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In Praise of Prejudice: The Necessity of Preconceived Ideas Hardcover – August 10, 2007
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Today Theodore Dalrymple is a psychiatrist and prison doctor who treats heroin addicts. He writes a column for the Spectator, and contributes frequently to the Daily Telegraph. He also wrote Our Culture, What's Left of It and Life at the Bottom (Ivan R. Dee).
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Essentially, TD argues for ‘prejudices’, or, as the subtitle states, “preconceived ideas”. These are not arbitrary, unthinking, ‘prejudicial’ ideas. They are, rather, ideas that are anchored in centuries of experience, ideas that have stood the test of time; collective wisdom, rational assumptions, and so on. He chooses the word ‘prejudice’ because it is now taboo and he wishes to make the point that good preconceived ideas are now frequently replaced by bad preconceived ideas. One example is the word ‘discriminate’. Once upon a time in a culture far, far away it was considered very important to be able to ‘discriminate’. To discriminate is to draw distinctions, to prioritize, to separate wheat from chaff, and so on. It is essential to the life of the mind. Now all ‘discrimination’ is associated with, e.g. racial discrimination and it is part of an effort to encourage us all to be nonjudgmental. Period. Full stop.
While Jesus says that we should judge not, lest we be judged, He did not encourage us to give up all judgment in every area of experience. Some now do, however, or at least they seem to. If you say, “you are more likely to achieve success if you complete school and marry before you have children” you can be labeled ‘judgmental’. If you say that you believe that Shakespeare should be required, but the movie ‘Bridesmaids’ not, you can be labeled ‘elitist’, where once we considered it important to offer the education once enjoyed only by the elite to all of our fellow citizens. TD’s work among the poor and imprisoned confirms to him, time and again, that the thinking of the bien pensant is extremely destructive for the poor.
The book’s principal target is so-called blank-slate thinking, the tabula rasa model in the humanities and social sciences that renders history and tradition unnecessary, argues for the 'constructedness' of all things, and empowers the individual to worship his or her own opinions and expressions, whether grounded in experience or not. Steven Pinker has written a very large book on the subject, subtitled ‘The Modern Denial of Human Nature’, ‘human nature’ also being one of those outdated ideas that we are forbidden to utilize (though we all have experiences, every hour of every day, that verify its usefulness and validity).
Thus, TD’s book tackles a very, very large set of interconnected subjects, but it does so with a light touch. It manages to be a ‘good read’ and, simultaneously, a very important one.
Here our eminent retired psychiatrist demolishes a major cornerstone of political correctness. Specifically, it is the mandate that we be non-judgmental in regards to everyone and everybody--with the exception of those who are judgmental or prejudicial, of course. In their case, no fate is too severe. Dr. Dalrymple argues convincingly that a life without preconception is an impossibility; just as is truth without presupposition. To display prejudice once meant an individual had discernment, but now it means one has a variety of PC ism.
The influence of the sensitivity-at-all-costs gang has altered the world irreparably and for the worse. Dr. Dalrymple showcases this eventuality within a myriad of contexts. One of which is unconventionality which once equated with individuals being... unconventional. Yet now, the label has morphed into a compliment. This has led the avant-garde to undergo "the equivalent of an arms race," becoming more and more outlandish in order to satisfy the needs of their social clique. They always forget the truism that the only thing which never changes is the avant-garde.
No longer are politeness and civility integral to functional social relations. Making a spectacle of oneself in public can be lamentable but is deemed a sign of honesty and sincerity. No matter how out-of-control the person who "loses it" becomes his tantrum elucidates how true he is to his feelings. Asking him to show restraint would rob him of authenticity.
Numerous ornate phrases bejewel In Praise of Prejudice and my own favorite is "The Law of Conservation of Righteous Indignation." Dr. Dalrymple posits that a free-floating, constant mass of indignation among populations may be as intrinsic to humanity as our lust for fat and salt. We find that as old prejudices dissipate, new ones form to become repositories of animus. Tobacco is a perfect example. Once it was regarded merely as a vice but now outrage over its usage unites our elites. Our leaders then spray their sanctimonious acrimony upon the demon weed and whoever is foolish enough to pay the exorbitant taxes that allow them to smoke it. Yes, this is a brief encounter with Dr. Dalrymple, but, as always, it is one that leaves readers vastly enriched.