As mentioned in the New English Review piece posted immediately below, Dalrymple visited East Timor during the brutal Indonesian occupation to participate in the making of a documentary about the atrocities committed there. Steve found the documentary here on YouTube yesterday and immediately recognized the anonymous doctor commenting in silhouette at the 37:10 mark.
Dalrymple’s ensuing 1994 piece describing the occupation in the Spectator, published under the pseudonym Edward Theberton, is available here (h/t Yakimi.) This powerful, intense article is well worth a read, as it gives a sense of what it is like to visit a totalitarian dictatorship:
Ten photographers, one with a video camera, took my picture before I reached the terminal building. Some foreign politicians were soon to arrive on an investigative mission, and the authorities wanted no troublemakers to interfere with their valiant (though in the event unavailing) efforts to mislead them about the monstrous injustice of Indonesian rule in East Timor…
No sooner had I walked out into the streets of Dili than a goon on a motorcycle followed me like a kerb-crawler in search of a prostitute. I stared into his dark glasses and turned to walk in the opposite direction. Disregarding the one-way system (there is very little traffic in Dili), he turned to follow me, making no effort to disguise the fact. I smiled at him, but his face remained blank; after a quarter of an hour, he left me, to return to my side at frequent intervals…
As in all totalitarian states, communication in East Timor is indirect, through gnomic hints, single statements blurted out as if by sudden irresistible impulse, and by brief but intense encounters. ‘It is not good here;’ My family was killed;’ My sister was raped by many soldiers;’ You must tell the world what we still suffer.’
The documentary states that two Australian teams of journalists were murdered there in 1975 for reporting on the invasion. Sometimes I think it is amazing that Dalrymple is still alive.
My favorite Dalrymple pieces are those that make interesting intellectual arguments (interesting because they seem true and are also new to me) while also revealing new details about the biography of the man himself, and one of this month’s pieces for New English Review is a good example. It reads in part like one of his travel adventures, as he gives more details about an experience we’ve highlighted before (that he was “surveilled by the Indonesian police in East Timor”):
I was there to help in the making of a clandestine film about the atrocities committed by the Indonesians with the blessing, and even the actual connivance, of western powers… One of my few appearances on the silver screen, then, has been as a voice asking questions in bad Portuguese.
It makes an eyebrow-raising claim about Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Body Snatcher:
…I think that I discovered the identity of one of the main characters in it. Not being any kind of scholar, let alone that of the life and works of RLS, I cannot be sure that my discovery was original rather than a rediscovery of what was already well-known: an overestimation of one’s originality being the occupational hazard of the unlearned.
And it opens with a beautiful insight into the experience of growing older:
Once you have reached a certain age and experienced the majority of all that you will ever experience, almost everything reminds you of something else. It is as if the world were full of double entendres in which nothing meant only what it appeared to mean. The association of ideas becomes so strong that the past becomes almost as real and living as the present: you experience two realities simultaneously. This is pleasurable and is one of the compensations of age. It deepens and enriches life.
Read it here
It has often struck me that Dalrymple is highly critical of intellectuals, but is himself one. In this new piece in New English Review he provides an answer, calling himself “an anti-intellectual intellectual”.
But the bulk of the piece is a countervailing argument against William Hazlitt’s populist conception of the superior wisdom of the common folk:
It usually takes a philosopher to know that what a philosopher has said is absurd. Not every intellectual believes six impossible things before breakfast, and furthermore it often requires intellectuals to undo the harm that other intellectuals do. No one would deny Raymond Aron, for example, the name of intellectual merely because he failed to believe and opposed the lies and equivocations of Jean-Paul Sartre. From the fact that intellectuals have believed absurdities, it does not follow either that, ex officio, they believe only absurdities, or that only intellectuals believe absurdities. Orwell, the patron saint of everyone who wants to claim him as such, was not speaking the literal truth when he said that some things are so absurd that only intellectuals could believe them; rather he was trying to destroy blind faith in the superior wisdom of intellectuals (prevalent mainly among themselves).
You’ll want to read the whole thing to see how he travels from this argument to the conclusion that, “The ignorance of the learned is Hazlitt’s answer to the problem of evil.”
