Seedbeds of Virtue: Sources of Competence, Character, and Citizenship in American Society
a book by Mary Ann Glendon and David Blankenhorn
(our site's book review)
Mary Ann Glendon and David Blankenhorn look at the deteriorating circumstances in the child-raising households of America, with many fatherless kids experiencing social and maternal deprivation, and, as a result, there is rising social dysfunctionality (crime, little ambition, no work ethic, less than needed input into the social security system, an erosive effect on the economy, more jobs filled by immigrants or people from other countries as discussed in Bold New World: The Essential Road Map to the 21st Century), and many of our nation’s children will never have the chance to develop their full potentials as human beings.
More jobs are getting filled by immigrants or people in other countries, since our citizens are too lazy to learn the needed technical skills
They remind us that democracy requires a higher degree of virtue in its citizens than any other form of government: “If history teaches us anything, it is that liberal democracy cannot be taken for granted. There are conditions that are more, or less, favorable to liberty, equality, and self-government; and those conditions involve character and competence of citizens and public servants. But character and competence, too, have conditions, residing in nurture and education.” Virtue is supposed to come from living in the family and community environment. “The authors of Seedbeds of Virtue are in accord that the simultaneous weakening of child-raising families and their surrounding and supporting institutions constitutes our culture’s most serious long-term problem.”
David Popenoe points out the irony that just as we have begun to know more than ever about the child-rearing conditions that foster competence and character, those conditions are being eroded before our very eyes. He relates the decline of family life to the decline of neighborhoods and communities. He points to the failure of the planners and social engineers to consider the potentially harmful effects of their policies and decisions. He concludes that “to improve the conditions for child-rearing in America today, nothing may be more important than trying to protect and cultivate those natural, tribal- or village-like communities that still remain—communities which have families as their basic building block, and in which a mix of people through free association and sets of relational networks maintain a common life.”
He realizes this idea seems controversial, but: “There is no evidence that realistic social alternatives exist for the traditional ‘tribal’ structures of family and community.” The author looks at various realities in the U.S. that support Popenoe’s conclusions. Glendon says that “Reawakened interest in federalism and in the principle of subsidiarity (assigning social tasks to the smallest social unit that can perform them adequately) are encouraging signs of a shift toward more creative use of the mediating structures of civil society.” (MCs are part of this trend. See Why Register for an MC?.)
As Thomas Kohler points out, “we have been losing, along with our social environments, any kind of deep understanding of what humans are and what they need in order to flourish.” The authors of this book, Mary Ann Glendon and David Blankenhorn, have looked into this and have taken a stab at answering it in their book. The book contains a lot of good material that builds a framework within which this implied question and some partial answers can be examined. It creates an effective context for insight. We feel that it’s also useful to face Kohler’s implied question in a more head-on fashion. Our answer is fairly simple but quite disquieting:
Humans are usually parented in a far-from-optimal, ineffective method
What humans are, normally, is beings who get some needs filled and others ignored or inadequately filled. They are usually parented in a far-from-optimal, ineffective method. And their social network often has more influences that bring them down than inspire or nurture. The result: various type of problems with self-esteem; the lack of enough ontological security to find oneself with certainty and stability; hesitations about liking oneself; the inability to love well and completely, but plenty of predilection for needing, wanting, and trying to fill one’s emptiness; misperceptions via Maslovian deficiency-cognition; and obsession with what Janov calls “the struggle.”
Another person is, dependently or codependently, seen as our answer in life, rather than ourselves. All of this is a barrier to self-actualization and autonomy, so most people end up as either other-directed or inner-directed, à la Riesman's The Lonely Crowd, and pursuing the hopeless goal of indirect-self-acceptance, à la Putney and Putney's The Adjusted American: Normal Neurosis in the Individual and Society. People end up mostly as other-directed, so they're easy marks for the glitter of social networks like Facebook. Some people manage to come out of all of this with good, solid and reliable character, but it’s in spite of their families and schools and communities, for the most part (there are exceptions). Most people come out of all this with character problems of various forms, such as passive aggressiveness, lack of morals or empathy, dishonesty, lack of responsibility, lack of ambition, lack of compassion and, often, simple greediness. Most indulge in frequent acts against themselves, such as negative self-talk.
