Is American society coming apart? This is a question I have heard asked over and over again in recent years. On more than one occasion I've heard comparisons made to the moral decay and fall of the Roman Empire.
Frankly, I'm inclined to think most of us suffer from a parochialism of the present (Phrase stolen from George Will). Idealist and intellectuals are often inclined to see themselves as out on the bleeding edge of the next great leap in human existence. Traditionalists are often inclined to believe that the present is worst era yet in American history. For nearly all of us, only those events that have happened during our lifetime seem to have substance. Everything else seems to be a part of a murky distant past.
Parochialism of the present is an understandable human proclivity. However, when people start embracing utopian solutions to problems without having learned from those who have gone before them, or when others support draconian measures to prevent the collapse of society without placing present problems within the ebbs and flows of history, we tend to create greater problems than the ones we think we are addressing.
I've got a dozen posts on social indicators that I will post over the next two weeks or so. (This series is an update I've done each of the past two years in Nov-Dec, but I'm running a little late this time around.) I'm going to look at some statistical indicators from demography, sociology, economics and other fields that social scientists look to as broad indicators of quality of life. Depending on the indicator, we will be looking at timeframes of 30-50 years to get a sense about what trajectory things are on. I am sure you have heard the expression, “It’s easy to lie with statistics.” That's true. But it is even easier to lie without them! Quantified observations are a good place to start a conversation about social forces at work in the culture.
Is America in decline? Let’s take a look.