One thing that puzzles me about your commitment to so-called ‘traditionalist roles’ is that the basis of your commitment seems to be unrelated to certain principles which govern human societies.
By and large, societal roles — including those having to do with gender relations — are conditioned by the pressures which arise as a result of competition with other societies. The roles which you label ‘traditional’ conferred a survival advantage to societies which adopted them at various points in time because of the competitive pressures faced by those societies. It makes absolutely no sense to preserve them simply because they are ‘traditional’; if they cease to confer concrete advantages, then they will inevitably be tossed aside and replaced with new codes of conduct. ‘Morality’ has little to do with this process other than to protect the integrity of roles as long as they remain functional (i.e. it is ‘wrong’ to deviate from roles which are actually survival-conferring); when the functionality changes, morality changes along with it.
For instance, fairly strict gender roles have been common throughout European history, but that is because they were necessary as a result of intra-European societal competition. Roles have essentially nothing to do with ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’ in a moral sense, they are about survival.
Given this reality, my question is: why do you believe that ‘traditionalism’ is still advantageous? Clearly, society is very different today than it was a half-century ago, both culturally and materially; What makes you suppose that traditionalism is still useful enough that it should be adopted on a societal scale?
Perhaps you can address the ‘competitive’ element specifically? That is, how useful is ‘traditionalism’ in the U.S., since the U.S. doesn’t have a unified population with a uniform set of cultural ideals. As I’ve said, roles are embraced by tribes in competitive environments because they confer specific advantages; how would the adoption of ‘traditionalism’ look in a country like America, where there are literally dozens and dozens of separate ‘tribes’ with completely separate identities and behavioral patterns?
You write: Roles have essentially nothing to do with ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’ in a moral sense, they are about survival.
I disagree with this sweeping statement, which you have not attempted to prove. Traditional sex roles have to do with both morality and survival. The two are not mutually exclusive.
Society has changed culturally and materially in the last half century, but one thing is no different. Human nature is the same. Child development has not changed at all. The evolution of mind and body over the course of the first 18 years of the individual’s life follows essentially the same path it has followed for many thousands of years. The basic psychology of male and female also has not changed.
Between the mid-1960s into the late 1990s, the American family underwent profound changes, as did the family in Europe. The argument that these changes were necessitated by competitive pressures from other societies (I assume you mean economic pressures) is hard to defend. The fact is, we enjoyed considerable prosperity during this period. It is true there have been serious downturns in the middle class earning ability of men, especially in certain areas such as manufacturing. But this downturn in men’s wages coincided with the widespread entry of women into the workforce. It wasn’t as if the earning ability of men lessened and then women entered the workforce in larger numbers. To the contrary, in 1965, the family wage was common and most married men were able to support families. Even so, women began to enter the workforce in much greater numbers. As this phenomenon progressed, many women were forced to work to make up for losses in relative family income.
The economic changes that have occurred during that 30-year period did not lead to widespread poverty. One might expect only cataclysmic economic downturns would change the family as dramatically as it has been changed. Nor did these economic developments precipitate any outcry to protect the wages of men, which one might also expect if a cultural revolution was imposed by competitive forces. If material pressures alone caused the changes in the family then the existence of groups such as Hasidic Jews and Mormons who have not seen the same family changes is hard to explain.
Regardless of what has caused the abandonment of traditional sex roles, there is no question it is harmful to society at large.
From 1976 to 1997, the percent of U.S. mothers with children under 18 who worked full-time and year-round increased from 20 to 42 percent. Between 1970 and 1994, child welfare declined significantly. Rates of infant mortality, child abuse, child poverty, teen suicide, high school dropouts, and youth crime all rose by levels that Harvard professor Richard Gill, in his book Posterity Lost, called stunning. That doesn’t mean that in every home where mothers are working, these things exist. It means that on a societal level, the abandonment of traditional sex roles has harmed child welfare dramatically. The number of children unattended at home after school rose from 1.6 million in 1976 to 12 million in 1994. Illegitimacy rates are almost thirty times what they were for whites in 1960. (This figure is affected by the decline in fertility of married women, but it is still much higher without this factor.) Divorce rates since the early 1970s, when no-fault divorce laws were instituted in nearly every state, have skyrocketed and divorce is proven to have negative consequences for offspring well into adulthood.
