2004 November 21 Sunday
Theodore Dalrymple On The Frivolity Of Evil

In the City Journal Theodore Dalrymple, in real life psychiatrist Anthony Daniels who is just now leaving employment for 14 years in a British prison hospital, writes on the amount of evil individuals are committing in Britain even though no dictatorship compels them to do so.

Yet the scale of a man's evil is not entirely to be measured by its practical consequences. Men commit evil within the scope available to them. Some evil geniuses, of course, devote their lives to increasing that scope as widely as possible, but no such character has yet arisen in Britain, and most evildoers merely make the most of their opportunities. They do what they can get away with.

Daniels describes one woman he met in his work whose mother had tossed her out of her home at age 14 in order to satisfy the mother's latest boyfriend and how this girl went on to have 3 babies by 3 different loser men.

She was, of course, a victim of her mother's behavior at a time when she had little control over her destiny. Her mother had thought that her own sexual liaison was more important than the welfare of her child, a common way of thinking in today's welfare Britain. That same day, for example, I was consulted by a young woman whose mother's consort had raped her many times between the ages of eight and 15, with her mother's full knowledge. Her mother had allowed this solely so that her relationship with her consort might continue. It could happen that my patient will one day do the same thing.

Dalrymple notes the total lack of opposition and disapproval in the welfare state toward behavior that is incredibly harmful toward others.

This truly is not so much the banality as the frivolity of evil: the elevation of passing pleasure for oneself over the long-term misery of others to whom one owes a duty. What better phrase than the frivolity of evil describes the conduct of a mother who turns her own 14-year-old child out of doors because her latest boyfriend does not want him or her in the house? And what better phrase describes the attitude of those intellectuals who see in this conduct nothing but an extension of human freedom and choice, another thread in life's rich tapestry?

I'd like to go on record to anyone who isn't one of my regular readers: I am very judgemental. I think one has a moral and practical duty to be judgemental. Any society in which the elites shrink from judging and severely sanctioning irresponsible reproductive and child-raising behavior is a society headed for severe decay.

Here we enter the realm of culture and ideas. For it is necessary not only to believe that it is economically feasible to behave in the irresponsible and egotistical fashion that I have described, but also to believe that it is morally permissible to do so. And this idea has been peddled by the intellectual elite in Britain for many years, more assiduously than anywhere else, to the extent that it is now taken for granted. There has been a long march not only through the institutions but through the minds of the young. When young people want to praise themselves, they describe themselves as "nonjudgmental." For them, the highest form of morality is amorality.

There has been an unholy alliance between those on the Left, who believe that man is endowed with rights but no duties, and libertarians on the Right, who believe that consumer choice is the answer to all social questions, an idea eagerly adopted by the Left in precisely those areas where it does not apply. Thus people have a right to bring forth children any way they like, and the children, of course, have the right not to be deprived of anything, at least anything material. How men and women associate and have children is merely a matter of consumer choice, of no more moral consequence than the choice between dark and milk chocolate, and the state must not discriminate among different forms of association and child rearing, even if such non-discrimination has the same effect as British and French neutrality during the Spanish Civil War.

The consequences to the children and to society do not enter into the matter: for in any case it is the function of the state to ameliorate by redistributive taxation the material effects of individual irresponsibility, and to ameliorate the emotional, educational, and spiritual effects by an army of social workers, psychologists, educators, counselors, and the like, who have themselves come to form a powerful vested interest of dependence on the government.

So while my patients know in their hearts that what they are doing is wrong, and worse than wrong, they are encouraged nevertheless to do it by the strong belief that they have the right to do it, because everything is merely a matter of choice. Almost no one in Britain ever publicly challenges this belief.

The belief goes unchallenged in America in the vast bulk of cases. When is the last time you saw on some TV news show a story about a poor single woman with children and how she deserves our sympathy and support? By contrast, how often have you heard on a TV show about some single woman with children and how it was irresponsible for her to have children out of wedlock by a succession of men, how it was irresponsible to have these men live with her and abuse her children, and how it was irresponsible of these men to knock her up? I think we see about 1000 times more stories about how our hearts should bleed for specific poor folks than we do about how specific poor folks are acting grossly irresponsibly.

Think about modern American liberals. You will hear them go on about, say the urgent need to improve the quality of public education or medical insurance coverage. The pretense of welfare state liberals is that they care more than conservatives do about human suffering. But what is the biggest cause of human suffering in America today? Irresponsible and even quite evil choices made by tens of millions of people about their own reproduction and children. The welfare state and the message delivered by liberal media and liberal academic institutions have encouraged this irresponsible behavior by failing to judge it and failing to punish it. The welfare state can't substitute for responsible individual decision-making and individual ethical behavior.

Modern liberalism has become a secular religion replete with a system of taboos. One of those taboos concerns reproduction. Liberals hold that reproduction is purely a personal choice and that to argue otherwise is fascistic or oppressive. Yet reproduction is not just about the whims and passing desires of the woman who gets pregnant. A birth produces a baby that is entirely helpless and in need of responsible and burdensome care for many years. Even during pregnancy smoking, drug use, alcohol use, and nutritional choices (to say nothing of abusive boyfriends) can all exact heavy tolls on the future baby. So it strikes me as absurd to argue that whether to reproduce is a purely personal decision. Irresponsible reproductive decisions mean that the baby and the rest of society will pay for many years for those decisions.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 November 21 01:04 AM  Civilizations Decay

Guessedworker said at November 21, 2004 2:21 AM:

Firstly, Randall, I've just been directed here by John Ray and he's right - you have a great blog.

