DISPATCHES FROM THE EDUCATION APOCALYPSE: Theodore Dalrymple on “Burning Indignation — A law student’s callous treatment of a homeless man sparks a national outrage:”
In February 2017, an 18-year-old Cambridge University law student, Ronald Coyne, was filmed on the streets of Cambridge at night burning a £20 note in front of a 31-year-old homeless man, Ryan Davies, who had asked him politely for spare change. According to Davies, Coyne said, “I’ll give you some change. I’ve changed it into fire.” Coyne then continued down the street as if he had done nothing worthy of note. A member of the university’s Conservative club, he was drunk at the time—though not dead drunk, for he was more swaggering than staggering—and dressed in white tie and tails.
The video of the encounter went viral; a picture of the young man, looking very pleased with himself, appeared in most British newspapers. Public condemnation swelled. Before long, 23,000 people signed a petition calling for his expulsion from the university.
In a drop of rain, said the eminent British historian Sir Lewis Namier, can be seen the colors of the sun: and in this episode, brief and simple as it appeared, all the social, political, and philosophical conflicts of modern British society, and perhaps of Western society in general, can be seen.
No decent person could witness, or read of, Coyne’s conduct without revulsion. But expressing a universally shared disgust is not enough; it is necessary to go deeper and analyze the reasons for it. Why did the incident—relatively harmless, compared with the examples of violence and savage acts that fill the British tabloids daily—provoke such outrage?
Well worth reading the whole thing, as all the parties involved in the story eventually come under the thorough scrutiny of Dr. Dalrymple.