During that same period, the incidence of drug use, sexual experimentation and delinquency among adolescents in affluent families rose, according to Brian Robertson in his book Forced Labor. Studies have shown that these are all more common in homes where parents are absent during the day. School shootings were virtually unknown in the 1950s and 60s.
Fertility, especially among the most educated, has declined significantly and the demographics carry serious economic consequences in a modern quasi-socialist state such as ours, where economic entitlements are high, especially among the old.
You say all this is necessary because of competitive forces. And I suggest that if this is what competitive forces have done, then we should consider ourselves defeated and make a serious attempt to reverse the damage because it is the right thing to do. We obviously disagree on whether there is such a thing as right and wrong. As for your point that we are simply an amalgam of tribes, we do indeed have cultural institutions – schools, the media, the government, academia, the entertainment industry - that influence all of these “tribes” and that are almost uniformly hostile to traditional sex roles.
I am not terrifically sympathetic, by the way, to those in the professional classes who say we have no choice but to accept the decimation of the traditional family. Easy for them to say. The loss of traditional morality has hurt the lower ends of society far more than it has hurt professionals agonizing over whether they should live with one car, give up the idea of a nice house, or forgo fancy college educations for their children.
— End of Initial Entry –
“… You write: Roles have essentially nothing to do with ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’ in a moral sense, they are about survival. I disagree with this sweeping statement, which you have not attempted to prove. Traditional sex roles have to do with both morality and survival. The two are not mutually exclusive. …”
Well, just look across societies; the indigenous peoples of sub-Saharan Africa didn’t develop roles which you would categorize as ‘traditional,’ but they still suited their particular needs. In the Middle East, they have a mating system which can only be described as strongly patriarchal, and once again it has developed according to their peculiar, evolutionarily-derived nature. [Laura writes: The fact that cultures differ, just as individuals do, does not mean there are not right and wrong moral choices for cultures and individuals.]
I don’t where ‘morality’ comes into play, other than as an artificial mechanism to maintain compliance with a system of roles as long as it remains functional. How, in your mind, does ‘morality’ factor into these things? [Laura writes: Morality is involved in the choices people make in their relations with one another. Morality is involved in the decisions parents make in terms of care of children. An adulterous relationship, for instance, is immoral. Abortion is immoral.Neglecting a child’s psychological development is immoral.]
“… Society has changed culturally and materially in the last half century, but one thing is no different. Human nature is the same. Child development has not changed at all. The evolution of mind and body over the course of the first 18 years of the individual’s life follows essentially the same path it has followed for many thousands of years. The basic psychology of male and female also has not changed. …”
Technically, this is incorrect. Human nature does change, it usually just requires many generations. But, it really depends on the severity of the selective pressures which act on a species. Human beings are in fact different today than they were a half-century ago, just as they will be different a half-century in the future. Every generation is a new ‘temporary species,’ a snapshot of what the species looks like at that particular moment in time.[That is preposterous. In all of recorded history, the desire of offspring to know and love their biological parents has never changed. Some individuals possess this desire more than others but it is almost universal. That is only one example of the consistency of human nature over time.]
Furthermore, human beings display enormous variation: a young underclass girl living in one of the urban jungles of modern America is very different genetically than a young upperclass girl living in a gated suburb. Why do you automatically suppose that they must share the exact same ‘roles’ in order for society to be functional? Your position seems to be that if the entire society doesn’t walk together in a uniform straight line when it comes to gender roles, then there will always be chaos; but what about societies where there is a clear recognition of underlying differences, such as in other multiracial societies like Brazil, ancient India? [I have never anywhere said that all men or all women must have the exact same roles. I have talked about ideal roles that are best for the many.]
Not meaning to be rude, but it seems that you have an attachment to these simplistic notions of what is ‘proper’ for men and women, but have you considered the possibility that modern American society is much too complex for such notions? [American society was very complex fifty years ago and yet these roles were functioning well. Human society was very complex in the Roman Empire, but men and women differed in function and roles.]
