Magazine article The Spectator

Second Opinion

Magazine article The Spectator

Second Opinion

Article excerpt

A RECENT paper from Sweden in the British Medical Journal suggests that the cultured live longer than the uncultured. This is good news for the people of Sweden, no doubt, but bad news for the people round here. For if it's culture which preserves life, they're destined round here for a very early death indeed.

Unless, that is, we accept the American anthropological definition of culture, which is entirely neutral as between Beethoven's last quartets and the smashing of windows of parked cars. This rather forgiving and all-inclusive definition of culture is the one which has undoubtedly entered popular usage. A patient of mine, explaining why he was living in a dosshouse, said that wife-beating and vomiting blood in the mornings had always been part of the culture in which he was brought up.

All cultures being equal, it is wrong indeed, impossible - to make a judgment between them as to their relative value. All manner of things are forgivable on cultural grounds, and even the Prison Service has gone over - in theory, at least - to the multicultural view of life. I found a prison officer the other day studying a sociological text for his promotion exams which required him to think about the symbolic meanings which various cultures attached to human excrement. This, said the text, would help him deal in a culturally sensitive way with what are known as `dirty protests', in which a prisoner smears the walls of his cell with his own faeces. Of course, it all boils down to high-pressure water hoses in the end.

Just how tolerant the Prison Service has now become is illustrated by the notice which I pass almost every day at the entrance to the prison, which states that it, the Prison Service, is firmly opposed not only to discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, religion, political belief etc. …

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