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The Water Cooler
See other The Water Cooler Articles

Title: Elite Failure Has Brought Americans to the Edge of an Existential Crisis
Source: The Atlantic
URL Source: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/a ... mily-god-or-patriotism/597382/
Published: Sep 5, 2019
Author: Derek Thompson
Post Date: 2019-09-07 09:13:29 by Tooconservative
Keywords: None
Views: 65
Comments: 5

Elite Failure Has Brought Americans to the Edge of an Existential Crisis

The nuclear family, God, and national pride are a holy trinity of the American identity. What would happen if a generation gave up on all three?

In 1998, The Wall Street Journal and NBC News asked several hundred young Americans to name their most important values. Work ethic led the way—naturally. After that, large majorities picked patriotism, religion, and having children.

Twenty-one years later, the same pollsters asked the same questions of today’s 18-to-38-year-olds—members of the Millennial and Z generations. The results, published last week in The Wall Street Journal, showed a major value shift among young adults. Today’s respondents were 10 percentage points less likely to value having children and 20 points less likely to highly prize patriotism or religion.

The nuclear family, religious fealty, and national pride—family, God, and country—are a holy trinity of American traditionalism. The fact that allegiance to all three is in precipitous decline tells us something important about the evolution of the American identity.

One interpretation of this poll is that it’s mostly about the erosion of traditional Western faith. People under 30 in the U.S. account for more than one-third of this nation’s worshippers in only three major religions: Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. This reflects both the increase in non-European immigration since the 1970s and the decline of larger Christian denominations in the latter half of the 20th century. It also reflects the sheer increase in atheism: Millennials are nearly three times more likely than Boomers to say they don’t believe in God—6 percent versus 16 percent. If you think that Judeo-Christian values are an irreplaceable keystone in the moral arc of Western society, these facts will disturb you; if you don’t, they won’t.

A second interpretation of this poll is that it’s mostly about politics. Youthful disinterest in patriotism, babies, and God might be a mere proxy for young people’s distaste for traditional conservatism. For decades, the Republican Party sat high on the three-legged stool of Reaganism, which called for “traditional” family values (combining religiosity with the primacy of the nuclear family), military might (with all its conspicuous patriotism), and limited government.

Millennials and Gen Zers have turned hard against all these values; arguably, their intermittently monogamous, free-spending Republican president has, too. Young voters are far to the left of not only today’s older Americans, but also past generations of younger Americans. Based on their votes since 2012, they have the lowest support for the GOP of any group in at least half a century. So it’s possible that Millennials are simply throwing babies out with the Republican bathwater.

But it looks like something bigger is going on. Millennials and Gen Z are not only unlikely to call themselves Protestants and patriots, but also less likely to call themselves Democrats or Republicans. They seem most comfortable with unaffiliation, even anti-affiliation. They are less likely than preceding generations to identify as “environmentalists,” less likely to be loyal to specific brands, and less likely to trust authorities, or companies, or institutions. Less than one-third of them say they have “a lot of confidence” in unions, or Silicon Valley, or the federal government, or the news, or the justice system. And don’t even get them started on the banks.

This blanket distrust of institutions of authority—especially those dominated by the upper class—is reasonable, even rational, considering the economic fortunes of these groups were pinched in the Great Recession and further squeezed in the Not-So-Great Recovery. Pundits may dismiss their anxiety and rage as the by-products of college-campus coddling, but it flows from a realistic appraisal of their economic impotency. Young people today commit crimes at historically low rates and have attended college at historically high rates. They have done everything right, sprinting at full speed while staying between the white lines, and their reward for historic conscientiousness is this: less ownership, more debt, and an age of existential catastrophe. The typical Millennial awakens many mornings to discover that some new pillar of the world order, or the literal world, has crumbled overnight. And while she is afforded little power to do anything about it, society has outfitted her with a digital megaphone to amplify her mordant frustrations. Why in the name of family, God, or country would such a person lust for ancient affiliations? As the kids say, #BurnItAllDown.

