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Decline of American Social Institutions

civic-engagement

When I’m teaching about instability and conflict around the world, I invariably turn to social institutions. Either their dearth made the conditions ripe for collapse and strife, establishing or reconstructing them poses the key obstacle for third parties in postconflict situations, or, quite frequently, both. Dave Schuler remarks that,

When the Soviet Union collapsed the only institutions left standing in the ruins were the military/KGB, the Orthodox church, and organized crime. The Soviet government had fostered the first and however hard it tried it couldn’t stamp out the other two. We should hardly be surprised when the society that emerged in today’s Russia is founded on those institutions.

This observation was sparked by an excellent column by Michael Gershon, which in turn was sparked by the life’s work of Harvard social scientist Robert Putnam of Bowling Alone fame.

Putnam’s recent work — to be summarized in a forthcoming book called “Our Kids” — focuses on how the consequences of institutional decline are felt disproportionately among the working class, leaving vast numbers of youths disconnected from the promise of American life.

Upper- and middle-class parents are investing relatively more time and resources in the social development of their children than are working-class parents, at a time when such investments have never been more economically strategic. This widening gap can be measured in parental play and reading time with young children; later, in the engagement of older children in extracurricular activities. Suburban minivans are occupied in taxiing children to tutoring, sports, clubs, youth groups and volunteer activities. By these measures, children from working-class backgrounds are falling behind.

The problem is that early social connectedness is a strong predictor of later success in life — test scores, college attendance and income. So what Putnam calls the “youth class gap” is a source of deep (and perhaps deepening) social division.

Much of modern liberalism — recently inspired and incited by Thomas Piketty’s book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” — is focused on growing income inequality. And surely, at some eventual point along an unbroken trend of increasing returns to capital and diminishing returns to wages, the rich and poor will cease to be fellow citizens in any meaningful sense. But what is most striking about a disproportionate emphasis on income inequality is how distorting and distracting it is.

If income inequality is the main economic problem, it could be solved tomorrow, through confiscation and redistribution. If the main problem is the unequal generation of social capital in institutions such as families, schools and communities, the solutions get more difficult. One task can be accomplished by a tax collector; the other is the work of a civilization.

It’s not clear to me how any of this is fixable. Dave is rightly skeptical of turning around the trend:

We used to be a country notable for the breadth and depth of our social institutions. I don’t know that there’s any way to return home.

Nor do I.

Modern life has allowed us to form all manner of connections with great people whom we’d never otherwise encounter. I’ve never actually met Dave, for example, and yet am able to benefit from his widom and generosity on a regular basis. Similarly, I can and do read things from smart people all around the country—indeed, the world—that expand my horizons and force me to comfront my preconceptions. That’s been a great boon.

Frankly, however, the tendency has been in the opposite direction. The abundance of choices, while awesome in its way, is not without cost. Gone are the days when people in San Francisco, California and Jackson, Mississippi were all watching one of three national nightly newscasts or quite likely watching the same sitcom at 8 pm on a Tuesday. And while that means we they might instead be watching some fantastic program instead of mass appeal schlock, it also means that there are fewer unifing institutions. We can all live in bubbles of our own construction.

We’ve reached the point where, for example, most of us would prefer to watch the ballgame at home on our large screen, high definition televisions from the comfort of our living rooms than go to the stadium. Not only is the viewing experience better but we get to skip the crowds and traffic. But it also means that we don’t experience the games communally. And, for that matter, we’ve all but priced the average Joe out of going to the games, anyway.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. gVOR08 says:

    I don’t know that there’s any way to return home.

    One suggestion: Republicans could quit trying to destroy the public schools.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 6

  2. C. Clavin says:

    But the entire Republican argument for destroying social safety net is that it’s for the good of the poor people.
    This post would tend to put the lie to that theory.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 3

  3. Tyrell says:

    One could look at the public schools. The schools did so much better and the children did better in terms of achievement and discipline when the schools were controlled locally. The problems started with the Federal government coming in and taking over, through such things as the Dept. of Education, NCLB, Common Core, and other programs. These have taken away local control and turned it over to politicians, career bureaucrats, judges, lawyers. The schools’ authority to maintain discipline was effectively taken away.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 9

  4. michael reynolds says:

    The Right have been busily undercutting unions, which were a key institution for working people. The Left has had a similar though lesser effect on churches, also important institutions. The Right attacks public schools, the Left goes after exclusionary clubs.

