Skip to comments.Coming Apart, The State of America 1960-2010
Posted on 07/25/2013 9:17:45 AM PDT by robowombat
5.0 out of 5 stars Murray's valedictory ends on a note of optimism. But the book doesn't support optimism. February 3, 2012
By Graham H. Seibert
The last chapter, entitled "Alternative Futures," sounds a note of optimism. All that we need is for America's elites to recognize the problem, come to their senses, and set things straight. Right. As if Murray has not been futilely expounding this message for the past 40 years. He cites Robert Fogel's "The Fourth Great Awakening" as an inspiration for his optimism. America has overcome crises of the spirit in the past, after we lost first the Puritan spirituality, then the secular sense of mission which fueled our independence, then the crisis of the depression which was answered by the New Deal and the welfare state. Fogel argues that today's crisis is a want of meaning in our lives. Murray believes we can reestablish it.
Murray says that there are only about four fundamental personal characteristics undergirding a happy life. The ones he names are two character traits: honesty and industry, and two societal connections: meaningful relationships with one's fellow man, and a satisfying marriage. He provides another, overlapping list of four elements that have historically defined American society which he calls the four founding virtues: industriousness, honesty, marriage, and religiosity. He goes into some length presenting sociological surveys that demonstrate the importance and the interconnectedness of these characteristics to personal happiness, and their importance to the well-being of society. If only we could recover them, all would be well.
The backbone of his book is a comparison between two hypothetically constructed communities, Fishtown and Belmont. They are based on real places, predominantly white neighborhoods of Philadelphia and Boston respectively, with incomes at the 8th and 97th national percentiles. They exemplify the directions taken by subsets of white America as we are, in the words of his title, "Coming Apart." In constructing his abstract communities he excludes minorities and people outside the age range of 30-49. He goes on to describe how these communities have evolved over the past half-century.
Fortune has put me in a good position to judge the accuracy of his characterization. I am a few months older than Murray and spent my 25 year marriage in Bethesda, one of the Belmont like suburbs of Washington DC, not far from Murray himself, with a wife who was born in the actual Fishtown and some of whose family remained spiritually anchored there. That gave me time on both sides of the tracks. Moreover, I started out that way - in a blue-collar neighborhood close to Berkeley, where my classmates and intellectual peers were definitely Belmont types.
One of the things I enjoyed about the book was Murray's 20 questions to help an Overeducated Elitist Snob (OES) such as almost everybody who's going to be reading this book determine how well, if at all, they know the "real America" where 80 percent of white people live. By virtue of my blue-collar neighborhood and my Army service, experience is that younger men simply don't have, I scored a respectable 41 on his test, placing me well in the category of those with the most experience with the real America. The shock was how low you can go on his scale... how totally out of touch my Bethesda ex-neighbors could be with the country their governing. I knew this intellectually, but Murray brings it home.
Back to the story, in 1960 Fishtown was a very Catholic neighborhood in which the men worked, the women stayed home, and the kids went to Catholic school. My ex-wife was one of them. What they considered to be social problems were excess drinking, quite a bit of it, fistfights and a bit of philandering. Young people, however, knew what was expected of them. They got married, before or after becoming pregnant, and provided families for kids. It was a moral expectation that was generally observed. People had responsibilities and took them seriously. They did not accept welfare, they answered the call when they were drafted, and they participated in church and civic organizations.
Fishtown in 2010 is a very different place. People simply don't feel an obligation to either work or get married. There are many never married people, and many out of wedlock children. A lot of the guys are just bums - don't work, don't want to work, don't want to get married, and waste their time watching television. An inordinately large number have figured how to game the system by qualifying for Social Security disability. Their attitude is that work is for chumps. Quite a few of them have drinking and drug problems, but Murray does not consider these disabilities to be nearly as important as the lack of any of the four foundations in their lives. No more religion, no social connections with the community, either no marriage or an unsatisfactory marriage, and no vocation.
Murray, a longtime libertarian, claims that intrusive, European-style government has taken away the need for these four virtues and undermined the people who attempt to practice them. Kids don't need a father if the government provides money and social workers. Men don't need work if the government gives them handouts. Social connections aren't important if there's nothing really to be done improving the place.
Murray claims that the state of affairs in Belmont is much better. People work hard, get married, stay married, are resolutely and obsessively concerned with their children, and are involved in community. More than that, counterintuitively, they are more involved in church than are the people remaining in Fishtown. They may not believe the dogmas, but they understand the social value of belonging.
What has changed in Belmont is the conviction that the set of virtues they practice really ought to be preached. Belmont now believes totally in moral relativism. If somebody else doesn't want to remain married to his kids' mother, doesn't want to work, or spends all of his money on drink and drugs and all of his time watching TV, they're not going to be judgmental. That's somebody else's life.
Another thing that has changed in Belmont is their acceptance of lower-class culture. A Belmont mother will not prevent her daughter from dressing like a hooker, using gutter language picked up from rap music, or swearing like a sailor. There is not a sense that "Belmont girls don't do that." Also out the door are old-fashioned morality, the idea that you shouldn't seduce girls when they're drunk, cheat on tests, or tell the clerk at McDonald's if he gives you too much change. People just don't have a sense of seemliness anymore. Kids can wear the most outrageous clothes, and their parents can take the most outrageous bonuses from their companies, and rich people can take inappropriate and undeserved handouts from the government without blushing in the slightest.
