Contributors

Showing posts with label Social Cohesion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Social Cohesion. Show all posts

Friday, February 07, 2014


Sunday, February 02, 2014

Good Words

An individual has not begun to live until he can rise above the narrow horizons of his particular individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity. And this is one of the big problems of life, that so many people never quite get to the point of rising above self. And so they end up the tragic victims of self-centeredness. They end up the victims of distorted and disrupted personality. ----(Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.)

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The Family Meal

By today's standards, my family is strange and quite odd. Every night, we sit down and have a family meal. ALL of us. Occasionally some sort of activity may interfere but we seem to always be able to adjust our individual schedules to be able to all sit down together and share time together over dinner.

We go around the table and share what our favorite part of the day was and that usually ends up leading to a broader discussion. We laugh, we work out problems, and we make plans for upcoming events. When I tell people this, virtually all of them can't believe that it happens. Whether they are conservative or liberal or somewhere in between, their comments invariably lead to the same question.

"Where do you find the time?"

I thought about our family meal when I read Niall Ferguson's recent piece "Rich America, Poor America." His thoughts and comments contained therein reveal a much needed alternative to the left's explanation and protestations regarding inequality in this country.

He starts out by detailing the obvious truth.

Adjusted for inflation, the income of the average American male has essentially flatlined since the 1970s, according to figures from the Census Bureau. The income of the bottom quarter of U.S. families has actually fallen. It’s been a different story for the rich. According to recent work by Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez, the share of total income going to the top 1 percent of families has more than doubled since 1979, from below 10 percent to a peak of nearly 24 percent in 2007. (It has since fallen, but not by much.) The share going to the super-rich—the top 0.01 percent—has risen by a factor of seven.

Americans used to be proud of their country’s reputation as a meritocracy, where anyone could aspire to get to the top with the right combination of inspiration and perspiration. It’s no longer true. Social mobility has been sliding in the United States. A poor kid in America now has about the same chance of becoming a rich grown-up as in socially rigid England. It looks like Downton Abbey has come to downtown U.S.A.

I'm very pleased that someone who identifies as a conservative can recognize this as fact. Looking at the work of Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute, we see further evidence of this acceptance by the right.

Murray is no apologist for Wall Street. Looking at the explosion in the value of the total compensation received by the chief executives of large corporations, he pointedly asks if “the boards of directors of corporate America—and nonprofit America, and foundation America—[have] become cozy extended families, scratching each others’ backs, happily going along with a market that has become lucrative for all of them, taking advantage of their privileged positions—rigging the game, but within the law.” There is not much in those lines that the OWS protesters would disagree with.

Rigging the game, but within the law. That's pretty much it and this simple sentence offers an area of ideological overlap between the Tea Party and the OWS movement. Sadly, I doubt that either will take advantage of it especially now that the Tea Party has been more or less co-opted by the Koch Brothers and the rest of the "cozy family" of which Murray speaks.

So, now that we have accepted the problem, how did we get here? Where Murray goes next offers a greater width of vision that I think is somewhat lacking on the left. Murray looks at two towns (Belmont and Fishtown) and compares social trends.

Marriage has declined in both, but it has declined further in Fishtown, where a much larger proportion of adults either get divorced or never marry, so that a far higher share of Fishtown children now live with a lone divorced or separated parent. Unlike Belmont, Fishtown has a sad underclass of “never-married mothers”—who also happen to be the worst-educated women in town.

I have many students in my classes that are "from Fishtown." They are the worst behaved and invariably get the worse grades. Their parents are either exhausted from work or terribly lazy. For whatever reason, they are COP (checked out parents) and the results are lower test scores and a continued feeding of the underclass. Murray speaks of this as well.

Industriousness has scarcely declined in Belmont, but it has plummeted among Fishtown white males, an amazing number of whom are unable to work because of illness or disability, or have left the workforce for some other reason, or are unemployed, or are working fewer than 40 hours a week. The big problem here is not so much a lack of jobs as a new leisure preference (“goofing off” and watching daytime TV). The work ethic has been replaced by a jerk ethic.

I'd actually take this a step further. The "jerk ethic" is there even with people that put in 40 hours of work a week or more. Rather than spend time with their family, many of these parents play video games or wank on their smart phones all night, further detaching themselves from their children's lives. Later in the article, Ferguson mentions a lack of incentive to work (due, of course, to the government but I'll get to that in a little bit) but even the folks that are working full time and providing for their families have a lack of incentive to do little else. People simply aren't active in their communities any longer.

Religiosity has declined in both towns, but much more steeply in Fishtown. Contrary to popular belief, Murray argues, it’s not the elites who have become secularized and the working class that has remained devout. In fact, church attendance is much lower in Fishtown than in Belmont.

Most of you know that I would never behave like many on the right who seek to insert themselves between an individual and the Lord, forcing Republican Jesus on the citizens of the United States. Having some sort of religious outlet, whatever faith that may be, is demonstrably vital to social cohesion. Murray's studies show that this is unequivocally true.

To put all of this simply, it's family values. And the results are plain for anyone to see.

As a consequence of these trends, the traditional bonds of civil society have entirely atrophied in lower-class America. There is less neighborliness, less trust, less political awareness, less of that vibrant civic engagement that used to impress European visitors, less of what the Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam, in Bowling Alone, called “social capital.”

And that, Murray concludes, is why poor Americans are, by their own admission, so very unhappy. Man is a social animal who can only really be happy in four social domains: family, work, local community, and faith. In poor America, all four are in a state of collapse. That is why “Fishtown” is such a wretched dump—the kind of benighted place where gangs of feral teens hang around on street corners trying to figure out what part of the local infrastructure they haven’t yet vandalized. We all drive through such places from time to time. Murray’s point is just how many Americans have to live in them.

All of this ties in to what I talked about in The Michael Jordan Generation. The four domains listed above are essentially the same as four of the five main areas of socialization which have been severely eroded by the corporate owned media. Far too many people have allowed themselves and their children to lose touch with these four pillars and have been completely overwhelmed by the fifth. This is where Murray and Ferguson lose sight of the cause of all this. Sadly, they fall back on all to predictable conservative dogma, blame liberal policies, add to the fictional Obama narrative, and offer the usual panic rip about our country becoming like Europe. In other words, it's all the fault of the government...even though it was this same governemnt that created Social Security which has reduced poverty in the elderly by over 40 percent.

One can only blame our society's institutions so much (and that includes the corporate owned media). For me, it comes down to how you answer the question posed above by nearly everyone I know.

"Where do you find the time?"

It's simple.

You make the time.

In the final analysis, it's up to us.