Life at the Bottom

“I live in a different America now,” Christopher Orlet writes at the American Spectator, in a piece titled, “In Another Country.”

But prior to that, Orlet adds, “For the past two years I lived in the inner-city of America’s most dangerous city. I saw the culture of poverty up close and personal. Some insist there is no such thing as a culture of poverty; they would think differently if they spent the last two years in my shoes. But of course they won’t:”


The culture of poverty is many things. Actually it is an accumulation of things. Having one of those things doesn’t necessarily mean you are part of that culture. One characteristic of the culture of poverty is the single-parent household. But there are many middle class and even upper class (though fewer) single-parent households that are doing just fine. That is because they have resources unavailable to the poor. Like savings. Lawyers. Reliable transportation.

But if you are a single parent with multiple children by multiple fathers, and a high school dropout, with a record, then chances are you are part of that culture. If you move to a new rental every six months, yanking your kids out of school after school, and if you do drugs in front of your children, and sell your food stamps for cash, then chances are you are part of that culture. If you are 20 years old, living with your grandmother, with no interest in ever getting a job, or getting married, or doing much of anything, chances are you are part of that culture. If you do not have a kitchen table, but you do have a big flat screen TV, and when the social worker comes to visit someone yells, “The social worker is here, go get the light bulb,” then chances are you are part of that culture.

When I moved into the inner-city, I hoped to gain some insight and understanding of the poor and their situation. Two years later I left feeling the situation is intractable. Everything the professional uplifters do for the poor is but pruning the branches, instead of hacking at the roots of the problem. For the underclass to escape the culture of poverty they would have to cease doing most if not all of the above, and I don’t see that happening.


Read the whole thing, as Kathy Shaidle writes, “Congratulations to Christopher Orlet for writing this and to the American Spectator for printing it.”

Speaking of “In Another Country,” Orlet’s piece, particularly given its title, reminded me very much of Theodore Dalrymple’s earliest articles to be published in the States beginning in the mid-to-late 1990s, which were collected in his first anthologies, Life At The Bottom and Our Culture, What’s Left Of It. In addition to Dalrymple’s brilliant prose, what gives them their power is that writing as a British prison psychiatrist, Dalrymple was observing many of the same pathologies that undermine America’s poor, but from a largely homogeneously white (and British needless to say) population, removing race from the equation. But then, there’s a reason why Life At The Bottom was subtitled, “The Worldview That Makes the Underclass.”

Orlet concludes, “Here’s what I know. We know what it takes to be successful in America. What we can never know is how to make people want to be successful.”

We could start by not demonizing those who are successful. But what would be the political gain in that?




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