Bowling Alone: How Washington Has Helped Destroy American Civil Society and Family Life

Church attendance in the United States is at an all-time low, according to a Gallup poll released in April 2019. This decline has not been a steady one. Indeed, over the last 20 years, church attendance has fallen by 20 percent. This might not sound like cause for concern off the bat. And if you’re not a person of faith, you might rightly wonder why you would care about such a thing.

Church attendance is simply a measure of something deeper: social cohesion. It’s worth noting that the religions with the highest rate of attendance according to Pew Forum have almost notoriously high levels of social cohesion: Latter-Day Saints, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Evangelical Protestants, and historically black churches top the list.

There’s also the question of religious donations. Religious giving has declined by 50 percent since 1990, according to a 2016 article in the New York Times. This means people who previously used religious services to make ends meet now either have to go without or receive funding from the government. This, in turn, strengthens the central power of the state.

It is our position that civil society – those elements of society which exist independently of big government and big business – are essential to a functioning and free society. What’s more, these institutions are in rapid decline in the United States, and have been for over 50 years.

Such a breakdown is a prelude to tyranny, and has been facilitated in part (either wittingly or unwittingly) by government policies favoring deindustrialization, financialization and centralization of the economy as well as the welfare state. The historical roots of this breakdown are explored below, along with what concerned citizens can do to mitigate its impact on their loved ones.

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Find Community, Give, Receive, Repeat

Last night at a beer garden here in Atlanta, I got to see what a healthy modern tribe could look like.

I was meeting with dozens of new and old participants, alumni, and team members from Praxis, the startup apprenticeship program that helped launch my career. If it sounds like a staid old business conference, it wasn’t.

The atmosphere most closely resembled a family reunion more than anything. People were snapping photos and perching on picnic tables, and everyone felt free to talk to everyone else. Shared values and mission brought together people of different genders, ethnic backgrounds, places, ages, religions, and more.

Because of all the differences we brought to the gathering, there was this beautiful cycle of exchange at play – particularly between veterans and beginners. I received affirmation and welcome from mentors and role models. They received thanks and praise from me. I gave affirmation and welcome to younger, newer members of the community. They in turn honored me for my experience.

Everyone had a role to play in the cycle of exchange that comes with a healthy community – and everyone walked away with something. Communities like last night’s little ephemeral gathering provide opportunities to work, explore, play, support others, and receive support and encouragement ourselves. For me (and I suppose for many people), it felt good to play our roles well within that.

The giving and receiving of a healthy community (reciprocal respect and affirmation) is just *right*, and last night’s event was a small glimpse of what life can be like inside that flow.

What if that giving and receiving wasn’t an exception?

What if we engaged ourselves meaningfully as members of as many communities as possible? Or as meaningfully as possible in single communities?

Obviously adding value and receiving value from community isn’t something that can be done haphazardly. But given that stable, geographically-fixed tribes aren’t a thing anymore, we are going to have to work harder to replicate the feelings of closeness and reciprocal respect and love that we need.

Fortunately, I’m lucky enough to get community (and especially that reciprocal respect-affirmation cycle) in jiu jitsu classes, at church, at work, in my small group, and with my accountability partners. But even these small pockets of integrated community aren’t enough. I want to go deeper into relationship there, and I want to cultivate more areas where I can find reciprocal respect and affirmation.

I’m not one to harp on how we *need* other people (we do to some extent, just like we need independence). But community – and giving and receiving inside community – is not so hard to find and not so hard to recognize as one of life’s great gifts. Let’s make it the rule, not the exception.

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Schools or Bars?

Someone was showing me a satellite photo of a place where I used to live. A place where I honed a lot of my outdoor skills. Now the entire area behind my former house, which used to be wooded, has been replaced by a gigantic high school. Yes, I get that nothing stays the same. But there are good changes and bad changes. This is a bad one.

I didn’t share the person’s enthusiasm for such “progress”– but as I’ve said before, almost my entire family is involved in government schooling in some way and they feel it’s just peachy-keen. They confuse schooling for education.

I grumbled that this was about the worst thing they could have put there. She said, “It’s better than a bar“. Interesting example.

Before I could stop myself, a slight scoff escaped my lips. But I shut up before turning it into a fight. I’ve saved the fight for here.

She prefers a kinderprison because her religious beliefs tell her that alcohol is the worst thing ever. It might even lead to dancing or sex. She’s ignorant of the realities, preferring her insulated prejudices. If it’s something other than attending church, it’s sinful (I exaggerate only slightly). Never mind that government schools (in many places) are a prime factor in getting young people to reject religions other than Statism. She ignores that reality, too. She wants both of her religions at the same time.

Yes, too much alcohol can be bad. It can cause archation and other poor choices. It can ruin your health or kill you, but it’s not the only thing which can.

