Dalrymple: Extreme Nastiness

“If history is indeed but the record of extreme nastiness, then we have nothing to learn from it except that we, who of course are people of unalloyed good will, must do things—everything – differently in the future. The moral reflections of people in the past were nothing but a fig leaf for their own misbehavior on a grand scale – sheer hypocrisy, in fact. In the words of Doctor Johnson, they discoursed like angels but behaved like men, and they honored every one of their precepts more in the breach than in the observance. In the absence of any religious conception of Original Sin (by comparison with an historical conception of a foundational injustice, such as the Tasmanian genocide), by means of which the imperfectability of man could be accepted, without at the same time absolving him of the need individually to strive for virtue, either perfect moral consistency or complete amoralism becomes the standard of judgment.

Whether amoralism or moral perfectionism is chosen as the standard, one great advantage accrues: it frees us from the weight of the past. Free of any inherited taint, we have not only the right, but the duty to work everything out for ourselves, without reference to what anyone else has ever thought. We are moral atoms in motion through a vacuum, to whom the past means nothing, or at least nothing positive or worthy of emulation, or even maintenance. It is rather something to be avoided at all cost, lest it infects one with its crimes and follies.”

– Theodore Dalrymple, In Praise of Prejudice

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