Prejudices of an Open Mind

To overturn a prejudice is not to destroy popular prejudice as such. It is rather to inculcate another prejudice.—Theodore Dalrymple

I recently picked up Dalrymple’s short book In Praise of Prejudice: The Necessity of Preconceived Ideas. He explains that “prejudice” used to imply discernment in the sense of showing caution in one’s choices. But the glaring example of unfair racial discrimination from decades past (rightly condemned) has been turned into a ham-fisted rule that excludes any sort of customary wisdom altogether. We have long been told that individuals must start with a clean slate, devoid of preconceived notions. Dalrymple strongly suspects that the urge to cast doubt on things is done merely to “increase the scope of personal license.” Such skepticism is also of a very selective and convenient sort.

Dalrymple is replete with aphoristic observations.  On modern parenting he notes: “A young child, constantly consulted over his likes and dislikes, learns that life is, and ought to be, ruled by his likes and dislikes. He is not free of prejudices just because he is free of his parents’ prejudices. On the contrary, he is a slave to his own prejudices.” Apropos of petulant and spoiled young activists: “Of course, hatred of the rich is a much stronger emotion than love of the poor: no rampaging mobs ever went through a city seeking out the poor to whom they could give away their possessions.” On questioning those in power: “[T]he person who was against all authority was against only some authority, the authority she disliked. The one authority she really respected, of course, was her own.”

Dalrymple also provides some helpful background on the genealogy of contemporary libertinism in his discussion of the much referenced (but seldom understood) J. S. Mill, whose thought was a uniquely contagious combination of romanticism and rationalism. To learn more, get the book!

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