Fujimori

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Does the end justify the means? Theodore Dalrymple had to think about that when he read that Alberto Fujimori, former president of Peru, had been sentenced to seven and a half years’ imprisonment for corruption, to run concurrently with the twenty-five years he is already serving for abuse of human rights:

As it happens, I was in Peru just before, during and after the election that first brought Fujimori to power. His opponent was the world-famous novelist, Mario Vargas Llosa, who I, like many others, assumed would win. Indeed, I hoped that he would win. He was highly intelligent, extremely eloquent, had a clear idea of what was needed for Peru to emerge from its current nightmare, and he was standing for election out of patriotism and for the good of his country. He had nothing to prove, nothing to gain; it is rare indeed to encounter a candidate so transparently unmotivated by personal goals.

Fujimori won. I hadn’t appreciated just how much his obscurity might help him, so great was the disillusionment in the country with national figures. Fujimori was a distinguished academic agronomist, but you could be the most famous agronomist in the world and still live in the most perfect obscurity. One Peruvian peasant captured the mood perfectly when asked why he had voted for Fujimori. ‘Because I didn’t know anything about him,’ he replied. In other words, every man’s past disqualifies him from high public office.

The Peru that Fujimori inherited was in terrible condition. Inflation was so rapid that you couldn’t buy anything of any value in the local currency: you had to use dollars. Money-changers, of whom there seemed to be thousands, stood in the streets, waving thick wads of notes at passers-by in exchange for dollars. Once, in Arequipa, my friend and I walked out to visit a convent there. The rate was 90,000 intis per dollar (and each inti was 1,000,000 old soles) on the way; on the way back, an hour later, it was 110,000 – or, to put it more dramatically, 110,000,000,000 old soles. I suppose that inflation of this kind at least makes you adept at mental arithmetic.

But inflation was, if not the least of Peru’s worries, at least not the worst or greatest of Peru’s worries. That honour belonged to Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), the Maoist insurgency that at the time controlled quite a lot of the national territory. I was convinced that, if Sendero won, there would be another Cambodia in Peru: a Cambodia on a much larger scale. And it was far from certain at the time that Sendero would not win. Indeed, if I had had to put my money on it winning or losing, I think I would have put it on it winning.

The history of Sendero was instructive, from two points of view. The first is that it destroys the notion that such revolutionary movements are the direct and spontaneous product of the grievances of the poor. The second is that it illustrates the dangerous folly of expanding tertiary education as a means of economic development rather than as a consequence of economic development.

The founder of Sendero was the professor of philosophy at Ayacucho University, Abimael Guzman, known to his acolytes as Presidente Gonzalo; his ideas, if such they merit being called, being the application of Maoism to Peru, were known collectively as Gonzalo Thought. Although living in clandestinity, he was already the object of a grotesque cult of personality and he wrote and spoke in that terrible langue de bois that is not the least of the tortures inflicted on society by communist regimes because it claims a monopoly of public speech and bores into the brain like a loud burrowing insect:

The ideology of the international proletariat erupted in the crucible of the class struggle, as Marxism, becoming Marxism-Leninism and, subsequently, Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. Thus the all-powerful scientific ideology of the proletariat, all-powerful because it is true, has three stages: 1) Marxism, 2) Leninism, 3) Maoism; three stages, moments or landmarks of its dialectical process or development; of a single entity that in a hundred and forty years, from the Manifesto, and in the most heroic epoch of the class struggle, in the bloody and fruitful struggles of the two lines within each communist party and in the immense labour of the titans of thought and action that only the proletariat could generate, three inextinguishable luminaries stood out: Marx, Lenin Mao Tse-Tung, who through three leaps have armed us with the invincible Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, today principally Maoism.

Ayacucho University itself had been in abeyance since the seventeenth century; the Peruvian government thought to revive it as a means of developing the economy of the local area, one of the poorest and most backward in the country, and bringing to it a modicum of social progress. What it brought instead was a Peruvian Pol Pot (who had written his thesis on Kant), who was easily able to influence and indoctrinate young men and women who were the first generation ever to receive tertiary education, and who were, in all truth, the scions of an immemorially oppressed people.

The combination of millenarian hopes and age-old resentments is an unfortunate one, to say the least; Gonzalo Thought, so called, gave ideological sanction to bestial brutality, and turned sadistic revenge into the fulfilment of a supposedly scientific destiny. From what I personally saw in Ayacucho on the eve of the election, which had the atmosphere of a city under siege, waiting for the barbarians to arrive and carry out their long-announced massacre, I was convinced that, if Sendero achieved power, millions would be slaughtered.

I also saw, and heard about, actions by the Peruvian army that were less than gentlemanly. People suspected of Senderista sympathies were disappeared (it took the twentieth century to turn the verb ‘to disappear’ into a transitive one). I saw relatives petitioning the local garrison officer for news of their husbands, sons and brothers whom the army had whisked away and obviously consigned to permanent oblivion. The army did not say please and thank you for what it commandeered; it was more an occupying force than a protector of the people.

