Little to say for myself

Monday, December 22, 2003


This Telegraph article by Dr. Theodore Dalrymple is darkly depressing, but, I think, misleadingly so.
the horrible fact is that Ian Huntley was in many respects a perfectly normal young British male - normal in the statistical sense, that is, and within a certain social stratum. Only his superior educational accomplishments (nine GCSEs) and his two murders set him apart.

As for Maxine Carr, she was normal for young British womanhood in precisely the same sense. Her dialectic between abject submission to a violent, jealous man on the one hand, and utter drunken sluttishness on the other, is characteristic of hundreds, if not thousands, of young women whom I have seen as patients over the years, and whose behaviour is to be witnessed in every British town and city at weekends. Except for the extremity of its denouement, the Soham story was typical of the pigsty that is so much of modern Britain.
He goes on to explain his experience of dealing with the young adult population of Britain as if what he has found is peculiar both to this time and to this country (and, crucially to the Telegraph's readership, to "a certain social stratum"). As if we in Britain are gripped by a new, sinister threat to our civilisation. How appropriate to the paper's conservative and Conservative stance. Tell 'em what they want to hear.

The behaviour and attitudes he describes in young people are depicted as things to be deplored that need to be changed, lest we all become submerged in a mire created by modern living - or something like that.

I reckon he's right in his main assertion - that people recognise Huntley and Carr in the darkest recesses of themselves, and this is what fuels their abhorrence*. If there were no personal recognition of what Huntley did, the public reaction would just have been one of puzzlement. This is not where Dalrymple's argument loses power.

This is the thing: there is no reason to believe that what he describes is in any way a modern or a local phenomenon. The only factor that localises it in geography and in history is his personal experience. I can see no reason to limit this aspect of human nature to the here and now. But this view, saying that it is in fact a global phenomenon that has been - and will always be - a part of life, doesn't escalate the "problem" in the way you might suppose.

Dalrymple misses the crucial point: Huntley did what he did, and most people don't.
It's perfectly normal and acceptable to have murderous, violent and lustful thoughts. There's nothing wrong with them, and it's these which create the clearing for public outrage. What matters is what we choose to do about them. Huntley made his choice and quite rightly will never get another chance to make such a choice.

But the vast majority of us would not choose to do what he did. That is the crucial difference between Huntley and us, and is something which will never change. To assert that he is the product of a new decadence incites the fear that the incident reflects a worsening trend with a societal cause. When you realise it's just a constant running through the whole of humanity, it's possible to relax and enjoy the positives that life will also never run out of.

* and presumably it's also what fuels his abhorrence of the "pigsty" he describes - interesting, when you turn his logic back on himself.

posted by Plig | 11:07 |

Comments: Post a Comment
Forget the sentimental notion that foreign policy is a struggle between virtue and vice, with virtue bound to win.
Forget the utopian notion that a brave new world without power politics will follow the unconditional surrender of wicked nations.
Forget the crusading notion that any nation, however virtuous and powerful, can have the mission to make the world in its own image.
Remember that diplomacy without power is feeble, and power without diplomacy is destructive and blind.
Remember that no nation's power is without limits, and hence that its policies must respect the power and interests of others.
Hans Morgenthau

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts
Bertrand Russell

The release of atomic energy has not created a new problem. It has merely made more urgent the necessity of solving an existing one
Albert Einstein

When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative
Martin Luther King Jr.

Our great democracies still tend to think that a stupid man is more likely to be honest than a clever man
Bertrand Russell

I think it would be a good idea
Mahatma Gandhi, when asked what he thought of Western civilization

There are painters who transform the sun to a yellow spot, but there are others who with the help of their art and their intelligence, transform a yellow spot into the sun
Pablo Picasso

Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others
Groucho Marx

Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it
Mahatma Gandhi

Always make new mistakes
Esther Dyson
blogs I like
The look of this blog owes much to Mena Trott, but everything posted to it is my copyright, unless I say otherwise. If you want to use or quote any of it, please do the decent thing and let me know.