In a recent opinion column in The New York Times, David Brooks writes:
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the rate of family violence in this country has dropped by more than half since 1993. I’ve been trying to figure out why.
It’s an interesting topic, although I’m a little amused at one of his conclusions. Consider:
Third, many people in the younger generation, under age 30 or so, are reacting against the culture of divorce. They are trying to lead lives that are more stable than the ones their parents led. Post-boomers behave better than the baby boomers did.
At 32, I fall into the “or so” category of post-boomers, so I’ll respond with what “we” are actually doing. We are trying to lead more stable lives, but we’re not behaving better than our parents. Our world changed between our parents’ twenties and our twenties. Today’s generation of young adults understands that we have more opportunities and choices. Some are due to changing technology, some due to a more robust, international economy. And some are little more than a pursuit of self-gratification. That may come in the form of job-hopping until we find what we believe will be the perfect fit or traveling to engage the world in different adventures. We’re leading busy lives and we know that that’s not a stable life for a family, even if kids aren’t yet involved. Basically, we’re too busy, so we’re waiting longer to get married.
A fundamental shift in the culture occurred making this possible. Our parents dealt with a culture that frowned upon out-of-wedlock sex, so they felt inclined/conditioned to marry sooner so that they could enjoy (relatively) guilt-free sex. Today, young adults aren’t as constrained by the stigma of out-of-wedlock sex. Call the good or bad, but it’s the way it is. Essentially, we’re not rejecting the culture of divorce, just the culture of poorly-thought-out choices-with-long-term-consequences.
Also, thanks to advances in medical science, we understand that we’ll live productive, active lives longer than our parents could’ve imagined at our age. We know we’ll work later into our lives. We can have children later in our lives and still support them. There will be time for the traditional adult activities, so we set responsibility aside for a few extra years. We’re benefiting from the efforts of the past.
Whether that leads to the decline in family violence or not is questionable, but I’m sure it has as much impact as Mr. Brooks theorized with his original supposition. Yet, his conclusion is still interesting.
Obviously, we’re not living in a utopia, where all social problems have been solved. But these improvements across a whole range of behaviors are too significant to be dismissed. We in the media play up the negative, as we always do. The activist groups emphasize the work still to be done, because they want to keep people mobilized and financing their work.
But the good news is out there. You want to know what a society looks like when it is in the middle of moral self-repair? Look around.
I don’t know if we’re in the middle of moral self-repair, though, unless moral self-repair means setting aside conventional wisdom (imposition) about how everyone should live and adapting to some more-than-notional sense that individuals can choose how to spend their lives. And deal with the consequences. We’re still making mistakes, as our parents did, and we’re correcting our mistakes, like our parents did. We’re just making better choices through their experience, as our kids will likely do a generation from now.
Of course, if you don’t believe people can make smarter, more responsible choices through learning from the past, I guess moral self-repair could be the answer. America did vote for the Bible in 2004.