I was tipped off by a parishioner  to a social commentary in an unlikely place, a journal for Engineers, called ECN. In the article Karl Stephan, Consulting Engineer, Texas State University, San Marcos writes on the decline of the average American worker to find stability in the workplace, and that this instability has ripple effects in the family and does not make our future as a culture very bright.

Karl Stephen refers to this decline as a problem with “communication” But his use of the term as he defines it is closer to what we in the theological world call communion, or Koinonia.

In his own insightful way he points out that if we cannot find and maintain a higher degree of communion, we are likely doomed to steady decline as a culture and will not be able to sustain the taller growths that have led to our great achievements of the past 100 years.

Let me present a few excerpts for your consideration along with my own commentary in red. These are excerpts, the full article is here: Do We Know What We Are Doing?

Back in the 17th century, the word ["communication"]used to mean “anything good that two or more people have in common.” Communication meant not just talk, but trade, education, the town or country where people live together, institutions of all kinds—in short, the whole social fabric of benevolent interaction among human beings..

Again, I would argue that what he enunciates here is close to our concept of communion (koinonia) at least at the human level.

We may be facing a future in which the coming generation increasingly cannot find work that allows them an adequate means of social communication….

A big factor in this problem is the deterioration of the family structure, which is both a cause and an effect of economic changes. The family is probably the most vital and intimate form of social communication of all. Any nation which neglects the preservation and encouragement of the family will sooner or later end up running on fumes, because mentally and physically healthy, disciplined, competent workers capable of long-range planning do not simply grow on trees. They typically come from healthy families, and the fewer of those there are, the fewer upstanding citizens we will have to work with in the future.

Exactly. As a pastor who has had a School associated with his parish for much of my priesthood, I can also attest that much of what we describe as a problem with education, and much of what we ascribe to poorly run schools, is more often a problem rooted in family decay.

It may not be realistic to suppose we can turn out brilliant scholars and above average students, when nightly we send these children home to dysfunctional families and often highly deleterious situations in their homes.

The same is true for catechesis. It is not realistic to suppose that teaching children for an hour a week, no more than 30 days out of the year is going to bear a lot of fruit when they go back to homes where,  God is seldom mentioned, and the teaching of the Church and Scriptures are ignored or openly defied.

It is a true fact that our schools need great reform, as does catechesis, but one cannot wholly lay the blame at the feet of educators and catechists. Even very effective programs are not going to bear much fruit in the absence of a good family setting.

Our author speaks sobering words when he says, Any nation which neglects the preservation and encouragement of the family will sooner or later end up running on fumes…. Indeed the soil in this country grows ever thinner and we are less and less able to sustain the taller growths demanded if we wish to see the kind of technological and economic progress that we have in the past.

[In recent decades] the new-model corporation [has] emerged leaner, meaner, and more efficient….Engineers made these productivity gains possible with all the technology, communications systems, and automation improvements that have come online in the last several decades. [But as he will point out, people got left behind and were increasingly seen as an inefficiency in a system that prizes efficiency above all].

[But] corporate America is becoming a victim of its own success. In 1947, lifetime employment of wage-earners working for large corporations was the norm, and over that lifetime the average hourly worker with only a high-school education could expect to get married, buy a house, a couple of cars, have some kids, and maybe put one or two of the kids through college. And that is pretty much what happened.

Today, by contrast, a person starting out even with an advanced college degree can expect during one’s career to work for many companies, most of which will get bought out, restructured, or moved offshore at some point, and even engineers with good starting salaries will be fortunate to be continuously employed without large gaps in employment or having to do extensive retraining at several points…..

Yes, both of my brothers, and most of my parishioners are caught up in this instability in modern life. Even some of the largest and most stable companies of the past have been bought out, sold, or are endlessly reworked. Job security seems to be a thing of the past, even at the highest levels.

All of this causes serious social ripples, especially at the level of the family. It is hard to underestimate the toll that uncertainty takes, as well as the social costs of being uprooted and frequently forced to move about the country. 