Most feel negative feelings towards their parents (conscious or unconscious) that they take out on others—especially when they have kids of their own and are perfectly positioned for power trips and revenge. And most never really understand themselves or others, as they let their lives run them: they are at effect, not at cause. The majority overemphasize the importance of possessions as a way of distracting themselves from their feelings of inner emptiness and their frustratingly superficial and/or neurotic relationships. And how could they not? Their parents both worked. But these parents felt guilty about neglecting their kids even though it was to put food on the table. So they bought their kids stuff like iPhones, iPads, computers, TVs, or even cars. The media added mercilessly enthusiastic support for this entire scenario, hinting that kids without all this stuff were not quite human and parents that won't give all these things to kids were selfish, cheap, and uncaring. See Your Children Are Under Attack.
The media made parents and kids alike see just how essential modern technological gadgets are to life itself
In order to cope with all this unnerving dysfunctionality and the frustration associated with it, people repress their lives’ less pleasant realities and tell themselves what they need to hear to feel “okay” about themselves (which their Facebook "friends" will be happy to reinforce). But underneath is the truth, the negative self-talk, and the negative-emotion-cluttered minds in these intrinsically smart people, so muddied by all this that these very normal people seem “dumb” and naïve when in fact all they are is smart people who happen to be cluttered up with mind mud.
Mud—a metaphor for mind clutter
Unfortunately, this entire configuration of flaws of character and wrong attitudes and self-defeating beliefs has been taken to be the normal expected character of the average citizen. We are seen as weak and “sinful” and naïve, as well as not very bright. The average person cannot think logically, do decent math, understand science, problem-solve effectively, communicate effectively, love openly, or even cooperate with others without complaining and feeling put upon. The average person is run by his mind mud. He's not in control. He doesn't even recognize the possibility of being in control.
The average person is run by his mind mud. He's not in control. He's a puppet who doesn't even recognize the possibility of being in control.
The above may be true about what humans are, normally, but it is not the way that all humans are, and it is a far cry from what humans’ potentials are. As the book’s authors have said, inadequate social environments are precluding humans from fulfilling their potential. And what is that potential? (The answer is in this website—see The Forest Through The Trees.) What if: needs are well filled; and the oppressive and inadequate, Second Wave, failed experiment of steep-gradient nurturance is replaced by the historically validated and proven Third Wave childcare technique of flat-gradient nurturance; and what if communication, parenting and relationship methods of the normal, deterministic, random, haphazard type are replaced by highly successful, proven Third Wave methods?
We refer of course to the non-authoritarian methods found in P.E.T. and Winning Family Lifeskills books, along with the deepest wisdom of such people as, not just Lousie Hart and Thomas Gordon, but Richard Louv, Shad Helmstetter, John Pollard, John Bradshaw, Gloria Steinem, Alvin and Heidi Toffler, David Riesman, Erich Fromm, Abraham Maslow, Putney and Putney, Philip Slater, Don E. Eberly, George Gerzon, Mark Gerzon, Wayne Dyer, Susan Forward, Robert Theobald, Kenneth Dychtwald, Fritjof Capra, Stephanie Coontz, Riane Eisler, John Naisbitt, Urie Brofenbrenner, Nancy Chodorow, Elizabeth Bott, John Bowlby, Sidney Jourard, Ronald Rohner, Lester Kirkendall, Philip Kotler, Eduardo Roberto, Marjorie Kostelnik, Jess Lair, William Pietsch, Jane and James Ritchie, Carl Rogers, Burton White, Leontine Young, Rollo May, David Elkin, Penelope Leach, Duane Elgin, Arlene Skolnick, Joel Kramer, George Lakoff, Thomas W. Roberts, Diana Baumrind, William Knoke, Frances Moore Lappé, Paul Martin DuBois and hundreds of others. See Authoritative and Democratic Parenting Programs.
What if your needs are well filled, your environment is inspiring, there are plenty of friends for adults and, for kids, alternative caretakers as well as friends around right in your neighborhood, so that your block feels like a miraculous, close-knit community only without enmeshment and barriers to individuation like some close subcommunities, but instead optimal encouragement for autonomy, independence, self-reliance and self-responsibility? And what if the people around you were encouraging, and you ended up with naturally occurring positive self-talk rather than the negative kind most people end up developing?