Still, it was what stood between Peru and the Apocalypse. But, at the time of Fujimori’s election, it looked as if it might collapse.

On my way back to Europe, I happened on the aircraft to sit near a man who turned out to be an investigator for Amnesty International. When I told him about what I had seen the Peruvian Army do, he looked like a man who had just been fed with a tantalisingly delicious dish, or a cat at the cream; it was, it seemed to me, exactly what he wanted to hear. He almost purred. But when I told him what I had seen Sendero do, his expression turned sour; and he looked at me as if I were a credulous bearer of tales about unicorns or sea-monsters. He turned away from me and took no further interest in my conversation. No doubt illogically, I lost a great deal of my respect for Amnesty after that; constituted governments do a lot of evil, but they are not the only ones to do evil. In this case, the government was the lesser evil, and by far.

Crime and Punishment

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Theodore Dalrymple shares a conversation on crime and punishment:

Recently in my house in France I had two English guests, one who was what might be called a hard-liner with regard to crime, and the other a liberal. By analogy with the Cold War, we might even call them the Hawk and the Dove.

The Dove, of course, was concerned about the causes of crime. These were multiple and complex, not to be fully apprehended by the mind of Man, but nevertheless connected in some way with social injustice. The evident fact of unmerited inequalities in our societies was enough to provoke crime. (Who will deny that, even in a meritocracy, some are born rich, others achieve riches, while others have riches thrust upon them?) On this view, then, crime is an inchoate attempt at restoring perfect justice to the universe.

In favour of the Dove’s outlook may be mentioned the equally indisputable fact that most criminals emerge from highly unfavourable circumstances, circumstances that they did little or nothing themselves to create. In my career as a doctor in prison, I did meet a few criminals who were born with the silver spoon in their mouth, and who went to the bad despite their advantages; but their number was trifling by comparison with that of those who experienced deprivation, cruelty, hardship or violence in their childhood. It seems elementary humanity, therefore, to have some sympathy with and for them, and not to victimise them further by condoning punishment. A better approach would be to create social conditions in which there was no childhood deprivation, hardship etc. Punishment is at best a plaster over an unhealing wound, and will never eliminate crime. It is the causes of crime that need to be addressed.

The Hawk would have none of this, of course. Leaving aside the Dove’s failure to distinguish between unfairness and injustice (a very large philosophical topic), he pointed out that if it was true that most criminals were deprived in their childhood, it was also true that most people who were deprived in their childhood were not criminals. There is therefore considerable margin for the operation of what is usually called free will. Moreover, if the connection between life history and crime were as described, it could as easily lead to the most illiberal conclusions as to liberal ones.

If it is really true that certain childhood conditions lead inexorably to criminality then, in the absence of any proven technique to break the connexion, this is as much an argument for preventive detention as for leniency. There is, of course, no such technique. Since society must protect itself from criminals, the presence of a deprived background would constitute an argument for longer, not shorter, prison sentences.

The Hawk pointed out, furthermore, that one must not confuse the causes of crime with the appropriate response to criminality once it has developed. And this is so even if one disregards the probability that how society responds to crime is one of the factors a person takes into account when deciding to commit a crime (the decision so to commit being the proximate cause of all crime).

Thus, if as a matter of fact, imprisonment prevents the criminal from re-offending, it is quite beside the point that he commits crime in the first place because (shall we say) his mother did not love him enough in childhood. What society is interested in is the prevention of further crime; it cannot engage upon the task of giving him a different past or (slightly less impossible, perhaps) of nullifying the effect of that past.

The Hawk then horrified the Dove further by citing evidence that, contrary to what is often said, prison is actually very effective in the suppression of crime. Indeed, it is the only thing that is effective. For example, offenders sent to prison the first time they are caught (which, of course, is rarely the first time they offend) have a recidivism rate lower than those who receive other kinds of sentence.

Moreover, prison is not a university of crime as is often alleged. If it were, one might expect that prisoners sentenced to longer terms had higher degrees in crime: that is to say, were more likely to re-offend. But in fact they are less likely to do so; prison is therefore the place where criminals learn (eventually, for they are not quick learners on the whole) not to re-offend.

But, said the Dove, if what the Hawk was saying were true (and the Hawk, being a professional writer on the subject had devoted much more time to the study of it than the Dove had done), it would lead naturally to conditions in Europe with regard to imprisonment that resembled those in America – and the Dove would hate that, indeed could think of nothing worse or less acceptable.

This, I need hardly say, was not the end of the discussion. What exactly, asked the Hawk, as so terrible about the American example? Well, said the Dove, they have more than two million prisoners over there. But what is terrible about that, asked the Hawk, if they have all been sent there by due process and are, in fact, criminals (except for those mistakes that are consequent upon any system of criminal justice whatsoever)?

But some races are imprisoned more than others, said the Dove; this hardly seems fair. But, said the Hawk, a differential rate of imprisonment is not in itself evidence of injustice; one would hardly wish to increase the number of Chinese in American prisons simply to bring their proportion up to that in the general population.

