Book Review: If Symptoms Still Persist

Kunk Fu Zoby Kung Fu Zu   2/26/14
By Theodore Dalrymple, (Anthony Daniels)  •  After finishing this book, I was not sure whether to pop-a-cork or hang myself. I could open the champagne simply because my life, no matter how difficult, is Nirvana compared to the lives of those mentioned in the book. On the other hand, if the characters in the book are indicative of future generations, well let’s just say it might be better not to be around to see the end.

Dalrymple is a psychiatrist who worked in the British National Health Service. In addition to seeing patients in hospitals located in some of the less salubrious parts of London and Birmingham, he also tended to the occupants of several of Her Majesty’s correctional institutions.

In the early 1990’s, the editor of “The Spectator” asked him to write a weekly column on medicine. He obliged for a period of fourteen years. “If Systems Still Persist” is a compilation of some of those columns. If you haven’t already guessed, these articles do not give advice about avoiding the flu or how to moderate one’s diet to lose weight. They were meant to give a description of conditions among the less fortunate in British society, and do so in spades.

This is a hilariously depressing book. In his forward, Dalrymple writes, “Having worked in several countries of the so-called Third World, and having travelled extensively through all the continents, I was convinced that the poverty of spirit to be found in an English slum was the worst to be found anywhere. More flagrant injustices by far, worse physical conditions, greater exposure to violence, were of course to be encountered elsewhere: but for sheer apathy, for spiritual, emotional, educational and cultural nihilism and vacuity, you must go to an English slum. Nowhere in the world – at least in my experience – were people to be found who had so little feeling of control over, or responsibility for, their own lives and behaviour.” In Dalrymple’s opinion, the chief culprit behind the degradation of the lower classes is Leftism.

Each chapter is written around Dalrymple’s consultations at NHS hospital clinics and in various prisons. Dalrymple’s hospital patients seem to consist mainly of battered women who will not leave their current boyfriends because “I love him, and he doesn’t beat me too often”, thuggish young men with hangovers who have puked on the hospital floor and greet the doctor with a pleasant “fuck off” when he speaks to them, and ignorant slackers who want others to take the blame for the sorry state of their lives. I mustn’t forget the common welfare thieves who threaten physicians with bodily harm unless the doctors sign a form confirming the holder is physically unable to work. It is probably just as well that the doctors sign such forms as the recipients probably wouldn’t have time to work in any case, given the amount of time they spend on martial arts training, attending football games and guzzling ale at the pub.

The characters in prison are perhaps more interesting as their lives are under the control of Her Majesty’s Prison Service. Having less room for maneuver than their friends who are not incarcerated, they may be even keener to game the system. They feign amnesia, mental incompetence or arthritis to get a room on the ground floor. Then they pretend they are having severe withdrawal symptoms thus need more drugs, etc. They are, if not very inventive, a persistent group.

Dalrymple holds the self-serving, career driven bureaucrats who run the Social Security System, in complete disdain. They are all too often lazy, self-promoting, dishonest and generally useless. When a person is truly unfortunate enough to require something of the System, he or she is typically given the run around. Dalrymple chronicles some of his experiences in this bureaucratic labyrinth.

I believe Dalrymple has a special place in his heart for the English Department for Education. He recounts discussions with various patients who have completed the minimum eleven years school attendance required by law. Over the years Dalrymple used standard questions to determine the level of education and awareness of people who visited him in clinic. He would ask such simple things as, “how much is 9 x 6?” The number of people who could not answer this was amazing. Dalrymple would also ask people to read a simple sentence. Many had trouble pronouncing three syllable words, much less understanding their meanings. And Dalrymple points out these were not mentally handicapped people.

This is not a treatise for the faint-hearted. If your reading runs to “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm”, do not go near this book. Scanning lines about immoral toughs with eight children by several different women (girls from fourteen years old and up) who beat their girlfriends, assault their pub mates or strangers, rob, burgle and murder as they see fit, gives one pause. Add to this females, who have numerous children through several men, are constantly on the dole, abusing their own children and generally increasing misery in their general proximity, and one is forced to question whether or not abortion is as horrendous as one originally thought.