    It’s not even – I think the Right has done more damage – but it’s not all one-sided.

    But most of the change has come from technology and the empowering of the individual. That’s bipartisan.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 3

  5. wr says:

    Sorry, but to me this is the standard right-wing distraction favored by “thoughtful” Republicans like David Brooks who refuse to take responsibiity for the results of the policies they support.

    It’s always “if it’s just a question of income inequality, that’s easy to fix.” And that’s true. So it absolutely, positively, definitely can never be a question that this country has put in place policies that transfer our wealth from the majority of the people to a tiny minority — because again, that’s easy to fix. and those who are on receiving end don’t want to see those fixes put into action.

    So instead we get this kind of obfuscatory bullshit about how tragic it is that we don’t all watch Lucy together anymore.

    But heck, I’m willing to give Gerson a chance, despite the fact that his greatest accomplishment in life so far is writing glowing peans to torture in the Bush administration. Let’s see if he’s right. Let’s put in place those fixes that can be done right away. Let’s tax the hell out of rich people, let’s empower unions, let’s get money out of elections, let’s implement strong and high minimum wages across the country, let’s make sure that no American has to worry about being hungry or homeless.

    And then let’s start the generations-long strong to renew our institutions. My prediction — you give people the economic stability that comes from being part of a strong middle class and they start to grow their own institutions. But I’ll be happy to watch with an open mind.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 32 Thumb down 3

  6. C. Clavin says:

    @Tyrell:
    Another sarcastic comment? Like the Allen West comment?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  7. mantis says:

    Hmm, there’s not much clarity on what is meant by “social institutions” here. This passage is limited:

    If the main problem is the unequal generation of social capital in institutions such as families, schools and communities, the solutions get more difficult.

    Families, schools, and communities. We still have families and schools, but our communities are certainly not what they used to be. But does that breakdown contribute to a decline in social mobility? I’m not so sure.

    I think what Putnam’s book will reveal is a complete lack of hope among poor kids. Why should they have hope? Almost nobody they know gets out of the ghetto, regardless of intelligence or talent. Poor kids have a 1 in 20 chance of moving up, and that’s declining. Rich kids have a 2 in 3 chance of staying rich, and that’s going up. Ten percent of Americans control half the wealth, and their share is growing while everyone else’s is shrinking.

    This country’s problem is the gross imbalance of wealth and opportunity, and the hopelessness and cynicsm of today’s youth simply reflects that reality. Suburban kids go to practice together in minivans because their parents can afford the minivans and the time to devote to their children’s extracurricular activities. Wealth. But more middle class homes need two incomes, leaving less time for anything but then essentials (social clubs, block parties, etc.).

    As the wealth consolidation continues, this will only get worse. If improving your lot is impossible, why bother? If you grow up where nobody ever gets ahead, why try at all?

    And if people made enough to live comfortably on one income or at least without constant work, and had hope for a better lot for their kids, wouldn’t they be more likely to participate in social institutions?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 24 Thumb down 0

  8. beth says:

    @wr: Amen to that. Parents working two or three jobs have neither the time or the money to take their kids to a ballgame or tutoring or organized sports. Poor school aged children are often left to fend for themselves whether it be meals, homework, or entertajnment. And people wonder why they get into trouble and can’t fit in among other social classes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  9. MarkedMan says:

    There’s a theory out there that the reason social institutions are in decline is Because We watched Lucy together. It basically says that we form real bonds with these television characters and they are always funnier and better looking than actual friends and if they annoy or bore you can just dump them and get new ones without any social repercussions.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  10. PD Shaw says:

    Probably need a better definition of “social institutions” here. Dave Schuler is not a social institution, he is a friend. OTB is somewhat social, but a blog as diary format is generally people just writing want they want without any attempt to create an agenda or course of action or attempt to accommodate any form of consensus. OTB is not an institution in the sense that its persistence is a social good. It’s an entertainment. (Blogs with agendas OTOH tend to be dry, sterile places that spend an inordinate amount of time policing points of view)

