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Why American cities are squalid Human flourishing is seen as dirty

Removing benches won't fix homelessness. (Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

Removing benches won't fix homelessness. (Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)


January 17, 2024   7 mins

The Thursday before Christmas, I woke up in downtown Sofia, leisurely drank a coffee, and jumped on a metro that took me directly to the airport. In less than an hour, I was at the gate for my flight to New York’s JFK. My plan was to get the last bus upstate that evening, so I could be in my own bed a little after midnight. But it would only work if the flight landed on time — and if passport control took under an hour and a half.

The first happened, but the second didn’t even come close. To describe Terminal One that Thursday night as a shitshow is unfair to shitshows, which are at least darkly entertaining. This was bureaucratic hell: lines of exhausted travellers snaking out into dreary linoleum hallways festooned with disconcertingly cheery posters welcoming us to NYC. It took close to an hour to even reach the main hall, and then we endured another hour of slow shuffling up to the 10 or so border security agents.

Ever since I began my project to walk around the world, it has always been jarring to come home to the US, often from much poorer countries — in this case Bulgaria — to find that our infrastructure is infinitely worse. Of course, flying internationally is still a luxury, and complaining about it is a bit elitist. I really wish the US, and JFK in particular, would make an effort to meet global standards of air travel — but it was what happened after I left the airport that convinced me that America, and especially NYC, is broken.

After crashing at a friend’s house not far from JFK, I got up to take a 4:39am subway train to the Port Authority bus terminal in Manhattan, so I could catch the first bus home. The train, to be fair, was on time. But it was filthy. The carriages were mostly empty, except for three or four homeless guys in each who were either sleeping or passed-out. The dozen or so of us who got on at the first stop chose our seats carefully, positioning ourselves close to each other, for safety, and as far as possible from the sprawled-out guys and their piles of trash and puddles of urine.

The train slowly filled at each subsequent stop, until it was standing room only. I was seemingly the only person on the train who didn’t have to be there. Ride a NYC subway from the outer boroughs at 4am and you’ll find that it’s jammed with overnight construction workers, office cleaners, nannies, restaurant staff, hotel employees — all coming from late shifts, or going to early shifts, carrying tool bags, hard hats, work clothes. The “help” coming in and out of the city. United in fatigue and quiet frustration with the squalor, with the unconscious men taking up multiple seats.

I thought about Sofia, where the subways and buses — and other public spaces and resources — are so much cleaner, safer, and smoother. Where workers simply wanting to get to their jobs don’t have to deal with navigating the mentally ill, addicted and desperate every day. For context, the GDP of Manhattan alone is about nine times that of the entire nation of Bulgaria. But NYC’s problems only seem to be getting worse, especially for those who have the least. I don’t have to take the subway; I have the cash for an Uber. But I try to see, and to understand a little, the world as most people see and understand the world.

And what I see is that, in the US, larger cities are basically two-tiered. A wealthy downtown professional class relies on inexpensive labourers who can’t afford to live near their workplace or drive a car; who are forced into long commutes on public transport systems in terminal decline.

Eventually, that morning, a guy covered in old vomit and carrying a cane, his trousers only just above his knees, got onto the subway train, and went up and down each carriage, hitting every sleeping or passed-out guy on the legs, yelling at them to move on, to give the rest of us some space. Everyone else pretended it wasn’t happening, hoping it wouldn’t go south, focusing instead on the floor or their phones.

And nothing “bad” did happen, beyond a few raised voices and some pantomime air punches. We all got where we needed to go.

But having garbage-strewn subways that effectively serve as mobile homeless shelters is no way to run a public transit system. It isn’t fair on the riders who don’t have the money to avoid the subway. It also isn’t fair to the homeless, who are being encouraged — or at least not discouraged — to hang out on crowded trains, maximising the chances that bad stuff will happen. The Daniel Penny-Jordan Neely case was a horrifying example. The death, on Sunday, of a man who tried to break up a fight on a Manhattan-bound subway train may be another. NYC’s authorities, even if they tried, couldn’t design a better system to provoke a nasty backlash against addiction, mental illness and homelessness.

But this isn’t just an East Coast problem. Last May, city officials in Los Angeles proudly announced a new kind of bus stop to address rider complaints by providing “shade and lighting”. They called in La Sombrita — and were promptly and roundly mocked by Twitter users, who pointed out that it’s a sad provider of both light and shade. I mean, just look at it. At best it provides shade for one person, maybe. As for the light, I’m not sure how it is any different from your standard streetlamp?

And then there was the expense. It was claimed that each La Sombrita came to $10,000, although the research that went into designing it is said to have cost well over $300,000. That process included junkets to foreign cities, to see what works, including Quito in Ecuador, a city I’ve spent a fair amount of time in. I can tell you, Quito doesn’t have these sad things.

I’m not saying LA shouldn’t be doing something about bus stops. While the city has a surprisingly extensive system, with clean and comfortable buses, the stops themselves can be pretty terrible: a pole by the side of a road under an underpass that reeks of urine, or a simple bench in the glaring sun. But that they came up with La Sombrita as the solution — and announced it so proudly — is depressing, and another revealing example of America’s much bigger problem: its inability to build nice things.

One of the forces that influenced LA authorities, though they won’t admit it, is homelessness. They built La Sombrita, rather than a proper bus shelter, for the same reason NYC is taking benches out of Port Authority: they don’t want people to sleep there. It’s something you see more and more in American cities: a locking down of public spaces in an attempt to deal with the growth of the homeless population. A removal of resources for the majority, because of concerns over “misuse” by less than 1% of residents.

I’m not saying those concerns aren’t well-founded. Benches become unusable if someone is sleeping or pissing on them. But removing them is a cowardly way to cope with a problem that authorities are otherwise not wanting, or able, to address.

To get big-brained about it, something like La Sombrita could only happen in a high-regulation/low-trust society like the US. If regulations massively limit both bottom-up and top-down solutions, and if those solutions are expected to protect against all sorts of bad behaviour, you end up building the least to mitigate the worst — building things the majority doesn’t want, or doesn’t find useful.

The high-regulation part of the US is usually couched in the language of safety, but it’s really about not allowing organic growth, which is messy — even though, people being people, it tends to result in things the majority really wants. Ecuador, by contrast, is a low-regulation (although low-trust) society: here, you get ad hoc, bottom-up solutions. If there is a bus stop in the middle of nowhere, without natural shade around it, riders rig an umbrella to a pole, or throw some old seats under a tree. In the US, such solutions would be dismantled within days.

But also, in places like Quito, bus stops attract street vendors, who come with umbrellas, making people feel safer by their very presence. LA has some of that, but it’s against the letter of the law, and vendors are constantly hassled with fines, or threats of shutdowns. My favourite taco place was closed down twice during my short stint in LA, for bureaucratic reasons. All this is to say that in Quito getting the bus is a much more pleasant experience than in LA — even though the latter city is roughly 10 times richer than Ecuador, and the latter has its own serious troubles.

Regulations themselves aren’t the problem, though. Germany, like much of northern Europe, is a high-regulation society, but it’s also high-trust, compared to the US. Here, nice and fully functional things are built without fear of misuse. For Americans, who have both a high-regulation and low-trust society, this is all rather depressing; it’s the combination that means we can’t have nice things.

I like to live here, but the reality is we are rapidly falling behind the rest of the world in liveability, especially when you adjust for our wealth. Our cities are being frozen in time by an absurd, centralised regulatory mindset, which sees human flourishing as dirty and unsafe, and seems determined to wring out the last drops of any soul from our urban spaces. A mindset that manifests as one useless La Sombrita at a time.

