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America's Existential Crisis

Why America is Falling Apart–and How to Turn it Around

I found a fantastic article on The Federalist about a topic I’ve been wanting to write about for a long time:

“Once upon a time, you had meaning. You knew you had meaning because you had a mom and a dad who told you so, a God who loved you, and a community that needed you.”

Now people grow up often without one of their parents, no religion and no discernible community to exist and fill a role in.

“Once upon a time, if something happened to you, a significant number of people would mourn your death — not only because you were a good person and a good friend, but also because the community would suffer without your presence and skills. Now, the vast majority of people can barely count on one hand the number of people whose life would be truly altered by their passing.”

Isn’t it odd that people have hundreds of “friends” on Facebook and social media, yet the average person feels insignificant and alone? More doesn’t always equal better. In fact British anthropologist Robin Dunbar theorized in the 1990s that human beings are only really capable of maintaining about 150 personal relationships.

And that includes all personal relationships, from immediate family and best friends (closest) to mere passing acquaintances:

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More “friends” doesn’t equal a better life. Close, deep relationships with a handful of people do.

“We have created a society that now offers almost none of the things that make people truly happy. Family, community, spiritual belonging — these are the foundational and primal building blocks of human happiness, and they are rapidly disappearing.

With the destruction of the family, the church, and the community, the reasons people have traditionally had for their very existence are in danger of receding into the past. And the outcome is predictable: isolation, depression, anxiety, despondency, drug abuse, and death.

…We have discarded those regulating social institutions that have helped people understand their value and place in this world for thousands of years. Their decline is not just mirrored in the rise of mass shootings, but more broadly in a host of statistics that reveal an epidemic of despair.

For example, between 2000 and 2017, the rate of deaths due to drug overdose increased 400 percent, from 3 per 100,000 to 15 per 100,000. The suicide rate has increased from 10.4 per 100,000 in 2000 to 14 per 100,000 in 2017. These horrific increases have literally reduced the life expectancy in the United States from 78.9 in 2014 to 78.6 in 2017.”

The reason drug and substance use has increased is because people’s lives are meaningless otherwise. They literally have nothing to do but get high. It’s a vicious cycle: their lives are boring and feel pointless so they get high all the time, and then their lives become even more boring and pointless because all they do is get high.

For what it’s worth, I’d say all this applies to alcohol as well. It’s not just drugs that people turn to in hopes of escaping the misery of their lives.

Drug abuse and overdoses, as well as suicides, are symptoms of the bigger problem, not the problem itself. They are the end-result of a spiritual crisis.

“These statistics mirror the death of the family and the decline of faith. Children born out of wedlock increased from 20 percent in 1985 to more than 40 percent in 2013, with crime statistics tracking this trend almost exactly. Church membership declined from 70 percent in 1998 to 50 percent today.”

It’s all related. Kids with absentee parents who grew up without religion are more likely to abuse drugs and have kids out of wedlock.

Even Oprah Winfrey recently said that we need to restore the place of churches in American life:

“Speaking with Extra host Renee Bargh about the deadly mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio that left more than 30 people dead and dozens more injured, Oprah said “I think what people are missing is a core moral center.

“Churches used to do that,” the OWN boss continued. “It was a central place you could come to and there was a core center of values about a way of living and being in the world. Until we can return to that, however that is, in whatever form, we will continue to be lost.”

A religious country is a more moral country. The moral rules must be handed down by some supreme authority. It can’t just be the government. People have to truly believe in God and fear going to hell.

Recently, Steve Sailer suggested that the reason mass shootings are increasing in frequency is because fear of going to hell is declining. He’s 100% right. If you really and truly believed in hell, you would not carry out a mass shooting. But nowadays these sickos live out their twisted fantasies of killing people and then just shoot themselves, believing that’s the end of everything for them. They don’t believe they’re going to wake up on the other side to an eternity of fire and suffering.

The next problem is social isolation and the disintegration of our communities:

“Technology exacerbates this phenomenon by allowing and encouraging us to isolate ourselves. Technology allows people to live their lives completely alone. People can sit in front of video games and indulge in violent fantasies. They can view endless pornography or isolate themselves into ideological bubbles that reinforce their desperate ideas.”

Even the local pub where all the neighborhood dads would regularly gather after work is a thing of the past. Nowadays people barely even know their neighbors. Everywhere we go, we go in cars–isolated pods that get us from Point A to Point B without truly experiencing anything in between.

Millions of Americans–especially millennials–don’t live in the same state as their parents, and their kids will grow up largely without their grandparents in their lives. This is not a good thing. It’s not just trees that need roots; we do, too.

