Societal Decline, Broken Refrigerators, and Barbara Tuchman
To be a conservative it often seems that you have to have some degree of pessimism, standing athwart history yelling "stop," all the while bemoaning whatever it is the kids are doing these days. I was in one of those moods last night as I read Lea Halim's commentary at NRO on the recent article in The Atlantic by Kate Bolick. I haven't had the chance to read Bolick's article in full yet, but the declining state of marriage and the family, as well as lessening cultural appreciation of men, permeated what I did read, putting me in one of my ghastly Steynian "everything is going to hell in a hand basket" moods.
Those who pay attention to the mainstream media as well as the conservative blogosphere are well aware that traditional marriage and the family have been facing great challenges over the past few decades. At least every other week I read or hear something to the effect that men are useless slackers with no purpose, women are taking over all of the professions, kids are failing in our schools, and in ten years our male-deprived, undereducated, decadent society will have imploded into a godless, cannibalistic feeding frenzy. In describing these challenges, it is easy to drift into overstatement, which derives from what I call the Broken Refrigerator Problem. Unless you are an appliance salesman, presumably you do not spend much time thinking or talking about refrigerators, unless of course, it is broken. When your Frigidair is humming along swimmingly, all is as it should be, but when it breaks, it becomes cause for complaint.I will not deny that there appear to be serious problems with the state of marriage and families nowadays, but whenever we read about The Next Thing That Will Destroy the Family, it may be another broken refrigerator- an exception to what is otherwise relatively well functioning.
I brought this up with a pastoral couple today, and they seemed sympathetic to my concerns about the health of family values in today's society, particularly among people my age. They did, however, point to what is known as Tuchman's Law coined by historian Barbara Tuchman:
The fact of being reported multiplies the apparent extent of any deplorable development by five to tenfold (or any figure the reader would care to supply).
This isn't to say that we shouldn't care about where marriage is headed as an institution, or what's the matter with kids these days. The point is that things aren't always bad. It makes for bad TV, but it's true. I hope my negligible optimism might be pardoned, but I would like to think that in the long term, things will be better.