It’s not that I’m worried about Americans moving overseas. That’s a luxury most don’t have — or want. I’m worried that authorities don’t feel compelled to provide citizens with towns and cities that work, and feel safe, and offer slivers of shade and corners that don’t smell of piss. But I’m also worried about the cultural forces that have got us here: that they allow the tolerably well-off to ignore the plight of those who are forced to depend on public services. The regulatory mindset is a problem that can be easily changed; the more pernicious part is that we are now firmly a low-trust society, and social trust impacts everything — every facet of life — and it can’t simply be legislated back. Like a ratchet wheel, once social trust comes undone, it spins quickly out of control, and getting it wound back is a long, arduous, and complex process.

I wish we could stop it from spinning too much further out of control, but I’m not particularly hopeful. The first step would be to realise that something is wrong, and right now a lot of people in the US seem determined to deny we have a problem. Why complain, when you can just order an Uber to avoid the subway?


Chris Arnade is an American photographer. He is currently walking round the world.

Chris_arnade

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sean fennelly
sean fennelly
3 months ago

Sad, but not new. Pre-Covid, I was in a large food court in the downtown area of a major US city. A homeless person had come in and defecated on the floor. Everyone just walked past like they hadn’t seen anything. The first image that jumped into my mind was the scene in Apocalypse Now where Colonel Kurtz is rubbing his hand over his head and saying “The Horror”. I wasn’t sure what was worse: we allow the homeless (mentally ill and drug addicted, for the most part) to live on the streets like animals, or the fact that everyone walks past without even batting an eye. I went to the security desk to tell them what had happened so they could get someone to clean it up (and actually saw the homeless guy there asking where the bathroom was — I won’t describe how I knew it was him). We are making a deliberate decision as a society to live like this and I have no idea why. It doesn’t have to be like this.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
3 months ago
Reply to  sean fennelly

I remember seeing photographs from Sarajevo of people going about their daily business stepping over dead bodies in the street.

Simon Boudewijn
Simon Boudewijn
3 months ago

like San Francisco?

And that was in war – this is in peace and prosperity

Except it is Not

It is 5th generation Warfare brought to us here, by our Masters upon us, not Kinetic warfare like that, but more deadly as it destroys the soul instead of the buildings.

It is either Trump and America and the real Americans, or it is 1984.

Laurence Siegel
Laurence Siegel
3 months ago

It was a tragic situation, but I don’t know what else the Sarajevans were supposed to do, and it wasn’t forever – the war ended and Sarajevo is nice again. Regarding NYC and SF, I’m still waiting.

Damon Hager
Damon Hager
3 months ago
Reply to  sean fennelly

I’m an arch-conservative and no wishy-washy liberal, but it seems wicked to me to allow legions of broken people (often profoundly mentally disturbed) to wander the streets in despair. We have this problem in Britain and Europe, but to a lesser extent.
The West needs to sort this out. Urban squalor *can* be solved, but leaders don’t want to lead, and the public doesn’t want to pay.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago
Reply to  Damon Hager

Not sure the public doesn’t want to pay. But who would we pay that would actually solve the very solvable problem?

Damon Hager
Damon Hager
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Funding needs to be provided for basic accommodation or, where appropriate, hospitalisation. This probably means taxation, unfortunately, although care needn’t be provided directly by the state. Funds can be channelled through NGOs or other agencies. The problem also needs to be tackled at source, with action against drug addiction, family breakdown, etc.
None of this is easy, and I assure you, I’m normally the last person to support higher taxes or state intervention. But this needs to addressed, both from a moral perspective and in terms of societal self-interest.

Simon Boudewijn
Simon Boudewijn
3 months ago
Reply to  Damon Hager

100% the opposite Damon – The more you spend, the bigger the problem will get. I lived years on the road, and with the down and out. Make their life hard and they keep hanging onto what ever it is they do to keep from rock bottom.

Put a big mattress and food and money in the rock bottom pit – and millions will stop fighting and just slide into it.

The more you help, the more you hurt. Tough Love. Make the life of an Addict viable – get more addicts….

Apo State
Apo State
3 months ago
Reply to  Damon Hager

I’m afraid your trust in NGOs is sorely misplaced. Activist Inc™️ has vastly exacerbated the problem despite spending literally billions of dollars per year. During Covid for example, L.A. (through various nonprofits) created a homeless tent facility, with bathrooms and showers at cost of ~$750,000 per tent. That is actually higher than the median home price in the area.
what is needed in many of these cases would be wholly unacceptable to the public: involuntary treatment or commitment (as the case may be), along with much more aggressive programs designed to re-integrate back into society those who successfully complete the programs.

Katja Sipple
Katja Sipple
3 months ago
Reply to  Apo State

I don’t find it unacceptable at all to hospitalise the insane and addicts. An insane person is unable to make decisions regarding his/her wellbeing so yes, the treatment will not be voluntary, but that’s a direct consequence of the disease. An addict is very much in the same position; a prisoner of the substances he consumes to keep whatever demons at bay. Such an individual cannot make rational decisions. Tough love is required.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
3 months ago
Reply to  Katja Sipple

Hospitalize where?

Laurence Siegel
Laurence Siegel
3 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Abandoned military bases.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago
Reply to  Damon Hager

Conceptually your comment is spot on. Where in runs into the train wreck of reality is when one considers the billions of dollars already being spent by government agencies and, worse the unaccountable NGO’s that are funded by the government agencies, to solve these problems. The only result has been the creation of a huge industry that has no incentive to actually be successful in solving the problems that they leverage to support their own lifestyle. So what makes one think the average citizen would be willing to throw more good money after bad? I’m not. My preference is to defund the whole thing, wait two years and then see what the problem looks like before starting over. Without the money-grubbing non-profits holding their hands out.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
3 months ago
Reply to  Damon Hager

Yeah right, but it ‘aint gonna happen.

Thomas Wagner
Thomas Wagner
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

“Not sure the public doesn’t want to pay.”

I can tell you this. The public doesn’t want to pay for the liberal solutions that require massive amounts of money to make minimal progress.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
3 months ago
Reply to  Thomas Wagner

There are no solutions. It’s too late.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
3 months ago
Reply to  Damon Hager

We solved it once before in the mid-90s

Martin Johnson
Martin Johnson
3 months ago

Yes, in NYC at least. 20 years of Giuliani and Bloomberg undone by 10 of DeBlasio and Adams.

Tom Condray
Tom Condray
3 months ago
Reply to  Damon Hager

I always thought homelessness was the problem in the U.S. Our awful neglect of those who wander our city streets, many mentally ill, their only contributions being the squalor they create.

Then I learned that homelessness, per capita, is actually greater in nations like Sweden, France, Germany, and the U.K., the last more than three times as much:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sovereign_states_by_homeless_population

Clearly, I was wrong. It seems we are all allowing ourselves to believe we no longer need to participate in the social contract. Too many Americans, foolishly, think they can get want they want out of life without regard for the welfare of those who make achieving their aspirations possible.

Sadly, we’ve done a terrible job of helping those who come to our nation to assimilate. This multi-tier structure of income, wealth, and opportunity is only possible because we see so many of our fellow countrymen as “Others”, and their numbers continue to grow.

How we find our way through this morass of heterogeneity I honestly don’t know. But, understanding America is facing an existential crisis would be a start.