But this new American skepticism doesn’t only affect the relatively young, and it isn’t confined to the overeducated yet underemployed, either.

This spring, the researchers Kathryn Edin and Timothy Nelson at Princeton University, Andrew Cherlin at Johns Hopkins, and Robert Francis, now at Whitworth University, published a paper based on lengthy interviews conducted from 2000 to 2013 with older, low-income men without a college degree in black and white working-class neighborhoods in the Boston, Charleston, Chicago, and Philadelphia areas.

At first blush, these men seem completely different from the younger, more liberal, more educated group in the WSJ/NBC survey. The white working class, in particular, is Trump’s bedrock, whereas Millennials and Gen Z form the heartwood of his opposition. But many of these men—having been disconnected from the stable, unionized, pension-paying jobs of their fathers—reject the diseased state of America’s institutions in ways that Millennials might find relatable.

First, these low-income working-class men are turning away from organized religion even faster than Millennials and Gen Z. Since the 1970s, church attendance among white men without a college degree has fallen even more than among white college graduates, according to the paper. They remain deeply spiritual without being traditionally devout, avoiding church and preferring instead to browse the internet and libraries for makeshift pieces of a religious self. “They [are] attempting to renegotiate their relationship with religion by picking and choosing elements of various religious traditions they found appealing,” the authors write.

Second, their detachment from religion flows from a feeling that elites have lost their credibility. “Mistrust of religious leaders was often cited as a reason for eschewing a childhood faith,” the authors write, and “some viewed clergy as little more than scam artists.” Francis told me that his research has uncovered a similar distrust among the working class for political elites—hardly a surprise, given the fact that white members of this group broke hard for a president who delights in skewering elite sentiment.

Third, many poor working-class men now reject the nuclear family, in their own way. Their marriage rates have declined in lockstep with their church attendance. But the authors note that a number of these men were eager to have close relationships with their children, even when they had little relationship with their mothers. While many of them had given up on romance, they saw opportunities to have relationships with their kids as a way of fixing their own mistakes, thus giving back to their communities “in ways that they believe[d] can make the world a better place.”

Finally, as the older working class and younger generations struggle to renegotiate their attachments to faith, family, and community, they face similar challenges with regard to their mental health. Anxiety, depression, and suicidality have increased to unprecedented levels among young people. Meanwhile, deaths from drugs and suicide—so-called deaths of despair, which are concentrated in the white working class—have soared in the past two decades, recently reaching the highest levels ever recorded by the federal government. Across generations, Americans seem to be suffering from, and dying of, new levels of loneliness in an age of crumbling institutions.

The older working-class men in the paper desperately want meaning in their lives, but they lack the social structures that have historically been the surest vehicles for meaning-making. They want to be fathers without nuclear families. They want spirituality without organized religion. They want psychic empowerment from work in an economy that has reduced their economic power. They want freedom from pain and misery at a time when the pharmaceutical solutions to those maladies are addictive and deadly. They want the same pride and esteem and belonging that people have always wanted.

The ends of Millennials and Gen Z are similarly traditional. The WSJ/NBC poll found that, for all their institutional skepticism, this group was more likely than Gen Xers to value “community involvement” and more likely than all older groups to prize “tolerance for others.” This is not the picture of a generation that has fallen into hopelessness, but rather a group that is focused on building solidarity with other victims of economic and social injustice. Younger generations have been the force behind equality movements such as Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, #AbolishICE, and Medicare for All, not only because they’re liberal, and not only because they have the technological savvy to organize online, but also because their experience in this economy makes them exquisitely sensitive to institutional abuses of power, and doubly eager to correct it. What Americans young and old are abandoning is not so much the promise of family, faith, and national pride as the trust that America’s existing institutions can be relied on to provide for them.

