Life at the Bottom
Created by Those on Top
by Darryn "Dutch" Martin
A New Visions Commentary
paper published November 2003 by The National Center for Public
Policy Research, 501 Capitol Ct., N.E., Washington, DC 20002,
202/543-4110, Fax 202-543-5975, E-Mail [email protected],
Reprints permitted provided source is credited.
Ever wonder why the poor are poor?
Many believe there's a conspiracy to
keep blacks in the underclass. And there may actually be something
to it. The identity of those who are behind it and their justification,
however, might surprise you.
Dr. Theodore Dalrymple examines the British
underclass in his book Life at the Bottom: The Worldview the
Makes the Underclass. From his years as a psychiatrist treating
the poor in a slum hospital and a prison, he describes the world
of underclass existence as one wracked with crime, senseless
violence, drug abuse, poverty, illegitimacy, nihilism and a total
- and sometimes scary - refusal to accept even a shred of responsibility.
In a blisteringly candid collection of
essays, Dalrymple observes the decadence and debauchery of the
British underclass with eyes wide open. It leaves the reader
both shaken and stirred. His observations, in my opinion, mirrors
our own communities and poses important questions for us here
Something that struck me in Dalrymple's
research is a description of why men who physically abuse live-in
girlfriends or common-law wives attempt suicide. He cites three
* So the abused will call an ambulance
rather than the police.
* It's emotional blackmail that warns
her he might kill himself if she leaves.
* By making themselves a victim of their
own abusive behavior and in need of treatment they can dodge
It doesn't help that battered women,
in most cases, don't leave abusive men and forgive and forget
after the man sheds a few tears and "promises" to never
do it again.
Again, who is to blame? Dalrymple says
England's liberal intelligentsia compounds the underclass way
of life by supporting it. He notes: "The intellectual's
struggle to deny the obvious is never more desperate than when
reality is unpleasant and at variance with his preconceptions
and when full acknowledgement of it would undermine the foundations
of his intellectual worldview."
Why do the liberal elitists turn a blind
eye to the pathology of the underclass? Dalrymple suggests a
* Outright denial ("It's not so
much that crime is increasing as people's willingness or ability
to report it.")
* Overly broad historical comparisons
("Violence and vulgarity have always been a part of modern
* Admission of the obvious, but denial
of its moral significance ("Vulgarity is liberty from unhealthy
and psychologically deforming inhibition... [and] those who oppose
it are elitist killjoys.")
These liberals are also quick to blame
the "elitist, bourgeois, upper-class British establishment"
for the underclass, not the sociopathic behaviors that created
them. These "learned people" instead celebrate the
self-destruction as a rebellious self-expressiveness against
"uppity" British high society.
Here in America, the liberal Great Society
programs created by the Johnson White House reward the destruction
of the family and essentially addict the poor to welfare like
it was crack cocaine. When reformers suggest that able-bodied,
unemployed public housing residents should perform community
service in exchange for their housing, it's the liberal elites
who join the chorus comparing this simple and logical measure
to slavery. Rather than promoting behavior encouraging productivity
and civility, the elites seem willing to perpetuate the problem.
Whether it's England or here in America,
it's a prime example of what I call liberal-elitist guilt. Left-leaning
intellectuals who don't want to appear racist or close-minded
view behavior that they would condemn in their own families as
"understandable" when exhibited by minorities, immigrants
or poor whites. Excusing such behavior makes them believe they
are showing solidarity with the disadvantaged, placating their
own sense of moral superiority.
The assumption of personal responsibility
for one's actions and choices never seems to enter into the equation.
Commenting on the usefulness of Dalrymple's
book, Stanford University's Thomas Sowell says: "The fact
that the setting is a white underclass community in Britain may
enable some people to see and acknowledge a pattern of self-destruction
that they may be reluctant to acknowledge in America, for fear
of being considered racist."
I couldn't agree more.
(Darryn "Dutch" Martin
is a member of the National Advisory Council of the African-American
leadership network Project 21. Comments many be sent to [email protected].)
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author,
and not necessarily those of Project 21.
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