Paul T
Paul T
3 months ago
Reply to  Tom Condray

Having children sharing a bedroom can be classed as homeless in this country. People that have a home but have more children thus become “homeless”. Homelessness and [relative] poverty are now just weapons to attack others with.

Alan Osband
Alan Osband
3 months ago
Reply to  Tom Condray

I would not take those figures seriously . It’s all about classification . In the UK the left love to classify as many as possible as suffering homelessness or poverty .

M M
M M
3 months ago
Reply to  Tom Condray

I get a feeling that I disagree with you in part. “It seems like we are all allowing ourselves to believe we no longer need to participate in the social contract.” I think this misplaces the blame in this case in a way similar to the author of the main article. The problem is not that the more well off folks don’t believe in the social contract, it is that liberal folks have defined normal down to a level that the more well off folks have to avoid it. You can’t address the problem from the point of view of the “social contract” if progressives are defining pissing on the sidewalk as a valid lifestyle choice that must be respected. The example is The Tenderloin District in San Francisco or Skid Row LA. Progressives think that the way to fulfill the social contract there is to give out free needles and drugs. That social contract is never going to work.

Nancy Kmaxim
Nancy Kmaxim
3 months ago
Reply to  Tom Condray

Past generations assimilated by being productive and thus caring for their families, and often for a few extra community members. There’s plenty of work to do, and plenty of us to do it. Very few of us are actually unable to contribute. Work is life giving and creates community.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
3 months ago
Reply to  Tom Condray

I think we know that. But it’s not just migrants. America has always had too many people living in poverty. “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer”. Many years ago Before I went to the US I read a book called The Other America which was heartbreaking, and it’s still that way.

Martin Johnson
Martin Johnson
3 months ago
Reply to  Damon Hager

The public would pay if it thought the leaders had a sincere plan to address the problems without primary emphasis on enriching themselves and their cronies.

Paul T
Paul T
3 months ago
Reply to  Martin Johnson

The public would be happy to pay if it didn’t automatically mean more expensive local authority employees with productivity rates far below 1.

Simon Boudewijn
Simon Boudewijn
3 months ago
Reply to  Damon Hager

There is a huge Industrial Complex – the ‘Homeless Industrial Complex’ where hundreds of $Billions are dumped – and so you get more homeless as each homeless person brings tens of thousand $ into the corrupt industry supposedly there to help – but it is so lucrative! Naturally the more money you give corrupt politicians and corrupt NGOs to fix a problem the more they increase the problem – and make even more money. Most NGOs are wicked – and make everything they touch much worse.

R.I. Loquitur
R.I. Loquitur
3 months ago
Reply to  Damon Hager

Republican Rudy Giuliani solved NYC’s urban squalor with tough policing. Democrat Bill DeBlasio welcomed it back with soft policing, no bail and non-prosecution of offenders. The death of American cities is the result of a conscious choice by the Democrats in charge of them, but I can’t for the life of me understand why.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 months ago
Reply to  Damon Hager

Why is it that people survived years of combat, even the death camps, Japanese POW camps and torture and did not become mentally ill ? Noone today had had to cope with what some people endured in WW or the Soviet Gulag, such as Varlam Shalamov or Solzhenitsyn so why the mental illness?
Varlam Shalamov – Wikipedia
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – Wikipedia

R.I. Loquitur
R.I. Loquitur
3 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Why? Look at the developed world’s response to transgenderism. We now encourage mental illness–is it surprising that there’s more?

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
3 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

That’s not true.

Shrunken Genepool
Shrunken Genepool
3 months ago
Reply to  Damon Hager

But that requires a concerted reestsblishment of ascriptive social norms that are Christian

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
3 months ago
Reply to  Damon Hager

How can it be solved? It might just be the beginning of the end of civilization with the help of climate change.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
3 months ago
Reply to  sean fennelly

It’s not deliberate.

J Bryant
J Bryant
3 months ago

A fine article, imo. I would say America is becoming less of a nation, in any traditional sense, and more of a market for goods and services. The financial bottom line is everything. If an immensely profitable urban core supported by low-wage service providers works, then it works. There’s no reason to change. Culture, social good, human flourishing (for the many, not just the few) doesn’t enter into the financial equation.
Look at the current Democratic Party project of flooding the nation with illegal immigrants, warm bodies who’ll do menial jobs for whatever the market pays, and not be required to assimilate into what was once a recognizable American culture.
America is perhaps the first nation in history to ask the question (in real time, not just theoretically): can a nation without a culture survive?

Jon Barrow
Jon Barrow
3 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Obviously not: Empires collapse through internal strife; Babylon is a biblical archetype; in times of stress (war, protracted economic decline) fault lines often open up in divided societies (but can tighten in unified ones). The USA has historically been fortunate in geography and resources, but imo isn’t culturally sustainable.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
3 months ago
Reply to  Jon Barrow

The economy is a big factor. The west has been in decline since the creation of the central banks and worthless money printing, make worse by giving up on the gold standard. Then the final nail in the coffin was to export jobs to China and bring in cheaper goods. All of these actions ignored the way economies work which is set of well by the Mises Institute. China should have been left to develop at its own pace which would have increased salaries until the costs matched the west. Now There is no way back from this except a final collapse of the western economy. All China, Russia and others have to do is to stop using the dollar and the west will be finished.

Arthur G
Arthur G
3 months ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

The gold standard was a disaster. Multiple depressions were caused in the 1800s by a static money supply unable to keep up with economic growth.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Except it doesn’t work. Not in the way the word is defined. When transit is filled with people who ought to be wearing haz-mat suits, that’s not a working system. When it’s easier to cross the border illegally than to legally enter via customs, that’s not working. On your last point, America is full of people who are openly hostile to the native culture and to Western Civilization, and are bent on getting their wish of having to live under anything but that.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
3 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Culture is just a set of shared answers to questions like “what is good”, “what is man and what is he for?”, “what duty do we own our fellow man?”, “what is sacred?”. A society without some kind of shared answers to these questions will cease to be a society, as the members will no longer be able to understand each other.
By destroying our culture, we’re recreating God’s judgement on Babel.

Simon Boudewijn
Simon Boudewijn
3 months ago

A Christian Culture. Unlike Middle East societies who protect and promote their religion – we debase and ridicule it to destroy it – for just the reasons you state, to destroy us.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
3 months ago

What’s god got to do with it? There isn’t one.

Andrew Boughton
Andrew Boughton
3 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Seconded. Everything in life, business or personal, is transactional. Not that I don’t love my American friends and family. As Chris illustrates, such an articulate and engaging people.

Simon Boudewijn
Simon Boudewijn
3 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Wrong J – The Global Elites are out to Intentionally Destroy the West. A society of unified, prosperous, moral, patriotic people cannot be owned. Therefore they destroy those people and have great numbers of isolated groups, poor so dependent of government so government ‘Clients’ and not citizens – then you finally capture those disunifed – messed up and poor masses and own them and the lands.

This is why the over half a million abortions, the rising crime, the open borders for unsuitable masses – racism creation (1619, BLM) inflation, debt to destroy thee economy, and on and on – the destruction of Morality, fecundity, and patriotism.

ALL THIS is intentional. The Democratic Party Puppet Masters are as evil to the core as Hit**r and Sta**n – sheer evil. Watch the head guy speak – look through the mask at the pure hate in those eyes when he talks of real Americans…

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
3 months ago

That’s a load of rubbish. It’s not intentional. American societal decay is a by-product of capitalism, materialism and greed.

