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Divorce Should Be Outlawed Says British Expert

Press Release 12th October 2006

Divorce Should Be Outlawed Says British Expert

Psychiatrist and social commentator Thedore Dalrymple has spent a lifetime working with the dregs of British society – violent criminals and the politicians he believes are responsible for many of the failings of modern society.

On Friday, he comes to Napier to talk about crime in this country and how to combat it. EVA BRADLEY spoke to the man described as “one of the greatest essayists of our age”.

He’s smart enough not to admit it, but Theodore Dalrymple is an intelligent man. His diatribe on bureaucratic red tape and the reasons for escalating crime are inflammatory enough to attract attention – both good and bad - but credible enough to be taken seriously.

Less than 24 hours after arriving in New Zealand this week, he had already opened a Pandora’s box of moral and social outrage by suggesting divorce should be outlawed except on the grounds of violence, infidelity or “failure to keep one’s responsibilities”. Tax breaks should be offered to married couples in order to reassert the power of the family and a “sexual revolution” was responsible for soaring domestic violence.

At a time when public interest groups and politicians are falling over themselves to find a politically correct solution for escalating crime and other social ills, Theodore Dalrymple is calling a spade a spade and making no apologies for it.

Described as “one of the greatest essayists of our age”, Dalrymple (the pen name of psychiatrist Dr Anthony Daniels) has used his years of experience working in some of Britain’s poorest communities and in prisons and hospitals overrun with violent offenders to shine a light on the seemingly endless social problems plaguing modern society.

What he has discovered – and the way he expresses it through regular columns in high-brow publications like The Spectator in Britain, New York’s City Journal and in numerous books – has left him out of favour among the left-wing politicians who frequently cross his radar, but made him somewhat of a hero amongst others who see sense in what he says.

Chiefly – that criminals commit crime because they choose to. While this might seem like a fairly rational assumption to many, in the 21st century there are any number of “mitigating factors” legitimised by governments and legal systems which Dalrymple believes have allowed offenders to run rough-shod over their victims and society in general.

Instead of holding offenders accountable for their actions, he argues that the pervasive liberal elite have persuaded those at the bottom that they are not moulders of their own lives – that their faults are the results of someone else’s failings and therefore someone else’s problem.

And while it might seem to defeat the purpose by saying it is not entirely the offender’s fault that they believe this, Dalrymple asserts that policy makers are largely to blame for creating an excuse-driven, soft on crime environment where – in New Zealand and elsewhere - early guilty pleas, underprivileged childhoods and drug abuse are all legitimate reasons to reduce a prison sentence regardless of the violence of the crime.

“If you believe that because you have had certain experiences in life you can’t be expected to control yourself – then of course you won’t control yourself,” he says.

“And if, in addition to all that, you’re actually rewarded for not controlling yourself [or at least there are no penalties] then well, you get the kind of mess that I think we are in.”

And while that “we” is based on what he has seen in Britain, the similarities with New Zealand are frighteningly – and perhaps sadly – similar.

“When I first came to New Zealand I was very surprised that your social problems were the same as Britain. I had this notion that it was an idealised place at the bottom of the earth, protected from the world’s corrupting influences.”

In a 1998 essay, What Causes Crime (published in his book, Life at the Bottom), Dalrymple ponders the causes of New Zealand’s post-1950s surge in crime. Examining several high-profile cases he concluded of the Peter Ellis sexual abuse affair that “a New Zealand court has given credence to accusations that even the Spanish Inquisition might have found preposterous.”

He also suggested our justice system was obsessed with lax enforcement, pleas of mitigation, excuse finding and leniency – “anything but punishment”.

It’s the kind of stuff that gets reactions and that, in a nutshell, is why he is here. Sponsored on a nation-wide tour by the Cradle to Jail Coalition (a group made up of social change advocates The Sensible Sentencing Trust, Christine Rankin’s For the Sake of our Children Trust and the Family First Lobby), Dalrymple has both the intellectual clout and international respect required to be noticed.

During a two-week tour which includes a public meeting in Napier on Friday night (Century Theatre 6-8pm tickets $10), the fox is to be invited through the front door of the chicken coop with Dalrymple meeting top government policy makers, MPs, judges and lawyers.

It’s the sort of thing that gets Coalition spokesman and Sensible Sentencing Trust founder Garth McVicar very, very excited.

