We Must Rightly Discern 21st Century America
It is now fully apparent that American society is slowly sliding into oblivion. The signs are all around us, in a quiet chorus muttering the same word: “Decay, decay, decay.” We also live in a nation that is increasingly polarized. As evidence of the latter, simply study a map of the polling results from the November 2016 election.
“And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowring. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?” – Matthew 16:3 (KJV)
The Bygone Era
If you read nearly any 19th Century or early 20th Century book, you will get a glimpse of a bygone society that in the middle and upper classes was substantially more literate, courteous, reserved, and considerate than we see in the early 21st Century. It was a culture that had a rich vocabulary. They were often schooled in music and well-versed in scripture. Families that aspired to send their children to a college or university insured that they studied Latin and usually at least one modern foreign language—usually German or French. (Or perhaps, it was Spanish for those living in the southwest.)
It was standard practice in many schools to memorize not just Bible verses but also poems of moderate length. Parenthetically, I should mention that my paternal grandfather could rattle off the full text of Longfellow’s Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie in dactylic hexameter, with nary a pause, 60 years after he left high school. I’m pleased to report that my homeschooled children seem to have better recall and a wider base of general knowledge than I gained in public schools. So, perhaps there is hope for us!
The Public Fool System
Take a few minutes to read Harvard University’s entrance examination, for the year 1869. That would be considered almost graduate school level work today. And, again, that was considered entrance level, in 1869. How far we have fallen, America!
Our public schools now produce legions of illiterate fools who are just barely capable of sustaining themselves with a productive job. Often, employers must resort to remedial training. They do so just to get their employees to the point that they can do rudimentary mathematics and construct a complete sentence at an 8th grade level.
Because education has been reduced to the “No child left behind” lowest common denominator, standards have degraded dramatically. We now live in era where achievement testing is considered “unfair” or even “cruel”, and where everyone goes home with a pat on the head and a Participation Ribbon. The priority is positive self image rather than academic vigor. Discern the truth: If this trend continues to its logical end, then we are doomed.
Public high school students now “graduate” largely ignorant of history, geography, the sciences, and literature. Most of them cannot balance a checkbook or count out change at a cash register. Nearly half of them cannot even read an analog dial clock. They do not know the parts of speech and cannot diagram a sentence. Some cannot correctly answer simple three column subtraction problems. Very few can write a sentence cursively. Their vocabularies are considerably truncated, compared to past generations. They have never had the Constitution taught to them in detail. They have never memorized the Declaration of Independence, as children often did up until the 1930s.
SAT Score Shenanigans
By the middle of the 20th Century, Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores had been rising steadily for nearly five decades. But then, in 1967, the trend reversed dramatically, and scores have never recovered. The response to this dilemma from academia was laughable. Instead of improving the educational process, they declared: “Re-norm the tests!” And in 1995, that is just what they did. And when even that proved insufficient, our colleges simply lowered their entrance requirements.
A substantial percentage of baccalaureate degrees are now awarded to “special cases” with low GPAs. The end result: The once-revered Bachelor of Arts degree is no longer any relevant gauge of either intelligence or knowledge.
Not surprisingly, America’s academic decline has led to both a decline in real (inflation-adjusted) wages and a decline in competitiveness in global trade. Secondary school students in the United States now rank in the bottom one-third in math scores of the 34 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) “developed” countries.
Adjusted for the real rate of inflation, average after-tax income has fallen in 10 of the past 15 years. This has meant that the middle class is shrinking. We are living in the midst of a hidden economic depression, but few in the mainstream media want to admit it.
Some Signs of the Times
Beyond the aforementioned academic decline, I believe that we need to step back and discern the signs of the times. The following is an incomplete list that describes our present times:
Big and Intrusive Government
The scale of government has expanded greatly since 1931. Bigger government by its very nature tends to be more intrusive, more controlling, more politically motivated, more likely to engage in social engineering, and less respective of individual liberty. I could pen an entire essay detailing the expansion of our government since 1930, but for the sake of brevity I’ll just say: The record is clear. It has happened, and the results were devastating.
