Book Reviews, Charles, Economics, Foundationalism, Political Discussion & Analysis, Political Economy, Social Behavior
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Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America (Chris Arnade)

Last year, I went to the State Fair, and simply sat and watched the people pass by. The vast majority were lower class, and looked it. I tried, for a change, to ignore the externals and imagine myself conversing with individuals with whom, to an outside observer, I have nothing in common. Chris Arnade wrote Dignity to document a similar exercise, though one far more in-depth. He travelled the country, talking to many people from the lower classes, what he calls the “back row.” Then he wrote up what he had learned, and added a great deal by filling the book with pictures, so that the reader can perform the same exercise I did at the State Fair, and ponder respect and the back row in today’s society.

I really wanted to like this book. I agree with much in it. Like me, Arnade doesn’t think a rising GDP per capita is the measure of human flourishing. But what Arnade never asks is where dignity comes from or, for that matter, what it is. As a result, he is unwilling or unable to make distinctions that need to be made, and he refuses to require anything, anything at all, of the back row, even when their behavior is, by choice, utterly degraded. This lack of clear thinking sharply reduces the value of his book.

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Thus, in a couple whom Arnade spends a lot of time with, where the husband’s only employment is to pimp the wife so they can buy drugs and find a place to stay, both husband and wife stridently claim that they have dignity. And maybe they do, in the eyes of God, and in the sense that no human life is worthless and each should be cherished. But in the eyes of man, their behavior is degraded and wholly unacceptable. The real definition of dignity is the feeling of knowing that one has done the best that one can, with what one has, to fulfil one’s purpose and duty to God and man, from which flows self-respect and the respect of others. Dignity has to be earned by meeting legitimate expectations, not demanded, assigned, or redistributed. Arnade cannot, or cannot bring himself to, distinguish the activities of prostituting oneself for drugs and of working a good manufacturing job to support one’s family. Only one of these things can truly lead to dignity.

The book is far from worthless, however. In a well-run society, everyone should have the opportunity to earn dignity, and Arnade does show how many in the back row are today denied that opportunity. That denial is the result of the world the front-row kids, the worst ruling class ever, have made. The derelictions and cretinisms of that class, however named, have been very well covered in a series of recent books. James Bloodworth’s Hired (where dignity is a major focus). Tucker Carlson’s Ship of Fools. Oren Cass’s The Once and Future Worker. Richard Reeves’s Dream Hoarders. Joan Williams’s White Working Class. Arlie Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land. Angelo Codevilla’s The Ruling Class. And many more. Dignity is best viewed as complementary to those lines of thought, not a groundbreaking study of its own, which it could have been had Arnade been willing to make distinctions among those to whom he talked.

Arnade’s path to alienation from the front row was gradual. He grew up in Florida and left his hometown after high school, seeking the life of the front row: based on the right education and the right jobs. In his taxonomy, the “front-row kids” are perhaps twenty percent of the population, those who follow the new cursus honorum, getting the right college degrees, the right jobs, and the right connections, and end up at the top of today’s society. The back-row kids are the opposite (and there is also an in-between).

The front row is money-centered, yes, but also unmoored from home, or from any place at all, and ignorant of anything that can’t be measured, such as “community, dignity, faith, happiness.” The difference between being front row and back row used to be not as stark. The front row gave up certain comforts, including a sense of home, in exchange for a more cosmopolitan existence; the back row took the opposite deal. But now, the front row have gathered everything to themselves, and left the back row with the dregs. The back row, left without jobs and surrounded by the lure of drugs, and, just as importantly, dealing with the resulting destruction of communities, are “now left living in a banal world of hyper efficient fast-food franchises, strip malls, discount stores, and government buildings with flickering fluorescent lights and dreary-colored walls festooned with rules. They are left with a world where their sense of home and family and community won’t get them anywhere, won’t pay the bills.”