I certainly know as a priest that parish life is rendered far less stable with all the moving about many Catholics are expected to make. Fewer and fewer are the parishioners who have been in the parish a long time. A nearby parish that caters  mainly to Capitol Hill workers has few families for longer than five years. Developing leadership, vocations and other works requiring committed stability is difficult.

Not only is the high-school dropout of today unable to get a decent job; he can’t afford many of the things that today’s economy makes. That drying up of the domestic market is what Mr. Friedman sees as the really ominous cloud on the horizon. Already, many U. S. companies are finding that their growth markets are mainly overseas.

Yes, economic isolation is growing and a permanent underclass is being formed among those who cannot academically compete. I find that many College Grads in my parish are competing for jobs as simple Admin assistants, even store clerks, and fast food workers.

If even college grads are fighting for these jobs, what does that say to those who for economic or academic reasons cannot get college degrees? What it says is that they will spend most of their life economically isolated and standing little chance of any upward mobility.

The despair that even college grads face, let alone mere High School grads does not bode well for social stability and health in the decades ahead.

We assume that this is because domestic markets are simply saturated, but maybe they are actually shrinking because the less-employed U. S. workers can’t afford to buy the things that the corporations make. The result? Millions of young people who can’t get a decent job, can’t afford stable relationships and the other promises of the American dream, and who may turn America into something closer to one of those countries where mobs of unemployed young men create continual civil unrest…..

Ominous. Last summer we look with shock as European Youth rioted in the streets. And while the roots of that unrest are linked to socialism, the picture we saw last summer may be repeated here for different reasons. The current economy shows little signs of suddenly opening up to a wider job market. Social and economic mobility seem increasingly locked down, new doors seem unlikely to suddenly open up. 8% unemployment (the real number is far higher and we all know it), has become so “normal” that it isn’t even reported anymore.

All of this becomes a downward cycle as the current economy further destabilizes the communion necessary for strong communities and families. And as those institutions further destabilize, the capacities for producing strong well trained workers and problem solvers further diminishes. And as  strong well trained problem solvers and those who invent new technologies and industries recede from the scene, the capacity to pull out from the decline further erodes, and the downward cycle continues. Add to all this the stifling of creativity by growing government regulations and intrusive policies, and a kind of perfect storm is emerging.

At the end of the day the communion we so desperately need seems increasingly hard to find. Marriages happen later as young people strive to find elusive stability before marriage. And families in crisis or families that are formed only very late tend to be small and lacking in the synergy most necessary for a favorable future.

As our author points out, communion, or as he calls it “communication” is at the heart of our problem, and at the heart of the solution. It is as he says, not just the ability to talk, but also to trade, give and receive education, to have some roots in the town or country and live together with others is an historical less ephemeral way. It is stably participating in institutions of all kinds. In short it is the whole social fabric of interaction among human beings.

All of this is strained today, at almost every level. Even in the Church, the decline in Holy Communion is not only problematic, it is emblematic of tear in social communion at every level.

It is the work of the Devil to divide and he has succeeded well. Spare us O Lord and restore our lost communion. Without you, and without one another we fall, and indeed great is our fall. Parce Domine, et miserere!

24 Responses

  1. Chuck says:

    Speaking of communion, and considering many of us who are products of very poor catechesis; can we who are repentant and honor the church teaching about the Eucharist and who are in non sacramental second marriages ever hope to receive the sacrament of communion without an annulment of a previous marriage?
    I am so forlorn over this conundrum and am constantly reminded of the beautiful communion with Jesus and the strength giving grace that the sacrament imparts that I don’t even want to attend mass as much as I want to attend mass. I am almost inclined to accept unworthily and fall at the feet of Jesus and ask His permission.

    • MaryR says:

      Chuck,
      Please discuss your situation with the your local priest. He may have insights to your situation which will help you resolve your problem or at least help you to work towards returning to full communion with the church. Until then may I recommend Spiritual Communion. I use this prayer throughout the day like beeds on a rosary connecting the Eucharistic communions of The Holy Sacrafice of the Mass.

      Spiritual Communion

      My Jesus, I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.
      I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul.
      Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally,
      come at least spiritually into my heart.
      I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You.
      Never permit me to be separated from You.