Andrew Boughton
Andrew Boughton
3 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Though there is a vibrant, creative, anarchic, ramshackle counter-culture to this ramshackle non-culture. Just watched a documentary on Burning Man. Individual Americans are so socially vibrant and engaging and creatively experimental. We just don’t find much celebration of these things among ‘political people’. Too little order to hold onto.

Chiara de Cabarrus
Chiara de Cabarrus
3 months ago

Porcfest is another example of this. The porcupine freedom festival in New Hampshire. The attendees will make short work of any government inspectors harassing ‘unlicensed’ food vendors and they have a huge variety of interesting speakers .

opop anax
opop anax
3 months ago

Is New Hampshire the State with the “Live Free or Die” motto?
If so, I’m onboard.

Shrunken Genepool
Shrunken Genepool
3 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Nation requires mutual identification and a ‘we identity’. Social cohesion requires a moderate class politics. All progressive politics has been designed to destroy the national we, and undermine the class ‘we’ – in favour of a kaleidoscope of vengeful and unstable often mentally ill we-identifications based on what Freud called the narcissism of small differences – bilious intersectional splinters. So you’re right. The common denominator is simply accidental geography and market mediated distribution of goods. And as the monopoly of violence and the shared Judeo Christian culture breaks down or is deliberately wrecked, market exchange gives way to tribal raiding and violent theft. And this is now the norm in blue state cities.

And by the way you can’t get back to the golden mean without bending the stick far in the opposite direction. Choose your medicine. It will be illiberal either way. Unless conservatives are prepared to exercise power – the road ahead will be strewn with mass graves and liberal / Stalinesque reeducation camps.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
3 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

I suspect the underlying reason is that the point of government is, first and foremost, to create more government – and hence better opportunities for people who work in government. The most effective way to do that is to create more intractable problems for governments to pretend to solve.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
3 months ago

The brass ring of modern American society is to belong to a class deemed “victimized”, for to be a victim is to be given license to act with impunity.

Bernard Brothman
Bernard Brothman
3 months ago

The valorization of victimhood. I read about how the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) in New York City tries new subway turnstile designs to cut down on fare jumping, only to be outsmarted by fare jumpers. The transit police seem reluctant to staff more officers to arrest fare jumpers since the leftist district attorney is reluctant to prosecute them. When the police actually stake out a turnstile bank and arrest fare jumpers, they find many of them are wanted for other crimes and or engaged in other illegal activity (such as drug or weapons possession).
If those in relevant authority decided to enforce the laws, they would be a decrease in criminal activity. Such laws include public deficating.
Subway stations should have bathrooms, which need to be patrolled and homeless kicked out of them after doing their business.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
3 months ago

Bathrooms get used for nefarious activities.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
3 months ago

Just like this author, I’ve been to Bulgaria and made exactly the same observation to my wife this weekend after visiting a a busy American city.
Regardless of my personal politics, I would consider voting for any party that had a working solution to America’s homelessness problem. Unfortunately, they both seem too preoccupied with ‘owning’ each other.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
3 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Politics in America is not about solving problems, it’s about acquiring power and wealth while displaying how virtuous and better than the average voter you are like a particularly insufferable peacock.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
3 months ago

So, then, it must be about reproduction? Displays of fitness which are costly and dangerous but attract mating partners? Interresting metaphor here.

Simon Boudewijn
Simon Boudewijn
3 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

MAGA then, that is the only hope.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
3 months ago

Then there really is no hope if that is the only hope.

Apo State
Apo State
3 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

A few years ago, after a recall, effort against Governor Gavin Newsome, there was a brief gubernatorial campaign, during which, heterodox journalist Michael Schellenberger attempted to run for office. The main thrust of his campaign was a detailed plan for reducing homelessness and drug addiction in California I don’t know for a fact whether that plan would have worked or not, but it seemed to be well thought out, and was worth a shot.
Unfortunately, he did not make it onto the ballot during the Democratic primary.

Rick Frazier
Rick Frazier
3 months ago
Reply to  Apo State

I also considered Schellenberger’s plan to be well thought out and derived from a realistic, on-the-ground assessment. I also predicted it would never see the light of day in California. California does have a distinct culture…one mostly without any of the characteristics that would help make it a well-managed state.

Katja Sipple
Katja Sipple
3 months ago
Reply to  Apo State

No pity for California and its residents then. Doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results is the definition of insanity.

Catherine Conroy
Catherine Conroy
3 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

I agree with you and the author. I’ve been in Bulgaria for over 10 years and I’m amazed by its infrastructure. B roads are steadily improving. Power cuts caused by adverse weather get worked on immediately and snow ploughs criss-cross the country during heavy snow storms. Some hospitals still need upgrading but the work is going on and there are no staff shortages. There is no queuing for any administration needs as those offices are well staffed. The joy is also to have petrol station attendants and real cashiers, rather than machines. However, politics in Bulgaria are all over the place but this does not seem to have an impact on services.
There is homelessness in Sofia but it is a tiny amount, comparable to the levels of homelessness in London in the late 70s (where I lived at the time).

Devin Brazier
Devin Brazier
3 months ago

I live in Canada and this article describes the state of modern urban Canada equally well. Indeed, “Canada is broken” has become a popular Conservative complaint against Trudeau’s Canada. It’s shameful how far these two great nations have fallen. Fortunately, I don’t equate “broken” with “irreparable”.

Klive Roland
Klive Roland
3 months ago
Reply to  Devin Brazier

I didn’t see any of this squalor in Quebec City when I was there earlier this year. Is it a bubble of privilege or was I just not looking hard enough?

Apo State
Apo State
3 months ago
Reply to  Klive Roland

Quebec City (especially La Vielle Ville) is basically Disney. It’s beautiful and well kept, and is there for tourism. There are “less desirable” neighborhoods far from the old city, but Quebec City a small place; not a real “city” in the way that say, Montreal is.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
3 months ago
Reply to  Devin Brazier

When I was in Vancouver I saw some tented areas and addicts shooting up in the street. I was told homelessness tended to be more of a problem in the areas with a reasonable climate. No one thinks of sleeping out in Winnipeg in winter.
Presumably this applies to the US as well except that there are more States that enjoy mild weather throughout the year in the US.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
3 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Really? I can only think of Southern California and Florida.

Simon Boudewijn
Simon Boudewijn
3 months ago
Reply to  Devin Brazier

Watch Viva Frei on youtube or Rumble – he is a Canadian Lawyer given up and moved to Florida and Loves it. He says Canada is dead and he is becoming an American Citizen. Great talk show if the above topic interests you.

M G
M G
3 months ago

The more that our values slide toward extreme leniency, the more we invite destructive behavior.
We need more church/temple/mosque going to teach how to live good lives. Being accountable to a family, community, or a higher being might help.
Western cultural values are being undermined.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
3 months ago
Reply to  M G

You think forcing people to listen to your stupid fairy tales is going to help?

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
3 months ago

He didn’t say force people to attend church. Is this the reading comprehension we should expect from a Harvard grad?

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
3 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Yes, actually.

