Monday, February 6, 2012


[Charles] Murray [author of Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010] calls for more interaction between the classes; specifically, he'd like upper-middle-class Americans to "drop their nonjudgmentalism and start preaching what they're practicing."

They "are getting married and staying married. They work like crazy. They do better going to church. [They should] just say that, 'These are not choices we've made for ourselves. ... These are rich, rewarding ways of living.' "
Is White, Working Class America 'Coming Apart'?
So... How is that not a choice? Even if I postulate that there are objectively better ways of living than others; that some choices, simply by making and following through on them lead to richer and more rewarding lives, they are still choices. Murray's point, that these are not arbitrary, meaningless choices, becomes lost. Murray focuses almost solely on White America in this book to avoid one of the major pitfalls that he stumbled into in The Bell Curve, the idea that he's preaching that some people are, simply by virtue of who they are, better and more deserving of others.

Depending on how he's worded his message in Coming Apart, he may or may not manage it. While it may be NPR's wording and not Murray's, "less industrious" has become a buzzword; usually meaning "lazy." It gets people fired up for one simple reason - being poor does not usually mean a life of leisure. Unskilled work of the sort that normally pays poorly isn't any easier than more-highly skilled labor. In fact, one of the primary reasons why many parents throughout American history have been so keen to have their children educated was specifically so they wouldn't have to do the sort of labor-intensive work that they themselves had done. You will find it difficult to convince many people that laborers who toil for long days in the fields are "less industrious" than those who spend their time burning the midnight oil in an air-conditioned office tower where a hot (if not always healthy or inexpensive) meal is as close as a cellular telephone call.

Of course, the implicit judgment there is that all work is created equal. That Effort + Time = Wealth, and that's all there is to it - high skill or rare knowledge have nothing to do with it. I don't know if Murray's book supports that, or, if like any number of other people he selected the anecdotes that occurred to him and lets the correlation pass for causality.

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