Magazine article The Spectator

Second Opinion

Magazine article The Spectator

Second Opinion

Article excerpt

Needless to say, the full beauty of the human personality could not possibly emerge until man had freed himself from the sheer economic necessity that previously so deformed his whole being. That is why the welfare state is so noble an enterprise, an unprecedented development in the history of mankind: it has at last enabled man, in the words of Marx, to become truly human.

Could there have been a better demonstration of this indubitable truth than my patient last week? She had, in a manner of speaking, attempted to kill herself by the usual method: vodka and pills. She ascribed her wish to die rather loosely to 'everything', but I have long since ceased to ascribe misery - at least the misery of others - to nothing as philosophical as the constitution of the entire universe. Something a little more local is usually the matter.

My patient was good-looking and intelligent. Of course, intelligence is a grave liability in lower-class English life, for it sensitises people who possess it to the empty stupidity of the life around them: intelligence being a god that will not be mocked, or mocked for long. The only liability worse than intelligence on an English housing estate is sensitivity. To be sensitive on an English housing estate is like being lowered slowly into a bath of acid.

My patient had four children by two different men, three by the first and one by the second. Neither was much good, but only the second was violent. They did not contribute to the upkeep of their children, and it was the continual financial struggle that drove my patient to despair. …

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