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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Friday, April 19, 2024

MisCONceptions: A statistical analysis of a declining America

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Editor’s note: MisCONceptions is a column with four contributors. This article was written by Trent Bunker.

Moral degeneration, degradation, breakdown, decay, atrophy — whichever word you choose to describe them, the results from the latest Wall Street Journal-National Opinion Research Center survey on the values of the American public are concerning. The poll found that the percentage of those who hold the value of “community involvement” as “very important” has fallen to 27% from a high of 62% in their 2019 study. A similar drop was observed among those who hold having children in high esteem, as only 30% of Americans find it “very important,” down from 59% in 1998. Religious values are also slipping, evidenced by the measly 39% of Americans who strongly agree with their significance, down 23 points in 25 years. Most alarmingly, the poll states that the percentage of people who find patriotism to be “very important” has crashed from 70% to 38% in the same time span. Meanwhile, it appears that Americans are growing more materialistic since 43% find the acquisition of money to be “very important,” up from 31% 25 years ago. Perhaps none of these values are, on their surface, “very important” to you, but all of them are fundamental to the health of our nation.

We can agree that the United States has problems while arguing over what exactly those problems are. However, without reasoned patriotism at the core of our country, we can easily be led astray by those who seek to destroy it. When you admire something, you wish to protect it, so a loss of patriotism threatens our ability to solve the issues facing America. Apathy is ruin.

Not only are Americans growing apathetic toward their nation, but also toward their neighbors. As the data indicate, Americans are withdrawing from their communities. Yet, as Aristotle writes in “Politics,” the human being is a “political animal,” meaning our nature is suited for and developed by social interaction. At a time when technology makes us think we are more connected than ever, the reality is we are becoming increasingly isolated from face-to-face socialization. As the COVID-19 lockdowns demonstrated through their impacts on mental health, isolation can lead to unnecessary pain, suffering and depression. Conservatives have been hijacked by the libertarian impulse toward hyperindividualism, but humans are not self-sufficient. When people are withdrawn from their communities, they have no one to turn to in times of both anguish and joy, corroding the social fabric which, as social scientist Robert Putnam found, can lead to society-wide impacts like augmented crime. America doesn’t need any more of that.

The lack of importance placed on having children is understandable considering the looming threat of climate change. Who wants to raise a child on a warming planet? However, on a more direct and concrete level, the country will collapse if it doesn’t have enough people. Since the number of young people paying into Social Security is dwindling, the program is approaching insolvency, meaning that it will soon owe more money than it has available. Additionally, a smaller young generation means that many businesses will continue to face crippling labor shortages. For America to have the robust workforce needed for a green transition, it must have kids.

Lastly, America is suffering from a decline in religiosity. This does not mean that everyone must convert to Christianity — we have the First Amendment for a reason. However, our demonstrably materialistic modern culture lacks a foundation from which to build, leaving many in a tragically directionless state of anomie, a term coined by sociologist Émile Durkheim to describe the instability that follows an erosion of societal standards or ideals. No one needs to follow my form of guidance, but any productive pursuit is preferred to the emptiness that pervades America. 

Thus, the data from this survey paint a dim picture of the country, though there is hope. Those who still hold these values should continue to live as beacons for those in their communities in order to change hearts and minds. Only in this way will we reverse our descent.