A couple of weeks ago, I hammered out a post in response to a series of questions about violent crime, Questions from the Audience? It drew a bit of attention in the following days, and prompted Kim du Toit to post What We Knew Already. An important point of my piece was excerpted by Kim, and later by SayUncle in his follow-on, Americans are a murderous sort:
It suggests that the homicide by firearm problem is concentrated in a small, identifiable group. It suggests that homicide is heavily concentrated in the overall black demographic, and especially in young black men.
The heart of Kim’s post, or at least the part that drew commentary, was this:
The United States has always had a higher murder rate than other countries, not because there are more guns around, but because we are a nation of immigrants. When people have few or no ties to a community, their propensity towards lawlessness is much higher. (It’s why, for example, small-town sheriffs had a habit of telling strangers to leave town—they were playing the odds.)
Hopefully you’ve read all three of these pieces, and the associated commentary. This essay is in response to comments left at Say Uncle’s by “tgirsch” of Lean Left
First, the question of “the Welfare State” was raised as a contributing factor in the extremely high rates of black-on-black violent crime, and I concurred:
There is evidence (scant, I admit, since no one seems to want to actually study the question) that black-on-black crime is related to the rise of the Welfare State, both here and in the UK. It seems to be an unintended consequence of trying to “help the disadvantaged,” and it is related to the destruction of the traditional family unit. Both countries share that problem. If the culture strongly supports the nuclear family (Asian, Indian-subcontinent, Pakistani, etc.) the problem of youth violence is greatly reduced. Here, the black culture does not support the nuclear family, and we end up with lots of fatherless boys. In the UK, where a lot of their black-on-black violence comes from Jamaican gangs, the same is true.
The first comment by tgirsch was this:
I suspect that black on black violence is so high because blacks are disproportionately poor, and poverty and violent crime seem to walk hand-in-hand. There are other, social factors, of course. And there’s the elephant in the room that nobody seems to want to talk about, which is that generally speaking, handguns are a lot easier to get here and a lot more commonplace here than in most other places.
As to the whole “welfare state” thing, I highly doubt it. For one thing, I don’t think the move away from the “nuclear family” has anything at all to do with the welfare state; it has a lot more to do with women’s liberation. In the cultures Kevin Baker lists, women are often viewed as inferior and/or treated as property. So if you’re going to rail on something as a cause of the breakdown of the nuclear family, you have to rail against women’s lib. [Tongue-partially-in-cheek] Although that would reclassify you from a racist jerk to a sexist jerk. [/Tongue-partially-in-cheek]
I do think that more attention needs to be paid to racial differences and the underlying reasons for them. But I think what we’ll ultimately find is that race has no inherent effect at all, and that the difference that exist are socially driven.
Irrespective of the fact that tgirsch managed to (tongue-partially-in-cheek) call me a racist jerk and/or a sexist jerk in one sentence, from there the discussion between us didn’t go as well as I’d have liked. A comment section is not really ideal for doing a thought-piece, especially when you can’t take your sweet time and edit, edit, edit. I promised him I’d take up the subject over here. Now that I have a little time, I’m doing just that. Actually, this piece has taken a lot of time. I’ve been working on it, off and on, for about three weeks.
Let’s get the preliminaries out of the way.
A) Blacks, particularly young black males, make up the majority of homicide victims and homicide perpetrators. They are also the majority of perpetrators and victims of other violent crimes. This is despite the fact that they are a significant minority of the population.
B) The USA doesn’t have a significant violent crime problem, it has a significant INNER CITY violent crime problem.
C) These facts are normally politely ignored by people who promote “gun control” as a way of reducing murder and violent crime. For the purposes of promoting “gun control,” such crime is generally treated as though it was spread homogeneously throughout the entire U.S. population.
D) When the significant concentration of violent crime IS acknowledged, the astronomical levels are blamed on “gun availability” and then on “disproportional poverty.”
E) The fact that guns are easily available everywhere, yet violent crime is concentrated in inner cities is hardly ever acknowledged, although “easy gun availability” is constantly decried whenever a particularly heinous crime occurs.
F) When low levels of gun crime in suburban and rural areas is acknowledged, despite universal gun availability, the blame shifts to “poverty,” though no one ever seems to ask why, over a century after the Civil War, after forty years of The Great Society and the War on Poverty, inner-cities remain populated largely by poverty-stricken and violence-stricken blacks.
