Age of Rage

The politically correct became enraged yet again recently when a judge observed that drunk women make themselves more vulnerable to rapists:

Everyone accepts that it is no excuse for a burglar that a house’s front door has been left open; moreover, a householder has a perfect right to leave his front door open if he so wishes. But equally no one would say that a householder who does not want to be burgled acts prudently if he insists upon exercising his perfect right (a much more perfect right than that to get drunk in public) to leave his front door open.

Sordid but Not Guilty

If you read only one Dalrymple piece this week, I recommend it be this one in City Journal: the story of two English football players charged with rape for engaging in seemingly consensual intercourse with a young woman. Though Dalrymple finds their prosecution absurd, he eloquently indicts almost every individual and group involved, from the principals to the various public institutions to the commentators.

Two Forms of Mass Hysteria

Dalrymple’s definition of political correctness as “communist propaganda writ small” has been widely quoted across the Internet. In Taki’s Magazine, he expands on the idea:

For the greater political correctness’ violation of common sense, the better—at least if its goal is power over men’s minds and conduct. In this sense it is like Communist propaganda of old: The greater the disparity between the claims of that propaganda and the everyday experience of those at whom it was directed, the greater the humiliation suffered by the latter, especially when they were obliged to repeat it, thus destroying their ability to resist, even in the secret corners of their heart. That is why the politically correct insist that everyone uses their language: Unlike what the press is supposed to do, the politically correct speak power to truth.

Taking Out the Rubbish

In Taki’s Magazine Dalrymple takes an American professor to task in the harshest way one can criticize an academic these days: he simply quotes the man’s own writing (below)…

Antiracist writing assessment ecologies explicitly pay close attention to the relationships that make up the ecology, relationships among people, discourses, judgments, artifacts created and circulated. They ask students to reflect upon them, negotiate them, and construct them. Antiracist writing assessment ecologies also self-consciously (re)produce power arrangements in order to examine and perhaps change them. When designing an antiracist writing ecology, a teacher can focus students’ attention on a few of the ecological elements…which inter-are. This means addressing others, such as power relations and the ecological places where students problematize their existential assessment situations.

Maritime musings

In a new piece at The New Criterion, Dalrymple considers the port of Antwerp, which he recently visited. Although repelled by the exterior of Zaha Hadid’s Havenhuis, he is pleasantly surprised by its interior, which he calls the best working environment he has ever seen. But it is the industriousness of the port and its juxtaposition with the surrounding countryside that seems to interest him most.

All the same, it seems to me an immense achievement that anything at all should grow so close to so large a concentration of industrial activity. Those of us who remember the good old days in Eastern Europe remember factories that seemed to produce nothing at all except pollution, and that poisoned the earth for hundred of yards, if not for miles, around, so that nothing would grow in the oily, poisoned land. It was as if the communist masters took pollution as a metonym for economic advancement: the smokier and the fouler, the nearer to the proletarian heaven the regime approached. And in Cornwall, where arsenic, at one time the elixir of industry, was mined in the nineteenth century, the land is still bare more than a century and a half later. One expects scrub, not fields, around so vast an enterprise as the port of Antwerp.

Read the full piece here

How to be a PC creep

The British Medical Journal has been asking doctors they profile to describe themselves in three words. Dalrymple’s reaction:

One had the depressing feeling that the [interviewees] had been given, and accepted, a buzzword generator of self-praise: no one demurred, no one was, for example, bad-tempered, mean-spirited or egoistic. There wasn’t even a gossip among them, let alone a writer of poison-pen letters. Perhaps they were all of the things that they said they were, but one could not help wishing that it was someone else who said it of them; moreover, they made ditch-water seem like champagne.

Have We Lost Our Temperance?

This piece in Taki’s Magazine argues for the avoidance of exaggeration in our language:

Intemperance of expression is the enemy of distinctions in meaning.

Also note the important point on the use of the word “resistance” by the left vis-a-vis President Trump:

…as if the United States had instantaneously turned into a land where it was dangerous to express a contrary opinion to that of the president’s, as if opponents were being rounded up and put in camps, as if it required singular bravery to express dislike or even disgust for him. I suspect that, in parts of the country at least, and among a certain kind of people, it would have required more moral courage to admit that you voted for him than to compare him to Bluebeard or Genghis Khan.

The word resistance is indicative of self-congratulation and grandiosity, and must be rather galling for those for whom the choice to submit or resist is or ever was a question of life and death. Opposition is a normal and salutary process in a civilized polity, accepted by politicians even if, in his heart, no one in power really likes to be opposed; resistance is something else altogether.

The Medical Man and the Witch During the Renaissance by Gregory Zilboorg

Note: This is the last of the previously-unpublished pieces from Dalrymple’s old BMJ column. When the column ended in 2012, he had a backlog of about 60 such pieces, and he kindly gave them to us to post here at Skeptical Doctor. We hope you’ve enjoyed them.

Some little time ago I was asked to appear on a television discussion programme about exorcism. The producers wanted a medical view of the matter, and persuaded me, rather reluctantly, to appear.

Not having had a television for many years, I naively supposed that a discussion programme was rather like The Brains Trust of my childhood: three or four people sitting round a table discussing a matter calmly and rationally. But we have made progress since then: an audience was plied with drink beforehand, and I was sat next to a man who had been persistently violent until an exorcist had made him vomit up a little green devil, whereupon he started to help old ladies across the road.

The camera switched to me and I was asked what I thought of that, then. I was in a completely invidious position: I had fifteen seconds in which to answer, and I was faced with the choice of either poo-pooing the man, which would have displeased the drunken audience, or appearing to endorse his story.

I thought of this wretched episode in my life as I read Gregory Zilboorg’s The Medical Man and the Witch During the Renaissance, published in 1935. Zilboorg was a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who was born in Russia and took an active part in the Revolution, later thinking better of it and emigrating to the United States. He was clearly a man of distinction, a gifted linguist, fluent in several languages and writing elegant English, capable of reading mediaeval medical texts in Latin, and a learned historian: all this quite apart from his medical practice, which was extensive.

Zilboorg’s hero is Johannes Weyer (c. 1515 – 1588), a doctor who was physician to Duke Wilhelm of Jülich-Cleve-Berg. His principal work is De praestigis daemonum, a work published in 1563 in which he attempted to show that the belief in witchcraft was absurd, that confessions obtained by torture were worthless because people would say anything the torturers wanted to get them to stop the torture (how strange it is that this ever needed to be pointed out!), and that psychosis with hallucinations and delusions was an illness to be treated by physicians rather than a manifestation of diabolic possession to be punished by the Inquisition. The author rather overlooks the fact that the physicians of the time might not have been able to do much more for the sufferer than the Inquisition and indeed later medical treatment, predicated strictly on a naturalistic hypothesis, sometimes resembled a milder version of the inquisitorial torments.

History is full of ironies. On page 166, Dr Zilboorg writes of the effect of Weyer’s great book:

Instead of continuing to push his sense of sin into the overcrowded world of projections and paranoid delusions, man was now ready to shoulder the burden of it himself.

But in the 1930s and 40s, millions of people were to be killed because of political paranoia; and such paranoia has continued since then to manifest itself with disastrous effect.

Furthermore, the author mentions in a footnote that Weyer’s patron and intellectual follower, Duke Wilhelm, himself suffered a psychosis late in life and that this led to an orgy of witch-hunting in his own duchy.

Truly, the history of progress is often also the history of regression. Who would have thought that, in our age, it might be difficult to cast doubt on the process of exorcism on television? The latter is, of course, the instrument of the devil.