London: Caracas On The Thames?
Theodore Dalrymple sees the future of London, and believes it’s Caracas. He means that Britain’s social and cultural problems doom it to Third World status. Before I start quoting from the piece, you should know that “Theodore Dalrymple” is the pseudonym of Anthony Daniels, a UK medical doctor who served in the nation’s prison system for years, and later established himself as an acute observer of Britain’s underclass. Here are excerpts:
And the economic auguries for Britain are indeed poor, though not only, or even principally, because of the European Union’s hostility. The fact is that Britain is unlikely to be able to take any advantage of life outside the European straitjacket because its own political class is itself in favour of straitjackets that are no better, and quite possibly worse than, the European ones. The present Prime Minister, Theresa May, is very much a statist, indistinguishable from European social democrats, and the leader of the opposition, Mr Corbyn, who might well be the next Prime Minister, is an unapologetic admirer of Hugo Chavez. It is hardly to be expected that foreign investors will place much trust or confidence in an isolated country whose next government might very well weaken property rights, impose capital controls and increase corporate taxation in favour of supposed social justice. It would not take very long to turn Britain into a northern Venezuela: a Venezuela without the oil or the tropical climate.
Moreover, Britain already has many weaknesses and few strengths. It has a huge and persistent trade imbalance, because it does not produce enough of what the world wants and cannot easily be made to do so; it has a large national debt, about the same size as that of France, but without a highly functioning infrastructure such as France’s to show for it; its household debt is among the highest in the world. For many years, its economic policy might as well have been presided over by Mr Madoff; its social policy has been to smash up all forms of social solidarity or support for the vulnerable that do not pass through the state. The destruction of the little platoons has been very thorough: most large ‘charities’ in Britain are now dependent on government rather than on private funding, and hence are in effect departments of state.
As if this were not enough, Britain has enormous cultural problems, perhaps only to be expected in a country in which more than fifty per cent of children are born out of wedlock and twenty per cent do not eat a meal with another member of their household more than once every two weeks. A dangerously high and perhaps unsustainable proportion of the population is unfitted for productive life in a modern economy, having attained an abysmally low educational level despite (or because of?) considerable state expenditure. This section of the population is not merely indifferent to refinement of any kind – intellectual, aesthetic or of manners – but actively hostile to it. Similarly, it is not merely not anxious to learn, it is anxious not to learn.
Perhaps nothing captures the levels of personal incompetence and lack of self-respect in Britain than the fact that young men of the lowest social class are about half as likely to die in prison as they are if left at liberty. In prison, though adult, they are looked after, at least in a basic way, and told what to do. They are no longer free to pursue their dangerous and crudely self-indulgent lifestyle, in which distraction is the main occupation. In prison they receive the health care that, though it is free to them under the National Health Service, they are not responsible enough to seek when at liberty. In short, they do not know, because they have never been taught, how to live in a minimally constructive fashion, though they were certainly not born ineducable.
One cannot help wondering to what extent Dalrymple’s bleak diagnosis of his country also applies to the United States.
For example, forty percent of all births in the US are to unmarried women — a number that is far higher among blacks (72 percent) and Hispanics (52 percent) than non-Hispanic whites (29 percent). As the same problems that the black underclass has been afflicted with for generations now swamp the white underclass, we can expect those numbers to rise. If you click on the CDC map in this paragraph’s link, you will see that the states with the highest percentages of out-of-wedlock births are those with large black and/or Hispanic populations — except for West Virginia, which has a large white underclass.
It stands to reason that as the meaning and importance of marriage dissolves, there will be less reason for anybody, of whatever class, to believe that marriage is a necessary predecessor to childbearing. We hardly need to go over the multitude of social problems that come with out-of-wedlock childbearing, and how it puts so many kids who come into the world without a father in the home at significant disadvantages.
This Dalrymple line stuck with me:
In short, they do not know, because they have never been taught, how to live in a minimally constructive fashion, though they were certainly not born ineducable.
It brought to mind a conversation I had last night, out with friends. We were talking about the degeneration of stable ideas of family, sex, and gender. One of my friends, a lawyer, cited Stein’s Law: “Whatever can’t go on, won’t.” His point is that the gender ideology madness is bound to burn itself out, because it is incompatible with reality, and therefore unsustainable, in the same sense that communism was unsustainable. I suspect he’s right about that, but it’s going to take a long time for that to happen, because gender ideology fits so perfectly with the basic ideology of our time: autonomous individualism, which is to say, Anthonykennedyism: The belief that one is entitled to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, or the universe, and of the mystery of human life.
In response to this, I pointed out that Stein’s Law has not predicted social conditions for the black underclass in America. Since midcentury, the black unmarried birth rate has soared. When the Moynihan Report came out in the 1960s, 25 percent of black births were to unmarried women — far higher than the white rate. Now the black rate, as I said, is over 70 percent, and the white rate is higher than the black rate in the 1960s.
