Magazine article The Spectator

Second Opinion

Magazine article The Spectator

Second Opinion

Article excerpt

DURING the French Revolution, the Jacobin mob let the animals out of the menagerie at the Jardin des Plantes, to free them from the royalist captivity in which they had for so long languished. This great act of libertarian magnanimity was soon followed, naturally enough, by the death of the vast majority of the animals, slaughtered by their liberators.

I am sure there is a moral to this story, but I hesitate to draw it, not only because I am not sure what it is, but because -- whatever it is - it is bound to be uncongenial to the temper of our times and to lead to recrimination. Analogy, after all, is a dangerous game. Besides, it is so difficult to say these days who are the mob and who the animals.

Suffice it to say that, generally speaking, human behaviour is not all it might be. The evidence is all around us. I admit that my view may be somewhat coloured by the nature of my medical practice, but better a jaundiced eye than rose-tinted spectacles. When it comes to judging the world and its inhabitants you can't go far wrong by assuming the worst.

I walked into a prison cell last week and found a man writing a poem (prison, like love, often brings out the poet in people). His poem was encouragingly entitled 'I Am the Celestial Parasite'. The first, and so far only, line went, perhaps not altogether surprisingly, 'I am the celestial parasite.'

`You don't think it's a little grandiose, do you?' I asked. `It'll be a bit difficult to think of a climax after that beginning.'

`But it's true.'

`Perhaps you are a parasite,' I said, `but I think celestial is going a bit far. …

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