Marine Fresh Tropical Book Review

Charles Murray's book 'Coming Apart'

First I will put some text about the book from Wikipedia

Author Charles Murray

Published 2012 by Crown Forum
Pages 416
ISBN 0307453421

Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010 is a 2012 book by Charles Murray, a political scientist and W.H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, Murray describes what he sees as the economic divide and moral bifurcation of white Americans that has occurred since 1960. He focuses on white Americans in order to make it clear that the decline he describes was not being experienced solely by minorities, whom he brings into his argument in the last few chapters of the book. Murray describes several differences he sees forming between and causing two emerging classes—the New Upper Class and the New Lower class—among which are differences in or lack thereof in regards to religiosity, work ethic, industriousness, family, etc. Murray goes on to provide evidence that religiosity, work ethic, industriousness, family, etc., have either remained strong or have weakened minimally in the New Upper Class, whereas these same attributes have either weakened substantially or have become almost nonexistent in the New Lower Class. Much of his argument is centered on a notion of self-selective sorting that began in the 1960s and 1970s, when he argues that cognitive ability became the essential predictor of professional and financial success, and people overwhelmingly began marrying others in the same cognitive stratum and living in areas surrounded largely by others in that same stratum, leading to not only an exacerbation of existing economic divides, but an unprecedented socio cultural divide that had not existed before in America.

Cdm--the start of my review of the book.

The wikipedia entry does not convey the alarm and surprise that arose in my mind on reading this book. The data presented was totally opposite of what I would have believed. Note -- recently (2017 with the book 5 years old) there was an event at Middlebury College -- a Liberal arts college in Middlebury, Vermont -- where Murray was to talk about his book. Check out the link to what happened.

The Washington Post's article on the event at Middlebury College

Read the article or any of the many similar postings of the event -- apparently I was not the only one alarmed -- and it continues. Of course I am reacting to the data where these liberals are reacting to Murray's set of facts refuting the value of liberal ideas.
I have to wonder if the protesters had even read the book as I thought that the students of liberal colleges came off pretty well -- as part if an elite class of Americans. You have to read past reams of data and graphs to the end to find any really negative comments -- but clearly labeled as personal statements and prescriptions -- which bear on the amazing content of the facts he presented. As an example of free speech being in danger in modern America -- these facts and their reactions by liberals is instructive. I will follow Murray's procedure and hold my comments until after I present some of the facts.

Murray begins by presenting some background to his book -- specifically that it is an extension of his prior books -- especially the sections in those prior books that describe the change in the college and university student bodies from a set of students with a background of wealth and not an extraordinary level of intelligence. He makes the case that these colleges and universities have since the 1950s -- selected for the most intelligent students almost as a statement or purpose of the schools to have an elevated level of IQ -- to the point where the student bodies are now represented with highly intelligent students with just a few with wealth. He presents data on how prior to this odd sorting -- a wealthy neighborhood would consist of households mostly with one of the spouses in a household having a college degree having a spouse that has a lower level of education -- with that spouse as a kind of anchor to the values of common folks. He presents data on the relative values of compensation for a worker and the highest person at a company -- showing that the difference was much less in the past than in our present time.

He starts the book with a description of the time before the JFK assassination and after this data he presents a similar level of detail with contrasting perspectives of our present time.

He goes on to give data on the relative wealth and education levels of the enclaves of the wealthy in the past and in the present along with similar facts on the relative levels in the poorer neighborhoods. He is careful to give the sources of his facts and eventually develops a kind of model based on zip codes. He calls the enclaves of the wealthy and intelligent people as 'SuperZips' and shows his sources in the census data. He does not limit his data to wealth and IQ levels but develops a model for the morals and ethics of the two sets of enclaves -- based on questionnaires from 1960 through about 2009. I was struck by the thought that his title 'Coming Apart' should really have been relabelled as 'Sorting Apart'. It is an interesting thought that the price of homes and land -- much elevated in the desireable neighborhoods -- create a sorting of people to where only the highest wage earners can afford to live in the SuperZips -- and they have so much in common. As I stated earlier -- the values of industriousness and understanding the value of an education that is represented in such SuperZip enclaves is interesting information but not something to protest about -- especially from those students who are portrayed as mostly coming from those enclaves and/or certainly are destined to live there.

