have put the apartheid regime to shame. The opposite of a racist is not an anti-racist but someone who does not think in racial categories at all. Theodore Dalrypmple

This also applies to gender, age and any other difference some people consider more important than our common humanity.

Those who regard all people as equal see them as people first and foremost, not as a member of a sub-group.

Positive discrimination can sometimes be a force for good but it is still discrimination which focusses on a difference.

Being blind to colour, gender,age or any other difference means you don’t see those things, you simply see the people inside because that is what really matters.

Taking the waiting out of wanting

November 4, 2012

Listening to pop songs in taxis led Theodore Dalrymple to an explanation for one of the causes of the global financial crisis:

. . . For is it not the case that one of those causes is that, on a gargantuan scale, we took the waiting out of wanting? Not only consumer credit but government deficit spending, largely to underwrite a standard of living that we did not go to the trouble of having earned, is at the root of our financial difficulties. . .

The protestant work ethic with which I was brought up taught me about delayed gratification.

You worked and you saved and you waited and eventually you’d get what you wanted because you’d earned it.

Easy credit changed that by taking the waiting out of wanting and now we’re all paying for it.

Politics of envy

October 28, 2012

Theodore Dalrymple notes a cultural change in the USA:

. . . Now American society has many faults, no doubt, as all things human do; but the one sin of which it was traditionally freest, by comparison with all other societies, was envy. More people wished good luck to the successful in America than in any other society, though of course not all; fewer people were bitten by envy, and more people impelled by emulation, than anywhere else in the world. Indeed, there was a time, and not so long ago, when to display or appeal to envy would have been regarded as un-American, a virtual repudiation of the American dream. Mr Nixon despised Mr Kennedy as a pseudo-aristocratic spoilt brat, but didn’t dare say so in public in case it sounded envious.

So Mr Obama’s appeal to envy is a symptom, and perhaps a reinforcement, of a cultural change. It goes without saying that his own financial position is one which 99.9 per cent of the enviously-inclined might envy; but an appeal to that envy, to suggest even subliminally that a man with a large fortune is in some way existentially less suited ipso facto to the highest office than a man with less money, is no more traditionally American than would be a sneer at a man’s humble beginnings.

The excitation or exploitation of envy is wrong, even where the fortunate do not deserve their good fortune.

Politics of envy is not unknown here too.

It is part of what drives the left’s obsession with inequality.

The real economic and social problem is not that some people have a lot more than others but that some don’t have enough.

If inequality was the real problem it could be solved by dragging down those with more and making people equally poor.

That would not however, do anything to help those who don’t have enough, whatever enough is.


Economic crisis a moral crisis

October 27, 2012

The experience of the Depression influenced my parents for life.

They spent moderately and saved well.

The idea of borrowing for something that wasn’t an absolute necessity or incurring a debt they couldn’t repay would have been anathema too them.

There was nothing unusual in that for them or their contemporaries.

It is no longer the norm, for many individuals and countries as Theodore Dalrymple ruminates:

. . .But to call the attempt to balance a budget ‘austerity,’ in other words to say living within your means implies ‘rigorous abstinence, asceticism,’ a kind of killjoy puritanism, is to suggest that it is both honest, just and decent to do otherwise. And this is indicative of a revolution in our sensibilities.

In fact, it is grossly dishonorable to live beyond your means, at least when you transfer to the cost to others, as is inevitable when borrowing becomes an entire, chronic way of life – as it has in many countries. Then repayment becomes impossible and is known in advance to be impossible; you continue to borrow so that you may continue to live at a higher standard of living than your earnings justify, in the full knowledge that you will either eventually default or, metaphorically speaking, pay back in tin the weight of what you borrowed in gold. Perhaps those foolish enough to lend to you in these circumstances deserve to lose some or all their money; but there is no disguising the fact that, at least according to traditional standards of morality, your conduct has been dishonorable, immoral and fraudulent.

