Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass- Theodore Dalrymple



If the doctor has a duty to relieve the suffering of his patients, he must have some idea where that suffering comes from, and this involves the retention of judgment, including moral judgment.And if, as far as he can tell in good faith, the misery of his patients derives from the way they live, he has a duty to tell them so—which often involves a more or less explicit condemnation of their way of life as completely incompatible with a satisfying existence. By avoiding the issue, the doctor is not being kind to his patients; he is being cowardly. Moreover, by refusing to place the onus on the patients to improve their lot, he is likely to mislead them into supposing that he has some purely technical or pharmacological answer to their problems, thus helping to perpetuate them.- Theodore Dalrymple, Life at the Bottom

Theodore Dalrymple, a retired British psychiatrist, who has spent years working with the underclass is a very keen observer of human nature, as is evidenced by this book. His dealings with thousands of these people at close quarters gave him much of the fodder for his thesis which is, I’m sure that some will disagree, that a lot of poverty is caused by dysfunctional values, values that those in power exploit and make worse by creating a culture of victims. Most of these stories and anecdotes are from Dalrymple’s time working in British slums and prisons.

This was a very heavy read and I’m still thinking about it weeks after I read it. There are things discussed that seem so foreign to me because I’ve never had to deal with them, and it’s upsetting that so many do. I learned interesting points around education, literature, the violence in the British culture, the housing, and how often people in need aren’t helped enough because they aren’t tragic enough. It was eye-opening and there is a lot of pain in this book, and so much raises questions.

Also, it’s important to know that several of the essays in this book were written in the 90s, so people’s values have changed since then. I obviously didn’t agree with everything Dalrymple stated in the book, and I haven’t lived in the UK for a long time, so there are things I can’t speak to or challenge, even though I really want to.

I was surprised when Dalrymple  alluded that systemic racism isn’t a thing, but his other points about how we should treat people on a case by case situation, not by their race, was well-taken. Also interesting was how he has worked in African and Latin American countries where he talks about the poverty there but says that the Western underclass’s mental, cultural, emotional and spiritual poverty is the worst he has ever seen, something backed up by the doctors from Asia who start working at his hospital:

By the end of three months my doctors have, without exception, reversed their original opinion that the welfare state, as exemplified by England, represents the acme of civilization. On the contrary, they see it now as creating a miasma of subsidized apathy that blights the lives of its supposed beneficiaries.

So much of this book is due to the fact that Dalrymple is tired of people blaming the system and not taking their own actions into consideration. There is a lot of controversial stuff, that’s for sure. But as far as critical thinkers goes, Dalrymple is one of the best I’ve come across recently.

I liked his thoughts on the architectural changes in England following the turn of the 20th century  when Britain was entering modernity:

The architects thought that modernity was a value that transcended all other virtues; they thought they could wake the country from its nostalgic slumber, dragging it into the twentieth century by pouring what seemed to them to be the most modern of building materials—reinforced concrete—all over it. Hence, among many other crimes, they tore down the elegant Victorian wrought-iron tracery of my city’s main railway station, with its splendid arched roof over the platforms and tracks, and built instead a brutalist construction of steel and soon-discoloured concrete to a plan that proved no more practical or functional than the old.


One of the points that spoke to me the most was perhaps this:

Experience has taught me that it is wrong and cruel to suspend judgement, that nonjudgmentalism is at its best indifference to the suffering of others, at worst a disguised form of sadism. How can one respect people as members of the human race unless one holds them to a standard of conduct and truthfulness? How can people learn from experience unless they are told that they can and should change?

This book will definitely make you think.



China Men- Maxine Hong Kingston


“You fix yourself in the present, but I want to hear the stories about the rest of your life, the Chinese stories. I want to know what makes you scream and curse, and what you’re thinking when you say nothing, and why when you do talk, you talk differently from Mother.”– Maxine Hong Kingston, China Men

Maxine Hong Kingston is a great storyteller and this was like no other book I’ve ever read before. It’s a patchwork of fiction, non-fiction, myths and legends, and historical artifacts that helped to shape the story of what it must have been like for her male Chinese ancestors in North America.