Perhaps to simplify things, Arnade ignores gradations among the back row, and effectively focuses on what is probably the bottom five percent of society, what is better called the underclass. Every society has an underclass, and while in all the places Arnade profiles, it is probably more than five percent, perhaps even more than fifty percent, the underclass is not really synonymous with the back row, which Arnade defines as those unable, in practice, to enter the first rungs of the cursus honorum. Arnade pays more attention, though he does not emphasize, that the back row also has an important geographic component, where it is hard to enter the front row unless you grow up on the coasts or in a handful of big cities. I grew up more back row than front row, even though my father was a university professor at a large midwestern state university, since at no point were the options for entering the front row made clear to me by anybody, and I suspect they were not to my high school classmates, either. Nobody at my large state university told me of usual front-row job options like consulting and finance, and I drifted into law mostly because I got a perfect score on the LSAT, and thus largely by inertia ended up at a front-row law school. Even there, nobody told me anything about what law practice was really like, or the gradations among law firms, or all the knowledge that is critical to a planned journey through the front row. I managed, though, and in my favor, I did not have the J. D. Vance problem of lack of objective sophistication, since I had the book knowledge of front-row behavior. Then I threw it all away to make myself rich from scratch in a back-row job, but that is another story.

Arnade, also from Nowheresville, obtained a doctorate in physics and was a successful Wall Street trader for twenty years, but ultimately found that unsatisfying and also turned his back on his class (at least in his employment; it is not clear if he changed his social circles). Around 2012 Arnade drifted into spending his days in Hunts Point, a physically isolated and very poor part of the Bronx. There he got to know many of the locals, and grew to understand their lives—most of all by the simple expedient of hanging out at the local McDonald’s, social center of every depressed area. He did this for three years; then, seeing that he was getting sucked into the lives of his interlocutors, and that nothing ever changed or improved for them, he went travelling around the country. Portsmouth, Ohio. Gary. Bakersfield. Prestonburg, Kentucky. Milwaukee. Selma. All places where the back row dominates and there is no front row to speak of.

Arnade treats these places as functionally the same, with the exception of racism, of which more later. But these places are not all the same. Yes, they all lack jobs, and that has destroyed these communities; it is, or appears to be, the original sin. Arnade blames globalization and Wall Street for the loss of jobs, the unending lust for profits and efficiency, and he is right, certainly. Like Sam Quinones’s Dreamland, this book spends a lot of time discussing Portsmouth, and I have more than forty years of personal connection there, since my grandparents lived there and I spent every winter and summer vacation there when I was growing up (we did not have money to travel, ever). In Portsmouth, good jobs “were the backbone of the community”; they allowed people to build a family around a stable and well-paying job. The town is now unrecognizable even compared to what it was when I was a child, and then it was already on the downstroke.

In fact, Portsmouth and Selma are not actually the same as Hunts Point and Bakersfield. In the former, the jobs have disappeared and are not coming back; it is difficult to find any gainful employment. In the latter, people could find work nearby, but the people Arnade talks to don’t want that work, or, most of them, to work at all. Hunts Point is part of New York City. There are an infinite number of jobs in New York. The people in Hunts Point just don’t want them; they would rather lead their degraded, derelict lives. In Hunts Point, they tell Arnade “There is no jobs here, buddy. No jobs. Just nothing for nobody to do.” That’s objectively false, but Arnade says nothing except to plead for dignity, which here means mostly not stigmatizing people for being lazy and making degrading choices.

In Portsmouth and Selma, it is more plausible that there simply are no jobs, and there are certainly no good manufacturing jobs at big companies as there once were, but the reader has the distinct suspicion that the Hunts Point attitude is more prevalent than Arnade lets on. I have personal experience with this—I employ a large number of employees in light manufacturing, and it is extremely difficult to find workers who will show up and do the work, which is well paid (starting at twice minimum wage), offers good benefits, and is neither dangerous nor especially grueling. Anecdotally, you hear frequently of employers in places like Portsmouth, machine shops, for example, unable to hire even when offering excellent jobs with free training. I am quite sure, from experience (I have had a lot of direct contact with the back row), that nearly everyone Arnade talks to would not take my jobs if I offered them, or rather, might take them, and then would not show up except when it pleased them to do so. The problem, in other words, is not just that the jobs have disappeared, but also that the work ethic has disappeared.

