Behaving Badly to Better the World

From Theodore Dalrymple:

It is just possible, I suppose, that Charlie Gilmour did not see the words THE GLORIOUS DEAD on the side of the Cenotaph, for youth is often not very observant, being so totally self‑absorbed.

But if he did see them, it would be interesting to know to what he thought they referred. He is a history student and, even in this age of declining standards, he must surely have heard of the First World War. His apology is therefore not altogether credible. It is much more likely that he climbed the Cenotaph because it was the Cenotaph.

There is a certain kind of person, especially in youth, who is so intoxicated by his own sense of moral outrage that he believes himself entitled to ride roughshod over the sensibility of others.

That kind of person’s moral outrage, which he believes to be essentially good-hearted and generous, gives him a much‑desired holiday from the usual tiresome requirement to control himself. He can behave badly while persuading himself that he is doing good. He can deceive himself into thinking that the destruction of a plate glass window or dancing on the roof of a car will lead to the betterment of the world, especially if he can get away without paying for it.

Moral outrage that leads to offences against public order is at least as dangerous among the privileged as among the truly desperate, because the privileged see in their own outrage a proof of their own generosity of spirit.


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