Rod Dreher

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Postcard From Mayberry

These days, Barney Fife arrests meth heads (Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock.)

You might recall from a few months ago my linking to this great essay about “A Message From Trump’s America” by Michael Cooper, a liberal Democrat and a lawyer in rural North Carolina. Excerpt:

My Republican friends are for Trump. My state representative is for Trump. People who haven’t voted in years are for Trump. He’ll win the primary here on March 15 and he will carry this county in the general.

His supporters realize he’s a joke. They do not care. They know he’s authoritarian, nationalist, almost un-American, and they love him anyway, because he disrupts a broken political process and beats establishment candidates who’ve long ignored their interests.

When you’re earning $32,000 a year and haven’t had a decent vacation in over a decade, it doesn’t matter who Trump appoints to the U.N., or if he poisons America’s standing in the world, you just want to win again, whoever the victim, whatever the price.

Trump won’t win the presidency, of course. If he’s nominated conservatives will walk out of the Cleveland convention in July and run a third ticket candidate, and there are not enough disaffected white males in Pennsylvania or Ohio to make up for the independent women who would vote for Hillary Clinton in November. But the two parties can no longer afford to ignore Trump’s America.

Yesterday I got an e-mail from him, which I publish below, with his permission:

I was wondering your thoughts on morality and the cause of working-class decline? I was rather frustrated reading Kevin Williamson’s NRO piece blaming the dysfunction on their own lack of morals:

“The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles…If you spend time in hardscrabble, white upstate New York, or eastern Kentucky, or my own native West Texas, and you take an honest look at the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy — which is to say, the whelping of human children with all the respect and wisdom of a stray dog — you will come to an awful realization…Nothing happened to them…The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die.” 

Not that these things aren’t happening. But that there’s more to the story. I was the one who did that piece on “Trump’s America” you cited, and every morning I see the dysfunction first hand. Just this month I’ve represented a fifteen-year-old with sores on his face and a swastika on his wrist whose first words to me in the holding cell after a three week meth binge were, “Man I need a cold beer.” A few days later I represented an eight-year-old girl (charged for assault as a juvenile) whose life ambition is to “drop out of high school and borrow money from friends.”

These kids never had a chance. There have always been poor people. But this is something new. The meth. The drugs. The self-destruction. The dissatisfaction. The despair. It’s real, and contrary to Williamson’s beliefs, something caused it besides laziness. There’s a Baptist church on every street corner in my community and we’ve voted Republican as a county in every election since 1868. So it’s not just our own morality that’s the problem.

People got rich off our decline. They sold us the Iraq war and prescribed everyone OxyContin and then blamed us for buying it. Williamson blames only the folks applying for disability and dropping out of society but it’s time someone called out the Sacklers of the world too. Because they’re not blameless. – SO yes, I do think a lack of moral is part of our decline. But we didn’t start it. The greed, the self-interest, the instant gratification, the turn towards reality television and social media instead of community and real interaction, those have real world consequences, and the ripples didn’t start in Appalachia.

I blogged about KDW’s essay here and here. I half agreed with him. I agreed that culture and character have a great deal to do with why many people are poor, or stay poor. But I disagreed with him that they were always to blame for their own condition, and I said that those who have done well in life owe something to those who have fallen through (though I didn’t specify what, or how much; it depends; I’m talking about a disposition towards charity).

Mike and I had a further e-mail exchange. He later wrote:

My town is twenty minutes from where Andy Griffith grew up. The real life Mayberry. It’s the next county over. Last month there was a national reporter going around town doing interviews like we’re a war zone. Mayberry is ground zero of society’s fall. Who saw that coming?

Last Thursday I go into the gas station, and this young girl comes in, probably mid-20s, in a very nice dress, desperately in need of cigarettes. Obviously on meth. Otherwise she’d be very pretty.

She’s so frantic and anxious that the line lets her cut. As she walks out we all just stand there. Silent. Not even shocked. Just sad.

Humanity has always had problems. Slavery, etc… But this is something new.  Man is not made to act like that.

There’s no coming back. The window of going from meth addict to Doctor/CEO is small. Everything would have to go right. It won’t.

I think the breakdown of values comes so much from the breakdown of interaction. I read this article recently and found it helpful: http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/the-real-cause-of-addicti_b_6506936.html. It’s about isolation as the cause of addiction. Two rat groups are used. Both with access to drugs. One group is isolated. The other gets to interact with one another. One group tries the drugs and never goes back. The other gets hooked. You can guess which one.