“… Regardless of what has caused the abandonment of traditional sex roles, there is no question it is harmful to society at large. …”
But are Americans motivated to improve ‘society at large’? To me, it seems like you’re again trying to impose a sort of collectivism onto American society when there actually is none in reality. Americans have always been much more concerned with individual happiness. [I have never suggested imposing anything, my friend, except for a few tax breaks for traditional families. I would like to see government imposition of feminism end. Collectivism is already mandatory.]
Furthermore, in what sense do you mean ‘harmful’? I think perhaps there are a lot of people who are realizing that the elimination of clearly-defined sex roles has produced consequences which they didn’t foresee, but I wouldn’t necessarily call this ‘harmful’. People are just starting to understand that there are tradeoffs, that when you gain something you typically have to sacrifice something in exchange. [We may have lived through the only period in history when the welfare of children, in relation to adults, declined catastrophically. Children have no choices in these matter.You are suggesting that inhuman changes continue to be imposed on them.]
Now, if you’re referring specifically to behavioral changes which you see as negative (i.e. poverty-producing, crime-producing, etc.), my question in response would be: isn’t that their right? America is, as I’ve said, a very individualistic country, and people have the freedom to do as they please. Just because not everyone is rushing to form ‘patriarchal’ families and produce a future crop of obedient, law-abiding taxpayers doesn’t imply that they aren’t following their own internally-derived moral compasses. [Then why weren't they following this internally-driven moral compass fifty years ago? I thought everything was determined by "competitive forces?"]
I think what we might be seeing is that, without cultural controls, the vast majority of America are not genetically predisposed to form the sort of family structures which you advocate; don’t you think that might be a possibility? [Without cultural controls? The truth is, there are many cultural controls already: laws that require government and business to hire women; government benefits for those who use daycare; no-fault divorce laws that allow marriage to be unilaterally dissolved; propaganda that constantly promotes sexual freedom; state-controlled schools that teach that the traditional family is outmoded, etc. These are all cultural controls. The idea that individuals are operating in an arena of pure freedom is false. They never do.]
”… During that same period, the incidence of drug use, sexual experimentation and delinquency among adolescents in affluent families rose significantly, according to Brian Robertson in his book Forced Labor. Studies have shown that these are all more common in homes where parents are absent during the day. School shootings were virtually unknown in the 1950s and 60s. …”
Two thoughts: (1) have you considered the possibility that one reason for the problems among adolescents has to do with the relatively ‘repressive’ culture in the US as compared with other cultures? In the Netherlands, for instance, recreational drug use and sex are the norm, and yet this hasn’t stopped the Dutch from having an educational record that blows the record of the US out of the water. They have a much more ‘balanced’ approach, in which people are taught that occasional indulgence of these things can in fact be harmonized with a rigorous academic/professional culture. Here, the approach is ‘extreme’ in that we advise absolute avoidance, and the consequences often turn out to be disastrous for inexperienced, impressionable young people. Your thoughts? [The penalties were just as extreme, or even less extreme, fifty years ago. Why did these problems grow?]
(2) The US had a much more ‘homogenous’ population in the 1950′s/1960′s, and as a result people felt that they were much more a ‘part’ of society. This obviously isn’t the case today, and so we have much more alienation as the country has divided into numerous subcultures. I don’t see this changing, barring some sort of massive, extremely unlikely demographic transformation… [I don't see how that would affect the increased incidence of these problems in homogenous communities.]
If the educated want to have more children, then they could; they obviously don’t want to make the sacrifices necessary to do so. Self-absorption cannot be ‘cured’ by a return to radical traditionalism. Moreover, it’s highly unlikely that people could ever be persuaded to ‘breed for the fatherland’ in a country like the U.S., which is hyperindividualistic.
