Tattoos: Rebellion or Conformity?

On the modern tattooing phenomenon:

…a tattoo differentiates and individuates, while at the same time allowing identification with masses of others. A tattoo allows you to rebel and conform at the same time, eat your cake and have it too. The names of tattoo parlours – Evil in the Needle, for example, or Revolution Ink – often reveal a kind of antinomianism which does not quite have the courage of its lack of convictions.

Description and Experience

Dalrymple’s writing often relies on both objective data and his own personal experience. At Psychology Today, he notes the frequent gap between the two:

…it seems to me that the distinction between knowledge by description and knowledge by acquaintance, or by direct experience, is a valid one. The reading of literature is probably the best way of trying to close the gap, Shakespeare being the greatest closer of the gap than any other writer (or at least any other writer known to me). He seems not only to have described but experienced his myriad characters from the inside, as it were; and because of his incomparable literary gifts, he helps us to do so as well. When we read Macbeth, we seem to understand not only Macbeth’s actions but to know what it is actually to be Macbeth, though we have no intention of becoming him ourselves.

Read the rest here

Britain in Crisis

At City Journal, Dalrymple says that, though emboldened by the recent elections, David Cameron has his work cut out for him:

He has promised a referendum on membership of the European Union, a promise that would be difficult even for Houdini to escape; and if it goes against membership, the Scots, who are Europhile but anti-English, might declare their independence and try to remain in the European Union (though it is by no means a foregone conclusion that the Union would have them). Nor would independence be without potential for creating deep divisions, bitterness, and conflict within Scotland itself, though the leadership of the SNP speaks the language of unanimity. The potential for chaos both north and south of the border is enormous.

Dalrymple in the media lately

Dalrymple has been appearing more in the media lately to promote his new book Admirable Evasions: How Psychology Undermines Morality. He sat down with the Chicago Tribune for this interview, which outlines the main arguments of the book:

Q: You lead with Shakespeare’s King Lear saying mental illness is “the excellent foppery of the world, that when we are sick in fortune…we (blame) the sun, the moon and the stars.”

A: Four hundred years later, it’s still true, but we blame psychology instead of astrology. We call it progress. Literature is far more illuminating into the human condition than psychology could ever hope to be.

And in this interview with Ginni Thomas for the Daily Caller, he talks about the dishonesty inherent in modern political correctness, which encourages people to say what they know isn’t true:

The question is: why has our society become so weak-willed in many respects? It accepts all kinds of obvious untruths and acts as if they were true, and that is a much worse threat than anything from outside. So that for example, just the way we think about social problems is often completely wrong. We treat people as if they were objects rather than subjects, as if they’re not reacting to their own circumstances, in fact. And we give them bad incentives and so on and so forth. So I think the intellectual dishonesty of the West is the greatest threat to our societies. We can’t say what we really think. We can only say what we don’t think (many of us), and that is really the greatest threat. And the only solution to that is for people to speak up and to write, which is what I’ve done — not with any great effect, I must say. But that’s all I can do anyway.

Bad Temper and the Internet

Let’s face it: the comments section of most news and opinion articles on the internet is terrible. The opportunity provided by new technology to respond easily and anonymously seems to have lead to an increase in the amount of vicious insults and bad language on the part of commenters (I’m proud to say the commenters on this blog are a notable exception). At Psychology Today, Dalrymple outlines two different theories to explain this phenomenon, what he calls the Romantic theory:

Those who favour the hydraulic theory of emotions – for example that there is always a certain amount of aggression to be expressed, and if it is not turned outward in some constructive fashion it will turn either inward or outward in a destructive way – would presumably think that the bile was always there and was previously expressing itself in some way even more unpleasant than these internet posts.

…and the Classical:

…those who favour the view that an appetite grows with the feeding would think that the ability and willingness to express bile will simply result in the production and expression of yet more bile. In other words, the habit of expressing your bile or your venom makes you more bilious or venomous. If you control yourself, then, your bile and venom will tend to disappear.

As you already know, TD favors the latter.

Simplifying Heroin

Writing on opium addiction at his blog for Psychology Today, Dalrymple quotes from a book called “The Life of the Heroin User: Typical Beginnings, Trajectories and Outcomes” by Shane Darke of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales. Mr. Darke’s findings confirm many of the arguments Dalrymple has long made about addiction, for example, that users are not as easily and helplessly addicted as conventional wisdom and popular culture suggest:

“Whilst opioids are associated with considerable pleasure in their
subjective effects, they have a number of serious negative sequelae.
Use of the drugs, at least prior to the development of tolerance,
produces nausea and vomiting. The novice user has to work through
these effects to become the long-term user we discuss in this book.”

Now in my experience, at least, nausea and vomiting are highly aversive experiences. If I ate some berries from a tree that caused me to vomit I should certainly think twice about returning to them. In other words, to work through nausea and vomiting indicates considerable determination: indeed, of a degree that would be admirable if it were in pursuit of a worthier end.