I guess it makes sense. Folks in Appalachia are isolated, (and by nature of the scots-Irish heritage) independent minded. And meth/pills are tearing us apart. There must be a connection.

But how do we restore community in the iPhone age? When everyone in the room, the elevator, the car, is looking down? I don’t know.

I think people also lost power over their own lives to big institutions: They have to wait on hold to talk to their bank. Their own job is in a call center (it’s the new middle class employment here). They didn’t grow or hunt their food. They don’t know their neighbors. And that can’t be good for the soul.

I’m optimistic in the long run. But I’m not sure we’ve hit bottom.

Technology changes society too fast to debate the consequences. But the dawn of the Industrial Age brought decadence too. So eventually we’ll make this work. At least I hope.

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that Mike Cooper ought to write a book about this.

The lines of his that sticks with me are:

Humanity has always had problems. Slavery, etc… But this is something new.  Man is not made to act like that.

That’s true. This made me think about how when I was a kid, people had it harder, economically, than they do now. But we didn’t have this. When my folks were little, many people in our rural county were poor. But we didn’t have this. That’s why I’m skeptical when people blame only the lack of good jobs for our current situation. That’s part of it, no doubt, but not all of it. Poverty does not require moral squalor.

Some people blame the decline of religiosity for our situation. That’s part of it too, I think, but not the whole thing. In Latin America, Pentecostals and Evangelicals are doing so well evangelizing the Catholics in part because for whatever reason or reasons, indolent, womanizing, drunkard, nominally Catholic men are finding in that robust form of Protestantism the wherewithal to change and take responsibility for their lives. So that is evidence that religion itself doesn’t make a difference, but the form and substance of the religion does.

But African-Americans are much more religious, and religiously engaged, than the average American, yet the black church hasn’t made much of a difference in the out-of-wedlock birth rate in the black community — and that’s a powerful predictor of poverty. Unlike black Christians, white working-class Americans are falling away from the church:

The decline in church attendance among the non-college-educated matches a decline in stable work opportunities and in marriage among the working class, [sociologist W. Bradford] Wilcox said. All three factors interact with one another: Churchgoers are more likely to get married in the first place. Less stable employment might mean you don’t make the leap into marriage, and the unmarried are less likely to attend church. Lack of a steady job might also cause people to shy away from a church community, Wilcox said.

“This instability they’re feeling in the work force spills over into their family lives and into their ability to plug into religious communities,” he said.

Whether the retreat from religion is a good or bad thing depends on your opinion about religion, Wilcox said. He’s concerned, however.

“Religious institutions have often been sources of support and solidarity for working-class Americans,” he said. “I think it does spell yet more trouble for this portion of the population.”

 

If the Christianity preached is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, then it’s not hard to see why working-class people feel alienated for spiritualized pep talks for the middle class.

Still, the decline of a more morally demanding form of Christianity can only explain part of it.

I think Mike Cooper is onto something, talking about isolation and social atomization as being at the root of this. Three years ago, I blogged here about the loss of a sense of the common good in contemporary life. Excerpt:

[Timothy] Noah faults modern conservatives for undermining the sense of the commons by viewing everything through the lens of the market. Of course he has a point. Much less remarked on, however, is how modern liberals have done the same thing, by undermining a common moral sense — this, by placing a high priority on individualism and liberty in personal behavior. It becomes harder and harder to appeal to common standards of behavior, much less to enforce them, because they do not exist as they once did.

We learn to tolerate or to ignore behavior that used to be frowned on and stigmatized because we don’t want to pass judgment. I’m thinking at the moment about how discourteously many people behave in public, as if they owe no respect to others around them. As if they were free to do exactly as they pleased. As if self-assertion and display were their right. I’m speaking very generally, but if there are no common standards — and those common standards will vary from culture to culture — it becomes difficult to maintain common spaces. If the common good is only thought of as the sum total of all the individual goods, the commons becomes a problematic concept.

In the early 1990s, it was thought that “public/private” places like Universal’s CityWalk would be the coming thing. Remember that? It was a facsimile of a three-block urban commercial landscape — sidewalks, street cafes, etc. — that was supposed to be an idealized version of the city. It was clean, safe, and … well, it was weird. It was like an outdoor mall. The idea was that it looked and felt like an actual city street, but because it was on private property, it was much easier to police by keeping the antisocial element out. One can see the attraction, in principle, of such a place, however ersatz the execution, but there’s no denying that a place like CityWalk is a defeat for the commons. If we are thought so incapable of governing ourselves that the only safe and desirable places to gather together are spaces under private ownership, then we have lost something precious.