The authors of the paper on working-class men note that, even as their subjects have suffered a shock, and even as they’re nostalgic for the lives of their fathers and grandfathers—the stable wages, the dependable pensions—there is a thin silver lining in the freedom to move beyond failed traditions. Those old manufacturing jobs were routine drudgery, those old churches failed their congregants, and traditional marriages subjugated the female half of the arrangement. “These men are showing signs of moving beyond such strictures,” the authors write. “Many will likely falter. Yet they are laying claim to a measure of autonomy and generativity in these spheres that were less often available in prior generations. We must consider both the unmaking and remaking aspects of their stories.”

And there is the brutal truth: Many will likely falter. They already are. Rising anxiety, suicide, and deaths of despair speak to a profound national disorder. But eventually, this stage of history may be recalled as a purgatory, a holding station between two eras: one of ostensibly strong, and quietly vulnerable, traditions that ultimately failed us, and something else, between the unmaking and the remaking.

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#1. To: Vicomte13, All (#0)

I saw this and thought of the debate we were having on the Adventist thread so I thought I'd post it and see if there is any interest.

Tooconservative  posted on  2019-09-07   9:14:57 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  


#2. To: Tooconservative (#1)

I think this study hits the nail on the head, and points out that it isn't just the young who are feeling these sentiments. The older, especially non-rich whites, really feel these things too.

I suppose I have felt them for a long, long time - what that study says - it describes me in many (not all) ways (I'm not uneducated, not poor,) I come from the position of someone who knows that these disaffected men are actually closer in many ways to what Jesus spoke of, than the institutions they are abandoning are

I've taken the "Burn It All Down" line before, but I haven't felt the need to stay there because, where I sit, what I want to see happen is generally winning everywhere.

Vicomte13  posted on  2019-09-08   16:33:33 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  


#3. To: Vicomte13 (#2)

We were talking about how we see some likely outcomes over the next 10-20 years. When I read this stuff, it makes me think we are headed for more conflict politically, not less.

Tooconservative  posted on  2019-09-08   16:43:07 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  


#4. To: Tooconservative (#3)

Well, here are the likely outcomes I see:

We're not going be falling apart economically, and therefore we're not going to be withdrawing from the world. Those who say that we "have to" strike the colors and retreat from the world will be bitterly disappointed that we do nothing of the kind, and that - despite their logic - we don't fall apart on account of that. In fact, I expect the world will be more peaceful over the next 20 years than it was in the 20 before this one. That will happen, specifically, because, in the Western Hemisphere, Cuba and Venezuela rejoin the "family of nations", and none of the other nations on this side of the world will have the self-destructive urge.

In Asia, the Chinese will decide that confrontation with the world is not as prosperous as trade, so they will choose the path of trade.

The Middle East will remain problematic until Islam finally undergoes a Reformation, but the jihadis have burnt themselves out in fruitless and painful wars (painful to themselves, mainly).

So, that whole front of human endeavor will stabilize, and it will do so with the US remaining as the world hegemon. I take this to be a very positive thing. I've been listening to the gloom and doomers all my life, have always had a much more optimistic view, and for 40 years running now, I've been right. I see the tides of history flowing in my direction on this.

Second: racial equality and mixing, and sexual liberty will continue apace. I consider both of these things to be absolute positives. I recognize that to the racists and to those religious for whom sexuality is the greatest evil, both of these things are utter calamities. I expect that they will, indeed, suffer seeing calamity after calamity occur, without any pause, until their entire worlds are lost. If they live long enough, they will live to see a world in complete apostasy from what they believed, they will find themselves persecuted for their beliefs if they continue to hold them, and that their gods will never ride forth like the cavalry to rescue them and the world from what they perceive as perdition, because those gods don't exist. I consider this to be a very good thing as well, and I see the flood tides of history running very strongly in favor of what I prefer in these matters.

As far as economics go, in America I see the country to have come together for the common good to get out of the Great Depression and to win World War II, and I see that social solidarity to have built up America throughout the Fifties. I see that the it began to break down, over war and racism, in the 1960s and 1970s, and that economic solidarity began to strongly pull apart with Reagan and his disciples.