      Sincerely,
      MaryR

    • dianne says:

      Dear Chuck, In regard to your problem of yearning to take communion but being unable because of being in an unsacramental second marriage. There is a very simple solution which will enable youto receive the eucharist. Don’t have sex with your wife. If this seems outrageous to youand others reading this blog, it is because our society has brainwashed us into thinking that a human being can’t live without sex. I know it sounds as of I am oversimplifying, but think about it.

    • Matthew Ogden says:

      Non-sacramental marriages can potentially be sacramentalized. Depending on the case, the first marriage can be annulled and the second one made into a sacramental marriage.

      Another possibility, no doubt unpleasant, would be to end the non-sacramental marriage for the sake of your faith. Granted, I cannot think of anything harder to do than that, but that may be the only answer.

      Regardless, as the above post said, speak to a priest or a canon lawyer about this. The canon lawyer may know better than the priest; average parish priests are likewise products of poor catechesis. And above all, do not give up hope. There’s always a way back, and God waits patiently for those who desire Him.

    • WesW says:

      Chuck,

      I understand that a second marriage on the heels of poor catechesis can be frustrating. But we are all called to chastity. For single people it has a different meaning than for sacramentally married couples. You are just one Good confession away from communion with our Lord, I pray that you consider the viability of your(and wife’s) eternal soul. I would like to share that we all have crosses in our life, they come in all forms, it looks to me that the Lord is calling you to walk with him, on a path that is rarely traveled.

      God Bless

  2. Cynthia BC says:

    Very insightful article.

    As a Human Resources professional I must point out that the lack of commitment to a long-term employment relationship is not one-sided. My colleagues, both those I work with directly and those I know online, often find ourselves aghast at the It’s All About Me attitude we see from some of our employees – not just the young ones. These Me people will jump from one employer to the next for slightly higher pay, or a nicer boss, or a pool table in the break room. These job-hoppers don’t seem to realize that they are depriving themselves of retirement benefits (most plans require three to five years for “vesting” in pension funds) and the protected leave provided by the Family/Medical Leave Act. Worst of all, perhaps, they are depriving themselves of a reputation – their short stays are quickly forgotten.

    • Andrew J. Norris says:

      Dear Cynthia, I have had to engage in job-hopping for reasons other that you have outlined; and have as a result been labeled as a “job-hopper”. Employers who engage in bottom line thinking do not engender loyalty in their employees. Employees very quickly catch on that they are nameless, faceless cogs in a money-making scheme where the bottom line is the only line; where not even quality, efficiency or common sense are valued. Also, the evidence is that the likelihood of there being any retirement benefits at the end of the road is very low; the odds are that those in positions of power will mismanage and squander those funds. Further, those promised retirement benefits are often ludicrously unrealistic – who could trust anyone that would proffer such a promise. Sorry, many more thoughts but lunchtime is almost over, must rush back to my unrewarding futureless work. Sincerely, Andrew J. Norris

    • JobFrog Joe says:

      Typical HR blather.
      As a former electronics engineer, I’ve had three jobs wiped out by technology, 1 job zapped by the company moving the position overseas, and the best job wiped out by the company doing an intentional bankruptcy so it could raid the pension fund. Each time, HR said “don’t worry, all is well. Stay at work!” until the day of the pink slip blizzard arrived.
      “All About Me, Now!” is the mantra of today’s multi-national megacorps, and they don’t give a damn about the employees. For all intents and purposes, it’s back to the future of the inhuman work sites of Carnegie, Vanderbilt and Rockefeller.
      We worker bees are on to you, Cynthia BC, and we don’t believe a word you say!

      • Cynthia BC says:

        y’all should go into healthcare. There is a shortage of healthcare professionals.

        • Robertlifelongcatholic says:

          There is also an increase in unemployed who are losing their insurance causing a reduction in the amount of people having the resources to seek healthcare or pay for the services. Upheavals in the healthcare profession are just beginning to unfold. With government mandated regulations and increasing fedral control of healthcare, don’t expect utopian security in this field.

    • Cynthia BC says:

      I did not say that employers were faultless in the demise of life-long employment. My point was that they are not WHOLLY at fault. The changes to a me-centered society were underway well before the Era of Rightsizing.

