Call Centres, the West’s version of North Korea

The removal of judgment and nuance is not just a feature of the modern public sector bureaucracy but also of the private. Look at those phone calls with customer support representatives, for example:

‘We need to ask you some security questions,’ said a young woman on the other end of the line.

‘Are you sure it’s not the other way around?’ I asked.

‘We need to ask you some security questions,’ repeated the young woman.

‘Why?’ I asked.

‘We need to ask you some security questions.’

Dalrymple at Salisbury Review

Death and Deterrence: Efficacy Is Not All

At the Library of Law and Liberty Dalrymple notes pro-death penalty arguments that seem valid, though he is opposed to the practice, and comments on others’ inability to maintain the same objectivity:

When I have put these arguments informally to people, I have noticed a curious divide. Those who, like me, are against capital punishment declare that they prove nothing—that there remains no evidence of its efficacy. Those who are in favor of it accept the arguments uncritically. In other words, it is not the evidence that determines their view, but their view that determines their reception of the evidence.

This is all the more striking because the efficacy of the death penalty does not decisively decide the argument either for or against it. It would be perfectly logical to accept its being an effective deterrent to murder and yet be opposed to it. After all, applying the death penalty to motorists who break the speed limit would no doubt be highly effective in slowing the traffic, but few people would argue for it. Efficacy is not all.

The Deal of the Art

The government is not a good patron of the arts, says Dalrymple at Taki’s Magazine. For one thing, it doesn’t have the taste to pick good from bad. But that’s not to say it should never have a role — as a censor, for example:

[C]ensorship is a precondition of the greatest art, at least if history is anything to go by. I mean a negative censorship, in which there are things that you can’t say, rather than a positive censorship, in which there are things that you must say: The latter is deadly. Preferably also the censorship should be light-handed, capricious, and unpredictable: The perfect recipe for the production of art (though, as every cook knows, some recipes go wrong even when you stick to them) is absolute monarchy with incompetent censorship and religious belief.

He’s quick to say he wouldn’t actually advocate censorship today. Read it here.

Mobility and Nobility

Dalrymple appears in the new Claremont Review of Books reviewing Hillbilly Elegy and also White Trash by Nancy Isenberg. This is notable because the former was certainly the book of the year in the US, and its narrative is largely an American version of Dalrymple’s tales of moral ignorance and dysfunction in the English underclass. Thus the review offers him the opportunity to apply the same analysis to a segment of American culture that he famously applied to an English one, and he does:

The world in which [Hillbilly Elegy author J.D.] Vance grew up was one in which the avoidance of shame played the part of morality, which meant that relations between people were largely those of tribal loyalty and power. Consequently, restraint and common decency were taken as signs of weakness. He could easily have been sucked wholly into this gang-like society, and if he had been, his intelligence would have made him a dangerous man, with quite likely a life sentence in front of him. The devil makes work for idle intelligence to do.

I highly recommend not only the review, but Hillbilly Elegy itself as a poignant depiction of a culture that your Skeptical bloggers understand very well from personal experience.

Let’s just admit it: the French are simply better than us

France has its fair share of problems, certainly: ghettoes filled with unassimilated immigrants, a declining educational system, hideous modern architecture and more. But Dalrymple says that, all in all, its advantages over Britain are decisive. One example:

The attention to detail in shops is another painful contrast with Britain (for a Briton, that is). A florist in France gives the impression of being a specialist in flowers, not of someone who sells flowers faute de mieux or merely as a sideline. He or she wraps the blooms with an aesthetic consideration for the flowers themselves, with matching coloured tissue, for example. This raises the price, no doubt, but also the quality; and this constant concentration on detail raises the level of the florist’s, or his employee’s, practical intelligence. This is also true of the sale of fruit, fish, meat, cheese, bread, pâtisserie, etc. And all this adds to the enjoyment of life, though like any virtue it can go too far and become mere pettiness.

