In Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass, Theodore Dalrymple points to a curious modern phenomenon: the reversal of cultural aspiration. “For the first time in history,” he says in this essay, entitled “Uncouth Chic,” “it is the middle and upper classes that aspire to be taken for their social inferiors, an aspiration that (in their opinion) necessitates misconduct–” among other things. Dress and speech, musical tastes and other traits of the lower classes in Great Britain have become remarkably appealing to the upper class. Why is this? Dalrymple says that in order to be seen as demotic (and we had best be, for Demos is a jealous god), we cannot distinguish between better and worse, but merely between popular and unpopular. “Even in behaviour, the new orthodoxy for all classes is that, since nothing is better and nothing is worse, the worse is better because it is more demotic.”
What a curious and powerful illustration of the way worldviews insinuate themselves. This is a strong concoction of relativism mixed with a sort of pandering arrogance, all masquerading as multiculturalism and acceptance. Dalrymple gives the example of a MP in the House of Commons, Tony Benn, who very publicly sent his children to the worst public schools and very privately hired expensive tutors for them on the side.
When the intellectual elites began to prophesy that God was dead, and truth with him, they did not anticipate the fallout on their own cultural values. They are all students of Epimenides, calling out “all Cretans are liars” whilst holding their own birth certificates behind their backs. Dalrymple continues:
…where culture is concerned, there is only difference, not better or worse. As a practical matter, that means that there is nothing to choose between good manners and bad, refinement and crudity, discernment and lack of discernment, subtlety and grossness, charm and boorishness. To refrain from urinating in doorways, say, is thus no better than not refraining: it is merely different, and a preference for doorways free of the smell of urine is but a bourgeois prejudice without intellectual or moral justification.
See, there is a difference between good quality and poor, pleasant and unpleasant, skilled and unskilled, good and evil. No matter how much the divines of Demos stop their ears and shout, there will always be a difference. No one likes the smell of urine in their foyer, and no one should. There are cultural values which simply reflect the spirit of the age, to be sure; but there are cultural values which are the product of justice and beauty, which have grown up in the West from the rich soil of the gospel. These must be defended, not from a standpoint of classism and arrogance, but from a desire to see good things run wild. The beekeeper who loves his bees must therefore hate invading nests of wasps– this is not a Nietzschian moralization of weakness, but a Christian cultivation of strength and goodness. And if it is true, as I have said before, that our behaviors are worldview embodied, then this behavioral relativism is an advanced symptom of something systemic.