It's hard not to enjoy Dalrymple's writing. It's vivid, often humorous, and well-informed by his personal experience. (I somehow feel sure that he is much kinder speaking to his patients than about them.) But the principal pleasures of the reader are a kind of Schadenfreude and a self-satisfaction, a feeling of superiority. Reading this book could well be an intellectual's equivalent of watching Jerry Springer. He is using this guilty pleasure to draw us to his own conclusions about personal responsibility and the ideology of victimization. While many of his instances are valid, let us please not ignore the many real victims who exist, and the destruction caused by that still-flourishing activity of blaming the victim.
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A morality tale unlike any other20 mars 2005
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I got this book after listening to Mr. Dalrymple interviewed by Dennis Prager, a radio host based in Los Angeles. I was raised in a lowerclass family which fell from the middle class when my dad would not stop drinking and spending money on "toys" for himself rather than things like the rent and the electric bill. We moved from cheap apartment complex to cheap apartment complex. Like many of the individuals described in Life at the Bottom, my own father found blame for his "misfortunes" in everyone and everything but himself and his lack of selfcontrol when it came to alcohol, money, and his temper. I have watched friends raised in middle class homes end up on welfare or living hand-to-mouth because they have not one or two, but three or more children with three or more men (who, of course, pay no support and never marry the women), and their low-level office jobs cannot possibly pay for the needs of a family of 4. Yet without exception the women blame "men" as the foundation of their problems, not their own promiscuity or their apparent lack of knowledge concerning the rudiments of birth control. It was with these experiences in mind that I read Life at the Bottom. Mr Dalrymple shows in essay after essay how the choices the underclass in Britain make determines their destiny. There are countless parallels to American life - the rampant gambling that goes on in casinos and in bingo parlors (and those who cannot stop then blame the casino for their problem!); the spending of needed cash on lottery tickets; the horrible standard of education that graduates illiterate young adults who can barely add in their heads; the ignorance of science, history and math that students display; women who go from one violent man to another, making baby after baby with them and then saying they "love him" and cannot leave him. The stories are pathetic and frustrating because the "victims" are their own hindrance. They live in some sort of parallel universe where they have no more control over their emotions or actions than a squirrel or a worm, and blame their problems on the government, the bureaucracy, their parents, the pubs, the casinos, their teachers... everyone carries the victim's sin on their own shoulders, because the underclass itself is not responsible for anything. One story that has stayed with me was one in which Mr. Dalrymple says the patients he sees often refer to their violent, brutish, immoral behavior as "not really me," as though inside the skin of a drunken, gang-banging wife-beater beats the heart of a noble knight that is too deeply imbedded to be truly exercised. Some reviewers have noted that the author does a lot of complaining, yet has no answers. That is the point of the book, isn't it? There is no one outside of these people who can change them. More government agencies? More welfare money? More policemen? What? The entire theme of the book is the relinquishing of personal responsibility by the underclass so that they can live and die as they see fit and someone else can foot the bill. How many young men in Britain are forced to rob cars, rape women, steal food, skip school, have numerous children by numerous women, tattoo and pierce themselves, drink themselves silly in pubs, etc? What magic pill is there for these miscreants that does not come from inside the individual himself?
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Uncomfortable facts - but face reality!23 janvier 2002
RPA in VIrginia
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The review from Publisher's Weekly makes many points, but begins with a fallacy: Dalrymple's repeated claim is precisely that these people are NOT 'trapped in destructive behaviors and environments' but that most of them, while they may well feel trapped, are there as a consequence of their own choices. His examples and insights are particularly useful for Americans who naturally associate these behaviors with our own experience, where they correlate with race. Dalrymple makes it clear that they do correlate with culture (e.g. different populations from India now residing in Britain have very different crime and drop-out rates,though they all look 'Indian' and so should all have the same experience of racism or non-inclusion). The book is a collection of shorter pieces and could have used some editing of content (to reduce repetition) and of style (the vocabulary editing for the U.S. reader is inconsistent), but the cumulative evidence of Dalrymple's experience cannot be waved away. As he points out early on, if a person's fate in life is pre-determined by his social and physical environment, then we should all still be living in caves... Certainly in a modern and liberal society, citizens have the right to pursue their own lives and their own visions (and versions) of 'happiness.' But whether the rest of us should subsidize the layabouts is another question. Publisher's Weekly is quite wrong in saying that he 'offers few conrete or theoretical solutions.' Dalrymple is crystal clear on that: take responsibility for your own life; the greater community will help in an emergency, but will not provide a home and a meal ticket for years. This book is worthwhile reading for everyone.
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Finally the truth27 octobre 2005
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Some books you either love or you hate. This is one of those books. I myself thought it was one of the greatest I've read all year. 'Life at the Bottom' touches on a variety of topics, and it is to Dalrymple's credit that such a coherent, clear-eyed critique emerged. Something is rotten in the state of modern times. You know it; I know it. At the bottom of all this is a desire to be excused from any restraint and responsibility.
Dalrymple cites from his personal experiences of what well-meaning social theories have wrought on those it meant to help. The results are plainly hideous, but at the same time are glossed over behind talk of sensitivity, diversity and tolerance. Each essay is meandering but interesting - there is no filler. The incoherence of multiculturalism is highlighted in 'Reader, she married him-Alas'. The darker side of freedom is portrayed in 'Freedom to Choose'. My personal favorite was 'Tough Love', which shows the fruits of the sexual revolution in mature bloom. The results seem a mixed blessing at best, and not only because of the unwanted children, the abortions and the broken homes. We demand sexual freedom for ourselves but fidelity from others. A recipe for jealousy if ever there was one, and it is noteworthy that jealousy is the most frequent trigger for violence between the sexes. This incoherence is a large cause for the ever-growing surrealism in our society.
