When Rome fell, at least the barbarians were outsiders. In America, the Vandals and Visigoths are our own children.
Like the Europeans that inexorably pounded against a classical civilization, today’s hordes have been around for a long time. But a perfect storm of events has finally brought our existential peril squarely before us.
In Chicago, gangs of young thugs have begun to venture out of their war-zone neighborhoods on the city’s south and west sides in search of easier game, using social networking technology such as Facebook to converge on their victims suddenly, before melting back into urban anonymity using the extensive commuter rail systems.
The Chicago Sun-Times reports, “Mary L. McCarthy, a Gold Coast resident …, said flash mobs are giving her second thoughts about venturing out at night for the first time in the 13 years she’s lived in a high-rise …. [A] crowd of about 20 youths gathered outside her building, pulling people out of cars and taxicabs, she said.”
Such incidents are suddenly multiplying across Chicago. The city of big shoulders, however, is no anomaly in what promises to be a long, hot summer across the nation for law enforcement.
During Memorial Day weekend, police responded to clashes and general mayhem from young males in New York, Myrtle Beach, and elsewhere. Overwhelmed and badly outnumbered in some cases, police shut down public access to events, such as the Wave Country water park in Nashville, rather than contend with the mobs. In Miami, one person died and three police officers were injured at the annual hip-hop party. “This incident really mars us," Miami Beach Mayor Matti Herrera Bower said. In South Boston, three state troopers suddenly confronted with a crowd of 1,000 people had to call for backup.
An abnormally hot weekend after a long and dreary spring doesn’t begin to account for what looks like the beginning of a significant change in the sociological climate. And the fact is, we should have seen this perfect storm coming. As The Economist noted back in 1996, “Areas of male idleness are considered, and often are, places of deterioration, disorder, and danger. Non-working women are mothers; non-working men, a blight.”
“Men tend to commit most crimes. In America, they commit 81% of all crime and 87% of violent crime. Adolescent boys are the most volatile and violent of all. Those under 24 are responsible for half of America’s violent crime; those under 18 commit a quarter.”
Declining marriage and skyrocketing illegitimacy rates, linked to a recession that has hit men much harder than it has women, have made us all vulnerable. Eighty percent of the job losses have occurred in fields, such as construction and engineering, that have been traditionally staffed by men. And blue collar losses have been even more severe.
Columnist and educator Walter Williams points out that the decline of the black family has been decades in the making. “In 1960, only 28 percent of black females between the ages of 15 and 44 were never married,” Williams notes. “Today, it's 56 percent. In 1940, the illegitimacy rate among blacks was 19 percent, in 1960, 22 percent, and today, it's 70 percent.”
The Economistreport notes that fatherless boys commit more crimes than boys with fathers. Unfortunately, fewer and fewer boys of all races are waking up in homes with both their biological mothers and fathers present. Two decades ago, only about half of all children lived in traditional nuclear families. But only 38 percent of Hispanic young people—and 27 percent of young blacks—did so. The trend has worsened since then. That’s bad news for them, and for the rest of us.
Then there is the economic component. While the current crisis has brought the official national unemployment rate (not counting the underemployed and those who are so discouraged that they have quit looking for work) to around 9 percent, teens have been hit even harder. Their unemployment rate stands at around 25 percent, and older workers, desperate for any job at all, are now taking positions that used to go to teenagers. From 2000 to 2007, the number of workers aged 55 to 64 in the retail industry increased by 553,000. In that same period, teen retail jobs fell by 419,000.
The job market is even bleaker for young black men. With only 30 to 40 percent of black males graduating from high school (with many that do receiving a substandard education), the unemployment rate among black males aged 16 to 24 is about 34 percent. And what do these poorly educated, unsupervised, and bored young men do with all their free time?
“When men find it impossible to provide,” The Economist says, they “may retreat into fundamentalist masculinity—the world of gangs which provide for their members a kind of rule-based behavior that boys do not get elsewhere.”
George Gilder, in his book Men and Marriage, and scholars such as David Popenoe, Charles Murray, and Kay Hymowitz have noted that society needs men to be civilized by the responsibilities of marriage and family. “Once the man marries he can change,” writes Gilder. “He has to change, for his wife will not long have him if he remains in spirit a single man. He must settle his life, and commit it to the needs of raising a family.”
But the Sexual Revolution and faltering employment opportunities for males are changing this dynamic for the worse, leading to this rash of wilding incidents we are seeing from the new barbarians. Short of a miraculous reformation of values and a roaring economy, it’s hard to be optimistic that we will avoid the fate of Rome. But I do have some advice for the short run: lock your doors.
Stan Guthrie, a Christianity Todayeditor at large, is author of All That Jesus Asks: How His Questions Can Teach and Transform Usand coauthor of The Sacrament of Evangelism. Stan blogs at http://stanguthrie.com.