Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Perpetuation of Evil

As another example of how impressed I am by Theodore Dalrymple's book, Our Culture, What's Left of It, I'm reprinting another excerpt, this time from an essay entitled, "The Frivolity of Evil" that starts out the book, and which I found particularly powerful and moving:

My patient already had had three children by three different men, by no means unusual among my patients, or indeed in the country as a whole. The father of her first child had been violent, and she had left him; the second died in an accident while driving a stolen car; the third, with whom she had been living, had demanded that she should leave his apartment because, a week after their child was born, he decided that he no longer wished to live with her. (The discovery of incompatibility a week after the birth of a child is now so common as to be statistically normal.) She had nowhere to go, no one to fall back on, and the hospital was a temporary sanctuary from her woes. She hoped that we would fix her up with some accommodation.

She could not return to her mother, because of conflict with her "stepfather," or her mother's latest boyfriend, who, in fact, was only nine years older than she and seven years younger than her mother. This compression of the generations is also now a common pattern and is seldom a recipe for happiness. (It goes without saying that her own father had disappeared at her birth, and she had never seen him since.) The latest boyfriend in this kind of ménage either wants the daughter around to abuse her sexually or else wants her out of the house as being a nuisance and an unnecessary expense. This boyfriend wanted her out of the house, and set about creating an atmosphere certain to make her leave as soon as possible.

The father of her first child had, of course, recognized her vulnerability. A girl of 16 living on her own is easy prey. He beat her from the first, being drunken, possessive, and jealous, as well as flagrantly unfaithful. She thought that a child would make him more responsible—sober him up and calm him down. It had the reverse effect. She left him.

The father of her second child was a career criminal, already imprisoned several times. A drug addict who took whatever drugs he could get, he died under the influence. She had known all about his past before she had his child.

The father of her third child was much older than she. It was he who suggested that they have a child—in fact he demanded it as a condition of staying with her. He had five children already by three different women, none of whom he supported in any way whatever.

The conditions for the perpetuation of evil were now complete. She was a young woman who would not want to remain alone, without a man, for very long; but with three children already, she would attract precisely the kind of man, like the father of her first child—of whom there are now many—looking for vulnerable, exploitable women. More than likely, at least one of them (for there would undoubtedly be a succession of them) would abuse her children sexually, physically, or both.

If you wish to read the entire essay (which I recommend you do!), you can find it here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Popular Culture, or the runs?

...another excerpt from Dalrymple's Our Culture, What's Left of It from an essay he wrote about the funeral of Princess Diana:

That her tastes were, despite her privileged upbringing, utterly banal and plebeian appeared very clearly at the funeral, where Elton John sang his bathetic dirge immediately after the prime minister read St. Paul's magnificent words in Corinthians It was highly appropriate (and symbolic) that this lugubrious booby, with his implanted wig, should sing a recycled version of a song intially dedicated to the memory of Marilyn Monroe--a celebrity who at least had had to make her own way in the world, and who also made a few films worthy of commemoration. "Goodbye, England's rose," he intoned in a mid-Atlantic accent that spoke volumes for the loss of Britain's cultural confidence, "from a country lost without your soul."

You can say that again. In the orgy of sentimentality into which much of the country sank after Diana's death, and which reminds me of the hot bath into which I gratefully sink after a hard day at the hospital, one thing has become evident: that the British, under the infuence of the media of mass communication, which demand that everyone wear his emotion or pseudo-emotion on his sleeve, have lost their only admirable qualities--stoicism, self-deprecation, and a sense of irony--and have gained only those worthy of contempt. They have exchanged depth for shallowness, and have thought they got the better of the bargain. They are like people who imagine that the answer to constipation is diarrhea.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Our Culture, What's Left of It

I just finished reading a remarkable collection of essays by English physician/psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple entitled Our Culture, What's Left Of It. Dalrymple, before retiring to France, spent the bulk of his career working in prisons and government-run hospitals in England. This gave him, as Bertrand Russell used to say, "knowledge by acquaintance" of the British welfare system of which he has virtually nothing good to say.

Included in this book is an essay which makes the clearest, most well thought-out argument against an idea I grew up hearing, and even used to espouse myself for awhile, namely legalizing drugs. The essay, oddly enough, is called Don't Legalize Drugs. Here's a short excerpt to give you the flavor:

...many others--even policemen--have said that "the war on drugs is lost." ...Never can an unimaginative and fundamentally stupid metaphor have exerted a more baleful effect upon proper thought. ...If the war against drugs is lost, then so are the wars against theft, speeding, incest, fraud, rape murder, arson, and illegal parking. Few, if any, such wars are winnable. So let us all do anything we choose.

In another essay entitled How to Read a Society he introduces us to a lesser known work by Alexis de Tocqueville that gives us the origins of the English welfare system and a critique of its beginnings that foreshadows the horrors to come:
Tocqueville's Memoir on Pauperism was published in 1835, shortly after the first volume of Democracy in America. He had visited England, then by far the most prosperous country in Europe, if not the world. But there was a seeming paradox: a sixth of the population of England were--or had made themselves--paupers, completely reliant upon handouts from public charity. This was a proportion greater than in any other country in Europe, even in such incomparably poorer ones as Spain and Portugal. In the midst of what was then the utmost prosperity Tocqueville found not only physical squalor but moral and emotional degradation.

Tocqueville surmised that the reason lay in the fact that England was then the one country in Europe that provided public assistance, as of right, to people who lacked the means to support themselves. The reign of Elizabeth I had conferred this right, as a way of dealing with the epidemic of begging that followed the dissolution of the monasteries. In the past they had provided essentially private and voluntary charity to the poor, on a discretionary basis.

Dalrymple goes on to paint a vivid picture of the end results of English welfare in the twentieth, and now, the twenty-first century in his experiences with his lower-class, immigrant, and prisoner patients. It's an often terrifying, yet fascinating (and wonderfully written) account, with profound cautionary warnings to America which has not yet descended to quite the depths of cultural disintegration and moral bankruptcy as our English cousins across the Atlantic.