Tricia Wine
Tricia Wine
3 months ago

It does help. Look at all the work religious charities do.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 months ago

Keir Hardie, Ernest Bevin, James Callaghan and the founders of the Cooperative Society would disagree.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
3 months ago
Reply to  M G

I’d say it’s more to do with millions of people living hand to mouth in insecure poorly paid jobs, only being an illness, job loss or piece of misfortune away from destitution. Add in the lack of a safety net you’d find in most first world countries and flooding the nation with fentanyl and you’ve created the scenes you now see.
Most western nations are much less religious than the States and they don’t have half the social problems so I’m not sure a lack of church attendance is the issue

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

I would venture that public trust varies between the USA and other “western countries”. I recall seeing newspapers in Geneva that you could just take a paper from because you didn’t have to put coins in to open it up like you did in the USA. People just paid in the slot (the money was locked up) and they didn’t steal the paper. Public trust is created by culture and institutions that teach this. If you don’t have the culture (who was it that came to the USA? – they didn’t send their best and brightest you know) stop abiding the institutions (church), then you don’t get the repeated messages that get you to act appropriately (we are pretty thick).

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Actually, you can put in 4 quarters and take as many papers as you want.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

In Britain, in the countryside, people often have boxes where they sell produce and a container for the money. A Spanish lady could not believe the honesty. The Duke of Wellington said Britain’s greatest asset was our honesty.
Orwell noted our honesty in his essay, The Lion and the Unicorn.

Arthur G
Arthur G
3 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Well that can’t be the answer because you didn’t have these issues in the 1900-1950 period when people were MUCH, MUCH poorer.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
3 months ago
Reply to  Arthur G

The streets weren’t awash with fentanyl and the mentally ill weren’t left to their own devices

Dominic A
Dominic A
3 months ago
Reply to  Arthur G

In the early C20th much was was routinely covered up, or happened behind closed doors – in sanitariums, prisons, slums, even mansions. Extreme deprivation was so commonplace as to be taken for granted, and even the poorest would know to wear their suit (with holes, their only clothes) so as not to upset the haves, whereas we now live in a let-it-all-hangout culture.

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
3 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Thank you for this bit of common sense.
I read something recently from an American in Italy: “These people live in a society, we live in an economy”. It makes a big difference.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
3 months ago

True. The business of America is business

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

A sense of responsibility, emotional maturity, self – control and self discipline will help the situation as RSM J C Lord and Lt Col Toosey proved in POW camps. In fact it can keep people alive.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
3 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Not people, men

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
3 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Exactly.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
3 months ago
Reply to  M G

Education on Ethics is a better answer than religious sophistry.

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
3 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

What even more for teacher to bore their charges with?

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

For some perhaps. I don’t see a problem with choices.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
3 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Exactly.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago
Reply to  M G

I think you have the right idea. And it is NOT forcing people to listen to stupid fairy tales. We are in our situation because people like Champagne Socialist are stupid and they call the stories of the bible stupid. They show us all that they have never read the Scriptures except through their own smug Western glasses. They do not understand the biblical narrative. It is a story of goodness and evil, of hope, redemption, restoration, love, sacrifice, and a moral code that works.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

I’ve never read the bible and I’m ok.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Without Christianity there would be the warrior religions of the barbarians who over ran Western Europe. It was the Christian monks who knew Latin which kept Classical knowledge alive. A society run on the morals of Attila The Hun would be very nasty, unless one considers drinking wine out of the skulls of one’s enemies good manners.
Attila – Wikipedia

Katja Sipple
Katja Sipple
3 months ago
Reply to  M G

Mosques are the antithesis to Western civilisation! The teachings there do not encourage functional societies with classic liberal (in the political science sense) values.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
3 months ago
Reply to  Katja Sipple

Exactly.

D Walsh
D Walsh
3 months ago

Why are American cities so squalid. Tricky question, who runs or controls the cities ? probably Trump supporters, worst people in the US or so I’m told, must be their fault

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
3 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

Every time!

Simon Boudewijn
Simon Boudewijn
3 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

They are not known as ‘Deplorables’ for no reason.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
3 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

Yep.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
3 months ago

Interesting essay, but isn’t this more a Democrat vs Republican city thing? I could be wrong, but aren’t most Republican cities much more functional and livable. If that’s the case, I would think ideology plays a big role.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
3 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Or is it size?? I remember the road from JFK into NY city as being comically full of potholes – it was like driving on the moon. Whereas roads from airports into smaller U.S. cities were much better. Maybe in smaller bureaucracies it’s easier to identify who is responsible, and maybe that person feels pride in what they can achieve in that job. Too big = too impersonal = no one feels responsible.

Also economic models: in Australia, for the last 30 years, we have had a relentless drive to make the public sector more ‘efficient’, and one of the main ways this has been done has been to ‘contract out’ all the actual tasks/work to private sector companies. Local/state governments used to have workforces that, for example, maintained paths etc. Now, someone in local government, only when they’ve received enough complaints, and if they’ve enough money in the budget, will call a contractor to go out and do the specific job. That person, who doesn’t have pride in the area, won’t, while they’re doing that job notice some other thing that needs doing and do it. Because they’re not paid to do it – time is money. In the olden days the council workers would notice and would fix it up: they were responsible for the area, and everything that needed doing to keep it nice.

Jon Barrow
Jon Barrow
3 months ago

I agree, but I also think desiring to ‘keep things nice’ is a consequence of being brought up in a high-trust society.

Judy Englander
Judy Englander
3 months ago
Reply to  Jon Barrow

Astute observation.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 months ago
Reply to  Jon Barrow

Exactly. And how do define a high-trust society? It’s not one ruled by identity politics; it’s not one that trashes its own history; it’s not that separates into oppressors and victims. We are all three of those things and then some, and the foreseeable consequences are playing out.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 months ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

One can take a man out of the slum but not the slum out of the man. A person with a slum mentality can turn a palace into a slum.
The Armed Forces especially the toughest regiments such as the Parachute Regiment and Royal Marine Commandos recruit men from tough slums and turn them into soldiers who are clean, self disciplined and can function to very high standards in jungle, arctic and desert conditions.
Ask the contractor ” Do you select and train your employees to be clean, self disciplined and take pride in their work no matter how tough the conditions or are we employing slum proletariat ?”
Academy Sergeant Major J C Lord and Colonel Phillip Toosey (Bridge on River Kwai) kept soldiers alive by enforcing discipline, especially cleanliness.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

In the Tamarkan camp, Toosey worked courageously to ensure that as many as possible of the 2,000 Allied prisoners would survive. He endured regular beatings when he complained of ill-treatment of prisoners, but as a skilled negotiator he was able to win many concessions from the Japanese by convincing them that this would speed the completion of the work. Toosey also organised the smuggling in of food and medicine, working with Boonpong Sirivejjabhandu. Boonpong was a Thai merchant who supplied camps at the southern end of the railway taking great risks and was honoured after the war.
Toosey maintained discipline in the camp and, where possible, cleanliness and hygiene. His policy was of unity and equality and so refused to allow a separate officers’ mess or officers’ accommodation. He also ordered his officers to intervene if necessary to protect the men. For his conduct in the camp, he won the undying respect of his men. He was considered by many to be the outstanding British officer on the railway.
Behind the backs of the Japanese, Toosey did everything possible to delay and sabotage the construction without endangering his men. Refusal to work would have meant instant execution. Termites were collected in large numbers to eat the wooden structures and the concrete was badly mixed. Toosey also helped organise a daring escape, at considerable cost to himself. (In the film the fictional colonel forbids escapes.) The two escaping officers had been given a month’s rations and Toosey concealed their escape for 48 hours. After a month the two escapees were recaptured and bayoneted. Toosey was punished for concealing the escape.
Philip Toosey – Wikipedia
Toosey achieved the above so why cannot cities be kept clean and orderly ?
The Lord Down Here: Discipline Lessons from RSM Lord MVO MBE (thearmyleader.co.uk)
After being captured at Arnhem he, with others from the 1st Parachute Brigade, were transported as POWs to Stalagluft XIB at Fallingbostel. When he arrived he found a camp of allied soldiers, some of whom had been in Stalagluft XIB since Dunkirk, who had largely given up on themselves. They lived in squalid misery and had defaulted to the lethargy to which captivity often leads. When prisoners died they were transported out of the camp in an old cart normally used to transport swill. None of the POWs cared enough to try and do anything about this sad reflection of the helpless situation they were in. Given the meagre rations and medical care available, the lack of will to survive would undoubtedly have led to most of them eventually taking the cart ride to an untidy and unmourned grave.
Over a period of 7 months RSM Lord turned the camp, and the lives of the POWs, around. He took control of the prisoners’ morning roll call, turning them into smart morning muster parades. He insisted in the smartest turn out possible under the conditions (reprimanding officers for not shaving) and instated a routine of daily exercise. And he changed the burial routine into a formal ceremony of such discipline and precision that the German officers became embarrassed at the turnout of their guards who oversaw the burial party. In short, he turned them from captives back into soldiers.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
3 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