If an individual owes money, the honorable thing for him to do is to restrict his spending in order to repay it, and not to borrow more merely so that he may maintain his current standard of living until such time comes when he must declare his bankruptcy. And I am old enough to remember the time when poor people refrained from borrowing for fear of not being able to repay the debt, and thus lose their self-respect. Their self-respect was more important to them than their level of consumption of inessentials. . .

 Of course, countries are not individuals. . .  Our individual sense on honor is not engaged when the borrowing is done by the government and the proceeds trickle down into our pockets.

It is in these circumstances that the moral corruption of living permanently on borrowed money that will never be paid back can be hidden from those who do so, though only vicariously. Their sense of responsibility is attenuated to the degree that they do not realize that they have any. The people in Greece, understandably but nevertheless wrongly, experience the lowering of their standard of living as unjust; they do not see it as a consequence of their undeservedly high previous standard of living, because that undeservedly high standard of living came to them via what for them was an abstraction, the government. In Spain, by contrast, it was private debt that was the culprit; but the population did not experience their high standard of living as economically unjustified either.

The idea that living within your means is a form of austerity, and not (other than in exceptional circumstances) the elementary moral duty of people of honor, shows that, underlying the economic crisis is a profound moral crisis in western society.

Living within your means was not just normal but right for my parents and their generation.

They endured an economic depression but not a moral one.

The ideology of drunkenness

October 26, 2012

As the Alcohol Reform Bill wends its way through parliament, Theodore Dalrymple’s observations are appropriate:

Britain is the only country known to me in which drunkenness is an ideology: that is to say in which people believe in an abstract way that, in getting drunk, they are doing good to themselves and performing an almost philanthropic service. The mass public drunkenness that appals foreigners when they come to our shores is actually thought by young drunks to be a form individual therapy and social prophylaxis rolled into one.  . .

Britain isn’t alone in this immature attitude to alcohol consumption.

Drunkenness might not be an ideology but there are too many people who regard it as a requirement for enjoying a social occasion and a measure of enjoyment.


Easier to level down than up

October 3, 2012

Quote of the day:

. . . Social reformers have always found it easier to level down than to level up. The former can be done by simple and purely administrative means, whereas the latter requires long, persistent and wise effort, not necessarily by the bureaucrats, without much assurance of success in the long run because such factors as genetic endowment are likely to interfere with the outcome. It is far easier to make allowances for children of disadvantaged homes than to arrange for them to have a decent education in the first place, which among other things would require good teachers using proper pedagogical methods teaching subject matter that is worthwhile in itself. The procedural measure of success – equality of rates of admission to university – is admirably suited to a world in which appearance is often confounded with reality, a world of spin-doctoring, a world in fact in which such things as the Olympic Games can be taken seriously. Theodore Dalrymple

More equal not always better

September 4, 2012

Growing inequality has become another cause of the left, but being more equal doesn’t necessarily make anything better.

Theodore Dalrymple illustrates this in a column on Britain’s National Health System:

. . . equality in health is not necessarily desirable in itself. Suppose that the infant-mortality rate in the highest social class is three per 1,000 live births, while that in the lowest is six per 1,000 (approximately the case in Britain today). Then suppose that we could reduce the rate by one death per 1,000 births in each social class, yielding two per 1,000 in the highest class and five per 1,000 in the lowest. A cause for rejoicing, certainly—but not from the point of view of equality, for the ratio of deaths in the lowest class to deaths in the highest class would widen from 6:3 to 5:2—that is, from 2.0 to 2.5. Surely, however, only a latter-day Lenin would reject such an improvement because it increased inequality. Similarly, an increase in the infant-mortality rate of the highest social class, to six per 1,000, would represent an advance to complete equality; but again, no one but a Lenin would wish it. . . .

The easiest way to improve inequality is to drag the top down but that would make things worse for those people without doing anything at all to improve matters for those at the bottom.

