Infantile Adult Syndrome

We subsidize pathology, then wonder why we get more of it

By Steven Miller
  • Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Southern Nevada news media is fixated on the Adacelli Snyder child abuse case. Given the horrific particulars of how the little 2-year-old lived and died, it’s understandable.

In late June the toddler, who had cerebral palsy, was found dead in her own excrement, covered with insect bites, in the family's trailer home. According to the Clark County Coroner's office, she had starved to death.

The mother, 28-year-old Charlene Snyder, and her live-in boyfriend, 25-year-old Jack Richardson, were indicted early this month by a local grand jury. The charges include second-degree murder, four counts of abuse and neglect of the little girl, plus allowing Adacelli’s two older sisters, ages 5 and 3, to suffer over a year from severe lice infestations. Her 1-year-old brother, say authorities, also suffered from malnutrition and had to be hospitalized.

How does it happen that human adults become so monstrously irresponsible?

That’s a question that has long preoccupied Theodore Dalrymple. He’s the British doctor and writer who worked on four continents, then spent years treating the English poor in a slum hospital and prison. He’s well-known in the U.S. now because of his searingly insightful—and politically incorrect—account of the underclass mindset: Life at the Bottom: The Worldview that Makes the Underclass.

Dalrymple is a psychiatrist, and as he describes the day-to-day “reality” of the underclass—full of crime, senseless violence, drug abuse, poverty, illegitimacy and nihilism—the root of it all begins to clearly show through: a frighteningly militant refusal to accept even a shred of responsibility for one’s own behavior.

In the Life at the Bottom case-book reports, it is ultimately the militance with which responsibility is rejected that is most interesting. The battered women, the violent men, the out-of-control gamblers, the drug-users and the drunkards, the unemployably illiterate and ignorant, the promiscuous women making baby after baby—they have all got the liberal party line down pat. And they wave it like a royal standard: “Don’t blame us! We can’t help it!”

What has happened in socialist Britain, shows Dalrymple, is that liberal, elitist ideology—that we are all the effects of environments we cannot control—has been widely absorbed by the underclass. Since in the categories of liberal ideology, personal responsibility is a myth and everyone is “trapped” in their circumstances, British white underclass culture itself now essentially  teaches its offspring to live according to the path of least resistance. Existing in total self-indulgence, not responsible for anything, is no big deal, you see, because other people are around and they can foot the bill.

Tennessee doctor Bruce D. Woodall, writing from his own, parallel experiences, posted a remarkable review of Life at the Bottom on He titled it, “The Compassion of Truth.”

“I speak from experience that parallels that of [Dalrymple]; for 15 years I have been a physician to, advocate for, and student of low-income communities primarily in the Appalachian mountains,” wrote Woodall, “but have also lived and worked with my family among disadvantaged sub-populations of the urban USA, and underclass groups in Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific islands.

“My experience resonates with [Dalymple’s] thesis that it is top-down bad ideas that have produced a perpetual brand of western-world impoverishment… His case-based observations revealing how the most vulnerable members of society are abused and devastated by intellectuals arrogantly living lives insulated from the practical consequences of their own ideas reinforces everything the underclass has taught me about their lives and misfortunes.”

Clearly, for Woodall what is most important about Dalymple is that the psychiatrist had the compassion to see, and tell, the candid truth. It is “a diagnosis with the potential to save untold lives from squalor, misery, and premature death. Identifying victimhood mentality as one among many diseases of the mind sown upon the poor clears the way for a long overdue reorientation of our efforts to address the deepest needs of our neediest neighbors.”

The point is enormously important. The Adacelli Snyder case is already being flogged in Southern Nevada as a scandal significant merely because it reveals “shameful neglect by government” of its responsibility to protect society’s most vulnerable.  Amazingly, however, the fundamental problem—the degeneration of parents into inert drugged-up onlookers who’ve discarded all their responsibilities—gets nary a word.

This has to change. If Nevada is ever to genuinely cope with the demonic springs of such atrocities, the inherent dignity of human beings as moral actors must first be acknowledged.

Handing off responsibility to ever-bigger government?

That just feeds the beast.

Steven Miller is policy director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

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