The bad social outcomes of this phenomenon have not retarded its growth for any demographic group. As out-of-wedlock childbearing becomes intergenerational, so does poverty. A white friend of mine taught in a predominantly black school in a rural Louisiana parish. After several years, she despaired of it, and transferred to a more mixed-race, middle-class school. She told me that nothing she did could break the shackles of poverty culture on the minds of the kids there. These children were not born stupid, but they were deformed by a local culture that disdained education and hard work. Most of the girls — these were ninth graders — aspired to nothing more than having a baby by a boy. Most of the boys aspired to nothing at all.
It’s not just a race thing. I have a white working class friend from that same parish. She’s pretty much the only functional member of her sprawling family. The stories she tells about the laziness, the substance abuse, and the jaw-dropping instability of her clan beggar belief. It’s straight out of Charles Murray’s worst nightmare. Anybody who believes that this is just a black thing should spend some time with my friend. How on earth any of the children being raised in her extended family are going to emerge from it knowing “how to live in a minimally constructive fashion” is hard to figure.
These are the people middle class and upper middle class folks don’t see. They don’t come into this world ineducable or doomed to dysfunction. They are crippled mostly by culture. The mystery is why these cultural habits persist, even though the outcomes for the children raised in it are so poor. According to the theory, people should recognize that living in this particular way means suffering and misery, so they will change their views and their way of life to live in a more sensible way. But that clearly does not happen often, or at least not often enough. Why?
In The Benedict Option, I write:
On a warm evening in the late autumn, a recently retired woman sits on the front porch of her neighbor’s house, talking about the ways of the world. It is two weeks before the Trump-Clinton election, and everything seems to be going to pieces, the neighbors agree.
How did our country get to this place? they wonder. Both of the women are working class by culture, born into poverty but thanks to economic and cultural changes in the mid-twentieth century, they are now entering their golden years as members of a modest middle class. America has been very good to them and their families.
Yet neither woman is confident about the future for their grandchildren. One tells the other that in the past year, she has gone to six baby showers f or young women in her family and social circles. None of the expectant mothers had husbands. Some had more than one child out of wedlock. The gray-haired women know what poverty and insecurity are like, and they can’t believe that these young women would bring children into the world without fathers in the home, given how much more likely children in those situations are to be poor. And where are the fathers, anyway? What is wrong with young men these days?
I know these women. For what it’s worth, they are both white. When I was a kid growing up in the Deep South in the 1970s, the behavior they’re describing here was something one rarely observed among whites, though one often saw it among blacks (I was raised in a parish that, at the time, was 50 percent black, 50 percent white). That race barrier has mostly dissolved. I see no restraining factors that would keep it from spreading, much less roll it back — except for serious religious revival.
(By serious I mean one that results in a meaningful and sustained behavioral change. Where I grew up, black folks were far more likely to be in church on Sunday morning than white folks. But to judge by the birth rate, their Christianity did not apply to their sexual mores. Some of my white Evangelical friends report that they’re seeing signs of this among Millennials in their congregations — not with out-of-wedlock births, at least not yet, but with the steady normalization of cohabitation.)
Anyway, the point I want to discuss here is the idea of the inevitability of the reversal of deleterious social and cultural trends. It is true that in recent years, some have reversed slightly (e.g., teen drug abuse rates going down), but on the bedrock social matter of marriage, childbearing, and family stability, that isn’t happening. Do you see any prospect for that changing anytime soon? If so, why would it change? The multigenerational immiseration of the black underclass, driven in large part by family instability, is not changing. Now that the taboos on out-of-wedlock childbearing are fast falling among whites (at least working class whites), why isn’t their future on the same track?
To take it out of the American context for a second, I recall a political scientist who specializes in family studies telling me a couple of years ago that he had worked on a project for the European Union, the leaders of which are interested in raising the dismal birth rate in the EU. They wanted to know how it could be done absent a religious revival. This political scientist studied the problem, and concluded that it couldn’t be — that there is no evidence of natalism working outside of widespread religious conviction. He said the EU did not like his conclusion, but it was the only honest one, given the data.
Population collapse in Europe (and Japan) will have entirely predictable, devastating effects on those societies. And yet, it changes nobody’s behavior. It is true that what can’t go on, won’t, in that eventually things will bottom out for the native populations of Europe. But there is nothing that prevents them from becoming permanent minorities within their own lands.
The point I’m trying to make is that the belief that cultural revival is inevitable, because people will inevitably turn away from destructive ideas and behavior, strikes me as insupportably optimistic. People are not reliably rational actors. Civilization is a far more fragile thing than we suppose.
What do you think?