This book is about the immigrant experience and how the Chinese leaving their homes in China in hopes of a better financial future, found ways to make their new land their own. As most of us have read so many immigrant stories we can often guess what these stories will bring: frustration, hardships, racism, homesickness, and so on. I think the history of the Chinese in North America is quite unique because of the sex ratio disparity which meant that in many places there were very few Chinese women. It was interesting to see how the men were creative in their own lives, upholding cultures and traditions, far away from home and from their wives, children, and other relatives.

The way the Chinese were treated in the States wasn’t new to me, and they experienced similar treatment in Canada. It was interesting to compare and contrast the experiences.

The language factor definitely contributed to how poorly the Chinese workers were treated, and the frustration was evident in this book:

“How was he to marvel adequately, voiceless? He needed to cast his voice out to catch ideas.”

The frustration also came about to their being exploited by the overseers. The Chinese workers were treated terribly; hard work, dangerous work, the slowest being sent home without pay as an “incentive” for the others to work hard.

I enjoyed how myth was used in the book, how stories from China were transported and taken to another land, to a land that wasn’t theirs initially, but was soon stained with their blood. Myths were also used by the writer to fill in parts of her ancestors’ stories that were missing

One thing that’s similar between the Chinese history in America and in Canada was the building of the railroads:

“They lost count of the number dead; there is no record of how many died building the railroad. Or maybe it was demons doing the counting and Chinamen not worth counting.”

In Canada, they say for every mile of the railroad, one Chinese man died. I visited the Last Spike of the Canadian railroad (Revelstoke, BC) on a Rocky Mountain tour a few years ago. The tour guide, who was Chinese-Canadian, told us a bit about the history  and then directed our attention to the painting commemorating the opening of the railway. We searched in vain for a Chinese face. This is one of the reasons I feel our cultural history has to be taught, to show us we belong in a place that might still look at us as unwelcome strangers. The following line must surely be powerful to a Chinese child:

“Once in a while an adult said, ‘Your grandfather built the railroad.’ (Or ‘Your grandfathers built the railroad.’)”


The Last Spike of the Canadian Railroad in Revelstoke, BC
The Last Spike of the Canadian Railroad in Revelstoke, BC
last spike
A picture commemorating the Last Spike

I loved this book so much. It’s one that definitely warrants a re-read.




Let’s Stop Putting Down the Humanities and the Arts

I wish I didn’t have to hear so many negative comments and jokes about Humanities and Social Science degrees. I wish I didn’t have to hear people saying that taking an English or a History Major is an easy way out. Why do so many people feel the need to say, “You’re smart, why didn’t you study sciences?” Why are we immediately in awe of those in the sciences, and where’s the respect for the other disciplines?

I love both the arts and sciences, in fact I was a science major for 2 years before I decided to switch to a BA. I have a General Studies diploma with a concentration in Earth Sciences, which always surprises people. As much as I loved my first major I knew that continuing in it wasn’t going to make me happy in the long run. I realized it was more of a hobby than the career I wanted. After a gruelling semester studying geomorphology, paleontology and mineralogy, hours and hours of staying in the lab and looking at rock samples under the microscope, plus a horrible, wet field school in the BC interior, surrounded by bears and having to use a stinky pit latrine, I realized that maybe this major wasn’t for me. It was a tough decision but honestly the best decision I’ve ever made. Taking arts and humanities courses after taking so many science courses felt like a homecoming for me; all the reading, all the lovely essay writing, I felt completely at home.

