Taxicab Confessions

In Taki’s Magazine Dalrymple comments on Meryl Streep’s recent imposition of her political opinions on the rest of us. He mentions his irritation at the attention given to actors’ opinions and the adolescent nature of President-elect Trump’s reply, and then points out a superior source of commentary: taxi drivers…

I was once in Singapore trying to catch a taxi. You cannot just hail a taxi on the street in Singapore, you have to go to a taxi stand. This I did, but still no taxi would stop for me. The taxis swept past me as if I did not exist. Then someone came and hailed a taxi about two feet to my right. A taxi stopped immediately and took him. Was this some kind of discrimination, in the politically correct sense of the word? No: When I stood two feet to the right of where I had been standing, a taxi stopped for me immediately.

I told the driver of my experience and he, Chinese without a great deal of English, replied, “Singapore velly, velly law.”

Have you read anything in the Financial Times, or any other serious newspaper, that so succinctly and accurately sums up a country or society?

Take another example, more recent. I was in an English university town where I took a taxi from the station to the university. We fell to talking, the driver and I, and to keep our conversation going I asked him whether the students were nice.

“No,” he said, “they’re evil bastards.”

This judgment was so spontaneous, so deeply felt, and so obviously the fruit of what sociologists call lived experience, that it could only have been true.

The British National Health Service Is in Crisis: What Else Is New?

One can only marvel at the simultaneous failures of Britain’s National Health Service, and its popularity:

The excuse that demand has escalated is, in fact, in contradiction to one of the now-forgotten founding justifications of the NHS back in 1948: namely that universal healthcare paid for from general taxation, and free at the point of use, would so improve the health of the population that its cost would soon fall rapidly….

Oddly enough, however, and unnoticed by the population or by the NHS’s ideological praise-singers, the NHS had no egalitarian effect, rather the opposite. The difference between the health of the top economic decile of the population and that of the bottom decile, which had been more or less steady for decades, began to widen immediately. Curiously enough, this widening accelerated precisely at a time when most money was spent on the system. The difference in the standard mortality rate of the richest and poorest is now almost double what it was when the NHS began.

Beneath Paris

At Taki’s Magazine, Dalrymple summarizes the arguments in François Lenglet’s Tant pis! Nos enfants paieront (Too Bad! Our Children Will Pay), about the economic situation in France:

It is one of the theses of this lucid book that the generation of May 1968—or at any rate its leaders—has arranged things pretty well for itself, though disastrously for everyone else. If it has not been outright hypocritical, it has at least been superbly opportunist. First it bought property and accumulated other assets while inflation raged, paying back its debts at a fraction of their original value with depreciated money; then, having got its hands on the assets, it arranged for an economic policy of low inflation except in the value of its own assets. Moreover, it also arranged the best possible conditions for its retirement, in many cases unfunded by investment and paid for by those unfortunate enough to have come after them. They will have to work much longer, and if ever they reach the age of retirement, which might recede before them like a mirage in the desert, it will be under conditions much less generous than those enjoyed by current retirees.

Read the rest here

Tolerance and Its Limits

Netherlands is trying to “decree tolerance” and is therefore punishing Geert Wilders for advocating for fewer Moroccan immigrants. But as Dalrymple points out, the application of the law is nonsensical:

In order to secure the conviction, the judge had to maintain that the Moroccans were a race, because the law did not recognize nationality or national origin as grounds for legal protection from insult and critical comment. This gave rise to a certain amount of hilarity. If nationality were to be confounded with race, Dutch law would henceforth have to recognize a Belgian race, a Swiss race, et cetera.

But the very idea that there are certain groups in need of special protection from offence is both incoherent and condescending, partaking of the very qualities that the idea is supposed to be eliminating from the wicked human mind. The number of human groups that have, or could be, subjected to humiliation, discrimination, or worse is almost infinite. Persecution on economic grounds, for example, has been at least as frequent as persecution on racial grounds. To select a few groups for special protection is therefore irreducibly discriminatory. It is a little like protecting certain species from the ravages of hunters because they are threatened with extinction and unlike other species are unable to protect themselves by fecundity, say, or by camouflage.

Read it here

Trash Studies

Dalrymple’s contribution to the Autumn 2016 edition of City Journal has just been posted online. It’s a summary of the arguments presented in his 2011 book Litter: How Other People’s Rubbish Shapes Our Lives. As such, it’s a good overview for those who’ve not read the book.

