Dalrymple promotes new book on visit to U.S.

Dalrymple has spent the last few days making the rounds in New York and Washington, D.C. promoting his new book, Admirable Evasions: How Modern Psychology Undermines Morality.

He spoke at the Heritage Foundation on Tuesday. The video is here. The action doesn’t start until the 21:30 mark.

On Thursday he visited the Wall Street Journal and recorded two short video interviews. In this one he addresses Islamic extremism, and here he discusses his book’s thesis that psychology has been a generally useless attempt to avoid the reality that “the permanent condition of mankind is dissatisfaction”. (H/t Michael G.)

On Thursday evening the New Criterion hosted a launch party in New York City for the book, and your humble correspondents (along with Skeptical Doctor reader Adam) enjoyed seeing the good doctor once again. He spoke for a few minutes, humorously sharing the titles of the psychology-inspired self-help books he noticed in the bookstore of DC’s Union Station.


Other attendees included his old City Journal editor Myron Magnet, Roger Kimball and James Panero.

To Connect, or Not to Connect

Dalrymple used to spend months isolated from all acquaintances while journeying arduously through Third World continents, but now he grows anxious if away from his cell phone for a few hours. In Taki’s Magazine he considers how much he misses his old isolation:

I once crossed Africa by public transport. It took me about six months and in many places, indeed for most of the time, I was isolated from everyone I knew, without possibility of calling upon them for anything. In a small way I felt like Arthur Koestler in his condemned cell in Spain waiting to be executed; that is to say, freer than I had ever been before in my life. I was thrilled to be told in Equatorial Guinea that if anybody in authority there knew that I was a writer (of sorts) I would be killed, cut up and thrown into the sea: I had never been important enough to be worth killing before, and in a way I was flattered. This was all thirty years ago next year; the then president, who is still the president, had overthrown his uncle, the first president, in a military coup. The first president was known by the title of The Only Miracle, and certainly he had produced startling changes in the country: a third of the population had either been killed or had fled…

It was exhilarating to be utterly incommunicado.

A Fortunate Man

Recently I spent a few months in the Forest of Dean, where Dr John Sassall, the protagonist of John Berger’s famous extended essay, A Fortunate Man, published in 1967, worked as a general practitioner.

The Forest, to my surprise, retained a little of the geographical and social isolation that it had when Berger wrote his book. Some of the Foresters, as they called themselves (and for some reason Berger chose not to capitalise the word, as if the Foresters were foresters, which most of them were not), had scarcely ever travelled further in their lives than Gloucester. By comparison with the rest of the county, the Forest is still impoverished; but its relative isolation gives it a character and spirit of its own.

A Fortunate Man turned out to be an unfortunate title, because Dr Sassall killed himself some years after its publication. Of course, this is not to say that he was not fortunate at the time it was written; fortunes, after all, change. A man may start lucky in life and end up unlucky, and vice versa; but re-reading this book, which seems to me to have been over-praised, I am struck not by the good fortune of its protagonist but by his tormented nature.

Dr Sassall was a hard-working single-handed rural general practitioner who did everything from operations on the kitchen table to psychotherapy. He was not able to achieve what, in our horrible manner of reducing everything to inelegant jargon, we now call ‘a work-life balance.’ His life, we are told, was otherwise empty; and he worried over the point of human existence, if any:

He is incapable of waiting and doing nothing. He is incapable of resting. He sleeps easily but, at heart, he welcomes being called out at night.

This is surely the mark of a man in flight from something. We are told that he was a slave to his quest for certainty, a certainty that he knew in advance that he could not reach. He was tormented by his inadequacy to relieve all suffering and prevent all death. This may well be a sign of great honesty, and such honest men may be necessary; but fortunate is not the word for them. Moreover, while to be constantly at the service of others is good and admirable, it is not the only good or the only just cause for admiration. There needs to be moderation in self-sacrifice as in other things:

Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?