In the end, this book shows that our attitudes author our destiny. Dalrymple says what is considered heresy in many circles - that the poor are there because of life choices. But having spent my childhood among the poor, there are many things in Dalrymple's Britain I immediately recognize. A lack of responsibility, a sense of entitlement, and a vague anger toward any example that would otherwise force them to ask: "why did he make it and not me?" Sadly, they rarely look at the most likely culprit for their failures: themselves. Everyone else is to blame, not me. One must wonder when Dalrymple's essays cease to be anecdotes and start to show the deeper flaws of our progressive ideals. As I read 'Life on the Bottom', I kept hearing myself think: Finally the truth. We've fought the battle for human rights; the battle for human obligation lies ahead.
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Powerful Snapshots of the Underclass10 décembre 2004
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Anyone familiar with the web magazine City Journal has already heard of Theodore Dalrymple. City Journal is one of the best magazines on the web and probably the single best for issues relating to urban concerns. Given the high standards of City Journal, it says something that Dalrymple's writing is probably the best on that site. As a doctor in a British prison and at a hospital in a British slum, he comes into daily contact with members of the underclass and, even more important, with the ideas that guide (or more appropriately, misguide) their lives.
LIFE AT THE BOTTOM is a collection of articles Dalrymple has previously published on the underclass. Many books that republish articles revolving around a central theme often hang together rather loosely. Fortunately that is not the case here. LATB provides a very coherent and very powerful snapshot of the mentality and psychology at play in the slums. The ideas overtly expressed by Dalrymple's patients are painfully seen by people not of the underclass as far more responsible for keeping people mired in poverty than any economic woes that they may be experiencing.
There are many stengths to this book. One of the most important is simply that the essays are so incredibly readable. Dalrymple's essays are very realistic and his subjects vividly portrayed. This ability to portray those in the underclass so well is particularly important given that many others in society refuse to even recognize that the underclass exists. One of the more frightening things I have read in Dalrymple's essays (though I must admit I cannot remember if it was in this book or one of his other published pieces) is when he told of a man at a dinner party who asked Dalrymple, in all seriousness, whether the essays he writes are true!
Another strength of this book was noted by Thomas Sowell. Many factors which keep the underclass in perpetual poverty and turmoil are internal factors such as how one thinks about crime and education rather than external factors such as economics. As most of the underclass in Britain are white, this book allows us to examine those internal social pathologies without the typical howls of racism for even raising the issue. (Though on the down side, this may be used to deny the applicability of Dalrymple's observations to Americans. One friend of mine, a standard leftist whose vision of race has typically been sucked into an ideological vortex, flatly rejected any statement I made about this book because of this.)
Dalrymple unfortunately does not spend much time with the question of what is to be done. The obvious answer is to look at what is being done wrong and then stop doing it. There is a significant problem with this, however. It is true that maladaptive behavior keeping one mired in poverty often seems obvious to those not in the underclass. Yet such people are not in the underclass specifically BECAUSE it is obvious to them. It is not obvious to those in the underclass itself.
Because of this, LATB, while very good in its own right, cannot be read in isolation. Other source material should be read. One excellent book is THE DREAM AND THE NIGHTMARE by Myron Magnet, which discusses how many of the ideas that have had such a devastating impact on the underclass originated among the rich and elite to distance themselves from the rubes of the middle class. The rich, however, usually have a social context preventing them from going off the cliff and also have large safety nets for those few who do. Yet when the same ideas are communicated to the poor, in a further attempt to marginalize middle class morality, the results are far more disastrous, both for the individuals involved and for society as a whole. This helps us to understand that one powerful way of addressing the problems of the underclass is to focus not simply on the underclass itself (though certainly this must be done) but also on the elites whose ideas have helped create this problem but whose finances have allowed them to live comfortably away from it.
If nothing else, LATB provides an excellent service by instructing us that the underclass does exist and that the problems attendant with it are due more to attitudes and opinions rather than lack of cash. To Dalrymple's dinner guest, the answer is yes, these stories are unfortunately all too real.
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Top-notch social commentary30 décembre 2005
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Sometimes quotes do a book the greatest justice, and since Dalrymple is a far better writer than I am, I'll give you a few excerpts.
"The combination of relativism and antipathy to traditional culture has played a large part in creating the underclass, thus turning Britain from a class to a caste society. ... Henceforth what they had and what they did was as good as anything, because all cultures and all cultural artifacts are equal. Aspiration was therefore pointless: and thus they have been immobilized in their poverty -- material, mental, and spiritual -- as completely as the damned in Dante's Inferno. Having in large part created this underclass, the British intelligentsia, guilty about its own allegedly undemocratic antecedents, feels obliged to flatter it by imitation and has persuaded the rest of the middle class to do likewise."
"The designs of [professional tattooists] are elaborate and often executed with exquisite skill, though I am reminded of an old medical dictum that if a thing is not worth doing -- radical mastectomy, for instance -- it is not worth doing well."
"Very few of the sixteen-year-olds whom I meet as patients can read and write with facility; they do not even regard my question as to whether they can read and write as in the least surprising or insulting. ... One can tell merely by the way these youths handle a pen or a book that they are unfamiliar with these instruments."
"I cannot recall meeting a sixteen-year-old white from the public housing estates that are near my hospital who could multiply nine times seven (I do not exaggerate). Even three by seven often defeats them. One boy of seventeen told me, 'We didn't get that far.'"
"Even in behavior, the new orthodoxy for all classes is that, since nothing is better and nothing is worse, the worse is better because it is more demotic."
Even quotes can't really do the book justice; you really need the full context to appreciate the depth of Dalrymple's thought and insight. If you only have $12 left in your bank account, spend it on this book.