Confucius* linked to “American Murder Mystery,” an article by Hanna Rosin in the Atlantic earlier today, and frankly he’s haunted by it. Mostly because it reflects the dead-end despair of the well-meaning officials who have put their faith in instrumentalist, social-scientific nostrums only to find they’re radically deficient.
You should read the whole thing, but here’s it in one sentence: When cities knocked down the dystopian housing projects, their inhabitants moved to affordable, mostly black suburbs, which now find themselves plagued by the same sort of violent crime, drug-dealing, etc., that characterized the ghetto.
Evidently, one’s surroundings are not the dispositive influence on one’s life that social planners have thought. Confucius, for one, is more than happy to see the P.J.s go, though he understands the (misplaced, but genuine) nostalgia one former resident is quoted as having for their tight-knit social milieu. It’s the difference between village or small-town life and life in the suburbs. It’s wrenching for everyone who lives it.
But at bottom, what we have here is not what the article quotes people characterizing as a NIMBY “property holders” vs. “poor people” conflict, or (largely because the neighborhoods are black to begin with) a question of racism (always the media’s go-to for explaining ghetto dysfunction). What we have here, is a textbook case of what Chris Rock used to call in his stand up act, “Black People” versus “Niggers.” That is, those imbued with functional social values versus those without. This gap is not racial; ask anyone from West Virginia, Arkansas, or Florida about the difference between “jes’ folks” and “white trash.” Or many American Indians about hard-working people versus rez layabouts.
Here’s Rock, whose language is not in the least, not remotely suitable for work.
Black Americans are disproportionately plagued by having a large, dysfunctional subculture. This circumstance has nothing to do with the various, often racist explanations thrown around, but was brought about by the conjunction of two factors (both brought about by well-meaning, paternalistic white people, incidentally). Remember, up until the late 1960s, the crime rate among blacks was lower than among whites. (As you might imagine, in a minority besieged by institutionalized racism in the south and attitudinal racism pretty much everywhere, anti-social behavior was stigmatized because of its high costs.)
The first was the Great Society’s welfare programs, which inadvertently destroyed the family in a segment of the black community (for complicated reasons). This gave rise to the multigenerational matriarchal family which has proved profoundly incapable of successfully socializing boys, resulting in the jaw-dropping, heart-breaking crime and incarceration rate.
The second, following hard on that, was liberal white America’s guilt-addled judgment that black criminality was, in some sense, attributable to—and justified by—white racism. The riots of the late 1960s which devastated black neighborhoods—some of which have still—still—not come back, forty years on, were interpreted in a crypto-Marxist fashion as the legitimate rage of an oppressed (racial) proletariat. At the time, incidentally, black people were having none of this. Famously, when Huey Newton went on trial for cop-killing, he had his lawyer remove blacks from the jury because they would see right through his revolutionary schtick and send him to the gas chamber.
But as time goes on, these factors became institutionalized. The tight-knit subculture mourned by the woman in the article created its own self-reinforcing norms and mores (for a superficial example, the invention of what we now think of as “black names.”) And for a certain proportion of the black population, the explanatory power of “white racism” became sufficient to account for most of the ills they saw around them. Unlike Huey Newton’s, O.J.’s lawyers tried to maximize the number of black jurors, since they felt they would be more rather than less receptive to a racial appeal absolving their client. (Incidentally, both Newton and O.J. got off, anecdotally suggesting that their strategies were correct.)
So, now, years on, we have a subculture which is both socially dysfunctional and to some degree alienated from larger societal institutions, participation in which could help them reconfigure their lives in productive ways. The current solution proposed in the article is “site-based resident services.” And doubtless, like the other material causes, these social services will help around the edges. The real problem is that our reformers are trapped in our exquisitely baroque paradigms of “sensitivity” (developed partially as an guilty overreaction to historic bigotry), and are consequently unable to say: The problem is the way you’re living your life. Until you change your ways in dramatic fashion, you will reproduce this squalor and suffering.
Thing is, people don’t respond to that kind of talk from their neighbors. They tend to want to punch them. However, people do respond to that sort of talk from a Supreme Being. Religious conversion is one of the very few things that provides a successful, lasting change of life. And it’s no coincidence that the most successful large-scale efforts at saving dysfunctional, substance-abusing, non-monogamous, child-neglecting ghetto populations have been religious in content, along with providing material institutional support.
John Wesley’s moral crusade in England brought a substantial group of people out of the nightmarish Hogarthian squalor of eighteenth-century, industrializing Britain. Victorian reformers with their “prudish” “Victorian” values did the same a hundred years later. And it happened on these shores, as well. The New York Irish were at least as violent, dysfunctional, and incarcerated as the products of the Great Society; with a lot fewer resources, Archbishop John J. Hughes of New York attacked their way of life with a combination of institutional support and intense moral reform, and as one writer put it, that’s how “Dagger John” saved New York’s Irish.
Which leads us to the terribly depressing conclusion: because our “helping” professions are largely peopled by liberals wedded to materialistic (often vulgar-Marxist) “social-scientific” metaphysics, there’s almost no hope that they can identify, much less address the gaping void at the center of this type of social dysfunction: the unwritten rules, morals, and worldview that perpetuates it. As Hume pointed out, our morals “are not the conclusions of our reason,” and it’s this inability to reason one’s way to, say, the Ten Commandments from Cartesian first principles which has crippled the West’s intellectuals’ understanding of morality and religion, causing them to jettison a priori all such rationally non-justifiable rules (except perhaps on the thin ice of utilitarianism) and substituting “rational” creeds of their own, which elsewhere has resulted in dystopias much worse than Cabrini-Green.
The fact is, the state can’t fix people, and when it tries, it degrades them, treats them as objects. The only way to really “fix” people is to re-moralize them—that is, have them commit on a profound level to values which will allow them to permanently orient themselves towards productive lives. Unfortunately, this type of commitment means talking about what is Good and Right, which we no longer do. Since traditional morality (particularly sexual morality), which has a good track record at providing this orientation towards successful living, is utterly toxic to our cultural elites, well, absent some spontaneous private (almost certainly religious) mass-movement, we’re going to be seeing stories like these forever. “Hmm. We thought it was where they were living. That didn’t work. We thought it was because they couldn’t get rides to work. That didn’t work.” Lather, rinse, repeat, weep.
*For those who came in late, Confucius is the name of the Gormogons’ Œcumenical Volgi.
Don’t ask impertinent questions like that jackass Adept Lu.