I remember learning in one of my college history classes that when America entered World War I in 1917, for many of the 4.8 million young men that were either drafted or volunteered, it was the first time they had ever left their hometowns. This gives you an idea of just how parochial America was a century ago. Could you even imagine that? The automobile had been invented a few decades earlier, but it wouldn’t really become widely available to the masses until after the war during the Roaring Twenties.

People stayed planted and close to their families back then. It’s no wonder communities were much stronger: the roots ran far deeper.

For centuries societies were patchwork quilts of thousands and thousands of tightly-knit rural communities, all ultimately united by an overarching national identity, a common religion and, as taboo as it is to say it, yes, race/ethnicity.

Our politicians constantly repeat the sacred dogma “Diversity Is Our Strength,” but the reality is that diverse nations do not and have not fared well historically. Below is a list of the 20 most diverse countries in the world.

Is there a single one that you’d like to live in?

Would you consider any of them “strong”?

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Is Diversity Uganda’s strength? What about Somalia? India?

The reality is that ethnic diversity often leads to ethnic strife and/or dissolution. Look at Yugoslavia, for example: it was highly ethnically diverse federation that ultimately split up into seven different countries in 1992. And the break-up was not peaceful.

How many of the countries on that list are currently involved in some sort of civil war? Quite a few. Somalia is in a civil war. Central African Republic is in a civil war. Nigeria’s Christians are constantly terrorized by the Islamic militants of Boko Haram (now known as the Islamic State of West Africa, in other words a branch of ISIS). There are currently at least six different internal wars going on in the Congo. Liberia has experienced years and years of civil war over the past several decades. And in South Africa, the white minority is now being systematically exterminated and uprooted.

In 2007, liberal Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam reluctantly admitted, after a long study, that yes, diversity does decrease social trust and weaken communities.

And as America has grown more and more diverse and “multicultural” since the 1965 immigration reform, social trust has plummeted:

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It used to be that nearly half of Americans thought “most people can be trusted,” today barely 30% do. I’m not blaming this all on immigration, but immigration certainly played a role.

And social trust is really the best way to measure and quantify the strength of our communities. The fact that social trust was much higher decades ago is how you know your parents and grandparents weren’t lying when they said you used to be able to trust people more back in the day, you used to be able to leave your door unlocked at night, etc.

If somebody ever demands some evidence when you claim American communities are crumbling, show them social trust levels.

Another major contributor to our sickness as a society was the Industrial Revolution, and the new world it created and thrust us into.

When this country was founded, over 90% of the citizens were farmers and therefore lived on farms. Your primary community was your family, and then the nearby town where you’d go to sell your harvest. Almost everyone was a farmer back at the founding:

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Even at the turn of the century, 4 in 10 Americans were farmers. 100 years ago, the urban-rural split was about 50-50, however in 1800 it was 94-6 rural to urban.

The simple, self-sufficient life of a farmer is honorable, wholesome and fulfilling.

When your parents got too old to work the land, you were the one who ran the family farm. And kids took care of their aging parents back then, too: it was totally common for three generations of family to be living together.

But now the family farm is largely a thing of the past, which is crazy because it used to be the norm for basically all of human history up until about 150-200 years ago.

This leads to the next point, industrialization. Why did people move away from the farms? Because of the Industrial Revolution. The factories (i.e. jobs) were in the cities, so people moved to the cities.

The problem with the Industrial Revolution is not simply that it created a bunch of grueling, often dangerous jobs, but also that it both caused income inequality to take off (one rich factory owner, hundreds of grunt workers being paid low wages) and created mostly meaningless jobs for the masses–meaningless in the sense that workers are ultimately producing something on behalf someone else.

Farmers have inherent meaning in their work: they work the land so that their families can eat and selling their surplus to other local families that need to eat. They’re creating something real and tangible. They’re producing and selling their own product, and this is deeply fulfilling work. When you’re a farmer, you’re an integral part of your small community. Your work is important.

But the Industrial Revolution changed all that. Instead, people went to work in factories where they are disconnected from the end-result of their labor. All they have to show for their work is a paycheck. They haven’t really created anything for themselves, because they have been turned into a commodity: labor.

Nowadays most people work service jobs instead of agricultural and industrial, but service jobs have the same problem as industrial jobs: you’re just a cog in the machine slaving away for a paycheck, not producing anything real or lasting.

We might have been able to better manage the transition from agrarian society to industrial/service if it had been a more gradual process, but the problem is it happened very rapidly. For thousands and thousands of years, human societies were predominantly agricultural, and then in about 100 years we transitioned to an industrial society. We are not wired for this type of urban, post-industrial society, and yet we have been thrust into it nonetheless because our corporate overlords demand higher quarterly profits.

