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February 26, 2003

Free Reads -- Theodore Dalrymple


Another brilliantly grumpy piece by the British prison-doctor/essayist Theodore Dalrymple, here. His theme this time is youth crime and anger management.

Sample passage:

What has changed is our ability to accept and tolerate this ineluctable condition of human existence. We do not need more anger management: we need to say no to our children as a matter of principle and abandon the notion of rights, our own included. Every time I hear someone say "It's my right", well, I grow angry.

Link thanks to Chris Bertram (here), whose posting reminds me that I really ought to feel more ashamed than I do by the way I'm forever making dismissive cracks about Rousseau without having read more than a few pages of his work.



posted by Michael at February 26, 2003


Someone--Robert Heinlein, I think--remarked that no one has any rights, but everyone has plenty of opportunities. Which I've always classed with one of the great lines of movie dialogue: "It's all out there--now all we have to do is find a way to steal it."

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on February 27, 2003 01:41 PM

I've found that Darymple is interesting when he's writing about his actual experiences as a doctor, and not much use when he's doing generic conservative grouchiness.

I have some doubts about rights as a formulation--it doesn't leave a lot of room for figuring out what to do when people assert incompatible rights. Nonetheless, people need some way to say that there's a limit to how they'll be treated.

Darymple is offended when people don't like the treatment a doctor offers them. The truth is that sometimes doctors are dangerously wrong, and people need a way to say that they aren't sccepting what the doctor thinks the solution is. Of course, patients aren't always right, but it *is* their bodies and minds at risk.

Also, maybe I'm missing something, but I don't see huge numbers of people on the street who are a minor impulse away from a major explosion of rage. Maybe I'm missing something (Darymple, who's worked in a prison, might have a better eye for anger than I do) or maybe Philadelphia's a nicer place than where he lives, but I don't think things are that bad--I just don't see people
dumping anger all the time.

Posted by: n on February 27, 2003 04:26 PM

"It's my right"

Possessive pronouns have no place in a discussion of rights.

Posted by: j.c. on February 27, 2003 11:10 PM

Hey Nancy, I have some of the same reservations you do about Dalrymple. And I think he's at his worst when he writes on the arts, although he's never not intelligent. Still, I'm always glad he's out there doing the grumpy-conservative thing. Somebody has to (somebody will), and he does it so much more eloquently than most. Part of me just enjoys the language and the gloominess. Then there are the times when he also makes a lot of terrific points. But mostly I think I just like hearing the music. Have you tried his collection "Life at the Bottom"? How did you react? I loved it.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 28, 2003 12:12 PM

FvB, J.C. -- Damn it, I have a right to have rights! And you have no right to tell me I don't! Or something.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 28, 2003 12:13 PM

I've overloaded on Darymple by reading a bunch of his City Journal(?) pieces, possibly too close together. Is _Life at the Bottom_ about his experiences working with poor people?

Posted by: Nancy Lebovitz on March 2, 2003 09:30 PM

Darymple says what a lot of us think. There is a lot of ignorance out there. We ARE all responsible for our own actions. Rights are earned through participation in society in a way that respects others rights.

Posted by: Rick Atkins on June 30, 2004 03:39 AM

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