During my crusading liberal days in college, I was full of ardor and right-thinking on the subject of race and poverty. I dismissed my dad’s conservative views as typical hard-hearted Reaganism, and fumed over how someone like him, who was raised working-class and was culturally working class, could sympathize with Reagan, that old racist. What it took me years to see was that however shaped my father’s views on race and poverty were by his generation’s attitudes, they were also deeply informed by years of observation of how poor black people, like poor white people, lived. He would try to explain to me how nobody who lived the way so many of the black (and white) poor did in our parish could ever hope to break the cycle of poverty. It took education, and hard work, and self-discipline, especially staying off of drink, drugs, and avoiding having children outside of marriage. You had to be sensible with your money, he would tell me (I didn’t know until many years later how hard he and my mom, a school bus driver, struggled financially during my childhood).But identifying people as hard-core no-accounts, or "wouldn't hit a lick at a snake," or lamenting that "he knows better than that" need not translate into abandoning such people, rather than providing, if by no other way than by example, structure. Come March 16, here's Mr Dreher on why the structure matters.
This is why I get so angry at my fellow conservatives who blame bad schools and incompetent teachers for the poor educational results among the impoverished. Children are not empty receptacles into which we can insert knowledge. If they live in homes filled with noise, chaos, violence, and contempt, it doesn’t matter what race they are, they are going to be very lucky to make it.But in his column, "do-your-own thing" might work well for trust-fund babies with victim studies degrees from tony colleges, or for that Westport cokehead. For people without the resources or the awareness of the old tradition, well, there's no keeping up with the Kardashians in the 'hood or up the holler.
This is what it means to live in therapeutic culture, in which maintaining a sense of well being is the absolute telos of our common and individual life. This is what it means when the values of the marketplace (e.g., “The customers is always right”) have infected our normative institutions, and inform the way families and individuals see themselves. This is what it means when our churches (insofar as people still attend them) treat their purpose as offering people comfort and uplift, not solid moral norms and preaching repentance when we fall short. This is what it means when we the people expect our institutions — our schools, our churches, and so forth — to cater to our own felt emotional needs.But as the splintery trashy culture splinters, it's the people who have means that can escape the collapse (that is, until the only way to make any money off vacant houses built for an increasingly affluent population is to rent them out to whoever), and that includes the cokehead with a big bonus, and the Trump protester run home to Mommy. But there are no guardrails elsewhere, and as the rentals to whoever continue, there will ultimately be no guardrails in Westport.
The middle class can forestall the reckoning because we have money and resources to avoid the consequences; the poor and the working classes do not. But a reckoning is coming.
What does this private judgment mean? Well, in effect, it means withdrawal to behind defensible boundaries, to within communities where there remains robust moral standards held in common. This is what the ongoing fragmentation of American society means. I see no reason to think it will be arrested any time soon. As [Kevin Williamson] and David French point out, we can’t even talk about these things openly, with confidence.Kevin Williamson reacts, apparently concurring in part. Sometimes, it's necessary to reclaim the culture, to stop enabling the dysfunction, and at the same time stop wishing it away. "It’s cowardice, a refusal to look at the thing squarely as it is and to do what it is necessary to do."
Let’s be honest: there are very, very few of us who would “say something” about kids being raised as Kevin D. Williamson was (assuming that he was not being criminally neglected; he hasn’t specified the conditions of his childhood). But of equal significance, very few of us would “say something” to other middle class parents about the way they raise their children, or the way their children’s behavior is making it harder for all of us to raise morally upright kids. Nobody wants to judge (publicly, anyway), and certainly nobody wants to be judged.
So we continue to drift apart, unmoored from authority, and unable to perceive how lost we are. If we do not draw some clear moral lines, in community, and submit to them, and defend them, we are going to lose them entirely. We drift towards moral anarchy in the public square, and we conceal from ourselves what is happening, either not talking about it or euphemizing it as “diversity” or some other Orwellian term meant to conceal truth.
How can we ever hope to defeat the enemy if we cannot even name the enemy, or confront our own collaboration with it? Yes, people who are unemployed or underemployed have big problems, but as my reader wrote, handing them a good job is not going to make them show up to work on time, or marry, or stay married, or raise disciplined children. Plus, there are plenty of people who have good jobs now, and to all appearances solid middle-class lives, but who are quietly, behind the facade of respectability, falling apart.
That doesn't stop the more conventional sort of hypothesis-posing, as in a Wonkblog interview with Mr Dougherty.
Is it because employers are less loyal to individual workers, and so the value proposition for moving to find a job is lower? Is it family breakdown? It becomes harder to move from the de-industrialized Northeast for a machinist job in South Carolina if it means leaving behind children with an ex-wife or partner. Is it the rise of single men, who don’t feel the need for work as urgently? Is it the decline of other mediating institutions that could paternalistically shepherd job-seekers into employment? And if government cannot change those things, what else can it do?That comes to what, exactly, is conservatism conserving? Reason's Shikha Dalmia adds to the conventional hypothesis-posing.
Scott Lincicome of Cato Institute notes that between 1990 and 2014, the percentage of working-age adults receiving disability more than doubled.I suspect that family ties have always been reason to stay, and in the absence of either a vigorous economy or the presence of a different kind of welfare state, that will be true.
This meant that workers had less need to uproot themselves from their families and communities for jobs far away. The aforementioned Tennessee workers have preferred to stray not too far from their original commuting zones, for example. In other words, family ties became a barrier to—as opposed to facilitator of—individual ambition. But this dampening of drive will prevent Americans not only from adapting to the gale force winds of trade but other disruptions as well. Indeed, if China, India, and—as per Donald Trump's new bugaboo—Vietnam, pose a mortal threat to Americans, what exactly will they do when robots arrive on the scene? Call for repealing the laws of physics? Deport scientists?
Institutions that enable dysfunction? The consequences will be immediately obvious.