Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass
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Here is a searing account-probably the best yet published-of life in the underclass and why it persists as it does. Theodore Dalrymple, a British psychiatrist who treats the poor in a slum hospital and a prison in England, has seemingly seen it all. Yet in listening to and observing his patients, he is continually astonished by the latest twist of depravity that exceeds even his own considerable experience. Dalrymple's key insight in Life at the Bottom is that long-term poverty is caused not by economics but by a dysfunctional set of values, one that is continually reinforced by an elite culture searching for victims. This culture persuades those at the bottom that they have no responsibility for their actions and are not the molders of their own lives. Drawn from the pages of the cutting-edge political and cultural quarterly City Journal, Dalrymple's book draws upon scores of eye-opening, true-life vignettes that are by turns hilariously funny, chillingly horrifying, and all too revealing-sometimes all at once. And Dalrymple writes in prose that transcends journalism and achieves the quality of literature.
lost her job, the only way she could do so was by accepting what both the New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet now call ‘sex work.’ I ask her whether she currently has a boyfriend. ‘He’s in prison.’ ‘What for?’ ‘Burglaries. He’s out in two years.’ Her mother, who looks after her daughter, arrives on the ward. She is in her 50s, dressed in a blue suit and wearing an old-fashioned hat with a veil and white gloves. As a person of the utmost respectability, a householder and
wrath of their fathers when they discover that, contrary to the community’s code of conduct, their daughters have been courting men of their own choice, thus bringing ineradicable shame upon their families. But patterns and statistical regularities by themselves tell us little unless we are prepared to search for their meaning, and that meaning is always to be found in the minds of men and women. Why, then, do so many take to the pills? To swallow an overdose without seriously intending to
dealing in a nearby area is the local betting shop). That is why he has approached me. ‘That’s a good horse,’ he says, with an air of profound cogitation. ‘He won like that last time out. I’m thinking of backing him for the Classic. What do you think?’ ‘I... er... ’ I’m not sure what to say: he’s being friendly and wants to start a long and learned conversation about White Admiral’s chances in the Classic, but it won’t take him long to discover that I know nothing about it, that I am a
the very depths of their being. But why are they bored, they ask me. The answer, of course, is that they have never applied their intelligence either to their work, their personal lives, or their leisure, and intelligence is a distinct disadvantage when it is not used: it bites back. Reviewing their life stories, they see for the first time that at every point they have chosen the line of least resistance, the least strenuous path. They never received any guidance, because all agreed that one
insult to them personally. Far from correcting their children, they threaten her with further violence. The relentless, gleeful revelations in the press, radio, and television of any wrongdoing by the authorities and the professions, unbalanced by any criticism whatever of members of the general public, have caused an atrophy of the faculty of self-criticism and prepare the mind always to look outward, never inward, for the source of dissatisfaction and malfeasance. Vox populi, vox dei – with