While this book deals with England, it could just as easily have been written about large swaths of the U.S.A. Given the present state of affairs, it is clear we are fooling ourselves if we believe things will improve simply by stopping abortion. As horrible as abortion might be, one has to ask oneself what the country would be like had those 40 or so million abortions not been performed? Given data that is available, it is pretty clear the vast majority of these aborted children would have come into the world through young unmarried, ignorant, unemployable women unable to take care of themselves much less any offspring. How many of them would end up like those described in this book? At what point does a society lose the ability to survive because of the poverty of its human capital? No doubt, as Dalrymple points out, much of this is due to the welfare state which must be rolled back. But what do we do until that actually happens? • (1999 views)

This entry was posted in Book Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Book Review: If Symptoms Still Persist

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Great review, Mr. Kung. You really captured the essence of that book and of Dalrymple.

    This is a hilariously depressing book.

    I couldn’t have said it better myself.

    Or, as I say, you can’t remain a libertarian and read what life is like when moral virtues are cast aside as irrelevant or oppressive. (This applies doubly to “Progressive” and those on the Left.)

    And you’ll never have such a great chance (outside of Detroit, perhaps) to see what liberal “compassion” really means. It means creating a permanent and poisonous (and often violent) underclass, cut off from the norms of basic civilization.

    I’m about 70% into this book. It’s easy to read chapter by chapter because they are very short. And you’ll soon be wondering what is the point of it all. But I keep finding myself pulled to read just one more chapter. It’s somewhat like slowing down to watch an accident by the side of the road.

    I’ve also read his “Our Culture: What’s Left of It,” “Not with a Bang But with a Whimper,” and “Life at the Bottom.” That last one I would recommend as a starting point to Dalrymple. In truth, the story is the same whichever book you choose. But there are so many aspects to this story of destruction, so many ways that welfare, dependency, and the lubrication of evil acts by Leftism express themselves in these horrible lives.

    Believe me, it’s very easy to sit back and armchair theorize about “society” and “how it should be.” In fact, as Thomas Sowell frequently points out, this is half the problem of our world today as “intellectuals” (who are actually stupid but are good at fooling people into thinking otherwise) screw things up with their pie-in-the-sky dreams and/or their outright corruption.

    But when you read this book, you realize that the facts of life are indeed conservative. You realize that there are consequences to our social affectations (such as legalizing drugs) that are awful when played out in the real world.

    I don’t think Dalrymple even considers himself a conservative. It is the misfortune of our age that that designation has been so besmirched by the devious and demonic Left. But Dalrymple is chock full of the reality of what happens when stupid Leftist utopian ideas hold sway. There is truly nothing more conservative than this kind of hard-won common sense.

    I doubt that most people who read his books will change their minds about the “compassionate” people and policies they vote for. I think as Glenn Fairman has so eloquently made plain, it’s not “compassion” or true concern that animates many people but narcissism. All that matter is that they are seen to do good. That the policies and people they support actual wreak havoc doesn’t concern them. They are so wedded to their own conceited sense of moral and intellectual superiority.

    But those whose minds are not fogged by Leftism or “Progressivism” will be nodding their heads as they read these books. Everything that conservatives said would come to pass is coming to pass where Leftism can be found in its pure form. And it’s really a shame that many more people don’t understand that the top-tier Leftists have this destruction of our society as an intent, not just (as it often the case) an unintended consequence.

    Evil lives amongst us, and it so often goes by the name of “compassion,” “tolerance,” or “diversity.”

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    I haven’t read this, but I’ve read Dalrymple’s articles in National Review over the years dealing with the misadventures of the underclass created by the British welfare state (and no doubt also by ours). They always make for grim reading.

    Incidentally, some may recall that Freakonomics pointed out that abortion reduces the crime rate — and when William Bennett discussed this on radio (after a caller brought up the argument), he got into trouble for acknowledging that there was a callously pragmatic argument to be made for it. (The late, great science fiction writer Poul Anderson once mentioned in FOSFAX encountering this argument years ago, and immediately thinking of the infamous German word Endlosung.)

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Incidentally, some may recall that Freakonomics pointed out that abortion reduces the crime rate

      That abortion reduces the crime rate is no more relevant than if you killed half the citizens in any given city — an act which would surely reduce the crime rate if only because there would be fewer people to commit the crimes.

      Reducing crime is a good. Doing so by murdering citizens is an odd kind of “good,” as I’m sure you and Mr. Kung agree.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        And so did Bennett. But he was attacked anyway for admitting that what was said in Freakonomics made sense in its gruesome way. (The authors of the book, who came up with the argument, were NOT attacked, since they didn’t say they opposed the idea.)