Why? Is it lack of jobs, or something else? Is that broken families and illegitimate children are now the norm in all these communities (something about which Arnade says not a word) the result of lack of jobs, or the result of something else? How does the ubiquitous consumer mindset, where people work two jobs so they can buy more cheap, disposable Chinese tat to brighten their life for a day or two, figure in? It is instructive to read Charles Murray’s classic 2012 book Coming Apart to get some insight. Using extensive statistics, Murray shows how the “cognitive elite,” his term for the front row, has separated from the lower classes, who have sunk into various forms of dysfunction, with the disappearance of “family, vocation, community and faith.” It is also instructive to read Theodore Dalrymple’s Life at the Bottom, about the British underclass. Dalrymple assigns blame to the spread of nonjudgmentalism, totally absorbed by the underclass, which is in essence the same thing as believing in dignity as lack of stigma. Reading works like these makes clear that it’s not just lack of jobs that has cast the back row down; lack of jobs has instead contributed to a broader decline in moral fiber, that has deeper roots, though the front row is still to blame, as it is for the disappearance of jobs, since it was their deliberate destruction of virtue that is a major cause.

What Arnade won’t say, though, he at least allows one of his conversation partners to say. In Prestonburg, Kentucky, one man says “Parents and grandparents took their kids and grandkids; they don’t do that anymore. We used to be self-sufficient here. People wouldn’t take gifts. We had pride. Self-respect. Then we were flooded with gifts from the government; it took people’s pride and self-respect away. The government and internet hurt our churches, and Walmart coming to town closed every mom-and-pop business. Now people only take pride in drugs.” The problem is that reversing this is not as easy as simply backing up.

Drugs are the downfall of the vast majority of these people, and Arnade spends a lot of time talking about them. He attributes usage to dulling the pain and giving people a moment of joy, which is doubtless true. But he is somewhat credulous, attributing most drug use to “dissociation” resulting from childhood betrayal of trust, reinforced by lack of trust on the street. As always he offers no judgment, and no requirement for any sort of personal responsibility. Wherever precisely the truth lies, the easier availability of drugs that comes with legalization is revealed as yet another social policy that would benefit primarily the front-row kids and harm the back-row kids. The solution isn’t as easy as stricter enforcement, though. There is something to be said for the Indonesian or Singaporean approach, but Arnade isn’t wrong that jobs would help. Again, though, I don’t think it’s mostly the jobs—it’s the web of society and community that is, over time, generated by good jobs, the type that permits a man on his pay alone to support a wife and children, creating strong families, without which no community is possible. That web makes drugs less attractive, an effect beneficially increased by social stigma imposed on drug users.

If, reading Arnade’s stories, you listen closely, two elements keep rustling in the background, whispering to the reader that respect, or even human pity, is not the only necessary reaction to the plight of the people portrayed. The first is that the back row, in Arnade’s telling, firmly rejects help from non-profits and other charitable organizations, non-governmental and governmental. Arnade does not discuss the details of what is offered, but he makes very clear that those he talks to have a fierce aversion to any such help. Their objection is not that they cannot get needed help; rather, it is that “rules and lectures about behavior,” to which help is supposedly tied, are not to their taste. It seems unlikely, though, in today’s obsessively nonjudgmental environment, that there are any such lectures. No doubt bureaucracy is annoying, and as James Bloodworth says, poverty is the thief of time—but all the people Arnade talks to have nothing but time. The reader intuits that Arnade interlocutors have, again, absorbed that any stigma is a great offense; rather than feel stigmatized, or told, even gently, they should consider stopping their vice-ridden habits, they will try their hardest to avoid getting help.

But then, the second element—how do these people find the money to live? Arnade implies that they hustle in various ways, but the reality flashes through. When talking about a prostitute in Hunts Point who came from Oklahoma, and asking her if she wants to go back, she responds that everyone from home is busy. “I got nothing to offer them. What am I gonna be? A social security check that everyone wants.” Bingo. There it is. The government, as far as I can tell, gives money to all the people Arnade profiles, but he never mentions it, except for this one oblique reference, and a second reference that “the welfare office,” like other government and official offices, “are just big buildings that give them nothing but heartache and problems.” What heartache? What problems? We are not told. We are just supposed to accept the choice made to reject help in changing, but to accept cash. No judgment permitted. The reader is left with the conclusion that if cash, or perhaps medicine, is given out, the back row, or the underclass portion of the back row, will eagerly accept it. What they don’t want is help to end their pathologies.