“… You say all this is necessary because of competitive forces. And I suggest that if this is what competitive forces have done, then we should consider ourselves defeated and make a serious attempt to reverse the damage because it is the right thing to do. …”
I said that competitive pressures are an essential factor. And of course they are. But remember I was talking about competitive from the standpoint of a single, identifiable tribe; the US has a collection of tribes. Why should all of these diverse tribes, who each experience a completely different social reality, all adopt the same code of conduct on this one matter? These roles aren’t even ‘traditional’ for most groups in the US today; how are they traditional for a fresh-off-the-boat Middle Eastern immigrant? [Again, you talk as if I have called for some mass compulsory program of traditional sex roles. Life will always differ among the various classes of society. However, when certain general ideals are held in common, people of different circumstances do what they can to work toward those ideals with many improvisations.]
You might as well tell me that human beings don’t need love any more because of “competitive forces” or because they are too selfish. The fact is, our society is functioning worse by any measure of social welfare than it was when traditional sex roles existed. Traditional sex roles were never uniform. They existed as general ideals.
Laura adds to Rex:
I have posted your response and I have briefly responded.
There are a couple of reasons why you are no longer welcome to send me comments in any form.
1. You did not thank me for taking the time to post and answer your query. You have acted as if you are entitled to access to my site and to my responses. You are not entitled to my time.
2. You have accused me in a comment that I deleted of supporting eugenics. I never suggested that the poor be sterilized and never said a higher birth rate among the poor is not desirable. Your suggestion that I did make such points says a great deal about your attitude. It is not possible to have a civil conversation with you.
You are obviously free to do as you please with your site, but I feel I should say a few things, just for clarification:
(1) I didn’t know that by not saying ‘thank you’ I would come across as ‘entitled’; that certainly wasn’t my intention. I very much appreciate your remarks, and your consideration in posting the discussion.
(2) I actually didn’t ‘accuse’ you of supporting eugenics; my remark was phrased as a question, because I wasn’t sure if you did support it. You’ve talked about the potential consequences of differential fertility before on your site; I don’t think it’s absurd to infer that someone who has those concerns ‘might’ (again, I wasn’t sure) also be interested in eugenics, as many eugenicists have raised similar concerns. Also, keep in mind, not all eugenics measures involve sterilization; that is one route, but there are others too.
I was trying to have a civil discussion, but if you feel it’s impossible, I understand.
Thank you for your responses.
Yes, it is absurd to think I support eugenics. It is a very large leap from noting that the brightest and most productive members of society are having fewer children to eugenics, which involves discouraging and preventing reproduction among the less intelligent and successful. I do not believe in discouraging anyone from having children except those who are unmarried, and in those cases, discouragement should be only in the form of social attitudes and the absence of government support. I do not support abortion for the poor or minorities at all. The problems of black families would not be reversed by more abortion or contraception. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Abortion and contraception have contributed to the epidemic of fatherlessness. There was far less illegitimacy when there was no legal abortion and when contraception was relatively unavailable. The reason why I am so adamantly concerned about illegitimacy and divorce is the harm they do to individuals at the core of their beings. In contrast, you show absolute indifference to the social chaos that exists today among those who have the fewest resources to deal with it. This social chaos is not caused by the fact that every woman in the country is not a housewife, for heaven’s sake. It’s caused by the loss of the natural ideal in family life. This in turn has caused a trauma in relations between men and women, which we see reflected in the declining marriage rates, increased divorce rates and greater incidence of childhood problems.
The overall decline in the birth rate since the 1960s reflects declining confidence in the future. This declining confidence has been partly manufactured. It is the inevitable result of collectivization, the spiritual illness of Western man, disorienting technological changes, and the bureaucratic assault on privacy and the individual. The fact that many of the brightest individuals do not reproduce at all or have very few children is an indicator of the poor health of our society and will have economic and cultural consequences in the future. Furthermore, the relative absence of children in their lives very much shapes their worldview.
I will take your thanks as an apology. However, I believe this particular discussion has gone as far as it can go given our very extreme differences. What I am essentially talking about here is how best to help people give and receive love. These are the only real reasons for living. You can never convince me that the lovelessness and loneliness I see all around, especially in children, is normal or should be accepted. I have lived through all these changes and witnessed the effects they have had in the lives of real people. You might just as well tell someone in New Orleans after Katrina that a hurricane never occurred as suggest to me that these developments are the irreversible result of evolutionary change.