The trash epidemic, which has arisen over the last two decades, raises the question of the legitimacy of public authority. I believe that the epidemic indicates a profound social malaise, and even political crisis, of far deeper significance than the more publicized agonizing over Britain’s membership in the European Union. Each piece of trash represents either an act of indifference to, or defiance of, civic or public order…

…the litterers act as if it were indeed their duty to look after themselves first, even in minute particulars, such as ridding themselves of rubbish. Their neighbor can pick up after them or not, as he wishes; but it is no concern to them because they do not belong to society, which is nonexistent in any case. They belong to no district, town, city, or country. They belong only to themselves, as sovereign as particles in Brownian motion. That is why no public authority has the right—or the moral authority—to tell them how to dispose of their garbage.

Read it here

Medical correctness

This new article at The New Criterion is perhaps one of Dalrymple’s most detailed yet on the subject of political correctness in modern medicine. Written as part of The New Criterion’s symposium on “Free Speech and the Academy”, it argues that P.C. was late in coming to medicine but has grown steadily, and for straightforward reasons:

At first sight, medicine might appear an unpromising subject for political correctness. You are ill, you go to the doctor, he tries to cure you, whoever you might be: what could be more straightforward than that? But in fact medicine is a field ripe for political correctness’s harvester. The arrangement by which health care is delivered is eminently a subject of politics; moreover we live in the golden age of epidemiology, in which the distribution of health and disease is studied more closely even than the distribution of income. Inequalities are usually presented as inequities (they have to be selected carefully, however: I have never seen the superior life expectancy of women, sometimes considerable and present almost everywhere, described as an inequity, even though the right to life is supposedly the most basic of all in the modern catechism of human rights). The decent man abominates unfairness or injustice: therefore the man who abominates unfairness or injustice is decent.

Better Left Unsaid

Self-expression is greatly overrated, says Dalrymple at Taki’s Magazine. Most of us would do better to keep quiet rather than give voice to the outrage that increasingly defines the modern world. (I wish the commenters at Taki’s Magazine would take this advice.) My favorite part of this piece:

Outrage is a substitute for religion: It convinces us that our existence has some kind of meaning or significance beyond itself, that is to say beyond the paltry flux of day-to-day existence, especially when that existence is a securely comfortable one. Therefore we go looking for things to be outraged about as anteaters look for ants. Of all emotions, outrage is not only one of the most pleasurable but also one of the most reliable.

Keening

Dalrymple writes in The Salisbury Review of a noticeable increase in the number of Syrian beggars in Paris, many of them entire families. Though he usually gives beggars some small change, they are increasingly using a new tactic that turns him off:

…what prevents me from giving them so much as a sou is that the children have been trained to make a continuous whining or keening sound that is obviously neither spontaneous nor sincere. It is rank bad acting. Far from wanting to give them a coin, I want to give them a slap so that they stop their dreadful noise.

Incitement to Hypocrisy

Dalrymple observes in City Journal that the recent conviction of Dutch politician Geert Wilders on grounds of incitement to discrimination – “in other words, not even discrimination itself” – was wildly illogical, probably made Wilders more popular rather than less, and was itself applied discriminatorially:

The Guardian article, oddly enough, was accompanied by a photograph of some Muslim protesters in Amsterdam holding up banners in favor of sharia law….“Sharia for the Netherlands,” said one banner. “Islam will dominate the world, freedom can go to hell,” said another.

Anyone who advocates sharia can plausibly be said to incite discrimination….Were, then, these protesters charged with incitement to discrimination?….I think it is a fair supposition, however, that no action was taken against them.

The law against incitement to discrimination is therefore implemented in a discriminatory way, something that those even marginally susceptible to Wilders’s rhetoric won’t fail to notice, though the readers of the Guardian probably will.

Barely Scratching the Surface

Most of human life is filled with insoluble mystery. Consider, for example, the discoid eczema that Dalrymple has been experiencing on his right foot. No one can really identify the ultimate cause of it.

[These] mysteries could only be solved within a very short period of time, within what is known in managerialese as a window of opportunity. Once I am dead, for example, they will be no longer be soluble even in theory. Which means that there is an infinity of things about the past that, even in principle, can never be known. True enough, no one will ever want to solve all these little mysteries. But the point is that they couldn’t do so even if they wanted to.

A hearty Happy New Year to you all. May your 2017 be filled with joy.