Book Review: Life at the Bottom

Kunk Fu Zoby Kung Fu Zu 6/22/14
Theodore Dalrymple, aka Anthony Daniels, is the most incisive social critic writing in the English language today. His writing style is elegant and witty. These soften, somewhat, the harshness of his message which is alarming.

Dalrymple is a medical doctor and psychiatrist who worked in several African countries and the Gilbert Islands before returning to the U.K. There he worked in the east end of London, inner city Birmingham, and at Winson Green Prison, coming into contact with the less salubrious orders of English society. With his unusual background, Dalrymple is able to view English culture from a broader perspective than either his patients or the “intellectuals” who he holds responsible for much of the corruption apparent in England, specifically, and the West, in general.

Life At The Bottom is a collection of about twenty essays written over the period from about 1990 to 2000 while Dalrymple worked in Birmingham. The book is written for an educated public, not for academics. But having seen thousands of patients over the years, Dalrymple’s observations must be given due credence since they are based on empirical observation, not theoretical suppositions.[pullquote]“there is said to be no correct grammar or spelling, so there is no higher or lower culture; difference itself is the only recognized distinction.” Daniels writes, “This is a view peddled by intellectuals eager to demonstrate to one another their broadmindedly democratic sentiment.”[/pullquote]

In his introduction, Dalrymple lays out the present state of affairs as regards the British “underclass”. They are not poor in the literal, old-fashioned sense as they have material wealth that “would have made a Roman emperor or absolute monarch gasp.” Neither are they oppressed politically. Yet for all that, Dalrymple notes they live in a “wretchedness that is peculiarly its own.” He goes so far to say that based on his experience having worked in various poor countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin American “that the mental, cultural, emotional, and spiritual impoverishment of the Western underclass is the greatest of any large group of people I have ever encountered anywhere.”—- Think of the enormity of that statement.

What is the cause of this misery? In Dalrymple’s view it is, “The climate of moral, cultural, and intellectual relativism – a relativism that began as a mere fashionable plaything for intellectuals – has been successfully communicated to those least able to resist its devastating practical effects.” He gives a wonderful example of this when he mentions Steven Pinker’s dubious claim regarding language, i.e. the idea that “there is no grammatically-correct form of language.” Such theories have filtered down into society and gone on to harm countless children in numerous ways. Dalrymple demonstrates the evil destructive logic of such theories. He points out that once such a theory is accepted by the teaching establishment, teachers will “feel absolved from the arduous task of correcting” pupils. The pupils themselves will learn of such theories and “resent correction as illegitimate and therefore humiliating.” And contrary to Pinker’s gimcrack idea that children “are destined to learn to speak it (their language) adequately for their needs, and that all forms of language are equally expressive”, Daniels has personally experienced the underclass’ inability to express themselves clearly, much to their disadvantage. “Me Tarzan you Jane” may have worked for Johnny Weissmuller, but given the realities of our world, where clarity of expression is such an advantage, one has to wonder if Pinker is a knave or a fool?

Intellectuals, like Pinker, have taken such ideas further and arrived at the conclusion, “there is said to be no correct grammar or spelling, so there is no higher or lower culture; difference itself is the only recognized distinction.” Daniels writes, “This is a view peddled by intellectuals eager to demonstrate to one another their broadmindedly democratic sentiment.” While I agree this is part of the reason, I believe it is also a view perpetrated on the plebs in order to keep them from getting above themselves. Hypocrisy and mendacity work together well for the haves both in academia and the political Left. Unfortunately, they have been able to infect all levels of society with this cultural relativism.

Unlike most social and political commentators of our time, Dalrymple is able and willing to call a spade a spade. He exposes the true reality of life in the underclass thus lays “bare the origin of that reality, which is the propagation of bad, trivial, and often insincere ideas. Much of the wretchedness of that reality is to be laid at the feet of the “intellectuals” who “considered the purity of their ideas to be more important than the actual consequences of their ideas. I know of no egoism more profound.” This statement holds true for all such egotistical theorists, including Libertarians.

Each piece in the book deals with a specific area in which nonsense, dishonesty, and stupidity have taken deep root in our society.

In the first article, he deals with the intellectual’s ability to deny the obvious “when reality is unpleasant and at variance with his preconceptions and when full acknowledgement of it would undermine the foundations of his intellectual worldview.” I find this particularly humorous given the pretentiousness displayed by intellectuals, such as Richard Dawkins, who advise us all to question everything and learn from our own experiences. Yet they are not able to admit the empirical evidence, which is on display everyday outside of the corridors of academia and the media. Do you think perhaps they are feather-bedding phonies?

Dalrymple recounts personal encounters with individuals from the publishing world and BBC as examples of such “intellectuals.” These people are intelligent, successful and well read, but completely out of touch with others not in their upper-middleclass bubble. They could not believe that the people and problems Dalrymple described in his articles really existed. Furthermore, they are able to rationalize away all doubt in a way, which would amaze even the little boy who found horse droppings in his Christmas stocking and thought Santa had left him a pony.