Where the 'coming apart' is related to the data is the fact that these new enclaves -- without at least a spouse coming from outside the enclave -- have sorted to where those people of the enclaves have little or no real contact with the 'common people' -- they are living in a bubble. In a section labelled 'how thick is your bubble' he has a set of questions to consider where each is about an aspect of life experienced by the 'common people' and you are asked to answer those questions yes or no. Personally, I could only answer 'no' to one or two of the questions -- kind of validating the fact that I do not live in a SuperZip. But since reading this book and seeing some of the panel discussion on YouTube where he discusses these questions -- I have made it a point to ask some of these gauging questions myself. An example of the questions is 'have you ever been on a factory floor'. Murray himself states he has only seen one -- once in his life when he was given a tour. He is of course an academic that has never had a job outside of the scholarship process -- unless you count his time in Asia where he went to Thailand as a member of the Peace Corps -- marrying one of the locals. The answer to my 'factory floor' question is usually a 'no' as even in the ZeroZip enclaves I inhabit -- the manufacturing jobs are absent and for the most part we all have some type of 'service' job.

The book is filled with charts and graphs. He creates a set of two representative neighborhoods -- one called Belmont representing the wealthy and educated enclaves and another called Fishtown representing the less wealthy and less educated enclaves. He makes the point that the morals and standards as well as the work ethics has diverged in comparisons of the two groups. Here is an example of the statistics on children of broken marriages living with a single parent for the period of 1960 through 2010.

murray children of broken marriagesmurray children in broken marriages
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As you can see in the chart -- in 1960 there was very little difference -- but look at the gap as time has progressed. The amazement I mentioned was for the gap developing on such a number of basic issues -- and in a lot of cases the group positions were unexpected. Perhaps I watch too much TV as the rich are usually portrayed in a negative light and for this particular chart I would have thought more of the wealthy families would be broken. In an odd sort of way it shows that the media influence has left out the real data on the wealthy and educated group. I tried out some of the issues on my wife and she picked the wrong group to be higher for many of the issues -- such as divorce, births out of wedlock, and others. Apparently the SuperZip people are more stable and make better life decisions -- don't allow the influence of news reporting on the spectacular failures obscure the overall picture.

Summary and conclusions

Charles Murray gives his reasons for the limiting of the data to white America but adds a section near the end which adds in the minority data and shows that there is little difference between races. Throughout the book he makes the case that the people who influence and control the media coverage live in the SuperZips. If I can blame some of the misconceptions I had about the real data -- I see a case of hypocrisy for the media influencers -- they are not preaching what they practice. The high levels of industriousness, efforts at getting an education, and the many moral and ethical choices in most cases -- are shown to be practiced in the SuperZips but not recommended to the lower class -- common people. It is as if there is a set of rules followed unconsciously when making recommendations on behavior -- they know the right way to act as they follow this behavior set -- but they tell the underclass that whatever they wish to do is all right.

I was reminded of a book I read a year ago by Karl Popper -- The Open Society. In the first half of the book he spends hundreds of pages describing the system advocated by Plato and followed by most of the governments in history. He gave a name to the system -- historicism (if you never heard the name it is understandable since few people in power agreed with his assessment). Historicism was the system practiced by most societies in history with an invading group of warriors capturing a territory and becoming the aristocracy or ruling class. Plato's Republic was his plan for a utopian society -- modeled on the actual methods used in Sparta -- not as you might have expected it to be modeled on -- some type of Athenian democracy. This type of aristocratic government appears to automatically develop and Popper describes some of the the rules that allow it to maintain its ascendency. One rule is to not allow entrance into the ruling class -- thus the name for his book 'The Open Society' which he advocates against the normal system of historicism. The British system of classes is an example of historicism -- there is almost no way to enter the upper class -- except by marrying your daughter into the upper class as was the case for Churchill -- his mother was an American heiress whose children became upper class. In America the system is determined by wealth as anyone can move into a SuperZip -- if he can afford the real estate prices.