“… You can never convince me that the lovelessness and loneliness I see all around, especially in children, is normal or should be accepted. …”
Okay, I can understand your perspective; but, I’m still trying to get a clearer sense of what this would look like in reality. I can easily see that you have many ideas about our society in the ‘abstract’, but how do you see things ideas concretely altering society? Would it mean that a newly-naturalized Iranian-American, whose natural inclinations lead him to adopt attitudes which are hardly in keeping with our brand of traditionalism, adopt these ‘general ideals’ of traditional family formation?
I am not a bureaucrat with blueprints. I envision it working the way society worked 60 years ago. My husband grew up in a lower middle-class industrial neighborhood. Most mothers were home. There was virtually no divorce. Men took pride in supporting their families without their wives working. Premarital sex was discouraged and only took place discreetly. Children, even the poorest children, were raised by married parents. Legal abortion did not exist. Poor mothers worked, but no one glorified the fact that they worked or thought it was better than being with their children. Children played outside with lots of other children. No one had much money. Some couples fought with each other all the time. Some parents were drunks. Some people were very unhappy and all people experienced some unhappiness, but there was stability and a sense of connection.
The habits of Iranian-Americans are not a concern as they make up a tiny portion of the population and do not shape our culture.
Thanks again for responding/posting.
Laura wrote: “… In contrast, you show absolute indifference to the social chaos that exists today among those who have the fewest resources to deal with it. …”
What do you mean ‘social chaos’? These things might be commonly known among your regular commenters, but I honestly don’t know what you mean by that. I look at our society and I see a great number of people shirking what used to be considered the ‘traditional markers’ of adulthood, but to me that doesn’t automatically mean social chaos. Could you elaborate?
There is a greater inability on the part of adults to form successful relationships and this is arguably influenced by the instability and lack of attention in their childhoods. We see many, many people on medication for psychological disorders. I know much of this medication wasn’t available before but as a psychiatrist I recently quoted in the post about day care said, the greater incidence of depression and psychological problems is real. ”Chaos” may seem like the wrong word because so much of it is obscured by the numbing effects of popular culture and general prosperity. I call high rates of promiscuity among teenagers “chaos.” I call relatively high rates of homosexuality, which dramatically shortens the life span of men even without AIDS, ”chaos.” Higher drug use is “chaos.” Again, I could go on and on trying to prove to you the fact of social decline. But I think I have already offered enough proof here and elsewhere.
But social health is not the only and even the most important rationale for the traditional family. God has ordained certain duties and we neglect them at our peril. If you do not believe in the existence of God, then I may never convince you that it is a violation of our duty to fail to love and multiply.
My latest response:
“… I am not a bureaucrat with blueprints. I envision it working the way society worked 60 years ago. My husband grew up in a lower middle-class industrial neighborhood. Most mothers were home. There was virtually no divorce. Men took pride in supporting their families without their wives working. Premarital sex was discouraged and only took place discreetly. Children, even the poorest children, were raised by married parents. Legal abortion did not exist. Poor mothers worked, but no one glorified the fact that they worked or thought it was better than being with their children. Children played outside with lots of other children. No one had much money. Some couples fought with each other all the time. Some parents were drunks. Some people were very unhappy and all people experienced some unhappiness, but there was stability and a sense of connection. …”
I suppose you could say there was a kind of reciprocity, and a sense of shared expectations, but things have changed dramatically since that time, not just in terms of culture but also in terms of technology. There simply aren’t the same sort of opportunities for working/lower-middle class people today that there were 60 years ago, and so roles have changed accordingly. In order to effect the sort of changes you’re describing, we would have to reengineer our entire society in order to have family wage jobs for the people who make up these classes. How is that possible?
Do you see any way to restructure the economic landscape so as to make it feasible for the sort of changes you’re referring to?
