Watching the campaign news from the US mid term elections intercut with news of Brexit, anti — immigration marches in Germany and anti government riots in France and the escalating confrontation between the European Union administration (The European Commission,) and Italy’s elected government, a coalition of right and left Eurosceptic parties made me think it is a good time to give this article another airing in slightly edited form.
Nobody will ever know who invented the phrase “broken society” but there are plenty of broken and derelict societies littered around the western world, including the ones mentioned above. And as more nations develop ominous clunks and rattles at at time social cohesion is so important, nobody seems to have a clue what needs to be done to break out of the cycle of selfishness and self indulgence and cement fragmented national and local communities back together.
A big trend in political thinking at the moment seems to be the American cleavage book which is not a soft porn tome dedicated to the worship of women with oversized implants, but cleavage in the sense of nations being torn apart by the polarising rhetoric of self serving politicians and partizan politics, social stresses, the wealth gap, the growing proportion of old people in the population and the activities of minority interest groups. Pat Buchanan’s book Suicide of a Superpower, suggested that America was breaking up along cultural and ethnic lines. I have not read the book and the author is no more than a name to me, but apparently is a former presidential contender but in arguing that as whites became a minority race would become more, not less, of an issue he misses a few major points. It is easy to observe the evidence on which Buchanan based his theme. Under the Obama administration “community organiers” (or seditionists as someone more literate than President Omama would say) supported by white pseudo — liberal, crypto — fascist guilt junkies have been pushing the odious line that it is OK for members of ethnic minorities to racially abuse whites or for sexual minorities to display hetrophobic attitudes.
The same people as are behind this divisive glorification of blacks, Hispanics and Asians were in 2008 pointing fingers and yelling racist at anybody who dared to criticize Obama. The only reason anyone would oppose him, they chanted like so many automatons, was they could not stand the thought of a black man in The White House. Oh really, nothing to do with his loonytoons economics, his secretiveness about his past, his foreign policy based on object surrender to terrorists and his pledge that in any east west conflict he would take the side of the Muslims?
Later in 2012 The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt, writing from a different position in the political spectrum, tackles the increasingly bitter and unbridgeable political divide between conservatives and liberals, explaining why each side thinks the other is evil. It is precisely this kind of irreconcilable differences which have been increased tenfold under the presidency of Obama’s successor Donald Trump, whose abrasive style makes no concessions to politically correct sensibilities.
One of the best selling non fiction books in the USA over the past few years is Charles Murray’s Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960–2010, which I did read (because someone gave me a free copy in return for reviewing it,) looked at the most pressing divide, between the rich and poor, confining his commentary to white society to avoid complicating the issue by getting into race politics. The United States is lumbered with some shocking levels of inequality. As Murray wrote: “Real income for the bottom quartile of American families fell after 1970… Real family income for families in the middle was flat. Just about all of the benefits of economic growth from 1970 to 2010 was to people in the upper half of the income distribution.”
But while inequality is a very contentious topic, Murray is one of the few people looking at it from a conservative point of view, which is strange when one looks at what is the most likely cause of this divide. Perhaps Mr. Murray is more aware of the history and philosophy of conservatism than most of his contemporaries. The Conservative movement, founded in Britain shortly after the Napoleonic Wars was the first great reforming movement. At the time the Conservatives were extending voting rights beyond the wealthy el ite, financing great public works schemes and supporting the cause of freebasic education for all, the liberals of that time were more like modern bankers, They believed anything that got in the way of their making money was an unjust infringement of their personal liberty
But America does not have as long a history as Britain so the author restricts himself to contrasting American society as it was in 1963 with how it had evolved by the beginning of the credit crunch.
In the year that John F Kennedy died, he tells us, America had an elite and there were rich and poor people, but they generally had similar lifestyles and cultural tastes, watched the same television programmes, ate the same food and lived in socially mixed neighbourhoods. As he writes: “A narrow elite existed in 1960 as in 2010, but it was not a group that had broadly shared backgrounds, tastes, preferences, or culture. They were rich, powerful people, not a social class.”
Up until the 1960s Britain’s class system had operated almost as an Indian or middle eastern caste system. Marrying ‘beneath oneself’ was social suicide. I know this was true, my paternal grandfather qualified as a professional engineer, but his career was blighted because he, a Roman Catholic, married an Indian woman. We were never sure whether Grandma was Hindu or Zoroastrian, but when given the opportunity to turn away from her and rejoin the church, which did nor recognize the marriage, he chose her and was excommunicated (I’m quite proud of that.)