Anyway, it’s interesting to think about how contemporary individualism, in both its left-wing and right-wing expressions, has worked to liberate the individual at the expense of the commons. It’s in our American cultural DNA. I think we’re all complicit in this; I know I am. It’s easy for us to look at people who don’t share our convictions or tastes and think that they should give up this or that individualist practice for the sake of the common good, but it’s hard to look at ourselves and decide what we should be willing to sacrifice for the same goal.

I’m a strong proponent of the liberty to homeschool, as you know, but there can be no doubt that choosing to opt out of the schools to which most in one’s community attend weakens the sense of the commons. But I think the good obtained by homeschooling is worth it, and I’m willing to fight for the liberty to homeschool. You have your own sacred individualist cows, for which you can surely make good arguments. I keep going back to Alan Ehrenhalt’s great book The Lost City, in which he calls out all of us on this point. Ehrenhalt says most people want the close-knit feeling of community and common purpose we used to have in this country 60 or more years ago, but very few of us are willing to accept the strong limits on personal behavior and consumer choice that are inseparable from the strong sense of the commons we shared. If everybody is prepared to be part of the commons, but only on their own terms, then it’s hard to say we have a real sense of the commons. We like to think of ourselves as citizens, but really, aren’t most of us really just consumers?

The cost of liberty is solidarity, it seems. Very few of us are not implicated in this. But the dynamic seems impossible to stop. One of the core reasons for my Benedict Option project is to build some kind of resistance to these destructive, atomizing forces. I doubt they can be turned back, but if we can figure out how to ride the crest of this tsunami, we might make it to solid grown when the wave expires.

 

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74 Responses to Postcard From Mayberry

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  1. Mick says:

    Fran,
    I assume you have heard of the auto maker bailout that preserved the UAW? You know the one Mitt Romney opposed. Which states/districts in this country have the best public schools? Not the red ones and not by accident. Which party insists that companies with more than 50 employees provide health insurance? Name ONE Republican policy post 1980 that has helped working class people more than the slew of Democratic policies I describe.

  2. Lena says:

    I think that acedia and the related social isolation is a huge problem, not just of the lower class. The lower class just manifests the most destructive symptoms and it perhaps the farthest down the path. But I think it is not a single cause issue either. We are entering the perfect storm of geographical mobility and Facebook images and decreasing religious involvement and frankly everyone so busy perfecting their resumes (or better yet their childrens) that they are too busy for anything or anyone else. I was really marked when I was a new mother and my husband deployed and I asked for people from our church to come to my house so that I could make them dinner. Two people took me up in six months. And both those dinners had to be on the calendar weeks in advance, for me to cook! Why are people so proud of their busy-ness? Just because we make everyone’s true self a function of what they “do” for a living? Is the idol of ‘impact on the world’ or ‘fulfilling our potential’ a symptom or a root? I doubt the hardest part of any Ben Op is going to be convincing people. It is going to be teaching people to do community that don’t know how and getting people to remain committed when community life is hard and in the modern society you can almost always take the easy way out – cut ties, start over, purify, rebuild. Are there enough people that can overcome the modern allergy to commitment?

  3. mrscracker says:

    William Dalton ,
    That’s true. Substance abuse & violence have been an issue in that part of the world for some time but it doesn’t mean all the folks involved are lowlifes. I’ve read that some traditions & culture came over intact from Scotland & the North of Ireland.
    My son’s teacher married a doctor from Cana, VA where Floyd Allen lived. We had friends from Dugspur. All great people.
    My family’s mostly Scotch & Irish. We’ve lost several family members directly or indirectly to alcohol. There must be some genetic factor going on. I read that even the Romans were scandalized by the Celts’ drinking & said they would trade their own wives & children for alcohol. I figure the Romans might be inflating things a bit but there’s probably some truth there.
    I know it’s unwise to make generalizations about culture & DNA but just from observing family history I notice that the Scotch Irish are capable of either great good or great harm & sometimes that can be self-harm.

  4. MRG says:

    Author: “There’s no coming back. The window of going from meth addict to Doctor/CEO is small. Everything would have to go right. It won’t.”

    JonF: “Um, I have known people who have gotten themselves off drugs: meth, booze, opioids. Addiction is not always hopeless.”

