Where Hate is Strong

My 80-something mom is here for the week. Inbetween iPad training sessions, we’ve been talking a lot about the “old times”–imagine that.

She grew up (and still lives) in Birmingham and remembers the same environment your parents will describe  before WWII. There was less stuff then (a single small closet and one drawer held everything you owned). Wants didn’t outstrip needs by much, and that was okay. Entertainment almost never involved a switch or button or wall outlet, and more often took the form of home made story telling or a back yard picnic or front porch afternoon.

Back then, a small girl could ride her bicycle between neighborhoods or take the bus across town and walk eight blocks home at night and feel–and be–perfectly safe. Society at large provided homeland security without uniforms or side arms where it is not able to do so today without an army of watchers.

Why? I’d really appreciate your thoughts. Why have we as a people come to live in a climate of fear–real or imagined–so that every grammar school and shopping mall has its own fleet of policemen?

What are the social, psychological, political and moral changes that have brought about the increase in broken homes, crowded prisons, addicted youth, angry voters and a fearful populace whose children aren’t allowed outdoors for fear of…

Why do we live in a time when hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on Earth, good will to men?

Here’s a place I’d be pleased for insights beyond mine and my mom’s, or links to pieces that consider this matter in a well-reasoned way. This comment thread (or email) will be helpful for three weeks as I try to wrap my head around this issue–which seems to me especially sad at this time of year. How do we turn this ship around?

Meanwhile, Joyeaux Noel!

FOOTNOTE: We at one time considered naming our future daughter Noel, just for the novelty. Noel First. She would have hated us especially at Christmas time, don’t you think? In the end, we called her Holli, more for botanical than seasonal holiday reasons. We came later to say we more often felt the prickles than saw the pretty red berries. She’ll be here with her two daughters in two days! Let the wild rumpus begin!

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Published by fred

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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14 Comments

  1. I know of no studies to back up my theory, but here goes anyway. At some point in the 60s, maybe in the 70s, moms started working outside the home. At first they worked when the children were in school, but the money they brought in could buy more stuff and so the children went to day care after school. Then day care centers started accepting younger children, so moms got better jobs and day care workers started raising children.

    I know I sound pretty conservative about this, but really I’m a diehard liberal. On this one issue, I tend to lean to the right. Mothers should raise their babies.

    I volunteer at Alderson Federal Prison Camp, a female minimum-security facility. I’ve seen the damage done to single-parent (or no-parent) families up close and personal. If kids aren’t being nurtured at home, they’ll find comfort, solace and something resembling love in a pill, bottle or abusive partner.

    Just my opinion and, as I said in the beginning, I have no studies to back it up. In fact, I think the studies have shown that day-care kids are better off in some ways. Also, I was a single mom whose kids went to day care. They turned out great, no thanks to me, and perhaps my experience colors my opinion.

  2. Being able to put all your personal possessions in one drawer and a small closet kind of sums it all up doesn’t it. In a preconsumer culture people had what they needed, not what they wanted. Wealth was spread more (though still no where near equitably) through the masses. And I’m guessing people were a little more content.

  3. I think the problem is not nearly as pronounced as we believe. Every study of the actual numbers that I’ve seen shows that child abductions are no more common today than they were 20, 40, or 60 years ago. The difference, I think, is that 40 years ago, you would never hear about the abduction in a neighboring state. 60 years ago, you wouldn’t hear about from a neighboring town. Today, if it’s a girl and she is white and cute, she practically will have her own cable network from all of the coverage. Sadly, if it’s a boy, or a minority, they’ll be no coverage at all.

    It’s not that childhood is more dangerous, it just that we hear about the outlier events so much that selection bias kicks in and we think the bad stuff is much more common that it really is.

  4. I agree re the REAL versus perceived dangers of child abduction. The cost of “denatured” children is a high price to pay for keeping them “safe” indoors. That’s why I left the “fear of…” open ended. So many ways the blanks can be filled in from imagined threats. We really should fear fear itself.

  5. Wow — books have been written to address this subject. I’ll presume a few issues that perhaps contribute — increased population, media, sex and violent movies, prison system, government instilling fear factors, and many more. The umbrella of the these mentioned issues is territory, power and money. — barbara

  6. I thought Debbi’s comment was so interesting. I found myself in total agreement (even though I am childless, and don’t even have many single parent friends). Then I read her last sentences about being a single mom and her kids turning out good . . . Our world is too complex to figure out!

  7. Something to think about…if your mother was black in Birmingham before WWII, could she have ridden her bike in any neighborhood, or take the bus across town (maybe sitting in the back), or dined out at a fine restaurant with her family? Hate comes in many colors, so to speak.