Let me make the point again: In 2003 in the U.S., young black men between the ages of 15 and 35 made up 13.9% of all males of that age range in the U.S., and 2.1% of the entire population. But that 13.9% was the victim of 57% of the homicides of all men in that age range, and that miniscule 2% of the population was the victim of 28% of all homicides that year. And the overwhelming majority of those homicides are not interracial. They’re “black-on-black.”
Those are literally epidemic numbers, but I’m apparently (tongue-only-partially-in-cheek) a racist jerk for pointing out that pachyderm in the parlor, and not blaming it on “poverty” or “handgun availability.”
I repeat: The problem is not “gun availability.” One thing all gun control groups agree on is the universal availability of guns, and the scourge of cheap “Saturday Night Specials” (and now “pocket rockets” and “.50 caliber sniper rifles”), but violent crime remains concentrated primarily in our cities. So, is it poverty? And is the poverty of inner-city blacks “disproportional”?
According to a Census Bureau press release from 1998,
In 1997, the number and poverty rate of African Americans was 9.1 million and 26.5 percent, compared with 24.4 million and 11.0 percent for Whites; 1.5 million and 14.0 percent for Asians and Pacific Islanders; and 8.3 million and 27.1 percent for Hispanics. The poverty rate for Hispanics did not differ statistically from the rate for African Americans.
For families, the number and percentage of poor in 1997 was 2.0 million and 23.6 percent for African Americans; 5.0 million and 8.4 percent for Whites; 244,000 and 10.2 percent for Asians and Pacific Islanders; and 1.7 million and 24.7 percent for Hispanics. The poverty rate for Hispanics did not differ statistically from the rate for African Americans.
In 1997 the homicide rate for black males 15-35 was 2.6 times the rate for Hispanic males in the same age group. It was ten times the rate for Asians & Pacific Islanders. Poverty does not explain the disparity, or at least not all of it. Interestingly, young Hispanic black males have a lower homicide rate than their caucasian equivalents – and far lower than non-hispanic blacks.
It is no suprise that crime and poverty go hand-in-hand (though there’s a chicken/egg component there I won’t address at the moment.) The question, however, is why are young black males six times more likely to die of a gunshot wound than the average non-black young male? They aren’t six times more poverty-stricken than other poor groups. They aren’t even 2.6 times more poverty-stricken than Hispanics. The “elephant in the room” isn’t that “handguns are a lot easier to get here and a lot more commonplace here than in most other places,” it’s that young black men here misuse them (and other weapons) at several times the rate of all other young men.
There it is again. As I said in Questions from the Audience?:
What I’ve never understood is that we know that the majority of homicide is concentrated in a very small, easily identifiable population, why are we trying to attack it by regulating guns?
Tgirsch seems to encourage the regulation of guns, since he sees the “elephant” as being “handgun availability.” I recommended to tgirsch that he read my three-part essay on “Dangerous Victims” that begins with “It’s most important that all potential victims be as dangerous as they can”. The pertinent part is this, an excerpt from the essay Social Harmony by Grim Beorn:
Very nearly all the violence that plagues, rather than protects, society is the work of young males between the ages of fourteen and thirty. A substantial amount of the violence that protects rather than plagues society is performed by other members of the same group. The reasons for this predisposition are generally rooted in biology, which is to say that they are not going anywhere, in spite of the current fashion that suggests doping half the young with Ritalin.
The question is how to move these young men from the first group (violent and predatory) into the second (violent, but protective). This is to ask: what is the difference between a street gang and the Marine Corps, or a thug and a policeman? In every case, we see that the good youths are guided and disciplined by old men.
This is an example of culture, that complex of “other, social factors.” Culture is defined as:
a: the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon man’s capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations
b: the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group
c: the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes a society.
Kim’s piece on “a nation of immigrants,” I think, was more about the conflict that arises between cultures, and there is a bit of that that probably does contribute to our overall rates of violent crime which, (when the epidemic levels of black-on-black crime are factored for) are far lower than a lot of people think. But what Kim doesn’t address is the problem that I consider the “elephant in the room;” the extremely high intracultural violence in one identifiable group compared to everybody else.
