City Journal Autumn 2014

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Autumn 2014
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By Theodore Dalrymple

The New Vichy Syndrome: Why European Intellectuals Surrender to Barbarism.

Eye on the News

Theodore Dalrymple
The Multi-Culti Barbarian
Has multicultural indoctrination made us less sensitive to the mores of different societies?
9 September 2003

What practical effect does multiculturalism have upon the conduct of those who have grown up with it?

At first sight, very little. Recently, for example, an 18-year-old British holidaymaker in Greece wound up arrested and thrown into jail briefly for exposing her breasts in public. She described her experience as “an absolute nightmare,” but she also found the whole affair ridiculous, for she insisted that she had done nothing wrong in the first place.

It seems that despite long indoctrination in multiculturalist doctrine by school, the press, and television, she was unable to imagine that her conduct could upset anyone else. Nor had she taken any notice of reports that the Greek authorities were growing increasingly exasperated by the drunken, vulgar, and uninhibited behavior of young British tourists.

Her coarse behavior ultimately results from a cultural switch engineered by intellectuals over the last few decades: what was once considered laudable and comme il faut is now seen as ridiculous and even harmful, while what was once considered degraded and despicable is now seen as laudable and healthy. So, for example, the polite reserve, tinged with irony, once held to be the mark of a gentleman or lady have come under remorseless attack from people intolerant of restraint upon their own behavior—as have the very terms “gentleman” and “lady.” Gentlemanly conduct also became suspect for political reasons, since the intellectuals deemed it characteristic of the upper and upper-middle classes—and therefore reactionary.

Moreover, the spread of sub-psychotherapeutic ideas, according to which it is dangerous not to express one’s innermost being, regardless of the form the expression takes, has also had a disinhibiting effect. For many, an impulse not acted upon is now like an undrained abscess: it will eventually turn inward and cause septicemia.

Thus the girl who bared her breasts in Greece probably believed that she was not only doing nothing wrong but that she was doing herself and others good by purging herself of unacted-upon impulses and by making a gesture against the oppressive ancien regime. And she could not conceive that anyone might think differently. This attitude, surely, is the antithesis of multiculturalism: not to be able to think that people in other cultures might have different views and standards from one’s own.

But multiculturalism is more ambivalent in its logical consequences than one might imagine. If it imposes the duty to accept others as they are, it equally imposes on others the duty to accept one as one is. No accommodation to the feelings of others is therefore necessary. And the girl in question probably also thought that she stood in relation to Greece as a customer does to a shop—that is to say, of never being in the wrong. She was doubly disinclined, therefore, to consider the feelings of others when she took off her shirt.

Civilized people have always recognized that they should avoid gratuitously giving offense, and that travel abroad requires more, not less, tact. The behavior of the young British tourist was a failure not of multiculturalism but of culture.

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