A YouTube user named “Expanding Overton” (which I think is a reference to this) has beautifully summarized Dalrymple’s 2007 book In Praise of Prejudice in video form. What a great idea. See videos of other works from the same user here.
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.
Just a friendly reminder that we’ll be hosting a happy hour meetup of readers of this blog on Tuesday evening in NYC, starting at 6 pm (or so).
Please note that Dalrymple himself will not be there. I apologize if I gave anyone the impression that he would be.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org for the details if you’d like to join us.
In response to multiple requests, we are currently working on scheduling one in London, and more information will be coming soon.
We’re looking forward to hosting another happy hour meetup of Dalrymple readers, anyone else who reads our site, and like-minded types on Tuesday evening, December 1st in Manhattan.
We had a great time at our first such event back in July, discussing our favorite writers, swapping stories of being under intellectual siege in Gotham, and conspiring to rid the world of shallowness, rudeness and Madonna (but I repeat myself). This time we will surely solve Europe’s terrorism problem, come up with a plan to defeat Bill de Blasio, and reimpose reasonable standards of etiquette and civilization on Western society.
If you’d like to join us, please email me at email@example.com for the details.
Among other smart and friendly people, we’ll be joined by writer Robert Wargas, whose September Weekly Standard piece on libertarianism might make for some interesting discussion.
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.
One of our commenters, Brian, recently had a fine idea: having a few fellow Dalrymple readers get together for dinner and drinks in Manhattan, where some of us live and/or work. Clint and I have had the pleasure of meeting many Dalrymple readers at various events over the years and have always been impressed with them and in particular with the Skeptical Doctor readers and commenters and look forward to meeting more. It turns out our friend Gavin, who does heroic work running the excellent Dalrymple Forum and associated Twitter account and who also rebuilt our website (he’s a very talented pro at this stuff), will be making his first trip to New York next week, so we thought this would be the perfect time for a meetup. As such, we are looking at Wednesday night, July 8, at a restaurant or bar still to be determined. No, Dalrymple himself will not be there, but I am sure we will have a good time anyway.
If you plan to join us, may I ask you to RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org with the number of people in your party? The more the merrier as far as we are concerned (especially since everyone is paying for themselves). Once we have a headcount, we can select an appropriate location and maybe reserve a table or two. We will provide the location via email to those who RSVP.
In a recent article for Taki’s Magazine, Dalrymple mentioned that he had tried to do some research on one of his favorite writers but was surprised at the lack of information available online (while there is a seemingly infinite amount of trivial information about people of no discernable accomplishment whatever). The writer is Edward Spencer Shew, and Dalrymple had been researching him in order to write the foreword to a new ebook release of Shew’s work A Companion to Murder. Winner of the 1963 Edgar Special Award, the book is now available from Monday Books, who describe it as “a true crime classic” and “a fascinating A to Z compendium of fifty years of English murder trials, from 1900 on”.
Publisher Dan Collins was grateful enough to allow us to post Dalrymple’s foreword.
Edward Spencer Shew was born in 1908 and died aged 68 in 1977. For many years he was a parliamentary lobby correspondent. He published a novel, Miss Proutie, in 1952, and in 1971 a pulp novel adaptation of a Hammer horror film, The Hands of the Ripper, itself based on a short story by him. His wife Betty wrote books about royalty and in 1996 letters that the Queen had written to her in 1947 about her future husband, Prince Philip, were sold at auction.
Between his excursions into fiction, Edward Spencer Shew wrote two classic books, A Companion to Murder, published in 1960, and A Second Companion to Murder, published in 1961. The first of these books won an Edgar Award in 1963, one of the prestigious prizes awarded annually by the Mystery Writers of America. But I think it fair to say that, brilliant and entertaining as these books are, they are nowadays known only to a small group of aficionados. I have never met anyone, however, who has read them who did not become a devotee and an admirer of their author.
They do not pretend to be encyclopaedias of murders committed in Britain between 1900 and 1950, but rather compendia of the most interesting cases. The period chosen includes the apogee and then decline of what might be called the golden age of British murder, that is to say of murder committed not just in that sordid underworld that has always existed and in which murder is only to be expected, but of murder committed in a respectable and religious middle or lower middle class environment, where murders were not just a matter of ‘two blockheads to kill and be killed,’ as De Quincey put in his essay On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts. Spencer Shew wrote at the end of what might be called the cosy era of crime in Britain, during which violence had fallen to the lowest levels in history and therefore might be read about in comfort as something exotic and mildly titillating.
George Orwell, in The Decline of the English Murder, delineated what the criteria for the ‘perfect murder’ of the period:
The murderer should be a little man of the professional class… living an intensely respectable life somewhere in the suburbs, and preferably in a semi-detached house, which will allow the neighbours to hear suspicious sounds through the wall. He should be either chairman of the local Conservative Party branch, or a leading Non-conformist and strong Temperance advocate. He should go astray through cherishing a guilty passion… In the last analysis he should commit murder because this seems to him less disgraceful, and less damaging to his career, than being detected in adultery.
