Believing the unbelievable 9

Theodore Dalrymple, a psychiatrist as well as a writer by profession, writes in his book Out Into The Beautiful World*:

Freud was no scientist; he was instead an unscrupulous charlatan, oscillating between wishful thinking and outright lying, a psychopathic manipulator who owed his success not to the truth but to the emptiness of his theories, the founder of a religious sect rather than of a scientific discipline, a man avid for fame and fortune only too aware that he might not achieve them by more conventional means, and an incestuous adulterer to boot. Moreover, his technique, if something as nebulous as psychoanalysis can be called a technique, was of no greater therapeutic value than exorcism, although much more expensive and a great deal less fun – except for those who desired to talk endlessly about themselves and were willing to pay someone else to listen to them or at least pretend to listen to them. …

The question is why theories so arcane, so preposterously speculative, so lacking in evidence in their favor and even in the possibility of there being any such evidence, should for a number of decades have conquered the most scientifically-advanced regions of the world.

This last sentence reminds us of another religion: Christianity.

Let’s  review the story.

As Saul, later Paul, of Tarsus told it, a Jewish man named Jesus in Greek, who was executed by the Roman authorities in the province of Judea, came back to life and rose bodily to the highest heaven where he reigns over the world along with God, his father. They are both God, father and son. Yet although they are two Persons, they are not two gods but the same One God. Paul learnt by intuition that Jesus, knowing he was about to suffer death by crucifixion, had told his twelve close followers at the last meal they had together in Jerusalem, that bread was his body and wine was his blood. Bread and wine, blessed by priests of Paul’s new religion, were to be ritually consumed by his acolytes, thus taking the body and blood of Jesus into their own bodies.

The story was elaborated by others, and while varying in details came broadly to be this:

Jesus was born of a virgin mother. In his maturity (early thirties or late forties) he gathered twelve close followers, preached to multitudes how to be good by being humble, loving and forgiving, bearing no grudges, and returning kindness for unkindness. He performed miracles of healing, brought a dead man back to life, catered miraculously at a wedding (turning water into wine) and at an outdoor religious convention (making a few loaves and fishes stretch to feed five thousand), walked on water, calmed a storm with a command. He was killed by the Romans for leading a seditious conspiracy, but only because the Jews demanded his death (for no crime or sin known to Jewish law or tradition). After three days hanging on a cross (crucifixion being the common Roman punishment for sedition), his dead body was taken down, wrapped in cerements, and entombed in a cave, its entrance being sealed with a boulder. (This despite the usual way the Romans had of disposing of crucified corpses by throwing them on waste ground to be consumed by the vultures.) After another three days, the heavy boulder was found rolled away from the entrance to the tomb, the cerements intact, not unwound nor cut open, but with no corpse in them. An angel was hovering near by. For a short time Jesus was seen walking about in Judea, appearing in the flesh fully clad to many and various witnesses –  though some who had known him well did not at first recognize him. Then he rose bodily to heaven. He was expected to come back to earth again quite soon (which he did not). His virgin mother also after a time rose bodily to heaven, not under her own steam like her son, but lifted there by angels. There is only one God, but he consists (not of two, but) of three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Among the many disagreements between sects that worship this triune god, one is over the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit or “Holy Ghost”: was he emanated by the Father only, or by both the Father and the Son? Another disagreement, wrangled over from the fourth century to the present day, is about whether the Son is of the same divine substance as the Father, or whether their divine substances are only similar. Multitudes have died for strenuously defending the one or the other position.

Once a man who lived at a certain time in human history was believed to be God, awkward questions were bound to arise. Why did the all-powerful lord of the universe let himself suffer on a cross? How could the immortal God die? Why did Jesus on the cross cry out “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (quoting Psalm 22:1). The answer to these questions, provided by the arbiters of orthodoxy and considered by them to be perfectly satisfactory, is that Jesus was “both fully divine and fully human”. While to non-believers this may seem to beg the question rather than answer it, believers are satisfied with it.

