Eudaimonia and Identity

 

America’s culture is a constant source of discussion here on Ricochet. Whether it’s homosexual marriage or marijuana decriminalization/legalization, culture permeates our discussions. I just finished reading Mona Charen’s piece over at NRO, “The Price of Feminism,” this morning and it coincided with me finishing Yuval Levin’s Fractured Republic and Charles Murray’s Coming Apart last week.

The reason I mention all three pieces in regard to American culture is that they all point to decline or change in the culture. Levin’s book focuses predominantly on the decline of civil society in America and its replacement by the federal government through the process of what he calls “bifurcated-consolidation.” Murray’s book looks to the physical results of 60 years of cultural change that has seen the founding virtues (Murray’s words, not mine) of marriage, honesty, religion, and industriousness falter in the lower classes and stay strong in the upper classes.

Charen’s piece this morning focuses on the changes to women over the past 60 years as it relates to feminism, although not with the scope and detail of the books by Murray and Levin. Using social survey data, Mona observes that even though women have gained in the workforce their happiness has declined. More women work today than ever before and yet women’s suicide rate continues to climb (at a higher rate than men’s) along with higher rates of anti-depressant use. Even more telling is that social surveys indicate that super-majorities of women do not desire full-time work. If work was what gave women purpose and flourishing, Eudaimonia, then these trends would not be observed.

Charen’s answer to this problem is that for women, work, while important, is not the highest priority for women in gaining Eudaimonia. Marriage and motherhood are the identities that most satiate this need.

This relates very well to Levin’s and Murray’s books I mentioned earlier. Levin most succinctly captures this trend in the Fractured Republic by noting that current cultural inertia in the nation is towards the federal government (and that is is a result of successful progressive moves to “nationalize” Americans in the first half of the 20th century). Americans for the past 100 years have come to identify more and more with the federal government and less and less with their immediate surroundings. Local and regional identities, whether family, church, fraternal organizations, or the market, have dwindled.

No one talks about what their local Methodist Church or Rotary Club can do to stop declining marriage or rising poverty. People, whether news anchors or even some Ricochetti, focus on how local events, like a school shooting or an NFL protest, are endemic of the entire nation and need a national response.

It’s somewhat paradoxical that this is what happens given that, practically speaking, our local identities, like one’s job or being a spouse or parent, is what defines our day-to-day interactions. I doubt many Americans spend more time thinking about how to lower unemployment than they do focusing on their job or their spouse’s and children’s happiness. What we actually do (create), what is tangible and irreplaceable, has the greatest impact on our self-esteem. Complaining about national issues, whether on Twitter or with your crazy uncle at Thanksgiving does nothing towards that.

This strengthening of the national identity at the expense of more local and regional identities not only changes our lenses of issues but also our priorities. National priorities take precedence over local ones, which means that a President’s Press Secretary gets kicked out of a restaurant for not doing anything (putting the national cultural issues over the local issues of reputation and income). It also creates polarization because “everything is a national crisis” and thus a question of national identity (which almost always presents only two sides).

Levin’s solution to this trend, unfortunately, is that local and regional institutions (identities) need to see a self-started revival. Murray’s active solution is more nationalist and requires elites preaching the founding virtues to the lower classes. Social conservatives need to change their paradigm from that of a defensive majority, which does not exist, to an offensive minority. Only by building and sustaining successful subcultures (of social conservatives) will civil society see a real return and a reduction in the federal government’s role in society. Such will not only rebuild American culture, in a more diverse and rich way, but will also lower the tension of polarization as local and regional identities regain their lost strength.

These two routes both implicitly assume a change in the federal government’s direction, though. Since the success of the Progressives in the early 20th century, the federal government has grown in its size and mission in interfering with society, whether its perverse incentives towards cohabitation and not marriage or unemployment benefits eliminating the impetus to work. Reducing and eliminating said programs would go a long way to allowing for natural rehabilitation of our society, akin to the drug addict being weaned off of their drug of choice.

But what do the Ricochetti believe? Is Charen right that the identity of motherhood and being a wife is more important than being a worker? Is Levin right that social conservatives need to rebuild new subcultures until, over time, they can regain majority support? Or should the elites preach away the value of virtues to the lower classes as Murray claims they should? Is it even possible to see a reclamation of civil society in the lower classes of America?

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  1. Could Be Anyone Member
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    JudithannCampbell (View Comment):
    Ok, show the data: am pretty sure your data will show that most of the women who were working at that time were unmarried.

    The Department of Labor does not specify marital status cross referenced with employment until 1975 (at which point the trend of women working outside the home had progressed further). However, if you look at the last chart on the page I cited and then consider the average age for women to marry in 1950 (which is 20 years old), going off Census Bureau data and consider the fact that the proportion of women married in 1950 was roughly 66% you will see it is quite unlikely those women working are all single.