  3. Nathan says:

    Another major factor, maybe even the major factor, in both the decline of the family and the more competitive workplace that seems to be overlooked in Stephen’s article is the mass entrance of women into the workplace. The article points out how the family situation facing kids after school impacts their success in school. In 1947, kids came home to a mother, how many kids are now bused to after (sometimes also before) school programs? How many kids are put into daycare from 6 weeks of age today, how many were in ’47? Did we ever ask ourselves if this was a good idea for society, for the children? Do we, as a society, even care?

    Not only has the move of women from the home to te workplace destroyed traditional family life, but, as doubling the workforce would have to do, this has also lead to a super-competitive workplace were it becomes ever harder to find a job, especially a job that can support a family on a single income!

    We, as a society, will never solve that which ails us until we take a critical look at the unprecedented changes our culture underwent between 1947 and today. Sadly, this is still taboo and might well continue to be a barred topic until we are not just running on empty, but facing a societal collapse not seen in the West since the Sixth Century.

    Luckily, we know the Church will remain to rebuild as it once did before.

    • Laura says:

      Nathan, I could not agree with you more! I saw this rush of women into the workplace, especially with women’s lib. No one thought of the consequences, only of themselves and being “free” from the domination of men. What has it wrought? Sure, everyone now believes they “deserve” a big house with decorator furniture, the latest electronics, the newest clothes and cars – all without saving very much for the future and sacrificing their children to day care. Women rushed in to take men’s jobs and wages were cut because there were more workers than jobs, and of course women would take less pay.

      Everyone thinks I am a Neanderthal when I say if all the women left the workforce except for those who were single, widowed, divorced, or supporting a disabled husband (or another dire circumstance), there would be a dearth of workers for these jobs and wages would necessarily have to rise. But no one wants to sacrifice their “goodies,” and so the rush to the bottom continues: More and more people competing for fewer jobs, with more “education” required for each job – while we ALL know the quality of education has deteriorated, and often what comes out of college today is less education than some of us received in high school (and I DO have a college degree and am appalled by what I see coming out of most colleges today). And with the dumbing down of education, it is easy to see why today’s young people cannot connect the dots, or if they do, they feel trapped.

      To change all this would require a sea-change in thinking. It would required sacrifice and a change in values. If only young folks could see what they would gain by sacrificing: The woman stays home. She’s able to pick the children up from school when it gets out, helps them with homework and then they go outdoors to play. Come dinner time, dad comes home to a nice meal, the kids and wife are happy. They share time. The kids are bathed and put in bed and mom and dad have quiet time together. Instead, we have everyone frenetically moving in all directions and everyone is frazzled just trying to survive.

      But no, it’s more important to have designer clothes and the newest car. And to die broke and living on assistance. Frankly, I do not think it is possible to ever put the genie back in the bottle. During the 60’s women’s lib, my mother said to me, “You women don’t realize how you are ruining it for everyone.” I thought she was crazy. If only I could go back. I’ll bet other women my age (in their 60s) feel the same way. Now it is ALL so clear. And we WERE sold a bill of goods.

    • I Like The Church Fathers says:

      “this is still taboo and might well continue to be a barred topic until we are not just running on empty, but facing a societal collapse not seen in the West since the Sixth Century.”

      Excellent point, Nathan.

  4. BaltoCath says:

    Lifetime employment is one of those convenient economic just-so stories we repeat to ourselves but I doubt it was true for the majority of workers at any time in U.S. history, and the fabled post-war social contract was a product of unique conditions unlikely to be duplicated. The dark side of 1947, amply described in The Organization Man, deserves mention as well. When I was growing up schoolmates came and went as their fathers (mostly) were transferred around the country in games of organizational chess. Seems to me to be a greater stressor for families.

  5. Steve M says:

    There are flaws with Rousseau’s Social Contract but if we play a little loose with it and call it a covenant, our culture today has a failing covenant with each other because we fail to maintain our covenant with God. The Social Contract in the work place today is a scary proposition because those who lead the country and economy seem to have lost their covenant with God. IF the pinnacle is materialism and the truth is relative as dominates our world today, then the connection between each of us and with our God is no longer communion but a self-focused process of extracting as much self-gain as possible from each exchange and then move on. As Michael Novak discusses in the Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, it is not capitalism or democracy that are the issue but the failure to integrate these with a tolerant society underpinned by Faith.

