Life At The Bottom: The Worldview That Makes The Underclass  

Theodore Dalrymple

Published 2001

Non-fiction/Self Improvement/Self Belief

What is it about?

A collection of essays detailing the culture within Britain’s slums, compiled from thousands of interactions by a doctor/psychiatrist who spent ten years working in a hospital and prison.   

How long is it?

250+ pages.

How will it inspire me?

                One of the most important things I have ever read was a blog post entitled ‘Everything in your life is your fault.’ This one idea was the most empowering, revelatory thing I had ever read. It made me realise, my life was mine, and the current state of my life was a result of the sum total of all the decisions I had made up until that point, and if I wanted to change it, I could.

                How had this idea never occurred to me? Well, because I grew up in the world that Theodore Dalrymple describes in this book. The culture in the slums of England and the mindset that is shared with the people there are what I was immersed in and had assumed was universal. It was this toxic, self-defeating mindset, that believes that the world is unfairly structured, that individual effort won’t make a difference and that anyone who thinks that they can better their situation and dares to attempt it, is a fool. Needless to say, the only thing anyone who has this mindset ever achieves is to succumb to bitterness, resentment and misery.

                It was not however always like this and the author highlights several components that have resulted in this culture:

-The prejudice against education, which is something Thomas Sowell cites as a major problem in the African American community, a young black student who exhibits any kind of scholarly acumen will be called an ‘Uncle Tom’ or accused of trying to be white by his peers. A hatred of education and a desire to make sure no one advances beyond their current station helps maintain the fiction that there is no way out and that the world is unfair. [See: Crab Mentality and Israel Test]  

-The dissolution of the family, emerging out of the sexual revolution of the sixties, which has led to a lot of young men growing up without fathers. An absent father has been proven to be one of the most detrimental handicaps to a young man. This has been exacerbated by a welfare state that provides incentives to single parent families, which in turn robs people of the necessity of personal industry. The state has essentially replaced the father as provider.   

-The cultural prejudice against wealth and success. Rich people aren’t cool, but being poor somehow is.   

-However, the worst and most sinister component is the relinquishing of personal responsibility, as it turns a person into a passenger and not an active participant in their own life and so everything becomes the fault of someone else. This mindset effectively turns people into NPCs, it’s a way of convincing them that they are weak and helpless and at the mercy of circumstance.

                The truth however is that if you are a man born today in the West, regardless of rich or poor, you are one of the luckiest people in history. There are no major wars, plagues, famines or impediments that you have to contend with and ultimately the limits of what you are capable of achieving are set by yourself. True empowerment lies in realising that you are in charge, you are not your family, your race, your gender, your sexual orientation or the terrible thing that happened to you, you’re an individual, and an individual gets to decide for them self what they are. Dalrymple’s book is a damning rebuke of the culture that attempts to reject this and it is well worth reading.

Choice lines:

-it is the mind, not society, that forges the manacles that keep people enchained to their misfortunes.

-Their ideas make themselves manifest even in the language they use. The frequency of locutions of passivity is a striking example. An alcoholic, explaining his misconduct while drunk, will say, “The beer went mad.” A heroin addict, explaining his resort to the needle, will say, “Heroin’s everywhere.” It is as if the beer drank the alcoholic and the heroin injected the addict.

-Listening as I do every day to the accounts people give of their lives, I am struck by the very small part in them which they ascribe to their own efforts, choices, and actions. Implicitly they disagree with Bacon’s famous dictum that “chiefly the mould of a man’s fortune is in his own hand.” Instead they experience themselves as putty in the hands of fate.

-Not for a moment did the sexual liberators stop to consider the effects upon the poor or the destruction of the strong family ties that alone made emergence from poverty possible for large numbers of people. They were concerned only with the petty dramas of their own lives and dissatisfactions. But by obstinately overlooking the most obvious features of reality, […] their efforts contributed in no small part to the intractability of poverty in modern cities, despite vast increases in the general wealth: for the sexual revolution has turned the poor from a class into a caste, from which escape is barred so long as that revolution continues.

-There is one great psychological advantage to the white underclass in their disdain for education: it enables them to maintain the fiction that the society around them is grossly, even grotesquely, unjust, and that they themselves are the victims of this injustice. If on the contrary, education were seen by them as a means available to all to rise in the world, as indeed could be and is in many societies, their whole viewpoint would naturally have to change. Instead of attributing their misfortune to others, they would have to look inward, which is always a painful process. Here we see the reason why scholastic success is violently discouraged, and those who pursue it persecuted, in underclass schools: for it is perceived, inchoately no doubt, as a threat to an entire weltanschauung. The success of one is a reproach to all.

-[…] it is a truth universally acknowledged in the slums that there is nothing to be gained by individual effort , since the world is so unjustly organized. And in the absence of either fear or hope, only the present moment has any reality: you do what is most amusing, or least boring, at each passing moment.

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