Besides which, as the son of God, Jesus – according to St. Paul – had to suffer and die on the cross as a human sacrifice to save human beings from their sins; in particular the “original sin” of Adam and Eve who, in disobedience to God’s orders, tasted the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden, and so tainted the whole human race which descended from them.

Despite the sacrifice of Jesus to save human beings, they are still not saved from sin and punishment. Christianity invented Hell to which sinners go. Christian authorities resolve this apparent contradiction by saying that Jesus, by sacrificing himself (to Himself), gave human beings the hope of being forgiven for their sins and living eternally in Heaven if they followed his teaching and were good. Yet most mainstream Christian sects maintain that being good won’t cut it; that only the grace of God will get you into Heaven. Catholic Christianity taught this at first, but eventialy came round to conceding that by doing good works you may buy yourself a place up there. Calvinism and Lutheranism make no such concession (your posthumous destiny being decided before you are even born). St. Augustine – one of the most illustrious of Christian saints – believed that most people would be damned to Hell. And St. Thomas Aquinas thought that one of the joys of being in Heaven would be contemplating the suffering of those in Hell.

Why did a creed so arcane, so preposterously unlikely, so confused and frightening, so lacking in evidence in its favor and even the possibility of there being any such evidence, conquer the European mind for twenty centuries?

 

*Out Into The Beautiful World by Theodore Dalrymple, New English Review Press, 2015, Chapter 14.

Posted under Christianity, Judaism, Religion general by Jillian Becker on Wednesday, September 13, 2017

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The atrocious ideology of the beautiful people 2

The Marxist Left has nowhere to go. Wherever it has gained power it has failed, and it has no new ideas. Like a demented parrot it screeches words at the world outside its intellectual cage: “Racist!”, “Sexist!”, “Xenophobe!”, “White male privilege!”, “Global warming denier!” – as if they were statements complete in themselves and nothing needed to be added. They are subjects without predicates.

For a hundred years, 1917-2017, the enemy of liberty, reason, humanity, justice, civilization itself was the Marxist Left.

From the beginning of its era of implementation – the seizing of power in Russia by Vladimir Lenin and his Bolsheviks – to its fading with a cacophony of screeches when its American president, Barack Obama, stepped down from power, the Atrocious Ideology was fomented and imposed on nations by intellectuals who knew how to argue at a dinner table or a Stammtisch, in a classroom or a newspaper column, but had no understanding whatsoever of how most people lived or to what they aspired.

From the 1920s onwards, a majority of the intellectuals in the free Western world embraced the collectivist ideology of Marx and Lenin and called for the ruin of their own house. In the Anglosphere (e.g.), the writers who enthralled the reading classes – though they esteemed themselves artists and above politics – were almost all dedicated to the destruction of their warm, comfortable, beautifully appointed, endlessly entertaining, safe nursery. And they convinced untold millions that to smash it and everything in it was the nobly ideal thing to do.

To take just one of the noble destroyers who thought they would enjoy Communism,[1] one who attracted, and continues to attract, devoted admirers, let us consider Virginia Woolf (1882-1941). She was not merely a typical member of that class, she was the leading light of it.

A revelatory portrait of her is to be found in an essay by the great British essayist, Theodore Dalrymple.[2]

Virginia Woolf,” he writes, “belonged by birth not merely to the upper middle classes but to the the elite of the intellectual elite”.

He concentrates his surgical analysis on one of her books in particular, Three Guineas.

It was about how women could prevent war.

Virginia Woolf’s  name is not normally associated with great affairs of state, of course. Quite the reverse. She regarded them with a fastidious disgust, as a vulgar distraction from the true business of life: attendance to the finer nuances of one’s own emotional state. Along with the other members of the Bloomsbury group – that influential and endlessly chronicled little band of British aesthetes of which she was the moving spirit – she was dedicated to the proposition that beings as sensitive as they to the music of life ought not to be bound by gross social conventions , and that it was their duty (as well as their pleasure) to act solely upon the promptings of the sympathetic vibrations of their own souls.  …

Despite its concern with war, the book is not a work of political philosophy or contemporary history:

No: it is a locus classicus of self-pity and victimhood as a genre in itself. In this it was certainly ahead of its time, and it deserves to be on the syllabus of every department of women’s studies at every third-rate establishment of higher education. …