It’s quite frustrating to hear people say that the arts and humanities are easy. I would like for them to try to make sense of some of the books that I’ve read.  I feel for me personally studying the arts is tricky because things are evolving more quickly due to globalization, postcolonialism, etc., and also because there’s so much cross-contamination with other disciplines. There are so many developments going on in society it’s pretty much impossible to keep up with it all, but it’s all so very important. In my Global Politics course I had to read philosophy, race studies, media studies, feminist theory, history and international relations course material. All those in a politics class! Can you imagine how much reading I had to do? A lot. It’s also essential to be quick at connecting things and delving into them in depth. It’s not a walk in the park by any means, so when people say my major is easy, I believe they are essentially devaluing the time and effort I take in studying, reading, and writing.

I realize that one of the reasons that people don’t respect the humanities is because of the statistics that say that scientists earn a lot more than non-scientists. But just because someone has a science degree it doesn’t necessarily mean they will get a job working in their field anyway. And it’s too much to go into right now but I think it’s tragic that so many people study something they detest just because they believe they can get a lucrative job once they graduate.

I love the arts. They have made me a decent writer, a decent thinker, a more empathetic human being, and they have encouraged me to question things and expand my horizons. I have learned skills that I probably wouldn’t have learned in the sciences. The pursuit of knowledge is something that was instilled in me while doing my BA and now halfway through my MA. A world full of scientists, can you imagine? The same goes for a world full of arts and humanities students. We need the diversity for several reasons. We’re all different, have different brains, different personalities. It doesn’t make sense to me to hierarchize everything, creating elitism.


Kickboxing Geishas: How Modern Japanese Women Are Changing Their Nation- Veronica Chambers


“The thing about Japan is that it’s a developed country and a developing country all in the same breath. It’s such a contradiction.”- Veronica Chambers, Kickboxing Geishas

My selection of this book is proof that I am often drawn to a book because of its innovative title. I was definitely intrigued by the subject matter finding myself more interested in feminism, and also because I work at a Japanese company and know quite a bit about Japanese culture due to my  Japanese co-workers. Given what I’ve heard from the Japanese women (and men) I’ve talked to about the high levels of chikan (groping) and flashers at Japanese high schools it was hard for me to believe that Japan is experiencing a feminist revolution, kickboxing gender roles.

This book is very informative about Japan and the strides that Japanese women have been making. Some of the topics covered:

  • Enjo kosai – aka “compensated dating,” a euphemism for prostitution
  • Unique aspects of Japanese culture- for example, capsule hotels!
  • Linguistic problems- single women are called parasite singles, single women over 25 are called stale Christmas cake, those over 30 are called make inu (losing dogs).
  • The kawaii culture exemplified by Hello Kitty
  • Women in the corporate world
  • The domestic impact of Japanese women travelling to foreign countries.
  • Love, dating and marriage in Japan
  • I also learned that like politicians from anywhere else, Japanese politicians often talk rubbish. Case in point, the following comment from a Japanese Diet politician in the 1980s: “In Japan, the men cannot rape the women because they do not have the energy.”

Initially, I found the writer’s voice a bit distracting. It’s written in an ethnographic style and the writer is too present, in my opinion. It’s understandable that the background of an ethnographer is important to know as our perspective is based on this. However, her interjections did get a bit tedious  and I wish she had kept more of a distance in her writing.

Despite this, I found the book interesting. It is definitely not meant to be academic and I think that people who already know a lot about Japan, they might find the book to be rudimentary.

Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism – Natasha Walter

“I have been watching this hypersexual culture getting fiercer and stronger, and co-opting the language of choice and liberation.” – Natasha Walter, Living Dolls

After the Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke VMA performance some time ago I read a comment by a friend that asked the question: “Why is it that the man is always fully clothed while the woman is always half-naked?” Great question and an example of the double standards that are so rife in our society. This book does a terrific job in addressing sexism in society; feminism was supposed to empower women but unfortunately a lot of women have a false sense of empowerment.  Women still feel the need to conform to the image that society has prescribed for them, an image which is more and more defined by the sex industry.

The book challenges how we think, especially about the sex industry becoming so mainstream. Walter dissects arguments and shows us how problematic the sex industry is. Very problematic, even for women not involved in it : “The highly sexualized culture around us is tolerated and even celebrated because it rests on the illusion of equality.”