The Hawk was a passionate bird, and began to tremble with excitement (I know the symptoms well, and try, somewhat unsuccessfully, to control them in myself). He pointed out that it is completely absurd to dwell on the prison population as a proportion of the general population. To have but one prisoner in a country in which there had never been a crime would be an outrage. What counted was not the prison population as a proportion of the general population, therefore, but the prison population in relation to the number of crimes committed.

Now if Britain, which has gone in half a century from being a country with a low crime rate to one with among the highest rates of crime in the western world had the same sentencing policy as Spain – that is to say, if it sent people to prison for the same reasons and for the same length of time as in Spain – its prison population would be not 80,000 but 400,000. Not coincidentally, Spain is a country whose crime rate is – yes, about one fifth of Britain’s. Furthermore, said the Hawk, if Britain had 400,000 prisoners, it would have the same proportion of the population in prison as – yes, the United States.

Furthermore, it has been estimated that if Britain now had the same sentencing policies as it had in Edwardian times, its prison population would be – well, about 400,000. According to the Hawk, the crime rate in Britain started its vertiginous rise after, and not before, the sentencing policy became weaker, as a result of years of Dove-ish propagandizing; I did not know enough either to agree or to disagree with his historical analysis, but I (who was much more in sympathy with the Hawk than the Dove) added my mite, to the effect that to fail properly to punish and disable criminals from committing further crimes was a failure to protect the poor, given two cardinal facts: first, that if it is true that the vast majority of criminals are poor, so it is also true that the vast majority of their victims are also poor; second, that the class of victim is always very much larger than the class of perpetrator.

Perhaps it will come as no surprise to learn that no minds were changed in the course of this argument: after all, one argues for victory, not for truth. However, I suspect that the Dove might be slightly less dove-ish in the future, should the argument recur in other circumstances and surroundings, with other people, without (for temperamental reasons) undergoing a full avian metamorphosis. For those with a soft heart, the problem with the Hawk’s argument is this: that while long imprisonment causes tangible distress to certain easily-imagined individuals, the harm therefore appearing concrete, the people to whom good is done by the use of imprisonment because they are prevented from becoming victims of crime remain shadowy, and therefore the good is purely abstract or notional. It is for this reason that Hawks always have a public relations problem.

The Machine Stops

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

When my not-so-old rear-projection TV started misbehaving, I couldn’t figure out how to get rid of it, and I eventually ended up taking it to the local household hazardous waste dump — where I threw the externally pristine electronic marvel into a dumpster full of tar roofing bits. It was shockingly unpleasant.

Theodore Dalrymple had a similar experience when he replaced his working refrigerator with a superior model:

Last week, for example, we bought a large new refrigerator. Why? Our old one still worked perfectly well. It was small, but we didn’t need anything larger; it was perfectly adequate to our needs, from the preservation of food point of view. We bought a large new fridge because we had to bend down to get anything out of the old one, and we decided that we didn’t want to do that any more. We wanted an eye-level refrigerator; and in order to have one, we had to buy something much larger than we needed. We rationalised our purchase by telling ourselves that we were growing older, that soon we might not be able to bend, it was better to be prepared in advance for the difficulties of old age than face them as an emergency, etc., but really our purchase, quite unnecessary, was merely whimsical, at best to overcome a very minor inconvenience.

What did we do with our fridge? These days you cannot give away what would have made Louis XIV green with envy. You could, for example, go down the road shouting ‘Free fridge! Free fridge!’ and find no takers. Indeed, you might end up in an asylum. So we took it to the municipal wasteground of such things, where people dispose of what they no longer want.

Although our town is small, there was enough there to equip scores of households. The attendant told us that they did try to give these things away, after having tested them for safety, but it was not easy: there were more discarded goods than people to need them. I am no environmentalist, but still I could not help but feel that there was something amiss in all this.

Snobbery

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

Snobbery is easier to recognise than to define, Theodore Dalrymple says:

The definition of a snob in The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary is inadequate. The Penguin English Dictionary does much better. It defines a snob as ‘Someone who tends to patronize or avoid those regarded as social inferiors; someone who blatantly attempts to cultivate or imitate those admired as social superiors; someone who has an air of smug superiority in matters of knowledge or taste.’ The same dictionary defines ‘inverted snob’ as one ‘who sneers indiscriminately at people and things associated with wealth and high society.’ One possible derivation of the word snob is from the Latin sine nobilitate, without nobility.

I doubt whether there is anyone in a modern society who is entirely free of snobbery of some sort, straight or inverted. After all, everyone needs someone to look down on, and the psychological need is the more urgent the more meritocratic a society becomes. This is because, in a meritocracy, a person’s failure is his own, whether of ability, character or effort. In a society in which roles are ascribed at birth and are more or less unchangeable, failure to rise by one’s own achievement is nothing to be ashamed of. To remain at, or worse still to sink down to, the bottom of the pile is humiliating only where a man can go from log cabin to White House. Of course, no society is a pure meritocracy and none allows of absolutely no means of social ascent either; thus my typology is a very rough one, and is not meant to suggest that there is ever a society in which the socially subordinate are perfectly happy with their lot or are universally discontented with it. But it does help to explain why justice, of the kind according which everyone receives his deserts, might not necessarily conduce to perfect contentment. It is obviously more gratifying to ascribe one’s failure to injustice than to oneself, and so there is an inherent tendency in a meritocracy for men to perceive injustice where none has been done.