  8. Many years ago, I worked with an older gentleman who had retired from the military. I heard him say once that “this country went to hell when women started working [outside the home] and corporal punishment was taken out of the schools.” My mother didn’t work outside the home until she was forced to for financial reasons, and then we lived very, very modestly. Many would even say poorly. But we had what we needed, and our wants didn’t kill us. I had a great respect for the mysterious “wooden paddle with holes bored in it” that was supposedly kept in the principal’s office. I never saw it, and never wanted to see it. Over the years I’ve wondered just how close this retired gentleman was to the truth. Instant gratification, a sense of entitlement, and general lack of respect for others seems to be running rampant these days. When did it start, and what sparked it? I can’t say.

  9. I disagree with the generalization in Debbie’s comment – Debbie, your story proves that generalization false as do the stories of countless other women (including my mother) who have successfully raised children while working part- or full-time. The success stories are an inspiration. As with everything, there is another side to the coin as you point out.

    Debbie, Barbara, and COD show that we can come up with a host of reasons for why society has developed into the one we recognize now. I don’t know what a coalesced, holistic reason would be, but everything mentioned in the comment thread so far seems like a symptom of the actual problem to me. In a wonderful coincidence, I read another blog entry earlier today that, in my opinion, speaks more to an underlying reason: http://williampennhouse.blogspot.com/2010/12/friends-and-patience-rushing.html. The author suggests that a major problem of our society is that we don’t take time…time to get to know our neighbors (next-door, global, or the next town over), time to nurture our families, time to nurture ourselves, time to develop real relationships. And maybe somehow this lack of reflection on ourselves as individuals and as social groups, the need for everything to happen NOW and for our surroundings and activities to be constantly changing, is at the root of our culture of hate and violence.

    Heavy thoughts for the holiday season!

  10. Bethanne, I certainly didn’t mean to imply that working mothers are the root of all evil. I applaud working mothers. They are the hardest working people I know. My parents divorced when I was 12, which is why my mother was forced to work outside the home. I turned out just fine. And I also worked full-time outside the home, along with my husband, while raising a child who has become a successful, loving, responsible adult and parent. In hindsight though, I wish I had done without a few things and stayed home to raise her. I agree with the blog you referenced. As a society we do not take the time to get to know our neighbors , really nurture our families, and develop meaningful and lasting relationships. We’re more concerned about “things” than people. Our world has become much too complicated. We’re not living in Mayberry anymore. Maybe that was the real complaint behind the gentleman’s remark in my earlier comment.

  11. Despite the fact that a lot of people opine for the return of close-knit community, I think we have a society that people wanted, actually.

    When we had close-knit community, all of the innovation that occurred was geared toward self-sufficiency via the system. Almost everything we have worked towards has been toward allowing people to function as an independent unit, unreliant on other people — mainly by increasing efficiency to the point that everything you needed was affordable on an average salary. You can get everything you need without depending on other people in a personal way.

    One of the consequences of this is that you don’t know most people beyond what’s necessary to complete a transaction, and the individuality that has been facilitated, combined with corporate privacy and confidentiality, makes it a whole lot easier to both hide the things that you don’t want others to know about and emphasize the things that you want others to believe about you (this is “branding”).

    So, we don’t know each other. We are afraid of and uncomfortable with things that what we don’t know.

    Ideas like “it takes a village…” don’t help, either. It conjures a very congenial image, but most people know it’s not true even when they find themselves thinking it, and the contradiction hurts. Most people know that the village does contain bad people, and they don’t know which ones are truly bad and which ones are truly good because….well, it’s not a village anymore and nobody knows the other!

    The next shocking revelation, I’m sure, is that we find we know people even less after congregating on Facebook for years. We thought we knew them so much better, but they were just showing us what they wanted us to see.

  12. I’m also uncomfortable with web-only friendships, while at the same time, have flesh-and-blood friends among my neighbors and as out of state visitors I never would have known apart from our meeting on the blog–not twitter or facebook, so much. And that community from 2003-7 I don’t ever expect again.

    Matt, I think that in the end, a return to fellowship, to right relationship, trust and true community has to start in the stories we tell about who we are. And as writers, we have a role in that. At least I feel some obligation to tell the personal stories that show we are all not much different in the ways that matter.

  13. 1950 vs 2010 population of USA has almost doubled ( 151M vs.~300M).
    Of all the people in history that have reached 65 years of age, half are living now.
    Net-increase of the US population 200,000/month.

    How might competition for resources affect our population?

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