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Monday, 26 March 2012

Non-judgementalism is a synonym for cruelty and desertion - Denyse O'Leary

For some while, I have been looking at sociologist Charles Murray’s Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, and focusing on Fishtown, his iconic neighborhood where working class people---far from clinging bitterly to guns and religion---are sinking helplessly into unemployment and family breakdown.

Now let us look at Belmont, the upper middle class enclave nearby. There, marriage, work, and voluntary social service are still the norm, and street crime is decidedly not.

Murray thinks that Belmont, nonetheless, shows one clear sign of civilizational decay: Despite the fact that its privileged residents were groomed and educated to lead---they do not wish to lead.

How can this be? Belmonters are, typically, officers in enterprises large and small, so surely, they lead. In that minor way, yes.

But socially, they do not lead. They merely wish to be left to prosper in peace. While they know what habits and practices helped make them successful, they show a surprising reluctance to advocate them:
The new upper class still does a good job of practicing some of the virtues, but it no longer preaches them. It has lost self-confidence in the rightness of its own customs and values, and preaches nonjudgmentalism instead. (p. 289)
Let’s say a guy ripped off an old woman’s pension for drug money for months, and the offence was only discovered and charged when she was hospitalized by her landlady on account of starvation/dehydration.


Even then, a huge backdrop of well-educated, well-heeled people will agree that he should not be judged for his actions. He should just be accepted for who he is. He has his problems, too, right?

They might confess that they are revolted by his actions, but they struggle with their revulsion because they know that judgmentalism is bad. Worse than anything, really.

In Fishtown, where predatory addicts are not rare, folk take a different view: “Send him some place he ain’t comin’ back.”

From Murray,
Nonjudgmentalism is one of the more baffling features of the new-upper-class culture. The members of the new upper class are industrious to the point of obsession, but there are no derogatory labels for those who are not industrious. The young women of the new upper class hardly ever have babies out of wedlock, but it is impermissible to use a derogatory label for non-marital births. You will probably raise a few eyebrows even if you use a derogatory label for criminals. When you get down to it, it is not acceptable in the new upper class to use derogatory labels for anyone, with three exceptions: people with differing political views, fundamentalist Christians, and rural working-class whites.” (p. 289-90)
So Belmonters do not wish to lead, even though the destructive effects of their failure to do so are all around them. Murray argues that the unwillingness of a privileged class to encourage constructive, productive lifestyles is a symptom of civilizational decline. He is probably right, and it might be instructive to look more closely at the three groups it is okay to attack and insult:

People with differing political views: For most Belmonters, that means conservatives or traditionalists. Given that most Belmonters actually live in a broadly traditional way, the hostility is a little hard to fathom. Except for this: If they acknowledged that they live that way because it is wise, they might be challenged to explain why they do not advocate the lifestyle. In other words, they might be challenged to lead.

Belmonters might, however, serve on a blue-ribbon government committee on job creation in Fishtown, creating jobs where residents "help each other solve their problems," to replace the lost industry jobs that gave meaning and dignity to people’s lives.

Fundamentalist Christians: Belmonters believe that fundamentalism is a rising danger in the land, but it is hard to say why. In decaying Fishtown, in recent years most residents stopped going to church, except for the fundamentalists. Despite that, no religious riots have been reported.

Belmonters might, however, serve on a blue-ribbon government committee for combating prejudice against Muslims (Islamophobia). To even mention terrorism imported from the Middle East (where the majority of innocent victims are Muslims, incidentally) is inappropriate, except when making excuses for the terrorists. It’s the same principle as with crime, in the example above. One provides excuses for the predator because the victim, who is now in a nursing home, needs no excuses.

Rural working-class whites: A Belmonter feels righteously fulfilled when heaping scorn on a frail, pale Appalachian grandma who thinks it’s a sin (!) that her never-married daughter has children by three different men. Grandma is an easy target. She can’t articulate the problem she senses. (Though I did, here: Responsibilities become so tangled and subdivided that they fall on any one person only by accident. Sometimes, they all crash-land on the person least able to fulfil them. Could be Grandma. Easily.)

Belmonters might, however, serve on a blue-ribbon government committee for criminalizing Grandma’s views---as part of a widely praised effort to combat prejudice against these “emerging family forms.” But one thing the Belmonters would never do is live that way. Or live among people who do.

See also:

Why the media suppress discussion of Fishtown’s problems

Churches just want your money, that’s all! Or is it?

When Fishtown’s do-gooders just stopped doing good

When Joe Money moved out of Fishtown . . .

When marriage died in Fishtown

1 comment:

Peter Black said...

Denyse,
Your presenting Charles Murray's social commentary continues to be enlightening to those of us who, while concerned, are not immersed in nor as conversant with this field as you are.
Thank you also for your own stimulating commentary on such matters ... very informative.