    I am a member of social institutions, namely church (well not presently, I’ve been cast adrift), my profession, and my neighborhood association. Taking my kids to play soccer or music lessons doesn’t count, and as I’ve been told using church for the betterment of my children doesn’t count either. What Tocqueville described as exceptional about America were voluntary organizations that were civic-minded. Part of the problem is that those organizations now make big bucks. Send your checks please.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  11. wr says:

    @beth: Bertolt Brecht has gone out of style, maybe because he was a scary Commie, maybe because he was basically a creep on every human level… but he sure got it right in “What Keeps Mankind Alive?” —

    You gentlemen who think you have a mission
    To purge us of the seven deadly sins
    Should first sort out the basic food position
    Then start your preaching, that’s where it begins

    You lot who preach restraint and watch your waist as well
    Should learn, for once, the way the world is run
    However much you twist or whatever lies that you tell
    Food is the first thing, morals follow on

    So first make sure that those who are now starving
    Get proper helpings when we all start carving
    What keeps mankind alive?

    What keeps mankind alive?
    The fact that millions are daily tortured
    Stifled, punished, silenced and oppressed
    Mankind can keep alive thanks to its brilliance
    In keeping its humanity repressed
    And for once you must try not to shriek the facts
    Mankind is kept alive by bestial acts

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3

  12. Ron Beasley says:

    When I was growing (I’m 68) up the neighbors all new each other and we had block parties and once or twice a year the entire neighborhood would take a road trip to the beach or the mountains. When I started my family and moved to the suburbs I could go weeks without talking to any of my neighbors and in fact didn’t even know the names of my neighbors. That was in the 80s and it has only got worse.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  13. PD Shaw says:

    I started my comment before reading WR’s excellent comment.

    I do think the question goes beyond group membership and what those groups do for their own and for others that need assistance. And some of the most important assistance is before-the-fact.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  14. stonetools says:

    James thinks Gerson’s column is excellent. I do not think it is an excellent column at all.
    Gerson seems to think its a mystery why the working class is losing ground. It is not a mystery at all . It is because his heroes and employers-Reagan and the Bush family-perpetuated a series of policies that gutted working class economic prospects and broke the working class’s greatest instuition-the trade unions.

    Put another way, an abstract argument between advocates of economic liberty and advocates of economic equality can only be settled by victory for one side. The goal of building social capital can (at least in theory) be a virtuous competition. It might include a range of approaches: increasing the earned-income tax credit for single workers (who are often non-custodial parents); working to reduce non-marital births; promoting broader access to higher education; encouraging mentoring; increasing the child tax credit.

    The goal of this approach would be to strengthen the social institutions — education, family, work — that strengthen social mobility. And this might have a chance of decreasing the polarization of our economy and the polarization of our politics.

    Let’s think of some of the ways we could strengthen “education, family, and work.”. We could institute universal pre-K and reinvest in public schools. We could have lengthy paid parental leave, like every industrialized country. We could revitalize unions. We could establish apprenticeship programs for poor and minority youth like they do in Germany. We could help poor and minority kids go to college through affirmative action and expanded student loan programs.
    Guess which Party would firmly oppose each and every one of these programs? Frankly, I agree with wr. Gerson’s column is just one big game of “Squirrel!”. Let’s not look at the problem of economic inequality that was so vastly exacerbated by the conservative program that he shilled for. No, let’s bloviate about generalities like restoring “social capital.” I say nonsense. Let’s go back to what works, tackle inequality head on , and let feelings of “social connectedness ” take care of themselves.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 2

  15. Tillman says:

    Interesting that this article focuses around ways of improving social capital, which is just another method of investment to improve the productivity of people. Much like how we consider education an increase in human or cultural capital.

    Perhaps the problem isn’t a lack of social capital, but the way every aspect of our lives has been rendered through the prism of economics.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  16. Pinky says:

    Nobel economist Douglass North defines institutions broadly, including any formal or informal structures through which people interact. By his definition, this site would count. Certainly, access to the internet can help people adjust their vision to something bigger than their immediate surroundings.

