Tagged: social theory

The Noble Gases of Social Theory

elem_inertgas1“Intellectually inert” is an insult that I reserve only for vast elaborations that present little in the way of new knowledge. I use it sparingly and with hesitation. Ross Douthat usually doesn’t rise to that level, though he does tend to be obsessed with vague theories about the breakdown of traditional (read “conservative”) societal mores and the consequences to modern America.

But his recent blog post “Social Liberalism as Class Warfare” is so numbing in his rhetorical elaborations that it was the only phrase that came to mind after slogging my way through it. So what’s the gist of the post?

  1. Maybe rich, smart folks pushed through divorce and abortion because they thought it made them freer.
  2. But poor, not-so-smart folks lacked sufficient self-control to use these tools wisely.
  3. Therefore, the rich, smart folks inadvertently made poor, not-so-smart folks engage in adverse behaviors that tore-up traditional families.
  4. And we get increased income and social inequality as a result.

An alternative argument might be:

  1. Folks kept getting smarter and better educated (everyone).
  2. They wanted to be free of old stuffy traditions.
  3. There were no good, new traditions that took their place, and insufficient touchstones of the “elite” values in the cultural ecosystems of the underclass.
  4. And we get increased income and social inequality as a result.

And here we get to the crux of my suggestion of inertness: it doesn’t matter whether the unintended consequences of iconoclasty differentially impact socioeconomic strata. What matters is what can actually be done about it that is voluntary rather than imposed. After all, that is what the meritocracy of educated folks do in Douthat’s own calculus of assortative mating. And it won’t be that Old Time Religion because of (1) and (2), above. The alternative is action to try to increase access to education, which will translate into access to those “elite” values, and into a revived family structure based on self-regulation without retreating into a tainted past.