I see the extreme, and accelerating, concentration of wealth in America today to be the legacy of that movement that gained control in that era. And I see it reaching its conclusion at the point when it is not sustainable because too few have concentrated too much wealth to be able to hold onto any constituency large enough to keep the bulk of the people, reduced to being "Have-nots", from rewriting the laws and the social contract to redistribute wealth back to themselves. I think that health care will be the ground on which that battle will be decisively fought, and that the rich will be taxed to ensure health care for everybody.

And I recognize that, just as with the racists and religious fanatics over sexual matters, mentioned above, the "nobles" will resist the "peasants". And they will lose (as they always do, over time) - in America, in the South, between the races, later; in France, in Germany, in Russia, etc.

I do observe that in some lands the rich and powerful "get it", and voluntarily choose to raise up their neighbor, rather than try to pull up the drawbridge. It will take a political fight in America, but I expect the more "Christian" side to win that fight, because God is on the side of the bigger battalions. Not "Christian" in the sense of organized churches, but Christian in the sense of what Christ said about possessions and serving the poor. So with this too, I have the sense that, with time, what I believe in is winning.

All in all, I'm pretty happy about that.

Vicomte13  posted on  2019-09-09   10:14:44 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  


#5. To: Vicomte13 (#4)

We're not going be falling apart economically, and therefore we're not going to be withdrawing from the world. Those who say that we "have to" strike the colors and retreat from the world will be bitterly disappointed that we do nothing of the kind, and that - despite their logic - we don't fall apart on account of that.

I think the stuff will have to hit the fan pretty hard to make a change. The pols are too unimaginative for any other outcome. They'll do something mostly after it is too late to do something sensible.

I think the defense budget will take some very major hits before the pols decide to spend more sensibly, curtail the incredibly bad Pentagon procurements schemes and come closer to balancing the budget.

In Asia, the Chinese will decide that confrontation with the world is not as prosperous as trade, so they will choose the path of trade.

My own expectation. Trump will force the change but they seem to already know the outcome and are just maneuvering for advantage in negotiations.

The Middle East will remain problematic until Islam finally undergoes a Reformation...

You're dreaming. Islam, by its very nature, cannot be reformed in any meaningful way. And the cultural factors that led to the rise of the fundamentalist mullahs have not and will not abate any time soon.

So, that whole front of human endeavor will stabilize, and it will do so with the US remaining as the world hegemon.

The world will become multi-polar again. Russia is re-arming with some very dangerous new nuclear weapons which both we and the Soviets refrained from building back in the day, weapons too awful to build. China continues its buildup but mostly with the intent of preventing U.S. carrier operations near the Norks or Taiwan, an area denial posture intended to keep us out of their backyard if things get dicey there. And they do plan to sink our carriers and have the weapons systems needed to do so. Our own carrier posture has accordingly been to place our carrier groups at a greater distance from China's coast but that is not something that is very effective for carriers to do.

Second: racial equality and mixing, and sexual liberty will continue apace.

I'm not so sure. The Dems certainly want to offer libertinism in place of liberty. I'm not so sure the younger generation will keep going along with it since there are no more sexual windmills to tilt at and the trannies are a bridge too far, even for the TERFs. We might see some sort of religious revival occur among the young people but nothing that looks like traditional religion. That pendulum always keeps swinging and the dire prospects of that younger generation may swing them back toward religion in a big way. I kind of expect it.

I do observe that in some lands the rich and powerful "get it", and voluntarily choose to raise up their neighbor, rather than try to pull up the drawbridge. It will take a political fight in America, but I expect the more "Christian" side to win that fight, because God is on the side of the bigger battalions. Not "Christian" in the sense of organized churches, but Christian in the sense of what Christ said about possessions and serving the poor. So with this too, I have the sense that, with time, what I believe in is winning.

This sounds like some very wishful thinking, especially in America. Money rules America and it always has. That isn't going away with a big fight and a real political upheaval comparable to the civil rights revolution.

Tooconservative  posted on  2019-09-09   18:08:55 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  


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