    BTW, I see no problem using economic terminology like “social capital”. We use a lot of terminology derived from different fields and languages, but we’re not necessarily restricted by it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. Tyrell says:

    @Ron Beasley: Exactly. During summers we would go outside in the evenings and enjoy ice cream or soft drinks and watermelon. No a/c. We could sleep with our windows open and enjoy the cool breezes instead of worrying about some hoodlum trying to break in. We did not have alarm systems. Did not need them.
    Schools could keep their doors open when it was warm. Now they are locked up like Fort Knox and you have to check in like it is Check Point Charlie in Berlin.
    Television: used to watch “Beverly Hillbillies”, “Bonanza”, and “The Ed Sullivan Show” – wholesome shows for the whole family. TV now has a lot more choices, many of them great. But some are pure trash. A few months ago we turned on a music awards show – had to change channels it was so bad. I am against censorship, but there should have been at least a warning. No doubt about it, family values are under attack. Look at the results: women and children abused, family violence, divorces, and increasing social problems.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  18. bill says:

    @gVOR08: yeah, throw some more money at them- that’s working. schools can’t replace parenting despite the attempts to do so, and schools aren’t supposed to be “free daycare” either. people with money will find a way to get their kids a good education, and they pay for the rest as well.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 7

  19. An Interested Party says:

    yeah, throw some more money at them- that’s working.

    Yes, of course, because making sure schools are adequately funded and not undermined by GOP dogma are nothing more than “throwing money” at them…

    …and they pay for the rest as well.

    The poor dears…it would be so much more fair if people without money paid for public services…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  20. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @gVOR08: I’m not sure that the GOP are really an important factor in this debate (even though I do agree that they should stop doing most of what they are doing). We are beginning to experience the same disconnects in Korea–not a stronghold of GOP opinion–where fully 50 or 60% of the population walk down the street with their attention riveted on their smartphones with earbuds in their ears. Social isolation is pervasive.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @Tyrell:

    The problems started with the Federal government coming in and taking over, through such things as the Dept. of Education, NCLB, Common Core, and other programs.

    Except that the Dept of Education and, later, NCLB were established in an attempt to arrest the deterioration of achievement and discipline in the schools. They may not be the solution, but they’re not the problem (based on your identification) either.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  22. Tyrell says:

    @Just ‘nutha’ ig’rant cracker: At one time the principals and teachers had authority. Now the authority is with the Federal government, bureaucrats, judges, and lawyers (ACLU). Teachers’ hands are tied and behavior in schools has gone down the drain. In many cases parents will come in and jump the principal and teacher if their misbehaving child is disciplined in any way. The Federal government is trying to restrict schools from suspending students. This will just keep trouble makers in the classroom.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 9

  23. C. Clavin says:

    @Tyrell:
    Paradise vs the apocalypse.
    C’mon…that entire comment is fantasy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  24. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Upper- and middle-class parents are investing relatively more time and resources in the social development of their children than are working-class parents, at a time when such investments have never been more economically strategic. This widening gap can be measured in parental play and reading time with young children; later, in the engagement of older children in extracurricular activities.

    Well duuuuuhhhhhhh!!!!! Working class people are busy doing that thing that defines them, you know, WORKING!

    So gee, it really does come back to income inequality after all. Whod’a thunk it?

    (idiot)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

  25. Just Me says:

    Marriage is an institution that has lost ground-especially among the poor.

    The poor aren’t getting married or staying married in similar numbers to the wealthy.

    Kids admitted into elite colleges tend to come from homes with two parents.

    Economically successful families have two parents.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

  26. C. Clavin says:

    @Just Me:
    Sure…no doubt…but staying married and getting into college and being successful is a fvck-lot easier when you are not dirt poor and wondering where your next meal is coming from.
    Roosters crow and the sun comes up. The sun doesn’t come up because roosters crow.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  27. mantis says:

    @Just Me:

    So poor people should just get married and all their problems will be solved! Riches will rain down on them from a thankful, marriage-loving god, I’m sure. Keep spreading the word.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  28. Matt Bernius says:

    @Just Me:

    Economically successful families have two parents.

    The question is whether or not the families are economically successful *because* of the two parents, or if having two parents is more likely if one is already economically successful.

    BTW, by most accounts, the two top drivers of long term home economic success are (1) property ownership and (2) cross-generational asset transfer.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  29. mantis says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    BTW, by most accounts, the two top drivers of long term home economic success are (1) property ownership and (2) cross-generational asset transfer.

