Communities that Build Trustworthy People


There's an interesting article in the Deseret News today by Yuval Levin of AEI. I'm not terribly keen on AEI; I am a big fan of some of their writers, such as Nicholas Eberstadt. Others of their writers seem not to understand that not everything that is good for capitalism is good for human beings and the families they atttempt to build. Nevertheless, the article is worth reading.

One insight worth considering is Levin's point that we must place the decline of religiosity in American in the context of the decline in trust in virtually every institution in our country, whether it be the medical establishment, the public school system, the presidency, the news media, big business, etc. etc. Trust in Congress was already so low, it couldn't really see as steep a decline as these other institutions. The only exception is the military, trust in which has actually grown over time. Furthermore, the percent of Americans that believe there is a God is pretty much unchanged over the decades, about 87% even in these days, according to Levin. But only 42% of Americans attend church at least once a month, which is significantly lower than in decades past. On the other hand, the percent of "highly religious" Americans appears fairly constant, according to Levin.

Levin asserts what the public is feeling is that institutions have been derelict in their duties. The public schools produce illiterates and incompetents; the churches produce pedophiles and adulterers; big business produces vulture capitalists and a commitment to low quality goods; the medical system produces bankruptcies due to obscenely inflated prices and harms to our health from iatrogenic disease. The government, of course, produces gridlock. Apparently, over time those who lead institutions have moved from using institutions as tools by which to create excellence and good, to using our institutions as merely a teat to feed from, or alternatively, a way for us to take a promotional selfie, or worst, to provide cover and impunity to create harm and chaos.

In addition, I also feel there is pushback when we put forward high expectations. Now, not all high expectations are praiseworthy; consider the paperwork requirements for the federal government take up on average a full one-third of the working hours of government employees. That's not high expectations; that's kludge for the sake of it. But as a university educator, I've seen over time how we dumb down the curriculum and lower the expectations for reading and writing assignments because our students tell us we expect too much of them--even though we, their professors, met those higher expectations in times past.

Levin's solution is for communities to reestablish high expectations and stick to them in counter-cultural fashion, and in this he sees a role for churches to commit to producing individuals who are trustworthy and other-centered, and who will respond to this call to raise their expectations and competencies.

I'd suggest there is something deeper that needs fixing. Such communities cannot be persuasive to the young--who have cornucopia on their smartphones in similitude of the Lotus Eaters--unless you are also able to persuade them who they are, where they came from, why they are here, and where they are going. In other words, only the Truth about who they are can save them from civilizational decrepitude. And we know, sadly, from the Book of Mormon, that even when such teaching about Truth permeates a society, the society can still lapse into decline and fall and destruction.

Sometimes I feel we need a new type of educational system, one where children are first grounded in the truth of physical reality and then progress from that ground of physical competence to higher ground. Too many of our children have competence only in the functionality of their cell phone. They have no idea where their food comes from, or how their cell phone was even created. If electricity were somehow to disappear from their world tomorrow, most of them would not be able to sustain their own life. Their lives are fragile, and they know it; I think our epidemic of young adult anxiety is a natural result of a complete lack of understanding of how to do anything that could sustain their life in an emergency context. Have they ever grown a garden? Canned food? Can they undertake home and car repair tasks? Can they navigate without their cell phone? The rising generation must sense how helpless they have been made by our society.

Levin's analysis is timely; what do you see as the way back from institutional dereliction?