Monday, January 16, 2006

Parsing Dalyrimple

Hiromi brings up an interesting point about the Dalyrimple article:

Hiromi:
"It seems to me that people have never been really good at self-reflection, and always very good at self-justification."

Quite true, and this is where I differ with Dalyrimple. I'm not sure what the sociological underpinnings of murder really are. He talks about "bohemianism", but that makes him sound like someone's Grandfather.

He does have some interesting observations though. My wife and I live in a "steel town" in southern Ontario. If you ask our neighbors what they do for a living, they will tell you:
"Well, I work night shift, and my husband works day shift." It's a very blue collar town.

Claire and I live in the "good" part of town, as opposed to the "bad" part of town on the other side of Main Street. The bad part isn't terrible, but there is good reason to call it the bad part because all of the murders happen in that part of town as well as of all of the drug raids. Here, we have mostly retired people.

The Dalyrimple article rings a bell with me because I spent a lot of time walking through town, and so I've seen most of the bad and good parts. What's fascinating is that the bad neighborhoods have nearly identical houses, built in the same post WWII era, identical churches, schools and so forth. But, the upkeep is much worse. So, you'll see a yard with a layer of leaves from the Fall, covered by a layer of garbage. On the porch is two milk crates for chairs, and often there are people sitting on them drinking at like 2 pm. Then, every other house on the street will look the same.

Our neighborhood looks totally different, and I think it's due to the social pressure over here. Our neighbors wouldn't let us get away with leaving trash on the yard. They wouldn't be too harsh about it, but they would knock on the door and ask us to clean up. They're more involved with each other here. At times, this annoys me. But, when my wife cut her hand and I was in Buffalo, it was nice to have so many neighbors around to take her to the Health Centre.
I've also noticed how ugly public housing is. Not just because it's shoddy, but it's like they find the ugliest architectural designs they can to punish the people who live there. Have you ever noticed that grafitti tends to be most prevalent on the ugliest buildings? The gorgeous styles from the 1860s-1920s tend to be completely untagged, even in the worst neighborhoods.

Where I disagree with Dalyrimple is in his ultimate analysis of this. Maybe Britain is different though. He says:
"They had received no guidance from religion, naturally enough, since God is dead for them, and never has been very much alive."

He's obviously spent little times in American slums, where God is omnipresent. Our town is very, very Catholic, and this tends to be the case in the best and worst neighborhoods. But, in North America, in general, I think the lower classes tend to be much more strongly religious than the upper classes.

Dalyrimple:
" As for social convention, it has not so much been destroyed as turned inside out. The poor who once prided themselves on such things as respectability, cleanliness, honesty, orderliness and thrift, often in the most difficult circumstances, now pride themselves on their bohemianism."

Me:
I do think that most children I encounter are never taught these things, but that tends to be true amongst all the classes. And, it's not because their parents are "bohemians", so much as that their parents are just absent. And that also tends to be a problem everywhere.

Dalyrimple:
"Disorder and chaos are a metonym for freedom and authenticity. But they are bohemians without being artistic, and the result is a squalor scarcely credible in times of supposed prosperity. "

Me:
Please! I think he is right about the squalor, but there's a sense of exhaustion behind it. The filthiest neighborhoods I see are ones where people are home all of the time, but won't pick up their trash. But, I think there's an anger and exhaustion at the root of that, and not people trying to ape the beatniks or whatever he's going on about here.

So, that's a bit more on the subject.

4 comments:

The Pagan Temple said...

It all comes down to a kind of fatalism, and all too often, religion amongst the lower classes tends to exacerbate it, not relieve it, or offer any kind of hope. At best, religion tends to look down on these people with a patrnalistic though patronizing attitude.

There is very litle there in the way of what can be termed artistic, on any level, bohemian or otherwise. What may exist tends to be quickly crushed, or suffocated. The chaotic lives of these people are reflected in the way they keep their properties. It has little if anything to do with artistic expression, and just about everything to do with despair, and hopelessness.

Rufus said...

Exactly! If anything, it's the utter lack of artistic culture/ activities that contributes to the problem.

Hiromi said...

By the way, Carlton (I'm used to calling you this), I know you didn't write the quote, I just thought you agreed with him.

When I read your first excerpt, I was kind of nodding my head. In a nutshell, what I would term the self-esteem movement seems to have gone too far, to the point where academic standards are watered down and competition deemed harmful to children. But I doubt this leads to murderous behavior. Anyway, is the nature of murder in modern times significantly different from murder when "bohemianism" didn't exist, so that there's a special explanatory power for it? I'm assuming "bohemianism" is supposed to be a modern phenomenon.

"They had received no guidance from religion, naturally enough, since God is dead for them, and never has been very much alive."

In addition to the widespread belief in God in poverty-stricken areas and amongst people in prison, crime also existed during times in which people supposedly did receive lots of religious guidance. The above quote smacks of "oh, the golden days" type of nostalgia.

"As for social convention, it has not so much been destroyed as turned inside out. The poor who once prided themselves on such things as respectability, cleanliness, honesty, orderliness and thrift, often in the most difficult circumstances, now pride themselves on their bohemianism."

The "noble poor" - did they ever exist?

Rufus said...

Hiromi:
"By the way, Carlton (I'm used to calling you this), I know you didn't write the quote, I just thought you agreed with him."

Ah yeah, I was just trying to stimulate discussion. I do agree with him that your physical environment can play a role in your psychology. But, not so much about La Boheme. You can call me whatever you'd like. I'm just covering my tracks a bit as a lot of institutions won't give positions to bloggers.

"When I read your first excerpt, I was kind of nodding my head. In a nutshell, what I would term the self-esteem movement seems to have gone too far, to the point where academic standards are watered down and competition deemed harmful to children."

It's interesting- very rarely do I ever encounter the "shrinking violet" type of student. Usually, I get the "I'm a special little snowflake" disposition.

"But I doubt this leads to murderous behavior. Anyway, is the nature of murder in modern times significantly different from murder when "bohemianism" didn't exist, so that there's a special explanatory power for it? I'm assuming "bohemianism" is supposed to be a modern phenomenon."

Well, that's the funny thing because it actually goes back to the 1800s, but I think Dalyrimple is playing it off of the early part of the 20th century in England.

"In addition to the widespread belief in God in poverty-stricken areas and amongst people in prison, crime also existed during times in which people supposedly did receive lots of religious guidance. The above quote smacks of "oh, the golden days" type of nostalgia."

Right, and I think that belief in God doesn't really change much if the believer sees God as being very approving of whatever it is they want to do.

"The "noble poor" - did they ever exist?"

It's hard to say. I wonder if he's referring to what Max Weber called the Protestant work ethic. But, it's hard to say if people were less criminal in earlier times or not. Maybe the difference then was just that Weegee's photographs couldn't get worldwide exposure.