Corrupt Political Parties
George Wallace may have been an insufferable bigot, but he certainly had one thing right. He once famously said: “There’s not a dimes’s worth of difference between the Democrat and Republican parties.” That hasn’t changed. We now have two dominant socialist political parties in our country. The only difference is that one of them is in more of a hurry than the other.
Degraded Property Rights
A man can no longer do what he wishes with his own land. There are a myriad of laws, codes, taxes, mandatory inspections, and fees. And because the Prussian-inspired American public school system brought with it property taxes, it is now virtually impossible to live off the land. Everyone now needs a regular income so that they can pay their annual property taxes. In essence we are now renting our land from the government. If that sounds like an extreme statement, then I suggest this, as a test: Stop paying your property taxes for the next five years. At the end of that experiment, write and tell me who owns that land.
I suspect that the real tax burden in most of the United States now exceeds 50% for most Americans, and 55% for those earning more than $200,000 per year. If those figures seem high to you, then consider the combined bite (mordida) of all taxes and fees. These include: income taxes, sales taxes, capital gain taxes, excise taxes, fuel taxes, import duties, regulatory fees, license fees, telecommunications taxes, vehicle registration fees, building permits, “late penalties”, environmental impact study costs, and so on. But there are also many hidden forms of taxation. One of these is inflation of the currency. This is the slow robbery of the buying power of our savings. Another that is almost imperceptible is the relentless cost of the indirect tax and regulatory compliance costs that are now built into the cost of everything we buy.
The United States government and the state governments now horribly over-regulate us. Countless other essays from organizations like the Cato Institute have heavily documented this. So I won’t belabor this point. I will suffice with just a couple of examples:
It has been estimated that for cars produced by Detroit’s “Big Three”, the built-in regulatory costs (associated with air bags, padded dashboards, and other safety standards, Federally-mandated black boxes, and meeting emission regulation standards) now exceed $3,000 of an average car’s sticker price.
Higher Cost = Quality Improvements
There was a bureaucratic stroke of genius in March of 1971: The Bureau Of Labor Statistics stopped treating charges for mandated pollution control equipment on automobiles as “price increases” and instead classified them as “pure quality improvements”. Some of these “quality changes” were tied to decreased weight in order to meet corporate average fuel efficiency (CAFE) standards, which have actually made cars less safe in crashes. The bureaucrats claim that the added expense of meeting the CAFE standards is offset by fuel purchase savings over the service life of a car. But with gasoline now selling for $2.20 per gallon in my region, I’m rather dubious. And one cannot put a price tag on the lives lost as a result of people now driving around in flimsy cars. (In the event of a crash, would you rather be driving a big Mercedes, a big SUV, or a tiny Smart Car?)
In the coal mining industry, the ballooning cost of regulatory compliance, environmental studies, taxes, and various fees now leave the owners just a 2% profit margin. Meanwhile, in the oil industry, things are even worse, with most producers now operating at a net loss and just barely hanging on in hope of a turnaround. But only World War 3 and oil embargoes would bring that change in anything less than a decade. (I should mention that any astute politicians have surely come to the same conclusion. So let that be a warning.)
Bad Doctrine and Morally Adrift Churches
Most mainstream churches now preach a watered-down gospel. They have abandoned church discipline. And sadly most of them have devolved into happy-clappy feel good social clubs.
Bad Company and Corrupt Morals
Raise your children to be discerning about the company that they keep. The mass media barrages our sons and daughters with examples of bad behavior. Even homeschooled kids are under attack. Provide good role models to counteract this. So we must be very careful about the adult company that we keep. Shun those who don’t lead Godly lives. Your children will mirror your behavior. So if you keep good company, then so will they.
The Welfare Mentality
A steadily growing segment of our society is on the dole. One out of every seven Americans uses food purchased with EBT cards. (Those are the electronic replacement for Food Stamps.) At the last tally I read, 45.3% of American households pay no Federal income tax. So in effect the “have nots” are a huge voting bloc that keeps leftist politicians in office for their lifetimes, and those same politicians consistently vote for high taxes, more regulation, and big government.
Cities of Sprawl and Scrawl
We live in an urbanized society. Graffiti has become ubiquitous, especially in metropolitan regions. Paralleling the tattooing and piercing culture, the graffiti culture is a headlong assault against civility and respect for property. It is also a means for criminal gangs to mark their turf.
