It's part of a longer meditation on the effects of deindustrialization coming on the heels of the Interstate Highway System which wiped out the Space Age commercial strips.In the middle of this intriguing election season, National Review's Kevin D. Williamson visits upstate New York, to see Chaos in the family, chaos in the state. Things have turned out badly for the people who stayed behind, and Mr Williamson lays off some of the blame on the people.
It misses the simpler lesson: an industrial era in which monopoly rents attenuated the incentive for some people to invest in human capital, followed by an era of do-your-own-thing nonjudgementalism could only end badly for the people who didn't make the investment, who have been left behind by their neighbors who did.
If you spend time in hardscrabble, white upstate New York, or eastern Kentucky, or my own native West Texas, and you take an honest look at the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy — which is to say, the whelping of human children with all the respect and wisdom of a stray dog — you will come to an awful realization. It wasn’t Beijing. It wasn’t even Washington, as bad as Washington can be. It wasn’t immigrants from Mexico, excessive and problematic as our current immigration levels are. It wasn’t any of that.Scott Greer of The Daily Caller and Hot Air's Jazz Shaw take offense, suggesting that Mr Williamson is blaming the victim. Perhaps so. And yet, the outmigration of productive people and of industry from regions doesn't happen randomly. Enable dysfunction, Mr Williamson suggests, and you'll see more of it.
Nothing happened to them. There wasn’t some awful disaster. There wasn’t a war or a famine or a plague or a foreign occupation. Even the economic changes of the past few decades do very little to explain the dysfunction and negligence — and the incomprehensible malice — of poor white America.
The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. Forget all your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap. Forget your sanctimony about struggling Rust Belt factory towns and your conspiracy theories about the wily Orientals stealing our jobs. Forget your goddamned gypsum, and, if he has a problem with that, forget Ed Burke, too. The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin.David French expands the argument. People have agency. Sometimes, not much agency. And yet, people have agency.
I have compassion for kids who often see the worst behavior modeled at home. I have compassion for families facing economic uncertainty. But compassion can’t excuse or enable self-destructive moral failures.Here's Mr Kunstler, perhaps seeing a different set of causes, but seeing the same effects.
Nor does a focus on personal responsibility mean that the government or cultural elite are blameless. Far from it, and I’ve written at length about the role of progressive culture and progressive policies in cultural decline. I loathe the progressive welfare state and the elitist sexual revolutionaries who do all they can to create a culture that it simultaneously dependent and self-indulgent. I hate the mockery that poor and working-class people of all races endure, but we live in a nation of mutual responsibilities, and the failure of the government does not require the failure of the citizen.
We took the collateral winnings of World War II and poured it into a suburban sprawl alt-universe so depressing that our citizens are the most over-medicated people in the world. That alone might help to explain how Hillary and Trump lumber inevitably toward their respective nominations. The cheering “folks” marshaled out in the Piggly Wiggly parking lots are so buzzed on Klonopin and Zoloft that they can’t tell how these two odious celebrities epitomize the very forces behind their pharmaceutically-masked despair.No, we squandered the peace dividend on experiments against reality, pretending, for example, that widespread home ownership would midwife bourgeois respectability, and that the dissolute behavior of entertainers would do no harm when adopted by the lumpenproletariat.