Theodore Dalrymple

Second opinion | 23 April 2005

There’s only one thing worse than slavery, and that’s freedom

There’s only one thing worse than slavery, of course, and that’s freedom. I don’t mean, I hasten to add, my own freedom, to which I am really rather attached; no, it is other people’s freedom, and what they choose to do with it, that appals me. They have such bad taste.

The notion of self-expression has much to answer for. It gives people the presumptuous notion that somewhere deep inside them there is a genius trying to get out. This genius, at least round here, expresses itself mainly by drinking too much, taking drugs, tattooing its skin and piercing its body. On the whole, I think, the self is best not expressed and, like children, should be neither seen nor heard.

One day, I arrived on the ward to discover an enthusiastic self-expresser in the first bed. Her two-inch-long nails were painted lime green, and looked as if they gave off the kind of radiation that meant instant leukaemia. That, however, was the least of it.

She was lying in the bed, décolleté, to reveal breasts pierced with many metal bars ending in steel balls to keep them in place, and for what is known round here as decoration. I couldn’t look at them without wincing; ex-President Clinton would no doubt have felt her pain. As for her face, it was the modern equivalent of the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian. It was also the refutation of the doctrine that the customer is always the right. In the tattoo parlour, the customer is always wrong.

She had a ring through the septum of her nose, and a ring through her upper lip, so that the two clacked when she spoke. She had a stud in her tongue, and two studs through her lower lip.

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