    Respectfully, there’s a large chasm between these two statements. Yes, the meth-addicted woman in the example may eventually overcome her addition, finish her education at whatever level she’s capable of (h.s., vocational school, college), marry, and obtain a stable lifestyle. But it’s naive to overlook the impact of choices made during certain critical stages of life: teens, for example.

    Obstacles to success such as substance additions, unwed pregnancy, and even teen marriages (which most often end in divorce) are made at a time when one’s life path is far from solid — and they inform everything that comes afterward. Success is still possible, but it’s infinitesimally harder to obtain if you’re carrying that kind of baggage.

  5. MRG says:

    My apologies: I wrote “infinitesimally” in my comment when I actually meant “exponentially.”

  6. Oakinhou says:

    Fran Macadam

    “I’m afraid the Democratic Party policies you imagine are so long deceased, that for you, fantasy and nostalgia have merged. Like, as long gone as Hubert H. Humphrey.”

    Because increase in minimum salaries, Medicaid expansion, food stamps ans SCHIP are not Democratic Party policies, forcefully opposed by the Republicans, who argue, you know, that providing higher salaries and accessible health care to poor people robs them of their dignity.

  7. adcwonk says:

    Tryo suggested:

    “The best we can do is wait it out until the politics of resentment towards social welfare spending dies down.”

    I do believe that is part of a potential solution. Worshiping at the idol of free-market-cut-the-budget-no-matter-what-cut-taxes-on-the-rich philosphy is exacerbating the problem

  8. Chris403 says:

    I agree that it’s a combination of outsourced good jobs, breakdown of the family, and a breakdown of the church.

    If I had to pick one, I’d argue the breakdown of the family has been the most disastrous. The crime and poverty data support that conclusion.

    How to fix these problems? Who knows. Trump? (I’m kidding.)

  9. Hector_St_Clare says:

    My religious faith waxes and wanes, and during the times it’s on the wane I wake up and can’t for the life of me think of what my purpose on this earth is. I have children, so my daily purpose–to help get them to the place where they can launch themselves into their own independent lives–is always before me. But then I think ‘So what is the purpose of *their* lives? Is it simply the perpetuation of the species?’

    And then I think, ‘Thank goodness for wine.’

    I should say, by the way, that I’m upper-middle-class, well-off by this country’s standards, well-educated, in a long and happy marriage. A little depressed sometimes, sure, but who ain’t?

    Someone upthread used the word “acedia” to describe the problem many in this culture face, and when I’m feeling as I described above, I think that’s what I’m experiencing–a kind of spiritual malaise because I’ve lost my way. I can’t see something larger than my own self at work.

    Now imagine if you’re me minus the money and the marriage and the status and the education … I’m pretty sure that equals acedia + a meth habit.

    Fran,

    Thanks for your excellent comment. I’m not married nor do I have children, but I identify with a lot of this. The thing that gives me most satisfaction right now, and that pulls me out of ‘acedia’, is first and foremost my job. I have a job that I love doing, both the ‘contributing to knowledge’, the ‘being a published author of peer-reviewed articles’, and the ‘improving the ability of poor farmers to feed themselves’ aspects. I really am fulfilled by what I do both at a personal and spiritual level, and it also gives me the hope of career advancement- that someday I’ll have the opportunity to move out of central Illinois, make a better income, and that should help me have a happier personal life as well. If I didn’t have that kind of satisfaction that comes through my work- and most American’s don’t- I would be feeling spiritual malaise much more than I do.

  10. Charles Cosimano says:

    “The Morlocks will eat your grand-children.”

    If I had grandchildren the morlocks would be robots and it would be simple matter to turn off the power.

    Mr. Wells was wrong.

  11. JonF says:

    Re: Respectfully, there’s a large chasm between these two statements.

    The original statement was a statement of despair, and it’s the last thing people who need to get their act together should be told. Essentially it’s “You’re hopeless. Find a gutter and die in it.”
    That is what I was objecting to.
    Problematic people do get their act together sometimes, and find lives that are worth living. Sure, it’s not the same life they might have had, but life is full of alternate “might haves”, roads not taken, and you can’t lose sleep over them if you want to focus on the future of this timeline instead. Every last one of us may have missed out on the ideal job, ideal spouse, whatever. So what? Live the life you have, not the one you think you should have had.

  12. DavidinMN says:

    What’s different? I think two things: meth and prescription painkillers. These two things have damaged more lives than anything else that I’ve seen in the rural communities here in Minnesota, the Dakotas, Iowa and Wisconsin. Here in Minnesota, we are just starting to turn the corner on meth abuse due to better enforcement efforts (thanks to Federal grants) and restricting sales of ephedrine. We are now moving pretty quick against painkillers.