Another of Popper's rules for the ruling class is harder to describe but it amounts to a ban on dissention among the ruling class. Oddly enough this appears to be human nature as it kind of explains the reactions to issues described by Murray in his books -- as exemplified by the protests against his appearances on liberal college campuses. There does seem to be some odd circling of the wagons to defend the ideas of liberalism against any discussion of liberalism's flaws. Charles Murray has some ideas about how the 'Coming Apart' might be lessened in the future -- but his prescriptions left me disappointed. There is a video of one of his panel discussions of his book on YouTube -- over an hour long but perhaps worth watching if you want to see him in action -- or inaction. The right frame of the YouTube web page is filled with other lectures and appearances -- even one with his questionnaire.

youtube video on charles murray "Charles Murray -- The Bell Curve Revisited"

The Bell Curve Revisited

The first 20 minutes has him explaining his experience with a previous book 'The Bell Curve' and the reaction to that book. It also used mostly data on white Americans but apparently only the section at the end on minorities was keyed on by liberals. He said some schools created a class all about the data in his book -- but having to read his book was not a requirement for the class. I was disappointed in his question and answer period at the end when he laughed when someone asked him for his recommendations to fix the problems. He stated that he was a Libertarian and that libertarians did not have solutions -- a cop out.

In the book he states his prognosis:

"If the case I have just made for a hollow elite is completely correct, all is lost. Think ahead to the situation in, say, 2020, assuming that the trends we have examined continue. The United States is stuck with a large and growing lower class that is able to care for itself only sporadically and inconsistently. Its concentration in Fishtown puts more and more pressure on the remaining Fishtown families who are trying to hold the line.
The new upper class has continued to prosper as the dollar value of the talents they bring to the economy has continued to grow. With increased wealth, the prices that members of the new upper class are willing to pay for a home in the right kind of place have risen even more, less affluent residents who still provided some diversity within the SuperZips in 2010 have moved out, and the uniformity of the very affluent, very highly educated populations with the SuperZips has increased."

Murray goes on to hope for a 'civic great awakening' -- precipitated by :
1. Watching the European Model Implode (he believes the liberal elite are attracted to this model). He believes that the EU debt is higher than that of the US and should crash sooner and give us an object lesson.
2. Watching the Intellectual Foundations of the Welfare State Implode.
3. The Increasing Obviousness of an Alternative.
4. The Resilience of American Ideals (he hopes for a 'Great Awakening'.

cdm--of the options -- the EU implosion seems the most likely but as I mentioned about the odd circling of the wagons to protect the utopian ideals -- the implosion would have to move the minds of the liberal elite to see the problems in the welfare state. That seems unlikely given the basic human nature of people. My take on libertarians like Murray is that they see the actual nuts and bolts of freedom and free enterprise but somehow don't see the basic intransigence of human nature. I have had several discussions with libertarians and a typical item on their wish list is a return to the gold standard. I have asked for any book, website, info available on how such a thing could actually be accomplished -- they never have a source with a method. They see what they want to see and somehow miss the fact that such a thing is -- an impossible task -- now that all of the fiat money is in circulation. Is there enough gold to swap out all of that paper money? I doubt it. The improper linkage of cause and effect and this inability to see which tasks are impossible are symptoms of how our education -- not just by our educational system -- but also by our media representatives -- is lacking. Murray makes a point earlier in the book about how in the past -- prior to 1930 or so -- all teaching in the US was from the McGuffey readers.