Some of the writing in A Fortunate Man strikes me as portentous, as cliché dressed up as philosophy. The book begins (under a photograph of the rural calm of Gloucestershire):

Landscapes can be deceptive. Sometimes a landscape seems to be less a setting for the life of its inhabitants than a curtain behind which their struggles, achievements and accidents take place.

I look out of my study window at the houses opposite. What do I know of what went on in them last night, what is going on in them now? Nothing. But a life without curtains, real or metaphorical, were it not in fact impossible, would be horrible. The use of the word ‘sometimes’ in the above passage disguises the obviousness of the underlying thought.

Not ordinary Yorkshire lads as we know them, Jim

This piece in the Salisbury Review gets even funnier after this introduction:

According to an article in the Guardian, two ‘ordinary Yorkshire lads’ went on holiday to Turkey, from whence they travelled on to Syria, presumably to join ISIS. Their names were Hassan Munshi and Talha Asmal. What is ordinary in Yorkshire has evidently changed out of all recognition in my lifetime.

Snuffed Out

In Taki’s Magazine Dalrymple continues his criticism of Andreas Lubitz as being primarily a person of bad character and not one suffering from mental illness. He admits that one’s upbringing, social circumstances and the surrounding culture can all play a role in producing this character, but then…

It is said, however, that by the age of forty every man has the face that he deserves. The same might be said of a man’s character, only earlier in his life. It is part of the mystery and glory (perhaps also of the misery) of human existence, that our character is in part self-created: not entirely, but not negligibly, either. We are dealt a hand of cards, no doubt, but we do not have to play them in a pre-determined order. No determinist, however firm his philosophical belief, can live as if determinism were true: therefore he can never believe what he believes, or tells himself that he believes.

He concludes with a declaration of the limits of his former occupation:

Psychiatry will never make the likes of Andreas Lubitz whole (if he was as I surmise he was), and of this, in a way, I am glad: for it means that the powers of psychiatry will remain limited. We shall never be putty in technicians’ hands. That is not the same as saying that he should have been allowed to fly aircraft. A little more stigma and prejudice would have saved the 149 lives he so egotistically snuffed out.

Review of new Dalrymple book “Admirable Evasions” on National Review Online

Dalrymple has a new book out, and we missed this review of it from three weeks ago on National Review Online. In Admirable Evasions: How Psychology Undermines Morality he makes his case against psychology for its practice of medicalizing, and thus excusing, destructive behavior. Reviewer Spencer Case, a philosophy student, argues that Dalrymple inaccurately defines the reductionism practised by a minority of psychiatrists who consider only physical causes as an overarching trend.

We’ll continue to share info about and reviews of the book as we find them.

Modern medicine did not help Germanwings pilot, it may have damaged him

In an op-ed on FoxNews.com, Dalrymple doesn’t mince words in explaining the actions of Germanwings pilot Andreas Lubitz:

Andreas Lubitz was not depressed, he was of bad character, for the improvement of which there is no drug. He was an angry narcissist, murderous at least as much as he was suicidal.

Suffering reverses in life, Lubitz sought revenge on what he thought was an unjust world. Many people like him who commit suicide, or try to, imagine a continued shadowy existence after their deaths in which they are able [to] witness the doleful effects that their death has had on others, and they enjoy the prospect. He didn’t want to slip away quietly, he wanted fame, even if it were only notoriety.

If he had killed himself by jumping from a building, say, which requires no more courage than crashing an airplane, no one would have heard of him. By crashing his plane, everyone has heard of him. The 149 people were sacrificed to his wounded vanity and his desire for fame.

A Family Party

John O’Hara (1905 – 1970), the American novelist and short-story writer, was the son of a surgeon, Dr Patrick O’Hara. The father wanted the son to follow in the profession, but he would have none of it, even rejecting his father’s offer of $10,000 (a lot of money in those days) if he would do so. O’Hara junior said that he wanted to be a writer; his father said that no good would come of it.

O’Hara’s father died leaving the family impoverished, and it was this, O’Hara always claimed, that prevented him from going to Yale. Whether he would have gone if his father had lived is doubtful; he had been expelled from three schools for bad behaviour. But he resented it for the rest of his life.

