An unlikely nexus

This month's Public Square column in First Things magazine by R. R. Reno has interesting parallels with Steve Sailer's Selecting for Conformity post. Each man expresses himself in a characteristic idiom, Reno the language of social justice and Sailer evolutionary biology, but it seems that they are coming at the same things from different sides.

Sailer:

The extraordinary complication of the modern college admissions game, for example, are best navigated by happy two parent families where mom and dad work together seamlessly to polish Junior's resume. Consider Amy Chua: she seems like a handful, yet she and her husband get along well-enough to stay married, which allows them to bring their huge joint resources of money, energy, education, and connections to bear on getting their amenable oldest daughter into Harvard. 

This trend has disparate impact on the children of broken families, but what are a combination of single moms, deadbeat dads, men with demanding new girlfriends, and widows going to do about it? Form the Losers and Screw-Ups Rights League?

This may have something to do with the vague social trend that many people have noted: that the young people at the top of society today seem pretty happy, well-adjusted, cooperative, and much more conformist than in the recent turbulent past. I suspect that people of ornery and/or impulsive dispositions inherited from their screw-up parents are less likely to make it to the upper reaches of society than in the past. In older times, parents with screw-up inclinations were more likely to be deterred by explicit social pressures against bastardy and divorces.

Reno:

No. Progressives talk about “social responsibility.” It is an apt term, but it surely means husbanding social capital just as much as—indeed, more than—providing financial resources. In our society a preferential option for the poor must rebuild the social capital squandered by rich baby boomers, and that means social conservatism. The bohemian fantasy works against this clear imperative, because it promises us that we can attend to the poor without paying any attention to our own manner of living. Appeals to aid the less fortunate, however urgent, make few demands on our day-to-day lives. We are called to awareness, perhaps, or activism, but not to anything that would cut against the liberations of recent decades and limit our own desires.

Want to help the poor? By all means pay your taxes and give to agencies that provide social services. By all means volunteer in a soup kitchen or help build houses for those who can’t afford them. But you can do much more for the poor by getting married and remaining faithful to your spouse. Have the courage to use old-fashioned words such as chaste and honorable. Put on a tie. Turn off the trashy reality TV shows. Sit down to dinner every night with your family. Stop using expletives as exclamation marks. Go to church or synagogue.

In this and other ways, we can help restore the constraining forms of moral and social discipline that don’t bend to fit the desires of the powerful—forms that offer the poor the best, the most effective and most lasting, way out of poverty. That’s the truest preferential option—and truest form of respect—for the poor.

Sailer's example focuses on the Ivy-league elite, but his point is more broadly applicable. The combination of partly inheritable smarts and focus combined with favorable family circumstances [that are not unrelated to smarts and focus] makes it easy to be a winner in America. The lack of any of those three things will push you, or your children, further down the social scale. Lack more than one and you are in trouble.

A great deal of effort has been made to educate the poor and downtrodden youth, but much of this effort has been wasted trying to send people to college who cannot benefit from it. At the same time, the social feedback system that discouraged indolence and rewarded hard work and deferred gratification has been slowly eliminated, mostly for the benefit of the privileged few who don't really need the help.