Part of my daily routine includes reading a number of national publications in search of news items worthy of flagging for a comment or two. But it gets harder to do each year as so many major media publications are constantly ignoring the big issues of our time, namely global warming and the burgeoning of human numbers worldwide.
However, on March 2nd there was a fracas at Middlebury College in Vermont. It involved the well-known libertarian Charles Murray, a social scientist and the author of several controversial books that include, “The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure” and, “Coming Apart: the state of white America, 1969 -2010.”
Murray was not allowed to make his speech before a wildly hostile student audience who called him among other things, a racist. The professor who had invited him was pummeled by the crowd and subsequently needed medical attention. Murray escaped unharmed. But, it appears no students were disciplined for rowdy behavior.
That the college leaders did little to protect or defend Murray’s right to speak is not the subject of this oped, but certainly the mobs actions did not bring credit to that administration or any institution which claims to be interested in promoting the freedom to discuss views which are not often in the majority. We know there are limits to free speech such as shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater, but Murray had spoken at Middlebury some years before without such contretemps.
Anyway, the story piqued my curiosity and I purchased and read Murray’s 2012 book, “Coming Apart” – something which I doubt many of his Middlebury attackers might not have done. I am pleased that I did, as his capacity to gather massive amounts of difficult cultural and social data deserves high praise. The book’s reviewers were generally favorable both in the established media and on Amazon such as the 1/31/12 Wall Street Journal one, entitled “Coming Apart”. That review argues that a large swath of Americans—poor and working class whites—are turning away from traditional values and losing ground”. The reviewer, W. Bradford Wilcox, summarized its contents as follows:
“So much for the idea that the white working class remains the guardian of core American values like religious faith, hard work and marriage. Today the denizens of upscale communities like McLean, Va., New Canaan, Conn., and Palo Alto, Calif., according to Charles Murray in “Coming Apart,” are now much more likely than their fellow citizens to embrace these core American values. In studying, as his subtitle has it, “the state of white America, 1960-2010,” Mr. Murray turns on its head the conservative belief that bicoastal elites are dissolute and ordinary Americans are virtuous.
Focusing on whites to avoid conflating race with class, Mr. Murray contends instead that a large swath of white America—poor and working-class whites, who make up approximately 30% of the white population—is turning away from the core values that have sustained the American experiment. At the same time, the top 20% of the white population has quietly been recovering its cultural moorings after a flirtation with the counterculture in the 1960s and 1970s. Thus, argues Mr. Murray in his elegiac book, the greatest source of inequality in America now is not economic; it is cultural.”
In his book, Murray concentrated on analyzing white behavior, which I guess would make him vulnerable to charges of being a racist by Middlebury’s social justice warriors. However, I see that approach as trying to study human motivations between upper economic groups versus lower economic groups with no a racial element. I found myself fascinated with his selection of criteria for winning or losing the economic struggle.
Again, I am indebted to Mr. Wilcox for his description of Murray’s reasoning. First, let me say the author does a worthy job of documenting the extent of the growing divide between the upper classes and the working or lower classes. Doubtlessly, Murray has fingered many problems but I did find his proposed solutions hard indeed to achieve if we keep our border open and fail to enforce our immigration laws.
Wilcox continues: “He is particularly concerned with the ways in which working-class whites are losing touch with what he calls the four “founding virtues”—industriousness, honesty (including abiding by the law), marriage and religion, all of which have played a vital role in the life of the republic.”
Consider what has happened with marriage. The destructive family revolution of the late 1960s and 1970s has gradually eased—at least in the nation’s most privileged precincts. In the past 20 years, divorce rates have come down, marital quality (self-reported happiness in marriage) has risen and non-marital childbearing (out-of-wedlock births) is a rare occurrence among the white upper class. Marriage is not losing ground in America’s best neighborhoods.
But it’s a very different story in blue-collar America. Since the 1980s, divorce rates have risen, marital quality has fallen and non marital childbearing is skyrocketing among the white lower class. Less than 5% of white college-educated women have children outside of marriage, compared with approximately 40% of white women with just a high-school diploma. The bottom line is that a growing marriage-divide now runs through the heart of white America.
Mr. Murray tells similar stories about crime, religion and work. Who would have guessed, for instance, that the white upper class is now much more likely to be found in church on any given Sunday than the white working class? Or that, just before the recession struck, white men in the 30-49 age bracket with a high-school diploma were about four times more likely to have simply stopped looking for work, compared with their college-educated peers? By Mr. Murray’s account, faith and industriousness are in increasingly short supply among working-class whites.
Mr. Murray’s sobering portrait is of a nation where millions of people are losing touch with the founding virtues that have long lent American lives purpose, direction and happiness. And his book shows that many of these findings are also applicable to poor and working-class African Americans and Latinos. Mr. Murray notes that “family, vocation, faith, and community” have a “direct and strong relationship to self-reported happiness.” Not surprisingly, he shows that since the 1970s happiness has plummeted in working-class and poor communities—but not in affluent communities.
The economic and political success of the American experiment has depended in large part on the health of these founding virtues. Businesses cannot flourish if ordinary workers are not industrious. The scope and cost of government grows, and liberty withers, when the family breaks down. As James Madison wrote: “To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people is a chimerical idea.”
There are at least two ways to close this cultural divide and renew the cultural foundations of the American experiment. First, policy makers and business leaders need to shore up the economic foundations of working- and middle-class life. Globalization has paid huge dividends for the upper class, but it has undercut the earnings and job security of men (and their families) lower down the social ladder. Public policies designed to strengthen the educational opportunities (e.g., better vocational programs) and economic security (portable health-care plans) of ordinary Americans could help in renewing the economic foundations of the nation’s virtues.
