Rotting from the Head Down

Writing in City Journal, Dalrymple takes on a recent article by novelist China Miéville, who claims that last year’s riots in London were forms of social protest and that the judicial penalties handed out to rioters are evidence of “panicked reactions”. The title of Miéville’s article? “Oh, London, You Drama Queen”. Dalrymple will have none of it:
This is the statement of a typical intellectual whose indifference to the actual lives of the urban poor masquerades as compassion for them…
…[T]he class of victim is much larger than the class of perpetrator. Leniency toward criminals is not therefore a form of sympathy for the poor, but a failure to take either their lives or their property seriously. For Miéville to talk of “panicked reaction” in these circumstances is a form of moral exhibitionism. He is showing off in front of his peers.

12 thoughts on “Rotting from the Head Down

  1. David

    Does being a reasonably well-received author of fantasy fiction make Mieville a member of the “British intellectual elite”? I don’t think so. I’ve never seen him on television or heard him on the radio, and as far as I can see the NYT piece is the first newspaper that’s taken his politics seriously. Doesn’t that make him more a part of America’s “intellectual elite”? Perhaps, but that would spoil the whole gist of Dalrymple’s article.

  2. Greg

    “Miéville studied for a BA degree in social anthropology at Clare College, Cambridge, graduating in 1994, and achieved both a Masters’ degree and PhD in International Relations from the London School of Economics in 2001.”

    Are all “intellectual elites” featured on the television or radio? I would assume most university professors would be considered “intellectually elite”, but I imagine very few of them make media appearances.

  3. Jaxon

    David, I’m curious, maybe you’ve read Greg’s response… Sincerely, I ask you, what do you think of it?

    What do you think people are to make of what you say?

    Do you not feel you need to do some soul searching?

    If not, why not?

    It wouldn’t surprise me if you’ve read great literature and are proud of it, (proud to have an opinion of it, loudly, in cafes) you probably identify with those protagonists that are generally regarded as admirable, heroic.

    And yet, to me… (and I’ve made some regrettable comments online, mainly through impatience) what you say, the intention behind it, is truly disgraceful.

    You say it because there are so many of your ilk the (disabused intellectual elite?) you feel safty in numbers; just what sort of percentage of society do you think your attitude is typical of?

    “The “any fool” of the last sentence is a subtle form of intellectual snobbery and flattery, intended to suck the reader into the charmed circle of the sophisticated, disabused intellectual elite, the knowing and the cognoscenti who have moved beyond moral judgment and principles, who are not deceived by mere appearances, do not condemn according to outmoded ways of thought, and are therefore unmoved by such trifling (and oppressive) considerations as public decency. It does not occur to the writer—nor would it matter to her if it did—that in the audience in which fascism was flirted with there might not have been any fools but many fools, those who failed to see the ironically playful “valid” point behind the flirtation and would embrace fascism without irony. Not long ago, a newspaper asked me to attend a “concert” to report on a group whose main selling point was that they urinated and vomited over their audience, as well as abused it constantly by calling every member of it “motherfucker” countless times. Thousands attended the “concert”—in fact, a reverberating wall of deafening, discordant electronic noise punctuated by the chanting of obscenities—among whom were hundreds of children as young as six. For these unfortunate children, this was not nostalgie de la boue; this was total immersion in the boue itself, the boue in which they lived and breathed and took their cultural being, the boue from which it is highly unlikely that they would now ever crawl. Any fool could see that this was not a suitable spectacle for children, but many fools—their parents—didn’t.”

  4. David

    So going to university and selling some books makes someone a part of the “intellectual elite”? Of course it doesn’t.

    The word “elite” suggests someone who has a certain amount of power or influence – in this context intellectual. Let me say it again, the NYT piece is the first example in print or media that this person’s political or intellectual views have been given a platform. I really do not understand how anyone can possibly describe him as part of any “intellectual elite”. In fact, Dalrymple seems to be one of the very few people to have taken him seriously. And of course Dalrymple does that for his own reasons – to portray Britain as rotten and decadent as possible.

  5. David

    It seems a rather sad reflection on Dalrymple that so many people round here seem to hate any criticism of his writing. I’ve never indulged in personal attacks either on him or anyone else here, but have simply found fault with some of the things he writes. Isn’t that what discussion and debate is for? Isn’t that what intellectual freedom is for? What exactly is the problem? Plenty of what Dalrymple writes I agree with; but when it comes to Britain I find he’s often biased, with a strange tendency to attack and denigrate in ways that he doesn’t when it comes to other countries with similar problems.