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Tim, I’m certainly not a “fraidy-cat” brand of conservative, as you are not either. Let the facts fall where they may. If abortion reduces the crime rate, let it be said.

          But as thinking conservatives, we understand that simply stating that something is so is not an approval of it. As I plainly stated, if you killed half the population of any city, the crime rate would undoubtedly go down as well. And we could get rid of arson completely if we just burnt every building to the ground. Etc.

          Conservatives have to learn to deal with the truth and, especially, with the dishonest (even treacherous) rationalizations that come from the Left. They will spin anything in their pursuit of their twisted agenda. I don’t expect that anyone here disagrees with that, but I’m just stating it sort of in support of Bennett.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        One of the reasons I mentioned the question of abortion is to clearly point out that there are costs to social policy. There are no magic bullets and if we don’t want a world full of the types Dalrymple discusses, we have to get down to basics very fast and furious, to use a familiar term.

        In my opinion, the present failing educational system is responsible, in no small way, for the havoc wreaked on the poor in this country.

        This is a discussion which I will probably follow up when I finish the next Dalrymple book which I am presently reading. Its title is “Spoilt Rotten: The Toxic Cult of Sentimentality”.

  3. John Kirke John Kirke says:

    A random aside, but Bennett was attacked for a supposedly racist comment when he couldn’t have POSSIBLY been more careful in bracketing that comment with an explanation of what he really believes. Jeff Goldstein at Protein Wisdom has made it a recurring theme of his, the insidious idea of letting a person’s intended meaning be trumped by an interpreter, especially a politically motivated interpreter.

    In 2009, Jeff posted a guest essay on Hot Air connecting the criticism of Bennett from the right with similar criticism Rush Limbaugh was getting for saying that he hoped Obama fails.

    To put it more forcefully, it is a fact of language that once you surrender the grounds for meaning to those who would presume to determine your meaning for you, you are at their mercy. Nowhere is this more clear than with Britain’s new definition of racism, whereby racism is determined not by the actions of those purported to cause it, but rather by the feelings of the person who claims to be its victim. Frighteningly, such is a formulation Ms. Obama seems to share. And this is not a road we should be heading down, because at the end of that road lies meaning as determined by “interpretive communities,” which in political terms equates to particular interest groups. And that way lies totalitarianism and, to borrow from both G.B. Shaw and Jonah Goldberg, “liberal fascism.”

    I think this essay is as much required “reading” as Evan Sayet’s first speech on how leftists (“modern liberals”) think, and it might be useful to link or archive these occasional essential essays and speeches.

    About Dalrymple, I think his work in writing about the British underclass is just as important as Charles Murray’s Coming Apart, and for the same reason: by “controlling” for race and largely examining only whites, they make a very strong case (contra race-essentialists like Derb on the right and Jeremiah Wright on the left) that what matters isn’t race.

    It’s culture.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      We must challenge the Left whenever we can, and perhaps nowhere more than in their dishonest use of language (what I call liberalspeak, Newspeak, or some combination of the two).

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Maybe you could help me compile an “Essential Essay” list. I’ve already got the “Bookshelf” thingie going for books. I wouldn’t mind having something like that for essays. All that I would need is the links (or names) and I could do the rest.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I’m about 84% into this book now. And I admit, Mr. Kung, I’m hitting a wall. “Depressing” is outnumbering “humorous.” I don’t know how you made it through the entire book.

    I’ve always wondered how widespread this mean and pathetic British lower class was, the one more or less created and maintained by socialism. In one of the essays, on a trip to France, Dalrymple mentioned that it was better in France. Only about one-third of the nation were slums while in England it was about two-thirds.

    Still, I don’t know how accurate that count is. But what is sure is that people are turned into mean and pathetic people by socialism. Whatever the harms of “dog eat dog” capitalism, they pale in comparison to the truly civilization-wide corruption and disintegration that comes at the hands of socialism which fosters and feeds victimhood, which itself fosters and feeds anti-social and criminal behavior.

    And that is coming here. In fact, Detroit and many other areas of America are evidence of the destruction that always comes at the hands of Marxist ideology, even if it is dressed up in nice-sounding words such as “Progressivism” and markets itself as standing for the little guy because, after all, they support men loving men, and women loving women, and applying the term “marriage” to this.

    I was talking to a friend yesterday who is living in some brand spankin’ new low-income housing. And he told me that a couple of his neighbors were just toxic. They sound very much like the typical neighbors in the government housing in “If Symptoms Still Persist.” One of my favorite anecdotes in the book is about the neighbor who complained about the super-loud music being played at all hours of the night above her apartment. It was so loud that her neighbor below complained, thinking that it was she who was playing the music.