The book is important because it is a naked statement  of the worldview that is unstated and implicit in all of Virginia Woolf’s novels, most of which have achieved an iconic status in the republic of letters and in the humanities departments of the English speaking world, where they have influenced countless young people. The book, therefore, is a truly seminal text. In Three Guineas, Virginia Woolf lets us know without disguise what she really thinks: and what she thinks is by turns grandiose and trivial, resentful and fatuous. The book might be better titled: How to Be Privileged and Yet Feel Extremely Aggrieved. … 

Her point about war is that it is waged by men, and men suppress women; and if instead they treated women as equals, there would be no more wars.

One might think that to descend from the aesthetic to the ideological plane would be distasteful for a woman of such languorous, highly strung, thoroughbred equine beauty as she; but under the influence of a general idea, Mrs. Woolf revealed herself to be a thoroughgoing philistine of the most revolutionary and destructive type, quite prepared to bring the temple crashing down about her ears, that her grudges might be paid back. Let my ego be satisfied, though civilization fall.

The temple of learning, that is. She had in mind one of the repositories of the riches of Western civilization – a Cambridge university college. A woman’s college. (A great achievement in itself as women’s colleges were only established at Oxford and Cambridge in the 1880s – in Virginia Woolf’s lifetime). She advises that it should be burnt down with all that it contains; all the books in its library consigned to the flames. The worthlessness, in her estimation, of all that accumulation of knowledge and wisdom in print on paper, suggests that she would be happiest if the whole venerable university were to be reduced to ashes.

Dalrymple quotes her:

And let the daughters of educated men dance round the fire and heap armful upon armful of dead leaves upon the flames. And let their mothers lean from the upper windows [before, presumably, being burnt to death] and cry “Let it blaze! Let it blaze! For we have done with this education!” 

Virginia Woolf was consumed with bitter, contemptuous, snobbish distaste for everything that did not appeal to her exquisitely refined aesthetic sensibility. Form, appearance, was all to her. She expressed a low shallow anti-Semitism in passages describing, with revulsion and disgust, the appearance of Jewish men. Yet she married a Jew! (They had no children. Did she, like her character Mrs. Dalloway in the novel of that name, lie alone in a narrow bed?)[3]

Food disgusted her too. She  was revolted (again) by seeing through the window of a London tea room, well-dressed women eating cakes.[4] They were fat. They obviously had rich husbands who paid for their cakes. Nauseating! Despicable! Thin-ness and sterility were aesthetic and moral ideals to her. Instinctively, her philosophy of life was based on anorexia.

Life was too messy, the world too unbeautiful for her. It was Jewish. It was fat. It was sexual, fertile, dirty. She sought water, drowned herself in the River Ouse near her country house in East Sussex. (The reason she gave in her suicide note was that she couldn’t face another attack of recurring insanity.[5])

Theodore Dalrymple describes the sort of academy that Virginia Woolf would have approved of. It is one with which we are all too familiar:

Mrs. Woolf’s ideal college … would be entirely nonjudgmental, even as to intellect. … Henceforth there is to be no testing of oneself against the best, with the possibility, even the likelihood, of failure: instead one is perpetually to immerse oneself in the tepid bath of self-esteem, mutual congratulation, and benevolence toward all.

And he concludes:

Had Mrs. Woolf survived to our own time … she would at least have had the satisfaction of observing that her cast of mind – shallow, dishonest, resentful, envious, snobbish, self-absorbed, trivial, philistine, and ultimately brutal – had triumphed among the elites of the Western world.

It triumphs chiefly now in the universities, where the diehards of the Marxist Left linger on beyond their time with that Atrocious Ideology of theirs, stale, dull, tragic, disproven.

 

NOTES

1.This essay displays Virginia Woolf’s distaste for capitalism, and asserts that [her being above politics] what she desired was “a communism of the soul”. And the author quotes this from Woolf’s novel A Room of One’s Own: “Masterpieces are not single and solitary births; they are the outcome of many years of thinking in common, of thinking by the body of the people, so that experience of the mass is behind the single voice.” It is a notion that Barack Obama and Elizabeth Warren would heartily endorse.