Decline of Traditional Marriage
In England, it is estimated by 2019 that the majority of children will be born out of wedlock. (The figure is presently 47.5%.) In the United States, the figure was around 40%, as of 2013. And of course I must mention that in 2015 homosexual “marriage” was forced nationwide in the United States by a Federal court order, overriding state’s rights.
A Debased Currency
Through the crafty tool of currency inflation—which is essentially a hidden tax—the purchasing power of the U.S. dollar has declined more than 90% since 1913. Silver coinage was removed in the 1960s. The next step will likely be the advent of a digital currency and outlawing cash transactions.
The Slow Slide into Tyranny
In the 1960s, I grew up hearing and believing: “It’s a free country.” But what can we honestly say now? Do we rightly discern a degradation of freedom? There is rising tide of oppression against fundamentalist Christians and gun collectors. This is something akin to the rise of Nazi Germany in the 1930s. As John Jacob Schmidt of Radio Free Redoubt eloquently described it: When tyranny rises, it first targets a specific demographic group. To amplify what he has written, here is the historic pattern, in sequence: Parody and Ridicule -> Marginalization -> Registration/Mandated Self-Identification ->Demonization -> Criminalization -> Forced Segregation -> Incarceration ->And finally, Extermination.
If you think “that could never happen in America”, then just consider the internment of Japanese Americans WWII. Consider the fact that most Concealed Carry permit holders by law must inform any law enforcement officer that they encounter that they are armed. They must do so without being asked in 13 states, and if asked in 33 other states. (As of the time of this writing, only in Vermont and Georgia is there no “duty to inform”.)
And you might not have heard that in the bellwether state of California, neighbors and relatives may now report gun owners who they consider unstable under a “ex parte gun violence restraining order”. This is done without full due process of law. Do you discern the gravity of this recent change?
Adios to Probable Cause
Alarmingly, the 2016 Utah v. Strieff supreme court decision effectively destroyed the longstanding Fruit of the Poisonous Tree doctrine. This decision now gives the police in 24 “stop and identify” states carte blanche to stop anyone at any time for any reason (or even for no reason) and to conduct searches without probable cause, and then have any evidence found in those unconstitutional searches still possibly be admissible as evidence.
Mass Murder of the Unborn
Since abortion was legalized following the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions, more than 58.5 million unborn children have been murdered. Alarmingly, it is minority populations that have suffered the most from the abortionist genocide. Do the minorities discern this?
Abandonment of Standards of Dress
Aside for the brief New Moderne wave of the mid-1980s, clothing has become progressively more sloppy and de classe since the late 1960s. I realized that we had hit rock bottom when I saw a man in his 40s wearing pajama bottoms while shopping at WalMart.
And The Rest
Rather than continue on in detail with this lengthy list of trends, I’ll resort to mere bullet points for the remainder of my list of items to discern:
• Imperialism and Endless Wars
• Feminized Men and Lesbianized Women
• Media and Celebrity Obsession
• Materialism and the Shopping Society
• Enforced Equality and Social Justice Warfare
• A Pervasive Demands for Entitlement and Reparations for Wrongs in the 19th Century
• Widespread use of foul and profane language
• Increasingly tyrannical police employing legalized property confiscation
• Politicized Bible translations
• Curtailed freedom to travel
• Political Correctness and Cultural Marxism
All of the preceding might seem depressing, but there is a viable exit strategy. I recommend the following as personal responses to these perilous times:
A.) Commit your life to Christ. If you don’t know what it means to be a Christian, then inquire of one, and they will explain Christ’s Gospel to you. And if you already are a Christian, then recommit your life to a Christian walk and all that it entails, including tithing, good stewardship, fellowship, verse memorization, and outreach to the lost.
B.) Become more self-sufficient. Grow an expansive vegetable garden. Repair your own appliances. Raise livestock. Cut and split your own firewood.
A.) Get out of the Obamacare trap. Instead, join a Christian cost sharing plan. For example, Samaritan Ministries offers a fully legal alternative to health insurance that thankfully is exempt under the Affordable Healthcare Act.
