Dalrymple’s writing about drug abuse sometimes brings forth a response that is unfortunately all too common from intellectuals across a range of topics: “Typical (myopic, uncaring, intolerant, hateful, etc.) conservative!”
Interestingly, I can’t remember Dalrymple ever actually referring to himself as a conservative, and he has specifically refused that label on a few occasions, in narrowly-defined contexts. In some of his earliest travel books, he actually referred to himself as a liberal, though in very specific circumstances (such as apartheid South Africa), and he has always shown skepticism toward the left.
But all should agree that Dalrymple is anything but myopic. Unfortunately, one such critic, a heroin addict named Terry Wright, responds with just this kind of invective. Angered by Dalrymple’s argument that drug addicts are not helpless victims, but willing participants in their addiction, he responds with bald assertions and childish insults.
It is hard to think of another contemporary essayist who might so inaccurately be called myopic.
As we say here, Dalrymple “has been arrested as a spy in Gabon, been pursued by the South African police for violating apartheid, visited the site of a civilian massacre by the government of Liberia (the outlines of the 600 dead bodies still visible in dried blood on the floor), concealed his status as a writer for fear of execution in Equatorial Guinea, infiltrated an English communist group in order to attend the World Youth Festival in North Korea, performed Shakespeare in Afghanistan in the presence of its crown prince, smuggled banned books to dissidents in Ceaucescu’s Romania, been arrested and struck with truncheons for photographing an anti-government demonstration in Albania, been surveilled by the Indonesian police in East Timor and crossed both Africa and South America using only public transportation.”
As he has written elsewhere, “I spent several years touring the world, often in places where atrocity had recently been, or still was being, committed. In Central America, I witnessed civil war fought between guerrilla groups intent on imposing totalitarian tyranny on their societies, opposed by armies that didn’t scruple to resort to massacre. In Equatorial Guinea, the current dictator was the nephew and henchman of the last dictator, who had killed or driven into exile a third of the population, executing every last person who wore glasses or possessed a page of printed matter for being a disaffected or potentially disaffected intellectual…In North Korea I saw the acme of tyranny, millions of people in terrorized, abject obeisance to a personality cult whose object, the Great Leader Kim Il Sung, made the Sun King look like the personification of modesty.”
He served as a doctor for several years in Africa and the Pacific islands, treating and sometimes truly befriending some of the poorest people on the planet, people “with heart failure [who] walked 50 miles in the broiling sun, with panting breath and swollen legs, to obtain treatment — and then walked home again.” He worked for 14 years as a medical doctor and psychiatrist in a slum hospital in England and in the prison next door, tending to the gunshot and stab wounds of the underclass; treating thousands of heroin addicts, some 10,000 people who had attempted suicide, some 10,000 victims or perpetrators of domestic violence; and conducting psychiatric interviews of murderers, serial killers, rapists, thieves, and would-be Islamic terrorists. He still serves as an expert witness in British murder trials.
His familial connections also give him a broad view and an intimate understanding of human suffering. His mother was a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany who, he says, “escaped the extermination camps by quite a narrow margin”. His father was a communist Russian immigrant. And “I had an uncle,” he has written, “who was a prisoner in east Asia during the second world war and who [in post-war years] was reported to wake up screaming in the night…”
Finally, his writings discuss classic literature, philosophy, history, politics, religion, and a comparative (both historically and geographically) analysis of culture.
This is hardly a man of narrow vision who has hidden away in his own small corner of the world.
Unlike Wright’s view of heroin addiction, which is based on his own experience of drugs, Dalrymple’s views are based on both his experience treating thousands of addicts and an understanding of the scientific literature. “Romancing Opiates” (aka “Junk Medicine” in the UK) makes reference to these medical studies:
- Encyclopedia of Drugs and Alcohol, second of four volumes
- Jay H. Stein, Internal Medicine, 5th edition, St. Louis: C.V. Mosby, 1999, p. 2997
- Cecil’s Textbook of Medicine, 21st edition, edited by Lee Goldman and J. Claude Bennett; W.B. Saunders: Philadelphia, 2001, p. 55
- The Oxford Textbook of Medicine, 4th edition, edited by David A. Warrell, Timothy M. Cox and John D. Firth, 2003, Volume 3, p. 83
- Carson R. Harris, Emergency Management of Selected Drugs of Abuse, The American College of Emergency Physicians (Dallas, TX), 2000, p. 83
- Substance Abuse: A Comprehensive Textbook, 3rd edition, edited by Joyce H. Lowinson, Pedro Ruiz, Robert B. Millman and John G. Langrod; Williams and Wilkins: Baltimore, 1997, p. 416
- Drugs of Abuse and Addiction: Neurobehavioral Toxicology, R.J.M. Niesink, R.M.A. Jaspers, L.M.W. Komet and J.M. van Ree, Boca Raton: CRC Press, 1999, p. 260
- Goodman and Gilman’s The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics, 10th edition, edited by Joel G. Harman and Lee E. Limbird; New York: McGraw Hill, 2001, p. 666
- Steven B. Karch, The Pathology of Drug Abuse, Boca Raton: CRC Pres, 2002
- Olaf H. Drummer and Morris Odell, The Forensic Pharmacology of Drugs of Abuse, London: Edward Arnold, 2001
- John Booth Davies, The Myth of Addiction, Overseas Publishers Association, Amsterdam B.V., Harwood Academic Publishers and The Gordon and Breach Publishing Group, 1992
- Alfred R. Lindesmith, Addiction and Opiates, Chicago, Illinois: Aldine Publishing Company, 1968
There are other inaccuracies in this blog post. Dalrymple hasn’t written “scores” of books on drug addiction, for example; he has written one.
As on so many other topics, one may disagree with Dalrymple’s conclusions on the matter of drug addiction, but to say that they are based on myopia, lies, simple-mindedness, insanity or fringe science is extraordinarily inaccurate. Exactly who is being subjective here?