Monday, January 09, 2006

It's the Culture, Stupid !

Warning: This is nerdy "compassionate conservative" stuff.

Former UWM prof Walter Farrell had an interesting column in the Journal Sentinel on Sunday.

He almost said something.

He acknowledges that we have spent millions on urban poverty in Milwaukee with little effect and recognizes the existence of an intractable underclass in which neither parents or their children are in a position to benefit from the usual roundup of policies (read: welfare, make work jobs and midnight basketball). Kids having kids begets more of the same with generations who are uneducated, unskilled and largely lacking in the attitudes and attributes that it takes to get over in today's world. He understands that these hard-core poor are in no position to take advantage of the family supporting jobs that the government is supposed to "create." He even seems to concede that we can't resurrect the inner city until we address the violence, calling for a greater police presence in the inner city.

But it seemed to me that, having moved the ball pretty near the red zone, he punts - ending with a bunch of jargon that might have come from the type of contentless educational administration classes that I guess he used to teach. We must facilitate, collaborate and be flexible. But to do what?

A new book by black scholar John McWhorter, Winning the Race:Beyond the Crisis in Black America argues that the key to combatting underclass poverty is to ... change the underclass. He makes a pretty effective case that a large part of the problem is a culture enmeshed in what he calls "therapuetic alienation" - a sort of wholesale rejection of middle class values that has been festering since the 1960s. He argues that this is not intrinsic to either poor folk or black people and is not a necessary by-product of discrimination. Blacks were poorer and discrimination was worse before the 1960s and yet we didn't see nearly as much urban disarray - fatherless kids, random violence, etc.

If McWhorter is right then any kind of policy that would address urban poverty has to be evaluated in light of whether it can help change this culture. I haven't finished the book and I'm not convinced he's entirely right, but he may be on to something.

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