If you’ve ever felt like modern, urban society doesn’t feel natural, it’s because it is not natural. We are only the second or third generation of humans ever to live like this. In many ways we’re like animals in captivity–taken from our natural habitat and thrust into a new, unnatural one in order to serve a master. That’s why people are miserable.

Whereas in an agricultural society, each man is the master of his own domain growing his own food, and selling product that he himself created, the Industrial Revolution turned the vast majority of people into mere wage-drones.

It is inherently more meaningful and fulfilling to produce something yourself and sell it to others who demand it–far more so than simply toiling in someone else’s factory.

The point is, it is in the very nature of our post-industrial economic system to create a bunch of ultimately meaningless jobs. It’s gone way beyond the point of serving needs and fulfilling needs–today it’s mostly about generating profit for profit’s sake.

It’s no wonder so many Americans feel so empty: the point of their lives is simply to generate more and more profit for some multinational corporation. It’s hard to find fulfillment in making someone else rich.

Think about it: from birth to age 18, you are property of the school system, and the whole point of the school system is to prepare you to go to college and get a Degree, which will qualify you for A Job working for some company. The degree will also put you into $100,000 or more of debt so as to ensure you have to go get a job. Then you have to work a job you probably don’t like until you’re at least 65, meaning for the first 65 years of your life you are basically property of someone else. By the time you’re 65, the system has no more use for you and will allow you to go enjoy your retirement in Boca Raton. That’s your reward for giving them the first 65 years of your life.

Most of us really are wage-drones who literally exist solely to increase some big corporation’s quarterly profits. It’s no wonder people are miserable and feel like life has no meaning.

***

I don’t know how we’re going to fix all these problems. They are all the results of long-running trends that cannot be reversed overnight, or even in a decade. It took over 50 years for the percentage of out-of-wedlock births to get to where it is today:

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This number is not going to fall dramatically overnight. I’d figure it would take at least another 50 years to cut the illegitimacy rate merely in half, and decades longer to get it back to where it was in the 1950s. It’s not even going down yet, meaning we haven’t even gotten to the point where the trend begins reversing.

It took over a century and a half for America to transition from a 94% rural population to a 75% urban population. The “diversification” (others would call it “ethnic fragmentation”) of America began in 1965 and remains ongoing. The decline of organized religion in America is also a half-century in the making:

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You cannot simply reverse these trends overnight.

But I do think we should start by going back to being farmers.

This country would be perfectly fine if like half the labor force quit their jobs to go become farmers–basically everyone but the doctors, nurses, police and firefighters, to be quite honest. It sounds outrageous to say, but when you think about the fact that in 1800 over 90% of Americans were farmers it really puts things into perspective. Most of the jobs that we consider vitally important today are only vitally important because we’re no longer an agrarian society.

Tens of millions of Americans’ jobs exist solely to bolster a big corporation’s quarterly profit margins, and millions more sit around pretending to work just to collect a paycheck. A 2016 study found that the average American only actually “works” three hours a day even though they’re at work for an average of 8.8 hours per day.

Don’t get me wrong, this would certainly hurt the big corporations’ bottom lines, but frankly who gives a fuck about them?

Screw GDP.

I know my answer isn’t the one people want to hear, but it’s the right one. In your heart you know it’s true: modern society has ruined us.

Don’t try to tell me that this:

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is better than this:

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Leave modern society behind.

Move out to the country, start a family, work the land, get in touch with nature, and find God.

It’s the only way.

***

Header photo credit: Return of Kings

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3 comments on “Why America is Falling Apart–and How to Turn it Around

  1. Excellent essay, dreadful and yet inspiring. Thanks

  2. Gothamite

    It’s funny. I was born and raised in New York City, and always considered myself a lover of cities. I got my degree in urban planning, and spent my career working for the New York City housing department. I always thought of cities as the engines of creativity, invention and progress. Something about cramming all those diverse minds together to create synergy, alchemy, etc. And yet now, late in life, I’ve come to appreciate the wisdom of rural America, a place where you needed to know how to make and fix things on your own, and where common sense prevailed over feel-good utopian blather. I have some hope that we may be swinging back to normalcy, with a solid push from our current president. Isn’t it interesting that a brash real estate developer from Queens is more respected in flyover country than in his own home turf? Anyway, I’m seeing some good signs from my Generation Z nephews, so all hope is not lost.

    • “Feel-good utopian blather.” Great line. Hit it right on the head. So much delusion from the supposedly sophisticated and enlightened cosmopolitan elite.

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