Our favorite skeptical doctor cogently summarizes our era as the apex of orthodox, conformist, politically correct virtue signalling, which would have been difficult to imagine in our so-called free Western societies even a decade ago.
Holding the right opinions has never, at least in my lifetime, been as important as it is now—if, that is, you want a reputation as a good person. No doubt there has always been a tendency for people to conform their ideas to those of their group in order to be considered sound, decent, or good people, but the pressure to conform to the latest orthodoxy has increased, is still increasing—and ought to be reduced. Actual good conduct, which requires some effort, restraint, and even self-sacrifice, has correspondingly become less important in earning a reputation for goodness. Holding a placard, chanting a slogan, expressing an opinion, is enough.
The good doctor expounds on the increasingly deliberate and fraudulent misuse of words as exercises in power in his latest Law & Liberty essay.
Changes in usage and semantics, when imposed, are usually exercises in power. These days, pressure for their adoption, like censorship, comes not from government but from pressure groups, small but well-organised and determined. Resistance in small things to monomania not being worth the effort among the better balance, the changes first go by default and then become habitual.
Over at City Journal, Theodore Dalrymple castigates the dangerously irresponsible parents who think it wise to bring their children to political demonstrations.
What kind of parent uses his child as an instrument to promote a political message and teaches him (at age five!) to make a political gesture that has, at the very least, connotations of intransigence, if not of outright violence? And what fathomless sentimentality—the reverse of the coin of brutality—allows someone to believe that the participation of a child in a political demonstration adds to, rather than detracts, from the power of its message?
In last week’s Takimag column, our skeptical doctor lays out some rarely discussed American crime statistics while calling into question the sincerity of the non-looting mob—also called “protestors” by more forgiving souls.
Let us, rather, take those who demonstrated peacefully within the law; surely they were acting in bad faith while preening themselves on their own moral grandeur? They demand “justice” but pronounce guilt before it has been established by a court of law. They have over and over again proved themselves indifferent to killings by the thousands, simply because they were of no political value to them. Their indifference to facts that they must know, at least in outline, is a symptom, I would suggest, of a guilty conscience. They want at all costs to preserve their Manichaean world outlook—we good, they bad—rather than face ambiguous, disconcerting, and intractable reality. Of course, we all have this desire or tendency, but it is one that we should seek to control rather than indulge.
In the June edition of New English Review, the good doctor relates the rise and fall of the former head of the Lebanese National Bank, Riad Salamé.
Riad Salamé had only done in a relatively acute way what governments and bankers in many countries in the west had been doing chronically and in a slightly different way for decades. To recognise the crooked foolishness of what the Lebanese banker had been doing would be to recognise their own crooked foolishness.
Theodore Dalrymple reviews at length Charles Murray’s new book Human Diversity over at Law & Liberty.
If we are to overcome many of our political and social impasses, it will be by something akin to a religious revival (or, more properly, a philosophical revolution) among the intellectual upper classes that takes full cognizance of the genetic differences to be found in the human race. Such recognition of difference would temper the desire to offer false and utopian remedies that, when they fail as they inevitably do, can only increase bitterness and resentment.
Over at The Critic, our skeptical doctor calls a spade a spade when it comes to the phony, self-righteous anger of demonstrators in London protesting a police killing in Middlesbrough—I mean, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
By this token, the demonstrator’s silence on the Chinese occupation of Tibet, or on the war in the eastern Congo, was complicity with horrors far greater in extent than the death of George Floyd. But silence is not even approval, let alone complicity, and to imply that everyone must express equal outrage about what one is outraged about oneself is self-righteousness carried to the level of megalomania.
In his latest Quadrant essay, Theodore Dalrymple ponders possible changes in modern man’s attitude toward authority in light of the Chinese pandemic.
What struck me so forcefully during the COVID-19 shutdown, then, was the docility of the populations in many countries, the vast majority of whose intellectual class would have considered itself by nature rebellious and viscerally opposed to the constituted authorities. In the event, no herd of sheep could have been more compliant or docile, indeed I have in my time observed more individualistic or refractory sheep.
Theodore Dalrymple introduces us to his irritating new Parisian neighbor before delving into some serious self-reflection over at Takimag.
Oddly enough, I am not as irritated by him as I might have expected, probably because I also feel sorry for him. In a word, he is a terrible bore and I have a soft spot for bores. There are many worse people in the world than bores, and at parties, which I find more boring than any single bore could ever be by himself, I always seek bores out. With them, I am insured against being thought a bore myself, which I think I often am.
Our good doctor combines his daily walk with picking up litter around his tony Parisian neighborhood and— reminiscent of one of his books, Litter: How Other People’s Rubbish Shapes Our Life—reports his findings in City Journal.
The work, or activity, is fascinating and not in itself unpleasant—provided that you have gloves. It gives an insight, if not into society exactly, at least into the way some people live. Every discarded piece of rubbish in the street or bushes was an act of disdain for, indifference or hostility toward, society in general, to the public space. The sidewalk near my flat bears a stencilled slogan: The street belongs to everyone. That gives everyone the right, of course, to litter it.