A wide gap between rich and poor might increase envy from those at the bottom but the real problem isn’t how much those at the top have.  It’s that those at the bottom don’t have enough, although how much is enough is open to debate.

Helping those in greatest need get enough ought to be the goal even though that might not close the gap between them and those who are better off.

Riots caused by rotten culture

April 11, 2012

A government commission into the cause of last year’s riots in Britain has come to several conclusions, most of which don’t impress Theodore Dalrymple who says:

. . . It is true, however, that a combination of consumerism and utter economic dependence on the state is, like the lot of the policeman, not a happy one. The dependence is (admittedly at some remove) a corollary of the theory of entitlement, and a belief in one’s own entitlement is a belief as destructive of the human personality as it is possible to envisage. It precludes gratitude for what one has, encourages resentment over what one does not have, and discourages personal effort except to obtain things at other people’s expense. At the same time consumerism, by offering the mirage of personal fulfilment through the possession of trifles, lends an urgency to possession that it might not otherwise have, thus adding to or catalysing to the resentments of entitlement. I might add that in a world in which income is in essence pocket money (everything else having been taken care of, albeit at a level less than that desired) consumer choice becomes the only choice that is ever exercised, and thus the model for the whole of human life.

The rioters, then, were (and still are, of course) victims, not of injustice or poverty, but of bad ideas and a rotten culture that, alas, have become truly their own. And the first idea they ought to be disabused of is that there is someone who is either able or willing to come to their rescue.  

Poor more likely to be perpetrators and victims

March 12, 2012

Quote of the day:

One cannot say often enough that the victims of crime are, like the perpetrators, more likely to be poor than rich. For example, single-parent households in Britain have a more than one-in-20 chance of being burgled in any given year; and since most burglars are recidivists, indeed multiply so, it follows that the class of victim is much larger than the class of perpetrator. Leniency toward criminals is not therefore a form of sympathy for the poor, but a failure to take either their lives or their property seriously. Theodore Dalrymple

Quote of the day

February 17, 2012

If Tony Blair, a former Prime Minister, makes untold millions trading deals with shady despots in the Third World, is it really any surprise that many people – the electoral peasantry of our political masters – feel that to be honest in these circumstances is to be naive, a fool, a mug.

They are wrong, actually: it is important to be honest for the sake of one’s self-respect, but not everyone values their self-respect. . .

. . . Dishonesty is contagious. And the example our business, political and intellectual leaders give us is, to an unprecedented degree in recent memory, bad, corrupt and corrupting. . . Theodore Dalrymple in Cheats, spivs and small-time crooks: Britain is getting less honest, and it starts at the top

Don’t know courage until tested – updated

January 22, 2012

I did a lot of lifesaving when I was at high school.

All the rescuing was done in a swimming pool with a calm “patient” who was able to swim and the CPR was done as best we could without actually touching our partners who acted as the bodies.

I did lots of practice and passed all the tests but it always worried me that although I knew what to do in theory, I’d panic and get it wrong or not do it at all if I had to put it into practice.

The knowledge and training gave me the responsibility to use it if called on and I didn’t know if I would.

What I learned at school has been reinforced by CPR lessons given after each baby was born and more recent first aid classes.  But again I wondered what I’d do if put to the test?

I found out with our first son who stopped breathing when he was 20 weeks old.

He was on an apnoea mattress which alarmed in the middle of the night.

False alarms weren’t unknown but I leapt out of bed, glanced at him, re-set the mattress, then remembered what the nurse who’d taught us CPR had said: that technology has its place but it doesn’t replace your eyes and ears.

As I looked at Tom more closely the alarm went again and I realised this was for real.

I lifted him from his cradle, put him on the floor and started doing CPR but his chest wouldn’t move. My farmer grabbed the Plunket book, read out the instructions one by one and I realised I had tilted Tom’s head too far back. I moved it forward a little, blew, softly into his nose and mouth and saw his chest move.

