Hugh interviewed the author, and I have mentioned the book several times, “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis.” Then, just this morning, this headline appeared in the Telegraph, “Social mobility has come to a halt.” The book discusses class differentiation in America and the article discusses how Cameron will govern Britain with his new majority. Both are from the left and when mulling them in my mind something extraordinary struck me.
Being from the left, both offer typical lefty solutions that have failed, but both are very correct that the middle class is disappearing and social mobility is on the decline. When I first encountered the Putnam book, I wrote about moral relativism and its effects. But the starkness of the Telegraph headline brought something else into focus. When you focus almost exclusively, as the left does, on demographics and presume, as the left does, that demographics are destiny then in fact you end up pretty much right where we are.
Increasingly demographics are destiny. Born poor and out-of-wedlock and the chances are enormous you will stay poor. That is in no small part because our policy focuses on the demographics involved instead of the path to upward mobility. My late father, the accountant and lawyer, used to always tell me, “You get what you measure.” Well, we collect massive amounts of demographic data, so we get a society largely defined by its demographics.
And here again, the value of religion becomes visible. Demographics is part of the attempt to use the scientific method to model human behavior. The scientific method is about measuring and modeling repeatable, physical phenomena. It is very good at such things. But human behavior is not always repeatable, and religion teaches us that human behavior has other than physical components. As such, demographics may be a good tool for describing behavior that has occurred, but it is not a basis for forming a model about what behavior will occur.
Religion allows us to understand the limitations of our demographic tools. When we understand the limitations they become useful. When we consider them the entire extent of knowledge, then we get ourselves in holes like the one we currently find ourselves in.
Maybe it is time to remember the first rule of holes.