The conditions I described in my husband’s neighborhood were not simply the natural outcome of economic forces of that time. Industry was eager for the labor of women in the nineteenth century for obvious reasons. The bigger the labor pool, the cheaper the labor. However, there was a very organized effort to prevent business from destroying the family wage, most notably by a number of activist women’s organizations, such as the National Mothers Congress and the Children’s Bureau.
Aid to Families with Dependent Children was originally the work of these maternalist organizations seeking to protect unmarried mothers (ummarried because they were widowed or because of abandonment) from having to work and from creating more pressure for mothers in general to join the labor force.
It was with the advent of the militant feminist movement that the ideal of customary, non-mandatory discrimination in favor of men was abandoned and the family wage gradually died.
How is it possible to reengineer society so that these standards return? Well, we won’t know until we first want these standards to return and make an honest effort to make them return. That is the very first step. It is a lie, a total lie, that the traditional family was just naturally occurring in the past rather than the result of conscious desire and effort. We cannot know if we can reengineer society unless we first get to the step of wanting to change it. As far as I see, it is generally presumed that change is undesirable.
Remember, there are communities, not wealthy communities, in North America that are adhering to these traditional standards. Aren’t they under the same economic pressures?
“… There is a greater inability on the part of adults to form successful relationships and this is arguably influenced by the instability and lack of attention in their childhoods. …”
In this context, ‘successful’ is somewhat subjective; they may not be likely to form relationships which you consider to be ‘successful,’ but they may very well suit their needs. I’m young, and I interact with many other young adults on a daily basis; I wouldn’t describe them as ‘unhappy’ or ‘frustrated’ simply because they have not (and may not ever) conformed to the ‘ideals’ of adulthood which were prevalent 60 years ago. What would you say, for instance, to a young person (mid-twenties) who simply has no interest in forming a monogamous relationship, but prefers to keep his freedom? This is the reality for the vast majority of our society.
If that is the reality for the vast majority of society then the answer to this question will be apparent when this population becomes old. Do you live in the real world? Do you know the difference between going to your grave with a community of descendents left behind and going to your grave alone?
But, this doesn’t really get to the heart of my original point: today, America is classic ‘empire-state’ — we have a plethora of different ethnic, religious, cultural, and racial groups, and a ‘mainstream culture’ characterized by extreme individualism. To me, it just seems strange (and also pointless) to suggest some sort of massive transformation at the ‘macro-level’, because this would require some sort of common identity (which plainly doesn’t exist). I don’t see how reestablishing societal-wide gender roles (or ‘ideals’ of such roles) is desirable; it may of course be desirable for some Americans, but for others it may not make sense at all. The majority of Americans have no connection to the original Northwest European culture from which such ideals derive. It sounds as if you’re saying that it’s better for everyone to ‘be on the same page’ on this issue, for the good of society. Intuitively, that may make sense, but when applied to our ridiculously complex society today, I don’t think it holds up. Your thoughts?
Every day of the week, certain ideals are drummed into our heads by the media, by schools, by government, by intellectuals, by artists, by the entertainment industry and you say there is no shared culture? I see all this constant articulation of ideas as expressive of a very coherent worldview and a unified culture. There are only two real “tribes” in this country: one that respects and upholds Western Christian civilization and one that does not. The latter has control of all the main organs of mass communication. Because these are ideas that are pummeled endlessly into our heads, and not physical things, you cannot predict their course. You cannot say they are unchangeable. Obviously, they are very changeable because in a few decades our reigning values have changed dramatically. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men can’t put the Soviet Union back together again because the people rejected it and because it could not support a functioning economy. The same is true for the slavery imposed on the common man in Western society by so-called sexual freedom, which is merely compensation for powerlessness. Traditional sex roles guarantee the powerless a modicum of freedom, stability and control over their own lives.
Traditional morality is not something good or desirable for some. It is good for all. There is no one for whom it doesn’t make sense to have a married mother and father. No one. Nevertheless, the destruction of traditional sex roles is like industrial pollutants and carcinogens in the water supplies of the lower-functioning members of society. There is also a large swath of the middle class that is consciously dissatisfied with the course family life has taken as is apparent in virtually all polls on the subject.