mcguffey readermurray children in broken marriages
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It made me think of the books I have read on classical greece and how every person had heard the oral poetry of the Iliad and Odyssey and this common source of education had much of the values of the Greeks apparently memorized -- but more importantly the people were more or less on the same page -- knowing their common heritage and values. How could enough of the American people -- to say nothing of a majority of the SuperZip people be influenced to change their minds. Possibly this is another impossible task. At the very end of the book he states : "What it comes down to is that America's new upper class must once again fall in love with what makes America different." That seems unlikely. If you are old like me -- you can remember when sports teams had players for their entire careers -- now we have players that change teams and demand raises almost every year. We have somehow become a nation of 'free agents'.

I used to believe that the internet had a potential solution for spreading knowledge but I find that as time passes -- much of the content is behind firewalls that are penetrated only by spending money. If you have read my essays -- my AM-1 -- is the first of them and posits the statement that 'everyone has to make a living' and how that is accomplished affects everything. You used to be able to find out at least someone's phone number and address on the net -- now you will find that such info is available only after paying a fee to the site that is actually using a database of publicly available data. Have you ever heard of Lexis-Nexis?

Wikipedia's entry on LexisNexis

from wikipedia : "LexisNexis Group is a corporation providing computer-assisted legal research as well as business research and risk management services. During the 1970s, LexisNexis pioneered the electronic accessibility of legal and journalistic documents. As of 2006, the company has the world's largest electronic database for legal and public-records related information."
cdm--apparently you could find most articles from the major magazines and newspapers and do some serious research if you could afford the subscription. It is not even an American owned company. But I would bet that you have never even heard of it.
"The Anglo-Dutch publishing company Reed Elsevier has owned LexisNexis and its predecessor company since 1994." You might think that any news outlet has a seat allowing fact checking or whatever to make their output more knowledgeable or accurate -- but I doubt that many can afford the price or even think it is necessary. Instead of the internet becoming a source of knowledge and wisdom it is quickly filling with advertisements and entertainment.
cdm--There are similar companies that track the sales of collectibles at auctions and provide data on the valuation of all things -- but for a subscription price. My wife used to work for a company that bought the lost items of shipping companies. They used a subscription to an auction database to value the items they sold on ebay. But note that they could not sell Disney products as there was some sort of cease and desist order to prevent the sale of Disney stuff by anyone other than pure amateurs. They instead collected the items and used them for prizes at the company's summer picnic.

In the books I have read on the history of ancient Greece there is a possible solution. Historically the system of government would alternate with democracy and tyranny. The people would rise up and end the tyranny and confiscate the gold and property of the upper class -- and eliminate all debts. I have wondered if the people behind the 'occupy Wall Street movement' have a similar belief -- based on Greek History. But the people would invariably return tyrants and dictators to power -- the cycle continued until they were under the rule of emperors such as the Roman Caesars -- and democracy was dormant for many years. Oddly enough the common people of this country could rise up since they are armed and the SuperZip enclaves are not walled cities. Note that I am not advocating any violence but just pointing out that in this country the common people still have some power to force change. I remember doing some research years ago at the time of the Paris Riots in 2005.

Wikipedia's entry on the 2005 French Riots

From Wikipedia : "In October and November 2005, a series of riots occurred in the suburbs of Paris and other French cities, involving the burning of cars and public buildings at night. The unrest started on 27 October at Clichy-sous-Bois, where police were investigating a reported break-in at a building site, and a group of local youths scattered in order to avoid interrogation. Three of them hid in an electricity substation where two died from electrocution, resulting in a power blackout. (It was not established whether police had suspected these individuals or a different group, wanted on separate charges.) The incident ignited rising tensions about youth unemployment and police harassment in the poorer housing estates, and there followed three weeks of rioting throughout France. A state of emergency was declared on 8 November, later extended for three weeks."