It is not altogether surprising, then, that small slights are often felt far more grievously, and burn for longer in the mind, than large or gross injustices. A burglary is more easily forgotten than a disdainful remark or gesture, especially one made in public; one might consider this foolish, but it is irreducibly so.

That is why snobbery, when openly expressed, is so hurtful and dangerous. Even quite mild people become furiously angry, sometimes to the point of violence, when too clearly disdained. To let people know that you look down on them, ex officio as it were, is the surest way to provoke their antagonism. By contrast, exploitation (within quite wide but not infinite boundaries) is relatively easy to tolerate.

The antagonism that European colonialism evoked in Africa, for example, was caused more by the evident disdain of many colonialists for the local population than by grosser exploitation. Of course, in some instances the exploitation was so gross as to provoke rebellion; but by the end of colonial rule, when antagonism to it was at its most popular and widespread, the grosser forms of exploitation had been eliminated. Moreover, antagonism to colonial rule was as great in countries which clearly benefited from it economically as in those which it did not. Even economic retrogression in the post-colonial era did not result in calls for a return to the palmy days of colonialism: for no one likes to be an inferior in his own country merely by virtue of having been born in it. Colonialism was experienced as snobbery incarnate, institutionalised disdain, and therefore disliked intensely by those who experienced it.

Knowing the dangers of snobbery, however, is not quite the same as eliminating it from one’s own heart and mind.

Dalrymple admits to being a fearful snob. Writing last month, he admits to looking down on anyone taking the World Cup too seriously.

The past is the one thing we don’t want to learn from

Friday, August 20th, 2010

The one thing that many environmentalists seem not to care about, Theodore Dalrymple says, is the environment — its visual appearance:

The indifference of environmentalists to aesthetic considerations was illustrated by a friend, who kindly forwarded to me a brochure about a fully ecological house, erected (or assembled, since it was pre-fabricated) in the centre of Paris in front of Haussmann-style buildings. Needless to say, it completely destroyed the harmony of the surrounding townscape.

It looked like a three-dimensional Mondrian, all boxes and bright colours. Inside, it was more a laboratory than a home, the kind of sterile environment necessary for in vitro fertilisation. However much it might have been heated by the sun, it lacked warmth. It was a proper place for androids, not for humans.

The brochure claimed many advantages for it, not the least of which was that the residents could monitor their energy consumption electronically hour by hour, minute by minute, in order to minimise it. Thus they could ensure that they never forgot their own impact on the environment, and were never totally free of anxiety about it. What the saving of their souls was for the ancients, saving of electricity has become for the moderns.

No consideration was given in the brochure to such questions as the harmonisation of new houses with the pre-existing townscape or landscape, or how these cheap and gaudy constructions would look after a few years of wear and tear; but the smallness of the houses was vaunted as an enormous social advantage. There simply was not enough room, not enough land area, said the brochure, for everyone to occupy as much space as he wanted.

This was an odd claim, because the house was by no means as efficient in concentrating the population as — the very Haussmann-style buildings in the front of which it was assembled, which manage so marvellously to combine elegance, grandeur, human scale and density of population, and which are now so desired and desirable as places to live that they have become too expensive to buy for anyone who does not already own part of one. Oddly enough, no one has ever suggested building as Haussmann did, albeit with such energy-saving devices as ingenuity might supply. The past is the one thing we don’t want to learn from, especially if we are architects.The indifference of environmentalists to aesthetic considerations was illustrated by a friend, who kindly forwarded to me a brochure about a fully ecological house, erected (or assembled, since it was pre-fabricated) in the centre of Paris in front of Haussmann-style buildings. Needless to say, it completely destroyed the harmony of the surrounding townscape.

It looked like a three-dimensional Mondrian, all boxes and bright colours. Inside, it was more a laboratory than a home, the kind of sterile environment necessary for in vitro fertilisation. However much it might have been heated by the sun, it lacked warmth. It was a proper place for androids, not for humans.

The brochure claimed many advantages for it, not the least of which was that the residents could monitor their energy consumption electronically hour by hour, minute by minute, in order to minimise it. Thus they could ensure that they never forgot their own impact on the environment, and were never totally free of anxiety about it. What the saving of their souls was for the ancients, saving of electricity has become for the moderns.

No consideration was given in the brochure to such questions as the harmonisation of new houses with the pre-existing townscape or landscape, or how these cheap and gaudy constructions would look after a few years of wear and tear; but the smallness of the houses was vaunted as an enormous social advantage. There simply was not enough room, not enough land area, said the brochure, for everyone to occupy as much space as he wanted.

