Theodore Dalyrymple’s funeral oration for a generation in City Journal needs no amplification. It cannot be improved on. He says what people are now ready to hear: that dependency has a created a generation of cripples. The London riots and the current ongoing financial collapse have made it possible to say what was previously verboten: that rather than attaining the End of History the Welfare State has reached the End of the Line.
The $64 trillion question is what do we do about it? But first let us have a look at what Dalyrymple says about the state of our ruined human capital.
The riots are the apotheosis of the welfare state and popular culture in their British form. A population thinks (because it has often been told so by intellectuals and the political class) that it is entitled to a high standard of consumption, irrespective of its personal efforts; and therefore it regards the fact that it does not receive that high standard, by comparison with the rest of society, as a sign of injustice. It believes itself deprived (because it has often been told so by intellectuals and the political class), even though each member of it has received an education costing $80,000, toward which neither he nor—quite likely—any member of his family has made much of a contribution; indeed, he may well have lived his entire life at others’ expense, such that every mouthful of food he has ever eaten, every shirt he has ever worn, every television he has ever watched, has been provided by others. Even if he were to recognize this, he would not be grateful, for dependency does not promote gratitude. On the contrary, he would simply feel that the subventions were not sufficient to allow him to live as he would have liked.
At the same time, his expensive education will have equipped him for nothing. His labor, even supposing that he were inclined to work, would not be worth its cost to any employer—partly because of the social charges necessary to keep others such as he in a state of permanent idleness, and partly because of his own characteristics. And so unskilled labor is performed in England by foreigners, while an indigenous class of permanently unemployed is subsidized. …
Finally, long experience of impunity has taught the rioters that they have nothing to fear from the law, which in England has become almost comically lax—except, that is, for the victims of crime.
In reading the City Journal article there is the sense that Dalyrymple is pulling his punches. The prose is funerary. He is too sad to gloat, too dismayed to revel in vindication. And like most of us has very little idea about what to do next.
Nature’s default method for dealing with failure is natural selection. It subjects individuals to a survival test and if they fail, they die. Having died they remove themselves from the gene pool (and probably the meme pool as well) and are heard from no more. Left to themselves the brood of the Welfare State would fare poorly. Without skills, having torched their surroundings and having, in the words of one Australian self-confessed Leftist “shit on their own doorstep” they would pick their surroundings clean and then perish from basic starvation.
But even the hardest-boiled conservatives are unlikely to let that happen and therefore this broken generation — the potential elves transformed into orcs in the mud of the welfare system — will have to be rescued from natural selection to at least some extent. But to what extent?
The bounds of the problem are obvious. People must not be shielded from the consequences of their actions to the extent where they become orcs again. Neither must they be left to die. Between these extremes there might be some trajectory of “tough love” which will at first a) stop producing more orcs and b) progressively reduce the existing number. In other words, you can think of Dalyrymple’s problem as the human capital equivalent of the financial deficit problem. The Left has saddled the world with not only financial but human liabilities. One is running rampage in the bond markets. The other is running riot through the streets of Britain. These can no longer be ignored nor can they be paid down instantly. All that can be done is simply to a) stop digging; b) begin the long process of retiring the human capital debt.
Unfortunately society cannot do this perfectly even if it wanted to. Lack of resources and the potential return of war and hunger may mean that despite our best efforts, natural selection will claim its victims, as it did in past and less prosperous ages. Back then, when a civilization’s cultural software declined it used to be put through an historical garbage-collection routine the Bible Calls the Four Horsemen algorithm, and its subroutines: Conquest, War, Famine and Death.
And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.
It may be again. We forget how marvelous the last 70 years have been. There have been no world wars, a Pax Americana, a rising standard of living. Too bad that too many thought it was the default state of affairs. Natural selection is the natural state of affairs. And that is hard beast.
But we were taught, for those who believe in such things, that despite our differences and contempt for degeneracy, that all men are brothers and Death is our Common Enemy. Therefore the coming years must be spent trying to help even those who “would shit on their own doorstep” from being taken by the Pale Rider. The road will be long. It will go a mile, a year, a payment at a time. One individual saved here; another saved there. But it will be all we can do. And though the coming years may not see everyone saved the effort will be enough. “For whosoever saves one life, saves the world entire.”