Walter’s tone is not judgmental at all. Her candid interviews with various women working in the sex industry, as well as the very disturbing opinions several British teenagers have shared with her about sexuality help cement her argument that there is really a problem here. Women are not empowered at all, violence, rape and the pressure to be perfect are things women still have to deal with.Women still experience sexual bullying, even women in positions of power and women don’t have income equality with men.

The book also addresses myths about women such as the opinion held by many that women aren’t good at math. Is it biologically determined or is it a result of socialization?

My feelings after reading this book: disgust at the fact that we have let this hypersexualized culture become so prevalent, yet relative optimism due to the fact that there is a lot of dialogue and more awareness these days.

This is a must-read for everyone.

Programmes in Place for TCKs

As the transition time of a TCK to enter a new culture, or re-enter their old one, is often lacking of structure and is instead often very chaotic, repatriation programmes are very important. I was able to find out about a few, all of which dealt with North Americans. Currently, the USA has five re-entry programmes for American missionary children returning to the States. They are all different in terms of style, length and syllabus content (Davis et al., 2010). For instance, the MK Transition Seminar is 13 days long and includes recent high school graduates who are about to attend American post-secondary institutions. This seminar encourages storytelling and gives the adolescents suggestions and information about integrating into society. This seminar is staffed by volunteers who are made up of psychologists, pastors and counselors, those qualified to help such people. At the end of this seminar, it was reported that the attendees had less stress and trepidation about the future (Davis et al., 2010).

Another study was a qualitative research method conducted on Canadian TCK girls aged between 18-25 who attended a Canadian Christian University (Walters, 2006).  In order to be considered for this research subjects had to have lived for a minimum of three years outside of their parent’s home country between the ages of 8 and 18.  What was discovered was although each of the subjects had different stories, the same issues showed up in all the cases.

Firstly, the subjects recognized that moving between cultures helped introduce a disruption in their personal identity development. This was because instead of focusing on identity development, the TCK had to expend their energy on adapting to the society they lived in, surviving in a society that seemed alien to them and also coping with the loss of friends and familiar surroundings (Walters, 2006). As the paper said “frequent transitioning slowed the process of identity development because what may have been a point of reference for them before was no longer there.” (Walters, 2006).

Secondly, in this particular study, as it was carried out at a Christian University, spirituality was important in the girl’s development; to them God was the only stable factor in their lives. As a result, their spirituality was seen as a stable foundation to rely on.

Thirdly, this study’s subjects overwhelmingly expressed their feelings of being different; the girls did not fit in, struggled to do so and felt different regardless of where they were. As one girl commented “I’ve stuck out my entire life.” These girls said that being with other TCK’s made them feel safer because they felt more understood and comfortable being around those similar to themselves. (Walters, 2006)

What has been identified and understood from these studies is that TCKs have unique educational needs and therefore require more support, especially from their school counselors. School boards are realizing that their school’s cultural demographics are changing and, with these changing times, counselors are expected to learn more about cultural differences. Understanding such differences will greatly aid them in finding ways in which to meet their student’s diverse demands (Limberg,2011) .

TCKs and Identity Issues

One of the most important issues regarding TCKs is their quest for identity. Identity has been defined as “the stable, consistent, and reliable sense of who one is and what one stands for in the world.” (Walters,2006)

Identity is “shaped by the relationship with the dominant culture of the host or of the home and the transition of coping with highly mobile experiences.” (Christ & Cigularova,2007). Our identity encompasses our values, beliefs, behaviours and how we interact with others. If one does not have a sense of belonging, as is the case among most TCKs, then one does not have a real sense of identity and fails to successfuly emerge from stage five of Erikson’s model. It is important
to note that when it comes to identity development, a TCKs development is greatly impacted by exposure to cultures other than their own. The type of culture is important, for example is it collectivistic or individualistic? (Walters,2006). TCK’s face many questions about who they were and how they should behave and these questions are more pronounced if the TCK is from an individualistic Western society but has lived in a collectivistic society, as is common in Asia, Africa and South America. The type of culture will affect how a child grows(Davis et al., 1993) Santrock, Mackenzie-Rivers, Leung &Malcomson say that identity development is both complicated and prolonged (2008). Although it is important during adolescence, it doesn’t stop there and in fact continues until old age.