Dalrymple at The Spectator

Worst Architect Prize

The Guardian recently complained that refugees into Britain are disproportionately placed in the poorest areas. Perish the thought! (says Dalrymple):

…it is true that there are fewer jobs in poorer areas than in rich, but refugees are not allowed to take jobs in any case. And it seems to have escaped the Guardian’s notice that rent tends to be cheaper in poorer areas than in rich. Under the present rules, therefore, it would be outrageous for them to be located anywhere else but the poorest areas.

But Dalrymple can imagine another reason that so many are placed in Rotherham: the architecture is so hideous that perhaps it will encourage them to return home.

Dress to Regress

The slobbish attire of Mark Zuckerberg is a great annoyance, says Dalrymple, and indicates a worldview that easily extends to other aspects of life:

As there is slobbery in clothes, so there is slobbery in manners, which often masquerades as informality. My slight acquaintance, Alexander McCall Smith, created the delightful character of Mma Ramotswe, the only lady detective in Botswana, whose attractiveness for audiences of many millions around the world is surely connected to the ceremoniousness of the African life portrayed in the books in which she appears, a ceremoniousness that has been lost almost everywhere.

That ceremoniousness is sometimes thought to be not only a waste of time (and time is money) but, far worse from the intellectuals’ point of view, to be inauthentic as well, insofar as it involves forms of words that do not express real individual thoughts or feelings. And the authentic person is under the obligation to be always sincere. If I don’t actually care a jot how you are, I shouldn’t ask you; and if I do ask you, it should be because I really want to know how your varicose veins are getting on.

Dalrymple at Taki’s Magazine

How Do You Enforce Responsibility?

At the Library of Liberty and Law, Dalrymple argues that, contra the libertarian idea, it is not always possible to make people bear the full consequences of their actions.

Hard cases may make bad law but they make good journalism. We live in a society in which you have only to publicize a hard case for there to be demands for a change in the law, demands that are sometimes met, either immediately or in the long run. And since politics is not merely the easy art of being absolutely right in the abstract, but the far more difficult and arduous one of making things slightly better in practice, the argument that, as responsible beings who are agents, that is to say subjects and not objects, the consequences of our actions should be brought home to us, even unto the point of death (a principle with which we may agree, intellectually), is not likely to be much of a guide to practical politics.

On the other hand, he acknowledges the extent to which this truism is used as an excuse even in cases where properly locating responsibility is actually possible.

Read it here

Pity the Poor Monster

The killer of that policeman on the Champs-Elysées had a long history of violent crime, and the record of how leniently France treated him is almost comical. Why was he not in prison?

An article in Le Monde said that the case was bound to reignite debate on the “laxity” of the French criminal-justice system. It is symptomatic of the problem that the word laxity appeared as “laxity,” as though juridical negligence were a wild allegation, a figment of someone’s febrile imagination. But the case of Karim Cheurfi is far from an isolated one: indeed, such stories emerge regularly.

Dalrymple at City Journal

Psychobabble On

Dalrymple decries the psychobabble of Prince Harry’s recent confession and Theresa May’s response of offering a policy solution:

Anyone who has had dealings with the so-called mental health services in Britain, whatever they may be like in other countries (and the very notion of mental health is doubtful reality), knows that they are, as currently organized, frequently cruel and stupid, simultaneously neglecting the raving mad while concentrating their desultory and ineffective efforts upon the voluntarily inadequate…
The reason they concentrate their efforts on the voluntarily inadequate rather than the lunatics is that the former are relatively docile and predictable, while the latter may be hostile and in the modern world both drug-taking and machete-wielding. They are difficult and sometimes dangerous to deal with, and therefore best avoided, especially by mental health workers, who can rely on the police to deal with them when they become so disturbed that they can be ignored and left to their own devices no longer. Having closed down all psychiatric hospitals, we have had to build what are in effect psychiatric prisons to which patients are dragged by the police. Meanwhile, the form-filling, by ever-larger numbers of functionaries, continues undisturbed as a kind of displacement activity, in the way that mice wash their paws when confronted with a cat. They are thereby treating not their patients but their own anxieties, at the same time receiving a salary every month.
All this is a perfect model for government as a whole, which pursues policies that cause problems that then call for further policies to correct them.