Murray makes a few huge oversights. Race is one. White people are everybody's least favorite ethnicity. We get called anti-Semites and racists, and are constantly backpedaling in the face of accusations from Hispanics and overwhelmed by the sheer intellect and industry of the Asians. Even in the unlikely event we were to resist in the ways he advocates, society would still sweep us along its unfortunate path. Another oversight is education. All sectors of society are being worse educated year-by-year, Belmont, Fishtown, and most especially the black and Hispanic groups he doesn't mention. The educational system seems dedicated, whether by design or sheer ineptitude, to destroying religion, fostering dependence on government, and stultifying personal industry and ambition. Oh, and it goes out of its way to denigrate anything in American history of which white people might be proud.
My Puritan forefathers hoped to establish a country in which the four founding virtues - industry, honesty, religion and marriage - might flourish. It worked for a few centuries, but now appears to be hopelessly broken. I do not think it is possible within any country. Murray himself relates Toynbee's description of the way in which every great empire contains the seeds of its own destruction. I would advocate that each individual leave countries out of the equation as they seek the best future their family. Find a community - Mormons would be a good place to look - where civic virtues are still in evidence. Find a way to educate your family - homeschooling looks good - to shield them from the propaganda and the mediocrity of the public system. Find a religious community of like-minded people. And do not be afraid to look the world over to find these things - America may no longer be the place.
Grim words for grim times.
I have long believed that the real seeds of destruction were planted by the Wilson and Roosevelt administrations, but the real wrecking crews arrived with open,radical liberalism in the 1960’s.
They wanted to destroy the status quo, but had no viable solutions waiting in the wings.
I read one account that it started back as far as the 1830-1850’s when the socialist/libs (whatever) started their infiltration of schools which morphed in to the public school system.
Another thing that I think has contributed greatly to the crumbling state of affairs is the stigma attached to being “judgemental” of anything or anyone.
This stigma is a subtle but powerful corrosive force that eats at the foundations of our society. This component of Moral Relativism is the worst of all.
I am not against the concept of being taught in a public school, what I am against is how the schools are funded, manned and directed.
Teaching people to write doesn’t have to be political.
Teaching people math doesn’t have to be ideological.
Teaching people to read doesn’t have to be ideological AND political.
But that is what public education became...public indoctrination. Liberals simply could not resist doing it.
Liberals recognized early on that getting their hooks into public education was the best way to attempt to achieve a utopian society.
They wanted to destroy the status quo, but had no viable solutions waiting in the wings.
Yes. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who certainly knew plenty of old style marxist intellectuals , noted after meeting wit some SDS leaders that the leftists of the 30’s and 40’s believed in a ‘program’ that derived from their understanding of marxist interpretation of society and history. The New Left simply believed in violent action for its own sake and thought the ‘program’ would emerge out of the chaos that ensued. When Bill Ayers’ generation came in out of the rain and stopped throwing molotov cocktails that carried this mindset into the institutions they began to infiltrate. As they rose to leadership in academia, unions, entertainment and government and law they continued to propagate destruction of what ever was the settled and agreed on social norms. Thus we have not acceptance of some abortion being legal under some circumstances , we have abortion on demand right up to birth, instead of equal rights under the law we have protected classes and affirmative action as a perpetual condition, and whatever is the most extreme and destructive interpretation of what ever group antagonism that is being pushed , enviromentalism, ‘gay’ rights, gun control, etc. The goal remains destroy the basis of society and a ‘more just and equal’ order will emerge from the wreckage. Of course what comes from chaos is tyranny or armed anarchy. The left always believes men are born virtuous and made bad by social systems and traditions. Some conservatives know men are born a mixed bag and are often evil and are only restrained from evil acts by the web of social convention tradition and some sort of religious values. What is coming is the chaos of a collapsing social order. However, the power of the state keeps growing so what is likely is some sort of combination of anarchy and tyranny as is present in much of the third world.
I’ve always thought that the real decline started in the 1960’s; the situation we have today is the result of 50 years of decline, and Obama and his ilk are the resulting symptoms of the problem, and not the problem itself. They don’t elect themselves, at least not all of them, yet.
The real and irreversible destruction of America was done by those who ran America from the about the mid 1930s through the 1970s.
There would be no recovery from that period, the 1965 Immigration Act guaranteed that.
One could argue "Hey, look at 0bama, he's a MAN and he's really messed things up!".. But, you gotta look at who raised him!.. A MAN-HATER FEMINIST who raised an emasculated FAGGOT (not a man)!!! 0bama is a gutless, spineless feminist!
A thought that has recurred to me several times is: "How did primitive cultures keep in check the bad actors among them?"
I believe in "Original Sin." We all contain the seeds of great virtue and disgusting evil. Most of us inhabit the broad plateau between. Modern societies have prisons. The nature of mankind's transgressions vary, from capital crimes to pilfering from your neighbor's apple tree. How did aboriginal North American societies (and others) keep lawlessness from swamping their societies?
The time will come when the answer to that is important to know, because a break down is coming. It is virtually guaranteed because those supposedly manning the ramparts to preserve our nation intact have become the problem. There is no trust in gubmint at any level.
We will revert to tribalism, and we will need to police ourselves, as it were.
I have read this book and it is excellent.
I had a long discourse with a fellow in 2008 on FR. Sharp guy. We agreed that the religion of the left is nihilism... destruction. They are against anything that is but listen carefully, there is never anything to replace it.
We have identified the problem but we just keep telling one another what the problem is. Why? Because we can’t see any way out.
Without a vision (hope) the people perish. We are perished.
Only a guess but I’d say primitive cultures probably went all “primitive” on those that wouldn’t stay within whatever social mores were in effect. In other words, some of those behaviors were extinguished before they were allowed to propagate/procreate.