    Except for these two things, life in rural America can be very decent and pleasant.

    I don’t want to sound partisan, but there was huge resistance from one political party to enact even minimal restrictions on sales of ephedrine. They fought like the NRA. They were representing pharmacy owners in rural communities for whom bulk sales of Sudafed were the only thing keeping them in business.

    My point is that we can solve these problems, but sometimes we need to apply to them the power of OUR government. Our government is one (of many) vehicle for implementing the common good. But so many accept uncritically the lie that “government isn’t the solution to the problem — it is the problem.”

  13. JonF says:

    Re: Governments are powerless

    Because they are being paid off to be powerless

    Re: Global markets rule.
    Until they don’t. The nabobs and poobahs and tinpot potentates of the global economy delude themselves into thinking they’ve won the game for all time and solved the ancient riddle. They have not. The Sphinx is not smiling at all– she is licking her chops is anticipation of a most excellent repast. God forgives all sins– but Time and Nature do not forgive human folly.

  14. MRG says:

    Essentially it’s “You’re hopeless. Find a gutter and die in it.”

    That’s hyperbole at best and naive at worst. No one ever suggest any such thing, and it’s graceless to suggest it.

  15. Rob G says:

    Two books worth reading on current drug problems:

    ‘Methland’ by Nick Reding

    ‘Dreamland’ by Sam Quinones (on the opiate epidemic)

  16. Bob M says:

    The lack of a commons in what is “good” can’t be dismissed. We have always had a pluralistic society, but there was a universal understanding of basic right and wrong…natural law if you will. That has been rejected and all the fractures in western society (not just American) are along those lines.

  17. MichaelGC says:

    steve says on May 10, 2016 at 4:55 pm:

    We cooked for the local shelter (mostly drunks and druggies) for years, and still help with our church’s soup kitchen. (Gets harder as you get older) I sometimes wonder if we really do any good beyond feeding people. I guess that should be sufficient but nice to know it goes beyond that.

    Thank you, Steve. That must be what it means to be the salt and light of the world — beneficence without purpose, goodness without an agenda.

  18. kijunshi says:

    As long as we’re telling stories…

    The heroin addiction sweeping the nation has come to my family at last: a cousin by marriage, one of 8 strapping grandsons of the strongly patriarchal “clan” side of the family. He spent a month in a religious rehab camp in Minnesota late last year. Aside from a Christmas party which he spent mostly smoking anxiously outside, I haven’t seen any more of him or heard any updates.

    His father, aunts and uncle all vote Democrat, live a suburban lifestyle, and are of the salary class. His parents are still married, happily I think, and attend church regularly. They are physically fit, attractive people who would be the last family you’d suspect…

    One thing, though: his family in particular is obsessed with appearances, especially his father. I’ve listened to him brag about how much he appreciates his own parents not divorcing, and what a great example they set for him and the rest of the family… in front of two siblings who had divorced. I know he harassed a niece-in-law about her weight relentlessly (her quote: “(Uncle) finds the existence of my body offensive.”) And more than anything else, his son who had dropped out of college and taken a job being a barista at Starbucks was A Complete Disappointment – I didn’t even need to hear family rumors to figure that one out, as the body language was so crystal clear.

    My impression of his son –then and now– has always been of a man without much of a sense of self… just a sort of impotent rebelliousness, in a way that you could still see how much his father’s opinion affected him. I know he started smoking pot as a rebellion, and in this case I do think it was a gateway drug to something that probably made him feel a lot better about himself.

    There’s hope, of course – the wealth of the family means that there are lots of resources to give him second chances. I actually hope he does find religion during this journey (I think he had kind of a… impotently rebellious atheism going on before), as I think only a radical re-evaluation of self will allow him to pull free of a lot more dysfunctions than just the heroin. His father, however, will probably always do more harm than help in his life.

    Enough story! The point, I guess, is to not assume that economic markers will keep you safe. There’s more to it than that.

    [NFR: In Sam Quinones’ great book “Dreamland,” about the opiate epidemic, the most heartbreaking of many, many stories he tells is the one about a Russian Pentecostal family who immigrated to America to escape persecution, and who lost a child to the epidemic. There are no certainties. None. — RD]

  19. Eamus Catuli says:

    @galanx and Thrice a Viking:

    Eamus’s point (I think) was that with the South flipping to the Republicans starting from the mid-60s you would think these people would have gone to the Democrats. OTOH, if this place was solidly Republican enough to stay that way from 1932 to 1968, they could quite easily have adjusted to the new Republican alignment afterward- they wouldn’t have been fond of the Democrats new cultural identity.

