By Mencken’s Ghost
Jan. 4, 2013
Over the holidays I got a call from the elderly woman who lives in a tiny bungalow next door to my tiny boyhood home in a tiny suburb of St. Louis. She was a neighbor to my parents for 60 years and stays in touch with me, and I visit her whenever I get back to my hometown.
In addition to our periodic conversations about family, she updated me on the changes in the former working-class community since it has become a terminus for a light-rail line and a haven for white-collar professionals, many of them single. Catering to the insatiable demand of the new inhabitants for expensive city services, the town had bought a former Catholic high school down the street and converted it to a community center.
“We now have a community center but no community,” she sagely said, showing more wisdom as a high school graduate than what emanates from college campuses or from community organizers with Harvard law degrees.
Like much of America, the town has become a Potemkin village of facades of community and hollow rhetoric about community. Gone is the real community of shared values, shared experiences, and shared support through churches and mutual aid organizations, similar to what Tocqueville had described and loved about America.
A thirty-something single guy with a sporty car now lives in my boyhood home. The extent of his neighborliness is a hello. No sitting on the porch conversing with my former neighbor. No offer to shovel snow from her driveway and walks. No interest in her well-being or in her kids, grandkids and great-grandkids. But he probably has a “Coexist” bumper sticker on his car.
There is an inverse relationship between blabber about community in America and real community. The more of the former, the less of the latter. Even companies that hawk crap on TV run syrupy commercials about “giving back to the community,” as if they are guilty of stealing something from the community.
At least when John D. Rockefeller made kerosene affordable to the masses and improved their lives tremendously, he didn’t pretend that he was doing it for some reason other than making a lot of money.
The worst of the nauseating genre are the propagandist commercials run during televised golf tournaments about the PGA’s First Tee program, which is touted as a program to teach disadvantaged youth important values and lessons about life through golf. The real intent of the ridiculous notion is to reverse the declining interest in golf among young people, due to the high cost of green fees and the slow pace of the game. The golf industry is trying to solve the financial problem of an oversupply of golf courses, resulting from an orgy of overbuilding during the country’s orgy of easy credit.
Nowhere is the blabber about community more sickening and pervasive than college campuses. And nowhere is there such a lack of a real community.
The word “community” is just as pervasive on college campuses as the word “sustainability.” But it has a different meaning than what it used to have. It is now synonymous with “communitarianism,” which is just a different word for “collectivism.”
There is no subtlety about campus indoctrination. It’s just as blatant and forthright as when the Nazis and Soviets gave their propaganda ministries the accurate name of “Propaganda Ministry.” Yet most parents are blind to it.
Dorms are organized into “communities of interest,” all of which are “communities" of the leftist persuasion. The word “community” is plastered around campus and repeated like a mantra in classes and organized extracurricular activities: “Community, community, community,” the obedient cadres are trained to say.
The irony is lost on the cadres, er, students, that universities are one of the least community-minded institutions on the planet. Professors who preach community and social justice and fairness stab each other in the back over government grants, academic status, and the race to be published. Teamwork is virtually nil.
Professors join their grubby hands with the grubby hands of college administrators to shift much of their classroom work to low-paid graduate assistants and to rip off students by encouraging them to go into debt to pay ever-increasing college expenses. Unwilling to upend their cushy lifestyles, they clamor for bigger government and more taxpayer subsidies instead of taking the obvious steps to make college more efficient, productive and affordable, starting with doing away with tenure.
Universities are a textbook example of how the bad of communitarianism drives out the good of real community. But you won’t find that textbook in the campus bookstore.
Young people in the 24-35 age range who have been steeped in faux community have the lowest rate of marriage and the lowest birth rate of any generation. At the risk of sounding like a right-wing, born-again, evangelical ideologue, the problem with this trend is that marriage and children tend to connect people to the larger community, in addition to requiring personal commitment, sacrifice and selflessness.
Non-married voters are one of the fastest growing, if not the fastest growing, voting blocs. They voted 62 to 35 for Obama in the last election.
Why should childless singles care about the estate tax when they won’t have any children to bequeath their estate? And why should they care that under the fiscal cliff agreement, so-called “rich” married couples will be penalized to a much greater extent than “rich” singles?
Singles don’t realize, however, that they are committing economic suicide. United States birth rates fell to a record low in 2011, even falling by 23% for Mexican immigrants. The overall birth rate is now teetering on the edge of the replacement rate required for the population to remain stable and not fall, as it is falling in Japan and several European countries. Economic stagnation will be one result. Another will be fewer and fewer people to support the bigger and bigger government brought about by communitarian ideals.
To paraphrase my former neighbor, a nation with a lot of communitarianism is a nation without much community . . . or much common sense or prosperity.
Mencken’s Ghost is the nom de plume of an Arizona writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.