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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Culture And Morality–Restructuring Dysfunctional Communities

Sociologist Orlando Patterson writing in the New York Times (5.10.15) suggests that a culture of violence exists in America’s inner cities, one which is characterized by attitudes and behavior which fall far from the majority white norms prevalent in the rest of the country:
Their street or thug culture is real, with a configuration of norms, values and habits that are hyper-masculinity, the aggressive assertion and defense of respect, extreme individualism, materialism and a reverence for the gun, all inflected with a threatening vision of blackness openly embraced as the thug life
 These characteristics, Patterson goes on, have their roots in the Wild West:
Such street culture is simply the black urban version of one of America’s most iconic traditions: the Wild West. America’s first gangsta thugs were Billy the Kid and Jesse James. In the youth thug cultures of both the Wild West and the inner cities, America sees inverted images of its own most iconic values, one through rose-tinted glass, the other through a glass, darkly
 This culture of ghetto violence, then, suggests Patterson, is no more than a legitimate expression of the same survival instincts prevalent in the early days of the American West.  The gun was the law because there was no civil law.  Urban neighborhoods victimized by decades of political indifference and social prejudice, limited by poverty and economic access, developed internal codes of behavior, many of which fostered violence.  The police, themselves white and prejudiced, resorted to profiling, unlawful search and seizure, abuse, and brutality.

This scenario unfortunately puts the best possible spin on inner city violence. Because violence is very American; and because, given the closed doors of a privileged, racist white majority, black youths have no other option than to become illicit small businessmen (e.g. drugs) who use the Law of the Old West to defend their turf.

Image result for images gunfight at ok corral
His suggestions for ending the cycle of violence are predictable – government investment in schools, job training, and community service – but decades of such involvement and billions of dollars of public monies have done little.  The inner-city neighborhoods of America’s metropolitan areas have, if anything, gotten worse.  Those families who could leave the ghetto, did so; and slowly but surely the ghetto core became smaller, more dysfunctional, more resistant to change, and more violent.  Families who adhered to society’s fundamental values of rectitude, faith, and discipline left the most innermost urban neighborhoods without their moral influence and example.
What is left is a sub-culture which plays by its own rules, is governed by its own code of justice, and its own inverse morality which rewards individual wealth and power illicitly and violently attained.
To make matters worse, the leaders of these inner-city communities, supported by if not puppets of  municipal politicians, perpetuate the culture of entitlement. Public funds pour into dysfunctional neighborhoods with only lip-service paid to performance evaluations.  These communities deserve a disproportionate share of public revenues because of their long-suffering, pain, poverty, and insult at the hands of the privileged, say liberal advocates.  Politicians run for election on the basis of municipal monies delivered, no-show jobs secured, and preferred status provided for marginal small businesses.

Religious leaders perpetuate this culture of entitlement, continuing to transfer blame for their society’s ills on the white majority and their slave-holding ancestors. Preachers are no different than any other men in influential positions – they want more money, more followers, and more influence.  The Rev. Al Sharpton is but the most public example of venal self-interest.  He refuses to assess any blame for black criminality and anti-social behavior, and has built his own personal empire on playing cravenly to white guilt and black entitlement.

Image result for images al sharpton
Worst of all is the complicity of idealistic progressives who have long been the self-appointed arbiters of race, gender, and ethnicity, and tireless supporters of government and public programs. They have supported obstructionist teachers unions, blocked school vouchers, and have long valued the means (progressivism, government programs, and communalism) rather than the ends.  Within their worldview, blacks are victims of white racism in perpetual need of white support and tolerance.  These intentions, however, are paternalistic at best and divisive and corrupting at worst.

Image result for image progressive conference on racism

Contrary to the blandishments of Mr. Patterson and progressives, the answer does not lie outside the community but within it.  Unless inner-city neighborhoods accept majority norms, they have little chance of socio-economic progress.  Honesty, honor, courage, righteousness, respect, compassion and discipline have been the precepts of Western civilization since the Greeks.  No civilization has been without them and every civilization, whether Christian, Confucian, Buddhist, or Jewish has espoused them. This simple but elemental code of conduct has been the foundation for civil organization, systems of justice and governance, and economic exchange. 

Image result for images confucius

In other words, the anti-social characteristics that Mr. Patterson describes must be denounced.  The super-macho, bling, misogynist, anti-social violent code of behavior is morally and ethically wrong; and it must be dismantled, destroyed, and replaced.

Black pastors must be unequivocal about this radical change from the pulpit. ‘Progressives’ need to back off their one-note insistence on government solutions and at least acknowledge the guilt and responsibility of the perpetrators of violence; the spigot of accountability-free public funds must be turned off; governments should offer all  choices available to leave non-performing schools.

Image result for images black preachers
Patterson closes his article with an emotional plea for love:
As one gang member told an interviewer working for the sociologist Deanna Wilkinson: “I grew up as looking for somebody to love me in the streets. You know, my mother was always working, my father used to be doing his thing. So I was by myself. I’m here looking for some love. I ain’t got nobody to give me love, so I went to the streets to find love.”
This confession is supposed to engender sympathy for those young black men who indeed have a good soul, good intentions, and a search for righteousness and understanding.  It does nothing whatsoever to defend Patterson’s argument for continued public programs:
In regard to black youth, the government must begin the chemical detoxification of ghetto neighborhoods in light of the now well-documented relation between toxic exposure and youth criminality. Further, there should be an immediate scaling up of the many federal and state programs for children and youth….
If anything, it is a testament to the importance of focusing on more fundamental values of personality, character, and morality.  Love is Christian, secular, and instrumental in providing the moral basis for right action.

Image result for images christ love
A structural reform of dysfunctional communities is no easy task. It requires religious and secular community leaders to abandon their endorsement of entitlement and transferal of guilt and to accept responsibility, assume guilt, and exact promises of normative reform. It requires governments and their constituents to be weaned from the public trough; and perhaps most importantly of all it requires white progressives to retreat from their dismissal of values, faith, and morality.

Once a new moral codes has been institutionalized, the more benign aspects of underdevelopment – single motherhood, out-of-wedlock children, welfare, and sexual promiscuity – can be addressed. A code of morality demands that one look squarely at the consequences of individual action.  What is the result of behavior on others?

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