Excusing behaviour

Dalrymple [heavily abridged]

In some modern societies—and certainly Britain is one of them—satire is prophecy … for no idea is too absurd, it seems, for our political masters and bureaucratic elite to take seriously and put into practice—at public expense, of course, never their own.

[For example] A man with a long history of criminal violence became a serial killer while working on a Ph.D. thesis at the University of Bradford, the subject of his thesis being the methods of homicide used in the city during the nineteenth century. He himself used methods more reminiscent of the fourteenth.

Stephen Griffiths is 40. He has never worked and has always lived at taxpayers’ expense. At 17, he was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for cutting the throat (not fatally) of a supermarket security guard who tried to arrest him for shoplifting. In prison, doctors reported, Griffiths had a “preoccupation with murder—particularly multiple murder.” They diagnosed him as a violent psychopath; that is, he had an intractable personality development that made him likely to commit new violent offenses.

The doctors were right. Shortly after his release from prison, Griffiths committed more violent acts … he remained violent toward women. He managed to convince a jury that he was innocent of the charge of pouring boiling water on, and badly burning, a sleeping girlfriend who had decided to leave him …

Such was the man whom the University of Bradford selected to pursue a doctorate in homicide studies, a subdivision of the Department of Criminal Justice Studies, with fees and living expenses paid by the government. Though computer checks on the criminal records of prospective employees are now routine in Britain, and medical students are checked, applicants for doctorates in homicide studies apparently are not; or if they are, no notice is taken of what is found …

This is said to indicate a hatred of women caused by sexual difficulties with them; psychologists will no doubt be interested in the fact that Griffiths hated his mother, who separated from his father when Griffiths was young and was reputed by neighbors to be a prostitute herself. Certainly she behaved in a sexually uninhibited way: she would go naked into the yard of their house in the town of Wakefield and have sex with a variety of men in full view of the neighbors.

[T]here are certain regularities, and one of them is the way in which the victims of men such as Griffiths are described in the Guardian, the house journal of the British intelligentsia and its bureaucratic hangers-on. This is important because it illustrates the way in which a dominant elite—dominant de facto if not always de jure—thinks about social problems.

An article describing the victims of Wright, the Ipswich murderer, was titled “the women put into harm’s way by drugs”. A similar article about Griffiths’s victims was headed “crossbow cannibal victims’ drug habits made them vulnerable to violence”.

No one thinks of himself, or of those about him, as automatons; we are all faced with the need to make conscious decisions, to weigh alternatives in our minds, every waking hour of every day. Human life would be impossible, literally inconceivable, without consciousness and conscious decision making.

Assuming, then, that not everyone is driven to what he does by his own equivalent of drug addiction, the Guardian must assume that Wright’s and Griffiths’s victims were fundamentally different from you and me. Unlike us, they were not responsible for their actions; they did not make choices; they were not human in the fullest sense …

One problem of liberal social thought is that it consigns a larger and larger proportion of the human race to the category of people driven into trouble … the article about Griffiths’s victims fairly oozes with morality, albeit of a saccharine and self-regarding kind, while at the same time pretending to avoid judgment.

For example, it refuses to use the word “prostitute,” replacing it with “sex worker” and “street worker.” The reason is clear enough: “prostitute” has negative moral connotations. The word “prostitution” suffers the same fate: it becomes “sex work.” This seems to have the corollary that both the work and the worker are perfectly respectable, the work having a social status, perhaps, somewhere between supermarket-shelf-stacking and neurosurgery.

But if sex work is work like any other, are those who patronize sex workers “customers” or “clients” who ought to have the same protections that other consumers enjoy (such as “money back if not satisfied”)? Alas for them, no; the article refers to them as “punters,” a term in British English with connotations of vulgarity, dishonesty, and moral turpitude …

What lies behind these mental contortions? It is a form of sentimentality, a mask for a deeper indifference, according to which people who suffer or have led unhappy lives must be transformed into blameless victims so that we can pity them. It is as if, were they to have contributed in any way to their own situation, all sympathy for them would have to be withdrawn or abandoned.

And since the liberal wants to be seen, particularly by his peers, as a man superior in compassion to everyone else, he uses all his powers of rationalization, generally increased by many years of education, to establish that such and such a group of people is without blame and thus suitably—indeed, necessarily—an object of his moral generosity.

If, in the process, he comes to conclusions repugnant to common sense, so much the worse for common sense.

All this demonstrates the inferiority of a liberal secular, compared with a liberal religious, understanding of social problems. (I say this as someone without a religious ax to grind, and I exclude the more theocratic and intolerant end of the religious spectrum.)

