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Driven to Despair


The other day I hailed a taxi in London and was delighted to find that the driver was playing Beethoven to himself.


I was also pleased that he was a Turk: a Turk who had mastered the Knowledge!  Could there be a better instance of successful integration than that?

Usually, though, taxi drivers play pop music.  How they stick it ten hours a day I can't imagine: it jangles my nerves almost at once and renders me desperate.  If I were driving a vehicle with it, I might even crash deliberately to get away from it.

When I arrived in Amsterdam recently I took a taxi to my hotel.  Over the radio came this uplifting and heartfelt lyric: 'I've had a shit day and I've had enough' (having gone through airport security I knew exactly how the singer felt).  The following day, in the taxi on the way back, there came another lyric over the airwaves: 'I know what I want, and I want it now.'

Could it be, I wondered, there was what some people might call a dialectical relationship between knowing what you want and wanting it now, on the one hand, and having a shit day on the other?  That dwelling on your desires and regarding them as imperative was a sovereign path to dissatisfaction?

I was reminded of the advertising slogan for the launch of a new credit card, Access: Access takes the waiting out of wanting.

I was insensibly led, then, by an association of ideas and a chain of reasoning, to the causes of our current economic crisis.  For is it not the case that one of those causes is that, on a gargantuan scale, we took the waiting out of wanting?  Not only consumer credit but government deficit spending, largely to underwrite a standard of living that we did not go to the trouble of having earned, is at the root of our financial difficulties.  The demand that our desires should be satisfied immediately, before we can pay for them, is a sure way eventually to have a shit day, just as drinking too much leads to a hangover.

One of the qualities of art is that it should raise or suggest the deeper questions of human existence.  The lyrics in the Amsterdam taxi certainly did that: but it does not follow, of course, that they are therefore art. 



Theodore Dalrymple.  "Driven to Despair." The Hilarious Pessimist (October 30, 2012). 

Reprinted with permission of Theodore Dalrymple.

The Hilarious Pessimist is Theodore Dalrymple's blog written for the Salisbury Review.

The Author

Dalrymple5Dalrymple3Theodore Dalrymple is a former psychiatrist and prison doctor. He writes a column for the London Spectator, contributes frequently to the Daily Telegraph, and is a contributing editor of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal. He lives in France and is the author of Admirable Evasions: How Psychology Undermines Morality, Spoilt Rotten: The Toxic Cult of Sentimentality, Farewell Fear, The New Vichy Syndrome: Why European Intellectuals Surrender to Barbarism, Not With a Bang But a Whimper: The Politics and Culture of Decline, In Praise of Prejudice: The Necessity of Preconceived Ideas, Our Culture, What's Left of It: The Mandarins and the Masses, Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass, and So Little Done.

Copyright © 2012 Theodore Dalrymple
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