As the excerpt above from Social Harmony points out, “Very nearly all the violence that plagues, rather than protects, society is the work of young males between the ages of fourteen and thirty.” And in addition: “The reasons for this predisposition are generally rooted in biology, which is to say that they are not going anywhere, in spite of the current fashion that suggests doping half the young with Ritalin.” But this does not tell us why young black men are so much more violent than their peers.
And here is where I start speculating, so those of you who want to accuse me of racism ought to be sharpening your barbs.
SayUncle considered Kim’s argument and concluded:
And I realized that it made a sick sort of sense. The nation of immigrants factor is just about the only thing we don’t have in common with other comparable western nations.
No, it’s not. The factor that America has that is different from other comparable Western nations is massive institutionalized slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, institutionalized and legally codified racism, the Civil Rights Movement, and finally the Great Society and the War on Poverty.
Tgirsch proposes that black-on-black violence is due to the “disproportionate poverty” of the black demographic. What is seldom asked, as I noted, was why American blacks remain largely poverty-stricken a century after emancipation, and nearly half a century after the Civil Rights movement and the establishment of the Welfare State. At the same time, recent black immigrants from Africa or the Carribean who come here with good educations seem to have little problem in joining the work force and escaping poverty; many (though certainly not all) Asian immigrants come here and have little problem in escaping poverty; and even some Hispanic immigrants can come here illegally and do well enough to qualify for home loans – an accomplishment that escapes a lot of black families.
This is not to say that some poor inner-city blacks do not escape poverty as well, but they tend to be the exception. But what part of the culture is it that contributes to continued poverty and what part to high violent crime rates? Grim states that “good youths are guided and disciplined by old men.” Does illegitimacy explain it? Professor William Galston has been quoted for having said:
You need only do three things in this country to avoid poverty – finish high school, marry before having a child, and marry after the age of 20. Only 8 percent of the families who do this are poor; 79 percent of those who fail to do this are poor.
According to the CDC, in 2002 68.2% of births to black women were illegitimate, compared to 23% for whites, 34% for Hispanics and 14.9% for “Asians and Pacific Islanders. Interestingly, for Puerto Rican women the illegitimacy rate was 59.1%, but for Cuban women, it was 29.8%. For Hawaiians the rate was 50.4%. For Chinese, 12.%. Culture, again.
But this is correlation, not causation. Again, while illegitimacy is very high in the black demographic, it is not six times higher. Poverty is not the answer. Illegitimacy is not the answer. The answer is a combination of factors, the factors that make up a culture.
Theodore Dalrymple’s book, Life at the Bottom: The Worldview that Makes the Underclass explores several components the culture of what he terms “the underclass.” An excerpt from the introduction:
As a doctor who has worked for the past decade in a busy general hospital in a British slum, and also in a nearby prison, I have been in a privileged position to observe the life of this underclass. I have, for example, interviewed some ten thousand people who have made an attempt (however feeble) at suicide, each of whom has told me of the lives of four or five other people around him. From this source alone, therefore, I have learned about the lives of some fifty thousand people: lives dominated, almost without exception, by violence, crime, and degradation. My sample is a selected one, no doubt, as all samples drawn from personal experience must be, but it is not small.
As a doctor I am, of course, committed to treating each patient as an individual. It could hardly be otherwise: when you talk to people about the most intimate details of their lives, it could scarecely occur to you that they are other than fully conscious agents, in essence no different from yourself.
Nevertheless, patterns of behavior emerge – in the case of the underclass, almost entirely self-destructive ones. Day after day I hear of the same violence, the same neglect and abuse of children, the same broken relationships, the same victimization by crime, the same nihilism, the same dumb despair. If everyone is a unique individual, how do patterns such as this emerge?
Economic determinism, of the vicious cycle-of-poverty variety, seems hardly to answer the case. Not only is the underclass not poor, (in relation to real poverty as experienced in the Third World) but untold millions of people who were very much poorer have emerged from poverty within living memory – in South Korea, for example. If being poor really entailed a vicious cycle, man would still be living in the caves.
Genetic or racial determinism is no better. It will come as a surprise to American readers, perhaps, to learn that the majority of the British underclass is white, and that it demonstrates all the same social pathology as the black underclass in America – for very similar reasons, of course. Genetics, moreover, can hardly explain such phenomena as the rise of mass illegitimacy, unprecedented in recorded history, since the late 1950s.
