Friday, February 24, 2012

The Materialist Fallacy

David Brooks with some real insights about Charles Murray's book and the important issues it raises:

Over the past 25 years, though, a new body of research has emerged, which should lead to new theories. This research tends to support a few common themes. First, no matter how social disorganization got started, once it starts, it takes on a momentum of its own. People who grow up in disrupted communities are more likely to lead disrupted lives as adults, magnifying disorder from one generation to the next.

Second, it's not true that people in disorganized neighborhoods have bad values. Their goals are not different from everybody else's. It's that they lack the social capital to enact those values.

Third, while individuals are to be held responsible for their behavior, social context is more powerful than we thought. If any of us grew up in a neighborhood where a third of the men dropped out of school, we'd be much worse off, too.

The recent research details how disruption breeds disruption. This research includes the thousands of studies on attachment theory, which show that children who can't form secure attachments by 18 months face a much worse set of chances for the rest of their lives because they find it harder to build stable relationships.

It includes the diverse work on self-control by Walter Mischel, Angela Duckworth, Roy Baumeister and others, which shows, among other things, that people raised in disrupted circumstances find it harder to control their impulses throughout their lives.

It includes the work of Annette Lareau, whose classic book, "Unequal Childhoods," was just updated last year. She shows that different social classes have radically different child-rearing techniques, producing different outcomes.

Over the past two weeks, Charles Murray's book, "Coming Apart," has restarted the social disruption debate. But, judging by the firestorm, you would have no idea that the sociological and psychological research of the past 25 years even existed.

Murray neglects this research in his book. Meanwhile, his left-wing critics in the blogosphere have reverted to crude 1970s economic determinism: It's all the fault of lost jobs. People who talk about behavior are blaming the victim. Anybody who talks about social norms is really saying that the poor are lazy.


February 13, 2012

The Materialist Fallacy


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