In another chapter he deals with the modern Englishman’s willingness to sacrifice personal freedom in exchange for security and denial of personal responsibility. He goes through various discussions he has had with “patients” in prison who spoke about themselves and their crimes as if they were bystanders. This attitude seems to be a combination of an increased passivity in their attitude toward life and a cynical realization that if one can use the excuse that “he couldn’t control himself”, then he is not really responsible for his crime. When Dalrymple confronts these “patients” with a few questions (the answers to which will debunk their claims that they couldn’t help themselves) it becomes clear they are simply coming up with excuses to shift responsibility.

Dalrymple asks why such attitudes should occur when “objectively speaking, freedom and opportunity for the individual have never been greater.” According to him, one of the main reasons is the “legions of social workers, therapists and helpers whose income and careers depend crucially on the supposed incapacity of large numbers of people to fend for themselves or behave reasonably. Without the supposed powerlessness of drug addicts, burglars, and others in the face of their own undesirable inclinations, there would be nothing for the professional redeemers to do. They have a vested interest in psychopathology, and their entire therapeutic world view of the patient as the passive, helpless victim of illness legitimizes the very behavior from which they are to redeem him. Indeed, the tangible advantages to the wrongdoer of appearing helpless are now so great that he needs but little encouragement to do so.” No wonder the Leviathan continues to grow.

In later chapters Dalrymple covers other pathologies such as attempted suicides, battered women who have several children from different fathers yet never learn the cause of their grief, the disdain for honestly earned wealth yet the acceptance of wealth from gambling and the tendency of the system to protect the criminal, not the victim.

If you are interested in uncovering the true consequences of the moral relativism which permeates our society, you could do no better than to read this and other books by Theodore Dalrymple. But get ready, because things are worse than you think. You will come away better informed and, hopefully, less inclined to let such corrupt dishonesty slide the next time you encounter it. Maybe you will even start fighting it. • (2206 views)

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16 Responses to Book Review: Life at the Bottom

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Excellent review, Mr. Kung. Yep…that’s the same book I read.

    One thing I haven’t been able to gauge from reading his books on the subject of this vile, brutish, and often pathetic British underclass, is how large that class is. Let me know if you have any ideas on that.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      As I recall, Dalrymple mentioned something like 20% of the U.K.’s population falls into the underclass. And it seems to be growing, at least if pathological behavior is any indication.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    I haven’t read the book (and I’m not sure I could, unless it was in small bits), though I’ve read his articles in National Review. It’s easy to imagine that the social workers do their best to create a need for themselves. LBJ’s purpose in designing his “War on Poverty” as he did was to involve much of the middle class, so that they would be the beneficiaries as much as the actual poor. It was wasteful, but politically more potent, which was all that mattered to him. By that time, there were already some Democrats (such as Adam Clayton Powell, as Nat Hentoff discovered to his regret) who sought to keep their constituents poor and therefore dependent, and the rest were unwilling to break up the arrangement.

    As for the “treason of the clerks”, it’s well to remember that the word “intelligentsia” (i.e., the intellectuals as a class) comes from Russian. And their arrogance and lack of concern for reality is why Orwell had such contempt for them, noting that some things were too idiotic to be believed — except by an intellectual.

    • David Ray says:

      Any way we can get Mark Steyn to contribute here? I’m certain Brad Nelson would back him up better than NRO did. (They preferred the Boehner approach and caved in to Michael Mann.)

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        I’d love to have Mark Steyn commenting here from time to time. I’m sure that his time is already in demand. But I envision this place as being sort of like Rick’s Café Américain where anyone can sit down and sing La Marseillaise as the fancy strikes them. He ought to drop by. It’s one of the few places left where you’ll find the unvarnished truth.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Well, then Steyn ought to show up occasionally. After all, Everyone Comes to Rick’s (which is the name of the original play Casablanca was based on).

  3. Anniel says:

    Thank you for an excellent review. Dr. Dalrymple is an amazing man and writer. I depended on his blog for information on socialized medicine when Hillarycare was in the works. Reading him now on healthcare in the UK and the permanent underclass is
    a time capsule of what is happening to us.

  4. David Ray says:

    This article reminds of a serious intellectual idiot; Franz Boas – the pioneer in cultural anthropology. His main legacy was cultural relativism, the notion that no culture can be held in a higher position than any other.

    Let’s do compare cultures.
    Art: we have Rembrandt. They have “graffiti” art (I painted better in first grade).
    Music: we have Jazz (uniquely American). They have no instruments.
    Literature: we have volumes. They have no printing press.
    War: we had the maxim. They had spears.