OK, I was a great fan of Daniels as Dalrymple when he began writing all those years ago. From the way he presented himself I took him to be a general practictioner, not a psychologist. So the steady stream of the unwashed, ineducable and unparented parading their damaged humanity and victimhood before him - an outright social conservative like myself - was a riveting and fresh-minted concept. The novelty has worn off somewhat, at least here in Britain. We know what to expect.

Further, since I learned that his medical discipline is narrower than my (now obvious mistaken) supposition I have become more critical of his worldview. For one thing it is deeply repetitive. For another it is not leavened by hope in the form of creative thinking. Dalrymple is a defeated man and the defeated do, if they have legs on which to run, tend to quit the field. I am not surprised that he is embittered, nor that France is his choice of bolt-hole.

Dalrymple has a blind spot human difference and immigration. As a psychologist working in an inner-city area he must have understood that blacks have a high predisposition to psychopathy. Yet despite this unavoidable intrusion of racial fact into his professional life he has been singularly unwillingly to look for social concommitants among the surrounding population. Nowhere in any of his writings that I have read does he analyse social disorder with any kind of racial filter. Given the grotesque distortions that immigration has wrought to the inner-cities of my country over the last five decades, I find that peculiarly cowardly. We are not talking here purely of respect to publishers of a non-gentile variety. It's more than that.

However, Dalrymple has been on the side of the angels. Of that there is no doubt. He is read even on the left. We should be grateful for him. How he will continue his writings from the distance of another culture, whether indeed he will choose to write of this country and its travails, will be interesting to see. Personally, I wish he had chosen Holland or Flanders for his new home - lacking in the vine and warm sunshine, perhaps, but so much more intellectually bracing just now in other ways.

Invisible Scientist said at November 21, 2004 5:24 AM:


You are now opening Pandora's Box. As a disciple of Ayn Rand, who hates collectivism, you will soon
have to reconcile the New Collectivism that is on the horizon. It is being suggested in the articles you
have posted, that since the social behavior of the indivudual includes reproduction, this, too might one
day be regulated for the _collective_ good of the society. And this is just the tip of the ice-mountain, because
ultimately, the mental processes of the baby may also be regulated for the collectivbe good of the society.
Basically, social engineering includes the immigration policy. The interesting thing is that in the global age,
any US citizen can move offshore and conduct any business he or she wants, as long as the business is legal and
the taxes are paid. Geographic boundaries are remaining relevant only due to the danger of terrorism (which is
also known as "Unrestricted Warfare".) Thus, in the future, it is possible that the biological and mental
processes of the babies will be regulated by genetic manipulation, and there will be very few places to escape.

Randall Parker said at November 21, 2004 10:59 AM:


Yes, I agree Dalrymple/Daniels has intentionally blinded himself to the biological basis of behavior and to differences in behavior due to genetics. Yes, that is intellectual cowardice when many intellectuals do it and may well be so in his case too.

Yes, in spite of all that his single-minded focus allows him to even reach people on the Left. While the Leftists deny the genetic basis of human behavior and the important role of genetic differences in human behavior Daniels' complete avoidance of the subject may allow him to reach Leftists on other topics (notably the welfare state and left-liberal amorality) where they also need to face up to the intellectual bankruptcy of their position.

BTW, You might also find it insightful to know that Daniels is Jewish. I vaguely recall that he is part or full Hungarian Jewish. So his avoidance of the genetic basis for human behavior and of genetic differences as causes of differences in behavior is not surprising. The percentage of intellectuals who denial the importance of human genetic biodiversity is highest among the Jews and probably lowest among South Asians.

John S Bolton said at November 21, 2004 1:42 PM:

These are subhuman breeding practices; that yield the ~70% illegitimacy rate of the blacks in America, or not? Someone must speak publicly of these gross irresponsibilities and set them in their right intellectual context. The left can't criticize such and such perpetrators, because they are abjectly thrown down into fatalistic materialism. On such beliefs morality and judgmentalism are essentially impossible; not merely disfavored. Their use of such terms as 'pro-choice' is salesmanship, not a representation of belief in human volition. The right, so far as it is spiritual and religious, is also susceptible to its own, even older, tendencies to 'judge not'.

Randall Parker said at November 21, 2004 6:14 PM:


One other point about Daniels: I do not see his move to France as a surrender in the culture battles. France is close to Britain. The Chunnel trains make a trip from France into southern England pretty quick. In spite of what the Muslims are doing to some of the cities many of the smaller towns in the country side have high quality of life from various accounts I have read.

Daniels has eyes wide open about the French. See, for example, a column he just wrote a couple of weeks ago about France:

There is no recognition here that the unemployment rate in France’s over-administered social-democratic welfare state is more than twice that of the United States, that the crime rate in France is far higher than that of the United States, or that the alienation from society found in France’s ghettoes is at least as great as that found in America’s, and furthermore that the alienated in France are far more heavily armed and dangerous to society as a whole. Self-examination has never been the strong point of French intellectual life.

Also, see my post Theodore Dalrymple on French Ghettoes.

Guessedworker said at November 22, 2004 6:38 AM:

Thank you Randall for that nugget of information of which I was competely unaware. The old, fatal blindspot, I'm afraid. Never even considered it!

Derek Copold said at November 22, 2004 7:11 AM:

Dalrymple's mother was a German-Jewish refugee from the nazist period. His father is English.

I've talked to some English about these things. They're not liberals, nor are they BNPers. Generally, they tend to be middle of the roaders. From their POV, the problem is that the white lower-classes in England can be just as awful as black (in our sense of the word) immigrants when it comes to pathological behavior. We don't see that as much here in the states because the culture of lower-class whites in the states is far more elevated than that in Britain. For example, Country-Western songs still celebrate the idea of work and family.

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