2. The Rage of Virginia Woolf in Our Culture, What’s Left Of It by Theodore Dalrymple, Ivan R. Dee, Chicago 2005

3.  Mr. Virginia Woolf  by John Gross, Commentary Dec.1. 2006: “It also seems clear that the marriage worked. Many things about it are mysterious. Did, for instance, the fact that it was sexless leave Leonard constantly frustrated, or did it in some way suit him? We are unlikely ever to learn the answer to such a question, and perhaps it is none of our business.”

4. Yet Mrs. Woolf was not wholly consistent in her distaste for food, pleasure, or even sex. She also wrote this: “I want to dance, laugh, eat pink cakes, yellow cakes, drink thin, sharp wine. Or an indecent story, now – I could relish that. The older one grows the more one likes indecency.” (From Monday and Tuesday by Virginia Woolf.) Perhaps that was an aberrant thought that occurred to her in one of her periods of madness (see Note 5).

5. Virginia Woolf wrote to her husband:

Dearest, I feel certain I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier till this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that – everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer. I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been. 

*

Post Script:

Virginia Woolf and her coterie were erudite, cultured, brilliant – but nevertheless a silly lot.

Here’s one of them recording his significant thoughts:

 

The EU brews its vengeance 9

The ruling elites will do their utmost to reverse the decision of the majority of British voters to take their country out of the corrupt dictatorship of the European Union.

So we learn from the great writer Theodore Dalrymple, whom we asked to comment on Brexit. This is what he told us:

When you read the French newspapers, which mostly air the opinion of the French political class or elite, you realise that the whole European project as they call it is about being large and powerful. It has nothing to do with the welfare of the people or even economic efficiency. It is megalomania pure and simple (and the Germans don’t want to be Germans any more). The result in Britain was a slap in the face for the elite, who never really expected it, and will now set about reversing the result. There are moves afoot to nullify the referendum. 

It has yet to be revealed what moves those are. But it is a certainty that the powers, the principalities, the rulers of the darkness of this world will do their utmost not to let the British decision stand. They know that “the population got it wrong”, as Theodore Dalrymple sums up their stunningly arrogant belief.

Which side will win the battle, now growing hotter in Europe and America, between the common man and the dark powers?

Full of dread, but not devoid of hope, we back the common man.

Posted under America, Britain, Commentary, Europe, United Kingdom, United States by Jillian Becker on Sunday, June 26, 2016

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A very short secular sermon 7

In the light of certain altercations that have taken place recently on our comment pages – less arguments than cursing and mud-slinging – we offer the balm of some words by Dr. Theodore Dalrymple, one of the (few) great moral thinkers of our time. The quotation comes from his recent book of collected essays, Anything Goes. We more than recommend it, we urge our readers, commenters, visitors and critics to read it. You’re unlikely to agree with every word, but every word is worth reading.

The essay we are borrowing from is titled Freedom And Its Discontents.

There are few of us who have never felt the temptation to silence those fools and scoundrels who have views different from our own. They must, after all, be either stupid or malevolent (or, of course, both). If the means to silence them were at hand, we’d be sorely tempted to use them.

Which of us listens without impatience and even anger to the arguments of our opponents? …

Love of free speech in most men is only fear of being shut up. If they were a bit stronger than they are, they would just have monologues, the most pleasurable of all speech forms. …

The threat to free speech does not inhere, therefore, solely in governments, but in our hearts.

We welcome debate.  Please put your arguments, the more persuasively the better. Agree, disagree, criticize, give your reasons. The slinging of invective is not argument and never persuades anyone to anything. Mere abuse is not productive, and not interesting to read.

One more thing. Listening (and its equivalent, reading attentively) is an art worth practicing. Ideally, we need first to comprehend, then to test with internal argument, and only then to express ourselves freely.

Posted under Commentary, Ethics, Miscellaneous by Jillian Becker on Tuesday, January 17, 2012

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The depraved idea of social justice 9

“Social justice” means injustice: it means money forcibly taken from those who have earned it and given to those who have not. It is the injustice of redistribution, the injustice of socialism.

