Civil wrongs

I recently had a discussion with a couple of people on Facebook about the links between poverty and crime. At one point, I said,

Something that usually gets left out of these discussions is the role played by unwed childbirth. During the Great Depression, poverty was rampant, yet crime rates remained at historic lows. The rate of unwed childbirth at the time, however, was a tiny fraction of what it is today. As late as 1964, when we began our “War on Poverty,” 6.8% of births were to unwed mothers. Today, that number is 40% — and tops 70% for Blacks. We know (from census data) that two-thirds of childhood poverty would end immediately if women were to marry the father of their children. We also know that over 70% of prison inmates grow up in homes without a father. All this suggests that unwed childbirth factors enormously into these social ills. Unfortunately, this remains a touchy subject that doesn’t get the attention it warrants.

In response, a complete stranger — a “friend” of a “friend,” as Facebook allows — introduced herself to me in this way:

Wow, way to transfer blame onto something “moral.” What a bunch of bullshit! You think married parents would solve the problems of kids raised in poverty? What if both their parents are drug addicts? Or those fathers those mother’s should have married abusive? Plenty of kids with unwed parents of divorcees in middle or upper class families turn out fine. The root of his is much more than marriage or lack of fathers. I’m sure just the poverty factors are huge. Mothers hat have to work three jobs to support their kids end up absentee because they aren’t educated enough to get better work. A single mom with a really good job has eh luxury of being attentive to her children. I agree with Gwen, the funding and educational programs are failing. Also, the income gaps are getting bigger and bigger. The American Dream is dieing a rapid death. But hey, let’s blame it on people not being married. Then lets blame it on gay people and not allow them to marry.

Yeah. I’ve really got to learn to stop talking to people. It’s so depressing on so many levels. I have no interest in taking any of this up with my new “friend,” but there’s a point worth making here.

When did it become acceptable to respond to someone in this way? It would never occur to me that it’s okay to launch into a complete stranger with venomous sarcasm, profanity, and suggestions of bigotry. Unfortunately, this woman’s behavior is not an aberration. I don’t get out of the house much these days, yet I routinely encounter people — at the grocery store or the gas station — who see no need to filter what comes out of their mouths. They’ll curse in front of young children (often their own) or make an offensive remark about a political candidate to a stranger, never considering that they may be speaking to one of his supporters. (In my experience, those on the left are particularly bad on this last point, and more inclined toward rude behavior in general.)

It’s not that I have no tolerance for sarcasm, sharp criticism, or profanity. It’s that I don’t assume that everyone shares my sensibilities. I draw a distinction between public and private. I give a thought to my surroundings. I have respect for my audience. In short, I have manners. And I’m old enough to remember when most everyone did.

Those days are long gone, it seems, even in small town New Hampshire. And it saddens me. Because for all the political and economic problems that plague us, it may be a lack of civility and common decency that finally does us in.

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