Doing things differently since 1984

For better or worse?

A fellow blogger shared with me this article by students of Columbia University, entitled “Quantifying America’s Decline”, and I just had to comment.

The article was written in 1990, though is written in a way that identifies trends, which, to my knowledge have been generally continuing onward from their point in 1990.  It ends with an array of interesting tables, but I think the article itself can be fairly well summarized here:

…America’s cultural condition is far from healthy. What is shocking is just how precipitously American life has declined in the past 30 years, despite the enormous government effort to improve it.

Since 1960, the U.S. population has increased 41%; the gross domestic product has nearly tripled; and total social spending by all levels of government (measured in constant 1990 dollars) has risen from $143.73 billion to $787 billion–more than a fivefold increase. Inflation-adjusted spending on welfare has increased by 630%, spending on education by 225%.

But during the same 30-year period there has been a 560% increase in violent crime, a 419% increase in illegitimate births; a quadrupling in divorce rates; a tripling of the percentage of children living in single-parent homes; more than a 200% increase in the teenage suicide rate; and a drop of almost 80 points in SAT scores.

Despite the article’s underlying Republican agenda (I identify myself with no political party, Republican or otherwise – more on that some other time), and some suggestions for modes of improvement that I don’t necessarily agree with, I like this article for two reasons:

1)      It contradicts the kind of “decline” we usually hear about – i.e. the economic situation we’ve been dealing with since 2008, or the shift of power toward places like China and India – with something more meaningful and foundational, like the very fabric of our society. 

2)      It tries to identify the factors that have caused this kind of social change, including “people … have embraced an ethos that values self-expression over self-control” (paragraph 9). 

In a way, the article contradicts itself, with its revisiting of the issue of Welfare – which is primarily economic – whilst referring to the moral issues of the change in the American family, the rise of violent crime, and other subjects.  So, for the sake of commentary, I’m just going to ignore everything the writer said about Welfare, because it’s not really topical.

Quick poll: Does this picture make you smile or gag?

As for the American family, it struck me that the writer was so wound up over the rise in “illegitimate” births (i.e., children whose parents are not married) and single-parent households, when from a present-day standpoint I almost cringed to read what seemed so uncouth and outdated.  I mean, ‘illegitimate’, really?  Like the kid doesn’t matter, or isn’t really real?  And what about all the couples in a loving, long-term, monogamous relationship who aren’t married?

Then, I cringed at my cringing.  What an illustration of how much this writer’s trends have continued onward in the past 20 years!  Where I’m standing, I don’t know whether to accept these alternates to the classic nuclear family, or fear them.  From a historical point of view, however, I can certainly say they’re quite new. What I see happening in a general sense is a removal of society’s pressures; nothing is “taboo”.  Where at one time a couple would have felt pressured to get married, or to not divorce, or a child would have felt pressured to be an industrious student, or a media outlet would have felt pressured to not show certain programs; one by one, for better or for worse, we are removing them all.  We have each in our eyes become gods, born to choose our own destiny, unencumbered by the commands or expectations of anyone else.

You wouldn't see a number-one pop icon dressed like this in 1960.

It is, of course, with great irony and hypocrisy that I even consider making complaint about such a thing.  I’ve pretty much set out to carve my own unique path since the day I was born (hence, the tagline of my blog).  And so, I will continue in this pattern to do something no one else seems to be able to do: I will admit that I am part of the problem.

(SPECIAL NOTE: I now have a Facebook page!  Check it out on the right-side menu.–>)

5 comments on “For better or worse?

  1. Randel
    March 5, 2012

    I think America underwent a cultural revolution in the late 1960s brought to you by the nascent baby boomers and the growing influence of picture-oriented media. It continues to this day. My mother was very much opposed to this saying if the hippies and free loaders take over America, it will be all down hill. As teens we fought her obviously, but now I wonder if she was smarter than us. Your characterization about self expression taking over is an interesting take on the opinion of my mom.

    That all said, this “decline” also correlates very closely with America going global, and the globe going global. The economist in me (my not so esteemed profession these days) suggests this globalization and cheapening of labor has likely done more harm to the average person wages than anything else. When I graduated from high school you could get jobs paying $7.50 an hour, and that was in the 1970s. The equivalent of that today would be getting a $25 job out of high school today. That world does not exist, and is not coming back. That definitely affects the ability of society to now have “Brady bunch” or the “the Cleavers” families. To the different groupings that now exist, they may actually be a clever adaptation to a hostile economic environment.

    • abtwixt
      March 6, 2012

      Thanks for the input – and you make a good point in how the further stratification of wages has affected families. Personally, I would place the blame (or credit, depending on your perspective) for the beginning of the cascade of social change on the baby boomers’ parents – right after the end of World War II. The baby boomers may have been a great force to reckon with, but their parents set the stage to allow it all to happen. All unintentional of course, but history can teach us only through hindsight.

  2. aFrankAngle
    March 6, 2012

    History is full of accounts of decline – after all, it is a matter of perspective. Surely a group was saying the something similar during the 1920s.

    Music is a good example as “adults” have continually damned the young generation for its music – take your pick, big band, Elvis, rock and roll, rap, etc…

    • abtwixt
      March 6, 2012

      Certainly, adults are pretty much responsible for disapproving of a lot of what their kids do (it’s called parenting). It gets a little scarier though when they back up their opinions with statistics!

      • aFrankAngle
        March 6, 2012

        No question, statistics help any argument. Then again, there is a saying about statistics – Take a stand, and then go find the stats to support it.

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This entry was posted on March 5, 2012 by in Christianity, History, Question the Norm and tagged , , , , , , , , .
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