    I could drone on, but will instead state the obvious. Our culture saw progression. Others accepted stagnation. There’s reason why the four corners of the globe wants in here. Liberals want unthankful dregs. We want contributors.
    (Oh, and by the way; Margaret Mead had to walk back her thesis. Oops.)

  5. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Reading Dalrymple does not give me a lot of hope for mankind backing away from Cultural Marxism.

    Even Dalrymple falls a little short in his evaluation of the Left. Dennis Prager calls Leftism the most dynamic religion in the West. And if you look at your average rank-and-file person — not the committed and zealous Leftist — it’s hard not to agree.

    Leftism is an entire ethical system, identity, worldview, and superstition all rolled into one.

    But he does describe some of this. I agree with Dalrymple, for example, that the view of this underclass of people as helpless victims is something the vast welfare bureaucracy necessarily buys into, if only for job security.

    I think there’s a bigger issue here, and one that Mr. Kung has talked about before. These people who are mired in the degraded values of socialism/Leftism are props for the rest of society. Thomas Sowell calls them “mascots.” Their purpose is to show liberals how compassionate they supposedly are. I’m sure Glenn Fairman would call this a case of narcissism because the liberals who support this creation of, and destruction of, the lower classes doesn’t give a rat’s ass whether their lives are being bettered or not.

    Allan West and others have rightly called this situation in America, particularly regarding blacks, as just another plantation. Rush notes that the Democrat Party relies on creating a permanent dependent class.

    I still remain somewhat naive about all this. It’s still hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that so many can so cold-bloodedly use these people for nothing more than political power and/or as a kind of Middle Ages Indulgence. That idea is consistent with another things that Dennis Prager notes is that liberalism is a religion whereby if you simply say you believe in its tenets, and at least give nominal support (mouthing the slogans, etc.), then your own crummy behavior is excused.

    Ted Kennedy is a perfect example of this.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Interesting. You may recall the Atlanta Olympic bombing, which was falsely blamed on a guy who was accused of “Munchausen syndrone” — a desire to put others in danger in order to play the hero by rescuing them. So you’re suggesting that liberals basically use the poor and victim-identity-group members in that same way. Makes sense to me, knowing the pathological nature of liberalism.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Who knows what resides in men’s souls? But it is apparent that a good number of people could care less if their governmental “help” actually helped. How else to explain Detroit or any number of other situations?

        It is generally understood that what counts to a number of people (inside or outside of politics) is just be be superficially seen to be a do-gooder. Part of this is just human nature, people taking the path that is easiest, for actually doing good requires more effort.

        And surely part of this is a fruit of the self-esteem movement which emphasizes one’s personal sense of feeling good as the highest priority.

  6. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I started reading Dalrymple’s “Farewell Fear” last night. It’s a collection of newspaper essays.

    We were speaking about reason and I thought this was a pretty good observation:

    A rationalist is a person who proclaims his own preferences to be metaphysically sound.

  7. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    A short piece by Dalrymple which gets to the core of things. Given the nature of our rulers, we need constant reminding of what he writes.

    http://takimag.com/article/the_soviet_way_theodore_dalrymple

    I couldn’t agree more with what he writes about mediocrity. In the particular instance of American culinary culture, I often say that American cuisine has reached a very high level of mediocrity. This could also be said of many other facets of or culture.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      That’s a frightening thought, that the Establishment forces us to accept lies in order to break us. It certainly isn’t hard to think of a bunch of them — indeed, the whole point of political correctness is to hide reality, be it about transgenders or jihadists or Black Shakedowns Matter.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I love his point about mediocrity being the norm. Few want to admit it. But most things we do is mediocre. Many people might even aspire to mere mediocrity. Certainly one escape from our normality is owning nice stuff. I must admit, although I don’t feel “special” for owning a Macintosh computer, I do like owning something premium, something that is not mediocre. Certainly some gloss is achieved from this, for better or for worse. And I think everyone should have something — large or small — that at least keeps in front of their eyes something of excellence, something to inspire and delight them. But we too commonly now elevate computer-enhanced mediocrity and call it Frank Sinatra. We put Jesus in a jar of urine and call it the Pietà. We delight at streams of f-bombs and call it wit.

      But when mediocrity has power, watch it. Isn’t that the very definition of Hillary Clinton? And that is a point I’ve heard before about one very large aspect of propaganda being about humiliating people. Do not we see people becoming very used to soaking in someone else’s lies? Could a Trump or a Hillary presidency (or either party’s main source of power, for that matter) have existed without a populace more than ready to swallow down cheap lies?

      That’s why I say that Trump is the culmination of this Soviet Way that Dalrymple talks about, not the cause of it. We have elected P.T. Barnum for president. However, his uncouth manner should not distract from the fact that little liars such as Paul Ryan — the man who looks like a Boy Scout — simply puts a nicer face on it.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        This reminds me of Dr. Watson’s observation in The Valley of Fear that mediocrity recognizes better than that, whereas talent recognizes and appreciates brilliance.

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