Electonic cottage with an expanded family
And what if you were brought up in harmony with Third Wave realities rather than Second Wave ones, so that you would be predisposed to be a productive and successful member of both the local community and the nonlocal virtual community, rather than complaining about and clashing with the constantly changing and challenging 21st century world we live in? And what if expanded electronic family structures allowed you to work at home and take good care of little ones in cooperation with other family and nonfamily members in such a manner that you weren’t a frustrated, polluting commuter, you weren’t nervously and guiltily leaving loved ones in questionable hands at day-care facilities, and your neighborhood was a lively, social and productive force during the weekdays, rather than turning into an empty, vulnerable ghost town due to commuting?
Leaving loved ones in questionable hands at day-care facilities
And what if the people in your family, as well as your friends’ families, learned to actually love one another rather than merely need one another and try to possess one another? And what if your friends were more enjoyable to be around than TV sets? This, then, is the kind of lives our society has the knowledge to create and enjoy. This is how Third Wave knowledge improves not just communication and technology but relationships, parenting and lifestyles as well. And you needn’t wait for someone around you to do this for you via social engineering. That was the old, foolish way of thinking that most people engaged in in the bad old days of the Second Wave. That’s over. You don’t need or want such thinking. It was just a bad habit.
What if your friends were more enjoyable to be around than TV sets?
These folks just became American citizens over a century ago
These folks just became American citizens in 2007
We’re Americans. We’re strong! We’re smart! We can choose to have such lifestyles anytime we want! American history is the story of people who had the guts to go beyond dreaming about what they wanted. They had and have the guts to reach out for life and seize the day, go for it, and actually do what it takes to fill their dreams. It’s why most immigrants arrive on our shores. It’s why so many people of the world watch Western media creations and feel excited about the dream and hope this country represents. It’s why our democracy has lasted so long. We simply refuse to let our most beautiful dreams die.
(A full 25% of immigrants to the U.S. are professional or technical workers, compared to only 15% of the American population. We get many scientists, programmers and engineers from immigrant populations—if they didn’t come here we’d have serious, even critical, shortages. American science depends on immigrants: although the foreign born constitute only 6% of the US population, they constitute over half the graduates in computer science, engineering or math. However, on January 27, 2017, as part of a plan to keep out radical Islamic terrorism, President Trump signed an executive order, titled "Protecting the Nation From Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals", that suspended entry for citizens of seven countries for 90 days: Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The order also stopped the admission of refugees of the Syrian Civil War indefinitely, and the entry of all refugees to the United States for 120 days. (Source: Immigration policy of Donald Trump)
We’ll say it again: We’re Americans!
The authors encourage: “. . . among our highly mobile population, a taste for stable communities in which the social environment can be continuously cultivated. Both Popenoe and Sullivan place great emphasis on the importance of the ‘settled life,’ yet the American story is one of cashing out, packing up, and moving on.” They’re saying that if we hold community and neighborhood as unimportant or obsolete, then nothing will instill in us the needed virtue and morality to hold the society and democracy together. “The Constitution created a national regime with no authority to mold character but assumed a village life in which character would automatically emerge.” Rights outweigh responsibilities in our country today, and the degeneration associated with this imbalance is plain to see. And yet, realigning our lives to regain said good character is not really that difficult, and we needn't move to tiny villages. They're already here—they're just waiting for us to realign our thinking and lifestyles so that good character and good values as well as civic participation and community strengthening and human compassion can re-emerge. See MCs.
An MC 'village' is a normal neighborhood with a new context, lifestyle, personnel plan, childraising and elder care plan, and communication plan, all guided by actual knowledge and wisdom
The above neighborhood before we learned it was possible to have a lifestyle that worked well both physically/logistically and relationship-wise (the authors' 'stable communities in which the social environment can be continuously cultivated')
The Constitution created a national regime with no authority to mold character but assumed a village life in which character would automatically emerge
Islamites await patiently abroad for the course of our rapid disintegration to complete itself. (Only a very few try to hurry the process with terrorism.) They know, or at least think they know, that no society as immoral as ours can last very long. On the other hand, we, of course, disdain their lack of separation between church and state, and wonder how they could possibly have missed the profoundly important messages of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, or the message of the failed collective experiments of the 20th century that resulted in such incredible bloodshed and flawed lifestyle quality.
