November 9, 2015

WHILE IT’S FUN TO SIT BACK AND WATCH THE  “REVOLT OF THE CODDLED” AS COLLEGE CAMPUSES SELF-DESTRUCT, it’s worth remembering who the real victims of the 1960s culture wars are, as City Journal founder Myron Magnet writes as he looks back at the magazine’s launch two decades ago:

You will find this hard to believe, but in 1994 I didn’t understand why underclass women were having so many out-of-wedlock children. After all, I reasoned, with my 1960s assumptions, doubtless everybody wants to have sex, but everybody also knows about cheap and universally available birth control. It was Kay S. Hymowitz who set me straight. Women, she explained politely but firmly, want to have babies. Accordingly, underclass girls, she argued from many interviews in a landmark City Journal article, have a different vision of life from that of middle-class girls. They haven’t been nurtured by diligent parents to develop the sophisticated cultural traits—orderliness, self-discipline, deferral of gratification, goal-oriented ambition, and so on—that prepare middle-class girls to go to college and professional school, defer childbearing, get married to Mr. Right, and become doctors or dealmakers.

Everything in underclass culture, where fathers are absent and marriage is dismissed—as useless as a bicycle to a fish—tells girls that sex before 14 is normal, and an out-of-wedlock baby at 16 is the mark of maturity. The grandmas in their thirties are as excited about the new baby as the teen moms, who imagine that finally someone will love them unconditionally and who revel in showing off their shiny new strollers and cute baby outfits. When the babies begin to toddle, their signs of independence and contrariety spark maternal disappointment. An all-too-common underclass cultural pattern has the oldest sibling left in charge of the younger ones when the grandmother won’t babysit, while the mother goes off on new adventures. As for careers or even work, most of Kay’s informants had only adolescent dreaminess, not plans.

Here, then, was striking confirmation of how the 1960s transformation of mainstream American culture had indeed produced seismic changes at the bottom of society, creating a self-subsisting underclass subculture with its own mores—its own life-script, in Kay’s apt phrase—which policymakers had to decode to understand underclass behavior, let alone change it. In years of wise, carefully observed, and irrepressibly witty articles on women, marriage, sex and sex roles, child rearing, and early education, Kay never lost sight of this central insight. And given the thinness of underclass culture, starting with the many fewer times that underclass mothers talk to their children than middle-class mothers do, with the result that their kids start school with much smaller vocabularies and fewer concepts than their middle-class counterparts—some teen moms themselves haven’t learned to do a budget or brush their teeth—it’s hard not to worry that even the best schools can’t fully make up the deficits in childhoods that are so culturally, intellectually, and often emotionally impoverished.

And that “life-script” isn’t exclusive to American inner-city ghettos; the above passage sounds very much like the conditions retired British prison psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple described in Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass.

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