My farmer phoned the ambulance. In those days the call went to the local hospital, it was answered by someone who used to shear for us. He said he’d give the ambulance directions and clear the line so my farmer could ring our GP and his nurse who lived a couple of kilometres away.

The nurse came up straight away and took over the CPR until our GP then the ambulance arrived.

Doing CPR on my own clean, uninjured baby, with my farmer there to help wasn’t too difficult. But I’ve often wondered since if I’d be able to do it as well on someone else, especially if they were covered in blood or vomit, and how I’d cope with other injuries or serious acute illness.

I go over in my head what I’ve learned from first aid classes but no amount of theory can tell us how we’d react in practice until we have to.

The reports on the captain of the Costa Concordia who abandoned ship made me think of this again.

He’s the object of a Tui billboard, his conversation with the Coast Guard has provided slogans for t-shirts and a friend emailed me this:

The current plight of the Costa Concordia reminds me of a comment made by Churchill. 

After his retirement he was cruising the Mediterranean on an Italian cruise liner and some Italian journalists asked why an ex British Prime Minister should choose an Italian ship. 

“There are three things I like about being on an Italian cruise ship” said Churchill. 

“First their cuisine is unsurpassed.  Second their service is superb.  And then, in time of emergency, there is none of this nonsense about women and children first”. 

It’s all very amusing but Theodore Dalrymple asks who’s to say how we’d behave in a similar situation?

Courage is a virtue and heroism is admirable, but do we have a right to demand   them? Which of us cannot look back on his or her own life and remember   decisions, or compromises made, or silences kept because of cowardice, even   when the penalties for courage were negligible?

If we are cowardly in small things, shall we be brave in large? Have we the   right to point the finger until we have been tested ourselves? When we read   of the seemingly lamentable conduct of the captain of the Costa Concordia,   Francesco Schettino, who left his passengers to their fate, do we say,   “There but for the grace of God go I”?

Of course, leadership entails an obligation to be courageous – morally,   physically or both. It is the price of leadership; it is why leaders are   more highly regarded and rewarded than the rest of us . . .

The captain was paid to take care of the ship, its crew and passengers and he failed.

We all hope, maybe even think, that if we were in a situation like that which required us to act with courage we’d do so but none of us know how brave we’ll be until have to be.

Life and literature are full of ordinary people who do extraordinary things.

There are also many real and fictional examples of people who do the wrong thing and no matter how well trained we are none of us will know how we’ll react until we’re really tested.

UPDATE: Macdoctor has a very good post on this in Sinking Feeling.

Why bad theories never die

December 19, 2011

Quote of the day:

Why do I spend so much time arguing against such obvious rubbish, which should be both self-refuting and auto-satirizing the moment someone utters it? Why not just go and read a good book?

The problem is that nonsense can and does go by default. It wins the argument by sheer persistence, by inexhaustible re-iteration, by staying at the meeting when everyone else has gone home, by monomania, by boring people into submission and indifference. And the reward of monomania? Power. Theodore Dalrymple.

Few are well tended lawns

December 15, 2011

Quote of the day:

All flesh is grass, of course, but few of us are a well tended lawn. Theodore Dalrymple

Quote of the day

October 24, 2011

Failure is the dark underbelly of success; for every outstanding case of the latter, there are many cases of the former. Theodore Dalrymple

He wasn’t talking about rugby but he could have been.

Who spoils them?

April 9, 2011

Quote of the week:

Children do not, after all, spoil themselves. –  Theodore Dalrymple

Rich in want can’t take from poor in need

March 3, 2011

Remember the television advertisements for Working for Families?

They showed well dressed people in an upmarket home with the father texting to get the teenage daughter to the table while she lounged on a sofa listening to an iPod.

Did that look like a family in need of public money? No and it wasn’t meant to. The advertisements were aimed at middle and upper income people who ought never to have considered themselves in need of a benefit and probably never did until they were targeted by the ads.