I think there’s a lot of truth to that for men, but not for women.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Read about the women who survived torture and the concentration camps.

Malvin Marombedza
Malvin Marombedza
3 months ago

Potholes in the West? That is a bit of a stretch, don’t you think.

Jon Barrow
Jon Barrow
3 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Think it may be correlation rather than causation. There aren’t many Republican cities (this chart shows 10 of 51 cities over quarter of a million:

https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2014/08/08/chart-of-the-week-the-most-liberal-and-conservative-big-cities/

And those are the smaller/less diverse/higher trust ones like Jacksonville Fl and Anchorage Alaska.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
3 months ago
Reply to  Jon Barrow

This makes sense too. I was thinking of Florida and Texas cities.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
3 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

I just moved from the Seattle area to Tampa. The former is around 700,000, the latter 400,000 (both are centers of larger metropolitan areas; Seattle’s is no doubt larger). It’s like the author’s comparison between Sofia and New York. Seattle is overrun by the walking dead – zombies. I can understand the modern fascination of this movie genre better because of it. Tampa is for the most part clean, functional. And here’s a real novelty: when people call the police, they actually show up in a timely fashion and act like one expects them to act. There are bums around, but they keep a low profile. I didn’t see Tampa on that Economist chart but assume this place would be on the conservative side if it was there.

C Yonge
C Yonge
3 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

I live in Austin. The bigger Texas cities are Democrat

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
3 months ago
Reply to  C Yonge

And Austen is a highly desirable place to live because it’s liberal.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
3 months ago
Reply to  Jon Barrow

I’ve lived in SWFL for just over three years now. I have yet to see one homeless person, let alone an encampment. Even the supermarket strip malls are gorgeous. I often drive through an older area populated by Latino imigrants: their houses and lawns are beautifully kept, many have boats in the driveway, the neighborhood middle school has a great reputation, and their little downtown has one of the best outdoor art shows in the entire region.
Nice people want nice things to stay nice.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
3 months ago

Home ownership does that.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

In poor areas the front step and the pavement outside of the house was kept clean, whether owned or rented. The woman of the house would have not wanted to be considered a slattern.
Cleanliness is next to godliness used to be a common phrase, especially in poor areas.

Steel Swift
Steel Swift
3 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Endemic homelessness in the US is a direct result of Reagan’s loosing the government run mental health institutions onto the streets and curtailing mental health programs in favor of charitable programs which were to have been boosted by his trickle down theory. The only trickling down has been the urine on the collective pants of the poor souls forced to sleep in the subways or rough in the streets. NYC has scant public toilets too. Yet every city has these issues. It is not a red vs. blue issue, not a political problem, rather one of humanity.

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
3 months ago
Reply to  Steel Swift

I’m sure you are right. Ee had similar institutions in the UK which certainly had very grave problems and were closed down in the 80s. There clearly are some problems with homelessness and mental illness in London but the scale is much less.
The picture at the top says a thousand words; it’s not that you’ll never see a drunk collapsed in public but it’s rare. The description of mentally ill and drug addled people commonplace in New York is quite shocking. Moreover, it’s not like that in London.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
3 months ago

Because the UK has more social programs.

John Hope
John Hope
3 months ago
Reply to  Steel Swift

I’m sorry, that’s incorrect. Presidents, as far back as Kennedy sought de-institutionalization. Under LBJ, the 1965 amendments to Social Security shifted about 50% of the mental health care costs from states to the federal government, motivating state governments to promote deinstitutionalization. American mass culture embraced this with the movie inspired by the novel “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kesey.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 months ago
Reply to  Steel Swift

Endemic homelessness in the US is a direct result of Reagan’s loosing the government run mental health institutions onto the streets
No, it isn’t. If that were true, then the current state would have been reached long ago. I see another poster provided some detail as to why you’re wrong, though I doubt any volume of facts will dislodge you from this particular talking point.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago
Reply to  Steel Swift

Reagan undid the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980, but notice that act was made in 1980. We didn’t have homeless people pooping daily in bus stations before 1980, so that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Reagan was not the King of the USA, nor was he the King of California. All the initiatives were passed with bipartisan majorities (77-1 in the Democrat assembly of CA). The truth is that the mentally ill in the past were kept against their will, and the laws were changed to prevent that from happening. So now as soon as a mentally ill person is “stable” they can just walk out and stop taking their meds. Rinse, repeat.
Not sure why it requires Federal money (with an additional layer or few of overhead costs) to solve a local problem. Everywhere there are humans, this problem occurs. Some places tolerate the pooping more than others (for some reason).

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

I thought Reagan closed mental institutions to save money.

Nardo Flopsey
Nardo Flopsey
3 months ago
Reply to  Steel Swift

Of course. It’s the fault of a Republican from 40 years ago. I guess we just have to live with it forever and ever, because Dems obviously aren’t smart enough to solve a problem created by a Republican 40 years ago. Oh, the humanity!

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
3 months ago
Reply to  Steel Swift

The push to deinstitutionalize was started by Kennedy – they say in response to his handi-capped sister Rose…

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 months ago
Reply to  Steel Swift

Why is it some people can survive combat, death camps and torture and remain normal while others fall apart after a slight problem ?
What makes peoples character different ? What can the weak learn from the strong or is the problem they are incapable of learning ?
Is the ultimate divide between people not money, class but character ?

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
3 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

The divide you highlight is not ultimate* but changeable in significant measure. Those who “bounce back” from experiences of battlefield hell, for example, may be terrible fathers and violent men (some are, some aren’t) and rather understandably (not excusably) so. And over time, with work and help, such men can become better again, closer to healed than they were when they first returned from the wars.
I don’t discount what you are saying but the strong might also learn to be better keepers of their weaker brothers and sisters. To recognize that their strength of character and resilience is not entirely self-made or earned, but also a matter of grace, good fortune, and natural inheritance.
*Or maybe it is, in the final or ultimate judgment. My main point is that character may change for better or worse from day to day–and certainly over the course of a lifetime. Also, strength of character and will–especially at the extremes of the Great Teacher or Great Leader–do not always lead to worldly success, nor great results for individuals or society-at-large. Enough said.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Both Daoism and Buddhism shows how with prolonged rigorous and painful training one can develop the body, mind and spirit.
In the West taking up boxing, running and using the public library, one can develop the body, mind and spirit the way a Grandfather of mine did. Keir Hardie founder of the Labour Party who went down the mines at 12 years of age and was a devout Christian said Samuel Smiles book ” Self Help ” was a manual for socialism. One of the leaders of the
London Dock strikes in the 19th century educated himself in the public library.
I suggest you read S Smiles biography of George Stephenson who invented the first railway locomotive who was illiterate to the age of eighteen years of age. Booker T Washington said “The Future for  African Americans was through entrepreneurship and education “.
Why do the Democrat and Labour parties not follow the advice of Keir Hardie and place S Smiles ” Lives of The Engineers ” and ” Self Help ” on every child’s desk ?

