Top positive review
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a classic, which our rulers will determinedly ignore
on 19 September 2002
This book is a classic! It is beautifully written and engagingly argued. Dalrymple is a doctor in both a prison and a hospital in Birmingham, and he presents, with case after case after relentless case, the devastating evidence of what happens - especially to the poor - when individuals are separated from the immediate consequences of their actions, only to have those consequences bounce back later with even greater force. This is the effect of the no-blame, no-shame, value-free ideology propounded for more than a generation by our schools, media and criminal justice system. The effect is to trap the poor in poverty and illiteracy and fragmenting families - because they are told that nothing they do is their fault, but rather that of 'society' ... and in any case the state will always pick up the immediate task of mopping up. To subsidise fragmented families is to make them bearable and even desirable - so more families fragment. To ease up the pressure in schools on children to learn the basics is to make it easier for them to opt out of doing so - and so to ensure a generation of illiterates and innumerates who are trapped in poverty. To go easy on petty crime is to allow youthful aberrations to become settled patterns of behaviour, with consequences that ruin the lives of all of us, and especially of the poorest who cannot escape the criminalised environments in which they are forced to live. To call such laxity 'liberalism' is a travesty and an outrage, for it delivers the poorest and weakest into a tyranny.
Dalrymple himself has worked as a doctor in Tanzania and Nigeria, and has no illusions about the dreadful conditions obtaining in those countries. Yet he believes that, all things considered, the life of the British underclass is far worse, because so degraded and without dignity. His colleagues in Birmingham, doctors who have come to Britain from Third-World countries, agree. One Filipina doctor, knowing exactly whereof she speaks, expresses the view that life in a Manila slum is preferable to that of the nightmare which the British have made, and continue to make, for a large proportion of their population.
Dalrymple points out how we disguise the obvious from ourselves by slipping into passive verbs and bureaucrat-ese. Instead of 'I will do', we say that 'something needs to be done'. We duck responsibility for our actions - or inactions.
Even our illiberally-liberal elite, one might think, cannot refute the evidence, which Dalrymple presents here, of what their ideas mean for the poor in practice. So we can safely predict that Dalrymple's book will be studiously ignored by the organs of official culture or that, if they are forced to take notice, there will be cheap-shots against him personally. But this is a brilliant, brilliant book! Read it, and see clearly.