    In 1948 44% of women between the ages of 16-24 (average married age is 20 so women at their greatest likelihood to marry are working). 37% of women between the ages of 25-34 are working and 36% of women between the ages of 35-44 are working. As I typed before specialization and urbanization have trended with women working outside the home. Production no longer occurs in family units and that model was declining considerably during the first half of the 20th century.

    • #31
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    JudithannCampbell (View Comment):
    Considering this, I don’t understand why you are so supportive of women working, when all the data shows that most women would prefer to work either part time or not at all. Why are you in favor of something that is not traditional, and that most women don’t want?

    Could you square the circle where women working part time is inconsistent with women working? You are trying to make this an either or but its gradations. Realizing that women value both work and family, most value family more but not to the exclusion of work, is not a contradictory position.

    • #32
  3. JudithannCampbell Inactive
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    Could Be Anyone (View Comment):

    JudithannCampbell (View Comment):
    Considering this, I don’t understand why you are so supportive of women working, when all the data shows that most women would prefer to work either part time or not at all. Why are you in favor of something that is not traditional, and that most women don’t want?

    Could you square the circle where women working part time is inconsistent with women working? You are trying to make this an either or but its gradations.

    Maybe I am misunderstanding you; right now, most young women are fully expected to work full time, and be totally self supporting-they are expected to move out of their parents home, which requires them to work full time. Then, in many cases, single men they meet will expect them to be working mothers. Young women never chose this: it has been forced on them. But you don’t seem to see a problem with it? Am I misunderstanding?

    Also, would be interested to know how many of the women who were working in the 1940’s and 1950’s were working part time, or full time. Also, just so you know, most of those women were working because they came from poor families, and their families genuinely needed them to work: it wasn’t for fulfillment. I know this, because my mother and all of my aunts worked at that time. You can be assured: they didn’t do it for the fun of it.

    • #33
  4. JudithannCampbell Inactive
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    *my mother and my aunts who worked either did so before they married, or in some cases, before they had children. Once they had children, every single one of them had stopped working, except for my mother, who only worked part time.

    • #34
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    JudithannCampbell (View Comment):

    Maybe I am misunderstanding you; right now, most young women are fully expected to work full time, and be totally self supporting-they are expected to move out of their parents home, which requires them to work full time. Then, in many cases, single men they meet will expect them to be working mothers.

    As already mentioned by Charen in her article women tend to take time off from work during pregnancy and early childhood already (a logical decision as that is when the child is in greatest need). If men expected women to be working all the time, both during and immediately after pregnancy, that would not be happening.

    Young women never chose this: it has been forced on them. But you don’t seem to see a problem with it? Am I misunderstanding?

    Who is pushing young women collectively to work against their will? No one has, you are making a false assertion on the face of it. Young women work because of the division of labor in the economy. The capacity of women to individually add value to the economy has increased with time and that means they are able to individually provide for themselves rather than being at the mercy of someone else’s will. The vast majority of humans, regardless of sex, do like to have control of their own fates. I have no issue with that and you have not explained how it is contradictory to the article I typed.

    Also, would be interested to know how many of the women who were working in the 1940’s and 1950’s were working part time, or full time. Also, just so you know, most of those women were working because they came from poor families, and their families genuinely needed them to work: it wasn’t for fulfillment. I know this, because my mother and all of my aunts worked at that time. You can be assured: they didn’t do it for the fun of it.

    Most people do not work for fun. People work to provide for themselves and their families. There is a reason that unemployment benefits trend with lower workforce participation and that is because work is a means and not an end. I doubt that any good man puts his work identity above his identity as a father or husband and if he does then that is a sign of dysfunction.

    • #35
  6. JudithannCampbell Inactive
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    Could Be Anyone (View Comment):
    Who is pushing young women collectively to work against their will? No one has, you are making a false assertion on the face of it.

    Parents. I am not making a false assertion on the face of it; if you don’t believe me, try suggesting that young single women from wealthy families be allowed to decide for themselves whether they work or not. Or, try suggesting that young single women from middle class families just live with their parents and work part time for their spending money; the consensus seems to be that if young women are not kicked out and forced to work full time, they will never grow up. 

     

    • #36
  7. JudithannCampbell Inactive
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    In the past, young single women from wealthy families didn’t work at all, and from middle class families and poor families, they might have worked but worked to help the family; they were not expected to be totally self supporting. Ever since we started expecting young single women to be totally self supporting, everything, including levels of female happiness, has been going downhill. 

    • #37
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    JudithannCampbell (View Comment):
    Parents. I am not making a false assertion on the face of it; if you don’t believe me, try suggesting that young single women from wealthy families be allowed to decide for themselves whether they work or not. Or, try suggesting that young single women from middle class families just live with their parents and work part time for their spending money; the consensus seems to be that if young women are not kicked out and forced to work full time, they will never grow up.

