What’s in a Word?

Dalrymple writes at Salisbury Review on the beauty of finding the right word:

The morning after my arrival I was trying, without much success, to find main entrance [sic] and to go from thence to the room in which the conference I had come to address was being held. I came to a cross-road of two identical corridors and looked around me, trying to find some clue as to which direction to take. I must have looked bemused, for a guest was just about to enter his room, saw I was uncertain which way to go, and said, ‘Quite.’

What admirable concision! How much that one, beautifully-chosen word expressed!

When Mediocrity Strikes

Joseph Stiglitz is a celebrated economist, a Nobel Prize winner in fact. You would expect his public pronouncements to evince deep reflection and logical consistency on economic matters. Nope. It reminds Dalrymple of an interview he conducted with South African communist Joe Slovo years ago:

I had expected him to be able to fend off my question with ease by means of some sophisticated rationalization, the exposure of whose untruth and bad faith would have taken more time than I had at my disposal. But no, he was just not very clever.

Dalrymple at Taki’s Magazine

Corbyn’s Labour Party; Freedom of Opinion not welcome here

When it comes to politics, the internet and social media have created “not a Socratic dialogue but an outpouring of bile”, says Dalrymple at Salisbury Review…

This is a powerful reminder (and, as Doctor Johnson said, we need more often to be reminded than informed) that hatred is often the reverse side of the coin of humanitarian sentiment. Those who claim to wish humanity well often in practice wish their neighbour ill.

Read the rest here

An Introduction to the Real Psychiatry by Dr M S Rao

Note: When Dalrymple’s long-running BMJ column ended in 2012, he had a backlog of about 60 unpublished pieces, and he kindly gave them to us to post here at Skeptical Doctor. We are posting them on Wednesdays to coincide with the schedule of his old BMJ column. We hope you enjoy them.

Boastfulness is not a pleasant characteristic, but it is an increasingly necessary one for getting on in the world. Not only must one not hide one’s light under a bushel, but one must pretend, and make others believe, that one’s penny candle is actually a laser of such penetration that it will illuminate the far side of the universe. Gone are the days when a world expert on a subject would claim to know a little about it; nowadays even an eighteen year-old applicant for medical school is expected to produce a list of achievements filling several pages.

The other day, though, I came across a case of boastfulness disarming in its innocence. It was in a book called An Introduction to the Real Psychiatry: The Science that Studies and Corrects the Malfunctioning of the Fine Human Brain, by Dr M S Rao, published in Jaipur in 1971. Among the author’s previous books were From Utter Weakness and Impotence to the Supreme Sexual Power, 5th revised edition, 1969, 224 pages.

Dr Rao has nothing but contempt for other psychiatric texts:

It is remarkable how, in spite [of the lack of agreed facts or principles in psychiatry], the books on psychiatry are regarded as science books, simply because they have a rich get-up, are voluminous, made of superior paper with high-class printing, more especially because they are highly priced like other medical books, and because they are taught in medical colleges and their authors have many high medical degrees after their names.

Religion is no better. Sometimes he sounds like the Richard Dawkins of his day. Not only did Darwin for him pluck out the heart of the human mystery, but belief in God is a “silly childish belief” that leads to sexual frustration and thus to mental malfunctioning.

Luckily, Dr Rao has come to put us all right. Having quoted Pope’s famous epitaph to Sir Isaac Newton:

Nature and Nature’s laws lay hid in night;
God said Let Newton be, and all was light!

Dr Rao continues:

Mother Nature got busy in creating a new brain which was destined to illuminate schizophrenia, etc., etc.; and I was then ushered into the world, rather silently… Mother Nature urged me to show up, and I was declared the topmost student of my class in my state, getting by far the highest marks and winning the highest merit scholarship…

Mother Nature was not yet finished with Dr Rao:

Mother Nature later on seemed to say in my ears, “The brain (cerebrum) constructed by me is a purely mechanical brain. It is as prone to work in a wrong way as in the right way… and the wrong ways are innumerable, and the humanity has been using this brain mainly in the wrong ways… ever since I gave this brain to humanity, some 10,000 generations ago, – simply because I forgot to enclose the operating instructions with this mechanism I constructed (as is now usually done by the thoughtful engineers who construct various sorts of machines – they tell people in a leaflet how to operate their particular machine).

Fortunately, Dr Rao has discovered the operating instructions of the human brain, and:

…thus I could make Newton’s genius flourish far far more fruitfully if that unfortunate and psychologically ignorant boy could somehow come in contact with me…

For some reason, this boastfulness is endearing (perhaps because it is so eccentric) rather than off-putting, unlike our own which is merely crude and grasping.

Freedom, Unfreedom, and the Burkini

TD weighs in at Taki’s Magazine on the burkini debate in France. He argues that it is usually difficult to tell when such religious restrictions are freely adopted or coerced, but in this case he thinks it’s the former:

…in the case of the burkini someone has made the rule that women on a beach must be dressed “modestly,” and that such modest dress is a precondition of permission to go on the beach. Permission from whom? The rule might be a mere diktat of men, but it might also be, and in my view probably is, a rule accepted by many of the women irrespective of its origin. In other words, to forbid such women from wearing the burkini would be an unjustified abrogation of their freedom, which is exactly the conclusion that the French courts reached.

