August 15, 2010


Spoilt Rotten! by Theodore Dalrymple: review: In Spoilt Rotten! Theodore Dalrymple suggests that the all-too-ready expression of feeling has led to an ailing society (Noel Malcolm, 8/15/10, Daily Telegraph)

Now retired from his prison work, Dr Dalrymple has turned to the diagnosis of our ailing society at large. In his new book, he argues that sentimentality is the virus that is eating away at modern life. It destroys the sense of responsibility; it undermines human relationships; and it has a close affinity with aggression and violence.

Those who think of sentimentality in terms of Valentine’s Day cards or three-hankie movies may find this a little surprising. How is sentimentality connected with, for example, what Dalrymple calls 'the general drunken and drug-fuelled sauve qui peut in the centres of British towns every Friday and Saturday night’?

The answer lies, he says, in the Romantic idea that feelings must be expressed, and that passions and desires are innocent – which means that they deserve instant gratification. Tact, consideration, self-control and fortitude are cast aside: they indicate 'repression’, which is bad for you. Good manners are thus reduced to an undesirable psychological condition. But the cult of feeling can have more dramatic consequences than that. As Dalrymple notes, the lynch-law of the media now dictates that anyone who fails to show sufficient feeling in public (the Queen after Diana’s death, Kate McCann after the disappearance of her daughter Madeleine) will be denounced and denigrated.

This is what makes sentimentality so much worse than a mere windy emotionalism: at its core is a special kind of self-righteousness. You do not just have a feeling, whatever it may be (caring passionately about 'kiddies’, for example, even if the children in question are completely unknown to you); you have a warm glow of superiority in expressing that feeling and hence a righteous hatred of those who do not show it too. 'There is’, Dalrymple observes, 'always something coercive or bullying about public displays of sentimentality.’

You shouldn't have to be a WASP to appreciate the value of repressing feelings in the public sphere.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at August 15, 2010 9:04 AM
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