    As I have mentioned numerous times now, but you continue to ignore because it disarms your argument entirely, the division of labor has made it so that individuals can support themselves individually on their own labor. Back before industrialization started most work was labor intensive.

    Human females tend to not excel in labor intensive (physical) work. They are usually not as tall or strong or fast as a male counterpart. They, however, tend to on average excel past males in non physical skills, like language. As the industrial economy improved in efficiency, lowering the threshold of labor intensiveness, work in the house declined and the capacity for females to find and do work outside the house increased. This trend was happening since the early 1800s with the mills in the Northeast.

    The new information economy has followed this trend even further which means that the vast majority of females can find work and with that work provide for themselves individually. Unlike the women of 1700 who could not provide for themselves on their own most women today can, and no doubt do so in their younger years before marriage. With that economic autonomy they can decide how they want to live, rather than being tied to the whims of someone else.

    But let’s set that aside for a second and consider your argument without what I explained above.  You assert that parent’s are the ones pushing kids out of their homes to grow up, but isn’t it a common complaint, even here on Ricochet, that too many millennials are living in their parent’s homes these days? Which would mean that many parents are not pushing their kids out.

    Again discounting that countervailing fact, where did parents get that idea in the first place? Did they move out when they could work on their own?

    • #38
  9. JudithannCampbell Inactive
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    @couldbeanyone: just because something can be done doesn’t mean that it should be done. Sure, in modern society women can support themselves: 15 year olds could probably support themselves too, if they really put their minds to it, but just because something can be done doesn’t mean it is a good idea.

    • #39
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    JudithannCampbell (View Comment):
    @couldbeanyone: just because something can be done doesn’t mean that it should be done. Sure, in modern society women can support themselves: 15 year olds could probably support themselves too, if they really put their minds to it, but just because something can be done doesn’t mean it is a good idea.

    Where did I type that women should leave the home? Besides you have not even provided an argument for why women should stay at home nor have you answered my other points.

    • #40
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    Could Be Anyone (View Comment):

    JudithannCampbell (View Comment):
    @couldbeanyone: just because something can be done doesn’t mean that it should be done. Sure, in modern society women can support themselves: 15 year olds could probably support themselves too, if they really put their minds to it, but just because something can be done doesn’t mean it is a good idea.

    Where did I type that women should leave the home? Besides you have not even provided an argument for why women should stay at home nor have you answered my other points.

    Being that you are a conservative, I didn’t think it was necessary to provide an argument; figured you had probably heard them, plus, @jimbeck has already provided some excellent arguments. I can’t keep up with all your points, you throw so many out at the same time that it really makes a debate difficult, and not fun. Peace, I am out :)

    • #41
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    Jim Beck (View Comment):

    London around 1900 represents to me the most successful modern society. London was the largest city in the world, and in many ways the most diverse, yet crime was almost nonexistent.

    Do you have crime statistics from the era for London, I would assume as a metropolitan statistical area? Because I went and looked at crime data (use the first excel sheet file) for the UK and crime was technically on the rise in the early 20th century overall. Not by massive leaps but 90,000 crimes committed in a nation of 40 million is not crime being nonexistent.

    The members of society had internalized their roles and traditions and customs to such an extent that the frictions of life in a large society were at a very low level, and the strength of the family, public/civic responsibility and private responsibility were at high levels.

    Do you have statistics on this? What was the rate of church attendance? Did it differ across social classes? As noted by the BBC there were tensions between social classes and the police were not trusted by the lower classes, which is a sign of lacking social cohesion. As noted by the author in that article there was the idea of social progress in the Victorian Society and that affected their perceptions of the world as they wanted to see it.

    As a post WWII kid, the changes which came along with the 60’s highlighted what was lost. From elementary school to high school, I knew no kid who was in day care, all but one of the moms was stay at home, and only one of the moms was divorced. My high school class had 800 kids so I am sure that there were other divorced families, however I only had one friend whose parents were (I was involved in a lot of sports so I knew lots of guys). Compare this to my son who went to the same high school and had many friends who were divorced, and only a few friends whose moms were stay at home. Now it may be that stay at home child rearing is not as beneficial as I think, however we do know and have known for decades that children from divorced parents are at a disadvantage. Many aspects of my parents generation and my generation simplified the paths for ones life choices. For men, one went to school, got a job, got married, had children, this was so common that it went unstated. For a couple to be unmarried and become pregnant, there was great shame for the couple and their parents. For women, the choices had variations concerning college and marriage.

    As I mentioned before there was tremendous social cohesion because of a Great Depression, Progressive Politics, and two World Wars. That degree of cohesion was the result of force more than modelling or anything else. The only way to keep that is to continue to force it to be such a way.