B.) Arm your family and get the best weapons training you can afford. Raise your children to be safe, confident, and competent around weapons. Take heed: Never register your weapons. (If you live in a state like California or New Jersey that has mandatory registration, then vote with your feet. Relocate!)
C.) Avoid the Boys Scouts of America and Girl Scouts, USA. Both were once pillars of moral uprightness. Self-proclaimed “progressives” have horribly corrupted these organizations. Instead, consider more moral alternative groups, such as Royal Rangers.
D.) Join a church with detailed expository preaching of scripture and sound doctrine. It takes wisdom and prayer to discern good churches from bad churches. If you cannot find a worthy church that is within reasonable distance, then poll your neighbors and start a home church.
E.) Depending on your stage of life, your mode of employment, and your income level, consider getting a second passport or perhaps even expatriating. This is often easy for the self-employed or for independent contractors. However, there are trade-offs in various offshore nations, such as taxes, gun laws, homeshooling laws, et cetera. Don’t plunge into such a life-changing move without substantial study and thoroughly weighing the risks and rewards.
A.) Get your children out of the Public Fool System, and homeschool them, preferably using the Classical model. Statistically, homeschoolers score substantially higher on standardized tests, and those who go on to higher education end up in higher-paying jobs and are statistically more likely to start their own businesses and save for their eventual retirement. Discern and learn!
B.) Invest in your own education and in the education of your children. Develop a comprehensive home library, and instill a love of literacy in your family. That will benefit you, your children, and many generations to come. Protect and hand down those books to your progeny.
An aside: For the sake of completeness and the most recent statistical content, try to find a reasonably-priced used 32-volume 15th Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, preferably one printed in or after 2005. (The most recent editions have a two-volume index—that is your first visual cue. Then look for the copyright date.) For side by-side comparison you should also purchase a set of pre-1930 encylopedias. By comparing articles, the liberal/statist bias of more recent editions will be apparent. Again, discern and learn!
A.) Be active, nay, be aggressive in the political realm. The cause of freedom has never been advanced by timid men. Learn to discern and to pick your fights. (Some political battles must be anonymous and quasi-clandestine. For example, anonymously snail-mail letters to the editors of newspapers.) Remember that we live in the digital age, so any of your interaction in public will go on permanent record. Ditto is true for anything that you do on the Internet, even something that you save in “draft” form. Discern the threats to your privacy and take prudent countermeasures!
B.) Support candidates who honestly believe in smaller government. Ignore their rhetoric and discern their intentions. Don’t compromise and vote for the lesser of two evils. Make it clear when you are withdrawing your support from any individual or group, and say why. (We must shout our “consent withdrawn” moments.)
A.) Starve the Beast. Sell off your Dollar-denominated investments. Minimize your tax burden through legal exemptions. In the current economic environment, be content with just preserving your wealth. (We’ll be fortunate if we can accomplish that in the next two decades.) Discern the investments where you only have to pay tax once. Find legal investments where Uncle Sam won’t tax you a second time. This is one reason why I prefer investing in tangibles, like guns and silver. In most jurisdictions I can simply hand them to my heirs without a “taxable event”. Learn and discern, folks!
Note: In the United States, one good exemption is making your teenage children employees of your home business and paying them each below the Federal tax filing requirement. Not only will it shelter your family from greater taxation, but it will also give young people experience living in the real working world, and teach them the value of a dollar, vis-à-vis their hours of work. Make sure to put “EXEMPT” on line 7 of their Form W-4. But note that even a small amount of unearned income (such as interest and dividends) for dependent minors can be a tax trap that could force them to file a Form 1040. Be sure to consult a qualified tax accountant!
B.) In some careers, you might consider moving to a state that has no individual income tax. (These include Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming.)
C.) Start your own business. Discern the best long-term opportunities. Owning a business is a key facilitator, if you have plans to relocate your family.
Never lose hope in restoring Constitutional government, and more importantly never lose your faith in Christ. Without that, we are mere pawns in the game and simply victims of our circumstances. But with faith, we can be courageous defenders of Christian Liberty and good government. And to my mind, good government is synonymous with minimalist government. – JWR
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Image: James Wesley Rawles