Theodore Dalrymple

Global Warning | 9 April 2008

Theodore Dalrymple delivers a Global Warning

Whenever I return to England from abroad, which is often, a very troubling question comes insistently into mind: why are the people here so ugly?

I do not mean by this that I think all foreigners are handsome or beautiful, far from it. One of the tricks that Stepmother Nature has played on humanity is to give it an idea of beauty in its own kind, and then deny the thing itself to so large a proportion of the race.

Still, there is something special about English ugliness. It is not of the face alone, but of the soul. As Sir Thomas Browne put it (and he must have known, because he was a doctor): ‘For there are mystically in our faces certain characters which carry the motto of our souls, wherein he that cannot read ABC may read our natures.’ And furthermore, as he says elsewhere: ‘… there are therefore provincial faces, national lips and noses, which testify not only to the nature of their countries, but of those which have them elsewhere.’

By what mechanism does the mental, the cultural and the social (or antisocial) become biological, for faces are as biological as intestines and the sternoclavicular joint? Furthermore, there seems to be something Lamarckian in the way ugliness now descends the generations. When one looks at English children, one cannot help but think that Lysenko was right after all.

This is not to say that conscious choice and deliberate effort have nothing to do with English ugliness: far be it from me to underestimate the part that free will and thought plays in human affairs.

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