In the early part of the decade of the sixties, hope abounded, the class distinctions were small, poverty had decreased steadily, the moral code was totally different, promiscuity was frowned upon, the sanctity of marriage was primary, honesty was a virtue to be extolled, hard work was honored. Gratuitous sex in books, TV and movies was forbidden or frowned upon. TV was wholesome as in Father Knows Best. The best movies were clean; they were about our way of life and our lives were wholesome. We identified with certain virtues and values. Most people believed in some sort of religious affiliation even though they weren’t religious. They associated with others: in organizations, at church, with neighbors. Social capital was at a high. Women raised their own children and stayed home to nurture hearth and home. Marriage was sought after in and of itself for a person’s happy and successful future. If the couple did not marry, children born out of wedlock were given up for adoption. Abortion was uncommon and illegal. Divorce was rare. People worked hard and were proud of their effort. Honesty was a prized value and crime was at a low. Differences in class did not differentiate these statistics. Across class lines there was less crime. We left our doors open. We were unafraid. Crime did not pay. Drugs were a non issue, but smoking and alcohol were rampant. People got along. They had boundaries and discipline. They followed rules of behavior.
Charles Murray’s book exposes the decline of adherence to the four virtues of the Founding Fathers, industry, faith, honesty and marriage. He does not attempt to explain why it happened or how to fix it. He merely exposes the decline of the American Project as we march lock step toward the welfare state of the European Dream, which is failing in Europe. He contends that it isn’t divergence in class that has harmed us and changed our values, but rather a divergence in values and behavior. Today, anything goes. We do not judge anyone and we do not have any expectations. We do not lead by example, but rather by apathy. We have lost our sense of community.
The civil rights movement, the woman’s rights movement, Woodstock, and the Beatles, among others, came to the forefront in the mid sixties. Suddenly, the face of America changed. In this book, the date of change is placed at November 21, 1963, the day before Kennedy’s assassination. Charles Murray examines the decline of values taking place in America using a sample which, for the most part, only includes the white population, ages 30-49. Using the fictional towns of Fishtown and Belmont, representing the lower and upper class of society, Murray attempts to show how the gap between the classes has widened. In the sixties, we all shared similar values, even though we were separated by economy and education. The fictional towns of Fishtown and Belmont also shared the same values, had low crime rates, high marriage rates, worked hard and were tied to their faith. Our communities were diverse and heterogeneous.
Today, the upper class lives in a super zip, in a bubble, isolated from the population of the fictional town of Fishtown. Murray compares the people, their desires, their values, their work ethic and their faith, among other things, and attempts to track the changes that have taken place, causing the huge divide between the upper and lower classes, as the upper class in super zip codes, stays in a homogenous group, in a bubble, and remain isolated from anyone unlike themselves.
Murray raises the issue of the upper class becoming over-educated snobs. We are forced to examine that idea. Americans used to believe charity was shameful, they believed in self reliance. Promiscuity was frowned upon. There was a time when parents gave the teachers the benefit of the doubt, they expected their children to adhere to rules. Today, they give the children the edge and criticize the authority meant to teach them. Upper and lower classes no longer meet at the PTA, in organizations or in church, and the values of both have diverged completely. Hard work has reached excessive levels in the upper class and levels of bottom feeders in the lower. There is no sense of honor for someone who works hard in Fishtown, but rather the goal is to work the system and get the most from the government, for the least amount of effort expended, so that they can simply get by and lead the most pleasant life available. The lack of a strong foundation for marriage in that community means that there is also a lack of responsibility toward the children arising out of the non-marital unions. Crime has risen in Fishtown but remains pretty much absent from Belmont.
Social capital has all but disappeared. The government is supposed to provide for the things that responsible adults used to provide, by way of their organizations and participation in volunteer work or by being good neighbors. In the upper class, there is still a strong devotion to the virtues of marriage, industry and honesty. In the lower class, the devotion has waned to low levels.
Charles has devised a short questionnaire which attempts to illuminate the difference between growing up in the decades prior to the 60’s and growing up today.
Can America survive without regaining values? This book attempts to tell you what has happened over the last six decades; it is up to the reader to try and figure out if it is a good thing, a bad thing, or even something that we can do anything about.
Can America come back or will we keep marching toward the European way and ultimate failure?