At his blog at Salisbury Review, Dalrymple quotes Keynes on the Treaty of Versailles negotiations and finds some broad historical similarities with the Greek bankruptcy talks:
“But the opportunity was missed… during the six months which followed the Armistice, and nothing we do now can repair the mischief wrought at the time. Great privation and great risks to society have become unavoidable. All that is now open to us is to re-direct, so far as lies within our power, the fundamental economic tendencies that promote the re-establishment of prosperity and order, instead of leading us deeper into misfortune.”
But is this not always the case? We are always where the last lot of fools led us, and not where we should have been if wiser counsels had prevailed. This is so even in our personal lives: who can say he is exactly where he ought to have been if wisdom had ruled?
Read the rest here
After the recent Islamic terror attack on a beach in Tunisia that left 38 people dead, British Prime Minister David Cameron said something we Americans have heard President Obama say repeatedly: that the attacks had nothing to do with Islam. Dalrymple says to think about it this way:
Supposing that, after the attack on the church in South Carolina by Dylann Roof, someone had said, “This had nothing to do with real racism; real racists are peace-loving people who would never dream of such an attack. All they want is a peaceful world in which whites rule and blacks know their place as racial dhimmis.” What would we think of such a person? What would we think of the implication that, even were it not for his racist ideology, Dylann Roof would still have attacked the church and killed nine people? It is indeed the case that most racists do not attack black churches—otherwise, such attacks would be far more numerous than they are. But to say that Dylann Roof was not motivated by his racism would be absurd.
Read the whole piece here
In a funny piece at Taki’s Magazine, Dalrymple says the whole Greek drama makes a lot more sense when you view it as a soap opera:
Will improvident son-in-law Alexis be able to touch his rich but stern and disapproving mother-in-law, Angela, for a few more billion? Although she is very rich, she is under severe emotional pressure from her aging relatives, who want to preserve their inheritance and don’t want it wasted on a man whom they know will never reform and who is hereditarily incapable of financial responsibility (when has Greece ever been solvent?).
On the other hand, mother-in-law Angie doesn’t want to be held responsible for bringing the whole system on which her fortune largely depends crashing down about her ears. And what part does amiable and foxy (or is it wise?) old Uncle Juncker, with his roué face and his one fixed principle of having no fixed principles, play? And then there is feeble Uncle François, who is emotionally on the side of nephew Alexis, whom he likes, but is afraid of sister-in-law Angela, who constantly reminds him of who wears the trousers in this family.
And so on. Read it here.
Medical studies often produce surprising results. How about this one: “a screening procedure to detect cancer not only failed to do so, but added (very slightly, it is true) to the risk of developing a cancer later in life.”
Dalrymple writes in Psychology Today on a decades-old study the methodology of which is very troubling:
The lecturer reported an experiment in which children suffering from the syndrome were divided into three groups after they had been separated from their mothers and placed in an institution: the first was given attention and adequate food, the second adequate food but no attention, and the third attention but inadequate food. Those who were given adequate food grew quickly, but those who were not given such food failed to do so; attention added no extra growth. Therefore, the dwarfism of maternal deprivation syndrome was caused by poor nutrition.
One interesting observation of Darlymple’s is that people in Europe rarely put graffiti on beautiful buildings, and that this behavior “suggests a subliminal aesthetic criticism”. But why do they “tag” public surfaces in the first place? One reason:
The need to make their mark on something is no doubt part of the attraction of tagging for taggers. Apart from a few famous graffiti artists (Banksy being the most famous, his activity often partaking of a mordant wit), the overwhelming majority of taggers are almost certainly from the lower reaches of society. Such lower reaches have always existed, of course, but in a society in which we are all called upon to be unique individuals, in which celebrity has an exaggerated importance in the mental economy of so many people, in which employment is often precarious and in any case felt to be without dignity, and in which powerlessness is obvious (in a sense, powerlessness in a democracy is more humiliating than powerlessness in a tyranny), the need to assert oneself in some way or other, no matter how pointless, becomes all the more imperative. Thus tagging has several attractions at once: adventure, the conferral of membership of an oppositional group and self-assertion (not expression).
Read the others
An academic in Canada has found a few dozen people around the world who desire to mutilate or disfigure themselves because they feel they are wrongly abled. According to Dalrymple, it won’t be long before these people claim it is wrong both to regard them as abnormal (for who is to say what is normal?) and to withhold from them the special treatment and attention that are conferred by right on those having an approved disorder.
You can’t make this stuff up, right? Actually, you can and Dalrymple does.