Such murders can be committed only where respectability retains its hold as a desideratum on the great mass of the population, and Spencer Shew chronicled, through its crime, the end of the era of respectability. His book is therefore valuable as social history; but if he was fortunate in his period, his period was fortunate in him.
His vignettes of the murders, murderers, victims, trials, defence and prosecution barristers, and judges (who were all household names in their day as are stars of television programmes now), are masterpieces of compression, conveying atmosphere, character and event in few but brilliantly chosen words. Here, for example, are the first words of his description of the infamous ‘Brides in the Bath’ murderer, George Joseph Smith, who pretended to marry three women in succession and then drowned them in the bath a few days afterwards (claiming that they had suffered from epileptic fits) to collect their insurance money:
George Joseph Smith, murderer, bigamist, swindler, performer on the harmonium…
The last characteristic comes to the reader as an electric shock, and also conveys to perfection the Non-conformist petty bourgeois milieu in which Smith operated. The tune he played after drowning his so-called wives, incidentally, was ‘Nearer my God to thee.’
Spencer Shew mastered the art – one of the hardest for a writer to master – of paring everything down to its essentials, not a word too many, not a word out of place. If you want to know about the social history of Britain, if murder interests you as it interests most of mankind, if you want to learn how to write spare, accurate English prose full of humour without flippancy and rawness without vulgarity, read Edward Spencer Shew!
A popular, just-concluded reality show on England’s Channel 4 featured the Winson Green neighborhood of Birmingham, England that Dalrymple came to prominence depicting. The program followed the lives of the residents of James Turner Street, 95% of whom are unemployed and many of whom have never held a job in their lives, and even showed the prison where Dalrymple was a staff member.
Dalrymple worked for 12 years as both a psychiatrist and general practitioner in HM Prison Birmingham and in the nearby City Hospital. His writings in his “Second Opinion” column in the Spectator, as well as in City Journal, depicting the indolent and violence-ridden lives of his Winson Green patients brought him to a greater level of public awareness. His City Journal columns on the area were later collected in Life At The Bottom: The Worldview That Makes The Underclass, for which he is mostly known in the US.
The program, “Benefits Street”, was the most watched on Channel 4 in 2 years and has generated controversy and widespread discussion on England’s system of public benefits. The program is freely available on YouTube. Channel 4 will televise a live debate on the show and the welfare system on this upcoming Monday, February 17th.
Dalrymple has said that he has been asked by other journalists whether he actually invented the things he documents his patients as saying and doing. “Benefits Street” should quell this skepticism. When one of the show’s subjects, “Fungi”, is sent a letter from the council confirming his appointment “to discuss the benefits available to you through the work program”, he seems offended by the mere suggestion, replying “I’ve never worked a day in me life” as though he had been accused of assaulting a child. One is reminded of Dalrymple’s patient whose mother was caught receiving benefits while working and explained, “She had to quit working.”
Have you seen the program? Have any thoughts on its depiction of the residents of James Turner Street? Discuss it here in the forum.
NOTE: We originally identified the program as being on BBC4. In fact, it is on Channel 4.
NOTE2: The original link to the forum has been corrected.
We appreciate our readers’ responses (here) to our request for questions to ask Dr. Dalrymple. The questions were uniformly excellent and covered a wide range of subject matter, reinforcing what Clint and I have always known to be the obvious intelligence and good sense of this blog’s readership, which is purely a reflection on Dalrymple himself.
We collected and condensed all of these questions and were excited about the opportunity to address them to Dalrymple, but unfortunately it did not work out as we planned. We set aside some time to interview him during our last few hours with him, but something else came up and we were not able to complete it. We did touch on many of these issues in the rambling discussions we had with him over the course of two days, and our Plan B was to document his statements from memory and report them here, but then we remembered that his comments were made in private and not as part of an acknowledged interview, and he had not consented to our publicizing them.
Given what he has said in writing, his answers to many of the questions we asked could probably be predicted, but our approach toward his life and views has always been to avoid publicizing any information that he has not chosen to publicize himself. We get a definite sense that he wants to express himself through his writing and otherwise maintain his privacy, hardly an unreasonable expectation.
If we are able to re-schedule the interview, or if he ever addresses any of your questions in his future pieces, we will let you know. We are sorry if we raised your expectations unnecessarily, and thanks for reading the blog.
In a few days your friendly skeptical bloggers will travel to visit Dalrymple at his home in the south of France. If you have questions you’d like to ask of him, please submit them in the comments section of this post. I can’t promise we’ll have a chance to pose every one of them to him, but we’ll try.