For more than 40 years, social scientists investigating the causes of poverty have tended to treat cultural explanations like Lord Voldemort: That Which Must Not Be Named.The article catalogs a number of research projects, investigating different dimensions of the way people respond to income poverty. It's worth careful study.
The article has already inspired a number of reactions. Here's The Atlantic Monthly's Ta-Nehisi Coates.
I suspect that a large part of the problem, when we talk about culture, is an inability to code-switch, to understand that the language of Rohan is not the language of Mordor. I don't say this to minimize culture, to the contrary, I say it to point how difficult it is to get people to discard practices which were essential to them in one world, but hinder their advancement into another. And then there's the fear of that other world, that sense that if you discard those practices, you have discarded some of yourself, and done it in pursuit of a world, that you may not master.Mr Coates has the tragic vision, when it comes to developing those middle class habits.
The streets are like any other world--we all assume an armor, a garment to suit that world. And indeed, in every world, some people wear the armor better than others, and thus reap considerable social reward. In the main, it's been easy for me to discard the armor of West Baltimore, because I wore it so poorly. I was never, as they say, truly built for the streets. And still, even I struggled to take it off. But I know others who were masters. (My own brother, for instance.) Inducing them, and those in between, to change class, to trade their plate for robes, to trade the broad-sword for a spell-book, is the real work.At Minding the Campus, veteran sociologist Jonathan B. Imber sees The Forty-Year Failure of American Sociology, suggesting that a discipline's taboos enabled the culture of the streets, by making the very work of inducing that class change more difficult.
The sin of [Edward] Banfield and [Daniel Patrick] Moynihan was to criticize not only the role of government but more importantly the loss of values it destroyed. It was not about anything intrinsic to any group by virtue of its race or ethnicity. The loss of motivation to emulate middle-class values was at the heart of a debate about the validity of those values. The progressive vocabulary included routine declarations of the need for radical change, which was, looking back now, more a challenge to those values than it was an endorsement of expanded government.That radical change, in Professor Imber's view, includes the emergence of a dominant paradigm of subverting the dominant paradigm, never mind the effect that paradigm has on public policies that wreck the lives of real people.
Although Thomas Sowell is not reacting to the Times article, his National Review essay makes the same point.
In retrospect, once the vilification of Edward Banfield and Daniel Patrick Moynihan had succeeded, the specter of political correctness would seemingly forever enforce silence among the job-holders of academe, content with going with the flow by avoiding controversy whenever possible and by not challenging the pieties of Great Society notions. Forty years along, the breast-beating of the sociologist, Douglas Massey (quoted in Cohen's article), is what should be described as a day late and a dollar short when he concludes: "We've finally reached the stage where people aren't afraid of being politically incorrect."
Massey's statement is unbelievably ironic insofar as sociology has consistently been the dungeon of politically correct thought. The other social sciences are beset with incidents of such thought, but a younger generation of social scientists promises to break the lockstep long led unofficially by sociology's relentless criticisms of "conservative" ideas. The sensitivity to appearing to be in "support" of, much less in the camp of, any idea or any group considered conservative is by far one of the most galvanizing reflexes of solidarity among my generation of sociologists. Their inhibitions and anxieties about being even remotely associated with "the other side" is one of the more entertaining features of academic bird-watching. It would be fascinating to learn from Massey how he thinks "we've finally reached the stage" he apparently now applauds. The most obvious answer remains precisely the resistance to the irrelevant imperialism that much of sociology and its elite supporters have promoted during the past forty years.
His policy prescription: change, don't celebrate, cultures that foster underachievement.
Yet today, attempts to get black or Hispanic youngsters to speak the language of the society around them are decried by multiculturalists. And any attempt to get them to behave according to the cultural norms of the larger society is denounced as “cultural imperialism,” if not racism.
The multicultural dogma is that we are to “celebrate” all cultures, not change them. In other words, people who lag educationally or economically are to keep on doing what they have been doing — but somehow have better results in the future than those they had in the past. And, if they don’t have better results in the future, it is society’s fault.
Stop enabling failure, you'll get less of it.