Britain is not disastrous or broken

Matthew Sinclair links to an article by Theodore Dalrymple which Sinclair describes as “the best essay written in my lifetime that I’ve ever read”. Sinclair goes on to quote this excerpt from the article (my emphasis):

Ultimately, the moral cowardice of the intellectual and political elites is responsible for the continuing social disaster that has overtaken Britain, a disaster whose full social and economic consequences have yet to be seen. A sharp economic downturn would expose how far the policies of successive governments, all in the direction of libertinism, have atomized British society, so that all social solidarity within families and communities, so protective in times of hardship, has been destroyed. The elites cannot even acknowledge what has happened, however obvious it is, for to do so would be to admit their past responsibility for it, and that would make them feel bad. Better that millions should live in wretchedness and squalor than that they should feel bad about themselves—another aspect of the frivolity of evil. Moreover, if members of the elite acknowledged the social disaster brought about by their ideological libertinism, they might feel called upon to place restraints upon their own behavior, for you cannot long demand of others what you balk at doing yourself.

Of course, Dalrymple isn’t the only one to use this sort of language. In a recent speech (via Stumbling and Mumbling) David Cameron describes Britain as a “broken society” 11 times.

But this is nonsense. Britain isn’t broken, nor is it a disaster. Of course, Britain isn’t perfect — it never has been and never will be, indeed it would be ridiculous to imagine that any society populated by imperfect people could ever be perfect. But overall Britain does reasonally well; if you use statistics such that the UN’s human development index, it does better than most countries. There are countries that genuinely are broken and disasterous — for example Zimbabwe, Haiti, Somalia, Iraq, and North Korea — but anyone who suggests Britain is anything like these is utterly barking mad. In fact, I’m sure that Dalrymple doesn’t believes his words either: if Britain really was as terrible as he makes out, he’d be trying to leave, as would millions of others.

Dalrymple does make plenty of valid points, but his tone is incredibly off-putting, as is his cavalier disregard for reality, for example his absurd claim (highlighted above) that not a single person in Britain ever helps their friends or family in times of hardship. This is not an isolated example. Here’s another passage (again, my emphasis):

After all, the British welfare state is neither the most extensive nor the most generous in the world, and yet our rates of social pathology—public drunkenness, drug-taking, teenage pregnancy, venereal disease, hooliganism, criminality—are the highest in the world.

There is much to find fault with in this passage, but I will resrtict myself to just one point. Does Dalrymple really think that Britain has a higher teenage pregnancy rate than, say, Afghanistan? His looseness with facts suggests he is an idiot who is incapable of clear thought.

And if this is the best modern essay that Sinclair has ever read, he either hasn’t read much or has very poor taste.

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8 Responses to Britain is not disastrous or broken

  1. Steven Conatser says:

    It seems to me you seek to avoid confronting the fundamental point of Dalrymple’s article by nit-picking. Yes, of course Dalrymple doesn’t believe that modern intellectuals have destroyed literally ALL “social solidarity within families and communities”. He should have said “most” or “much”. I believe he actually meant that Britain’s rate of teenage pregnancy is the highest within the Western world, although I doubt that qualification applies to the other vices that he mentioned (and which you ignored). Considering he has written hundreds of essays, I’m sure you can find more imperfections in his writing, if you are so inclined.

    But you don’t address his fundamental argument that, in general, the behavior of the British population has significantly degraded in the last few decades, that social pathology has greatly increased and that the adoption of certain modern ideas and policies are the cause. It’s true that Britain is nothing like the other countries you mentioned, as people in those countries generally suffer from political oppression and genuine material deprivation that is unimaginable in Britain. But unfortunately, and contrary to what you seem to believe, economic prosperity and social pathology are by no means incongruent, as modern Britain proves. In fact, I suspect the former may cause the latter. (On that note, I think this is actually the greatest essay of our time.)

    Dalrymple did leave Britain in 2004, which he explained here, and emigration from the UK has risen sharply in the last few years.

    Lastly, Dalrymple argues frequently against the idea of the perfectibility of humanity, and I believe he judges modern Britain against a reasonable standard. I’m glad you agree with that philosophy. Now I encourage you to apply it to the rhetoric of others.

  2. cabalamat says:

    Steven Conaster: It seems to me you seek to avoid confronting the fundamental point of Dalrymple’s article by nit-picking.