It was an election bribe and it worked, one of several which enabled Labour to scrape back into power in 2005.

Of all the dead rats National swallowed before the 2008 election, WFF was one of the most indigestible. It might be an acceptable way to help the working poor end up better off than those on benefits. But giving public funds to people who already have everything they need and at least some of the things they want is neither economically nor morally sustainable.

Theodore Dalrymple says:

The problem with the State taking care of everything is  twofold. First it tends to destroy our character, something that can be observed every day. Our faculties such as prudence and planning for unpleasant eventualities are lost if they are not exercised, a trend surely borne out by the fact that we as a nation save nothing and borrow much.  . .

. . . In  effect, we are all paupers at the gate of King State. We are paupers even when we are not poor.

There is no doubt that this is very gratifying to many of our governors. It flatters their self-importance which is often their strongest character trait. But it leaves the rest of us reduced human beings.

No one who’s had many dealings with British officialdom can be under any illusions as to the warmth of its heart. Indeed, it can show no compassion because it, unlike real charity, can make no distinction between the deserving and the undeserving. To fail to make this distinction is to increase the number of  the undeserving.

How could anyone think that people earning well above the average wage were either in need or deserving of benefits?

It is much easier to give than to take away. If, as Bill English and John Key have signalled, the wealthier recipients of WFF lose their benefits they won’t like it but if they have any conscience they’ll lump it.

They’re keeping more of the money they earn as a result of tax cuts, they can’t expect to have money desperately needed in other areas as well.

Money spent on allowing middle and upper income families to maintain or improve their lifestyles has came at the cost of their independence and public goods,  services and infrastructure the country and its poorer citizens really needed.

That need is even greater now.

If you’re not convinced, picture again those television ads . Do families like that need public money when others don’t have food, shelter, water, sewers, roads and other essentials?

Creating jobs doesn’t create prosperity

January 22, 2011

It is perfectly true, of course, that any number of jobs can be created at the stroke of a government’s pen. As the history of communism shows, everyone can be given a job. Unfortunately, prosperity is something else entirely. – Theodore Dalrymple

What sort of freedom do we want?

January 16, 2011

It is a mistake, in my view, to assume that all people want to be free, in the sense of the American pioneers.

I think they much prefer to be comfortable; as the establishment of welfare states almost everywhere as the political summun bonum has shown, the greatest of all freedoms, the one that more people want more than any other, is the freedom from responsibility and consequences. - Theodore Dalrymple.

There are many problems associated with this sort of freedom though.

It leaves people beholden to the state.

It comes at too great an economic cost.

It is also insecure because goverments which give can also take away.

Quote of the week

December 12, 2010
‘There are occasions,’ he said, ‘when the imperative of serving the national interest transcends other concerns, including party political and personal concerns.’
Well, that’s nice to know: there are occasions when the needs of the country may be permitted to interfere (though not, of course, for very long) with a politician’s career plans. But think how galling it must be for him, poor fellow, when this happens! There will soon be a name for the psychiatric condition such occasions cause in politicians: Politician’s Self-Sacrificial Stress Disorder.

The opening remark was made by the  Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland, Brian Cowen, the comment which follows comes from Theodore Dalrymple in When Irish Eyes are Crying.

If you follow the link you’ll find his guide to diagnosis.

Vulgarity rules

November 23, 2010

Noelle McCarthy is hosting Critical Mass today and we began with Letters From Wetville where Sandra posts on Acting Like Normal, Hibernation, In Solidarity with Our Town and Waiting, Hoping and Praying.

These are insider’s thoughts on the Pike River mine explosion. She’s writing from inside about her own community and people which gives her posts a poignancy and intimacy which other media, looking from the outside in, can’t replicate.

We moved on to something completely different – Theodore Dalrymple believes that vulgarity is now the ruling characteristic of England.

And we finished by discussing Noelle’s column in the Herald on the problem of having too many Facebook friends.


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