"In the past few decades, a peculiar and distinctive psychology has emerged in England. Gone are the civility, sturdy independence, and admirable stoicism that carried the English through the war years. It has been replaced by a constant whine of excuses, complaints, and special pleading. The collapse of the British character has been as swift and complete as the collapse of British power. (Page 5)
"It is a curious characteristic of our age that cultural influences now seem to flow from the lower social classes upward, rather than from the upper classes downward…And just as Britain in the most culturally degraded country in Europe, so does its cultural influence grow." (Page 55)
These are tough statements coming from a Brit of extraordinary talent, and he backs them up. This extraordinary thinker and writer is a British psychiatrist, now working for the Manhattan Institute. He is Theodore Dalrymple.
Dr. Dalrymple worked for many years as a psychiatrist among the English underclass in prison hospitals, as well as in and prison psychiatric facilities in urban England. In addition, he has worked internationally among third world populations on several continents, giving him unique comparatives. During his years of work among the third world peoples and among the British underclass, he observed, conceptualized, and wrote about them.
Over our chaotic summer, I read his collection of essays entitled Life at the Bottom, and I am rereading it now because there is just too much of value to absorb in a single reading. This book is immensely refreshing, not only because it is so well written, but also for the author's ability to conceptualize and integrate completely without the influence of political correctness. There is so much in this book that I will have to pen a series of articles; for now, this article is simply an introduction to Life at the Bottom and only a hint about its profound meaning for us in the United States of America.
Please be advised that Life at the Bottom is not a set of tales about psychiatric disorders. Some psychiatric vignettes are featured, when they are relevant to Dr. Dalrymple's diagnostics about the social-cultural-philosophical meanings behind the behaviors of the British underclass, i.e., those at the bottom of socio-economic existence.
What it is, and how it came to be, are matched with its meaning to the cultural state of all of contemporary England, upper through lower classes. What's more, everything Dr. Dalrymple says about the meaning of the underclass-middle class dyad applies equally to contemporary American society, and to all of contemporary Western civilization.
This book is a revelation.
[Life at the Bottom; by Theodore Dalrymple; Softcover; Ivan R. Dee, Publisher, Chicago; 2001; ISBN = 1-56663-505-5]
"A specter is haunting the Western world: the underclass.
"The underclass is not poor, at least by the standards that have prevailed throughout the great majority of human history. It exists, to a varying degree, in all Western societies. Like every other social class, it has benefited enormously from the vast general increase in wealth of the past hundred years. In certain respects, indeed, it enjoys amenities and comforts that would have made a Roman emperor or an absolute monarch gasp. Nor is it politically oppressed: it fears neither to speak its mind nor the midnight knock on the door. Yet its existence is wretched nonetheless, with a special wretchedness that is peculiarly its own." (Page vii)
The modern British underclass are the spawn of the ideas of modern liberalism, which have infected the West to ever-increasing degrees since Immanuel Kant. For England, they reflect that poor country's internal intellectual rot and possible demise. For us in America, they reflect the fact that we are following England's course. We may have time to turn around; England may not.
This is not a happy book, although it is an excellent book. It cites copious evidence about what is the British underclass, how it differs from any prior British underclass in all of English history, and who caused it as well as how it was caused. It is such a good book, however, that it is almost impossible to put down, even on the second reading.
The British underclass consists of those at the bottom of the social-economic spectrum. However, they are unlike the "poor" anywhere in third world countries; they are first world products.
"…[H]aving previously worked as a doctor in some of the poorest countries in Africa, as well as in very poor countries in the Pacific and Latin America, I have little hesitation in saying 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." (Page viii)
Why do they exist? How did they come to be? Life at the Bottom provides the answers and in so doing becomes a monument attesting the incredible power of ideas--those producing and sustaining the underclass.
The behavior of the underclass comes from the ideas they hold and how they use them. Such patterns are "entirely self-destructive ones." They hold a characteristic Weltanschauung, or worldview, that makes them the source of their own misery.