This was an odd claim, because the house was by no means as efficient in concentrating the population as — the very Haussmann-style buildings in the front of which it was assembled, which manage so marvellously to combine elegance, grandeur, human scale and density of population, and which are now so desired and desirable as places to live that they have become too expensive to buy for anyone who does not already own part of one. Oddly enough, no one has ever suggested building as Haussmann did, albeit with such energy-saving devices as ingenuity might supply. The past is the one thing we don’t want to learn from, especially if we are architects.

Sympathy Deformed

Monday, August 9th, 2010

To sympathize with those who are less fortunate is honorable and decent, Theodore Dalrymple says, but every virtue can become deformed by excess, insincerity, or loose thinking into an opposing vice:

I first started thinking about poverty when I worked as a doctor during the early eighties in the Gilbert Islands, a group of low coral atolls in an immensity of the Central Pacific. Much of the population still lived outside the money economy, and the per-capita GDP was therefore extremely low. It did not seem to me, however, that the people were very poor. Their traditional way of life afforded them what anthropologists call a generous subsistence; their coconuts, fish, and taros gave them an adequate—and, in some respects, elegant—living. They lived in an almost invariant climate, with the temperature rarely departing more than a few degrees from 85. Their problems were illness and boredom, which left them avid for new possibilities when they came into contact with the outside world.

Life in the islands taught me a lively disrespect for per-capita GDP as an accurate measure of poverty. I read recently in a prominent liberal newspaper that “the majority of Nigerians live on less than $1 a day.” This statement is clearly designed less to convey an economic truth than to provoke sympathy, evoke guilt, and drum up support for foreign aid in the West, where an income of less than $1 a day would not keep body and soul together for long; whereas it is frequently said that one of Nigeria’s problems is the rapid increase in its population.

As it happens, an island next door (in Pacific terms) to the Gilbert Islands was home to an experiment in the sudden, unearned attainment of wealth. Nauru, a speck in the ocean just ten miles around, for a time became the richest place on earth. The source of its sudden riches was phosphate rock. Australia had long administered the island, and the British Phosphate Commission had mined the phosphate on behalf of Australia, Britain, and New Zealand; but when Nauru became independent in 1968, the 4,000 or so Nauruans gained control of the phosphate, which made them wealthy. The money came as a gift. Most Nauruans made no contribution to the extraction of the rock, beyond selling their land. The expertise, the management, the labor, and the transportation arrived from outside. Within just a few years, the Nauruans went from active subsistence to being rentiers.

The outcome was instructive. The Nauruans became bored and listless. One of their chief joys became eating to excess. On average, they consumed 7,000 calories per day, mainly rice and canned beef, and they drank Fanta and Château d’Yquem by the caseload. They became the fattest people on earth, and, genetically predisposed already to the illness, 50 percent of them became diabetic. It was my experience of Nauru that first suggested to me the possibility that abruptly distributing wealth has psychological effects as well as economic ones.

Read the whole thing.

A Sense of Responsibility and a Will to Provide Leadership

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

John Derbyshire notes that there is an odd conservatism in the common perceptions of life in other lands:

I grew up among English people who still thought of France — a rather stuffy and puritanical country in the 1960s — in terms of the “Gay Paree” of seventy years earlier, a place of unbridled license and monocled boulevardiers swilling champagne at the Folies Bergère.

In the same way, many Americans carry in their minds an image of England as a polite and civilized land, where impeccably courteous David Niven types sit around at their clubs in antique leather armchairs sipping port, while, at the other end of society, stoic cockneys converse in rhyming slang and cheer each up other with cups of tea in the parlor.

In fact today’s England is a rather coarse and violent place, whose crime statistics now surpass the U.S.A.’s in most categories (homicide being the principal exception). The nation’s everyday culture is dominated by the most brutish of proletarian values: politicians like Tony Blair from perfectly sound bourgeois families affect the dropped aitches and glottal stops of the slums, while the old codes of chivalry, patriotism and restraint have been shoved aside in a snarling, clawing assertion of “rights.”

American jaws drop when I say, in response to inquiries, how much I enjoy the comparative tranquillity, security and civility of life in the U.S.A. and the exquisite manners of Americans — especially in the South, the best-mannered large region in the English-speaking world.

This is from Derbyshire’s review of Theodore Dalrymple’s Life at the Bottom, which examines the “values” of today’s (nominally) English underclass:

[T]he hedonism of the postwar middle classes has also been a large factor in the collapse of morality over at the left-hand tail of the bell curve. It is a bad thing, but not an irremediable one, if the daughter of an architect has an illegitimate baby or acquires a minor drug habit. If the daughter of a janitor does these things, she has taken a headlong leap over the precipice into a lifetime of destitution. If any of the people who make social policy in England are aware of this simple fact, they probably regard it as another form of unfairness, to be resolved by lavishing money and attention on the janitor’s daughter.