cdm--I remember hearing that it was only in the suburbs -- not the inner city -- as would be the case in America. I looked into the possible reasons for that and found that the inner cities of Europe are in fact a conglomeration of small walled enclaves. Look at almost any major city in Europe and you will see the configuration -- an entire city block which has the appearance of a squared ring. In the center is a courtyard of grass and trees and the entrance to such fortified buildings is through a gate. Use the street view option of Google Maps and travel down the streets outside the walls. The first story or two is quite solid and any openings are barred or closed with metal roll-up doors. There is a common system for access to the gates -- you can see a similar access panel with a camera. Presumably a button is pushed and someone inside makes a decision on whether or not to let you inside. Note that there are no cars parked outside the fortresses -- presumably they are stored inside to prevent the issue of burning cars and property destruction seen in the suburbs during the riots. I have to assume that most of Europe's elite live in such fortified blocks and with the lack of an armed population -- they are less vulnerable to a revolt of the common man. I suspect it is a lingering result of the excesses of the French Revolution -- specifically the reign of terror.

paris east of the sorbonne -- aerial viewparis east of the sorbonne.jpg
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I was struck by the inner parks created in the centers of these small enclaves. Your cars and children could be behind the walls -- and safe from the hands and handiwork of the common people -- presumably prevented from entering these inner sanctuums.

paris east of the sorbonne -- street viewparis east of the sorbonne -- street view.jpg
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When you see a similar fortification of America's SuperZips -- all may be lost. If you have the time to travel a little way down the streets -- in street view -- note that there are no alleys. In American cities you could somehow get behind a building and have access -- apparently this has been eliminated in any truly fortified part of Europe. Note the amount of metal over the windows -- window shopping must somehow be different. This is one of the cleaner parts of Paris -- move farther away and the streets have less style and more dirt and graffiti but with the same level of fortification. Position your view to see the access gates -- and check out the ubiquitous video and keyboard panels. I suspect all deliveries and even garbage removal is through controlled access -- through temporarily opened metal gates and doors. It should be noted here that the perception of safety in European cities is related to this level of fortification -- coupled with the fact that guns are severely controlled.

In another book I am currently reading 'Steven Pinker's -- The Better Angels of Our Nature' -- he lists the three categories for the origins of violence :
1. Agression or Predation (the desire to just take from others)
2. Pre-emptive strikes (the removal of the power of others to strike)
3. Retailiation (revenge -- humiliation -- pride)

If you consider these sources of violence you should see that the fortifications and disarmament have severely reduced the options for violence categories #1 and #2 and the welfare state may go some distance toward removing #3. But does that mean the people are less violent or that they have less ability to do violence? An American saying is 'better fences make better neighbors' -- but it should not be taken literally -- that saying is in a form of rhetoric called 'sarcasm'.

The odd diversity of human patterns of reasoning is kind of my area of study for the last few years. See some of my Ancient Mariner essays for some of the insights I have found. Oddly it seems related to the way a magician performs his art. The method is of course a secret but the observer is somehow fooled into seeing something other than the truth. The beautiful diversity of minds has somehow left only a few who can penetrate the methods and understand the true method behind the magic trick. An elevated level of skepticism is rare and of course in this area of political legerdemain -- the illusion is of some kind of Utopia -- as in the apparent goals of the EU Welfare State. The protests and the roughing up of Murray's entourage makes me see a similarity to the danger anyone is in that reveals the secrets of magic tricks.

Postscript: A recent example of the disconnect.

A New York Times article on the Walmart vs Amazon competition

As an example of the disconnect between news reporting and the lives of the 'common' people -- check out the prices this reporter is paying for his dress shirts -- he used to pay $120 each for tailored shirts and he says he is now buying lower end stuff -- at $88 each. There is no apology or even a reference to this odd lack of perspective -- he is not complaining about the price of the tailored shirts -- but felt awkward in getting measured for the fit. It is as if he thinks that everyone is paying such prices -- and more -- for the clothes they are wearing. Perhaps Murray should add a question to his list -- on the price of clothing.

Here are some more book reviews to consider.

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