Category 1. American Culture

Identity and Belonging

We tend to define our individual identities largely by reference to groups. Each of us can be seen as part of countless definable groups; for example, I am an American; I am a man; I am middle-aged; I am a husband and father; I am a business-person; I am a blogger; I am a (non-doctrinaire) libertarian; I am a WASP. I could go on and on. So could you, about anybody.

Groups are communally defined: others must share an understanding of the definitions of the groups by which we characterize ourselves. We pick and choose which group identities are more important in our own eyes.

The sense of belonging in particular groups becomes an important part of how we see ourselves. Indeed, we need to belong to groups that help form our identities...

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Two Americas?

It was a beautiful day today, so I went for a long bicycle ride with three friends. We covered sixty one miles of the Connecticut countryside east of New Haven.

Nearly every pedal stroke took us past scenes of real, if understated, beauty. Spring is in full bloom, of course, and its colors are hardly understated, but the homes, farms and small towns that we rode past spoke of a quiet prosperity.

It struck me, though, that not too many miles to our west was New Haven, much of which presents a starkly different aspect. In that city’s poorer neighborhoods, you would think you were in a different country. I expect to walk through some of those neighborhoods on The Big Walk, which I hope will take place next month.

That there are two Americas is one of our President’s favorite themes...

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Faith

Western culture grew out of Jewish and Christian ideas about the unity of God and the fundamental importance of each person. Democracy, capitalism and Christianity are three strands of the fraying rope of Western values that eventually evolved out of these ideas.

Each of these systems places the highest value on every individual – and empowers him or her with ultimate decision-making authority while also imposing on each person clear responsibilities to others. The individual may buy and sell at will, she may vote for the candidates and policies of her choice, and she may choose to behave well or badly. Each decision has direct consequences for her and for society – she may go broke, her government may govern badly, she may go the Hell.

Because of the gradual replacement of a br...

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Demography and Values

Demographics are the generally unheralded story behind much of the world’s news, and they are an important barometer of the health of each society. Our country’s changing demographics – as manifested in the declining ratio of working taxpayers to retirees – are making manifest the problems in our public finances; the already-visible effects of extremely low birthrates in other developed nations are far more dire, for reasons I will describe below. But first I will comment on what demographics tell us about a society.

When a previously vibrant, growing group ceases producing enough children to avoid population decline, it is a sign that something is – or maybe many things are – seriously amiss...

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Trust

Trust is far more important than law.

Think of it: how many times have you sued somebody, or been sued? Have you ever been arrested? Each of us interacts with many others in numerous ways every day, and recourse to the law is exceptionally rare. Our actions may be constrained by certain laws; but usually they are far more limited by the expectations of those with whom we are dealing.

If you were unwilling to trust others, it would be next to impossible to accomplish anything. Once, when I was a young banker, I was asked to hand deliver a package containing $10 million in fully negotiable securities to a major corporate customer...

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Our Bleeding Wounds

Percentage of out of wedlock births among African Americans, nationwide: 72.5% (http://articles.businessinsider.com/2012-02-21/home/31081751_1_illegitimacy-black-children-unmarried-women).

Percentage of African American pregnancies terminated by abortion: 52%. (http://www.walkforlifewc.com/52-of-all-african-american-pregnancies-end-in-abortion/ ).

African American teenage unemployment rate: 43% (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/08/black-teen-unemployment_n_2836816.html ).

African American male graduation rate in New York State: 37%. (http://www.dominionofnewyork.com/2012/09/20/new-york-state-has-lowest-black-male-graduation-rate-in-us/).

Percentage of all recent graduates of New York City’s public schools who need remedial help in math and English to do basic college-level coursework:...

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