11 January 2011

Book Review

Life at the Bottom by Theodore Dalrymple

This is hands-down the most depressing book I’ve ever read.  Part of the reason for this stems from the sheer depths of spiritual despair contained throughout the book; part of it stems from the gnawing realization that the same things are happening over here.

Dalrymple, in the several vignettes of the book is composed, paints an extraordinarily bleak picture of human behavior.  He recounts how some of his patients attempt suicide:  some in order to emotionally blackmail their spouse, some in order to escape from the meaningless of their life, some in order to escape from their families, and still others in order to attain certain privileges extended by the generous British welfare system.  And this isn’t an uncommon or unintentional occurrence, either.  His patients know exactly what they’re doing:  they make sure to take a dose that is large enough to send them to the hospital but not large enough to kill them or cause lasting damage.

Law enforcement agencies don’t do anything at all.  Dalrymple explains throughout the book that the police are often prevented from interfering, since that might trample on the rights of others.  The criminologists are of the sort that thinks crime is caused by society, and that criminals are never at fault.  As such, they bind policemen with inane rules that prevent them from ensuring order.  They also criticize them for targeting minorities, even though minorities commit a disproportionately large number of the crimes.  The police, in turn, target the innocent citizens who made the unfortunate mistake of defending themselves, their property, or the helpless.  It’s a backwards system.

In addition, Dalrymple provides clear examples of how cultural relativism has destroyed the once great British nation.  Because all cultures are equal, no one can judge or criticize those who deviate from societal norms, since those norms don’t truly exist anyway.  This has led to the increasingly widespread abuse of women.  Indian and Muslim immigrants go to Britain to have better opportunities.  What they seem unable to realize is that the British culture that they self-righteously protest is the very culture that enabled them to have such opportunities in the first place.  Instead of assimilating, they keep their own culture.  This has led to arranged marriages, enforced by threat of punishment.  Family pride is so strong among some minority cultures that refusal to comply carries with it a veritable death sentence.  Dalrymple recounts one case where a man threatened to kill his wife because their daughter refused to get married to the man they arranged for her.  Others have gone farther, and threaten to kill the daughter herself.  But since everything is relative, law enforcement is expected to sit idly by.

But it isn’t like the underclass, as Dalrymple refers to those at the bottom, lacks the capacity for self-control.  They certainly claim, to be sure.  Their criminal behavior is treated like a disease to be cured; and no one is ever at fault for his or her own actions:  society is always to blame.  And yet, their criminal behavior is under control when they are in jail, when they face punishment or probation, when they are in public.  Strangely, they seem perfectly able to exercise self-control when they have the incentive to do so.  Far too often, though, they lack that incentive.  They live in a nanny state, where one person’s problem is society’s problem.

Even worse, though, is the ignorance of the population.  They have been schooled, yes, but they have never been educated.  Moral relativism has crept into the classroom.  Children aren’t expected to learn, since the bureaucrats in charge of education are more concerned about children’s self-esteem than they are about their development.  It seems that the bureaucrats are unable to figure out the accomplishment drives self-esteem, not vice versa.  And so the uneducated underclass doesn’t know when World War I occurred.  They don’t know how to form a coherent sentence.  In a word, they are unemployable.  Understandably, their outlook is untiringly bleak.  It should come as no surprise, then, that they deal with this by yielding to unrestrained hedonism.  Ultimately, their life is waste, to be cursed by the productive from whom they steal.

The book is unrelentingly depressing.  And you can’t put it down, because it’s a horror story, and you have to know how it ends.  Even now, the grand experiment is still in progress, continuing its downward spiral.  We already know how it ends.

1 comment:

  1. Just caught this review. I was thinking along the lines of "well, that's what you get when you refuse to finger-wag in the name of not offending anyone" when I read this sentence: Dalrymple provides clear examples of how cultural relativism has destroyed the once great British nation.

    Too true, and it is destroying America too. The grease has been dripping on the skids for a long time, and there is no handrail to grab.

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