It is the depraved idea on which the welfare state is founded.

It is a recipe for national impoverishment, discontent, degeneration, and the savagery that has been on display in England this week.

In City Journal that wisest of essayists, Theodore Dalrymple, writes about the rioters in England, confirming our own view of them:

The riots are the apotheosis of the welfare state and popular culture in their British form.

A population thinks (because it has often been told so by intellectuals and the political class) that it is entitled to a high standard of consumption, irrespective of its personal efforts; and therefore it regards the fact that it does not receive that high standard, by comparison with the rest of society, as a sign of injustice.

It believes itself deprived (because it has often been told so by intellectuals and the political class), even though each member of it has received an education costing $80,000, toward which neither he nor — quite likely — any member of his family has made much of a contribution; indeed, he may well have lived his entire life at others’ expense, such that every mouthful of food he has ever eaten, every shirt he has ever worn, every television he has ever watched, has been provided by others. Even if he were to recognize this, he would not be grateful, for dependency does not promote gratitude. On the contrary, he would simply feel that the subventions were not sufficient to allow him to live as he would have liked.

At the same time, his expensive education will have equipped him for nothing. His labor, even supposing that he were inclined to work, would not be worth its cost to any employer — partly because of the social charges necessary to keep others such as he in a state of permanent idleness, and partly because of his own characteristics. And so unskilled labor is performed in England by foreigners, while an indigenous class of permanently unemployed is subsidized.

The culture of the person in this situation is not such as to elevate his behavior. One in which the late Amy Winehouse — the vulgar, semicriminal drug addict and alcoholic singer of songs whose lyrics effectively celebrated the most degenerate kind of life imaginable — could be raised to the status of heroine is not one that is likely to protect against bad behavior.

Finally, long experience of impunity has taught the rioters that they have nothing to fear from the law, which in England has become almost comically lax — except, that is, for the victims of crime. For the rioters, crime has become the default setting of their behavior; the surprising thing about the riots is not that they have occurred, but that they did not occur sooner and did not become chronic.

Posted under Britain, Commentary, Law, Socialism, United Kingdom by Jillian Becker on Friday, August 12, 2011

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Thanks to WikiLeaks? 3

We are libertarians – though firmly on the small government (patriotic, conservative) end of the libertarian spectrum, nowhere near the anarchist end. And being so, we fail to see why an elected government should have any secrets from its electors except those which are truly necessary to protect the nation.

If the people running WikiLeaks – Julian Assange is the name of one we are told – have released information that identifies individuals who provide secret intelligence to America (or any Western country) in order to help national defense and security, they have committed a crime. If agents have been killed, the crime is capital.

As far as we know, no such names have been published, and no one has been killed as a result of the WikiLeaks action.

So, with that important exception borne in mind, how in general do we evaluate what WikiLeaks has done?

We do not like the hue and cry for blood. We hear Mike Huckabee’s demand that Julian Assange be executed, and note that it comes from one who, as Governor of Arkansas, commuted death sentences on convicted murderers, at least one of whom was released from prison to murder again. (See our post, The deadly danger of Christian forgiveness, December 1, 2009.)

The two most interesting opinions we have found are in contrast with each other. One is Diana West’s, with which we agree, and the other is Theodore Dalrymple’s, with which we do not agree (though we almost always do agree with, and appreciate, the articles and books of that wise and erudite writer).

Here (in part) is Diana West’s opinion:

I am still working out why I watch the high dudgeon sparked by Julian Assange and the WikiLeaks dump of a quarter-million State Department cables that has given rise to the most heated, bloodthirsty chorus I have ever heard in Washington, notably from conservatives, and feel strangely numb.