Read the post here

Icarus or the Future of Science

Note: When Dalrymple’s long-running BMJ column ended in 2012, he had a backlog of around 50 or 60 unpublished pieces, and he kindly gave them to us to post here at Skeptical Doctor. We are posting one each Wednesday to coincide with the schedule of his old BMJ column. We hope you enjoy them.

Prophecy is a fool’s game, which perhaps is why so many of us indulge in it. In 1924 Bertrand Russell wrote a very short book called Icarus or the Future of Science, a response to J.B.S. Haldane’s Daedalus or the Science of the Future. Daedalus, you remember, gave the power of flight to Icarus, and we all know what happened to him (oddly enough, the Brazilian airline Varig once unadvisedly called its in-flight magazine Icarus).

Haldane painted a rosy future for mankind thanks to its increased control over nature; Russell was more pessimistic. He thought American domination of the whole world was the best that we could hope for, next to the complete collapse of our civilization which, he said, ‘would in the end be preferable to this alternative.’

Russell divides the sciences into two, the physical and the anthropological, of which medicine is much the most important. He believes (correctly, as it now turns out) that ‘the study of heredity may in time make eugenics an exact science, and perhaps we shall in a later age be able to determine at will the sex of our children.’ Though no monogamist himself, he was not altogether sanguine about the results: ‘This would probably lead to an excess of males, involving a complete change in family institutions.’

He sees the march of birth control as inevitable. Opposition to it comes from superstition and the desire of employers to have enough people to keep wages low. However, not all the effects of birth control are to his taste. ‘Before long the population may actually diminish. This is already happening in the most intelligent sections of the most intelligent nations… before long, birth-control may become nearly universal among the white races; it will then not deteriorate their quality, but only diminish their numbers, at a time when uncivilized races are still prolific and are preserved from a high death-rate by white science.’

The other problem is the ductless glands:

More sensational than tests of intelligence is the possibility of controlling the emotional life through the secretions of the ductless glands. It will be possible to make people choleric or timid, strongly or weakly sexed, and so on, as may be desired. Differences of emotional disposition seem to be chiefly due to secretions of the ductless glands, and therefore controllable by injections or by increasing or diminishing secretions.

The politically powerful will inject the masses to make them docile. But if it is not the ductless glands that will give the powerful this control over the masses, it will be some other technology:

We shall have the emotions desired by our rulers, and the chief business of elementary education will be to produce the required disposition, no longer by punishment or moral precept, but by the far surer method of injection or diet.

Of course, the main emotional disposition required has turned out to be not docility, but self-esteem.

Russell foresaw the end of physical want, thanks to the application of science, but luckily we are different from the animals.

Wolves in a state of nature have difficulty in getting food, and therefore need the stimulus of a very insistent hunger. The result is that their descendants, domestic dogs, over-eat if they are allowed to do so.

But because of our difference from the beasts ‘over-eating is not a serious danger.’

As I said, prophecy is a fool’s game.

The Pleasures of Riot

At his new blog at Psychology Today, Dalrymple responds to an older post by another psychiatrist, Dr. Ken Eisold, that seeks to explain rioters:

In his article, Dr Eisold makes reference both to the social and economic frustrations of the rioters and to the events in Tiananmen Square. But demonstrations are not riots, though they can be turned into such by extremists, and perhaps by the provocation of the authorities. Nor is it true that every frustration is justified, or that it explains, let alone justifies, riotous and destructive conduct. If frustration explained riots, we would all be rioters. But even in riot-torn areas, rioting is not universal.

Read the full post here

Have a fag, it won’t cost you?

On the Salisbury Review’s website Dalrymple proclaims his opposition to smoking, but also to dishonesty:

I was startled by a figure in a recent article in the British Medical Journal titled How the tobacco industry refuses to die. It was a Venn diagram in which the costs and benefits of smoking in the UK were displayed. On the benefits side was a smaller grey circle marked £9.5 billion. On the costs side was a vividly multi-coloured circle marked £12.9 billion.

The text of the article, however, said that the Exchequer received £10 billion in excise duty on cigarettes and a further £2 billion in VAT on cigarettes. British American Tobacco paid £1.45 billion in taxes, and if Imperial Tobacco paid taxes pro rata according to its profits, it would pay £0.7 billion. In other words, the figure in the benefits circle should have been at least £14.15 billion. This does not include the benefits of employment by the industry and – horrible to relate – the reduction in pensions that have to be paid to those who die early as a result of smoking. This would be an unpleasant figure to calculate, but if we are talking of economic costs and benefits it ought to have been included.

Fascists in Kilts

This column from 2 weeks ago in City Journal has thankfully been overtaken by events:

…there is a serious risk that little more than 4 percent of the adult population could determine the policies of the next government.

According to polls, the Scottish National Party (SNP) will win 50 seats in the next Parliament. Polls can be wrong, of course…

In economics, the Nationalists are socialist, or at least corporatist; in politics, their rhetoric is nationalist. They are, in fact, national socialists. Fascism is returning to Europe, though—for now—with a much less aggressive, brutal face.