Review of a Review (with a note on Lefty psychopathology)

I am reading a review of Theodore Dalrymple’s book LIFE AT THE BOTTOM. This book is a collection of heartbreaking anecdotes about life among the British welfare class. The author makes the point that their self-destructive behaviors are supported and encouraged by the Britain’s liberal intelligensia, who do not see, or will not admit, that the welfare state encourages personal irresponsibility. If you pay people to do nothing, they will do nothing.

And then I read where one reviewer, who identifies himself as Rod Szasz has written: “Dalrymple offers no evidence beyond annecdote.  The idea that one must take responsibility for one’s thoughts and actions is nothing more than a truism. It is not something that has been proved by either the inductive or deductive study of Dalrymple.”

Here I pause in astonishment. Does Mr. Szasz seriously contend that this is a principle in need of proof?

Where, outside of the bull-session of sophomore philosophy students, is one going to hear this proposition seriously questioned? Anyone who supports the idea that self-responsibility is not self-evident is not acting responsibly. Even fatalists and determinists hold that a man must be punished for his evil deeds, rewarded for his good ones (though fatalists hold that Providence determined the evil and the punishment, and determinists would call rewards and punishments behavior-modifications).

Note the use of the terms “inductive” and “deductive.” Mr. Szasz, proud as any bird in a mating dance, is displaying his snobbish intellectual plumage. It is not enough that he makes an absurd statement: he must make it gravely, using the terms of erudite philosophy.

The reviewer then gushed out with his hatred of Rush Limbugh, George Will, and Margaret Thatcher, as being – wait for it – hypocrites, and concludes with the statement that underclass violence springs not the ideology of the liberals, but of the fascists.

Including these figures in a review of a book by Dalrymple is a mere nonsequitur. The only connection to Dalrymple is all four are conservatives, people for whom Mr. Szasz does not bother to hide his hatred and contempt.

Mr. Szasz argues that, since Dr. Dalrymple ministers to the poor, but was not born poor, he is disqualified from noticing the cause-and-effect relationship between the doctrines of personal irresponsibility laid out by the Liberal elite, and personally irresponsible acts carried out by those whom those doctrines encourage. Only the poor can comment on the state of the poor. Hmm. This is an argumentum ad hominem, and of a particularly foolish sort, since, by the same logic, unless Mr. Szasz is of the same class, profession, race, and experience as Dr. Dalrymple, we can dismiss his criticism of the good doctor. And since, again, Mr. Szasz’s own comments are a comment on the state of the poor, by his own logic, he cannot make them. Somehow, despite his verbiage, I do not think Mr. Szasz would have fared well in a bull-session of sophomore philosophy students.

Certain cameo painters can capture with perfect elegance, in a few brush-stokes, the lines of a beloved face. The Japanese, in the brief syllables of their haiku, can capture the rapture of natural beauty and melancholy to which their race is prone.

Likewise, Mr, Szasz here, in a few paragraphs, captures the essence of the New Class of the Left: its intellectual arrogance coupled with slovenly thinking; its mewling hatred; its snobbery and hypocritical pretensions; its airy flatulence.

Out of a sense of fairness, I here reprint the whole of his comments, for those students of leftist psychopathology.

I leave it as an exercise to the reader to identify the logical fallacy involved in the counter-argument that, because upper class people often try to shift blame to others, therefore the argument that welfare encourages poverty by rewarding it is invalid. (Answers given below).

“Ah yes…. Theodore Dalrymple… Well for those of us whose childhood was shaped by English relatives, Uncles, Parents, Grandparents, raised with pre-war, staid ethics, Dalrymple’s bootstrap, let-me-sort-you-out young man, sort of philosophy will resonate well — and be well understood. What it portends for actual understanding of the underclass mentality is quite another thing.

Dalrymple writes well. His annecdotes are equal parts funny and mortifying. Dalrymple also offers glimpses at a side of life that few of the Upper-class (whose prejudices this book apparently is geared towards) ever get to see. I can see how he has become the British doyen of what is now called “conservatism” in the US.

But for all the gems that pass as wisdom in this book there is precious little logic beyond the opinions expressed and even less attempt to justify the central thesis: that socially progessive people and intellectuals, in their attempts to tolerate everything, have wittingly or as dupes, contributed to the making of the underclass buy supplying it with ideas that justify the fact that they are not responsible for their own malaise.
Dalrymple offers no evidence beyond annecdote. The idea that one must take responsibility for one’s thoughts and actions is nothing more than a truism. It is not something that has been proved by either the inductive or deductive study of Dalrymple.
Moreover it is not an idea that is exclusive to the underclass:

we find business executives that blame the government, their sales force and even their secretaries for their downfall. We find the scions of the rich blaming government and trade unions for their inability to make money. Corporate malfeasence often finds everyone willing to point their finger at other people while not in the least taking account of their own actions — this mentality from members who are not of the underclass.
Moreover reactionary thought often resorts to the reductionism of seeing the decaying hand of govt. as the ultimate agent of responsiblity for every misfortune known to mankind. One only needs to listen to Rush Limbaugh to realise that Clinton was responsible for everything from loose sexual mores to the war in Iraq. Vice is of course something that only a Democrat could be capable of….and graft only something that a Republican could dream of.

Also I find it interesting that Dalrymple would cite socially progressive people and “liberals” as responsible for the ideas that lead and justify the underclass’ own misfortune; I think that with all of the Yobbos that Dalrymple has met he would have learned that when a yobbo says “I’m gonna bash your head in mate” that that person is not affirming a 20th Century version of contemporary feminism, or rational liberal inquiry. Such a statement has more in common with Fascism and the notion of the redeeming nature of violence than any neo-liberal ethic.

In final analysis Dalrymple suffers from the fact that although he TREATS the underclass he has never BEEN a member of the underclass. That doesn’t make his stories less interesting. It just means that like our English Uncles and Grandfathers, Dalrymple is out of touch with the world any philosophy that could better it beyond some ad-hoc bootstrap philosophy that passes as “wisdom.” It also underwrites the great lie perpetrated by the likes of George Will, Rush Limbaughs, Margaret Thatcher et al., — all bootstrap philosophers raised with silverspoons who never had to leap across this divide, who are quick to judge and ascribe simple remedies based upon personal prejudice and ideological truths.

Dalrymple’s book caters to this intellectual dishonesty and self-righteous blather that charasterises some of the world view of the upper-class: the equally ridiculous notion that they are 100% responsible for their actions.
That should not stop anyone from actively reading and enjoying this book. I would rate it within the top 10 of the books I have read this year. Like any good book you should be shaking and nodding your head in equal syncopation. But you would be sorely deluded, or maybe just feeding preconcieved notions if you think that you are getting any real insight into the explanation of the formation of the underclass.”

(Answer to the exercise to the reader: tu quoque ( a type of ad hominem), non-sequitur, and straw man).