Magazine article The Spectator

Second Opinion

Magazine article The Spectator

Second Opinion

Article excerpt

THEODORE DALRYMPLE

Why do people do the things they do, especially when they are so bad for them? A patient of mine last week offered me th( complete explanation, when 1 asked him why he had taken heroin for the last eight years, with the exception of the time he had spent in prison.

'Everyone does it,' he said.

'I don't,' I said.

'Everyone I know.'

So there you have it: in this age of unbridled self-expression, when (to quote our esteemed Minister of Education) the three Cs, culture, creativity and community - or is it compassion, caring and crying in public? - have replaced the three Rs, everyone does what everyone else does. But things are not quite as bleak as they seem; there is more variation than at first sight appears.

'Do you have brothers and sisters?' I asked

'Yes, two brothers and two sisters.'

'Do any of them take heroin?'

'No,' he replied.

'So it's not quite true, then, that veryone you know takes heroin?'

Suffice it to say that he did not greet my exposure of the contradiction between what he said and the truth with the pleasure that a disinterested searcher after knowledge might have expressed.

'I've been trying to give up for years,' he said. 'But it's everywhere.' Then he uttered the heartfelt cry of despair that thousands of middle-class housewives since time immemorial have uttered. 'I just can't get the help.'

I moved on. My next patient had spent the last 20 minutes chatting cheerfully on his mobile phone. Having made arrangements for the evening, he wore a complacent grin, and it surprised me to learn that the night before he had taken an overdose. …

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