    The “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” culture has been a poisonous brew for Western Civilization. Much of this vibe still hangs onto Libertarians who have not quite figured out yet that many of them are first cousins to the Left. And you read a book like this and you realize just how fragile civilization is and just how important so-called “social” issues are. They are not an annoying sideline meant to make life hard for John Boehner. They are the very backbone of our civilization, bolstering it so that it can be a good thing or pushing it over the edge if the opposite set of morals predominates.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      The reason the welfare state leads to such toxic people is that it turns government into a dispenser of favors, which are limited. As a result, government is a zero-sum game, so the favor your neighbor gets you don’t — and so selfishness is encouraged (and, of course, envy is at the heart of it to begin with).

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Yes, it certainly does all that, Timothy. Once we are all set at each other’s throat in the free-for-all to get government “free stuff,” there is no off switch. I think women, in particular, are natural clients of the “free stuff” state. In my experience, women don’t give a second thought to where this “free stuff” is coming from or what harm it will do (to either them or the country).

        It’s is mostly a masculine virtue to be self-sufficient, to have the good kind of pride wherein one says, “I will not take a hand-out from the government.”

        Of course, both sexes can be moochers. And this moocherism has been facilitated in men by emasculating them and turning them into girly-men. Do you suppose Pajama Boy will offer any manly and principled opposition to taking “free stuff”? I don’t.

        I had another thought this morning, stuck in my brain because or reading Dalrymple. It’s often said that women are the civilizing force in regards to men. And to some extent, I still think that may be true. But that isn’t at all the case in the free-for-all anarchist, drug-ridden, violent environment of the welfare-created underclass of England. Repeatedly, women open their legs for the worst kinds of thugs. And even when repeatedly beaten up by the men, they either welcome the man back or find another just like him. Women act in no way to civilize these men. And, arguably, they help make them worse. So what accounts for men changing from adolescents boys to men?

        I’m more and more convinced that it is either other men and/or the church that civilizes men. So, basically, this female utopia that many pine for, wherein the women (of course) will never go to war or do bad things, is likely another liberal myth. I’m still rethinking the matter myself and don’t mind doing so online.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Pajama Boy and Julia would be perfect for each other if either were interested in marrying anyone other than the almighty State.

          I think women do help set standards of civilized behavior, but this requires civilized women, which may be why slum males often have no such good example. And it may take a man to help get them to live up to that standard.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            And it may take a man to help get them to live up to that standard.

            I quite agree. I think men, first and foremost, need a good male role model. Sorry, ladies, if you’re raising a son as a single mother, you are likely doing your son an injustice. He needs a father.

            And the trouble with many of these wild men who live like animals in the socialist utopia is that they have had no fathers to speak of. They’ve simply had sperm donors. Boys, unless turned into decent men, will simply tend to become vulgar, if not violent, actors in society.

            Men need to retake the culture, if you ask me. And I don’t mean kicking women out of the workforce. I mean retaking the higher ground of the much-needed masculine male virtues that have been so besmirched by the radical, man-hating feminists.

  5. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:


    I’m one of those people who hate to put a book down once started. Over the years, I have read so much that I, inevitably, come across much repetition in theme and information. But I believe that if I learn one new thing from a book, the time spent reading it has generally been worth it. I learned more than one thing from this book.

    And as I think you know, for me everything comes back to culture. This is something our Libertarian friends don’t quite seem to grasp. Of course, the Left understands this very well as their first order of business, for something like 250 years has been to deconstruct the cultural underpinnings of our society in order to bring about their various visions of Valhalla.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I’m one of those people who hate to put a book down once started.

      Well, I think I’m getting attention deficit disorder. I have a hard time finishing many books.

      Yes, I think a lot does come down to culture. But that’s a double-edged sword in a way. If we admit that culture is uber-alles then we have no ammunition against the New Man that the Left wants to create by fine-tuning the culture to the nth degree. For the Left, man is nothing but the product of culture (and so he is to be, of course, a product of the upper-tier intellectuals who pull all the strings of the culture).

      What makes a conservative (or just a decent, self-actuated, person of integrity) is standing up and saying, “I will do this thing even though the moo-crowd of sheeple (mixing metaphors here) has said that X and Y are the way things must be, simply because of popular opinion.