    You can never have enough engineers I say.

  6. Pilar says:

    Wow. Sadly, it is all too true. r On today’s agenda will be to read some uplifting scripture, to bring me out of this dark pit I have now found myself in. I’ll start with an “attitude of gratitude” as I go about my household chores: I thank God that he has blessed me with a wonderful husband and two children to clean up after; all in the service of my awesome and merciful God!

  7. Repent and believe the GospeI! says:

    “A big factor in this problem is the deterioration of the family structure, which is both a cause and an effect of economic changes.”

    I told you I wanted to opt out of Liberal Land Loooooooong time ago!
    The sexual revolution of the 60’s destroyed everything with their contraception and sex without consequences!
    And thanks to Hollywood and Hugh Hefner for fanning the flame. We need a Big Miracle to get out of this one!

  8. I Like The Church Fathers says:

    Excellent post, Monsignor.

    The future of the western world is decidedly bleak unless there is a dramatic widespread acceptance of two key elements of modern Catholic doctrine:

    1) Rejection of the sexual revolution. The sexual revolution has done incalculable [and possibly irretrievable] damage to the family and society as a whole. It needs to be reversed. Divorce, abortion and artificial contraception must be eliminated. The next Pope can provide leadership on this issue by releasing an encyclical to commemorate the upcoming fiftieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae.

    2) Catholic economics. In the great modern social encyclicals Rerum Novarum, Quadragesimo Anno, Laborem Exercens and others, the Church has clearly taught that unfettered capitalism is not the best economic system for a truly healthy society. Why? Because unfettered capitalism is more concerned with money and profit than society and families. In Catholic thought, the key organizing principle of a healthy economic system is the just family wage. An average man of average ability should be able to support himself, a wife and children. An economic system that does not allow for this needs to be radically changed.

    Unfortunately, as we have seen over the past week, with the pronounced desire in the mainstream media for a more “liberal” pope, radical social change along Catholic lines is not foreseeable. We are still at the stage of identifying and describing the problem rather than proposing radical solutions. There is an excellent recent book by Charles Murray that identifies the characteristics of the social decline of the past half century that I would recommend:

    http://www.amazon.com/Coming-Apart-State-America-1960-2010/dp/0307453421

  9. RichardC says:

    The idea of one vote per citizen implies that the citizen is the fundamental cell of society, and society then proceeds to arrange itself around what is best for the individual, which isn’t what is best for either families or for society. Ultimately, it isn’t good for individuals either. The Catechism of the Catholic Church correctly and insightfully teaches that the family is the fundamental cell of society. Therefore, again, I call for a Constitutional Amendment making it one vote per family, and families with the children, at that.

    • Nathan says:

      Interesting idea and while many will dismiss it out of hand, I think it has some real merits. As you point out, the family is the building block of society, not the “individual” (cf CCC 2207), so it would make sense to have those “building blocks” vote instead of individuals. Also, entering into marriage, especially if no-fault divorce is done away with, shows a level of maturity, add to that the requirement to have kids before voting and the level of maturity increases further. Finally, pro-family policies would naturally result by restricting the vote to families – no more elections won by promising free birth control to single women. Very interesting, indeed.

  10. Michael Petek says:

    There are a number of options for the future, and none of them are good. The USA, and the European nations, are in for a precipitous drop in their populations as economically insolvent young people decide they simply can’t afford marriage. Then again, they may decide that they simply can’t afford to live in the city, and that they may as well tear up their college degrees and take to subsistence farming.

  11. mike sullivan says:

    Seems to point out the need to have the protections provided by laws passed from 1880 through 1940s that have been dismantled by the politicians. Regulated not winner take all capitalisim provided us the democratic society from the late 40s through the early 80s.

    without demand there is no need for supply side policies.
    .

  12. Robertlifelongcatholic says:

    So maybe we will see a renwal in the demand and growth of monasteries, convents and religious orders.

Leave a Reply