"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Family Values

Charles Murray, libertarian, currently fellow at the American Enterprise Institute has written a book entitled Coming Apart in which he laments the decline in traditional values of industry, hard work, discipline, respect for authority, patience, family, and a strong code of ethics and morals within the white population.  He has found that for 30 percent of white families these values have eroded or disappeared, further locking these already poor and marginalized Americans into social and economic isolation. A book review in the Wall Street Journal summarizes Murray’s argument: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203806504577181750916067234.html

At the same time, argues Murray, the other 70 percent of the white population is regaining these same values that were lost through the social and cultural revolutions of the Sixties.  The gap, he says, contributes to the increasing political divide in the country epitomized by the One Percent movement.  The more educated white elite, he argues, should abandon their reticence about criticizing others, and ‘preach what they practice’.  From the

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 nonmarital 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 nonmarital 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.

Murray has been a frequent observer of social trends in America, and has been particularly interested in the phenomenon of isolation from the norm where certain social, economic, and/or ethnic groups become increasingly marginalized, causing further divisions in society.  He has argued that low and high intellectual performance contribute to these divisions.  Those which are underperforming become isolated and marginalized, and those which are characterized by high intellectual ability, promise, and ambition become separatist and indifferent to the plight of others.  Worse yet, unique high-performing individuals within marginalized communities flee, leaving behind a population which, without the intellectual nutrients needed to refresh it, becomes increasingly uniform in its limitations, dysfunction, and lack of potential. 

As well as being a researcher, Murray as a political scientist has been a strong critic of public education which, he says, offers little to address the problems of these marginalized, dysfunctional, and underperforming groups:

Murray sees the No Child Left Behind law an example of "Educational romanticism [which] asks too much from students at the bottom of the intellectual pile, asks the wrong things from those in the middle, and asks too little from those at the top."

Challenging "educational romanticism", he wrote Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America's Schools Back to Reality. His "four simple truths" are"

1. "Ability varies."

2. "Half of the children are below average."

3. "Too many people are going to college."

4. "America's future depends on how we educate the academically gifted."

The New York Times interviewer gave an example (of what Murray calls "educational romanticism") when she said "I believe that given the opportunity, most people could do most anything." Murray responded "You’re out of touch with reality in that regard." (Wikipedia)

I have argued strongly for a revision of the educational system which offers more realistic educational opportunities for all (for more details see my blog www.uncleguidosfacts.com).  Those who are not as intellectually promising or ambitious as others should not flail in a system which focuses only on high intellectual achievement, and does not reward other more modest talents and goals.  Those who are intellectually gifted should be offered every possible incentive and support to use their abilities to the maximum.

In the course of his writings, Murray has developed a common theme – people and the social groups to which they belong are divided.  They are either high intellectual achievers or they are not; and they either adhere to the majority social and cultural norms associated with social and economic success or do not.  

Furthermore, groups which are low-performing and have rejected majority norms are further isolated by government programs which encourage dependency and lack of enterprise or have subscribed to values of enterprise, progress, and ambition.

This book, Coming Apart, expands upon these themes, and suggests that only a return to ‘traditional’ values can the marginalized white population join the majority.  In his view racial differences are irrelevant – it is when majority norms are lost, social groups either descend further into poverty or never escape from it.

The idea of ‘traditional’ values has, according to Murray, been given a bad name, especially by the unreconstructed social reformers of the Sixties.  To them ‘traditional’ smacks of limited freedom to choose, a rejection of the cultural advances that they worked so hard to promote.  Traditional means old time religion, Ozzie and Harriet, a stifling and exploitive religious culture, a return to Fifties individual and social repression. As Murray and others have argued, one need only look to history to reassess the term.  Civilizations were built not on an anarchic and ego-centric individualism, but on strong and cohesive communities with respect for God and King. 

India has always been a structured, disciplined, and ordered society.  While criticized in the modern era for being a stultifying, repressive system of caste and color, and a rigid social system linked irrevocably with a powerful religious philosophy, India was a great civilization at least in part because of the order, discipline, and structure that still exists today.  The same can be said of China, Persia, and Rome, and Renaissance Europe.  While each of these civilizations of course had slavery, outcastes, autocratic government, and martial repression, their enlightenment expressed the best of human society.

Much closer to home is the view of at least one of the Founding Fathers:

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."

While I do not dismiss the legitimate concerns of social activists today in their desire to create a more equal and just society, I do not agree with their premise that equality must reign above all.  Equal opportunity certainly; but the assumption that equality must trump dynamic enterprise, innovation, and intellectual achievement, never.

I believe, like Murray, that subscription to majority norms – norms which have been the emblems of social, economic, and cultural progress for millennia – is crucial for the evolution of communities out of poverty; and that community leaders must publically renounce socially delinquent behavior.  I believe that the educational system needs to be reformed to complement this new traditionalism.  It should help the newly normative to achieve to the best of their ability; and should encourage the highly-talented to achieve to their maximum potential.  I believe that the approach of government should be to identify those groups of the population which absolutely cannot do without some kind of public support and help them, but to dismantle entitlement programs which counter the social and educational reforms I have suggested above (again, see various posts on my blog for more detail on these issues).

In summary, Murray has always been a target for critics on all sides.  Yet, he espouses the best of libertarianism – to take off the rose colored glasses and see the facts for what they are.  These ideologically tinted lenses distort the truth and let the viewer see what he/she wants to see, and as such they are useless.

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