The role of the welfare state in the rise (if that is quite the word for it) of the underclass is likewise overstressed. At most it might have been a necessary condition for that rise: it made it possible, not inevitable. Welfare states have existed for substantial periods of time without the development of a modern underclass: an added ingredient is obviously necessary.
This ingredient is to be found in the realm of ideas. Human behavior cannot be explained without reference to the meanings and intentions people give to their acts and omissions; and everyone has a Weltanschauung, a worldview, whether he knows it or not.
So let’s look at that Weltanschauung that the black underclass in America and the white underclass in Britain shares, or at least some of the components of it. One is a rejection of education. I found a piece by Don B. Kates on the History News Network. He excerpts from historian Roger Lane‘s book Murder in America:
In the post-Civil War period though black murder rates were high, they were far lower than today … and lower than those of their immigrant Irish competitors while Italian murder rates [when Italians began immigrating] soared well above those of blacks.
[A]fter the [Civil W]ar both unions and employers, all over the country, combined to drive [blacks out of high paying trades]… [F]actory work, all across the country was considered too good for black workers. [Black homicide is] another social-psychological [deprivation that] resulted from black exclusion from the regimenting effects of industrial and bureaucratic work. These effects are shown in the relatively rapid decline in homicide rates among Irish and Italian immigrants, two other ethnic groups with high levels of preindustrial violence, as their integration into the industrial work force demanded unprecedented levels of sober, disciplined, orderly behavior, which carried over into their private lives.
[Later when they were] no longer shut out of the urban-industrial revolution, blacks were instead let in too late. During the 1940s and 1950s blacks in effect were piped aboard a sinking ship, welcomed into the urban industrial age just as that age was dying, with industrial cities losing population and jobs.
[In late 19th Century Philadelphia] blacks consistently outscored their competitors on written tests of all kinds… Even the white press generally agreed that black civil servants (and, a historian would add, blacks as a group) were overqualified for the [low level jobs to which they were confined] in this era, as a result of a general refusal to promote them to positions where they might have authority of any kind over white workers. [Blacks were acutely aware of the need for education and struggled heroically to attain it. B]lack literacy in the city soared from roughly 20 percent to 80 percent over the final thirty years of the [19th C]entury … [Philadelphia blacks included doctors, lawyers and other professionals — graduates of Harvard, Yale and the University of Pennsylvania. But] that was no guarantee that they could make a living. As whites would not hire them and blacks could not afford them, licensed black physicians were found working as bellhops…. In the early 20th Century not one of Philadelphia’ black attorneys could make a living through his law practice alone.
(All ellipses by Kates.) Kates notes at the end of this excerpt, “The lesson blacks learned from this was that for them education had no economic value.” For most inner-city poverty-stricken blacks, that lesson seems to have stuck. Note, however, that in the late 1800’s while poverty was rampant, black literacy was high and education levels were also. However, literacy declined through the 20th century. One can argue how much of that decline was due to lack of educational availability and how much was due to the recognition that an education just didn’t buy much in a society that discriminated de facto and de jure against blacks.
Another interesting argument made in that excerpt is that work, “demand(s) unprecedented levels of sober, disciplined, orderly behavior, which carrie(s) over into” private life. Working, in other words, tends to make one responsible. Working also tends to highlight the value of education. When you have a job, knowing how to do it better than others is generally the path to advancement – if advancement is available. Work also contributes to self-worth, or at least it used to before our culture changed. And not working tends to contribute to acts of crime. The bromide, “Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop” isn’t just some hoary cliché. Ignorance contributes as well. Most violent criminals aren’t the sharpest spoons in the drawer.
Robert Rector, a welfare policy expert, gave an interview in 2003 from which I found the following interesting:
(W)omen who give birth out-of-wedlock in general are poorly educated themselves. Beyond that, children who are raised in single-parent families are more likely to fail in school and are more likely to drop out. Then they, in turn, are more likely to have children out-of-wedlock, and perpetuate the cycle.
It’s important to understand that this is not a causal thing: Poverty does not cause a low level of education. In fact, a low education level is more likely to be contributing to the poverty than vice versa.
One way to think about this is to realize that, back in the 1920s, probably half of all Americans were poor. In the 1950s, it was around a quarter. Although these families were poor, it didn’t reduce their cognitive abilities, it didn’t erode their work ethic, and it didn’t make them more likely to be engaged in crime.