The importance of identity development in adolescence is that if an adolescent cultivates a healthy sense of self, they are able to become versatile, easily
adaptable to society , especially regarding changes in society, careers and relationships. (Santrock, Mackenzie-Rivers, Leung &Malcomson,2008)

The transitional process often deals with the TCK constantly comparing their old school(s) with their current one. They lack any sense of belonging and often experience reverse culture shock. They have issues with making friends and maintaining relationships and this often leads to a drop in grades, frequent absences from school, self-isolation and the tendency to surround themselves with other TCKs. (Limberg, 2011.) Some even consider suicide as they don’t see themselves as fitting in (Walters). They may also put up a false self in order to be accepted. This is worrying and the results can’t be healthy (Walter , 2009). TCK’s may feel socially marginalized. In addition, oftentimes adolescence is prolonged in TCKs.They tend to feel out of step with their peers especially in their late teens and early 20s. (Walters, 2006) TCK’s returning home feel like”hidden immigrants.” (Walters ,2009).

What is a Third Culture Kid (TCK)?

When I tell people that I’m a TCK they often have no idea what I’m talking about. I’m not really surprised as it’s not a very common expression. For one of my  undergraduate psychology research papers, I wrote about TCKs.  I decided on this topic due to the fact that I was curious about how my upbringing shaped my personality and identity, and also what research had been done, and still needs to be done, on TCKs. Following very positive feedback from my professor, I decided to share my final research paper with people I knew. After more positive feedback and several questions from my friends, I thought it would be a good idea to include some excerpts from my paper here.  I will break up my paper into four posts:1- What is a TCK? 2- TCKs and Identity Issues , 3- Programmes in Place for TCKs and 4- Further Research . Please excuse the overly-academic language and the length! The original paper was around 3,000 words in length and I have tried to cut it down considerably.

Traditional African mud hut

A lot has been written about social development during adolescence, a period of time between approximately ages 10 and 22 (Santrock, Mackenzie-Rivers, Leung &Malcomson, 2008). In Erik Erikson’s model of lifespan development, stage five , the identity versus identity confusion stage, occurs during adolescence(Santrock, Mackenzie-Rivers, Leung &Malcomson,2008). During this stage,adolescents discover who they are and decide where their lives will go while trying to fit in at the same time. There are two possible outcomes from this stage; either they will successfully come out from this stage with a new feeling of identity or they will be unsuccessful, which will result in them isolating themselves from family and friends or taking on a group identity (Santrock, Mackenzie-Rivers, Leung &Malcomson,2008). Third Culture Kids (TCKs)  also go through the same stage five development but because of their diverse upbringings, their development process is different and more difficult. (Davis et al., 2010)

TCKs have been around for a long time but it is only within the last few decades that they have been recognized as being a unique group of people who have special needs. (Davis et al., 2010). Due to the global travel trend of the effortlessness in travelling around the world and also due to advances in technology that have mitigated the ease of access to information, a large and unexpectedly high number of children are being raised overseas.  The definition of a third culture kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a large part of their developmental years outside the country of their parent’s culture (Limberg,2011). The term “third” refers to the fact that the individual usually does not relate to the parent’s culture (first culture) or the host culture (second culture) and instead has had to create a third culture that is neither the home culture nor the host culture. The third culture that a TCK creates is  a self-created one which  is complex and intricate and is often described as being an abstract one. (Limberg,2011). TCKs are often the children of missionaries, scholars, military personnel and international executives. They are also known as cultural chameleons and cross-culture kids (Christ & Cigularova,2007).


