(source) The image of “two nations,” James Q. Wilson explained, the dividing line was no longer one of income or social class. Instead, it had become all about the family — specifically, whether one hailed from a broken or intact home. “It is not money,” he observed, “but the family that is the foundation of public life. As it has become weaker, every structure built upon that foundation has become weaker.”
Wilson called attention to what he saw as a national catastrophe in the making: the creation of generations of young men unhabituated to responsibility and protecting others. By 1997, as Wilson explained, family breakdown in America was no longer a phenomenon of the ghetto, but a fact of everyday life for more and more of the country.
Family structure had become more important to positive outcomes than race, income, or one’s station at birth
Wilson pointed above all to the library that social science had been building for decades, filled with books and studies about the correlations between family particulars and behavioral probabilities. Family structure, he demonstrated, had become more important to positive outcomes than race, income, or one’s station at birth:
- Children in one-parent families, compared to those in two-parent ones, are twice as likely to drop out of school.
- Boys in one-parent families are much more likely than those in two-parent ones to be both out of school and out of work.
- Girls in one-parent families are twice as likely as those in two-parent ones to have an out-of-wedlock birth.
These differences are not explained by income….children raised in single-parent homes [are] more likely to be suspended from school, to have emotional problems, and to behave badly.
The research was overwhelming, all of it proving the point that a stable family has come to trump material assets as the main currency of these two new nations.
Twenty years ago, evidence from all over the social sciences already indicated that the sexual revolution was leaving a legacy of destruction. The new wealth in America is familial wealth, and the new poverty, familial poverty.
The shrinkage of the family has deprived many men of sisters and daughters
It has deprived many women of brothers and sons. And, of course, divorce and cohabitation have also deprived boys and girls of biological parents, particularly fathers.
And what might be the net effect of all that loss? At a numerical minimum, it’s a world in which the sexes know less about one another than they used to — in which many women no longer know any men as protectors, but only as predators.
It’s a world in which many men who lack sisters, cousins, and the rest know women mainly through the lies absorbed in watching pornography.
Many men don’t have much familial experience of the opposite sex — and many women don’t, either
Secularization means that many people no longer experience the opposite sex as those with a religious background are instructed to do — as figurative sisters and brothers, united in fellowship. Once more, people have been deprived of a familial, non-sexual knowledge of the opposite sex, and another healthy bond between the sexes has been frayed.
Again, behold the irony: The revolution has made sex itself more ubiquitous than ever before. But it has also estranged men and women as never before, both by shrinking the family and by increasing the mistrust between men and women thanks to widespread sexual consumerism.
That includes not only dating apps like Tinder, but also the consumption of pornography, which spreads false accounts of relations between the sexes that are poisoning romance on a macrocosmic scale. To offer just one indicator that also would have been unthinkable 20 years ago, internet pornography use is now a major factor cited in divorces.
When television host Charlie Rose fell from grace following multiple accusations of what just about any woman would call predatory conduct, he said in a statement that “I always felt that I was pursuing shared feelings.” Awful though his conduct allegedly was, those words bear the mark of authenticity. It seems safe to bet that many modern men, especially those without religious attachments, believe similarly in the untruths that have been spreading across the human race for half a century now — beginning with the untruth that both sexes take the same view of supposedly consequence-free recreational sex. To observe the potency of this lie isn’t to exonerate offenders; it is merely to acknowledge one more engine of the mass confusion that now plagues interactions between the sexes.
Welfare schemes premised on family sizes of yesteryear cannot be sustained by demographic shrinkage
Consider another area in which post-revolutionary sexual habits are having profound and pernicious effects that could not have been seen 20 years ago: politics. Here I would like to focus on three particular ways in which the revolution now shapes, indeed disfigures, today’s political order.
The first of these concerns the modern welfare state as we know it, and its sustainability in the coming decades. It doesn’t take an economist to see that welfare schemes premised on family sizes of yesteryear cannot be sustained by demographic shrinkage.
The state is the financial backer that makes single motherhood — and absent fatherhood — possible
It also doesn’t take a Ph.D. to grasp that the fractured family is a major engine of the increased welfare state. Why? Because overall, the state is the financial backer that makes single motherhood — and absent fatherhood — possible. In effect, the state has become the angel investor of family dysfunction. The fracturing of the family has rendered the modern state a flush but controlling super-daddy. The state moves in to pick up the pieces of the shattered family — but, by bankrolling it, the custodial government ensures more of the same.
Symbiotic bond between the diminution of the family and the rise of identity politics
Sexual identity, racial identity, ethnic identity, and the rest of the now-familiar pack have become the driving force of progressive politics — so much so that imagining today’s progressivism without these group identities is an exercise in futility.
Identity politics is behind many of the most incendiary clashes of our time. Campuses have become “safe spaces” in which the assertion of group identity now routinely trumps free speech. Language is policed down to the pronoun for transgressions offensive to one or another aggrieved tribe. Halloween costumes and other trivia that run afoul of “cultural appropriation” can exact costs in social opprobrium, social-media flaming, and even employment.
Identity politics in America has grown exactly in tandem with the spread of the sexual revolution — and for good, if pitiful, reason. Western human beings today, like human beings everywhere, are desperate to know who they are, to whom they belong, where they have a place in the world. But today, the old ways of knowing all these desiderata — that is, by reference to the family and extended family — no longer exist for many people, and are growing weaker for many more.
Why is this happening? Because our organic connections to one another have been sundered as never before, outside wartime or natural catastrophe. Today’s clamor over identity — the authentic scream of so many for answers to questions about where they belong in the world — did not spring from nowhere. It is a squalling creature of our time, born of familial liquidation. Political identitarianism is a bastard child of the birth-control pill.
Millions are looking to government to replace what they have lost — connections to family and transcendent communities
A third way in which the revolution is having macrocosmic political effects is more prosaic, though no less compelling for its obviousness. A great many people out there are suffering. Something about the way we live now is manifestly making many fellow human beings miserable.
Most visibly in the United States, millions are looking to government and to their political-cultural tribes to replace what they have lost — connections to family and transcendent communities: Opioid epidemic.
Anthropological evidence from every culture and era verifies that human beings by their nature live in families — just as coyotes and elephants and many other mammals live in families rather than in random collections of individuals of the same species. The same evidence shows that human beings across history have been pulled into transcendent communities of some kind. Both are elemental human demands. And since the revolution, a great many people can no longer figure out how to supply them.
“Loneliness studies” are now the hottest academic stock in sociology
The revolution has divided and scattered ineradicably familial beings — human beings — like no other force in our time.
20 years after Wilson’s “two nations” speech, there is more evidence than ever for the charge. There’s a reason why “loneliness studies” are now the hottest academic stock in sociology. There’s a reason why “happiness studies” document over and over what most people could have asserted without embarrassment the day before yesterday — that people who live in families and practice religion tend to be happier and more productive than those who don’t.
Occam’s razor bends toward truth. Traditionalists and other contrarians have been right to argue that the revolution would lead to rising trouble between the sexes and a decline in respect for women — just as James Q. Wilson remains right that family, and lack of family, have replaced money itself as the nation’s most accurate measures of real wealth and poverty.