A better remedy would be for the middle classes to behave themselves, and to give a good example to those beneath them, and to stop feeling so all-fired guilty about everything under the sun. That, of course, would be “elitist”: but if there is a lesson to be drawn from Life at the Bottom, it is that a society’s choice is never between having an elite and not having one, it is always between having an elite with a sense of responsibility and a will to provide leadership, and having an elite with neither.

Big Man Basket Case

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

Africa is a basket case, Eric Falkenstein notes. Then he shares the origin of the term:

The term basket case came from WWI, indicating a soldier missing both his arms and legs who needed to be literally carried around in a basket.

I did not know that. I think I was happier not knowing that.

Falkenstein’s real point is that the big man phenomenon is holding Africa back. He cites Theodore Dalrymple‘s explanation:

The young black doctors who earned the same salary as we whites could not achieve the same standard of living for a very simple reason: they had an immense number of social obligations to fulfill. They were expected to provide for an ever expanding circle of family members (some of whom may have invested in their education) and people from their village, tribe, and province. An income that allowed a white to live like a lord because of a lack of such obligations scarcely raised a black above the level of his family. Mere equality of salary, therefore, was quite insufficient to procure for them the standard of living that they saw the whites had and that it was only human nature for them to desire—and believe themselves entitled to, on account of the superior talent that had allowed them to raise themselves above their fellows. In fact, a salary a thousand times as great would hardly have been sufficient to procure it: for their social obligations increased pari passu with their incomes…

The thick network of social obligations explains why, while it would have been out of the question to bribe most Rhodesian bureaucrats, yet in only a few years it would have been out of the question not to try to bribe most Zimbabwean ones, whose relatives would have condemned them for failing to obtain on their behalf all the advantages their official opportunities might provide. Thus do the very same tasks in the very same offices carried out by people of different cultural and social backgrounds result in very different outcomes.

The Persistence of Ideology

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

Sociologist Daniel Bell declared The End of Ideology in 1960, and Francis Fukuyama famously declared The End of History in 1989, after the fall of Communism, and yet, Theodore Dalrymple notes, ideology persists:

Who, then, are ideologists? They are people needy of purpose in life, not in a mundane sense (earning enough to eat or to pay the mortgage, for example) but in the sense of transcendence of the personal, of reassurance that there is something more to existence than existence itself. The desire for transcendence does not occur to many people struggling for a livelihood. Avoiding material failure gives quite sufficient meaning to their lives. By contrast, ideologists have few fears about finding their daily bread. Their difficulty with life is less concrete. Their security gives them the leisure, their education the need, and no doubt their temperament the inclination, to find something above and beyond the flux of daily life.

If this is true, then ideology should flourish where education is widespread, and especially where opportunities are limited for the educated to lose themselves in grand projects, or to take leadership roles to which they believe that their education entitles them. The attractions of ideology are not so much to be found in the state of the world—always lamentable, but sometimes improving, at least in certain respects—but in states of mind. And in many parts of the world, the number of educated people has risen far faster than the capacity of economies to reward them with positions they believe commensurate with their attainments. Even in the most advanced economies, one will always find unhappy educated people searching for the reason that they are not as important as they should be.

Rage can be a powerful reward in itself:

Feminists continued to see every human problem as a manifestation of patriarchy, civil rights activists as a manifestation of racism, homosexual-rights activists as a manifestation of homophobia, anti-globalists as a manifestation of globalization, and radical libertarians as a manifestation of state regulation.

How delightful to have a key to all the miseries, both personal and societal, and to know personal happiness through the single-minded pursuit of an end for the whole of humanity! At all costs, one must keep at bay the realization that came early in life to John Stuart Mill, as he described it in his Autobiography. He asked himself:

“Suppose that all your objects in life were realized; that all the changes in institutions and opinions which you are looking forward to, could be effected at this very instant: would this be a great joy and happiness to you?” And an irrepressible self-consciousness distinctly answered, “No!” At this my heart sank within me: the whole foundation on which my life was constructed fell down. All my happiness was to have been found in the continual pursuit of this end. The end had ceased to charm, and how could there ever again be any interest in the means? I seemed to have nothing left to live for.

This is the question that all ideologists fear, and it explains why reform, far from delighting them, only increases their anxiety and rage. It also explains why traditional religious belief is not an ideology in the sense in which I am using the term, for unlike ideology, it explicitly recognizes the limitations of earthly existence, what we can expect of it, and what we can do by our own unaided efforts. Some ideologies have the flavor of religion; but the absolute certainty of, say, the Anabaptists of Münster, or of today’s Islamists, is ultimately irreligious, since they claimed or claim to know in the very last detail what God requires of us.

As with most Dalrymple pieces, you should read the whole thing.

The lady’s not for spurning

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

In The lady's not for spurning, Theodore Dalrymple reviews Claire Berlinski’s There Is No Alternative: Why Margaret Thatcher Matters — and makes some of his own points about the Iron Lady:

Berlinski tells us that her economic reforms, perhaps unavoidably, created a large underclass, a mass of utterly hopeless, unskilled, uneducated, unemployable people of the kind who are to be seen in the centre of every British town and city on Friday and Saturday nights, obliterating themselves with drink and behaving generally like extras in a film about Sodom and Gomorrah. This, in my view, is a serious and deep misunderstanding.