Arnade is on strongest ground when he talks about religion, which for the vast majority of the people he talks to is their sole actionable route to real dignity, via the transcendent. In every place he goes, he visits local churches, attending services as a welcomed guest. He admits to his own hideous scientism and notes that everyone he meets in the Bronx “who was living homeless or battling an addiction held a deep faith.” “The preachers and congregants inside may preach to them, even judge their past decisions, but they don’t look down on them.” He himself becomes no longer an atheist, nor a believer only in the instrumental value of religion, but—something else.

Arnade is on weakest ground when he talks about racism, which is quite a bit. By racism, he means racism against African Americans. (He never quite comes out and says it, but it’s entirely obvious that, like any thinking person, he realizes that the only type of racism that matters or has any historical freight is that against African Americans. Hispanics, for example, claiming historical racism should go pound sand.) No doubt in the twentieth century African Americans were frequently deliberately economically disadvantaged in ways that still echo today, a topic well covered in Richard Rothstein’s fantastic The Color of Law, which Arnade does not cite, but should. Arnade notes that the front row is all about credentials, and African Americans find it hardest to obtain credentials. Affirmative action merely offers a tiny slice of people the ability to reach the front row—on the condition they leave home, “readjust their values, [and] readjust their worldview.”

Among African Americans in the back row, though, it’s pretty evident from the people Arnade talks to that racism as a problem is usually a distant competitor to lack of education and lack of jobs. Among whites and Hispanics in the back row, most are not racist at all. But Arnade can’t just leave it there. He’s a man of the Left, as he likes to remind us, and he keeps talking about the supposed problem of increasing racism among resentful whites. Now, I agree this is a real potential problem—as I frequently say, and am now more frequently saying, white racism channeled by a competent politician is likely to be a winning political strategy come the next big economic downturn, and it’s not going to be pretty. But Arnade never portrays any of his interlocutors as racist at all, and that undercuts his claims, which therefore seemed shoehorned in.

After all this, Arnade is, not surprisingly, angry at the front-row kids, first for causing the problems that the back-row kids face, and second for having no idea about the lives of people outside their bubble, and being contemptuous of them. Arnade is further incensed that the stock front-row response, from Left and Right alike (famously encapsulated in an odious 2016 screed from that dying bastion of loser conservatives, National Review), is that the back-row kids should move to where the jobs are, and that the real problem is that they caused their own social pathologies. As I say, there is some truth to that, and J. D. Vance went into this in some detail in his own memoir of back-row life. All the people Arnade interviews, though, identify very strongly with home; it is the one thing they have left. Moreover, it is expensive to move, and most back-row people lack the networks that allow them to resettle—what networks they have are part of their home. Not to mention that the mere ability to think in this way is mostly a front-row talent. Beyond that, though, no well-run society should hollow itself out by demanding the poor congregate in Megalopolis; it is no way to run a country.

I don’t dislike the front row in the abstract. I dislike today’s front row. Arnade is not a political theorist, but he probably agrees that there has to be a ruling class. We will always have class distinctions, and should. We just need a decent ruling class, and Arnade is right that ours is awful. It is exemplified by the Cambridge student in 2017 who, when asked for money by a homeless person, burned a twenty pound note in front of him. In short, what we need, as between the front row and the back row, is justice. Not social justice—which is, as Paul Rahe said, “a slogan used by those intent on looting.” Rather, justice in the sense of giving to each person what he deserves. There are many classes, each with its own needs, rights, and duties. The front row needs to recognize its duties to the back row, and to the nation as a whole; the back row needs to recognize its duties of self-help wherever possible, and the absolute necessity to reject the modern definition of dignity, and embrace the old definition. In that project the front row needs to lead and assist.

