401: An Unbridgeable Gulf.

I feel I inhabit a different moral and cultural universe from that of my young compatriots: I feel more abroad when I am at home than I do when I am abroad. I realized recently that there was an unbridgeable gulf of sentiment between us when I was teaching a master’s course to toxicology students. Needless to say, they were far from being bad young people: they were intelligent and pleasant, even if their cultural interests were scarcely distinguishable from those of people much less educated than they (this is a characteristic of modern Britain). Somehow or other, the subject of self-control came up after my lecture, and I described how, in my childhood, it was regarded as a rather low-grade thing to do to eat on the street, and furthermore that it was regarded as a moral discipline not to eat between meals even if you were hungry. You ate with others, or not at all, and the fact that you sometimes refrained from eating when you were hungry, and were sometimes obliged to eat when you were not hungry, taught a very important lesson, namely that your inclination of the moment was not the only thing to be consulted in making a decision as to how to act.

The students laughed, much as they might have done had I been describing some outlandish practice of a backward or primitive tribe. How peculiar it was to them that anyone should think of delaying gratification when there was no necessity to do so. Perhaps it is not altogether surprising that many of the criminals whom I used to meet in the prison in which I worked had never, in their entire lives, sat down and eaten at a table with another person.

(Theodore Dalrymple, “The End of Virtuous Albion,” The New Criterion, Vol. XXIV, No. 1, 2005).

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401: An Unbridgeable Gulf.