Although each TCK experiences a different and unique experience, there are indeed certain characteristics which are normally shared, both  positive and negative.

On the plus side, TCK kids are generally able to easily adapt and get accustomed to new and unfamiliar cultural rules. They also often have good social and linguistic skills, as well as strong global views and unique philosophical and political perspectives (Christ & Cigularova,2007). In addition, they have had great chances to encounter different cultures (Davis et al., 2010). Also, they are highly mobile and have large degrees of global understanding; their high adaptability, makes them ideal for many important jobs (Limberg,2011). They often appreciate their own diverse backgrounds and can use their skills to their advantage. One of the most famous TCKs is US President Barack Obama; he has appointed many TCKs to his cabinet where they can utilize the benefits they have acquired due to their diverse upbringings,which include their social and intellectual flexibility, and their ability to interact with those with different thinking and acting styles(Davis et al., 2010)

Learning more about my culture on my last trip home
Learning more about my culture on my last trip home

 On the down side, TCKs have many characteristics which hinder their identity development.TCKs face more identity questions than do most non TCKs. TCKs are apt to experience social isolation as they do not seem to fit into any social group. This is because of the challenges they face of forming senses of identity and belonging and, as a result, TCKs tend to feel as though they have no roots. They are disposed to feel different from others and therefore find it difficult to relate to others since they do not think they fit in and this feeling goes with them wherever they go (Walters,2006).  Due to their tendency of being able to adapt quickly to a society, they are often unaware of much of their parent’s culture and also often have confused loyalties. (Christ & Cigularova,2007).It was found that among TCKs there is always a transitional interruption and often spirituality has a stabilizing effect. They always a deep feeling of being different and also the feeling that their voices are not being heard. Also, while TCKs are more mature than their peers in some situations, they are less so in others.Thus,TCKs are exposed to many more changes and much more stress than non TCKs. They must encounter more  extreme changes in life and more frequently than those adolescents who do not move from their home countries during adolescence.Walters,2006)

Cultures of Fetishism – Louise J. Kaplan


I was actually researching racial fetishism when I came across this book. It doesn’t really touch much upon that subject but it’s full of interesting information nonetheless.

It turns out that most people’s definition of fetishism is too narrow in that it’s usually taken to mean sexual fetishism. However, according to Dr. Kaplan, a psychoanalyst, “any excessive activity of heightened devotion could be referred to as a fetish.”

Kaplan goes on to list 5 principles of fetishism. Number 2 was the most interesting to me: “Fetishism transforms ambiguity and uncertainty into something knowable and certain and in doing so snuffs out any sparks of creativity that might ignite the fires of rebellion.” In that case, fetishism is used to dominate. Terrifying stuff.

Kaplan also explores footbinding in China, a topic that interests and horrifies me at the same time. What was different in her approach was that she considered Chinese women who had had their feet bound while it was still in vogue and then had had to live with the social stigma of having bound feet once it was no longer a fetish.

Kaplan’s dissection of fetishism in film was very interesting. She discussed Marilyn Monroe, the movie Eyes Wide Shut, and a Jude Law and Vivian Wu movie I had never heard of before and have no desire to ever watch because it sounds too bizarre (The Pillow Book).

“Whether in medicine, art, psychology, politics or religion, it has been a longstanding tradition to employ the enigmatic body of a woman with its mysterious desires and perplexing unpredictable movements as a fetishism emblem. Of course that’s not new but the way she dissects it in her examples is enlightening.”

I was very interested in the section on fetishism in biography writing. I have been reading a lot of biographies recently and was a bit surprised to learn that French philosopher Jacques Derrida actually calls biography writing “archive fever.” Virginia Woolf goes further to say that the duty of the biographer “is to plod without looking to right or left, in the indelible footprints of truth; unenticed by flowers, regardless of shade, on and on methodically till we fall plump into the grave and finis on the tombstone above our head.”

Other topics touched upon were reality television, tattoos, commodification of children, and robots. All in all, this book was very thought-provoking and I learned a lot from it.