None of this can be solved easily. Smashing the current ruling class would be a good place to start. To do that, you’d need to smash the administrative state, the media, and the universities, rusticating their denizens and permanently stripping them of all influence and power, which is a tall order. You would then need an industrial policy that prioritized American jobs that are not concentrated on the coasts, followed by a general renewal of virtue (probably only possible through religion). As a woman in Cairo, Illinois, says: “But we are good people, smart people, who could show that if we had opportunity. We can be productive, but there is no grocery store, no gas station, no resource center. Nothing is here.” This is it. The goal of the Foundationalist state, based as always on hewing to reality, will be to offer opportunity—not the opportunity to join the front row, which anyway is going to be purged, but opportunity in place. It will also sharply distinguish between the deserving and undeserving poor, offering strong help for the former, and strong correction for the latter. As I say, a tall order, but something has to be done. A degraded proletariat spells trouble, a lesson from history that I think the front row, tripping the light fantastic, with their Teslas and palaces of glass, have forgotten, just as they have forgotten, for the most part, the back row’s very existence. They should read this book.


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20 Comments

  1. Jaspreet says

    Good show!

    I confess that I’ve only skimmed the book: my brother bought a copy and it only took a few minutes’ idle browsing to get the gist (or so I thought). Arnade’s question mark re. religion is very interesting. I think I got where he was coming from, more or less (in terms of his intellectual & ideological starting point); my sense is that there’s an unstated “something” that he was looking for and didn’t find during his travels. He doesn’t articulate it in the intro. or conclusion, and I didn’t read for long enough to get a sense of what it was.

    What do you think he didn’t find? Or am I just talking like a Marianne Williamson supporter?

    • Charles says

      Yeah, that’s basically it. He’s travelling the usual path, but I think his inability to make distinctions in behavior is part of his wishy-washy conclusion (although maybe that’s just a temporary conclusion). Nonetheless, I give him a lot of credit for talking about it. So what he didn’t find was two things: that there can be such a thing as Truth, and what that Truth is.

      I am eagerly waiting for at least a short reaction to the conference!

      • Jaspreet says

        Coming soon — and I even got a bonus picture with a friend of yours (taken by his Dad, whom you also know)….

        • Charles says

          I cannot wait. And now I am mystified, since you must mean “know” in the sense of “know of,” unless I am missing something . . . .

          • Jaspreet says

            Ah — instead of an “of”, a “must” was left out…. There’s a certain kind of big Polish guy who just seems to be friends with everybody in the room. You can imagine him at the sort of men’s club where everybody wears fezzes and smokes cigars, giving bear hugs and slapping everyone in sight heartily on the back (except the waitresses, who are naturally just goosed). Excellent man in other words. As you know the son is charming and friendly — but in a totally different (arguably more modern) way. Both were conspicuous at the conference, which was 90% “conservatives in glasses”. These two were more self-possessed — you could see them operating easily in other environments (those where women are present, for example). High-quality handshakes from both father and son, you’ll be pleased to confirm.

  2. Karen Bradford says

    Watched a program a couple of decades ago, (might not be relevant today); three experts on poverty were testifying before a congressional committee about the problem of getting people out of their situations. At the end of nearly a two hour session the professors conferred among themselves to give a final statement or summary to the committee. To paraphrase it, “Regardless of the obstacles, when no other alternative was available, they (the poor) all found a way to get and hold jobs.”

    I think that about sums it up.

  3. Harmony Pax says

    The junkies in Hunts Point have largely been supplanted by a new batch of immigrants as well as gentrifiers. I go to a department store there on my way home from work and I don’t see any bums, just middle class families. Most people there are busy and it’s kind of a crossroads.

    I don’t think I know anyone who is in either front row or back row America. Everyone I know is somewhere in the muddled middle, but they’re doing fine. Nobody’s really living in poverty. Some people are in between apartments from time to time but its not like they’re on drugs. It’s probably like less than 5% of people who aren’t middle class.

  4. Dixie Serb says

    I was first introduced to a book with the similar subject by Jim Goad
    The Redneck Manifesto. Later widely discussed among the Academics book, by Robert D. Putnam Bowling Alone (I didn’t read it though). But even earlier than them Samuel Francis, called them Middle American Radicals as members of an exploited class, harmed by conventional tax and trade policies, victimized by crime and social deviance, and denigrated by popular culture and elite institutions. That their grievances points both upward and downward. They believe they are neglected even prayed upon, by leadership class that favors simultaneously the rich and the poor over the middle class.

