If humans are by nature social animals, then 21st-century patterns of work and life are fundamentally mismatched to our nature and needs. Polls, surveys, and bloodless data are not necessary to tell us what we feel in our bones, even if we can’t get it to reach the tips of our tongues. But sometimes numbers can help us adumbrate the intangibles.
In May, the Survey Center on American Life reported some figures on the antisocial nature of the times. Researchers found “Americans are marrying later than ever and are more geographically mobile than in the past—two trends that are strongly associated with increasing rates of self-reported social isolation and feelings of loneliness.” We are more mobile, more technologically connected, and yet more atomized than ever. Cars, trains, and planes have done as much to tear us apart as they have to bring us together.
The Survey Center also found “Americans are working longer hours and traveling more for work, which may come at the cost of maintaining and developing friendships.” We are now more likely to make friends at work than at school, in our communities, at our places of worship, or even through our existing friend networks. Moreover, the number of American men who say they have “no close friends” has quintupled over the last 30 years.
One glimmer of good news is that, compared to previous generations, parents are spending twice as much time with their children. It’s likely the pandemic contributed to this trend—one that aligns with the aspirations of everyday people. Not that our leaders have noticed.
“1.5 million U.S. mothers have fallen out of the workforce, and many are staying home to take care of their children because schools have not re-opened,” the official GOP account tweeted on May 9. “Biden is proving to be a detriment to getting mothers back to work.” The GOP rails against schools as indoctrination centers or hubs of critical race theory—and then insists we thrust our children back into the fray as rapidly as possible so that mothers can return to their sacred cubicles. But what if they would rather spend time with their children than get back to work?
In February, American Compass found lower-, working-, and middle-class adults are most likely to choose a full-time worker and a stay-at-home parent as their ideal family structure. Only upper-class adults prefer both parents to work full-time and to rely on paid childcare.
Animus for the traditional family is the ideology of a ruling class that has deliberately divorced itself from the sentiments and opinions of most Americans. Moreover, the upper class is more likely than the rest of us to view friendships in a purely transactional way.
The hallmark of the wealthy, writes author and investor Thomas C. Corley, is “their ability to somehow break free of the human tendency to unconsciously forge relationships with others.” The rest of us form friendships based on similar habits, similar worldviews, similar work ethics, and other shared traits—the things that create the texture of life. But the wealthy, Corley found, form associations based on a “conscious effort to only forge relationships with individuals they aspired to be: other rich and successful people.” That translates into a society and economic system defined by a transactional, mobile, rootless ethos.
Further, the material status of the upper class effectively insulates it from the consequences of the social deterioration it promotes. The wealthy pay lip service to libertinism, yet they marry and set up their lives with great care and precision—in other words, the many suffer for the fads and whims of the few.
Under the psychosocial ethos of the prevailing economic system, children are an impediment to productivity, a burden to be offloaded. Parenting is reduced to a hobby, no different from one’s culinary interests. Indeed, parenting is made “interesting” only through the opportunity to assign one’s children the latest social pathologies—”trans kids” become accessories and signifiers of status.
While it is true that the modern state’s ability to effectively replace one parent—usually the man—has wounded the family, not enough is said about the fact that rootlessness is the feature, not a bug, of the prevailing economic system. Most Americans, of course, don’t agree with this push toward rootlessness, resist however they can, but yet sense the coercion. The whole mode of managerialism bears down on Americans, keeping them in economic, political, and social subjection—automatically and impersonally forcing parents apart from children and erecting barriers to the bonds of close friendship outside the workplace. These are conditions that reduce people from flesh and blood citizens to manageable and interchangeable widgets.
Terrible as these things are, the reaction to them also suggests a broad desire among the public for change. The party and movement that could finally formulate a platform enabling people to raise children and put down roots where they live would dominate elections and change the country for the better.