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Customer Review

683 of 699 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A morality tale unlike any other, March 20, 2005
This review is from: Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass (Paperback)
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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Showing 1-10 of 61 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 16, 2006 1:55:59 PM PDT
John M. says:
I got this because of your review and really enjoyed it. I struggle with trying to keep a compassionate mindset for the poor because I observe a lot of the behaviours Dalrymple points out. Your own story goes to show that we can rise above our upbringing. You call them well, keep it up. Cheers!

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 23, 2006 7:54:24 AM PDT
You rightly imply there is no "magic pill" for such people. However, there is salvation that comes from outside the individual: God, to whom all men have access through the sacrifice of Jesus the Messiah. Studies of faith-based organizations' success rates at changing the self-destructive behaviour of such groups are telling.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 28, 2006 4:09:16 PM PDT
John M. says:
I must say that I agree with this. My work with the homeless shows that the message of Christianity can transform when other messages fail.

Posted on Apr 26, 2007 1:13:45 PM PDT
Thank you, Jennifer Smith, for your review and your personal insights. And thank you, also, to M. Morton. That's a very good point you make about one solution that works.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 24, 2007 1:50:10 PM PDT
I just wanted to say thanks for the generous comments about my review. Cheers!

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 8, 2007 4:08:07 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 8, 2007 6:28:23 PM PDT
Free Thinker says:
Mr. McClendon,
I too have struggled with keeping a compassionate attitude in the face of such self-destructive behavior.

There is a concept called "the deserving poor" that I think needs to be revived.

For example, I live in the southern Appalachians, which has one of the greatest concentrations of poverty in the United States.

Yet most of the economically disadvantaged persons here are nothing like the people described in this book. They work hard, at jobs that offer little in the way of wages and benefits. They keep their simple homes clean and tidy. They pay what bills they have, obey the law and raise their children well.

I have met many successful, upwardly mobile people who were raised in such homes. A splendid example is a young lady I spoke with the other day. Her dad is a retired coal miner from Virginia. She is completing her BA next spring and has already been accepted into a fine graduate program that trains speech pathologists.
Her parents infused within her values such as hard work and personal responsibility, which she credits as the bedrock of her success.

Apologists for the trash element of the human race like to quote Jesus when they plead for compassion to be shown indiscriminately. They need to remember that Christ also warned us to not cast pearls to swine. Aid and assistance to true victims of misfortune, certainly - but none to those who refuse to help themselves.

Posted on Dec 7, 2007 3:09:10 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Mar 16, 2008 1:46:05 PM PDT
MoiMeme says:
I LOVE this book! I read it a couple of years ago. I have been poor, much like you, and have had to claw my way out of poverty in a country (US) which awarded financial aid for college on the basis of skin color, not merit. I was the wrong color, though a close friend had no problem getting more than she needed while less needy than I. I made some very stupid choices, but was always more than willing to make the sacrifices to atone for them (financial and otherwise), asking very little from "public services". That sense of personal responsibility, faith, and perseverence gained me incredible respect from friends and acquaintances. I worked with "the poor" for years and saw in the US exactly what the good doctor describes in his book. Absence of responsibility encourages crime, illegitimacy, disease, and every social ill that exists. I am back in college now, and see young women of modest means who have made good choices struggling to work and go to school, while young women who have made poor choices are getting a free ride through college; not a care in the world. Just how do they afford those $100 dye jobs and $150 jeans? You and I pay for them. Isn't forcing someone else to work for the benefit of your own family called slavery?
My respect and admiration are with those whose lives are hard, but who continue to push forward towards a life of responsiblity and respectability. Faith can definitely make a difference!

"He learned obedience through the things he suffered." Hebrews 5:8

Posted on Apr 9, 2008 11:16:28 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 9, 2008 11:26:22 PM PDT
Joe L. says:
Anthony Daniels (the author's real name) is a retired psychiatrist. Based on my rather extensive experience, psychiatrists have a deeply cynical attitude toward their patients. The one goal that unites almost all mental health professionals is the goal to maintain the status quo. If you tell a shrink that someone wishes to harm you or that someone has mistreated you, every shrink will conclude immediately that you are paranoid, and each shrink is highly likely to diagnose you as a paranoid schizophrenic. How do I know? It happened to me. It's the age-old Martha Mitchell Effect. And if you try to prove that your landlord has been trying wrongfully to evict you, or that your former boss made your job unbearable as a result of clearly wrongful retaliation, most any shrink you ever see will cut you off and tell you that what you are saying is irrelevant. If you persist, the shrink will become angry.

I understand that we aren't generally supposed to attack the person presenting the argument. But I will want to support my thesis, while trying to find evidence against my thesis, that there exists a serious problem with the official mental health system. By definition, a shrink's bill is paid entirely by entities that have money. This explains why shrinks are eager to blame your "mental health problem" on how your parents treated you as a child--even if you are half a century old--but they will never blame any of your problems on your boss or your landlord. After all, it is the latter two who pay shrinks' bills.

Jennifer, you wrote a wonderful review. I'm purchasing as many of Dr. Daniels' books as I can find. They all are so fascinating. I expect to find plenty of logical fallacies and oversights in this book in particular. It should be fun reading.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 14, 2008 5:24:33 PM PDT
Free Thinker,
I couldn't agree with you more. It seems to me that too many discussions of poverty and "the poor" fail to make this crucial distinction between the "deserving poor" who are definitely poor through no fault of their own and the "poor by choice" who are clearly poor as a result of their own self-destructive choices.

And Jennifer Smith,
Thank you for writing such a thoughtful and well-written review. I'm adding this book to my list of books to read. On a personal note: unfortunately I can relate to how choices family members make can and do make life unpleasant if not downright miserable for those around them. I'm glad you too have been able to move beyond the past!

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 17, 2008 12:22:44 PM PDT
What a load of crap. The behaviors Dalrymple descirbes - illicit sex, drugs, violence, dysfunction and ignorance are found in the upper classes as well, if not more so. I grew up in one of the most socially conservative, educated, professional, wealthy, white communities in the Boston area and all these problems existed, albeit behind closed doors. Stereotyping the poor as corrupt is a clever way for the wealthy and corporations deflect attention away from their economic pillage. The wealthy get tax breaks, private education, legal defences, healthcare, tax shelters, political representations and everyone else gets Jesus. God bless us.
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