    That was over thirty years ago, and situation has much deteriorated since then. As the the opportunities even further diminished, opioid epidemic struck
    , the kids of the MAR’s appear to sink into the ‘parasitic’ class that was once only a small segment of the society. The once outliers of the society they are the norm and the perpetual underclass. The hunger by the elites for the underclass doesn’t end only by destroying the native middle class. By permitting the importation of a new underclass, mass immigration provides regime with fresh opportunities to engineer solutions to social problems and ethnic conflicts. In this way immigration strengthens and perpetuates liberalism moral legitimacy, which depends on the ability to dismantle the privileges of an ‘older traditional America’.

    • Charles Haywood says

      Yes; it is certainly true that essentially all immigration should be immediately banned, and any immigrants here illegally, including children and descendants, should immediately be removed from the country, using all necessary force.

  5. Marcus says

    “He attributes usage to dulling the pain and giving people a moment of joy, which is doubtless true”

    Charles, all the way through I keep feeling a strong ‘vibe’ of Edward C. Banfield’s theory of present-oriented versus future-oriented people. There lies the demarcation, especially when reading of taking drugs, ” dulling the pain and giving people a moment of joy”.

    There is a cognitive advantage to developing future-oriented thinking and dealing directly with hyperbolic discounting in a way that strengthens objective thinking about, well, nearly everything.

    People who have parents and grandparents who inculcate this future-oriented strategy toward life are at a huge advantage over all, and who then grant that advantage to THEIR children and grandchildren.

    I realize Banfield’s theory is the easy, broad-brush answer to the concept of dignity but so are manners, publicly and privately practiced. A couple of generations ago, a captain of industry would greet the doorman of his multi-million-dollar Carnegie Hill home with, “Good evening Mister Davis” and the doorman would respond, “Good evening Mister Johnson!”

    Manners and the function they serve — granting dignity to all people regardless of professional station — have evaporated completely, thus the current absolute insistence of RESPECT! to someone based on the fact he is merely present as one is speaking.

    • Charles Haywood says

      Yes, this is certainly a society-wide problem, and it cannot be fixed from the top down, at least by fiat law, though elite example can tell over time. I have a Banfield review, as you may know.

  6. Su says

    When I read this kind of book – and I’ve read many – I admit to becoming completely overwhelmed by the extent of our ruination as a culture. Everything that was ever worthwhile is under attack or has already been destroyed. I’m not a defeatist but it’s hard to see a way forward that has any realistic likelihood of being implemented. Virtue signaling is everywhere but actual virtue is all but nonexistent. I don’t think we can vote our way out of this level of corruption, or remake anything with the tools that are left to us; it has gone too far, and we didn’t see fit to object until it was too late. The left has had a carefully thought out plan that has been implemented over a long period of time. We see the success of that plan manifested everywhere and in everything. I’m afraid we’re going to have to live through some version of the apocalypse, after which – if the destruction is sufficiently wide and deep – there will be a place for genuine human virtue to flourish.

    • Dixie Serb says

      Here Samuel Francis’s thinking took the radical turn that marks his later writings. On its surface, liberalism promoted a fairer social contract and equal protection for all. But beneath its egalitarian aspect, Francis claimed, hid its vindictive purpose: to subvert traditional ways of life. “It is imperative,” he wrote, “for the emerging elites to challenge, discredit, and erode the moral, intellectual, and institutional fabric of traditional society.” Liberalism, on this account, was a coordinated ­project of cultural dispossession. Its long march through American life, Francis warned, would eventually target every symbol and institution of the older social order. National loyalty, traditional moral codes, the heroes and founders of American culture—in time, all would be subject to an accelerating campaign of ideological revision waged through legislation and the media. And liberalism gained more through this campaign than moral legitimacy. It secured a self-replenishing base of support comprising those it had emancipated from social norms.

