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Saturday, January 14, 2006

The importance of our worldview

I was led to reflect a little on the above question by Theodore Dalrymple's recent article, "Most murderers just need to get a life".

Dalrymple, a psychiatrist, draws on his experience of preparing reports on murderers and notes a pattern--among the poor which feature prominently--which leads him to conclude that "their main problem was that they had not the faintest idea how to live and yet - this is the hallmark of modernity - they were plentifully supplied with ego." His analysis of this group of murderers is a harsh one, and one can all too easily accuse him of showing a moralistic bourgeois prejudice against the lower classes. But I think that much truth lies in his analysis. The issue is really not about how much money one has; these murderers aren't criticised for being poor. As Thomas Sowell notes, Dalrymple's own father was born in a slum, but in a very different era which did not give the poor so many excuses and incentives to remain at the bottom of the social ladder. Dalrymple rightly observes, "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. 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." We are largely what we believe and think, and what we do often arise from what we are, inside. Much like the clothes we wear, the inner life manifests itself in the outer which is a reflection of what is inner.

Dalrymple describes the typical home of such a murderer: a small messy apartment where the television and video dominate the inhabitants' unproductive lives. In his words,
"these are the homes in which the television or video is never switched off so long as there is someone awake in the house. There are also many more videos on shelves in every room throughout the house, for images of a pseudo-reality mean more to the inhabitants than most of life as they actually live it." Drifting aimlessly from one vicarious pleasure to the next, and being employed in not much else besides satisfying certain basic needs and desires, these people, as it were, make themselves more susceptible to criminal tendencies and opportunities.

According to Dalrymple, these typically present details of such apartments tell us a great deal about the people who inhabit them. Their lack of a healthy worldview and purpose-driven inner life manifests itself in the messy and degrading clutter of dirty clothes, beer cans and videotapes. I would go further to suggest that their abject looking homes are not only the effect of their having 'no life', but also a cause of the continuation of such an existence by making them inured to such a lifestyle, or perhaps subconsciously persuading them to despair of ever being able to live on a higher plane.
To break from this vicious cycle, one will need a radical change from within.

Can we as individuals avoid, or step out of the type of worldview and life Dalrymple writes about? Can we really fault these murderers for having, as it were, 'no life' in the first place? These are complex questions, but I think that the answer to both questions is yes. It is true that many biological and sociological factors play a part in shaping us, but blaming our parents or society for the lives we lead and the wrong we do undermines our ability to think and choose for ourselves, a capacity and prerogative that is at the heart of what it is to be human, a creature made in God's likeness.


Anonymous Rielouise said...

Dalrymple doesn't always tell the truth. He didn't visit the homes of convicted murderers, (he was treating them in prison, they didn't get day trips out). The homes he visited (and this itself is questionable) were the dwellings of patients of a psychiatric hospital in which he was a consultant.

Take a trip back in time, visit Bedlam, laugh at the inmates. I think you'll enjoy it.

5:54 PM  

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