homeless encampment
homeless encampment

The United States of Social Anarchy

Crossposted at Humanize

Can you sense it? Do you feel the dread? Institutions are failing. Cohesion has frayed. As the poet wrote, the center cannot hold, the best lack all conviction, while the worst are filled with passionate intensity. Our country is becoming the United States of Social Anarchy.

Why is this happening? Blame a hyper-focus on individual rights and a concomitant disregard for personal responsibilities. We “feel” much more than we “think.” Winning trumps principle. Style overcomes substance. “I want,” eclipses, “I should.”

This is reflected in the confusion we see all around us. For example, take the rampaging transgender moral panic currently roiling the country. Scientific truth has been trampled by gender ideology, which insists that our interior emotional state matters more than objective reality. Things have become so irrational that we are told male and female are mere social constructs rather than actual states of biological being.

Our kids are most at risk from this social contagion. In the last few years, the number of boys and (more often) girls claiming to not be the sex they were born has multiplied exponentially. This harrowing trend is exacerbated by the federal and some state governments, medical associations, and schools insisting upon teaching gender ideology and rendering to dysphoric children immediate “gender-affirming care” — which ranges from “social affirmation,” e.g., using preferred pronouns and not calling a child by their “dead names,” to “medical affirmation” such puberty blocking, and even “surgical affirmation” — which can include teenagers receiving mastectomies, radical feminizing or masculinizing facial surgeries, and occasionally, genital removal and reformation. No wonder so many of our children are angry, confused, and depressed.

Or look at our catastrophic open borders policy. This year, some 3 million people will enter the country illegally or by requesting asylum — often under false pretenses — knowing they will be released into the country and never called to account. Not only do we not know who most of these people are, but some states even reward this illegality by paying for aliens’ health care, giving them driver’s licenses, and offering sanctuary against federal immigration law enforcement.

Then, there’s the nation’s homelessness crisis. Large swaths of some of America’s (once) most beautiful cities have been reduced to squalid squatter camps. Visit San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, or Portland, and you’ll see miles of tents housing homeless people — many of whom are neglected and mentally ill or openly drug-addled — soiling sidewalks with used needles and human waste. It has become a national disgrace.

In the midst of this mess, crime is increasing at an alarming rate. But rather than fight against the toxic tide, some states and cities have enacted public policies that exacerbate the danger. For example, Washington, D.C.’s city government just reduced the penalties for felonies such as carjacking and robbery. Meanwhile, “no cash bail” laws in New York and other locales allow people accused of violent crimes to be immediately returned to the streets where they sometimes strike again. Politically progressive district attorneys refuse to prosecute lawbreaking vigorously — particularly property crimes such as shop-lifting—resulting in police making fewer arrests because, well, what’s the point?

Predictably, such lax law enforcement has resulted in a sharp increase in retail theft, to the point that some stores now display their products in locked cases. Some retailers have even closed their doors rather than struggle to remain open amid the rampant stealing from which the police won’t protect them and against which they have no defense.

Not surprisingly, our political estrangement from each other is worsening to the point that political violence is a major concern. The risk of assassination seems to be growing. There was the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) in 2017, the recent assassination attempts against Supreme Court Justice Brent Kavanaugh and New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin, as well as the home invasion and hammer beating of Paul Pelosi, not to mention the Capitol riot of Jan. 6, 2021. How long will it be before one of our leaders is killed?

This chaos most directly impacts people’s lives. Nearly one hundred thousand are dying each year from drug overdoses — as fentanyl from China and Mexico floods the country with little impediment from the government. Suicide has become a public health crisis. Pornography is a scourge that destroys families and corrupts children. We are threatened with wild inflation, and yet, millions refuse to work. Celebrities become rich by modeling dissolute lives to their fans, promoting a destructive hedonism. Loneliness is rampant. Social media is replacing personal intimacy. Civic organizations are failing. Faith is at an all-time low.

But here’s the good news. We have the power as responsible individuals to turn the tide by leading stable and productive lives regardless of the turmoil around us. We need “merely” to practice the “Seven Virtues”: chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, kindness, patience, and humility.

That means, among other life practices, avoiding pornography and refusing the temptation of adultery. Don’t become routinely inebriated. Eschew addicting substances. Help those in need. Keep promises. Complete tasks. Walk the extra mile. Don’t fall into debt. Have pride in your appearance. Don’t litter. Don’t lie. Visit the sick and imprisoned. Spend time with your children and pay attention to what they learn in school. Read. Exercise. Think more. Feel less. Sacrifice for others. Try not to judge. If wronged, forgive. Apologize when offending. Don’t gossip. Focus on community and family. Contribute time to good causes. Vote. For those blessed with faith, practice its precepts. And above all, love the sinner even as we reject the sin.

These things aren’t easy. We all stumble and fall short. But by pursuing lives of individual righteousness, we are likely to both personally thrive and dampen the raging conflagration of social anarchy, which is the ultimate solution to restoring our nation.

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.