Monday, March 05, 2018

Conservatives Misdiagnosing America's Problems

Kevin Williamson recently wrote an article for National Review that's rightly critical of Donald Trump on some points, but also repeats a common false sentiment. It's an idea that's popular in conservative American political circles and popular in a lot of other contexts, even though it's so false and so destructive:

We have only so much time and only so much available in the way of neural resources to throw back at all the problems life throws at us. Earning a living eats up a bunch of the ordinary person’s time-and-brainpower budget, while seeing to children and family, managing a household, maintaining friendships and social obligations, etc., demands most of what’s left — or, for many busy people, more. I’d like to learn French and, if I dedicated a couple of hours a day to it, I could make some real progress in a year or two, I’m sure. But if I take into consideration all the other things I might do with that one or two hours a day, learning French ends up not making the cut. (So far.) That doesn’t mean that I lack the capacity to learn a Romance language or that I hold the works of François Rabelais in low regard. My ongoing ignorance of the French language is rational — there are other uses of my time and resources that better serve my overall ends in life….

Imagine you are a 35-year-old mother or father: If you had spent two hours a day for the past ten years reading up on the details of federal fiscal policy instead of investing that time in your children, would you or your family be happier or better off? Unlikely….

The fact that most people who don’t make their living thinking about politics tend not to think very much or very carefully about politics does not mean that they are not interested in politics or do not care about it. Far from it.

We know how Americans spend their time. The subject has been studied by a lot of people from a lot of different angles. Take, for instance, the Department of Labor's annual research on the topic. See our posts under the Time Management label for other relevant material.

Given that about three-quarters of Americans can't name the three branches of government, nearly half can't name the current vice president, most can't name the four gospels, etc., how busy would they have to be with their jobs, parenting, and so on to explain that level of ignorance? Are they that busy with activities like the ones Williamson refers to? No. They spend large amounts of time on trivial television programs and movies, sports, unnecessary housework and yardwork, reading trivial books, etc. I frequently hear from people, grown adults, who say that they either don't want to retire or want to leave retirement in order to return to their jobs, because there isn't enough to do in retirement. It bores them. Apparently, activities like studying theology, evangelism, apologetics, missions, serving in the local church, prayer, politics, being involved in moral movements in our culture, etc. aren't interesting enough. If they can't find enough trivial activities to fill their time up with - watching trivial television programs, following sports, playing video games, sewing, knitting, cooking, doing trivial things with friends and relatives, and so on - then they want a trivial career to help fill up the time.

Then there's the issue of multitasking. If Americans are as busy with activities like working a job and parenting as people like Williamson suggest (they're not), then why don't they acquire more knowledge of subjects like religion and politics through listening to the Bible while driving their car, listening to audio files while doing housework, etc.? People frequently have earbuds on while working their job, while doing yardwork, and in other contexts. What are they listening to? More trivialities, for the most part. Trivial and vulgar music. Humor. Sporting events. That kind of thing. They could be spending that time on matters like theology, apologetics, and politics. They don't want to.

We're a nation with desperately false priorities and horrible time management. We need to be more honest about that. If we're not even diagnosing the problem rightly, how likely are we to solve the problem?

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