There’s a fundamental social science error when you take a cross-sectional viewpoint at any point in time and say, “Aha! Look–people who are poor are more likely to do all of these things. And therefore, if we could just artificially raise their income, they would do drugs less, drop out of school less, have fewer children out-of-wedlock, work more, and do better in school.” It doesn’t work like that.
Once you look at it in a historical sense, it’s quite clear that income status, for example, doesn’t have very much to do with completing high school, because a lot of children from very low-income families completed high school in the 1950s. Rather, it’s the study ethic and the work ethic that young people have that contributes to their success in school and in the workplace. In fact, efforts in welfare to artificially raise income actually erode that work ethic and erode the individual’s sense of the importance of getting an education to support themselves.
What you see, moving from the 1950s forward, are changes in a wide range of social norms, concerning work, criminal behavior, respect for authority, education, sexual activity, and marriage. You see an expansion of what I would call “the culture of the underclass.” That culture tends to have negative attitudes about work, about education, about marriage, and about self-control. It became cool to be sexually active without marriage and to have children without being married. Working at a reasonable job was considered to be the action of a chump, being a husband and supporting your family was being a chump, and clearly studying in school was being a chump.
Now, all of those attitudes existed in society prior to that point in time, but in the late 1960s, those values clearly exploded. In particular, there was a huge change in the norms concerning sexual behavior. In low-income, black communities it became commonplace that women would have children and not be married, and would support those children through welfare rather than through a husband.
Welfare provided a mother and her children with an income independent of a father. But once the role of the breadwinner and the husband disappeared, a lot of the rationale for the male work ethic and the male study ethic also disappeared.
If you’re not academically gifted, one of the main reasons you’re sitting in a classroom, slugging away, is the idea that you have to do reasonably well in school in order to get a good job and have a wife and support a family. But if you’re no longer thinking about having a wife and supporting a family, then school work doesn’t have much purpose, and getting and holding on to a job has far less purpose.
So, after decades of knowing that education has no economic value, and further decades of lack of employment opportunity, what is the result? A population that is willfully ignorant, desperately poor, generally promiscuous, disillusioned and angry and willing to use whatever drugs are available to escape (however briefly) their reality, but not willing to study or work to escape permanently, now that the opportunity actually exists.
They are also often violent. These characteristics are shared by both the American and British underclass. The biggest difference? The British underclass doesn’t kill anywhere near as often. Gun control enthusiasts point to that differential and claim that it proves that “gun control works,” but they always neglect to consider that homicide in Britain has always been a fraction of that in the U.S., even when neither country had any gun control laws.
Again, it’s a matter of culture: killing, in Britian, just isn’t “cricket.” Never has been. But beating people bloody seems to have gained a lot of popularity since the weapons laws were implemented. However, for immigrant Jamaican gangs, violence is just part of the business of dealing drugs, so much of the lethal violence in Britian is committed by – and often on – these immigrants. Culture, again.
As for the “success” of British gun control? After eighty years of ever more onerous restrictions on the purchase and possession of firearms, after bans on several types of weapons, including handguns, and after reducing the number of lawful gun owners to a tiny fraction of the population, I don’t see all that much success. I haven’t noticed that the handgun ban has positively affected the rate of homicides committed with handguns over in Old Blighty, for instance. However, the gun control forces here (with the notable exception of the Violence Policy Center) insist that all they want to implement is “common-sense gun control” and that they’re not interested in disarming honest, law-abiding gun owners.
Go ahead, pull my other leg.
There’s a complete vacuum of responsible male authority figures in a lot of these low-income communities. This isn’t an issue that’s restricted to blacks; it’s just most pronounced in black communities. The same pattern occurs with low-income whites.
The change in the male work ethic and the male study ethic also was tied in with a certain current of radical feminism, which actively celebrated the disappearance of marriage in the black community, and said it was better for women not to have husbands but instead to have loose, cohabitational relationships. This sounds insane in retrospect, but it was very avant-garde thought in the early 1970s.
They wanted to wipe the married family off the map, and in some respects, they’ve succeeded. It’s just such a bizarrely counterproductive idea that it’s difficult to understand it today, but book after book after book was written by feminists on this subject–quite paradoxically, celebrating what most Americans regarded as a disaster, which was the disappearance of marriage in the black community.
