Is society actually dividing into a succeeding class and a failing one, as many suggest?
I am generally rather sceptical of alleged divisions into two of societies as complex as ours. First, no one agrees as to where the fracture actually is. Between the richest and the poorest, the most and the least educated, the healthiest and the unhealthiest, there are many gradations, imperceptible when viewed close-up. Nor does the alleged division into two allow for social mobility or for the possibility that a young person currently at the bottom of the pile will slowly mount that pile, even if he does not ascend to the top of it.
There are, moreover, an infinite number of ways of dividing society into two, for example those who try to do so and those who don’t, those with flat feet and those without, and so on ad infinitum. The significance of the social dichotomies is not a natural fact but has to pass through the human mind in order to attain any importance. No society is divided but thinking divides it so.
At the Library of Law and Liberty Dalrymple notes pro-death penalty arguments that seem valid, though he is opposed to the practice, and comments on others’ inability to maintain the same objectivity:
When I have put these arguments informally to people, I have noticed a curious divide. Those who, like me, are against capital punishment declare that they prove nothing—that there remains no evidence of its efficacy. Those who are in favor of it accept the arguments uncritically. In other words, it is not the evidence that determines their view, but their view that determines their reception of the evidence.
This is all the more striking because the efficacy of the death penalty does not decisively decide the argument either for or against it. It would be perfectly logical to accept its being an effective deterrent to murder and yet be opposed to it. After all, applying the death penalty to motorists who break the speed limit would no doubt be highly effective in slowing the traffic, but few people would argue for it. Efficacy is not all.
Dalrymple appears in the new Claremont Review of Books reviewing Hillbilly Elegy and also White Trash by Nancy Isenberg. This is notable because the former was certainly the book of the year in the US, and its narrative is largely an American version of Dalrymple’s tales of moral ignorance and dysfunction in the English underclass. Thus the review offers him the opportunity to apply the same analysis to a segment of American culture that he famously applied to an English one, and he does:
The world in which [Hillbilly Elegy author J.D.] Vance grew up was one in which the avoidance of shame played the part of morality, which meant that relations between people were largely those of tribal loyalty and power. Consequently, restraint and common decency were taken as signs of weakness. He could easily have been sucked wholly into this gang-like society, and if he had been, his intelligence would have made him a dangerous man, with quite likely a life sentence in front of him. The devil makes work for idle intelligence to do.
I highly recommend not only the review, but Hillbilly Elegy itself as a poignant depiction of a culture that your Skeptical bloggers understand very well from personal experience.
Dalrymple decries the psychobabble of Prince Harry’s recent confession and Theresa May’s response of offering a policy solution:
Anyone who has had dealings with the so-called mental health services in Britain, whatever they may be like in other countries (and the very notion of mental health is doubtful reality), knows that they are, as currently organized, frequently cruel and stupid, simultaneously neglecting the raving mad while concentrating their desultory and ineffective efforts upon the voluntarily inadequate…
The reason they concentrate their efforts on the voluntarily inadequate rather than the lunatics is that the former are relatively docile and predictable, while the latter may be hostile and in the modern world both drug-taking and machete-wielding. They are difficult and sometimes dangerous to deal with, and therefore best avoided, especially by mental health workers, who can rely on the police to deal with them when they become so disturbed that they can be ignored and left to their own devices no longer. Having closed down all psychiatric hospitals, we have had to build what are in effect psychiatric prisons to which patients are dragged by the police. Meanwhile, the form-filling, by ever-larger numbers of functionaries, continues undisturbed as a kind of displacement activity, in the way that mice wash their paws when confronted with a cat. They are thereby treating not their patients but their own anxieties, at the same time receiving a salary every month.
All this is a perfect model for government as a whole, which pursues policies that cause problems that then call for further policies to correct them.
Almost as bad as the recent murder of a Jewish woman in Paris is the silence in the French press about it:
As every married person knows, silences can be pregnant with meaning, even if the meaning is not immediately clear. The silence in the French press about a recent startling event in Paris is surely pregnant with meaning. On Monday, April 3, an Orthodox Jewish woman, Sarah Halimi, a doctor aged 66, was thrown out of a window to her death by an African man aged 27. He was her neighbor in the flats where she lived. According to witnesses, whose testimony has yet to be confirmed, the man, who had been harassing her with insults for several days, shouted “Allahu akbar!” as he threw her.
At the Library of Law and Liberty Dalrymple reviews Unleashing Demons: The Inside Story of Brexit, calling it “one of the worst books on any subject that I have read in a long time”:
But a very bad book may, in its own way, be highly instructive, as this one is. If mediocrity can ever be said to shine, then it shines from these pages. The writer, though a journalist, has no literary ability whatsoever. He writes entirely in clichés, there is not a single arresting thought in over 400 pages, wit and even humor are entirely absent, and he seems unable to use a metaphor, almost always tired to begin with, without mixing it (“We are likely to succumb on this if they get on their high horses and cry foul”). He has no powers of analysis and no sense of history; there is no plumbing his shallows.
A statement from Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer about punishing tax avoiders makes obvious his support for arbitrary law enforcement:
He could hardly have made his lack of scruple clearer. What ‘robust action’ has been taken against people who have avoided taxes, a perfectly legal if not always laudable thing to do? Blackmail? Threats? These are, implicitly, the words of a gangster, though the person who uttered them may not be aware of it.
On the utterly unavoidable requirement to appreciate the small things (if one is not to be miserable):
A few years ago my wife and I planted some cherry trees on our land in France, and now they are in bloom. The strange thing is that I can stand and look at the blossom, if not for hours (one must not exaggerate), at least for several minutes at a time—and repeatedly. I enjoy watching the bees at their work. I am glad to be alive.
Living under a PC regime is bad enough (“much of that population actually wants to be offended”), but it requires a very particular personality to take it one step further, as politicians do…
Most people who speak for more than a few minutes will say something stupid or offensive to someone; and thanks to cameras and microphones, all that a politician says is recordable. In effect, modern politicians live under a totalitarian regime.
The Party for the Animals won a few seats in the Dutch parliament, so Dalrymple asks sarcastically: Why not a Bacterial Liberation Front?
We must stop this discrimination between and against species according to merely anthropocentric criteria. We are all—fish, seagulls, porcupines—in it together (by it, I mean life); we have to make the biosphere work, and we shall never do it so long as we believe that some species are more valuable than others. Save the cholera germ, I say!