I observe the fits over “sovereignty” lost, and note that some of the same people find such emotion in bad taste when the prompt is our unsecured, non-sovereign border. I hear the arguments that our national security is hanging by a computer keystroke, and note the fecklessness of a U.S. government that hides from us, the people, its own confirmation that North Korea supplies Iran with Russian-made nuclear-capable missiles; China transfers weapons materiel to Iran (despite Hillary Clinton’s pathetic entreaties); Iran honeycombs Iraq; Syria supports Hezbollah; Pakistan prevents the United States from securing its nuclear materials; Saudis continue to provide mainstay support to al-Qaida (despite pie-faced denials come from Saudi-supplicating U.S. administrations). Everything good citizens need to know, in short, to see through the dumbed-down, G-rated (“G” for government), official narrative, all “engagement” and “outreach,” to throw the ineffectual bums out – all of them – and start from scratch.

But what we’re supposed to see in Assange’s Internet release of thousands of “classified,” mainly non-sensational, if often embarrassing, documents (something journalists usually call a scoop in the singular) is an act of “terrorism,” say Republican leaders … [It] has drowned out all other news this week, including the murder of six American trainers by an Afghan “policeman.”

Why?

These six unnecessary, punishing deaths may well have resulted from the disastrous statecraft and policies that come under discussion in the leaked cables, but as far as news coverage went they just couldn’t compete with the leak frenzy itself. The establishment, right and left but mainly right, coalesced around melodramatic accusations that Assange did have, or would have “blood on his hands.” As I have read my way through some fraction of the leaked record, no evidence for this frequently leveled charge yet appears, certainly none that begins to compare to the blood already spilled to implement a hopelessly misguided U.S. foreign policy that, from the Bush administration to the Obama administration, determinedly ignores Islam in its prosecution of wars in the Islamic world. …

More see-no-Islam evidence comes straight from the leaked cables … but that’s official U.S. policy, as supported from the pro-war right to the Obama left. More than that, it’s part of the shambles WikiLeaks confirms U.S. foreign policy to be. Could this be why the establishment condemns WikiLeaks as the worst thing ever? The Pakistan cables alone [ of which she gives examples – JB] should stop the presses …

But the reaction instead is to kill the messenger – literally, say many. The more I read, however, the more I wonder whether the raging rhetoric is less about blood on WikiLeaks’ hands than about egg on the faces of others, including a secretive Uncle Sam.

Yes.

And here (in part) is Theodore Dalrymple’s opinion:

It is not, of course, that revelations of secrets are always unwelcome or ethically unjustified. It is not a new insight that power is likely to be abused and can only be held in check by a countervailing power, often that of public exposure. But WikiLeaks goes far beyond the need to expose wrongdoing, or supposed wrongdoing: it is unwittingly doing the work of totalitarianism.

The idea behind WikiLeaks is that life should be an open book, that everything that is said and done should be immediately revealed to everybody, that there should be no secret agreements, deeds, or conversations. In the fanatically puritanical view of WikiLeaks, no one and no organization should have anything to hide. It is scarcely worth arguing against such a childish view of life.

The actual effect of WikiLeaks is likely to be profound and precisely the opposite of what it supposedly sets out to achieve. Far from making for a more open world, it could make for a much more closed one. Secrecy, or rather the possibility of secrecy, is not the enemy but the precondition of frankness. WikiLeaks will sow distrust and fear, indeed paranoia; people will be increasingly unwilling to express themselves openly in case what they say is taken down by their interlocutor and used in evidence against them, not necessarily by the interlocutor himself. This could happen not in the official sphere alone, but also in the private sphere, which it works to destroy. An Iron Curtain could descend, not just on Eastern Europe, but over the whole world. A reign of assumed virtue would be imposed, in which people would say only what they do not think and think only what they do not say.

While we share Dalrymple’s loathing of totalitarianism, and of all government prying into private lives, we do not see how the WikiLeaks action threatens any private citizen, or how it is an attack on the principle of privacy. What a government does should not be private (with the exception we noted above). The lives of individuals must be as private as they desire. We don’t believe that ordinary people’s emails would be sought out and downloaded by Wikileaks, though we don’t doubt that an Obama government might do it. Of what conceivable interest or use can they be to the world at large?

WikiLeaks works to destroy government secrecy, not “the private sphere”.

If it makes government more circumspect in what it communicates, more aware that it is answerable to those it governs, WikiLeaks may have delivered a service to America rather than a blow.