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
3 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

I prefer not make our occasional exchanges overtly political–when avoidable–as that tends to lead to squawking exchanges although you, I admit, more often stay polite and measured than I do. Plus, the scant knowledge I have of UK politics comes from articles and comments on a handful of websites (especially the Spectator, BBC, Guardian, and this place) and whatever paltry coverage my American “media diet” can provide.
But I’ll bite anyway. Why don’t the Tories provide copies of the Tao Te Ching and Dhammapada, both of which I assume you’ve read? Instead of squabbling over books a library can contain: Why do the “freedom fighting” curators of the Florida curriculum not lobby to assign both Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery (1890) and W.E.B. DuBois’s The Souls of Black Folk (1903)? (Part of the answer to both our rhetorical questions is surely: Too many people will object to any assigned text of real worth and power). High school students–of any color–who’ve proven their academic worth could compare and contrast MLK’s Where Do We Go From Here with The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Have an actual conversation, not a squawk fest dominated by reciprocal prejudice.
Thank you for pointing me to Self Help: With Illustrations of Conduct and Perseverance, by Samuel Smiles. I’d never heard of it and I suspect most Americans, even the more-or-less educated, haven’t either. (Could be wrong on that; plenty of gaps in my own education and comparative self-assessment). I will look into a digital copy from the local library and decide whether to get a print copy. Have you read the essay Self-Reliance by American minister turned philosopher-poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was born a little before Smiles, in 1803? Please do if you haven’t.
You still seem to vastly overestimate the degree to which large-scale socialism appeals to me. It doesn’t much. While I support the right of adults to form a voluntary commune, I’ve observed a little too much recent history to support centralized socialism, let alone communism. And I’ve seen how San Francisco’s combination of bad socialism and bad libertarianism have led to a nasty morass. Just about any single ism, taken alone or to an extreme, seems to me a pathway to worse lives even widespread accelerated death for for too many human souls. There’s a strain of conservatism in my thinking, though I’d prefer to call it cultural conservationism or traditionalism. Still, even a carefully sifted and selected series of isms doesn’t quite get to the core or root, does it?
I hope you have a good evening over there, sir.
“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day”. -Emerson

David Yetter
David Yetter
3 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

You might add to your list of religions that prove the worth of ascetic discipline Orthodox Christianity. Unfortunately, asceticism is contrary to what has become the American ethos at least since the 1960’s, being embraced only by minority subcultures.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
3 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

This is all about men.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

The greatest improvement in sanitation in the 19th was due to Florence Nightingale.
Florence Nightingale – Wikipedia
Octavia Hill did much good work to improve the quality of life of the poor
Octavia Hill – Wikipedia
She believed in self-reliance, and made it a key part of her housing system that she and her assistants knew their tenants personally and encouraged them to better themselves. She was opposed to municipal provision of housing, believing it to be bureaucratic and impersonal.
Peabody and Guiness Trusts provide homes for the poor.
Elizabeth Fry – Wikipedia
Queen Victoria supported Nightingale and Fy.
Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps – Wikipedia
Matron at Guys
Emily MacManus – Wikipedia

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Those I have known who have been through combat often have a sense of humour, are cheerful. They are grateful for life.They remain calm, optimistic, level headed and dependable while others are hysterical with fear and are emotionally and mentally unbalanced. Their mettle has been tested and they have passed with flying colours. What else can ever be as worse ? They are examples which we can copy or ignore: we have free will.
A former heroin addict said to me until a person decides to change nothing will change.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
3 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

I know what you mean. In a rather different walk of life, I have been through some struggles myself, including a few months of homelessness (20 years ago) and weeks in a mental hospital after drug-induced psychotic break (30 years ago). But I will never be an entirely calm and level-headed person. Never have been, not even before my parents separated when I was 7.
This is a point on which we differ at a core level, I think: While will plays a strong and sometimes triumphant role, not all those who fail to bounce back are making a weak effort or “ignoring” the resilience of those who recover better. Not every one has or aspires to have the same temperament you so admire and consider a universal model, nor should they be expected to have it. We all need help, forgiveness, and understanding at one or another point in our lives and I hope we can agree that those who seem to “heal themselves” also tend to do so with the aid of compassion, material assistance, and a little luck. I know that is true for me, to the extent I am recovered from my worst days.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

What Smiles, Hardie, Washington, J Kennedy , M L King point out that for a free democratic society to exist adults must be emotionally mature and accept responsibility for their decisions which includes making best use of resources at hand; such as education. However, the Chartist W . E Adams in the 1880s said school boards were in danger in undermining the independence of the individual.
In the West compare the resources allocated to eduction and what is achieved, now compare to India. Life is full of challenges and a part of education should ber tempering the body, mind and spirit with adversity so when one’s mettle is tested, one passes.
The Chartist W . E Adams in the 1880s said school boards were in danger in undermining the independence of the individual.
The alternative to a free democratic society comprising emotionally mature responsible adults who can work together where required is a dictatorship, whether Nazi, Communist or Religious.
At sea there is a saying ” One hand for oneself , one had for the ship “. A lifeguard or mountain recue climber have first to learn the skills which save themselves, then they can save someone else. However, those at risk of dying have not right to risk the lives of those trying to save them.
A family friend was a pilot officer in RAF in WW2. He was tortured by the SS for weeks then sent to a POW camp in Poland. The SS them marched them westwards through the worst winter on record in early 1945. At first the friend said they helped others weaker than themselves but after a while they were too weak and it was every man for himself; it was march or die. If one collapsed the SS shot the person there and then. The RAF was beaten by the SS for weeks, if he had broken he would have been murdered. Once someone has provided the information they are just a waste of food.
So how does a free democratic society provide education, welfare and medicine without undermining independence of the individual or is that what the Labour/Democratic Parties want ?