I’ve spent some of the best times of my life in bars, drinking Dr Pepper and singing karaoke. I avoided fights. I’ve enjoyed some nice dances. And yes, I’ve found some sexual partners, too. Only one of those was a real mistake. That’s a better track record than my experience at school.

But, by even her own professed (though unexamined) standards, a school is no better.

The inmates in kinderprison find sex partners. They have dances. They help each other obtain alcohol and other mind-altering substances. They get into fights, and they engage in (or suffer) bullying– an activity almost exclusive to schools. They engage in almost all the same activities a bar would offer, plus some bad activities you won’t find at a bar.

But what about the institutions themselves?

No one is forced to go to a bar.

Refuse to attend a school and you or your parents may end up in jail (or worse).

No one is forced to fund a bar against their own free will, even if they dislike bars as much as she does.

No matter how much you hate government schools, you are forced to help fund them. Even if you have no kids attending them. Even if you choose (and pay for) alternatives; you’ll just be forced to pay twice. If you refuse to comply you will be murdered.

If you choose to go to a bar you won’t be forced to drink. You won’t be forced to dance, sing, or go home with a stranger. You can almost always avoid any fight that comes your way… if you choose to do so.

If you are forced to go to a school you will also be forced to ingest the government-supremacist propaganda. You WILL be subjected to brainwashing techniques to cause you to accept ordering your life to the ringing of a bell. Waiting for permission to use the restroom. Your time away from school will also be claimed as belonging to the school, through “homework” and other controls. You will be trained to believe answers come from “authority“, and compliance is the way to avoid punishment. You will be taught lies sold as facts. That’s mental abuse, and emotional abuse. You will be damaged in some way.

If you live next to a bar, you will possibly have drunk people crossing your lawn. They might pass out or puke in your grass. They might do property damage.

I live next to a kinderprison and I have kids crossing my yard every day; dropping litter, damaging plants and landscaping. I’ve had kids puke in my yard as they cross. They ignore my “No Trespassing sign”– someone actually destroyed a sapling right beside the sign a few weeks ago.

Opposing a school is seen as anti-social when the schools themselves are anti-social institutions.

No, a bar would be much better than a government school. In almost every way.

A bar is ethically superior to a school because bars are voluntary and schools are not. That’s the bottom line. Bars are voluntary; schools are murder.

Give me a bar over a school any day!

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Triple Standards: The Dollar, the Throne, and the Altar

The last chapter of Tyler’s Big Business is called “If Business Is So Good, Why Is It So Disliked?”  At risk of seeming narcissistic, this passage put a big grin on my face:

Perhaps in part because we cannot do without business, so many people hate or resent business, and they love to criticize it, mock it, and lower its status. Business just bugs them. After I explained the premise of this book to one of my colleagues, Bryan Caplan, he shrieked to me: “But, but . . . how can people be ungrateful toward corporations? Corporations give us everything! Corporations do everything for us!” Of course, he was joking, as he understood full well that people are often pretty critical of corporations. And they are critical precisely because corporations do so much for us. And do so much to us.

Does my colleague’s outburst remind you of anything? Well, immediately he followed up with this: “Hating corporations is like hating your parents.”

Hmm. Your parents too (usually) have done lots and lots for you, but—especially in America—large numbers of people are unhappy with how that all turned out, or at least some parts of it. For all of their gratefulness, they resent what their parents have done to them.

On reflection, though, my “Hating corporations is like hating your parents” quip misses a crucial point.  Namely: In the absence of extreme abuse or neglect, virtually every society condemns hating your parents!  When you retrospectively rate your parents, you’re supposed to forgive even serious character flaws and obvious cruelty with, “Well, mom did her best” or “Well, dad loved us in his way.”  When you rate a business, however, almost no one expects you to give it the benefit of the doubt.

You could object, “Well, we hold large impersonal organizations to higher standards than familiar individuals.”  But that’s utterly wrong.  Governments are large impersonal organizations, and people hold them to absurdly low standards.  They’re even willing to brush mass murder under the rug.  Churches, too, are large impersonal organizations, and people also hold them to shockingly low standards.  Many Catholics briefly punished their Church after massive sexual abuse scandals, but virtually none cried, “These child molesters can go to hell; I’m finding a new religion!”  Note, moreover, that government and organized religion aren’t two itsy-bitsy counter-examples.  They are by most measures the oldest and largest kinds of large impersonal organizations.

Tyler spends many pages developing a specific version of the “higher standards for large impersonal organizations” story:

[P]eople tend to anthropomorphize even when such attributions are inappropriate. Along these lines, we tend to think of corporations as being like people and we tend to judge them by the same standards that we use to judge people, whether we seek to do so consciously or not. To some extent we are bound to talk that way, but we need to understand that it can mislead us, and it is a kind of shorthand that has pitfalls and hazards if we take the metaphors too literally or allow them to drag around our emotions too much. It is simply very hard for most people to think about corporations without investing them with the personal attributes of human beings or at least the attributes of those small groups of social allies and enemies we evolved to obsess over.