    What is lost is an understanding of what it means to be an adult, what are the obligations one has to one’s family and to the society at large. This involves work, parenting, citizenship. We now focus on self-actualization where most of our sacrifices are for our personal benefit, and in contrast to the sacrifices one might make for one’s children.

    And those kids had to learn those values from someone close to them, their parents.

    There are no modern Western countries that have birth rates which are above replacement levels, the USA is only above replacement levels because of immigration. So what is it about modern life, where we don’t find the future worth while enough to have children? The post WWII neighborhoods were also more homogenized, with salesmen, FBI guys, insurance, retired factory worker, a guy who started a restaurant and my dad the doc, living in 1,100 sq ft bungalows, or 1,800 two story houses. Many had one car, like our family until my mom was 30. What was different concerning parenting concerned work, I worked regular hours so I was much more involved with scouts and sports, also I was less concerned about school achievement for myself and my son.

    As I mentioned before you were being raised in an anomaly. Society had been regimented by government, war, and the Great Depression. After World War 2 the USA had unparalleled market share which inflated worker’s incomes (across the board). That could not and did not last.

    My father was the first in his family to finish college and his parents worked to push him to focus on academics. My mom from a farm in Spencer Indiana was the second girl from her family to go to college, her older sister was also a nurse, there were 11 children in her family. The children made choices about school entirely on their own, even the boys enlisted without telling the parents. From my view that generation lived out their parents hopes achieving greater success in almost all arenas than their parents could have imagined. My generation under achieved, being blind to all the advantages and blessings they had, and along the way denying the moral standing of their parents using the war and race and their parents[‘] silence to undercut their moral standing. This also was played out in the closing of universities and chanting ‘ho, ho Western civ has got to go” as my generation began the process of trashing higher ed. And of course love is more than a piece of paper, marriage who needs it. The simple answer, all human societies. So using marriage as an example of a cultural essential, when one generation does not accept the models their parent provide, the culture and its health is put at risk.

    If you want to blame your own generation you are free to do so but they had to learn those examples from someone close to them.

    • #42
  13. Jim Beck Inactive
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    Evening Could Be,

    My expert on Victorian times is Gertrude Himmelfarb, in her book “Poverty and Compassion” she focuses on the social welfare advocates of the time and their attempts to help the poor.  She notes the work of Charles Booth who was a social welfare advocate who did a census of the East Eand of London which was the poorest and contained some 250 K families.  Gertrude notes that crime was so low that public behavior such as spitting and swearing and riding your bicycle the wrong way would get you noticed by the police.  Illegitimacy was at 4% which was the lowest in Europe, and families strove to be thrifty and responsible in their private life and their public life.  This was also a time post Darwin and Nietzsche, so there was an unsettled quality to much of life.  The desire to maintain a proper public decorum can be seen in all the famous figures who even when they were agnostic about the traditions, they felt it was there duty to behavior properly.  There children like the 60’s kids often had little respect for their parents, like the Bloomsbury group.  Another source Beatrice Webb notes that even the poorest, illiterate Polish Jew immigrant found work and community within a few weeks, and she wished that some of the Brits were as ambitious as these immigrants.

    It certainly is true that two world wars will pump up social cohesion like John Haidt has often noted however that doesn’t explain why the WWII generation was also the generation where tens of thousands of adult men and women joined the Great Books.  It is true the children of WWII parents did not follow their parent’s model which contrasts with the over achievement of their parents.  The question is why, why did not the model of achievement  not inspire 60’s kids who under-achieved.  The WWII generation did not have “tiger moms or dads” to push those kids, so why were they so charged up?

    Concerning feminism the book “Domestic Tranquility” by F. Carolyn Graglia is excellent.  The was raised by a single working mom.  She got a law degree from Columbia and was an editor of the law review.  She graduated before Justice Ginsburg and noted that most of the 14 other female graduates obtained legal positions and she received on offer from a major Wall Street firm although she was not first in her class.  She observes that while she was growing there was a truce between the three groups which women most often fell in, stay at home moms, working out of necessity moms, and career moms.  She says that feminism asserted that a woman could only achieve fulfillment in a career and that one of the first salvos was to break the truce and degrade the role of a housewife,  Simone de Beauvoir and Betty FRiedan calling housewives parasites, less than human.  She also pointed out that feminism also promoted the idea that women adopt the sexual behavior of men.  So how to tease out the forces which influences our choices, and what to do about the conflict our society has concerning parenting and education.  I have nieces and 4 girls who are our grand children, none of us would suggest that they cut short their schooling to start their family at a younger age (like in their 20’s) even if as women make up more than half of university we are not reproducing at replacements levels.  What should a society do, think of Japan or Spain where birth rates are half of ours.

    • #43
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