Suphatra's Reviews > Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010

Coming Apart by Charles Murray
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Nov 20, 2014

it was ok
bookshelves: non-fiction, social-science
Read from June 13 to 24, 2012 , read count: 1

In Coming Apart, scholar, author and political scientist Charles Murray, attempts to address the growing class stratification among white Americans. Its a big topic — I was really intrigued.

The first half of Murray’s book borrows heavily from David Brooks’ “Bobos in Paradise”  (a book about upper class elite in America that I reviewed here). There is also a quiz to see how connected you are to most of white working class America; it was quite amusing. I thought he was accurate in some of his perceptions of the upper elite: they tend to be liberal, live in urban enclaves, hold graduate degrees and be connected to a global elite. They are increasingly disconnected to their fellow Americans who may not have degrees, live more remotely, and are paid less. The admittance of this disconnect seemed like a big achievement for the political right. The first way to solve a problem is to admit there is a problem, right?

In the second half, Murray tackles the topic of poor white America, first prefacing with a lengthy section on what he perceives as America’s values (honesty, industriousness, marriage, etc). He lays out a very typical conservative framework for personal responsibility. This is in obvious conflict with the progressive argument for social responsibility, which looks beyond individual responsibility and examines how the decisions of the aggregate affect its parts. Murray doesn’t mention this other viewpoint.

So, when he begins to compare Belmont (imaginary upper class town) to Fishtown (imaginary lower class town), his conservative framing beckons the reader to interpret the many testimonies and accounts of poverty under the conservative perception of personal responsibility. It would be easy for a reader new to this topic to walk away thinking, “Seems like poor people are poor because they are lazy, dishonest, and immoral” which many reviews actually said!

A closer look at Murray’s argument sees the gaping holes — for example, on the topic of industriousness, Murray emphasizes the decline of working males in poor towns. But what about the rise in the globalization of jobs (i.e. the automotive industry upped and moved to China), which are decisions made by the upper white class. What of the “personal responsibility” of those citizens? Murray’s lack of a social responsibility framework — where we look at how the decisions of the ruling class impact the working class and vice versa — is largely absent, and in its place is the implication that the working class just doesn’t want to work.

The arguments set forth by Murray are nothing new. Its the same speech by conservatives, written every day in papers all over the country: to succeed in America, you must 1) get married 2) work a job and 3) believe in God. The weight falls heavily on an individual’s choices. I challenge conservative America to think about American success in this way: to succeed in America, you must 1) use your buying and hiring power to empower more Americans; 2) contribute to funds and services that improve the livelihoods of all Americans; and 3) socialize in a way that integrates you and your family to the full range of American lifestyles.

I think in the end of the day, arguments like Murray’s for America’s continued success are dated and unrealistic. The landscape of American values are changing, and the outmoded solutions that worked in the last half of the last century belong where they are: in the last century.
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Quotes Suphatra Liked

Charles Murray
“People need self-respect, but self-respect must be earned -- it cannot be self-respect if it's not earned -- and the only way to earn anything is to achieve it in the face of the possibility of failing.”
Charles Murray, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010

Reading Progress

06/16/2012 page 20
5.0% "Someone told me this was described as dry, but so far I've found it very engaging."
06/16/2012 page 27
6.0% "Funny to see him quote Bobos in Paradise, one of the books I read earlier this year."
42.0% "Finally wrapped up Part 1, all about the new upper class. The quiz (to identify how connected or unconnected you are to the rest of America) at the end was totally worth all the hum drum getting there."
75.0% "About wrapped up with the Belmont/Fishtown comparison and now taking a closer look at Fishtown."

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message 1: by Stuart (new)

Stuart We're on the same page on this book.

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