    And as for your portrayal of me as some kind of oh-so-clever, café-dwelling left-wing intellectual, I’m afraid it’s laughably far from the truth. I’m quiet, polite, have very little to brag about, and find a great deal of cowardice and stupidity among left-wingers in Britain and elsewhere. But I also see error and bias in Dalrymple and others like him. Isn’t it a good thing to question others and the world and oneself? Isn’t that what the examined life is all about?

  6. Clinton

    David, I will let Jaxon reply himself, of which he is certainly capable, but I just want to say that you are very welcome to visit here and criticize Dalrymple. You are absolutely correct about the importance of debate and intellectual freedom, and we who run this site are more than happy to host some of it.

    It is perfectly acceptable to criticize Dalrymple’s work. We think he is an extraordinarily good essayist, but of course the man is not perfect. I can see how some patriotic Brits become annoyed at his criticisms of their country and think he goes too far or goes there too often. Not having spent much time in Britain, I am not qualified to hold an opinion on that, and am very happy to listen to opinions, on all sides, of those who are.

    None of the comments here should reflect on Dalrymple. The man himself is perfectly open to criticism and disagreement, and very respectful of them, although I think the commonplace denial of seemingly any social problems in the country by the “intellectual elite” (whoever constitutes it) does annoy him.

    So anyway, please feel free to continue. We are happy to have you here.

  7. Clinton

    Perhaps not surprisingly, I would side with Greg and Dalrymple here. Mieville’s education most definitely makes him a member of the intellectual elite. A very small portion of society holds advanced degrees from Cambridge and the LSE. Maybe few people seem to have taken his social and political opinions seriously, but no less a publication than the New York Times did.

  8. Brad

    Actually professors at top institutions are very frequently in demand by major media outlets, either to give their informed perspective on events related to their field, or to explain their groundbreaking research. I am a graduate student at an Ivy League school in the US, and most of my professors’ personal websites feature an “in the news” section where they have a list of their recent/prominent news appearances or quotations in places like the New York Times, NPR, or more specialized outlets.

  9. Greg

    I fail to grasp how, say, a professor at Oxford would not be classified as intellectually elite, just because her name doesn’t appear regularly in popular media. Power is not something that is only wielded by famous people.

  10. Jaxon

    Yes thanks also from me Clinton.
    David firstly I should point out, if it isn’t already fairly obvious.. that I’m perhaps not as attentive of the ‘community’ (if I can call it that) of this blog. I tend to have a rather self centred impersonal approach and therefore no doubt more prone to… well – “I’ve never indulged in personal attacks either on him or anyone else here” that sort of thing.

    Your name did ring a bell but due to the nature of your comment, particularly “Perhaps, but that would spoil the whole gist of Dalrymple’s article.”

    and speaking of the article – there’s some exceedingly damning, disturbing statistics in there, my brain (my brain made me do it) defaulted to the “so many of your ilk” defensive position…

    The David of
    “Plenty of what Dalrymple writes I agree with”

    could hardly have been further from my mind I suppose. I suspect Dalrymple’s wife (who he admits accuses him of exaggerating) would have some sympathy with what you say though frankly had Mieville turned out to have lesser intellectual credentials I think the ‘gist’ would still pretty much hold.

    Unfortunately I don’t have access to the full essay but here, from The Repellent Mr Ross, TD quotes an online response to the Ross/Brand saga – he goes on to explain that lack of education (so a disabused intellectual, to me) doesn’t explain the attitude.

    “Be sure to check out all of the comments from the new puritans, rabid anti-BBC types, armchair moralists, old people of questionable intelligence, and general fuckwits… It wasn’t that funny to begin with but the shitstorm of indignation from the illiterate opinionated twats of Great Britain has made it lolworthy (laughable)… All of those people that are morally outraged have been trolled hard (have been duped into overreaction by a deliberate provocation), and can go fuck themselves. If that’s the kind of people Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross have offended – good. Well done BBC – but it’s stupid to suspend people for pissing off an elderly guest of the show.”

    No, David, I certainly don’t think you’re of that ilk, but it I’d guess we differ on where this attitude comes from and how common it is.

    I probably say too much and not enough.

  11. Jaxon

    Actually I think TD said ‘a lack of intelligence isn’t the problem… he’s probably been through university…’ or something along those lines but maybe that’s a tedious detail.


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