Some examples include "locutions of passivity," meaning that they rationalize that things just "happen" to them, with the causative agents always outside themselves. They take no responsibility for anything. They are all victims, in their minds. Dishonesty, denial, and self-deception run rampant in their thinking. For example, when asked by Dr. Dalrymple, a man claimed that his psychopathy came from his "being easily led." Dr. Dalrymple asked him if he was ever easily led to study mathematics or the subjunctives of French verbs. The man quickly caught on. The underclass are passive and fatalistic; their speech reflects their need to see themselves as helpless, or as Dr. Dalrymple puts it, "They describe themselves as the marionettes of happenstance."
A murderer told Dr. Dalrymple that it was just his "bad luck" to be in prison for murder. He failed to grasp his own role in causing the murder. Similarly, other murderers, when explaining why they murdered, use expressions like "The knife went in." These are people who live in the abyss between the reversal of cause and effect and a lack of sense of causality at all.
Evasion is their most important mechanism, the willful suspension of thought, and Dr. Dalrymple breaks through their self-serving victimhood easily by asking obvious questions, ones that the other doctors avoid out of fear of political incorrectness.
In a particularly illuminating paragraph, Dr. Dalrymple explains the "psychobabble of the slums" by exposing one of the mental devices criminals use to deny that the good part of them (the Real Me) participates in crime. To them, they are the Real Me, i.e., the good me. The explanation that follows is pure Kant:
"The Real Me is has nothing to do with the phenomenal me, the me that snatches old ladies' bags, breaks into other people's houses, beats up my wife and children, or repeatedly drinks too much and gets involved in brawls. No, the Real Me is an immaculate conception, untouched by human conduct: it is that unassailable core of virtue that enables me to retain my self-respect whatever I do. What I am is not at all determined by what I do; and insofar as what I do has any moral significance at all, it is up to others to ensure that the phenomenal me acts in accordance with the Real Me." (Page 10)
(Future articles will elaborate on the cognitive profile of the underclass.)
From where did this British underclass come? "Human behavior cannot be explained without reference to the meaning and intentions people give to their acts and omission…This ingredient is to be found in the realm of ideas." (Page ix) This, having been said, from where has this underclass gotten its characteristic postmodern ideas?
"…[M]ost of the social pathology exhibited by the underclass has its origin in ideas that have filtered down from the intelligentsia." …"[T]heir ideas were adopted both literally and wholesale in the lowest and most vulnerable social class." (Page x)
"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." (Page xi - xii)
These rotten philosophical ideas, which have dominated the West from Kant to the present, produced the modern liberal, and it is the modern liberal who spawned the underclass, among other damages. Dr. Dalrymple elaborates at length about these ideas in later chapters.
(As an aside, it is impossible from this book to classify Dr. Dalrymple as "liberal," "conservative," or "libertarian" in the senses we use those terms in America. He is clearly a man devoted to reason, individualism, and freedom. Of interest, he states that his father was a Communist.)
Throughout the book, he delineates with great clarity how the British intellectuals have brought Britain into its current moribund state. He characterizes contemporary England as "the regime of zero intolerance," of the irrational--the gift of modern liberals.
"…[I]f blame is to be apportioned, it is the intellectuals who deserve most of it. They should have known better but always preferred to avert their gaze. They considered the purity of their ideas to be more important than the actual consequences of their ideas."
The underclass and the disintegration of Britain are the consequences of their ideas.
However, reality is serving justice:
"Worse still, cultural relativism spreads all too easily. The tastes, conduct, and mores of the underclass are seeping up the social scale with astonishing rapidity…Where fashion in clothes, bodily adornment, and music are concerned, it is the underclass that increasingly sets the pace. Never before has there been so much downward cultural aspiration." (Page xiv)
Modern liberal thinking now dominates local and national government, all of British education at all levels, police, and mores.
The chickens of the modern British liberals are coming home to roost.