‘There are more votes in vulgarity than in the denunciation of it. Does that mean it is destined to be ever victorious?’ Self-Regulation and the Decline of Civility: ‘Theodore Dalrymple is probably best known for his weekly columns in The Spectator and his essays in the American quarterly City Journal. He is a psychiatric doctor working in an inner city area in Britain where he is attached to a large hospital and a prison. His columns report on the lifestyles and ways of thinking of Britain’s growing underclass, and in his latest book, Life at the Bottom, he warns that this underclass culture is spreading through the whole society. Peter Saunders interviewed him for Policy:
… PS: Let me be slightly mischievous. You talk in the book about tattooing and body piercing and studs through the navel. When I was 16 and came home with a pair of Cuban-heel boots my father said ‘I’m not having them in the house, they’re common!’ You’re now saying that navel-piercing is ‘common’. But I wonder if some of what you are picking up on is harmless fads and fashions? Maybe you’re just being a bit crusty?
TD: It would be harmless if people understood that it is just fashion, and that it belongs in its place. But they understand it as a right, so now, for example, in my hospital ward there’s a male nurse, he’s actually a nice chap. But he insists on having his face full of ironmongery, he has 17 earrings in his ear, and it’s probably not very hygienic. Anyway, eventually the hospital administration, which is far from repressive, said ‘Look, you can’t come to work like that’, and his attitude was, ‘If I’ve got a right to do it, I’ve got a right to do it anywhere.’ So there’s no limitation. Neither is there any acceptance that if you’ve got ‘F*** Off’ tattooed on your forehead, that means you can’t really serve in a shop! They say, ‘You can’t discriminate against me.’ So nobody’s prepared to accept the consequences of their eccentricities or of what they do. If we lived in a culture where you accept that, if you have a ring through your nose, you can’t get a job in a merchant bank, that would be fine. But the demand now is that nobody should be allowed to draw any inferences from anything.
PS: The sort of concerns you are expressing are often popularly associated with being ‘right-wing’, or even ‘extreme right-wing’. Do you think of yourself as ‘a man of the right’, and do you think that the right has an exclusive claim over these kinds of concerns?
TD: I don’t think of myself as ‘right’, let alone ‘far right’. I’m culturally conservative in that I do feel cross about people who constantly claim to discover wrong in the past as if there’s nothing good about it. I’m strongly aware of the enormous effort it has taken for people to make the discoveries that we now take for granted, so that is one of the lessons that we should be teaching in history. So I’m conservative in that sense. I don’t think it’s particularly right-wing, or even exclusively right wing, as I think it’s perfectly possible for people to be economically left-wing and culturally conservative. Poor people need social rules much more than rich people. Their life is much worse if they don’t have those rules. So what I object to is the cultural liberal’s view that they are being kind to the poor when actually they are making their lives hell…’ [thanks, David]