Category Archives: squalor

A world heritage site of incompetent modernist architecture

Left to rot: the magnificent Victorian original building

Dalrymple at Aberystwyth University

The university’s original magnificent Victorian building

stands unoccupied except by detritus that can be glimpsed through its Gothic windows unwashed for decades.

The rest, he says,

is of such ugliness that one is left clutching one’s eyes in despair.

Unutterably hideous: one of the university’s structures

The students,

who in term time make up a third of the town’s population, care deeply about the fate of the planet and the future of the environment, but live in squalor.

They

turn everywhere they inhabit into a slum, and wade happily through the litter that they drop — principally the wrappings and containers of their refreshments rather than lecture notes.

Modernist architecture of almost laughable ineptitude

The grisliness induces in the onlooker a sense of hopelessness in the face of such degradation

British social policy defined

An idiocy wrapped in a lunacy wrapped in an absurdity, to produce misery and squalor

Dalrymple writes:

A tax on knowledge is a terrible thing, but a tax on ignorance, prejudice, evasion and half-truth is worse. That is what every British household with a television must pay, for the privilege of having the earnest but frivolous lucubrations of the BBC purveyed to it, whether it wants them or not.

This poll tax — or licence fee, as it is known — is the equivalent of nearly $200 per household a year, and is thus worth evading. Unfortunately, it costs nearly three times as much to catch evaders as the licence fees would have raised if paid. One proposal is to halve the licence fee for single mothers. Dalrymple comments:

In other words, we should subsidise a subsidy, in the name of a universal right to misinformation and trashy entertainment (and at the same time confer yet another incentive for single parenthood).

Triumph of the antinomians

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 12.05.15Dalrymple writes in the preface to Our Culture, What’s Left of It: The Mandarins and the Masses that in much of the world, the miseries of poverty

are no longer those of raw physical deprivation but those induced by comparison with the vast numbers of prosperous people by whom the relatively poor are surrounded and whose comparative wealth the poor feel as a wound, a reproach, and an injustice.

Ronnie Kaufman's photo on a jacket by Jen Huppert Design

Photo by Ronnie Kaufman on a jacket by Jen Huppert Design for the Ivan R. Dee (Chicago) 2005 edition

In the 20th century,

the hope of progress has not proved altogether illusory,

but

neither has the fear of retrogression proved unjustified.

The First World War

destroyed facile optimism that progress towards heaven on earth was inevitable or even possible.

Then came communism and Nazism, which between them

destroyed scores of millions of lives in a fashion that only a few short decades before would have appeared inconceivable.

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 12.47.50Many of the disasters of the 20th century

could be characterised as revolts against civilisation itself: the Cultural Revolution, or the Khmers Rouges.

Only recently, in Rwanda,

ordinary people were transformed into pitiless murderers by demagogic appeals over the radio. They achieved a rate of slaughter with their machetes never equalled even by the Nazis.

In the circumstances,

one might have supposed that a principal preoccupation of intellectuals would be the maintenance of the boundaries that separate civilisation from barbarism.

One would be wrong.

Some have embraced barbarism; others have remained unaware that boundaries do not maintain themselves and are in need of maintenance and sometimes vigorous defence.

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 12.54.10The prestige intellectuals confer upon antinomianism

soon communicates itself to nonintellectuals. What is good for the bohemian sooner or later becomes good for the unskilled worker, the unemployed, the welfare recipient — the very people most in need of boundaries to make their lives tolerable or allow them hope of improvement. The result is moral, spiritual, and emotional squalor, engendering fleeting pleasures and prolonged suffering.

Civilisation

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 12.55.17needs conservation as much as it needs change, and immoderate criticism, or criticism from the standpoint of utopian first principles, is capable of doing much — indeed devastating — harm. No man is so brilliant that he can work everything out for himself, so that the wisdom of the ages has nothing useful to tell him. To imagine otherwise is to indulge in the most egotistical of hubris.

The disastrous notions of the underclass about how to live

derive from the unrealistic, self-indulgent, and often fatuous ideas of social critics.

 

Ugliness, be thou my beauty

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 09.05.43The squalor and degradation that is Western popular culture

Two windows on the sordor:

  • obituaries of pop stars in the newspaper
  • a walk in the street

Pop stars, writes Dalrymple, fall into two groups:

  1. those who retire into the life of the squirearchy, the pleasures of whose kind of life they have done so much to destroy for others
  2. those who die young

There is nothing like the sordid for getting ahead

Romantics view self-destructive behaviour

as the sign of a great soul.

De Quincey wrote:

Pain driven to agony, or grief driven to frenzy, is essential to the ventilation of profound natures.

But, Dalrymple points out,

it is an elementary error of logic to suppose that, because profound natures ventilate agonised frenzy, those who ventilate agonised frenzy have profound natures.

Take punk. Its ‘ethic’ consists, explains Dalrymple, of

an utterly conformist non-conformity and an insensate individualism without individuality, allied to brutal and deliberate bad taste.

Self-harm

For instance,

to inflict a serious injury on yourself (which you then require others to repair for you, at their expense) in order to prove that you are genuinely committed to bad taste, ugliness, a rejection of everything that could possibly make life worth living, and to a celebration of ‘alienation, boredom and despair’ does not seem to me to be meritorious in any way. The alienation, boredom and despair are the consequence of a combination of laziness and impatient ambition, rather than the consequence of an ‘objective’ situation, and represent an impossible demand for achievement without concomitant effort.

Rage

Dalrymple says:

I feel a certain rage at the culture that we have created, and a certain guilt that I have not fought against it with all my heart and soul, to the best of my ability. It is a culture that can produce lines — and mean them, that is what is terrible — such as the following from one of Richey Edwards‘ songs (as Mozart took dictation from God, so he took dictation from the Zeitgeist):

I hate purity. Hate goodness. I don’t want virtue to exist anywhere. I want everyone corrupt.

No escape from the squalor of politics

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 07.55.29Britain’s prime minister, writes Dalrymple,

is Focus Group Man made flesh. This is not altogether surprising since his only known employment, other than politician, was in public relations. He appears not to know what to think until he has consulted a variety of gauges of public opinion, and then he announces his own opinion as if from deep conviction.

Dalrymple supposes that it is

naïve to want politicians to believe in something and to say what they mean. When you come to think of it, those who have done so have probably done more damage than the equivocators.

In search of sordor

Nostalgie de la boue: The romantic appeal of filth, violence and vomit

Dalrymple writes that it is today not uncommon

for children from good homes to seek out a squalid existence rather than a decent one. I have had as patients more than one middle-class girl who ran away from a comfortably bourgeois present and a bright academic future in order to join crack-addled prostitutes.

Why?

Why would anyone run away from a rich and cultivated home…to seek out and allow pimps to ply her with heroin?

Screen Shot 2014-02-16 at 23.50.03The answer is that squalor

seems more exciting, authentic and real, especially to those who have known nothing but security. Some achieve squalor as some kind of guarantee of authenticity. They wear squalor as a badge of honour won against the odds in the battle against respectability. A respectable career is tame and boring, at least for those who seek excitement and strong sensation. A squalid life is seldom without crises and drama, which keep the adrenalin pumping and ennui at bay. Women who repeatedly have relationships with violent men may quickly reject a man who treats them decently.

Bohemianism of an especially sordid kind becomes a sign of moral election,

as once a scrubbed doorstep was a sign of working-class respectability. Leading a comfortable existence may seem like injustice, the perpetuation of unearned privilege or a betrayal of the poor. Although living in squalor will not assist the impoverished in the slightest, it shows that one’s heart is in the right place.