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!