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January 04, 2007

Mr Brown's self-esteem issue - or, asks Theodore Dalrymple, does Gordon Brown really believe that he can solve the problems of the world?

Posted by Theodore Dalrymple

In today's Guardian Gordon Brown makes a pledge to all the children of the world (Our 2p pledge to all children: I want to mark the end of the slave trade in 1807 by tackling the modern slavery - ignorance, Guardian, 4th January 2007, p. 26):

Our goal is to ensure free education for every child, building the foundation of a truly free life for every adult, and we will commit to every child being at school, and achieve it within 10 years.
Theodore Dalrymple asks, should Gordon Brown not at least first try to sort out schooling in the UK before sorting out schooling in the rest of the world?

It is often said that crime is the result of low self-esteem: that criminals rob and steal because they do not think well of themselves. This is quite wrong: many criminals, at least until they grow out of it, think well of themselves because they rob and steal.

Of course, I cannot look into men's souls any more than Queen Elizabeth wanted to, but to judge from his article published in The Guardian newspaper on 4th January 2007 (Our 2p pledge to all children: I want to mark the end of the slave trade in 1807 by tackling the modern slavery - ignorance, p. 26), one of Gordon Brown's problems is not lack of self-esteem.

Mr Brown stated therein that:

I want every parent, student and school in Britain and the developed world to become campaigners, calling on every government to give every child access to schooling.
In other words, he wants everyone in the developed world - 1,000,000,000 people, or thereabouts - to think the same thoughts as Mr Gordon Brown. Furthermore, he wants everyone to make a forced, non-voluntary contribution to the satisfaction of his own desire. In a way, it is breathtaking in its impudence, just as is that of the criminals who think well of themselves.

Unfortunately, the thoughts of Mr Gordon Brown are not even very interesting thoughts: their outstanding quality, indeed, is their banality, combined (I have little doubt) with a certain unctuous self-satisfaction. Mr Brown thinks that the answer to the problems of Africa is for governments to provide schools for what, in this context of condescending Victorian compassion, it would not be wrong to call the piccaninnies.

Mr Brown's vision for Africa is 100 per cent literacy so that, presumably, everyone can read the thoughts of Mr Brown, as relayed to him by the governments that have received not only his imprimatur, but the largesse he has extracted by force from millions of people. (Quite a lot of it, I confidently predict, will end up in the pockets of estate agents and other purveyors of luxuries in European capitals.)

I hope no one will take me to be a philistine when I say that the role of formal education in Africa has been highly equivocal, not to say disastrous. The last thing Africa needs is more people who believe that they are now so well-educated that they deserve what they call, with poetical accuracy, "a seat" in a government bureaucracy. I shall never forget being arrested as a spy in Gabon by a policeman who wanted to extract a bribe from me (he had been educated, you see), and who, on learning that I was a doctor, circumnavigated me admiringly, and then said, with something like deference,
Vous avez beaucoup de papier dans la tete,
there being no higher compliment he could pay me.

Mr Brown tells us that he saw madrassas in Abuja, Nigeria, teaching extremism to children, because there were no other schools. Nothing could illustrate the greyness of his thought, his utter lack of imagination and knowledge of the world, no doubt the result of having watched too much telly at Number 11, than this statement.

Does he imagine that Islamic extremists are going to give up at the first touch of universal primary education? Is he not aware that Islamic extremism is not a product of complete lack of education, but on the contrary of education itself? Extremists of all descriptions may be stupid or evil, but they are rarely uneducated in Mr Brown's sense, and they may not even be ignorant.

I hesitate to say it - one doesn't want to go too far - but they often display the same kind of lack of imagination as Mr Brown himself shows. Certainly, they want every parent, student and school in the developed world to do something or other, just as Mr Brown does. Like him, they are totalitarians. (By the way, whatever happened to the word "pupil"? Children in school are not students, they are pupils. It is typical of certain kinds of politicians that they should regard children as adults, the better subsequently, and consequently, to regard adults as children. That way they, the politicians, can puff themselves up, just like the frog in Aesop's fable.)

While we are on the subject of education, let me relate once again a few little experiences of working as a doctor in a British slum. I discovered that, if asked whether they are any good at arithmetic, about half the people there aged between 16 and 25 reply, "What's arithmetic?"

Well, perhaps they could add, subtract, multiply and divide without knowing that they were doing arithmetic. They couldn't: they were as innumerate as they were nearly illiterate. And this after 11 years of compulsory education, or at least semi-compulsory attendance at school, at an annual cost on average of £2,600, that is to say a total cost of £28,600. Never in the field of human history has so little been taught for so long to so many at such great expense. Here indeed is a problem to which Mr Brown might like to turn his capacious mind.

But of course, in the British public service nothing succeeds like failure: indeed, failure is success, if looked on in the right way, namely as something requiring yet further intervention in people's lives to amend, the employment of yet more consultants, the levying of yet more taxation to create an ever large constituency for such failure, and so on and so forth. If the government needed a mission statement at the bottom of all its stationery, it would be, The more we fail, the more we succeed.

Let me also point out, before I spontaneously combust in a not altogether unpleasant explosion of righteous indignation, that to be illiterate and innumerate in a contemporary British slum is a far worse fate than being illiterate and innumerate in, say, a village in the north of Cameroon. No doubt this explains, at least in part, why the villagers of northern Cameroon are considerably more attractive, at least in their bearing and daily conduct, than are many of the inhabitants of British slums, who are the victims of a failing state: namely, Britain.

Theodore Dalrymple is a writer and worked for many years as an inner city and prison doctor.


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Well said.

Posted by: Guido Fawkes at January 4, 2007 09:27 PM
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A superb article!

Nonetheless...

All hail our new leader!

Posted by: Ariphron at January 5, 2007 02:22 PM
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"I want every parent, student and school in Britain and the developed world to become campaigners, calling on every government to give every child access to schooling."

Whilst obviously keen for the trappings and kudos of being in power, politicians appear to want to outsource the business of government to others --- The Bank of England, the EU, and now to the parents of the western world. This way, responsibility for Britain's (and the world's) problems does not rest on their own delicate shoulders.

...He would probably have the cheek to complain, too (although in the nicest, hand-wringing, mealy-mouthed way), were parents to neglect their campaigning duties.

Heaven help us.

Posted by: Paul at January 5, 2007 11:09 PM
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The thought of Dr Dalrymple exploding in righteous indignation did, briefly, make me think it would be fun if he could do so in the presence of the sort of people who are always fuming in self-righteous indignation over issues which generate this kind of “Brownian motion”. But then they might tell me “go back to your physics”. So here goes:–

In astrophysics, a “brown dwarf” is a star-like object too small to generate its own energy by nuclear fusion, and so is detectable only by the heat given off by its slow collapse.

Similarly, might not the Treasury, which sucks in money from people who put it to purposes which maintain the economy, and re-emits it in the form of ‘services’ which only tend to clog up economic activity, be classified as a “Brown hole”?

Posted by: Robert H. Olley at January 6, 2007 11:37 AM
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