On our masters and commanders 4

Why do some people want power over the lives of others?

Theodore Dalrymple writes in a discussion of privileged eduction in France and whether the state should provide ‘equality of opportunity’ – which is to say, a discussion of socialist thinking – that he is mystified by this question.

The heart of the problem lies in the unassailability of the term ‘equality of opportunity,’ and the unthinking assent it commands. I was once asked on Dutch TV whether I was in favour of it, the interviewer assuming that I must be so in spite of all my other appalling opinions; and when I said that I was not, and indeed that I thought it was a truly hideous notion, his eyes opened with surprise. I thought he was going to slip off his chair.

Only under conditions reminiscent of those of Brave New World could there be equality of opportunity. But, of course, the very unattainability of equality of opportunity (in any sense other than that of an absence of formal, legal impediments to social advance) is precisely what recommends it as an ideal to politicians such as President Sarkozy, and indeed to most other western politicians, virtually irrespective of their putative political stripe. The fact that, reform notwithstanding, there are always differences in outcomes for different groups or classes of human beings in any society means that there is always scope, in the name of equality of opportunity, for further interference and control by politicians and bureaucrats. Not permanent revolution (to change the communist metaphor from Stalinism to Trotskyism), but permanent reform is the modern western politico-bureaucratic class’s route to lasting power and control.

Why anyone should want lasting power and control is to me a mystery: I suppose it must be the answer to a deep and insatiable inner emptiness.

And Bill Whittle at PJTV (here) seeks an answer to the question: ‘What type of person wants to run for office?’ He cites two men in history who attained supreme power and did not cling to it. Each of them saw his position as a temporary job, the exercise of power as a duty he owed to the people, and when he had done what was needed, stepped down from high office and returned to private life. One was the (5th.century B.C.E.) Roman leader Cincinnatus, and the other was George Washington.

If there are any politicians now who consider taking on elected office only as a service, they would be found (and it’s really not very likely that they exist) on the conservative right. Leftist politicians want above all to command, manipulate, control people, even force them to change their nature. There’s an old and ongoing debate among political philosophers of the left as to whether The Revolution will bring about a transformation of human nature, or whether it is necessary for human nature to be reconstructed first in order for The Revolution to be accomplished. (An infamous example of a Commie who fretted over this artifiical problem is Herbert Marcuse, guru of the 1968 New Left in Europe.)

Right now, ‘progressive’ bureaucrats in New York see it as their  business – and of course their pleasure – to interfere not just in New Yorkers’ but the whole nation’s private lives by dictating what people may eat or not eat.

Daniel Compton writes in OpenMarket.org:

On Monday, city officials rolled out an initiative to curb the salt content in manufactured and packaged foods. But the idea behind it — that salt intake has reached extreme levels in America — is a myth, and this “solution” wouldn’t work, anyway.

City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley aims to lead a national campaign to reduce the amount of salt in manufactured foods by 25 percent over the next five years. Cutting salt intake is supposed to reduce hypertension-related health problems. But while doctors may advise particular patients to cut down on salt, the science tells us that this is not a public-health problem. …

In other words, Farley’s trying to fight a problem that doesn’t exist. Worse, his new guidelines say that daily sodium intake for most people shouldn’t exceed 1,500 mg — which is a ridiculous 45 percent below the bottom of the normal consumption range [a] UC Davis study identified, and a full 60 percent lower than the worldwide average. …

The UC Davis study also cites surveys showing that sodium intake in the United Kingdom has “varied minimally” over the last 25 years, despite a major government campaign to reduce it.

Overall, the researchers found, salt intake “is unlikely to be malleable by public policy initiatives,” and attempts to change it would “expend valuable national and personal resources against unachievable goals.”

The New York guidelines are voluntary — for now. But the city’s ban on trans fats started that way, too. And the federal Food and Drug Administration has also been looking to get in on the action — it may classify it as a “food additive,” subject to regulation, sometime this year.

Then he comes to what all this regulation-for-our-own-good is really all about:

But this campaign isn’t about public health — it’s about grandstanding on a pseudo-issue ginned up by activists, when science clearly shows that there’s neither a crisis nor a way for the government to actually alter our salt intake.