“Because I’m just a Hawke’s Bay farmer it’s easy for those guys to write us off, but with the standing and respect that Dr Dalrymple has worldwide, his opinions can’t just be discarded and that’s obviously been evident by the interest he’s generated in New Zealand,” says McVicar.

In an unprecedented move, TV3’s Campbell Live devoted Monday night’s entire show to Dalrymple and his controversial views. Overnight an intellectual previously known only among the erudite elite has become the darling of the New Zealand media and Mcvicar says that makes a strong statement about the problems facing the country.

“He probably uses bigger words than most of us but he’s just a very average guy pushing a message that resonates with real New Zealanders who know we can’t continue down this path of social vandalism that we’ve got.

“There are just a small number of policy makers and academics who are driving social policy and not listening to what the public are saying, so I think this is a wake up call for everybody.”

With newly released statistics last week showing yet another jump in crime and a recent public uproar over the police’s indulgent treatment of the Kahui family, the timing of the Cradle to Jail tour could not be better. Organisers believe fiercely that the blame lies at the feet of the Government’s soft on crime social policies and in Dalrymple they have a formidable ally.

He believes highly-paid consultants and bureaucrats have infiltrated the government system to the point that – in Britain at least - the tail is wagging the dog.

In an analogy that will have teachers and parents nodding their head in understanding he says even the education system has fallen victim to corporotisation of ‘the system’.

“We can’t even run a public exam system anymore because we don’t know what the results mean. We are told more and more people are passing exams at a higher grades and yet you meet people who are passing those exams who know absolutely nothing. “The whole government apparatus has been corrupted by a form of managerialism so that police, doctors, teachers and all people who work for the government have had their hands tied by procedures and procedural outcomes.

In Britain the police are demoralised and it’s turned into principally a bureaucratic organisation where most people understand that if they are the victim of burglary they call the police not to get it solved but to get insurance.”

The danger of all that, asserts Dalrymple, is that the public is losing faith in the vitally cohesive systems on which a society is built.

“We don’t even believe in our government officials when they’re telling the truth.”

But enough of pointing out the problems. What about the solutions? Sadly, says Dalrymple quoting an American senator, ‘you can’t get the hog to slaughter itself’.”

Instead, he advocates working from the outside in – steering clear of the official political channels as the Cradle to Jail coalition is doing, to engender change from within.

That, and a return to good old fashioned family values – or family full-stop.

“There are areas in Britain where fatherhood is completely unknown other than in a biological sense. Children are growing up in loveless environments in which they regard all human relationships as a means to an end for their personal gratification of the moment. That is a recipe for a very unpleasant life,” says Dalrymple.

And while the solutions might seem insurmountable, they can also be unforgivably easy. In Britain, 50% of households no longer have a dining table and that, in Dalrymple’s eyes, is one small way that the rot sets in. People eat when they like with no regard to those around them and with no awareness of what it means to be part of a family.

Worse still, they are allowed to become dependent on welfare and consequently stripped of their self esteem and self determination.

“In this day and age it’s impossible not to be fed, clothed and housed and so there is no achievement in providing for yourself.

“Life on welfare is miserable. It seems to me to be a kind of purgatory in which life looses a lot of meaning because nothing you do makes your life better and yet you’re not deprived of anything. When there’s no meaning people are apt to seek their meaning in social pathology – drugs, drinking and having relationships that are self evidently going to end in disaster because at least disaster is interesting.”

It’s a harsh assessment but one that Dalrymple says even the criminals he has worked with acknowledge as being true. Contrary to what one might expect, he has no enemies amongst his former patients and when he met them on the street after their release, they were always pleasant.

While that might simply be because no matter how reformed, most career criminals will never be regular readers of The Spectator, he also maintains that he never writes anything in his articles about criminals that he hasn’t said to their face.

Having a nom de plume also helps – although not among the liberal elite who read his raw and gritty accounts of the long-suffering poor and ask if he makes it all up.

When you habitually work with criminals who have kicked, raped and murdered their way through life such ignorance might seem criminal in itself but Dalrymple has a different view: “you could say they’re rather fortunate”.

However as more and more allowances are made for criminals and the results of failed social policy come home to roost, Dalrymple has a warning to those who bury their head in the sand: “If the problem grows, it will find you. Then what will you do?”


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