    Right, I’m aware that the hill country of the South — the region that Colin Woodard calls “Greater Appalachia” — is culturally and politically different from the rest of the South, sometimes dramatically so, and that this goes way back. But I’m still surprised to hear about a county whose partisan voting habits, whatever they started out as, stayed the same through and despite the huge post-Civil Rights party realignment. It seems, like I said, that for that to have happened, the county’s ideological makeup would actually have had to change rather than stay the same. At best, maybe, it was less Republican before but more Republican now, or something. Anyway, I’m curious about it and would like to know more.

  20. JonF says:

    Re: That’s hyperbole at best and naive at worst. No one ever suggest any such thing, and it’s graceless to suggest it.

    The statement was so bitterly absolute that that is how I read it. It left no chink in its armor fort any hope to shine through. “There’s no coming back…” is something that belongs on the gates of Hell, not as a mantra for people who are struggling with terrible difficulties.

  21. Steven A.D. says:

    Boy o boy. Fran’s “Now imagine if you’re me minus the money and the marriage and the status and the education … I’m pretty sure that equals acedia + a meth habit” post yesterday was fabulous and insightful.

    Frankly, I identify completely with her thoughts. If it weren’t or the structures I’ve been fortunate to build – particularly work – I fear I would be a wreck.

    Wonder how many other folks out there can identify with this challenge…

  22. Oakinhou says:

    “I don’t want to sound partisan, but there was huge resistance from one political party to enact even minimal restrictions on sales of ephedrine. They fought like the NRA. They were representing pharmacy owners in rural communities for whom bulk sales of Sudafed were the only thing keeping them in business.”

    I will sound partisan. You will get my Sudafed from my dead cold fingers if I have something to say about it. It’s the only thing that works to stop nasal congestion. In Texas I already have to provide a drivers license and get into a database that restricts me to xxxx pills per month.

    I had a bad cold in the UK last year, and went to a pharmacy in a small village in Scotland. I was expecting the same rigmarole. I was expecting it so much that already had a passport and a Brit next to me to explain that I really needed Sudafed. Poor girl though I needed psychotic medication too when I kept pushing my passport for her to write me down while she tried to explain I could have as much Sudafed as they carried in store or up to my credit card limit.

    That’s what I want. Cold medication available without paying 150 dollars for a doctor visit.

  23. Myron Hudson says:

    There is something chilling in the extract from Kevin Williamson’s piece in NRO; the statement that these communities – and, implicitly, the individuals that comprise them – deserve to die. The practice of shaming and blaming those born poor and those who have fallen on hard times has become more and more prevalent in public discussion and media since the early 2000s.

    I submit that the American Revolution was not fought only against England, but also against an entrenched aristocracy that had managed to institutionalize the advantages of the wealthy and to keep the poor in their place. In its place we built a system that allowed for upward mobility through hard work. However, although it has taken a long while, the aristocracy/oligarchy has made one hell of a comeback. And, it is now fully out of the closet shall we say.

    Calling attention to growing economic inequality has been referred to for some time as “waging class warfare”. I think it’s obvious which class is winning.

  24. Nelson says:

    This. Is a good article. Finally something more interesting than trying to figure out which bathroom to use.

    The addiction problem is indeed terrible. It is a lack of morals but perhaps also a lack of (perceived) opportunity. Yes, coal mining is a dying business. Gone are the days when you could drop out of high school and earn a middle-class income. And if learning isn’t your cup of tea you are in for a world of boredom and not many opportunities to succeed. Fertile ground for addiction indeed. We can blame dysfunctional families, but as a society we can’t change families. What we can do is improve schools. Against American tradition, we should instil and nurture the idea that curiosity and learning are fun. Because they are. And they also offer far more opportunities than drugs ever will.

    The commons part is also interesting to talk about. I think the quote went a little bit too far because public parks are still nice places to hang out. Yes, bratty teens can, and often do, cause problems. And homeless people asking for handouts are never fun to be around. But I have a hard time believing these are completely new phenomena.

    What could be improved are our civic and cultural institutions. By this I mean we should encourage more involvement from citizens in local government and civic-minded clubs. Even small gestures like friendly park signs encouraging people to pick up litter help build a sense of community (of course we also need public services to provide trash cans and empty them regularly to make it easier to do the right thing).

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