    No, no. See, rich kids don’t inherit anything until they get married. Don’t you know they all live in a production of Seven Chances?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  30. Pinky says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    The question is whether or not the families are economically successful *because* of the two parents, or if having two parents is more likely if one is already economically successful.

    Thanks to the time delay on this, we can see that two-parent families now yield more successful children later.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  31. Matt Bernius says:

    @wr:

    Bertolt Brecht has gone out of style, maybe because he was a scary Commie, maybe because he was basically a creep on every human level.

    Hey! Brecht wasn’t a creep on *every* human level. What he was, generally speaking that special mix of artistically uncompromising and brutally honest. Which often can get mistaken for creepiness, but is probably more sociopathic.

    The thing about Brecht is that he didn’t hid the fact he could be a bastard — he typically was one direct to your face.

    You are also completely correct about how good Brecht was at nailing human nature in his plays and poems. Mother Courage is one of the top 10 plays that explore the human cost and futility of war.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  32. Matt Bernius says:

    @Pinky:

    Thanks to the time delay on this, we can see that two-parent families now yield more successful children later.

    Correct. The ability to postpone children (which also implies access to birth control) is also critical in this.

    But, to my larger point, I think it’s important to look at two-parent families and successful families as a multi-generational project — they don’t just “happen” and simply having two parents is not, in itself, a recipe for success.

    The point is that two parent families are more likely to happen if and when other sociocultural and economic factors are also present.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  33. Tillman says:

    @Pinky: We are in some respects. Even when using the jargon of other fields, we often have to abide by the limits of that jargon’s descriptive power. “Social capital” has a specific usage, and when confronted with someone who might be using specialized phrases in an expansive way, I stick to the definitions to interpret the meaning of what they’re saying.

    You’re right in a broader sense, but I think Gershon’s column, which talks about investments of time and income in social institutions, is looking at social institutions in an economic sense with a specific endgame in sight.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  34. Andy says:

    From a noted Clausewitzian scholar via the MilPub:

    The second set concerns specific American problems which are closely tied with changes in American society and especially imo with the collapse of both Liberalism/Progressivism and Conservativism as political ideologies. From the “Left”, a lot of the good intentions of mass education or more broadly, the Square, New and Fair “Deals” as well as the “Great Society” coupled with modern notions of “progress” have eroded traditional authority – be it parents, churches, teachers and communities, and replaced it with . . . well nothing really. The state as in bureaucratic control, be it education or social services or whatever, has been unable to fill the void.

    The less said about what has become of Conservativism in America the better. Any practical view of politics or of state responsibility has been sunk in a morass of corruption, self-interest, racism and blind ideology which sees the state as simply the steel fist of the elite to enforce their version of “order” or as a milk cow for their narrow interests.”

    And again:

    Which brings me back to the point I made… pertaining to the Gilded Age. If we are re-entering that cycle again how come our reactions are so different? How is it that after all our history since 1890, we’re even AT this point in time? One hundred years ago Americans had a clear idea of what their economic interests were and who had their thumbs on the scales . . . and they were angry and demanding change. Today the closest thing we have to Populists movements run out of gas quickly or fold into the Republican Party before the next national election cycle. Four years after the greatest economic crisis since 1929 we’re acting as if nothing happened at all . . .

    Why? Because we are not citizens any longer, not in any meaningful way, we are rather a mass atomized propagandized pulp.

    How is this possible? People in general have lost sight of what their interests actually are and how politics is meant to protect them. Instead money controls the system, buys candidates and office holders while the voters make “moral” statements by voting for the candidate who best represents their “values”

    The problem isn’t really the GoP or Democrats, but the changing nature of political identity in the US. Some relevant factors for that change:

    - A transition from a politics of patronage to ideology
    - The boomer cohort and their substantial differences from previous generations.
    - Technology (media, globalization, etc.)

    TLDR version – Simplistic partisan explanations for what’s going on don’t hold water – those are effects of larger issues, not primary causes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  35. DrDaveT says:

    @Tyrell:

    At one time the principals and teachers had authority. Now the authority is with the Federal government, bureaucrats, judges, and lawyers (ACLU).

    That’s odd; my relatives who are teachers assure me that the authority is with the School Board, and occasionally the relevant state government, both of whom are beholden to the parents. Where did you get the bizarre notion that the Federal government has any power at all in local schools?

