Category Archives: downward cultural aspiration

Uncouth chic

Screen Shot 2016-05-01 at 13.53.48Professional soccer players, Dalrymple points out, are drawn

from the class adjacent to the underclass, into which downward slippage is all too easy.

But in the past,

those who managed to escape their lowly origins usually aspired to be taken for bona fide members of the middle classes by conforming their conduct to middle-class standards.

No longer. Newfound wealth imposes no obligation to change one’s ways. Violent and despicable public conduct results

neither in legal sanction, social ostracism, nor even strong disapproval.

In England,

the direction of cultural aspiration has reversed: it is the middle classes that aspire to be taken for their social inferiors, an aspiration that (in their opinion) necessitates misconduct.

Young middle-class women proudly sport tattoos, for example,

as badges of antinomian defiance, of intellectual independence, and of identification with the supposedly downtrodden—if not of the entire world, then at least of our inner cities.


glamorises the underclass way of life and its attitude towards the world. A new style has been invented.

Dalrymple on…

Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 18.02.43♦ his reportage
I was just describing what I saw. I probably made it less terrible. I saw almost straight away that raw want was not the explanation.

♦ moral relativism
It has disastrous effects on those worst off, those least able to withstand the practical results of moral anarchy.

♦ loss of self-control
It leaves people trapped in cheerless self-pitying hedonism and the brutality of the dependency culture.

♦ the British
Now they are all the Lumpenproletariat.

♦ middle-class emulation of the barbarian
When you imitate something, the role becomes the reality.

♦ Jimmy Savile
The start of an evangelical vulgarisation that has proved unstoppable.

♦ English downward cultural aspiration
Among the causes:
Loss of confidence of the middle class (which is quite easy to enter, unlike France which is far more snobbish).
⇒ Loss of British power and influence in the world. It’s catastrophic when that happens.
In France, politicians pretend to be more cultured than they are; in Britain it’s the opposite.

♦ exports of UK vulgarity
Why anyone finds British culture attractive I can’t imagine.

♦ British urban residents
Barbarians camped out in the ruins of an older, superior civilisation they don’t understand.

♦ litter
You don’t have to wait 3,000 years for litter to become archæology before it tells you something. You can track diet, habits, attitudes, how people see the world. It’s a complete loss of interest in the public space.

♦ his character
People have great difficulty marking themselves out as individuals. I didn’t, but I’m odd. From an early age I was contrary. Not in any aggressive or egotistical way. But I was always quite happy that I knew best. It’s not true, of course, but I never let it destroy the illusion.

♦ the worst fate
To be an intelligent and sensitive person born into the British underclass. The social pressure on you to fail is enormous. I remember a girl who wanted to study French but ‘they said I was stupid because I was clever’. Can you imagine growing up in that environment?

♦ British education
A modern miracle. People come out of school knowing less than when they went in.

♦ England’s cultural level
Extremely low, at least on a mass scale. The British are so degraded culturally they can’t even answer the telephone properly.

♦ Britain’s ‘service economy without the service’
The English can’t tell the difference between service and servitude, which is a terrible thing in a service economy.

♦ emotional constipation
The British used to be known for it. Now it’s emotional incontinence.

♦ why he became a psychiatrist
The gossip.

♦ disappointment
The permanent condition of mankind. Life would be intolerable without it. We would all be so smug.

♦ tolerance
A society that tolerates everything is rather bad. Shouting, screaming, intimidation. We are prepared to tolerate public vomiting, but if you use the term ‘actress’, you are a sexist. A very well-educated lady told me public vomiting is all right: ‘They can clear it up.’ This is how the élite thinks. They are so anxious not to seem narrow-minded or bigoted, or of being ‘judgmental’.

The theory and practice of oligarchical egalitarianism

Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 11.48.42Dalrymple Q&A

You have spoken, doctor, of what you call the reversal of the direction of emulation. What do you mean?

Until quite recently, emulators emulated those higher in the social scale than themselves, which meant that there were more emulators than emulated. Now it is persons in or from a higher social class who emulate those in a lower social class.

How do those persons from a higher social class do this?

Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 12.02.44They adopt the manner of speaking, dress and cultural tastes of those below them. Intellectuals affect vulgar expressions, and anyone with an avowed uninterest either in sport or in popular music is suspected at once of enmity towards the people.

What is the meaning of this change in the direction of cultural influence and aspiration?

It signifies the complete ideological victory of egalitarianism, from which few dare derogate.

Is not this all quite bogus?

Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 12.28.29Of course. There is a vast difference between the pays idéologique and the pays réel. The desire for social and economic advance, to be at the top rather than at the bottom of the social scale, is as acute as ever. The scramble for position and prestige is ferocious.

The pretence must be kept up, must it not?

The desire to stand out from and above one’s fellows cannot be avowed, except perhaps in the context of sport.

Musée du quai Branly, Paris

Masks, Musée du quai Branly, Paris

Granted that the downward cultural aspiration of members of the corrupt élite is purely defensive, how do they maintain the fiction?

If they indulge in egalitarianism in the symbolic field, they hope that their economic inegalitarianism will go, if not unnoticed, at least less noticed. Once they are in private, they can drop their affected egalitarianism for public consumption and become what they are in reality, namely ferocious élitists.

Erzherzogin Maria Antonia am Spinett. Franz Xaver Wagenschön, c. 1769. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Erzherzogin Maria Antonia am Spinett. Franz Xaver Wagenschön, c. 1769. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

So the downward cultural aspiration, or apparent aspiration, is to the élitists vital.

It is the means by which the contradiction between the pays idéologique and the pays réel is reconciled, though only in appearance. And in a society in which what is virtual is as important as, if not more important than, what is real, an apparent reconciliation is as important as a real one.

Is there not a difficulty with this?

The problem is that what starts as affectation becomes habit which becomes character. In the end, the play-acting becomes real. If Marie Antoinette had played shepherdess for long and often enough, that is what eventually she would have been. The coarseness of popular culture triumphs — by degrees, to be sure — over all other forms.

What is the effect of the false egalitarianism on social mobility?

Snakes and ladders, late 19th century. Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Snakes and ladders, India, late 19th century. Victoria & Albert Museum, London

The fact that the higher echelons now ape the lower means that the lower have no need to aspire to anything in order to imagine themselves to be rising in the social scale, for there is nothing higher to emulate. The false egalitarianism serves to conserve the social structure as a fly is conserved in amber. Social mobility falls while culture becomes less refined.

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