Theodore Dalrymple

Yes, I do recognise the irony in my ‘whining’ about WhineSport.

Isn’t it odd that some people cling to their ‘ideology’ like an old battered teddy bear. Well, some time soon you’re going to have to let it go. Leave it on the train, sell it on eBay. Occasionally, people are indistinguishable from their ideology. They absorb it unquestioningly.

Which brings me to Theodore Dalrymple – a pseudo criminologist, convinced of the supremacy of his own worldview. His missives are littered with contempt for modern life and, in turn, a wish to return to an earlier, more peaceful time in which the sun always shone and the clouds are fluffy white in a flawless blue sky. (Can’t you just feel the bile rising in your throat!) He is rather caught up in this trend for pathological nostalgia. He writes primarily for right of centre publications, such as The Spectator. Dalrymple, it appears, was a very busy boy in his time. Not only was he a consultant psychiatrist, he was also a prison doctor. Additionally, this saintly specimen also used to visit people in their homes. Now, where I live consultant psychiatrists do not visit people in their homes. They usually sent their minions out – other members of the ‘psychiatric team’ – for example: social worker and community psychiatric nurses. Dalrymple sounds like a remarkable man. Too remarkable. In my humble opinion My own consultant barely has time to breathe, let alone double up as a prison doctor. Dalrymple, however, managed to do all this with comparative ease. There is an overpowering stench emanating form his little vignettes and this makes me doubt their veracity. This is a pity because occasionally, just occasionally, he is spot on. (I’m sure you’re familiar with the expression: ‘Even a stopped watch is always right twice a day!’)

On top of all his other activities he also regularly treated people on a London council estate. He calls it a ‘slum’, presumably for the benefit of his American readers. As a child I lived on council estate while my parents saved for a deposit on a mortgage. Now, as far as I can recall (and I am cursed with an exceptional memory) it could hardly be classed as a ‘slum’.

Dalrymple recently retired from his many medical co-existing careers recently. Do a Google search and you’ll find that a pronounced thread of class prejudice runs through his writings. In his ‘Farewell Column’ , entitled ‘The Frivolity of Evil’ he writes: ‘I chose disagreeable neighbourhoods in which to practice because, medically speaking, their dilemmas, if cruder (What is ‘refined’ mental illness?) , seemed to me to be more compelling, (No, sweetheart, they gave you an opportunity to bolster your innate sense of moral superiority), nearer to the fundamental of human existence’. But then he proceeds to write, ‘No doubt I thought my services would be more valuable there (Oh, isn’t that just so sweet. He ventures into the ‘slums’, even though it is beyond his remit, to help the poor and needy and then he goes on to denigrate them in his columns. A male Mother Theresa in the heart of England. How touching!)

It is for this reason that ‘like the prisoners he treats’ he is making his escape. He fails to mention the fact that he chose to put himself in that position. Choice, and the failure of his patients to govern their own lives successfully is another theme in his columns. He states: ‘I feel I have paid my debt to society. Certainly, the work has taken its toll on me, and it is time to do something else. Someone else will do battle with the metasizing social pathology of Great Britain while I lead a life aesthetically more pleasing.’ Have you ever seen such a swollen ego? I hope he finds a place in the world large enough to accommodate it. Shouldn’t he have extricated himself from his profession when he began to feel a profound contempt for his patients because resentment (on either side) is hardly conducive to good patient-doctor relations.

He goes on to discuss the expanding ‘criminal class’ that exists within the UK: ‘Youth today is feckless, violent, uneducated.’ He is referring, no doubt, to criminals in ‘the slums’. White-collar crimes escape his radar. He fails to take into account the fact that the current administration have widened the net to encompass many behaviours that were not, in the past, considered ‘crimes’. ‘The historical data can certainly back up my impressions. Disraeli’s infamous phrase: ‘Lies, damned lies and statistics.’ I am sure Dalrymple is aware that if crimes are not reported they cannot be included in the statistics. This doesn’t mean these crimes didn’t occur. Rape, is an example that springs to mind. I’ll throw in a little anecdote of my own, courtesy of Doug. In the mid-fifties, Doug, who became a paramedic after the war once ventured deep into the Fens (and they really were isolated then) to fetch an unmarried girl of sixteen who was in labour. She was tiny and childlike, in spite of her protruding stomach. Doug put a protective arm around her as he led her to the ambulance. She gave birth in the vehicle. The delivery was simple. This was surprising, given the circumstances in which her new-born baby was conceived. She had been attacked and raped by four men. She did not report it because she couldn’t identify them and she was afraid she would not be believed or even taken seriously, which was quite a common reaction to allegations of rape in those days. It was a reasonable assumption to make given that her parents had disowned her when she told them about her pregnancy and explained the circumstances in which her baby had been conceived. She named her baby after Doug. Sometimes it is necessary to go beyond the ‘statistics’.

Dalrymple goes on to discuss the so-called ‘epidemic’ of depression. He uses a case-study to illustrate his point: a twenty-one-year old woman: a mother of two whom Dalrymple regards as ‘unhappy’ rather than depressed. Again, he expresses profound contempt for this young woman. This is where he is ‘spot on’: ‘My patient was not just a victim of her own mother. She had knowingly borne children to men of whom no good to be expected. She knew perfectly well the meaning and consequences of her actions(…) She is aware that it is both foolish and wicked to have children without consideration, even for a second whether the men have any qualities that might make them good fathers’. I myself was a product of such a union but my parents got married and are still unhappily co-existing. But ‘mindless procreation’ has been going on for centuries – between married and unmarried couples. That’s why the human race is still here. It is not, as Dalrymple asserts, an exclusively modern phenomenon.

Dalrymple, I will grudgingly admit, is a rather good writer. He has a novelist’s cool, clear eye and an acerbic tone. But we know very little about the man himself. When will he turn this critical inner-eye upon himself? For he too seems to have made quite a few poor choices.

7 Responses to “Theodore Dalrymple”

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