Suicide in Antiquity and in Modern Times by Gaston Garrisson

Note: When Dalrymple’s long-running BMJ column ended in 2012, he had a backlog of about 60 unpublished pieces, and he kindly gave them to us to post here at Skeptical Doctor. We are posting them on Wednesdays to coincide with the schedule of his old BMJ column. We hope you enjoy them.

Suicide remains an elusive problem, both clinically and philosophically. Indeed, Camus said that suicide was the only philosophical problem of any real importance; but that is an exaggeration, if an excellent opening line to the philosophical treatise in which he makes the claim.

French writing on suicide is extensive; Émile Durkheim’s study on suicide is still a standard work. Twelve years earlier, in 1885, a lawyer called Gaston Garrisson published a book entitled Suicide in Antiquity and in Modern Times, full of the most fascinating and recondite information on the subject: for example, that under the Justinian code, it was permissible for a debtor to commit suicide if he could not pay his debts. This was because if he did not pay his debts he could be enslaved to his creditor; to avoid the shame of this was deemed a good reason for him to kill himself. It is perhaps as well that the Justinian code no longer applies.

Garrisson also mentions the Suicides’ Club that existed in Paris and Berlin at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and which probably inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella, The Suicide Club. The rule of the Paris and Berlin clubs was that every member should be willing to kill himself if chosen by lot to do so. Membership of the clubs, unsurprisingly perhaps, was never very extensive, twelve in Paris and six in Berlin. The last member to kill himself did so in 1819.

Garrison was an early supporter of assisted suicide, though mainly for legal reasons; for if suicide was not a crime (as it was not in post-revolutionary France), how could assisting it be a crime? Before the Revolution suicide was a crime, the corpse was punished, and a man’s property was forfeit; there was a long historical struggle between the king and the nobles over which of them got the suicide’s belongings.

Britain is referred to throughout the book as the classic land of spleen and suicide. The fact that the statistics showed that the French were more prone to suicide was explained by the hypocrisy of the British coronial system, which rarely found that a man had killed himself, thus preventing the forfeiture of his goods to the crown, a regulation that was then still nominally in force though in effect a dead letter. Garrisson quotes Henry Maudsley, the founder of the hospital.

My copy of Garrison’s book serves as a memento mori. One is inclined to suppose that, when one possesses an old book, it has found its final resting place, its true owner. But in fact, one is only ever its temporary guardian.

The first identifiable owner of the volume was a Dr Revertégat, who owned a psychiatric clinic in the town of Sannois, where he several times treated the painter, Maurice Utrillo, for his alcoholism. The second was Dr Gregory Zilboorg (1890 – 1959), the Russian born psychoanalyst and historian of medicine among whose patients were the writer Lillian Hellman and the composer George Gershwin. When Zilboorg emigrated from Russia to the United States in 1919, he lived by means of translation while pursuing a medical degree at Columbia University, among the books he translated being Yevgeny Zamyatin’s early dystopia, We, which is said to have inspired George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Who will own the book after me?

Scapegoated Capitalism

We’ve previously posted two articles Dalrymple has written for The Journal of Modern Wisdom, a publication from author and philosopher Ben Irvine devoted to the search for wisdom and the good life. In addition to publishing Dalrymple, Ben has been a friend to this blog for years, and now he has a new book we want to tell you about. Scapegoated Capitalism examines the history of scapegoating generally, shows how it is perhaps inherent in human nature and demonstrates how it reveals itself today in the arguments of anti-capitalists, who blame an obviously beneficial economic system for problems that have other causes:

The scapegoating of individuals is bad enough when the accused share the blame with their accusers. But, in fact, the blaming of capitalists is more sinister still. The policies advocated and implemented by anti-capitalists do not mitigate but rather cause or worsen the problems that capitalism is accused of causing. Capitalism is therefore blamed not so much for everyone’s sins as for sins that belong to its accusers.

Readers like me who reject the accusation of ignorance and hatred often thrown at defenders of the free market will appreciate Irvine’s linkage of capitalism’s critics to the witch-hunters of old, for it is the big-government types who rely most on ignorance, fear and demonization.

Scapegoated Capitalism is available for the Kindle at Amazon.

Walsall’s Competition

To his surprise Dalrymple discovers a town in France as ugly as most in England:

The only hotel in the town was of such hideousness that it made me laugh. It was built in 1990, with elements of Las Vegas bolted onto a concrete construction of the Leonid Brezhnev school of architecture. Since it did not erect itself, someone must have designed it, a terrifying thought.

Jo Cox; A Very Modern Saint

Well, that’s two pieces in a row. The Salisbury Review appears to have gone the subscriber-only route. (Good for them, I hope they make a mint.) I haven’t yet joined, so the entirety of this piece will also remain behind the paywall, but it’s obviously addressing the victim-as-saint mentality applied to Jo Cox:

Strictly speaking, her brutal death should not have affected the result in either direction: it left the arguments for and against leaving the European Union precisely where they had been before. But no one should dismiss out of hand the effect of candles and teddy bears on the political thought of a modern electorate.