The liberal religious understanding is that men are sinners, including the men who do the understanding. This does not, or should not, preclude sympathy with sinners; for if it did, we should never show any sympathy at all. Use every man after his desert, and who shall scape whipping?

The liberal religious understanding means that there is no need to deny the sin itself, and consequently no need for the religious liberal to twist his mind into knots in an attempt to deny the obvious. He can therefore afford to look social reality in the face, and not indulge in mental Houdini tactics to escape its supposed chains in order to preserve his self-image as a compassionate and generous person.

For myself, I never had much difficulty in recognizing bad behavior for what it was without withdrawing my sympathy from the person who, I thought, had behaved badly. During my medical career, I had many prostitutes among my patients (incidentally, they never described themselves as anything but prostitutes, though they would sometimes say that they were “on the game”). It never occurred to me that they did not lead sordid lives, even those of the professional elite.

In fact, I found prostitutes far more intellectually honest than the writers of such articles as the one I have quoted … the secular liberal, however, would like to convert them—religiously, as it were—to his own view of the matter: to convince them that it is (for example) the hopelessness of their addiction that accounts for their choices.

[Theodore Dalrymple, a physician, is a contributing editor of City Journal, the Dietrich Weismann Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and the author of The New Vichy Syndrome: Why European Intellectuals Surrender to Barbarism.]

I’ve both given out and been on the receiving end of compassion but there has been a difference in the manner in which it is given.

One view sees it as being the victim of forces beyond anyone’s control [except maybe for the fascists and banksters] and we are all victims together.  The other view says, “Well, you’ve been a silly billy and you’ve made some dumb choices but I still feel compassion for a fellow human and so I’ll help you out until you get onto your own feet again.”

Underlying that view is the assumption that the “victim” will indeed try to get himself back on his feet, that he acknowledges he was caught out by some poor choices, e.g. going to Russia in the first place and there is no attempt to whitewash the poor choices.

This is little different to an alcoholic acknowledging his situation and his own weakness or a woman dressed as a tart walking into a bar full of drunken men and then wondering why there’s trouble.  Sure there were circumstances beyond our control, e.g. Russia taking a sudden dislike to certain categories of people and booting them out but Russia has a penchant for that and it’s a known-known – it’s more likely there than here, where no one gets booted out except those who don’t deserve it.  The deserving boot-ees are released from prison and patted on the back.

This is one of the key difference in politics – for example in an article I read today in which the writer blames, not Obama but the people who had that mindset which voted him in. I apply that to the fools who voted in Blair in a landslide, when even over in Russia, it was clear he was a charlatan of the first water.

Hey, we all make errors and I make more than many. We don’t whitewash them – we acknowledge them and determine not to let ourselves be caught out like that again. The problem with the left-liberal is not the compassion – that’s a very human and wonderful thing in a person.

The problem is when that compassion becomes a state system, using other people’s money, for bailing out those who refuse to acknowledge their own at least partial culpability. No society can move forward while the self-protective blinkers are up and there is a flat refusal to see reality and to take responsibility.

The problem is when the so-called compassionate then allow themselves to support coercion to force people into their mindset, which is based on flawed constructs in the first place.

The problem is when these lovable and loving people are quite happy to sanction out-and-out theft of other people’s assets, on compassionate grounds. When this happens, the rule of law is overturned and we’re one or two steps away from barbarism.

3 comments for “Excusing behaviour

  1. Stab11
    July 18, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    My brother is a lecturer and has told me a number of interesting tales about his students. Until a few years ago the vast majority of them were aged 18 to 21 with a smattering of older adults who usually fancied improving their lot and were usually the most driven dedicated students. Then his department didn’t do so well in a Government assessment exercise and had its funding cut. Someone then had the bright idea of taking on “challenging” older students who came with extra government money for anyone who would have them. This turned out to be a huge mistake.

    Firstly most of them didn’t turn up for lectures and they did they were disruptive. When they failed exams they would stick in complaints of racism , bullying anything really. The University administration became scared of them and allowed them to retake years until they passed exams. In the end it took 7 years before they were rid of the last one.

    He tells me some ex Polytechnics specialise in taking these students and their money. They tend to do useless degrees and are barely seen by any staff so its seen as money for old rope.

    • July 18, 2011 at 3:37 pm

      So it’s not just the schools that are screwed-up, but our universities as well. Great.

      • July 19, 2011 at 5:39 am

        My thoughts exactly!

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