One of the most dramatic yet widely unrecognized changes in American society, over the decades since 1950, has been the diminution and disappearance of communities as Americans knew them in the pre-World War II years. The neighborhoods are still there, but the neighborliness – the sense of community — is largely gone. Consider what our beloved Colonel Bunny had to say on this subject not too long ago:
I remember living in a townhouse community and going to a nearby restaurant for dinner one Saturday. I looked around that crowded restaurant no more than a quarter mile from my home as the crow flies and it struck me that after eight years there I didn’t know one person in the restaurant. Same with any other establishment in that area. I had a pleasant relationship with one next door neighbor and that was it.
Any other social contact I had was at work and from what I developed elsewhere with considerable effort, invariably requiring driving many miles to enjoy. Without such effort it’s easy to live a grey life. I met a Scots fellow in London back in 1962 and he told me he’d lived in London for 25 years but had not one friend.
The Colonel was focused on the anomie that characterizes high-density environments: e.g., cities. Yet most American suburbs are no better off. It takes more effort, more consistently applied, to form a true community with one’s suburban neighbors than most of us are either willing or able to exert.
The suburbs, you see, are where people are likely to live for easiest access to the “urbs,” but at a distance from urban crowding, costs, and pathologies. Suburbanites tend to sleep in the suburbs but live, for certain values of that word, in the nearby cities where they go to work.
Of course, there are “inner” and “outer” suburbs. Things should be a bit better in the “outer” ones, as the residents there are much less likely to focus their lives on workplaces in the city. Yet they’re hardly any better, as regards forming and maintaining vital, functioning communities, than the “inner” suburbs and the cities themselves. Why?
There are several reasons for this, but the one that’s on my mind at the moment is – drum roll, please – the division of labor within the American family and how it’s changed over my lifetime.
The pre-War family divided up the “chores” in a fairly uniform fashion: breadwinner, homemaker, minor children. One income carried the family. That left one adult, usually the wife, to care for the homestead and to cultivate and maintain neighborhood relationships. Doing so was a part of her responsibilities that few American wives shirked. Indeed, most wives enjoyed the duty.
Wives welcomed new neighbors, and introduced them to neighborhood society.
Wives were central to neighborhood charities and civic undertakings;
Wives were the planners and organizers of special social events.
Wives were the backbone of the neighborhood churches and synagogues.
And the “wife circuit” was where to go for the dirt on neighborhood shenanigans.
But the Missus doesn’t do much of that any more. She’s too busy earning money.
According to the last set of figures I remember seeing, more than 70% of American wives work outside the home at a full-time job, or an equivalent combination of part-time jobs. Why? Does she genuinely prefer to spend her days working for wages rather than taking care of her home and children and maintaining the family’s voice and participation in the community?
Mrs. America of this Year of Our Lord 2021 couldn’t tell you. She’s never known things to be other than the way they are today. Her family needs the money she earns:
- To pay a once-weekly cleaning lady, so she can go out and earn;
- To pay for day-care for the youngest children, so she can go out and earn;
- To pay for her wardrobe, her vehicle, her gas and insurance, so she can go out and earn;
- To pay for all the luxuries and gadgets the kids simply must have;
- To pay the property taxes that allow the family to live in a “good school district;”
- To pay the restaurant, television, therapists, and liquor bills: necessary supports of her frantic life.
It doesn’t sound like a positive-return strategy, but most American wives feel they have little choice in the matter: We need the money. But among the costs of that money is the loss of the time that would otherwise have gone into the neighborhood community.
Given contemporary social conditions, I wouldn’t want to be the one to say to Mrs. America, “Stay home! Spend less! Enjoy being a mother, homemaker, and pillar of the community!” Even if it would be far less stressful, possibly to the substantial improvement of her life expectancy and that of her marriage, Mrs. America is overwhelmingly more likely to react to such counsel with hostility than with sober consideration of the alternatives. Many different sources of influence have converged upon her to beat into her head the unexamined conviction that the way things are is the way they must be.
Unexamined convictions are the hardest to undo. Even if we make the time to dredge them up and ask ourselves “why did I ever buy into this?” the sense that we’re thinking of tinkering with something fundamental, something whose alteration would cause an upheaval in the way we live, is a powerful deterrent to change. Compared to the toll the working-wife modus vivendi takes on a woman, perhaps the loss of community feeling isn’t that significant after all.
There is no Last Graf. The problem is stiff. Some problems are beyond even the powers of a Certified Galactic Intellect. Yet millions of women and their families would benefit from a solution. So would tens of thousands of American neighborhoods whose residents are virtual strangers to one another, almost as much as if they were all locked into their homes and unable to interact with the larger world except over the Internet…which, come to the think of it, is pretty damned close to the situation before us.
Have a nice day.
“… I wouldn’t want to be the one to say to Mrs. America, “Stay home! Spend less! Enjoy being a mother, homemaker, and pillar of the community!””
I’ve routinely said that at work to married and unmarried young women, alike. They sputter and cough if they suspect I’m right. They get belligerent if they’ve taken the blue pill.
The only reason I’ve not been fired for behavior such as this is, at all my DayJobs, I quickly establish a reputation as an eccentric if not crazy old man. But sooner or later, HR will catch up to me.
The world of “They Live!” seems remarkably prescient sometimes. “CONSUME. OBEY. BUY. CONFORM. WATCH TV. NO INDEPENDENT THOUGHT. SUBMIT. DO NOT QUESTION AUTHORITY. STAY ASLEEP. MONEY IS YOUR GOD.”
Each person/family must decide for themselves. Way back in the early 90s I was confronted at work by a vapid Feminazi and accused of “making” my wife stay home with the kids. Little did she know that my wife’s lifelong dream was to be a stay-at-home mom with our two daughters. My wife loved little kids and was happy as a clam in her role. Meanwhile, MS. Feminazi’s only son spent 10 years in prison. I understand MS FN is now divorced. My wife and I will celebrate 41 years together this July. Life is funny. My wife and I each got our dream. Maybe MS FN got hers too. Somehow I doubt it.
I can only change the world by example and by living the best possible life I can. The rest are on their own. No one is coming to save them or me.
One of my favorite statistics is roughly to the effect that around 1990 the average family of four spent some 24% of the family income on income and employment taxes. In 1948, they spent 2% on such taxes.
I can no longer provide a source for this. Perhaps it was Rush. I just can’t recall. But from this I think we see that women have been basically driven into the workplace simply to pay the increased taxes and on top of that the family must absorb the expenses associated with having to leave the kids during the day.
I suppose feminists will say the migration to the workplace was motivated by women’s urge for equality and “empowerment” but I prefer to think that some distant, ambitious, reckless politicians cranked up the spending machine for purposes that benefited working people not at all. Strangers turned lives upside down for social engineering and wars and here we are even more deeply in trouble with simple debt service demanding more and more and less and less going to productive enterprise.
“We” proved to be too clever by half. The whole edifice is rotten and doomed to imminent collapse.
Please forgive me if I’ve said this before…
When I grew up everyone on the street knew everyone and had everyone else’s phone numbers. I played with the neighborhood kids. If I did something wrong my parents knew about it, often before I got home. We had an annual block party with people bringing food out and everyone circulating around to sample, eat, and chat.
Not any more. That kind of community cohesiveness is gone. It’s only now that our kids are old enough that we’re getting to know the neighbors that have kids too.
I remember our first year in our house – I made Irish Cream Cheesecakes for everyone on our street for Christmas. The next year, smallish gift baskets with various treats. IIRC only one family reciprocated… once.