Theodore Dalrymple

Global Warning | 23 August 2008

Theodore Dalrymple delivers a global warning

Recently while travelling on the London Underground, the opening words of Marx’s The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte ran through my mind like a refrain: ‘Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic events and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.’ Why, you might ask, did this passage insinuate itself into my brain on the District Line between West Brompton and Earl’s Court?

Standing opposite me was a young man badly dressed in black, on whose baseball cap was inscribed the word ‘Victim’. On his black T-shirt were the words, ‘I wish I could be you’, which implied self-pity on an industrial scale. On his right forearm (from which, Sherlock Holmes-like, I inferred he was left-handed) were a series of parallel scars from self-inflicted injury. On his right forearm was tattooed a simplified reproduction of a picture by Gustav Klimt. All paintings appear twice: the first time as art, the second time as kitsch.

Reaching my destination, there was an announcement over the public address system. Because of the hot weather, it said, passengers are advised to carry a bottle of water with them while travelling, and passengers who felt unwell were advised to seek assistance.

Who, I wondered, would help me with my profound sense of irritation?

I was on my way to lunch with an old doctor friend. He was in a lather of indignation, as usual, against the administration and its Newspeak. He was particularly exercised by the term ‘quality assurance’, the locus standi of yet another layer of bureaucracy.

‘The problem is,’ he said, ‘that no one can be against quality.’

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