Second, as Mr. Murray notes, the members of the upper class must abandon the modern horror of being thought “judgmental”; instead, he says, they should “preach what they practice.” This does not mean turning the clock back to the 1950s or the Victorian age. It just means that the elites who control the heights of government, education, business and the popular culture could do a lot more to encourage the core American values that they themselves now live by.
Here the creative cultural class that dominates New York and Southern California bears a special responsibility. One can imagine producers chortling at the suggestion, but they should consider making movies, TV shows and music that support, rather than corrode, the kind of culture that these elites seek to pass on to their own children.
After all, the price of not bridging the cultural divide is to accept an America where the powerful and the privileged continue to (discreetly) embrace the values and the institutions that make possible the American way of life and where everyone else increasingly finds that way of life out of reach. It is a scenario where the end of the American experiment in ordered liberty would surely not be far behind.”
Mr. Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, has authored a book entitled “When Marriage Disappears” so he well understands family workings at all levels.
So what is missing from this powerful data based tour de force by one of the leading social commentators of our time? Let me tell you and all the other reviewers and perhaps the students at Middlebury what I believe is missing from this powerful, data based tour de force of a work – the book makes no mention of the fact that since 1965, with no vote of our citizens, over 100 million immigrants, both legal and illegal, have come into the USA. In fact, I could not find one reference in this book to the adding of over a third as many people to our population between the years his book covers—1965 to 2010 might have impacted the cultural divide.
US population in 1960 was 181 million, in 2010 it was 301 million, and in 2017 it is now 323 million. In addition to the massive increase in human numbers here in the USA, the worldwide human numbers, now about 7.5 billion, will be close to 8 billion by 2025. This is a four-fold increase of over the 2 billion humans on the planet. It is an increase of 125 million people in the USA from when I was born in 1931. It is projected that by 2100 the world population will roughly 11 billion.
Aldous Huxley wrote about over population in his famous 1958 essay, “Brave New World Revisited.” Much like our inability to prevent the rise Mustapha Mondesque type characters, we have seen his worst fear about population growth realized. He states:
“In 1931, when Brave New World was being written, I was convinced that there was still plenty of time. The completely organized society, the scientific caste system, the abolition of free will by methodical conditioning, the servitude made acceptable by regular doses of chemically induced happiness, the orthodoxies drummed in by nightly courses of sleep-teaching — these things were coming all right, but not in my time, not even in the time of my grandchildren. I forget the exact date of the events recorded in Brave New World; but it was somewhere in the sixth or seventh century A.F. (After Ford). We who were living in the second quarter of the twentieth century A.D. were the inhabitants, admittedly, of a gruesome kind of universe; but the nightmare of those depression years was radically different from the nightmare of the future, described in Brave New World. Ours was a nightmare of too little order; theirs, in the seventh century A.F., of too much. In the process of passing from one extreme to the other, there would be a long interval, so I imagined, during which the more fortunate third of the human race would make the best of both worlds — the disorderly world of liberalism and the much too orderly Brave New World where perfect efficiency left no room for freedom or personal initiative.”
Murray’s work also failed to mention the effects of automation on employment, a worldwide phenomenon, but particularly prevalent in all developed nations. Neither the words “automation” or immigration” appeared in the book’s index.
Murray, after conclusively proving the breakdown of our lower class lives and the bubble status of those in our wealthy zip code neighborhoods, cites his four reasons for this phenomenon. The breakdowns are related to “industriousness, honesty (including abiding by the law), marriage and religion.”
Frankly I find these categories to border on the “ridiculous”!! It is very hard to be industrious when huge numbers of us are out of work. Certainly there are no jobs many of those lower class people were trained for.
It is often the case these days that jobs are harder than ever to find for kids who just graduated from college and consider the futility of retraining fifty-year old coal miners to re-enter the job market when visas are liberally given out to foreign tech workers. Currently there are roughly seven hundred thousand (700,000) H1B Visa holders working in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) field. Out of skills and out of work is not likely improve one’s ability to be “industrious”!!!
When US Bureau of Labor employment figures say unemployment is under 5%, we know that millions are underemployed or have simply stopped looking. Yet we allow about 1 million new LEGAL immigrants in every year and know that there are at least 11 million aliens (many say far more) here illegally right now.
Furthermore, when you are out of work or poor or both, the question of honesty takes on a new meaning. Recall thousands of 19th century Brits were sent to Australian prisons for minor thefts such as stealing a loaf of bread. And while Murray clearly demonstrates that a good marriage can be economically helpful, our poorest citizens going into relationships which result in children born legitimately or illegitimately when they can’t afford to raise them hardly seems a happy basis for anyone’s well being.
As for religion, we now know that that a huge number of Americans are “un-churched. Younger Americans, for example, millennials (i.e. people born between 1982 and 1999) are facing, says Refernce.com “are facing underemployment, unemployment, a rising cost of living and high student loan burdens. Based on a survey by Bentley University, both male and female millennials are concerned about balancing their work and their personal lives, and want to spend more time with their families. Millennials are also concerned over the high cost of housing and tend to live with their parents much longer than previous generations.”
Moreover, many people are working several jobs, so why waste a rare, precious weekend day sitting around being told by some religious authority how sinful you are? But, churches do social work and offer social opportunities, and Murray is right about citing their breakdown.
Murray has given us a powerful and grim picture, likely statistically accurate and plainly presented, but tying it to 4 concepts which ignore demography and industrial advances in automation clearly fail the credibility test. Do I dare mention Global Warming or the burgeoning refugee crisis? I guess not, as too few real solutions seem to be on the agendas of our leaders and on the minds or our intelligentsia.
About the Author: Collins, a free lance writer living in Washington, DC. , is CoChair of the National Advisory Board of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). However, his views are his own.