All these initiatives do is win headlines for ambitious policymakers (New York’s last health commissioner parlayed his trans-fat activism into a promotion to FDA chief), while making food slightly more costly and leaving a bad taste in the mouths of consumers — literally.

Of course, if (or is it when?) the state is the sole provider of health care, it will claim justification for dictating to us what we may eat and how we must live, on the grounds that as it pays for our cures it has the right or the duty to instruct us to stay healthy. That’s why Obama and the Democrats so desperately want their health care legislation to be passed: not really to help keep us alive, but to have the means and the pretext for controlling us. As always with the left, they will boss us about in the name of a benign intention and an essential need.

The despotic personality is hard if not impossible for libertarians to understand. Individualists are appalled by the totalitarian vision of collectivists. Speaking for ourselves, in no conceivable circumstances would we want to organize a community. We find in the weakness of our unreconstructed human nature that it’s hard enough to run even one life – each our own.

An inalienable right to chicken Kiev 3

The great essayist (and physician) Theodore Dalrymple writes in the Wall Street Journal:

If there is a right to health care, someone has the duty to provide it. Inevitably, that “someone” is the government. Concrete benefits in pursuance of abstract rights, however, can be provided by the government only by constant coercion.

People sometimes argue in favor of a universal human right to health care by saying that health care is different from all other human goods or products. It is supposedly an important precondition of life itself. This is wrong: There are several other, much more important preconditions of human existence, such as food, shelter and clothing.

Everyone agrees that hunger is a bad thing (as is overeating), but few suppose there is a right to a healthy, balanced diet, or that if there was, the federal government would be the best at providing and distributing it to each and every American.

Where does the right to health care come from? Did it exist in, say, 250 B.C., or in A.D. 1750? If it did, how was it that our ancestors, who were no less intelligent than we, failed completely to notice it?

If, on the other hand, the right to health care did not exist in those benighted days, how did it come into existence, and how did we come to recognize it once it did?

When the supposed right to health care is widely recognized, as in the United Kingdom, it tends to reduce moral imagination. Whenever I deny the existence of a right to health care to a Briton who asserts it, he replies, “So you think it is all right for people to be left to die in the street?”

When I then ask my interlocutor whether he can think of any reason why people should not be left to die in the street, other than that they have a right to health care, he is generally reduced to silence. He cannot think of one.

Moreover, the right to grant is also the right to deny. And in times of economic stringency, when the first call on public expenditure is the payment of the salaries and pensions of health-care staff, we can rely with absolute confidence on the capacity of government sophists to find good reasons for doing bad things.

The question of health care is not one of rights but of how best in practice to organize it. America is certainly not a perfect model in this regard. But neither is Britain, where a universal right to health care has been recognized longest in the Western world.

Not coincidentally, the U.K. is by far the most unpleasant country in which to be ill in the Western world. Even Greeks living in Britain return home for medical treatment if they are physically able to do so.

The government-run health-care system—which in the U.K. is believed to be the necessary institutional corollary to an inalienable right to health care—has pauperized the entire population. This is not to say that in every last case the treatment is bad: A pauper may be well or badly treated, according to the inclination, temperament and abilities of those providing the treatment. But a pauper must accept what he is given.

Universality is closely allied as an ideal, ideologically, to that of equality. But equality is not desirable in itself. To provide everyone with the same bad quality of care would satisfy the demand for equality. (Not coincidentally, British survival rates for cancer and heart disease are much below those of other European countries, where patients need to make at least some payment for their care.)

In any case, the universality of government health care in pursuance of the abstract right to it in Britain has not ensured equality. After 60 years of universal health care, free at the point of usage and funded by taxation, inequalities between the richest and poorest sections of the population have not been reduced. But Britain does have the dirtiest, most broken-down hospitals in Europe.

There is no right to health care—any more than there is a right to chicken Kiev every second Thursday of the month.

Posted under Britain, Commentary, Health, Socialism, United Kingdom, United States by Jillian Becker on Wednesday, July 29, 2009

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