It would appear that I’m not the only (tongue-partially-in-cheek) sexist jerk out there. After all, a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle! What Rector describes here in the American black underclass is matched by Dalrymple and the white British underclass. In both cases the culprit blamed is the ideas of the cultural elite – the Left cultural elite. (But I’m being redundant.)
A City Journal piece from 2004, Dads in the ‘Hood discusses the lack of male role models in the black culture.
“You a blessin’ and I’ll always guide you,” sings rapper Ray Benzino, co-owner of Source Magazine and organizer of the publication’s 2002 event “to reveal the nurturing side of rap artists as fathers and mentors.”
Not that this celebration of fatherhood is universal in the ghetto. (D.J.) Andrews says that when he explains the poverty and psychological problems that fatherless children suffer at disproportionate rates, some young men say, “I never thought about that.” Others listen suspiciously and counter, “I didn’t have a father, and I came out okay” – that is, until Andrews points out that that’s a prison record in their file, not an honor-roll certificate.
But indifference of this sort is going out of style, as ghetto dwellers have begun to take stock – in their high schools, housing projects, and streets – of the disastrous results of the previous decades of father absence. For the hip-hop generation that grew up at the height of the crack epidemic, when so many of their elders vanished into underclass hell, rage at deadbeat dads has become a kind of primal scream. In 2001, BET.com encouraged visitors to post Father’s Day greetings. Organizers assumed that they would see a Hallmark fest of “I love you” or “I miss you.” Instead they got a “venting session”: “I hate you,” “To all my deadbeat dads out there, I just want to say, thanks for nothing,” and “That bastard forgot that I even existed,” contributors railed.
Father loss is a recurrent theme in contemporary black music, chronicled by some of the baddest brothers: “What’s buried under there?/Was a kid torn apart once his pop disappeared?/I went to school, got good grades, could behave when I wanted/But I had demons deep inside,” raps Jay-Z, who was raised in Brooklyn’s notorious Marcy Projects and usually sings of “hos and bitches.” “Now all the teachers couldn’t reach me/And my mom couldn’t beat me/Hard enough to match the pain of my pops not seeing me.”
For close to half a century, the welfare establishment viewed fatherlessness as poverty’s unavoidable collateral damage. Federal and local governments spent billions on Mom’s parenting and work skills, day care and Head Start, food stamps, after-school programs, and health care; but they didn’t have much to say about – or to – Dad. Starting in the mid-1990s, reams of research began to convince even the most skeptical activists and policymakers of the importance of fathers and the two-parent family to children’s life chances, and attention turned toward the missing dad. Today, programs that try to impress young single fathers with their importance in their kids’ lives are spreading across the social-services world, with support from the federal and state governments.
The Sexual Organization of the City, a recent University of Chicago study of sexual relations in various Chicago neighborhoods, finds “transactional” sexual relationships, infidelity, and domestic violence on the rise throughout the city, but things are worst in Southtown, the pseudonymous African-American neighborhood. Sixty percent of Southtown men interviewed had “concurrent partners” – as did 45 percent of women. The sociologist-authors conclude that polygamy is Southtown’s “dominant structure.”
Worse, the study’s authors argue, infidelity often leads to violence. Close to 60 percent of Southtown respondents reported that at least one partner in their relationships engaged in physical violence in the previous year. The black writer bell hooks says that she often hears teenagers say, “There is no such thing as love.” In a relationship dystopia like Southtown, they may be right.
When there are no wise old men to discipline the young, the young tend to look to each other for role models. They also tend to go feral. The difference between the street gang and the Marine Corps, the thug and the policeman, is guidance, and there isn’t any, or at least not much.
Dads in the ‘Hood, again:
A 2001 survey by CBS News and BET.com, a website affiliated with the Black Entertainment Television network, found that 92 percent of African-American respondents agreed that absentee fathers are a serious problem. In black public discourse, personal responsibility talk, always encompassing family responsibility, has been crowding out the old orthodoxy of reparations and racism. Bill Cosby’s much debated remarks in June at the Rainbow/Push conference, calling on parents to take charge of their kids and for men to “stop beating up your women because you can’t find a job,” set off an amen corner. Democratic National Convention keynote speaker Barack Obama, the black Illinois senatorial candidate, celebrated family, hard work, and the inner-city citizens who “know that parents have to parent.” In a New York Times op-ed, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates added his blessing when he asked, “Are white racists forcing black teenagers to drop out of school or have babies?” Even the wily Reverend Al recently corrected one of the Times’s most fervent PC watchdogs, Deborah Solomon, that, no, Cosby wasn’t being racist, and that “we didn’t go through the civil rights movement only to end up as thugs and hoodlums.”