And why is it so hard to see that political authority via religious leaders is amongst the most certain of all the roads that lead to downfall, corruption or tyranny? Does the message of the Dark Ages and Inquisition seem overly complex or cloudy to them? And does the institutional oppression of females in the name of religion not seem a bit self-serving and pretentious, as well as cruel and inhumane, to Islamic males? The conservative, authoritarian backlash against liberal excesses in the West have made many here look longingly at the Islamite’s low crime rate and drug abuse rates as well as their respect for authority. But we hope they look closely and see the whole story—the entirety of their object of admiration.
The authors note that the West is always being underestimated, that we can rise to the challenge of the current social problems—we always have, and we still can. Freedom, with all its problems, is simply better than lack of freedom combined with the absence of said problems: We need to all: “. . . recognize that the exercise of freedom presupposes the maintenance of a natural moral order that deserves respect and reaffirmation, an order that arises from the familial seedbeds of virtue.”
The authors cite as partial causes of social deterioration: increasing divorce, increasing illegitimacy, parents spending less time with kids and more with careers, fathers being less connected to families than ever before, communities that don’t support families, and steep-gradient nurturance. They say that child-rearing is a highly demanding, anxiety-producing, and difficult endeavor, one that throughout world history has never been left solely to parents (let alone single parents) to the degree it is in our nation today. Parents have usually been in highly supportive communities, where the entire community is ready for the task. They concur with the words of a commonly heard proverb, "It takes a whole village to raise a child." They think that strong, healthy attachments between children and caregivers depend in substantial degree on the availability and involvement of another adult. This should be a third party who assists, encourages, gives respite to, and expresses admiration and affection for the person caring for the kid
Youngsters need to tune in to a consistent message about right and wrong from all the important adults in their lives, not just parents. They need a social community and a moral community. As psychologist William Damon has noted, "The acid test of whether there is a community at all is the extent to which moral guidance for the young is shared among all who come in contact with them." The authors find it hard to imagine communities more poorly designed for kids than those of the United States. It is high time for an extreme shift in how we think about and build our communities. (See MCs.) The authors also know that a great deal is known about the childraising conditions that give rise to socially responsible, autonomous, creative children and adults who reflect competence, character, and social virtue. They look at the irony that the more we learn about the optimal conditions of childrearing and parenting, the more we see these conditions deteriorating.
The authors point out that pro-social behavior develops mostly when parents set examples to emulate; what parents say is much less effective than what they do. They favor consequences based discipline over authoritarian discipline; i.e., Third Wave high quality knowledge power instead of Second Wave lower quality coercion power, which is detrimental to children’s development. Respect for parental authority needs to come about via authoritative parenting, since authoritarian parenting produces more fear and anger than respect. In strong families, say the authors, communication is clear, open and frequent.
Spanking—the cornerstone of authoritarian parenting
And studies have shown that strong families, which are defined as enduring, cohesive, affectionate and mutually appreciative, and possessing good, effective communication, tend to use the authoritative parenting style. This assertion by the authors has been verified by much data, research, and experiences of parents, counselors and psychologists. Thomas Gordon leaves out the logical consequences aspect of authoritative parenting; Louise Hart, however, uses it. Like Gordon, she refers to her parenting methods as “democratic.” In both cases consequences teach behavior. The outcomes of P.E.T. methods—also known as harmonious or humanistic parenting—and nonpunitive authoritative methods that include logical consequences, such as Hart’s Winning Family Lifeskills, are quite similar, and without the slightest doubt superior to authoritarian or permissive methods.
People without close ties and strong groups feel alienated, lonely, depressed, spiritually empty
Another characteristic of strong families is a strong connection to the local community, say the authors. Strong families are less socially isolated than weak families. Families that abuse their children are usually socially isolated. For most of history, humans have been in close-knit and orderly social groupings that are nomadic bands, villages, or extended families. People without close ties and strong groups feel alienated, lonely, depressed, spiritually empty. Sometimes they're miserable, useless and self-destructive. The authors try to transcend the individual-social dichotomy by advocating the following strategy of balance: To maximize individual development and respond to the exigencies of an ever-changing social environment, continue to keep some semblance of protection of and cultivation of family and community.