Generally speaking in the US, the wealth of the earlier era did not come from established wealthy backgrounds, old money. President Eisenhower’s cabinet might have been called “nine millionaires and a plumber” but only two had been born into affluent families
Within a generation American society had changed. Today’s new “creative” class, what David Brooks christened “BOBOs” (Bourgeois Bohemian), have vastly different tastes to the rest of society, go on new kinds of holidays, educate their children in a far more focused way, which is not necessarily beneficial to young minds, and have more creative occupations and more informal working environments, in contrast to the working class whose working environment has changed little (if their jobs haven’t been outsourced to India or China).
More disturbing, though, is that the new elite have become increasingly cut off from the rest of America as a whole, not just culturally but physically, congregating in a few urban areas such the area around Silicon Valley
Why has this happened? Partly it’s the nature of meritocracy; in the 1950s America’s top universities opened up to the best people, so that the average Harvard freshman in 1952 would have been placed in the bottom 10 per cent of the incoming class by 1960. The opening up of educational opportunities for women meant that highly intelligent women were now vastly more likely to meet highly intelligent men, leading to intellectual homogamy. I wonder has anybody looked for links between this and the enormous increases in autism related disorders among children of the technocratic classes.
Although Murray bemoans the lack of diversity among America’s new rich, he does not wish for a time machine, arguing that the creation of a new “cognitive elite” has helped to bring about huge advances in American society. The political and professional classes and opinion makers and those from whom such thought leaders are recruited are totally detached from the lives of people who hold down ordinary jobs and earn ordinary wages.
The real downside however is the destruction of the middle class and the destruction of values and aspirations among the poor.. This trend is echoed in Britain, a country whose large underclass Murray has written extensively about.
The statistics are shocking. The number of working-class men who declared themselves “disabled and unable to work” grew from 2 per cent in 1970 to 10 percent in 2010, compared to only 0.2 per cent of the wealthy (despite great improvements in overall health).
In 1960, 94 per cent of wealthy middle-aged white Americans were married, compared to 84 per cent of working-class whites. By 2010 the gap had grown to 35 percentage points, less than half of the latter now married. Divorce continued to rise among the poor while remaining stable among the rich, a similar trend being found with people declaring their marriages to be unhappy.This crumbling of the family unit has removed a source of stability from many lives.
Financial pressures, lack of opportunity and alienation from a society that seems to be run by and for an alien elite and the breakdown of family and community networks have been blamed by social scientists for the increasing divisions in society. I would apportion a lot of blame to the politically correct consensus in the higher echelons of society. This has ushered in a culture of self indulgence and solipsism which as well as eroding the work ethic has led to difficulties in forming relationships and constructing a framework for an ordered life.
The decline of marriage has also had a big impact on working-class men’s health, since married men tend to be more stable, sober, sociable and employable. Murray suggests, somewhat incomprehensibly, that the “causal arrow for the marriage premium goes mostly from marriage to labour force behaviour”.
Murray’s book triggered much talk among America’s chatterati, mostly critical of his views, although few felt able to dismiss them. Britain’s left too found the truths expressed a little too brutally for their taste. There are economic causes to inequality: manufacturing jobs have disappeared, and those service jobs that replaced them are badly paid, unrewarding intellectually, less likely to be long term and often involve an intermediary, a labour agency, rather than direct employment. Rising housing costs have also made life much harder for the working poor although this is more pronounced in Britain where many young working couples are finding it impossible to save a deposit to buy a home (since the crash of 2008, 100% mortgages have disappeared) while others are having to forego starting families as the loss of one income would plunge them into penury. This does not apply to the unwaged, the underclass. Housed by the state and paid by the benefits system, they are rewarded by generous child benefits for having children and are often better off than childless, working couples.
This is producing a horribly distorted society in which claiming benefits has become a career option for many and in some inner city areas in up to a quarter of households no adult has ever held a job. Such people are unemployable and their children lean the habits of work avoidance.
I don’t know why America’s media and academia are so politically biased towards the left when the politics of their left are so abhorrent to voters, but smaller countries still tend to have less open-minded debate (the range of thought encountered in Ireland or Norway is far narrower than in Britain or the US). Perhaps it is that Britain has invested so much emotionally and financially in its welfare system that the libertarian-social conservative Murray contends is destroying the structure of society.
How often do you hear Murray’s views represented on BBC news bulletins or news magazine programmes or reflected in the opinion columns of mainstream newspapers. How much more often do you hear representatives from taxpayer-funded groups dedicated to lone single parent families or youth unemployment arguing that more support from government and more money from taxpayers is the only solution to the problem?
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