This, thankfully, signals a possible change in that culture, but it will not be an easy one. I strongly recommend you read the entire piece.
However, another component of this Weltanschauung is a sense of entitlement, of being owed. One example of this is the call for reparations for the evils of slavery. That is another topic unto itself, but I raise it as an illustration. In a comment to the SayUncle piece, tgirsch says:
Actually, I’m not denying that the welfare state is a contributing factor per se, but I suspect that has more to do with it being poorly implemented than with it being inherently deleterious to society.
I’ve made many comments and posts concerning the concept of “cognitive dissonance,” once so succinctly defined by Steven Den Beste:
When someone tries to use a strategy which is dictated by their ideology, and that strategy doesn’t seem to work, then they are caught in something of a cognitive bind. If they acknowledge the failure of the strategy, then they would be forced to question their ideology. If questioning the ideology is unthinkable, then the only possible conclusion is that the strategy failed because it wasn’t executed sufficiently well. They respond by turning up the power, rather than by considering alternatives. (This is sometimes referred to as “escalation of failure”.)
The noble idea can’t be wrong, the solution was just “poorly implemented.” So turn up the power.
No, when you apply the concept of welfare to a culture that holds a belief in entitlement, it cannot be implemented well. It is doomed to failure. Turning up the power just results in more, and more spectacular, failure.
The same issue of City Journal carried another piece, The Myth of the Working Poor that I strongly recommend. An excerpt:
Forty years ago a young, radical journalist helped ignite the War on Poverty with his pioneering book The Other America. In its pages, Michael Harrington warned that the recently proclaimed age of affluence was a mirage, that beneath the surface of U.S. prosperity lay tens of millions of people stuck in hopeless poverty that only massive government intervention could help.
Today, a new generation of journalists is straining to duplicate Harrington’s feat—to convince contemporary America that its economic system doesn’t work for millions and that only government can lift them out of poverty. These new journalists face a tougher task than Harrington’s, though, because all levels of government have spent about $10 trillion on poverty programs since his book appeared, with disappointing, even counterproductive, results. And over the last four decades, millions of poor people, immigrants and native-born alike, have risen from poverty, without recourse to the government programs that Harrington inspired.
What’s the difference between the millions of poor who have risen from poverty and the millions who have not?
From that same piece:
But the new thinkers quickly veer to the left of Harrington, following some of his more radical acolytes whose theories produced the War on Poverty’s most spectacular disasters. Harrington had seen the poor as victims because they could find no work; his more radical allies, especially a group associated with Columbia University’s social-work school, argued that compelling the demoralized inner-city poor to work or take part in training that would fit them for work, instead of giving them unconditional welfare, was itself victimization. Richard A. Cloward and Frances Fox Piven, for example, argued that America’s poverty programs—”self-righteously oriented toward getting people off welfare” and making them independent—were violating the civil rights of the poor. Journalist Richard Elman claimed that “vindictive” America was “humiliating” welfare recipients by forcing them to seek entry-level work as taxi drivers, restaurant employees, and factory laborers, instead of giving them a guaranteed minimum income.
Sympathetic mayors and welfare officials responded to Cloward and Piven’s call, boosting benefits, loosening eligibility rules, and cutting investigations of welfare cheating. Welfare rolls soared, along with welfare fraud and illegitimate births. The result was a national backlash that sparked the Reagan administration’s welfare spending cuts.
But the Columbia crew left its enduring mark on welfare policy, in the principle that welfare, once a short-term program to help people get back on their feet, should be continuous and come with few restrictions and no stigma. A welfare mother, screaming at New York mayor John Lindsay (responsible for much of the city’s rise in welfare cases), expressed the system’s new philosophy: “It’s my job to have kids, Mr. Mayor, and your job to take care of them.” It was a philosophy that bred an urban underclass of non-working single mothers and fatherless children, condemned to intergenerational poverty, despite the trillions spent to help them.