These self-obliterators are not the underclass; such self-obliteration is beyond the means of the underclass, which obliterates itself in other ways closer to home. The people of whom Berlinski writes are actually the beneficiaries of the Thatcher revolution. They are the market; the market cannot be wrong; ergo, it is right to vomit in the gutter and pass out in public.

Thatcher believed, in a kind of mirror-image Marxist way, that the market automatically made men virtuous. Unfortunately, she did not so much restore a market economy as promote a consumer society, which is not quite the same thing. It was a society in which most of the really difficult aspects of existence in the modern world – education, health care, social security and many others – remained in the hands of the state. This meant that consumer choice was largely limited to matters of pocket money: whether to ruin Ibiza by your behaviour on holiday, or Crete. The resultant combination of consumer choice and deep irresponsibility was not an attractive one, to say the least. A large part of the population became selfish, egotistical, childish, petulant, demanding and whimsical.

Moreover, her belief that the idea of public service was always and everywhere but a mask for private rent-seeking, which could be avoided only by the introduction of the management techniques of the efficient private sector, paved the way for the grotesque corporatist corruption of Messrs. Blair’s and Brown’s Britain. In effect, she helped to create a new, and very large, class of apparatchiks posing as businessmen, who quickly learned how to loot the public purse mercilessly.

England does not deserve pride

Friday, June 13th, 2008

I’ve read enough Dalrymple to agree with Mencius Moldbug when he says that frankly England does not deserve pride:

It has gone to the dogs, and that may be an insult to dogs. If England is to restore its sense of pride, it needs to start with its sense of shame. And the first thing it should be ashamed of its the pathetic excuse for a government that afflicts it at present, and will afflict it for the indefinite future until something drastic is done.

For example, according to official statistics, between 1900 and 1992 the crime rate in Great Britain, indictable offenses per capita known to the police, increased by a factor of 46. That’s not 46%. Oh, no. That’s 4600%. Many of the offenders having been imported specially, to make England brighter and more colorful. This isn’t a government. It’s a crime syndicate.

How Societies Commit Suicide

Saturday, August 18th, 2007

Theodore Dalrymple explains How Societies Commit Suicide — by example:

In an effort to ensure that no Muslim doctors ever again try to bomb Glasgow Airport, bureaucrats at Glasgow’s public hospitals have decreed that henceforth no staff may eat lunch at their desks or in their offices during the holy month of Ramadan, so that fasting Muslims shall not be offended by the sight or smell of their food. Vending machines will also disappear from the premises during that period.

Apparently the bureaucrats believe that the would-be bombers were demanding sandwich-free offices in Glasgow hospitals during Ramadan. This kind of absurdity is what happens when the highly contestable doctrine of multiculturalism becomes a career opportunity for the semi-educated and otherwise unemployable products of a grossly and unnecessarily swollen university system.

Ratatouille

Monday, July 2nd, 2007

I managed to catch a matinee of Ratatouille on Friday, opening day, and it was, of course, superb — with Pixar and Brad Bird behind it, how could it not be? — but I’m dismayed to find out that it did not open to massive numbers:

According to studio estimates issued on Sunday, “Ratatouille” about a rat who aspires to become a gourmet chef sold $47.2 million worth of tickets during its first three days. It took the No. 1 slot ahead of the new Bruce Willis movie “Live Free or Die Hard” with $33.2 million.

It was the lowest opening for a Pixar-produced release since the studio’s second effort, “A Bug’s Life,” launched with $33.3 million in 1998 on its way to a $163 million total.

By contrast last year’s Pixar entry, “Cars,” drove off with $60.1 million — a figure regarded as something of a disappointment — and finished with $244 million.

If “Ratatouille” follows the same pattern as “Cars,” it will gross about $189 million, becoming the third consecutive Pixar release to underperform its predecessor. But Disney was confident “Ratatouille” would easily pass $200 million.

Of course, it did break my rule to never name a product anything French, because Americans can neither spell nor pronounce anything in French. This raises another question: What exactly is ratatouille?

Ratatouille (IPA:[ræt??tui, -?twi]; English [r?t'?-t?'?] “ra-ta-TOO-ee”) is a traditional French Provençal stewed vegetable dish. [...] Tomatoes are a key ingredient, with garlic, onions, zucchini (courgettes), eggplant (aubergine), bell peppers (capsicum), some herbes de Provence, and sometimes basil. All the ingredients are sautéed in olive oil.

The name of the dish appears to derive from the French touiller, “to stir”, although the root of the first element rata is slang from the French Army meaning “chunky stew”.

As a Brad Bird film, Ratatouille deals with intriguing philosophical issues, all under the guise of a simple family film. In fact, one issue, lightly touched on, is family, and how Remy’s family demands hinder his development — I won’t spoil the movie by saying any more.

