A friend alerted me to a Wall Street Journal Opinion Journal column by Peggy Noonan, in which she reveals her impression that our society is fundamentally broken, a trolley off the tracks and hurtling toward an unknown destination, and her concern that few people are willing to think about the problems, much less take action. My friend added this: "No one wants to talk about the cracks in the bridge when you're walking over it." Naturally, I had to comment.

There are many reasons people won't talk about the cracks in the bridge, one of which is that our lives are too frantic. A deadly waterfall may be waiting for us downstream, but it takes all our energy and effort just to keep our boats upright in the rapids right now. Another is a shutdown from overstimulation. All news stories, from the tragic to the trivial, are presented by hyperventilating news anchors desperate to keep us from changing channels. Everything is of critical importance; every event is a crisis. And when everything is special, nothing is.

I used to be more negative about how much worse the world is than it was, until I realized I was cutting the feet out from under our children. This is their world, and they aren't negative about it; they think it's full of opportunity and promise. Realizing how bad things have become is a privilege and a sign of age.

Actually, I see lots of reason to hope, if, and it is a big if, we can hang on to our freedoms. We must allow nonconformity, permit people to take risks, and encourage innovative thinking. I am greatly encouraged by people I've seen who have said, "STOP!" to the world as it is, families who sacrifice much to gain more. Two parent, single income families. People who ride bikes and take public transportation by choice. Homeschoolers. Large families with small, homestead farms. Women who have rediscovered the joys of non-institutionalized childbirth. Men who turn down promotions to preserve family time. Families who dare turn off the television and eat dinner together. I speak only from my own experience—you can think of many more examples.

Of course you may say that Peggy Noonan is speaking of a larger arena, of presidents and world events, of large-scale cultural problems. And there's every possibility that her concerns may be the tsunami that sweeps away the families and the farms. But I believe that if we are to survive this crazy trolley ride, it won't be governments, schools, or megachurches that hold back disaster, but individuals and families taking a stand.

I would restate Neil Postman's excellent advice from The Disappearance of Childhood, given in response to the question, "Is the individual powerless to resist what is happening?"

The answer to this, in my opinion, is "No." But, as with all resistance, there is a price to pay. Specifically, resistance entails conceiving of parenting as an act of rebellion against American culture. For example, for parents merely to remain married is itself an act of disobedience and an insult to the spirit of a throwaway culture in which continuity has little value. It is also at least ninety percent un-American to remain in close proximity to one's extended family so that children can experience, daily, the meaning of kinship and the value of deference and responsibility to elders. Similarly, to insist that one's children learn the discipline of delayed gratification, or modestly in their sexuality, or self-restraint in manners, language, and style is to place oneself in opposition to almost every social trend. Even further, to ensure that one's children work hard at becoming literate is extraordinarily time-consuming and even expensive. But most rebellious of all is the attempt to control the media's access to one's children. There are, in fact, two ways to do this. The first is to limit the amount of exposure children have to media. The second is to monitor carefully what they are exposed to, and to provide them with a continuously running critique of the themes and values of the media's content. Both are very difficult to do and require a level of attention that most parents are not prepared to give to child-rearing.

None the less, there are parents who are committed to doing all of these things, who are in effect defying the directives of their culture. Such parents are not only helping their children to have a childhood but are, at the same time, creating a sort of intellectual elite. Certainly in the short run the children who grow up in such homes will, as adults, be much favored by business, the professions, and the media themselves. What can we say of the long run? Only this: Those parents who resist the spirit of the age will contribute to what might be called the Monastery Effect, for they will help to keep alive a humane tradition.
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, November 3, 2005 at 1:48 pm | Edit
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I just realized that the link to Peggy Noonan's column was broken. It should work now.

Posted by SursumCorda on Tuesday, November 08, 2005 at 3:42 pm
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