      And “popular opinion” is not the same thing as tradition or the wisdom of the ages. As I’ve noted here, how odd it is that one day all the right people (Clinton, Obama) are against gay marriage. But the next day they are for it, and then all the moo-cow sheeple line up (and I’m not necessarily thinking of Faba here) and declare “This is now the right side of history!”

      Culture is, of course, extremely influential. And anything we posit as being above or superior to culture (such as the idea of an objective morality) will, in time one hopes, be integrated into culture. But I can’t think of the truly Western Man as being nothing but culture as the Left prefers and believes. I believe we are endowed with a nature and individuality (and perhaps with moral prescriptions as well) that shine a light above the mere mass moo-cow sheeple of pure cultural influence. It’s about having a conscience too, a sense of discernment above the cloud of mass mindlessness.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        “Yes, I think a lot does come down to culture. But that’s a double-edged sword in a way. If we admit that culture is uber-alles then we have no ammunition against the New Man that the Left wants to create by fine-tuning the culture to the nth degree.”

        That is my point. It is the fight for the culture which is so important. The Left wish to impose an artificial synthetic culture on us based on their mind experiments. The right wants to maintain the good things of a traditional culture based on actual experience handed down over centuries. This takes into consideration human nature as it is, not as the Leftists thing it should be.

  6. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    The article below would tend to confirm the thesis that “liberalism/leftism is a mental disorder.”

    • Timothy Lane says:

      We had a lot of fun with that one on Town Hall. After all, he was complaining about global warming aka climate change aka climate disruption — and yet by burning himself with (presumably) gasoline he added a lot to it.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I had read that article as well, Mr. Kung.

      One of the real issues at stake here is the very definition of moral and mental health. Freud, for example, parsed much of that in terms of sexual repression. Others (such as Skinner) parsed it in terms of the completely physical: behavior.

      Nearly all of modern psychology is some form of this, having ascribed to the assumption that “something happened in childhood to screw you up and make you unhappy or unwealthy or whatever.” Little notice is given to the fact that much of our behavior is inherited from our parents. It has nothing to do with whether they spanked us or not, or even loved us or not. And certainly little or no emphasis is given to the “oughts” or “nots.”

      Nearly all modern approaches to “mental health” turn us into a mere physical object. Take a pill. Untangle a phobia or neurosis rooted in some past trauma. And to the extent that a therapist will try to steer you away from some destructive behavior, it will almost always be in terms of B.F. Skinner. Few will “shame” you by applying any kind of moral yardstick. Talk of right and wrong is verboten, although talk of right and wrong “for you” is all in vogue, which isn’t quite the same thing.

      I think when we take right-and-wrong out of the equation, it sets us on the course to being screwed up in some way. Granted, I accept the notion that many people are not so gullible, easily manipulated, or so easily influence by the crowd. But many others are. And all are heavily influenced by the culture they live in.

      I think most people are born fairly sane and will stay that way (although the cultural beliefs they uphold or adopt could be called crazy, such as Nazism). But human history shows that nearly anyone can be pushed over the edge given the right circumstances. And with more and more people marinating in liberalism from birth with its crazy, illogical, destructive, self-righteous, and contradictory notions, it’s a certainty that some are pushed over the edge like this flammable lawyer.

      Even in the best of times, we need to put in a little work for our moral and mental health just like we wash the car everyone once in a while or take out the trash. You may agree or disagree with me on this point, but I had seen for a long time where internet “social” media and other online content was pushing things. It was pushing it to the crazy. I know many otherwise good people who are caught up in the drama to the extent that it has effected their lives, and not in a good way.

      So I take pains to point out that we will not mindlessly take part in The Daily Drama. We will not get online and simply combustibly flame at the keyboard.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Many years ago, I read a short critique of Freud which noted that his clientele mostly consisted of Vienna Jews, who were heavily sexually repressed (stories of Jewish-American Princesses suggest this hasn’t changed much since then). So naturally he found sexual repression to be the key to psychology. He later added the idea of a death wish — during the Great War. Funny about that. In Flanders fields . . .

        Incidentally, a similar sort of point — that psychological problems might vary with culture and circumstances — comes up at the end of The Syndic by C. M. Kornbluth.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Doesn’t that sort of fit the saying, “If all you have is a hammer, every problem is going to look like a nail.”

          • Timothy Lane says:

            More the reverse, I think. If all you encounter are nails, you’ll think a hammer is all you ever need.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *