It’s long been observed that people who do three things: graduate from high school, stay off of recreational drugs, and get married before having kids, are 96% likely to never be in poverty. There are a few other items of what may be called “bourgeois culture”, including hard work and being civil, including “keeping a civil tongue in your head”.
A lot of the pressure to violate these norms seems to come from people who think cultural norms that violate bourgeois values are somehow more “authentic” expressions of certain cultures. Indeed, there’s a poisonously racist belief that dysfunctional culture is hard-wired in to certain races, and forcing them to adopt some other culture is racist.
Many college students lack basic skills, and high school students rank below those from two dozen other countries.
The causes of these phenomena are multiple and complex, but implicated in these and other maladies is the breakdown of the country’s bourgeois culture.
That culture laid out the script we all were supposed to follow: Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.
Heather MacDonald at National Review writes:
Were you planning to instruct your child about the value of hard work and civility? Not so fast! According to a current uproar at the University of Pennsylvania, advocacy of such bourgeois virtues is “hate speech.” The controversy, sparked by an op-ed written by two law professors, illustrates the rapidly shrinking boundaries of acceptable thought on college campuses and the use of racial victimology to police those boundaries.
The fuse was lit. The rules of the game were the following: Ignore what Wax and Alexander had actually said; avoid providing any counterevidence; and play the race card to the hilt as a substitute for engaging with their arguments.
Wax will not be silenced by this fierce deployment of the racism card. But most academics are not so brave. The op-ed’s primary sin was to talk about behavior. The founding idea of contemporary progressivism is that structural and individual racism lies behind socioeconomic inequalities. Discussing bad behavioral choices and maladaptive culture is out of bounds and will be punished mercilessly by slinging at the offender the usual fusillade of “isms” (to be supplemented, post-Charlottesville, with frequent mentions of “white supremacy”). The fact that underclass behaviors are increasingly common among lower-class whites, and not at all limited to poor blacks and Hispanics, might have made it possible to address personal responsibility. That does not appear to be the case. What if the progressive analysis of inequality is wrong, however, and a cultural analysis is closest to the truth? If confronting the need to change behavior is punishable “hate speech,” then it is hard to see how the country can resolve its social problems.
Eugene Volokh comments.
My thinking: My parents brought me from a place — Soviet Russia — that had not just an oppressive political system and a failed economic system, but also (largely as a result but perhaps partly a cause of) a destructive culture, a culture characterized (much more than American culture) by cheating, shirking and distrust. They brought me to a country that thrived because of its superior cultural assets (which is not to deny that it had cultural weaknesses as well).
It seems to me indubitably clear that certain cultural traits, including the ones that Wax and Alexander note, are more conducive to societal success and long-term individual happiness and others are not. (The norm of raising children in stable, married two-parent families is one well-documented example.) Indeed, my sense is that most on the left actually believe that some cultural traits and some cultures are superior, just as most on the right do: It’s just that they often praise different kinds of cultural traits, and different kinds of cultures and subcultures. Indeed, openness to other cultures is itself a cultural trait, one that different cultures possess to different extents and in different ways; so are, for instance, aversion to race discrimination, support for sexual equality and embrace of sexual freedom.
And of course there is nothing racially exclusive about positive cultural traits. All racial groups can benefit from adopting them (or from the good fortune of having been born into them), just as they can benefit from adopting successful political and economic systems (most reliably, by moving to places that have such beneficial political and economic systems and cultures, and raising their children to adopt those cultures). Indeed, many people of all racial groups, in the United States and elsewhere, eagerly seek to acculturate their children to the bourgeois traits that Wax and Alexander pointed to.