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Interview: Theodore Dalrymple – “You need the courage to pursue the true”

Anthony Malcolm Daniels (born 11 October 1949), also known by the pseudonym Theodore Dalrymple, is an English cultural critic, prison doctor and psychiatrist. He has worked in numerous sub-Saharan African countries, but also in East London. Prior to retiring in 2005, he worked at Birmingham City Hospital and the English Winson Green Prison in the same city. His most famous books are: Life at the Bottom and Our Culture: What’s Left of It? For Heretica, he answered several questions related to the current state of society in which we find ourselves.

Is there a way of stopping cultural degradation that you often speak of? Do you think that personas like, for example, Jacob Rees Mogg could help spread positive influence on young people when it comes to higher standards (dresscode, vocabulary, manners)?

The task is a very difficult one. Someone like Mr Rees-Mogg will of course have admirers, but probably more detractors, and there will therefore be more people trying to be as little like him as possible than those imitating him. Among other factors against change in the desired direction is the fact that to dress smartly, speak in whole sentences etc. requires much more effort than to do the opposite. Increasingly people are unwilling even to cook for themselves, because cooking requires an effort and takes away time that might otherwise be spend on entertainment, which is regarded as the real business of life. Flats are now built without kitchens, on the assumption that people will eat in restaurants or have takeaways. This is not a culture in which it will be easy to ask people to make an effort merely for civilisational reasons.

Flats are now built without kitchens, on the assumption that people will eat in restaurants or have takeaways. This is not a culture in which it will be easy to ask people to make an effort merely for civilisational reasons.

T. Dalrymple

How is massive immigration influencing these issues – what can we learn from it in the long run?

Immigration is not a unitary phenomenon, and an immigrant is not just an immigrant. He has both personal and group characteristics. It is certainly unwise to create ghettoes of people coming from a culture with an expansionist belief, and who do not want to integrate but remain separate from the rest of society. This is possible in small numbers but not in large. The problem, however, is with us rather than with them. We no longer are self-confident enough to demand that they accommodate to us rather than us to them.

From a psychiatrist point of view, what are the key steps in raising children that we should take into account when developing traits such as personal responsibility? How to teach our young adults not to blame others/society for their own actions?

I think the most important thing is the ability to say ‘No’ and to mean it. Giving in always to a child’s desires is lazy rather than generous, but seems to be a pattern at least with a large number of people. A parent who gives a child $2 does not love his child twice as much as a parent who gives him $1 but love seems often to be calculated in this way.

You mention self restraint when talking about people who pollute the environment or serial killers – do you believe this trait can be changed / improved or is it written in our genes?

No doubt there is some genetic variation, but this is only a small part of the variation. We can have a culture in which self-restraint is developed and desired, or one in which it is not. Genetics has little (but nevertheless a little) to do with it.

You’re not religious but you often defend the role of religion in society. What can the traditional teachings offer us – is there still a need for them in modern times?

In many ways the religious outlook – that Man is a fallen creature – is much more realistic than that he was born good and is perfectible. The latter view leads to absurd expectations which cannot be fulfilled.

Political correctness is something everyone talks about at large these days. You often criticize it. What do you think is the biggest negative effect of it and how to fight it without being called sexist /racist etc.?

There are two main problems with PC. The first is that prevents thought and discussion about difficult questions about genuine disagreement is possible. Worse still, it forces people either to say, or atleast not to contradict, things they know to be false, for example, that a transsexual woman is just a normal woman. This does violence to the human personality and destroys probity, making people easier to rule. It is reminscent of communist propaganda.

What would you say had the biggest impact on you while working as a prison doctor – when interacting with different types of criminals, what did you learn from them or their behaviour?

It think the most important lesson was that individuals are precisely that, that they are not merely objects who can be manipulated, that man is a conscious being who cannot avoid making judgments and choices, even if bad ones. The are some people who seem to have been born almost irredeemably bad, but they are few. Otherwise, I do not believe that there is an inherently criminal type.

If you could give one advice to younger generations, what would it be?

You need the courage to pursue the true, the good and the beautiful, and the humility to be guided by others. You need judgment as to whom you take for a mentor.

Interviewed by Ivana Zlatarić

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