Since the general story is utterly wrong, however, there’s no hope for Tyler’s specific version.  If he were right, people would also anthropomorphize governments and churches, leading to unfairly harsh judgment.  In fact, however, governments and churches enjoy overwhelming deference even when they’re engaged in vile crimes.  We damn the dollar, yet honor both throne and altar.

What’s really going on?  I’ve spent many years highlighting mankind’s anti-market bias: our irrational pessimism about the social benefits of markets.  I’ve even argued that this bias provides the common core of leftist ideology.  Scapegoating business and the rich comes naturally to psychologically normal humans – and big (≈ “rich”) business is one of the best scapegoats of all.  The only better scapegoat, really, is foreign big business – those beastly multinational corporations you keep hearing about.

Why do human beings have this corrupt emotional make-up?  I sincerely don’t know.  While I’ve heard Darwinian explanations, most seem like shaky just-so stories to me.  All I know is that human beings do have this corrupt emotional make-up.  And that’s why we I hope Big Business inspires a chorus of imitators – because our emotional corruption is not going to fix itself.

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You Have No Right to Your Culture

Most complaints about immigration are declarative: “Immigrants take our jobs.”  “Immigrants abuse the welfare state.”  “Immigrants won’t learn English.’  “Immigrants will vote for Sharia.”  One complaint, however, is usually phrased as a question: “But don’t people have a right to their culture?”  When people so inquire, their tone is usually conciliatory, as if to say, “Surely, even you will accept this.”  My considered judgment, however, is that this challenge is a true Trojan Horse.  No one, no one, has “a right to their culture.”

Why not?  Because culture is… other people!  Culture is who other people want to date and marry.  Culture is how other people raise their kids.  Culture is the movies other people want to see.  Culture is the hobbies other people value.  Culture is the sports other people play.  Culture is the food other people cook and eat.  Culture is the religion other people choose to practice.  To have a “right to your culture” is to have a right to rule all of these choices – and more. Though I dread hyperbole, the “right to your culture” is literally totalitarian, because you can’t ensure the preservation of your culture without totalitarian rule over the very fabric of life in your society.

Consider my parents.  They were both born in the 1930s.  During their 80+ years of life, American culture has mutated beyond recognition.  The world they remember is all but gone.  Just compare movies of the 1940s to movies today; they’re from two different planets.  Or consider the change in gender relations, the raising of children, religion, or diet.  Question: Do my parents have a right to get their culture back?  The only sensible answer is: Absolutely not.  They’re free to keep living the Old Ways, but have no right to make anyone else follow in their footsteps.  If younger cohorts make radically different choices – as they have – then my parents are obliged to allow their beloved culture to vanish.  Sure, they’re free to complain.  They’re free to try to persuade us that we’re making a terrible mistake.  But if they turn to the government for cultural regulation, they aren’t “defending their rights”; they’re violating the rights of others.

Isn’t there a fundamental difference between the evolution of a culture over time and the destruction of a culture via immigration?  That sounds plausible, until you actually look at the last hundred years of cultural history.  Question: Do you have more cultural ground in common with your grandparents – or with foreigners of your own generation?  As long as you have to think about your answer, you already accept that these two paths of culture change are at least comparably dramatic.

Of course, “You have no right to your culture” does not mean that you’re obliged to sit back and watch your culture slip away.  You have every right to compete in the cultural marketplace, to sell others on the value of your way of life.  And so does everyone else who keeps the peace.

Can we trust this cultural tournament to yield good cultural results?  Any student of history knows that it’s complicated.  As a fanboy of cosmopolitan Western culture, however, I have to declare the overall cultural track record of the last century to be relatively tremendous.  While our culture could be far better, smart money says that progress will continue.  I fear, however, that the doom-saying will persist no matter how glorious our global culture becomes.  They’re wrong, but they’re masters of marketing.

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“Intellectual”

“Intellectual” is not a dirty word. It disturbs me how often it is used as one.

On the other hand, many of those who are called “intellectuals”– particularly “public intellectuals”– are really just government extremists and elitists. They may have degrees and positions, but their position on issues is anti-intellectual. They follow the religion of statism and worship the god of government.

It is not rational to be a statist. It is vulgar to believe people should be governed by others, and to use politics as a tool for this purpose. Any illiterate punk might believe the same thing, but without claiming the “authority” to force everyone to go along.

They believe they know better how to run your life than you do. And they are willing to use government violence to prove it.

These people may be clever. They may be smart in some ways. But their ignorance and emotionalism overwhelm their intellect. They betray their own intellectualism with their belief system. They’ve decided which is more important to them, personally. And it’s a shame.

Think of all the good they could have otherwise done if they are really as “intellectual” as they are made out to be. The world is poorer for having lost their contributions. When you side with darkness and ignorance– with statism– your intellect, if any, becomes a net negative to society.

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