O’Hara’s bad behaviour also lasted. He was a snob and a social climber, but also a nasty drunk inclined to bullying and violence. One critic said that no one who knew him ever liked him, although others have denied this. It is rare for anyone to be disliked by everyone.

Critical opinion is divided over the value of his work, some calling it little more than pulp fiction, but John Updike equated him with Chekhov. Certainly O’Hara himself had few doubts: he thought he ought to have won the Nobel Prize and arranged for an inscription on his tomb that he was the finest and most truthful writer of his age.

His first book, Appointment in Samarra, a fine portrayal of self-destruction, is regarded as his best; it was followed by his first collection of short stories, The Doctor’s Son, in the title story of which the great ’flu epidemic of 1918 in his home-town, Pottsville, is depicted with such accuracy that many of the inhabitants were not pleased. The doctor of the title is O’Hara’s father, who works himself to the point of exhaustion, though really he can bring little more than succour.

By 1956 O’Hara had mellowed a little, and his novella, A Family Party, consists entirely of the speech made at the retirement dinner of Dr Samuel G Merritt, who has worked as a doctor in the town of Lyons, Pennsylvania for forty years. The speech is made by his best friend, Mr Albert W Shoemaker, but is not without an undertow of acid, despite the predominantly elegiac tone. After an enumeration of the doctor’s virtues, we expect some final and dramatic revelation of a serious moral lapse or crime.

There is revelation, but of tragedy. Shoemaker speaks of Alice, the doctor’s wife, who is absent from the dinner. She had two children, one stillbirth, one premature. After the second, ‘her strength must have been more seriously affected than anyone realized’ and ‘she was subject to depression.’

In and out of a private hospital, she returned one day:

Sam brought a trained nurse back and we all made believe that the nurse was there to help Sam in the office, but then I guess the truth got to be known publicly when what we all know happened. One of her moods of depression and she jumped out of the second-story window. Broke both her legs, one arm.

For twenty-five years she has been asylum-bound and the doctor on his own.

There is an interesting period detail in the tale of quiet heroism. O’Hara wrote it at the height of the craze for frontal leucotomies, and Shoemaker says credulously:

Now they have operations that they can cure the kind of illness Alice had, but they didn’t have them then…

Graves’ Disease?

In New English Review Dalrymple analyzes the definitions of evil, love and (below) psychopathy offered in the poems of Robert Graves (the author of I, Claudius who considered himself mostly  a poet):

In other words, [the litterers] knew perfectly well that what they were doing was wrong, but chose to do it anyway.

The people who behave in this way, I suspect, are not at all the type of people I have described above. They are far too numerous for that, and if all the people who did it were true psychopaths the murder rate would be a hundred or a thousand times higher than it is. Having more of a choice, then, than those who suffer from congenital moral insanity, are they in fact worse people than the latter? Their crimes are less serious but more numerous. How many small crimes make a large one? If there is no common unit of badness, so that, for example, one murder without extenuation would equal a thousand Hitler units, while dropping a chocolate wrapper would equal one Hitler unit, such that a thousand dropped wrappers would equal one murder, how could one ever compare, at least scientifically, the badness of acts? If the answer is moral intuition, the door to relativism is opened: for my moral intuition is not the same as yours and may even be diametrically opposed to it. Whose intuition is to prevail? And yet, when we say that a certain action is bad, we are not merely saying I don’t approve of it: we believe, on the contrary, that we are making a judgment that corresponds to a reality independent of our mental state.

Enthusiastic Place Seekers

At Taki’s Magazine, Dalrymple makes a point about many of those putative nationalist movements in Europe which I had not heard before: they are really covers for a more centralized and powerful European Union.

All the nationalisms that threaten to break up long-established states – Scottish, Catalonian or Flemish – seems strangely in favour of ever-closer European union (another cant term for construction). Independence, however, makes sense only where there is a strong degree of sovereignty, but European construction or ever-closer union means ever-less sovereignty for national states until it disappears altogether. The nationalists appear to want to jump out of what they think is a frying pan into the fire.