    Teachers’ hands are tied and behavior in schools has gone down the drain. In many cases parents will come in and jump the principal and teacher if their misbehaving child is disciplined in any way.

    Read what you just wrote — which is actually true — and tell me again how it’s the federal government’s fault. Are you claiming that the parents work for the feds? Are controlled by the feds? Are protected by the feds, who intervene to make sure teachers don’t have any authority in their own classrooms? Do you even know what you’re claiming?

    Teachers have exactly as much authority in the classroom as their local school districts permit them to have. When the parents interfere in that — and they do — blame the parents. It isn’t the federal government that insists that mommy’s darlings must be available by cell phone all during the school day.

    Just ‘nutha’ ig’rant cracker said:

    Except that the Dept of Education and, later, NCLB were established in an attempt to arrest the deterioration of achievement and discipline in the schools.

    I’d add to that “…and to directly combat the rampant economic and racial discrimination that was endemic in American schools”. Local control comes with all the usual concomitants of local government, including a much wider variation in degree of corruption, bigotry, academic focus, and level of funding.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  36. DrDaveT says:

    If income inequality is the main economic problem, it could be solved tomorrow, through confiscation and redistribution. If the main problem is the unequal generation of social capital in institutions such as families, schools and communities, the solutions get more difficult.

    I keep waiting for someone to point out the obvious here — that solving the first problem has historically solved the second one as well, except in the most extreme cases. All of those unwanted and downtrodden immigrant communities of 100 years ago are now fully integrated into our standard middle class suburban institutions, have perfectly normal families, and live in the same communities. The lingering shame of racial segregation, which is now self-perpetuating, is the only major exception.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  37. michael reynolds says:

    @Tillman:

    Perhaps the problem isn’t a lack of social capital, but the way every aspect of our lives has been rendered through the prism of economics.

    This is really smart. I know it’s probably esoteric from most people’s point of view, but we’ve bought into a cosmology that offers the illusion of rationality and objectivity, but is in fact only one of dozens of possible ways of seeing the world.

    Economics is a descriptive not a prescriptive science, IMO, and even if it were perfect, even if economists actually knew what they too often falsely claim to know, it would still be a dubious choice for framing all of human activity.

    We’ve largely replaced a religious/moral framework with what is meant to be a utilitarian one – greatest benefits for largest number of people – but which in practice skews heavily toward the rich and reduces everyone else to a cog in a vast profit-making machine. But the old moral system still survives, so that the rich can not only be rich and powerful but lay claim to moral superiority and thus equate poverty with moral turpitude, and skew the system still more toward the rich.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  38. anjin-san says:

    yeah, throw some more money at them- that’s working.

    It is certainly not failing. There are a lot of outstanding public schools in my area. Of course there also are a lot of well educated white folks with money in my area.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  39. Monala says:

    @michael reynolds: How has the Left undercut churches? They’ve criticized them, maybe (and not everyone on the left, nor all churches across the board), but I can’t think of any concrete actions the Left has taken against churches (and no, the contraception mandate is NOT an anti-church action). Nothing the Left has done is comparable to the Right trying to stamp out unions.

    And as for private social clubs, the Left has on occasion fought for them to expand their membership and no longer discriminate against African-Americans, LGBT people, or women, but the goal is to make those institutions more inclusive, not to undercut or end them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  40. wr says:

    @Matt Bernius: “Hey! Brecht wasn’t a creep on *every* human level. What he was, generally speaking that special mix of artistically uncompromising and brutally honest. Which often can get mistaken for creepiness, but is probably more sociopathic.”

    What I was thinking about specifically was his treatment of the women in his life. The last time I noticed any Brecht scholarship, there was a wave of people claiming that he’d had his lovers do a great deal of his writing with no credit… But that’s probably been a couple of decades, and I haven’t followed up — I’m just being one of those lazy people tossing out calumnies on the internet…

    I do enjoy the way he played HUAC, though…

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  41. Tillman says:

    @Monala:

    How has the Left undercut churches?

    …well, uhh, maybe pointing out all the crazed anti-abortion legislation in the Union, like transvaginal ultrasounds and the like, are undermining ecclesiastical authority? Umm or the, err, uh okay I got nothin’.