    This might be true, but I don’t think it is. I’d probably be prepared to go to further extremes than most people in measures to reduce crime, because I tend to think about things logically rather than emotionally, and I think large parts of Britain’s consensus morality is silly emotionally-driven bullshit. What you call “nit-picking” I call “intellectual rigour”.

    Yes, of course Dalrymple doesn’t believe that modern intellectuals have destroyed literally ALL “social solidarity within families and communities”. He should have said “most” or “much”.

    Then why didn’t he? Doesn’t he know the meaning of common English words such as “all”? And if the sentence i quoted doesn’t represent his true views, then are his other sentenses similarly unprepresentative of what he thinks? In conversation, where it’s a two-way process, it’s OK to use shorthands and imprecise language, because the other person can ask questions and in that way you can transfer the information/knowledge you are trying to say. But in a written essay, which is a one way form of communication, it’s not so easy to clear up that which is unclear; therefore when writing an essay one ought to aim to be precise.

    And in any case one should aim to be as precise and exact in one’s words are possible. It’s good training — if you use imprecise words you’re probably thinknig imprecise thoughts, and if your thoughts are imprecise, your ability to understand something is limited.

  3. cabalamat says:

    I believe he actually meant that Britain’s rate of teenage pregnancy is the highest within the Western world, although I doubt that qualification applies to the other vices that he mentioned (and which you ignored).

    I didn’t comment on the rest, because it would have doubed the length of my article. But I will do so here. Here’s Dalrymple: “yet our rates of social pathology — public drunkenness, drug-taking, teenage pregnancy, venereal disease, hooliganism, criminality — are the highest in the world”.

    Let’s take the first one, public drunkenness. Are there reliable statistics for this in the UK? Are there also reliable statistics for this in every other country? Are the statistics all counting the same thing, so they are directly comparable? I suggest the answers to all these questions are “no”, and if that’s the case then no-one knows which country has the most public drunkenness.

    Now the second one, “drug-taking”. I don’t consider this a pathology. Many people use drugs but do not abuse them. Abusing drugs is harmful, to oneself and often to others, but merely using them as an aid to relaxation or conviviality is not.

    The third one, “teenage pregnancy”. Humans are designed (by nature/evolution, I don’t mean by god or any similar mystical bullshit) to start breeding when they are in their teens. So it’s not pathological, any more than shitting or eating are. The problem, where there is a probel, is that it’s the stupid girls who get pregnant, and their kids tend to be stupid, because intelligence is largely inherited. The fix for this is to discourage stupid people (of whatever age) from breeding.

    Fourthly, venereal disease. Clearly this is pathological, as is all disease. Are Britain’s rates for it the highest in the world? I doubt it, and given Dalrymple’s utter lack of concern for the truth in the rest of the article I’m certainly not going to take his word for it on this factoid. I’m aware that in some parts of the world up to 25% of the population are HIV+; maybe Dalrymple doesn’t count AIDS as an STD. Or maybe he just means OECD countries. Or maybe he just makes up his facts.

    Fifthly, hooliganism and criminality. Again the points referred for public drunkenness apply.

    There *are* relatively accurate figures for homicide in the UK and other countries, so they can be compared. Britain doesn’t, by a long way, have the highest levels in either the world or the OECD.

    Considering he has written hundreds of essays, I’m sure you can find more imperfections in his writing, if you are so inclined.

    If it is all of similar quality, no thanks. I prefer to read people who (1) don’t just make up their facts, (2) are actually capable of rigourous thinking, e.g. Paul Graham or Chris Dillow or Eliezer Yudkowsky.

  4. cabalamat says:

    But you don’t address his fundamental argument that, in general, the behavior of the British population has significantly degraded in the last few decades, that social pathology has greatly increased and that the adoption of certain modern ideas and policies are the cause.

    I certainly accept that there’s an element of truth in that. In the case of the essay you point to, there’s a woman who gots prgnant several times by her violent partner who she keeps seeing, and drops charges against him. People like that are quite literally not capable of having sense knocked into them. If they were prevented from breeding they wouldn’t have kids. And if a policy of preventing low IQ people from breeding had been in force for some decades, then there would not be the chavscum problem we have today.

    I have several friends who are on the dole and/or living in social housing. All of these people know how to cook, none go out with violent partners who’re in and out of prison, nor display the other forms of depravity mentioned in the essay.