This has come up before, in The World’s Most Toxic Value System, for instance:

It’s very common to read accounts of entrepreneurs in Third World countries who could easily achieve even greater success but deliberately refrain because if they did, they would be inundated by extended family members. Could there be a more effective mechanism for keeping a society poor?

Dereliction Express brings up the same issue to explain why things don’t get repaired in Africa:

A third explanation sees communal claims and the parasitism of extended family, clan, and tribe making individual progress impossible and nepotism inevitable. These reasons for the engulfing mess and hopelessness come variously combined in different places — as we find in the reports of Tim Harford, Paul Theroux, and V. S. Naipaul.

As a young man, Theodore Dalrymple worked as a doctor in Rhodesia, where black doctors earned as much as white doctors — but didn’t get on as well as one might expect:

The young black doctors who earned the same salary as we whites could not achieve the same standard of living for a very simple reason: they had an immense number of social obligations to fulfill. They were expected to provide for an ever expanding circle of family members (some of whom may have invested in their education) and people from their village, tribe, and province. An income that allowed a white to live like a lord because of a lack of such obligations scarcely raised a black above the level of his family. Mere equality of salary, therefore, was quite insufficient to procure for them the standard of living that they saw the whites had and that it was only human nature for them to desire — and believe themselves entitled to, on account of the superior talent that had allowed them to raise themselves above their fellows. In fact, a salary a thousand times as great would hardly have been sufficient to procure it: for their social obligations increased pari passu with their incomes.

One of Remy’s chief conflicts with his family is that they’re rats, and they steal garbage from humans, while he wants to create something, which calls to mind Paul Graham’s How to Make Wealth — which I’m shocked to realize I have not blogged on yet.

How Not to Do It

Sunday, February 11th, 2007

In How Not to Do It, Theodore Dalrymple reviews three books on the incompetence of Britain’s government:

Insight into why expensive failure is so vitally necessary to the British government — or indeed, to any government once it arrogates responsibility for almost everything, from the national diet to the way people think — glimmers out from management consultant David Craig’s recent book, Plundering the Public Sector. Craig catalogs what at first sight seems the almost incredible incompetence of the British government in its efforts to “modernize” the public administration. For example, not a single large-scale information technology project instituted by the government has worked. The National Health Service has spent $60 billion on a unified information technology system, no part of which actually functions. Projects routinely get canceled after $400–$500 million has been spent on them. Modernization in Britain’s public sector means delay and inefficiency procured at colossal expense.

How is this to be explained? I learned a very good lesson when, 20 years ago, I worked in Tanzania. This well-endowed and beautiful country was broken-down and economically destitute to a shocking degree. A shard of mirror was a treasured possession; a day’s wages bought a man one egg on the open market. It was quicker to go to Europe than to telephone it. Nothing, not even the most basic commodity such as soap or salt, was available to most of the population.

At first I considered that the president, Julius Nyerere, who was so revered in “progressive” circles as being halfway between Jesus Christ and Mao Tse Tung, was a total incompetent. How could he reconcile the state of the country with his rhetoric of economic development and prosperity for everyone? Had he no eyes to see, no ears to hear?

But then the thought dawned on me, admittedly with embarrassing slowness, that a man who had been in power virtually unopposed for nearly a quarter of a century could not be called incompetent, once one abandons the preposterous premise that he was trying to achieve what he said he was trying to achieve. As a means of remaining in power, what method could be better than to have an all-powerful single political party distribute economic favors in conditions of general shortage? That explained how, and why, in a country of the involuntarily slender, the party officials were fat. This was not incompetence; it was competence of a very high order. Unfortunately, it was very bad for the population as a whole.

A Little Social Experiment

Wednesday, August 16th, 2006

Theodore Dalrymple describes A Little Social Experiment:

An interesting experiment took place on the London street where I have an apartment. A few years ago, the borough council permitted a developer to build six apartment complexes across from my building, on the condition that he reserve three of them for “social” — what Americans would call public — housing.

The architecture of the buildings, while deeply undistinguished, is far from the worst of the genre and certainly does not suffer from the gigantism that was once the vogue. The street remains leafy, and edges on a fashionable area. A two-bedroom apartment in the private complexes now sells for $900,000. To all appearances, the apartments are identical in the private and public housing complexes.

In front of these apartments is a tiny garden, not more than 15 feet wide. As you walk along the street, you can tell from these gardens exactly at what point the private property ends and the “social” housing begins, in exactly the same way as, overflying the island of Hispaniola, you can tell where the Dominican Republic ends and Haiti begins.

The little gardens in front of the publicly owned apartments are overgrown and jungle-like; they look as if no one really cared for them since the construction of the housing. Litter and household detritus — from diapers to the packaging of fast-food meals — covers them, some of it festooned on the overgrown bushes. At a certain point, private property takes over. The little gardens are cared for and neat; not a single piece of litter clutters them. If one were to appear, a property owner would soon remove it. My apartment, I am glad to say, is opposite a privately owned building.