Wednesday, December 08, 2004


My recent skeptical comments (see post of 6th below) about the claims of "Theodore Dalrymple" elicited the following email from Father Mike Walsh of the Maryknolls.

I must express some disagreement with your post on Theodore Dalrymple's latest. Specifically: I doubt intelligence has much to do with it. All the intelligence in the world won't inoculate you against bad ideas. I have known a great many simple virtuous people, and many quite intelligent people who have messed up their lives. As to why more in Britain have not done so, or, to put it another way, why Britain (or any modern place) isn't much worse, may be described, metaphorically, in terms of physics and economics. That is, people are being carried along by sheer momentum, but a momentum that is decaying. They are spending moral and intellectual capital without replacing it. I believe the respect for authority you observed among your renters of years ago, for example, was residual. The main difference that intelligence makes is that intelligent people are better able to cover their mistakes. Your own rise --owing no doubt in large measure to talent and intelligence-- must surely have depended also on habits and virtues in which you were raised, and which are now in decreasing supply in the society at large. Whether or not the trends can be reversed is another matter, about which, I must agree, it's hard to be optimistic.

First, a minor quibble: The respect I got from my tenants was only three years ago, not in the distant past.

The argument that secular society remains relatively civilized only because it has a residue of Christian culture is a popular one but does not withstand a moment's inspection. The most civil, law-abiding and orderly society on earth is undoubtedly Japan, where there are very few Christians and where the main religion (Shinto) is about as primitive as you can get -- a combination of nature worship and ancestor worship. So Christian culture or even any sophisticated religion is not necessary for civility. And the opposite case is persuasive too. Many Africans in both Africa and elsewhere are intensely Christian and in many places African culture is overwhelmingly Christian but .... need I say more?

So once again I have to point to genetic inheritance as being far more important than culture. The twin studies bear that out too. Such studies enable apportionment of the causes of any characteristic into what is genetically caused and what is traceable to family environment. In almost all cases so far studied, the influence of family environment on what the mature person becomes is minimal.

I have some extended comments on the influence of Christianity on society here.


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