  5. Steven Conatser says:

    And in any case one should aim to be as precise and exact in one’s words are possible. It’s good training — if you use imprecise words you’re probably thinknig imprecise thoughts, and if your thoughts are imprecise, your ability to understand something is limited.

    In the course of arguing for precision in writing, you make so many spelling and grammatical mistakes, I can’t help but wonder if it was intentional. Are you sure you want to argue that imperfect writing is a sign of poor logic? I have written in the past that sloppy writing is a sign of sloppy thinking, but surely there is ample space between perfection and sloppiness.

    Speaking of poor logic, I see some of it in your posts. Just because people follow their biological inclinations doesn’t mean their behavior is not socially pathological. In fact, the failure to restrain one’s socially harmful biological urges (in other words, the rejection of civilized behavior) is what social pathology is. Whether some drug users refrain from abusing drugs is irrelevant. The more drug use there is, the more social harm there will be. And I’m glad Britain isn’t the murder capital of the world, but Dalrymple didn’t say it was, and neither does that make it a social paradise.

    You end your response by referencing your personal experience as evidence for your position, but your sample size can’t begin to compare to that of Dalrymple, who has, in his years as a physician and psychiatrist, interviewed at least tens of thousands of Britons and learned the intimate details of their lives. He has, in fact, spent most of his adult life traveling the world to learn about humanity and its ideas and behavior. If personal experience qualifies as evidence, as you apparently agree, few people have more evidence than Dalrymple. He also has a greater combination of intelligence, knowledge, experience and good judgment than anyone else I know. That, along with his gifts as a writer, is why I believe he is the greatest intellectual of our time.

    Your rhetoric, on the other hand, illustrates the fact that pure reason (untethered to healthy prejudice) is unreliable, because it is carried out by imperfect humans and therefore frequently ends in monstrous and inhumane ideas. Your advocacy of forced sterilization and eugenics is not much removed from Hitler and Auschwitz and, to any reasonable person, invalidates all of your views and exposes your poor judgment.

  6. john b says:

    Anthony Daniels “the greatest intellectual of our time”? Tell me this is a troll…?

    Daniels’ beliefs on British society are silly – he thinks it’s a disaster; it very obviously isn’t; end of story. He also says things which are demonstrably untrue, which you appear not to care about. I’m delighted to hear that he no longer lives in the UK, but I suspect this may limit his efficacity as a social commentator…

    His origonal delusions arose *because* he’s a prison psychiatrist – if you spent your time dealing with the most screwed up, violent and broken people in the UK, you’d probably believe the UK was a terrible place too.

    Oh, and precision is vital in writing; typos are irrelevant; the inability to tell the difference between the two is the sign of an idiot.

  7. Laban says:

    “he thinks it’s a disaster; it very obviously isn’t”

    I guess I’ll have to agree to disagree with John on that one.

    You might want to take a look at “What is poverty ?”

    http://www.city-journal.org/html/9_2_oh_to_be.html

    The one caveat I have with the essay is that the Asian and African doctors of which he writes are presumably under his tutelage (‘my doctors’ he calls them). It’s possible that some of their agreement with him stems from politeness or the fact that he’s their professional superior.

    “By the end of three months my doctors have, without exception, reversed their original opinion that the welfare state, as exemplified by England, represents the acme of civilization. On the contrary, they see it now as creating a miasma of subsidized apathy that blights the lives of its supposed beneficiaries. They come to realize that a system of welfare that makes no moral judgments in allocating economic rewards promotes antisocial egotism. The spiritual impoverishment of the population seems to them worse than anything they have ever known in their own countries. And what they see is all the worse, of course, because it should be so much better. The wealth that enables everyone effortlessly to have enough food should be liberating, not imprisoning. Instead, it has created a large caste of people for whom life is, in effect, a limbo in which they have nothing to hope for and nothing to fear, nothing to gain and nothing to lose. It is a life emptied of meaning.

    “On the whole,” said one Filipino doctor to me, “life is preferable in the slums of Manila.” He said it without any illusions as to the quality of life in Manila.”

  8. Steven Conatser says:

    he thinks it’s a disaster; it very obviously isn’t

    Is it OK if I think it’s not obvious, or will that also make me an idiot?

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