My father-in-law was what you might call a poor man. He was just a sheet welder. Nevertheless, he went to his grave with a small community of his own creating: five children and a wife who never left him. Five children for a poor man! Four of his children created stable families of their own and one remained unmarried. If he were born fifty years later, his life probably would have been much different. He would have been a much less powerful man. That’s what sexual freedom and the loss of traditional sex roles means for the average man, the stripping away of his privacy, his potency and his legacy. He becomes a handful of dust.
The same is true of my mother-in-law.
Clark Coleman writes:
Rex stated that sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle Eastern societies have different family forms than we do. True. I have studied these societies to some extent and believe strongly that they are underperforming societies due to their family structures. Does Rex have any contrary evidence? Are these societies maximizing their potential, or anything close to that?
In Rex’s own Darwinian terms, we should remember which culture it was it that conquered, ruled and informed all the others in the world, without exception. It was the culture that had the traditional sex roles that are advocated at Thinking Housewife. Businessmen, soldiers and civil servants from all other cultures dress up in the costumes the West developed for their occupations. There is more to a culture than its sex roles, to be sure. Still, to the extent that the West departs from the culture that gave it success, it is likely to fail, and fall, and dwindle.
Josh F. writes:
Rex wants to bound us to some kind of evolutionary progression where the best and brightest simply decide to self-annihilate. He doesn’t seem to understand that his foundation is flawed in one of two ways. Either evolution has a self-destruct mechanism that would override all other mechanisms or those that are choosing to self-annihilate ARE NOT the best and brightest, but the most dangerous and suicidal.
Rex sounds too young to realize what has been lost. The exchange with him reminded me of this article by John A. Howard, “Rethinking America: A Renegade’s View of What Went Wrong and What Might Be Done.”
I quote a story from the New York Times last December, dateline New Orleans. Violence by young people has grown so severe that the police have ordered a dusk-to-dawn curfew for juveniles. The epicenter of that fear is the impoverished public housing projects. Here, boys of 14 shoot grown men in drug deals gone bad, children of 11 tote guns too big for their hands, and old people and mothers with small children sleep under beds because big children fire guns indiscriminately just to hear them go “bang.” The most recent trend among the young criminals is to prepay their own funerals because they do not expect to live past sixteen. [Rich Bragg, New York Times, "Where a Child on the Stoop Can Strike Fear," December 2, 1992, p.1]
This from the front page of the New York Times. We glance at reports like this, but the stark truths of those inner city war zones are too horrible for the mind to embrace. We don’t actually think about such a text. In the same way we don’t grapple with the reality of what life has become throughout the country. Over the last few months, the news has reported that three million crimes are committed each year on or just off the grounds of the nation’s schools, that one out of every 5000 young white men commits suicide, that more than a third of the nation’s college students drink alcoholic beverages with the intention of getting drunk, and that a quarter of the high school seniors have contracted a sexually transmitted disease. These statistics on America’s troubled youth mirror the problems of America’s troubled adults. Self-destruction, callousness, deception and crime are prevalent in all communities and all vocations. As the Angel Gabriel said to de Lawd in Green Pastures, “Everything nailed down is comin’ loose.”
Not long ago, I was interviewed on a Wisconsin public radio talk show. I had mentioned that in a truly civilized nation the people can go about their daily lives trusting each other and not worrying about whether somebody is going to harm them or cheat them. The young host of the show asked, “Have we ever had a civilization like that?”
He startled me. He was perfectly serious. I told him that when I was a child in the 1920s, my younger brother and I would walk half a mile, after dark, through a park and across the railroad track to children’s programs at the community house. Our parents had no reason whatever to worry about us. Our family would go into Chicago and leave the car unlocked, often with clothes or packages inside. Even when the keys were left in the ignition, the car and its contents were there when we returned. When we went on vacation, we didn’t lock the front door–we didn’t need to.
The host of the radio show said, “I can’t even imagine such a time.”
Unfortunately, several generations of Americans are with him on that. They, too, can’t imagine such a time. That skepticism about the possibility of a decent, responsible society makes the task of recivilizing America a difficult one, but it must be attempted.