Self-pity: the last resort of scoundrels and monsters

A long time ago, I used to subscribe to the paper version of City Journal. It’s a very well produced and intelligent magazine that features/d many very good writers. Theodore Dalrymple, for one. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get past the “City” focus, New York City, and I eventually let the subscription lapse.

Anyway, back to Dalrymple; he wrote a nice long piece about the Limey mass murderer, Raoul Moat. Moat was able to bounce back and forth between murderous aggression and self-pity.

No one, not even the most murderous psychopath, is so lacking in compassion that he does not pity himself. Indeed, exaggerated self-pity may be one of the salient characteristics of those who commit the most awful acts, for it is what justifies almost anything in a mind devoid of balance and proportion.


As Moat saw it, he was not the author of his own actions: they (the psychologists with whom he never kept an appointment, Stobbart, the prison officials, the police) made him do it.

This is also the theme of Dalrymple’s book Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass (2003), in which one of the chapters, The Knife Went In, describes someone who stabbed another, a deed for which they refused to accept responsibility.

there are three stabbers (two of them unto death) at present in the prison who used precisely the same expression when describing to me what happened. “The knife went in,” they said when pressed to recover their allegedly lost memories of the deed.

I think this falls right in line with the Gramscien Damage post from a few days ago and the list of memetic themes innoculated into the West from the USSR.

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