Again, the ideas of the Left have an effect, just not the one they intended. This characteristic of the Left is commented on by Dalrymple:
The idea that one is not an agent but the helpless victim of circumstances, or of the large occult sociological or economic forces, does not come naturally, as an inevitable concomitant of experience. On the contrary, only in extreme circumstances is helplessness directly experienced in the way the blueness of the sky is experienced. Agency, by contrast, is the common experience of us all. We know our will’s free, and there’s an end on’t.
The contrary idea, however, has been endlessly propagated by intellectuals and academics who do not believe it of themselves. In this there is a considerable element of condescension: that some people do not measure up fully to the status of human. The extension of the term “addiction,” for example, to cover any undesireable but nonetheless gratifying behavior that swiftly percolated downward from academe. Not long after academic criminologists propounded the theory that recidivists were addicted to crime (bolstering their theories with impressive diagrams of neural circuits in the brain to prove it), a car thief of limited intelligence and less education asked me for treatment of his addiction to stealing cars – failing receipt of which, of course, he felt morally justified in continuing to relieve car owners of their property.
In fact, most of the social pathology exhibited by the underclass has its origin in ideas that have filtered down from the intelligentsia. Of nothing is this more true than the system of sexual relations that now prevails in the underclass, with the result that 70 percent of the births in my hospital are now illegitimate (a figure that would approach 100 percent if it were not for the presence in the area of a large number of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent).
One of those cultures in which “women are treated as property,” you know.
Literature and common sense attest that sexual relations between men and women have been fraught with difficulty down the ages because man is a conscious social being who bears a culture, and is not merely a biological being. But intellectuals in the twentieth century sought to free our sexual relations of all social, contractual, or moral obligations and meaning whatsoever, so that henceforth only raw sexual desire itself would count in our decision making.
Another excerpt from Dads in the ‘Hood:
Several teens interviewed by Jason DeParle in his New York Times Magazine story scoff at the boring sameness of marriage, even while they yearn for fathers. “I need some little me’s – children,” one 16-year-old told DeParle, but, he continued, “I just can’t see myself being with one woman.” As another teen explained, “That’d be too plain—like you have to see the same woman every day.” A young man with this attitude does not spend time “looking for Ms. Right” or “working on a relationship,” or any of the other rituals of middle-class courtship. Like Tyrell, first he is with one woman, then he is with another; in all likelihood, there will be more in the future. Sex happens. And so do babies.
It’s not at all uncommon to meet poor men who have left behind a winding trail of exes and their unanticipated progeny. One man I spoke with has five children by two women; another, apologizing for his shoddy birth control practices by explaining that he “likes it raw,” has seven children by five women; he was 15 when the first was born. When asked about his offspring, an edgy Haitian, who owes the State of New York child support of $35,000, starts counting slowly on his fingers. He stops at four, but he doesn’t seem to be joking; it’s as if he’s never thought of the products of his many affairs as a single group that could be labeled “my children.”
It looks like the intellegentsia was “successful.”
I do think that more attention needs to be paid to racial differences and the underlying reasons for them. But I think what we’ll ultimately find is that race has no inherent effect at all, and that the difference that exist are socially driven.
I agree. Race isn’t the reason, it’s just a marker. Blacks were systematically discriminated against, held down, demeaned. The color of their skin marked them for this abuse. When things finally started to improve socially, the intellegentsia stepped in and threw a monkey wrench into an already damaged mechanism – with the best of (stated) intentions. If you want to define what happened as “poorly implementing” the welfare state, I suppose you’re entitled. I for one see it as an inevitable outcome of a flawed idea.
The culture of American blacks is the result of a history of abuse and manipulation that would make any group dysfunctional. We can discuss who’s at fault until the cows come home, but that won’t affect the problem. The reality of the situation must be faced, and it must be faced by the members of that culture. Having outsiders point it out won’t work. Bill Cosby, Barack Obama, and even the Reverend Al Sharpton are starting to point it out. The situation is beginning to show signs of improvement. Violent crime is declining, out of wedlock birth is declining. The proportion of married couples raising children is increasing.
And this is being accomplished largely without the help of Federal programs or academic studies.
I shudder to think what will happen when the intellegentsia gets wind of it.
UPDATE 2/23: Tgirsch posts a response at Lean Left, More on Culture, Race, Economics and Violent Crime.
UPDATE: Thanks to the herculean efforts of reader John Hardin, the original JS-Kit/Echo comment thread for this post is available here.