Peter Schmidt over at the Chronicle of Higher Ed has a new article that takes a long look at Charles Murray’s new book “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. Murray is one of the authors of the (in)famous book The Bell Curve, if you didn’t already know. Schmidt writes:
Mr. Murray’s newest book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 (Crown Forum), makes a pretense of making nice. It bills itself as an attempt to alleviate divisiveness in American society by calling attention to a growing cultural gap between the wealthy and the working class.
Focused on white people in order to set aside considerations of race and ethnicity, it discusses trends, like the growing geographic concentration of the rich and steadily declining churchgoing rates among the poor, that social scientists of all ideological leanings have documented for decades. It espouses the virtues of apple-pie values like commitment to work and family.
The thing about Murray, Schmidt argues, is that he is particularly prone to controversy, and this book is no exception. Ironically, as Schmidt points out, one of Murray’s underlying themes is the social fabric of society has broken down–his book is in part a call for a return to the days of mutual trust and togetherness. However, Schmidt writes, here is where the argument heads down a path that stirs up heated reactions and controversy:
In the midst of all of his talk about togetherness, he puts out there his belief that the economic problems of America’s working class are largely its own fault, stemming from factors like the presence of a lot of lazy men and morally loose women who have kids out of wedlock. Moreover, he argues, because of Americans’ growing tendency to pair up with the similarly educated, working-class children are increasingly genetically predisposed to be on the dim side.
Here is the link to Schmidt’s article again. Check it out. See what you think. Murray sells a lot of books, and has a certain amount of influence in the policy world…and he also treads into social science territory. His messages definitely get heard. These are absolutely the kinds of conversations that we, as anthropologists, can and should find a way to address.