    Think about it this way: the religious right has grossly overplayed whatever hand of political power it had in the last couple of decades, and has been repudiated thoroughly. In that sense, you could say the left has undermined churches. But anyone with a smidgen of perspective should see it was self-inflicted on the churches’ part.

    And as for private social clubs, the Left has on occasion fought for them to expand their membership and no longer discriminate against African-Americans, LGBT people, or women, but the goal is to make those institutions more inclusive, not to undercut or end them.

    Well, everyone knows once you remove the implicit racism of restricted memberships that just happen to exclude women and minorities, what you end up with is a bunch of disgruntled white men complaining about the downfall of social institutions.

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  42. Matt Bernius says:

    @wr:

    What I was thinking about specifically was his treatment of the women in his life. The last time I noticed any Brecht scholarship, there was a wave of people claiming that he’d had his lovers do a great deal of his writing with no credit… But that’s probably been a couple of decades, and I haven’t followed up — I’m just being one of those lazy people tossing out calumnies on the internet…

    I think you’ll find that more recent scholarship has taken a more nuanced view of this. A lot of those “shocking” revelations were produced during the late first and early second wave feminist turn. As a result they had a tendency to play up the “unequalness” of the power dynamics and the collaborations.

    Generally speaking, I don’t think Brecht was that far out of step with his contemporaries on this issue. And the role of his lovers/associates in the product of his works was, even at the time, one of the “worst kept” secrets out there. Not to mention his entire “Epic Theatre” formulation was always considered a deeply collaborative mode of production. Though, to your point (and this gets to some of the contradictory aspects of Brecht), the collaborative written works only bore his name.

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  43. michael reynolds says:

    @Monala:

    Church attendance relies not solely on faith but on social pressure. No normal middle-aged dad has ever wanted to go to church on Sunday, they do it because otherwise they’ll look bad to whoever they don’t want to look bad to. Liberals made the world safe for people to resist that social pressure.

    Let’s not get lost in our own propaganda here: we are the force for secularism. We’re the ones pushing religion out of public schools and to the extent we can, out of all public institutions. It’s not Republicans suing to take down crosses. We weakened the churches by moving religious attendance out of public space into private space. We made it safe not to be a Christian. Good for us, we should own it. But yes, the church was an important institution, and yes we undercut its power.

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  44. Monala says:

    @michael reynolds: I still think you’re off here. You’re making the comparison between reducing social pressure to be a Christian (or at least a church-goer), with an active campaign to diminish or destroy the power of unions… between people making a choice to not be as involved in churches for whatever reason, to people having the choice to be in a union taken away. There’s no comparison.

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  45. bill says:

    @An Interested Party: “adequately funded” is pretty open ended, money doesn’t make kids do well in school- parenting does.
    if there’s no value attached to an education, what value is it to those who get it for free? apparently not much, as most metropolitan dungeons show us.

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  46. DrDaveT says:

    @Monala:

    between people making a choice to not be as involved in churches for whatever reason, [versus] people having the choice to be in a union taken away. There’s no comparison.

    I agree. There’s an enormous difference between ridiculing something (which is itself too extreme a characterization of the overall position of The Left with regard to organized religion) and legislating it out of existence, which is the agenda of the Right with regard to labor unions.

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  47. Tillman says:

    @Monala:

    between people making a choice to not be as involved in churches for whatever reason, to people having the choice to be in a union taken away. There’s no comparison.

    Unions do not have Constitutional protection. What keeps Congress from establishing Christianity as the national religion (and we can guess that some of them want to; they tried something similar here in NC) also prevents them from outright banning other religions.

    And while there has been legal undercutting of unions, there has been a social pressure element as well. There are similarities. Reynolds didn’t say both of them were equally being undercut.

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  48. An Interested Party says:

    “adequately funded” is pretty open ended…

    About as open ended as the cartoonish “throw money at the problem” criticism…

    money doesn’t make kids do well in school- parenting does.

    Parenting along with up-to-date textbooks, adequate equipment, proper facilities, and highly trained teachers…

    apparently not much, as most metropolitan dungeons show us.

    The same tired criticism of cities…if they are such hell holes, why do so many people live in them…perhaps they’re all masochists…

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