People need more of a tribal village, say the authors, and less of an aggregation of isolated cocoons
The book convincingly points out that kids need social stability, connectedness, physical security, accessibility to community, a rich local community life and free time that feels carefree. But what kids get instead is mobility, anonymity, crime-ridden neighborhoods, automobile dependence, loneliness, and empty neighborhoods. They need to have parents and other adults with them much of the time, but parents are busy working, commuting, watching TV and going to entertainment or sports events. They need more of a tribal village, say the authors, and less of an aggregation of isolated cocoons. People have given up on local neighborhoods and now rely on social networks of well-dispersed people. This is only somewhat satisfying for adults—who often opt for their TVs because this nonlocal socialization can be tedious and inconvenient—but it is very unsatisfying, and in many ways unhealthy, for kids. Our nation should be doing everything it can to bring neighborhoods and towns back as functioning communities.
Adults and kids often opt for their TVs—distant friends are inconvenient
And they address the secession, urban flight and suburban sprawl problems in the U.S. today, much as Robert Reich has done. This leads to separation of Haves and Have-nots, deterioration of inner cities, polarization, crime and isolation. They advocate a “natural communities” policy that attempts to maintain and nurture any village-like communities that remain, as well as encourage new ones. And they want us to protect homogeneous neighborhoods, since people strongly prefer to live next door to others with whom they feel comfortable and can form close friendships. Think MC. See Why Register for an MC?.
Registering for MC search and match
The authors wish to promote a systems view of society to replace the reductionistic individual-obsessed view now in vogue. Our position on the self-others continuum needs balancing. They wish for the new, ecological-holistic paradigm to replace the old, mechanistic-reductionistic paradigm.
The authors strongly advocate the new, ecological-holistic paradigm replacing the old, reductionistic-mechanistic paradigm
As long as corporations are the main deciding force in elections rather than the citizens, democracy will be impossible
The U.S. is an oligarchy, having left democracy crying in its beer. (See The US is an oligarchy, study concludes.) The decay of civil society undermined the values that made Americans into good citizens. As a result, elections are hollow shams, our representatives represent only special interests who basically buy elections, politicians (especially our "leaders") are pretentious, prevaricating, greedy opportunists that line the pockets of the Corporatocracy with cash and when said pockets overflow, they take the overflow for themselves. Think of politicians as flunkies who work for the Oligarchy.
How much of the phoney War on Terror was real and how much was just to keep us in fear so we'd let the Corporatocracy screw us?
So where did the democracy go? It was bought by the special interests in a gradual process of erosion. Look at where rights and privacy have gone. How much of the phoney War on Terror was real and how much was just to keep us in fear so we'd let the Corporatocracy screw us out of rights, freedoms, privacy, elections that mean something, and democracy in general?
One of the pretentious, prevaricating, greedy opportunists that line the pockets of the Corporatocracy with cash
They say that if the American experiment fails, it will be because of this paradox: in a country based on freedom, the decay of civil society destroys the virtues that make freedom possible. While liberals see government and the welfare state as the solution, conservatives see both of these as the problem. The welfare state claims ever more authority over people’s lives, disenfranchising the functions of family and community, and crowding out the civil society, weakening its structures, draining its resources and turning free citizens into clients of the state. David Blankenhorn prefers neither of these strategies, but instead a “civil society strategy.” His strategy insists that the welfare state cannot create civil society or turn children into good citizens. A total dismantling of the welfare state will also fail in these regards. Laissez faire will not work. Freedom is extremely good, however for civil society, freedom is not enough. The main principles he would use as guidelines for restoring civil society are:
- Public and private policies in the 21st century should focus on restoring civil society.
- Strengthen marriage and two-parent families.
- Empower “natural communities” where kids can grow up connected and healthy.
He’s no social engineering advocate. He wants the government’s role to be limited and indirect. Ultimately, restoring the civil society isn't the task of government institutions or economic institutions. It is the job for a free people who want to become a good society. Again, think MC.
41% of first marriages in the U.S. end in divorce, but MCs preclude most such possibilities due to the need-filling situation of lots of nurturing friends