      As it atomized individuals in mass society by discrediting the social order founded in family ties, patriotic duties, and religious obligations, liberalism created a society that needed ever more technocratic management. Drug legalization leads to problems that require hiring social workers and therapists. Liberalized divorce laws and sexual liberation are paired with the burgeoning field of family law as the managerial state intervenes to impose an order once provided by the now-discredited norms. The same is true for economic liberalization, which is attended by steep increases in regulatory law, which substitute for the moral limits that used to characterize bourgeois-dominated commercial life.

      • Charles Haywood says

        Although I have not read him (yet), Francis seems to have been proved correct about nearly, or maybe totally, everything he said.

  7. Lynda says

    Not surprised at all by your analysis of this book, and I totally agree with it. You critique the author’s typical leftist need to assign victimhood and sob sister those who are the so-called victims, without even a smidgen of reality to leaven the tears. You might be a middle-row kid who became a front-row adult by virtue, well yes, the virtue of self-control, responsibility, putting in the work and building something from nothing. Anyone who starts a business and makes a success of it has a pretty good understanding of those who chronically occupy the bottom rung. Something about the Ivory Tower leftists don’t have a clue.

    I have read both Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart” and Theodore Dalrymple’s “Life at the Bottom”, and they offer clear-eyed, reality based characterizations of many in that cohort who have shirked responsibility in favor of the easy path to subsistence, all the while bitterly complaining how badly they are mistreated by an over-weaning nanny state that requires them to, yes, forego dignity in exchange for a hand-out. I have nothing but admiration and respect for people like J.D. Vance, whose memoire I also have read, who, albeit with the help of a formidable grand mother, made his way out of that strata and into the front row.

    Personally, I grew up in the very back of the middle row, but through the guidance of family example I found my way to the front of the middle row. I couldn’t have done it by feeling sorry for myself, refusing to work hard, or turning to drugs to blur the reality of what was an early life with few luxuries. Successful now, I’m also still very much a product of my early beginnings – conservative, frugal and self-contained, and if blame needs to be ascribed it has always been toward myself and my decisions. I was fortunate to have a family who lived and demonstrated solid values esteeming honesty, hard work and responsibility, something that is missing from the chronic residents of the back row.

    • Charles Haywood says

      All true (and congratulations on your own life path). Dalrymple’s book (of which I have a review) is depressing in this way; James Bloodworth’s Hired also is relevant here. But we will always have an underclass (and as many on the Right fail to understand, it is not only urban areas that have an underclass, but rural ones as well).

  8. ThisIsNotNutella says

    I have a friend who, having made his pile in the Far East through offshoring and outsourcing, returned to England to acquire himself a very attractive Rural Pile in the London Stockbroker Belt. Doing so involved much modernization, redecoration, and the addition of large extensions and underground facilities. Naturally the whole thing is hugely environmentally up-to-date and at least 100 little old Legacy Stock ladies with NHS Teeth in the Back Row must be quietly freezing to death each winter in order to subsidize said friend’s selling of his excess solar energy back into the national grid. All he sees is payback time on the heritage-approved camouflaged solar roof and the Tesla Batteries, etc. And of course a nifty App showing which way net energy is flowing at any given time. Shiny!

    The interesting bit was hearing him talk about the local construction staff he hired and managed largely himself. All kinds of dysfunctions, of course… But never a single hint of awareness that then non-skilled among these people were reduced to day laboring by precisely the activities which have enriched him. Or that the collapse of public morals (can be sure he runs a tight ship at home with his offspring) and the worship of ‘Tolerance’ are a failing of the Front Row.

    He’s not a bad man. Far from it. Generous, Charitable, Well-meaning, not a mean-spirited bone in his body. But he’d find a way to justify according to the ‘morals’ of the Successor Ideology of turning his own native folk into Soylent Green if it meant a glowing write up in the Economist or the FT.

    If a New (or Old, or Speckled, or Besequined) Morality were imposed from Above, he’d be onboard in 10 seconds flat.

    And that’s reason Number Eleventy Zillion why the present Elites who define Morality need recirculating… through a wood chipper. Most of the Strivers will snap into line stat. once new Tablets come down from the mountain.

    • Charles Haywood says

      Yeah. Every cent that man has should be confiscated; he should be sent to the country and made to earn his living as a laborer.

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