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
3 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

I am in essential agreement, or “engagement”, with all of that. How indeed? I won’t “come back at you” at the moment because I can sense that, putting all shallow politics aside, you are asking an eternal, unsolvable question. I genuinely appreciate your fairminded engagement, sir.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
3 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Charles, have some compassion. I don’t hear it in your posts. If you think change is simply a matter of willingness then change and become compassionate. I’m sad to hear of your struggles, AJ. You have shown compassion and empathy in your posts which we tend to have when we have suffered.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
3 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

You sound rather judgemental and unsophisticated about human nature, personality types, and mental illness. Some behaviors are changeable others not. We’re born with characteristics we inherit and that includes mental illness. It’s nature and nurture.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

5000 years of Chinese and Indian and 2500 years of Buddhist Medical Knowledge reveal that one can improve one’s mental and physical health.
At the beginning of WW2 many Merchant ships were being sunk and even in temperate climtes sailors were dying. When the data was analysed it ws discovered the older sailors were living those in their 40s to 60s years of age. It was realised the older sailors were tougher because they had gone to sea when conditions were harder. Consequntly, outward bound schools were developed to toughen up young sailors in case they were sunk. Apparently the loneliness killed many sailors.
Outward Bound – Wikipedia
Capt. J. F. “Freddy” Fuller who took over the leadership of the Aberdyfi school in 1942 and served the Outward Bound movement as senior warden until 1971.[10] Fuller had been seconded from the Blue Funnel Line following wartime experience during the Battle of the Atlantic of surviving two successive torpedo attacks and commanding an open lifeboat in the Atlantic Ocean for thirty-five days without losing a single member of the crew.[11
SHAOLIN MASTER – How to think Positively | Shi Heng Yi 2021 (youtube.com)
Can Westerners learn anything from a Shaolin master ?
During WW2 Special operations executive members were put through resistance to interrogation training. The aim was that they should hold out fro 48 hours to give other members of the resistance group to flee.
Odette Hallowes GC discusses her torture, she never broke and survived the death camps.
Odette Hallowes interview | World war Two | intelligence officer | Afternoon plus | 1980 (youtube.com)
What is sophistication; perhaps it is no more than concealing unpalatable truths? Perhaps you should train with the Shaolin Master and study Traditional Chinese Medicine or the traditional Shamanic Training of Native Americans and assess whether one’s mind can change?
Is not death a judgement?

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
3 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Mental illness like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are inherited.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
3 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

It’s genes.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

You might like to see it that way but it puts the cart before the horse. What if cities with pre-existing issues and divisions vote democrat because the republican solution is usually just to do nothing.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Some of the major cities have had Repub leadership. NYC had Guiliani, who came in during a crime wave and cleaned it up. Chicago, meanwhile, has been a one-party town forever. LA hasn’t had right-leaning leadership in a generation or so, and the correlation between parties and results is hard to ignore.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Well said. Republicans don’t want money to go to social programs.

C Yonge
C Yonge
3 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

What would you say are a few Republican cities? It seems like, even in Republican states, the cities are democrat.

Simon Templar
Simon Templar
3 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

I despair sometimes that as Americans, have we really learned nothing from the last 60 years? Do we really have no idea what made our society so desirable that millions uproot and risk everything to come here?
Yes, it’s a trust society. Yes, it’s a banking system that is safe to leave your money. Yes it’s an enterprise society, where by hard work and ingenuity the poorest can make a good living. Yes, it’s because we have a social safety net.
The problem is what to do about those who fall into the gutter, because they can’t or don’t want to make a go of their life. The solution offered by the Left has been constant, to play the victim card, to claim systemic racism, to facilitate gangland life by simply pouring money into failing schools and neighborhoods, to facilitate homelessness, to try and allow equal outcome for every lifestyle choice instead of what works, which is to give everyone opportunities, but only to reward good choices. Life is hard. It takes hard work. Resenting others is easy. Improving yourself is hard.
The Left pretends that there are no “good choices”. Conservatives assert that history proves there are good choices, not just via religion but by simple pragmatism. Help others and you will help yourself. History teaches that individuals who finish school, wait to get married to have children, and take responsibility for their life, their family, and their community, prosper. There is no better way. Pretending that morality doesn’t matter has given us the hell-holes we call Democrat-run cities.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
3 months ago
Reply to  Simon Templar

An excellent précis, thank you.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 months ago
Reply to  Simon Templar

Bill Clinton’s Economic adviser said ” If a person finishes High School, does not have children before they marry and do not marry until the age of 20 years there is no excuse for being poor in the USA. “

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
3 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Unless they’re mentally ill. Schizophrenia usually shows up in males in their twenties.

David Yetter
David Yetter
3 months ago
Reply to  Simon Templar

Indeed, yet the biens pensants of our “anti-racism” movement will tell you that insisting that everyone ought finish school, wait to get married to have children, and take responsibility for their own life is an expression of “white supremacy”, that members of ethnic minorities who follow that path are being inauthentic and “acting white”.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
3 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Functional and liveable for whom?

Frank Carney
Frank Carney
3 months ago

The author has salvaged his reputation after that awful ‘thick traveler’ piece. Much of what he says could be applied equally to Britain’s great cities. Its not just homelessness; its a malignant nexus of ideology, managerialism and Nimbyism.

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
3 months ago
Reply to  Frank Carney

It’s not so. Britain do have problems, homelessness and rough sleeping not least but nowhere near the scale described.

I fear it might become so; even under the Tories we have become a very top down society. Our increasing need for the government to “do something ” is pandered to by the elites and, to their shame, the elites actually believe they know the answers.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago

And often one of their buddies has a nice fat contract in hand to provide the “solution”.

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
3 months ago

Well – as soon as my kids leave the nest I am leaving the city – which is reportedly now a trend. Anyone who can leave the squalor of the big cities is going to do so.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
3 months ago

There’s no money to be made in helping the poor and left behinds so the Americans don’t bother. They seem to be of the opinion that it’s not their problem, however this attitude simply leads to the problems they’re now seeing and makes society worse for everybody, not just the homeless and the junkies.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Our leaders tell us that the only way to solve this problem is to send all our money to the government and we can wash our hands of it. The left fervently believes this. See an old NY Times article “bleeding heart tightwads”. However, mental illness is a personal problem and government is an impersonal solution (at best). People do all sorts of charity work. It is far more efficient to do that. But where is the societal pressure to do charity work? Where are our “leaders” challenging us to do this?? One place you get it on at least one day of every week is at Church (whichever flavor you choose).
The funny thing about church is that most of the people sitting in the pews and certainly most doing the sermonizing don’t actually believe all their dogma (based on polling). So it would seem that churches are full of atheists but they still keep meeting. Good on them!

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Where else can you get community.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
3 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Do you actually know any Americans? Have you ever met those of us who volunteer at food kitchens, donate our time and money to outreach programs, run holiday toy drives, stack shelters with brand new clothing and supplies?
I opened my home to a young woman and her toddler son because her boyfriend was abusing them. I’d never met her, she was from across the state, but she needed to go where he’d never be able to find her. The church minister who facilitated this was able to place her, with the help of one of our many social services agencies, in an apartment of her own.
Your repeated ignorant disparagements of my country on this forum are as tiresome as they are predictable.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
3 months ago

Your attitude was the norm but it is no longer in many inner city areas, why? Dr M L King said judge me on my character so what has changed, why, where and when ? Why has the pioneer spirit disappeared in so many inner city areas? Why the change from Motown of the 1960s to gangsta rap of the 1990s ?

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
3 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Simple. The cities are run by Democrats.

David Yetter
David Yetter
3 months ago

There’s more to it than that. Most cities were run by Democrat for the better part of the last century, think of all the notorious political machines — Tammany Hall in NYC, the Daley machine in Chicago, the Pendergasts in Kansas City… — Democrats all. But these problems didn’t happen under the Democrat machines of yore. The problem is the cities are run by what we now short-hand as “the woke”, folks whose political ideas are a vague amalgam of half-learned Frankfurt School style Cultural Marxism, Derrida’s deconstructionism, and anti- and post-colonialist cant. Yeah, they’re Democrats, but that’s not a sufficient explanation for what’s happened.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
3 months ago
Reply to  David Yetter

True. Any answer to a sweeping, stubborn problem that begins “simple…” is unlikely to be accurate or incisive.
I mean this as both a sincere and a rhetorical question: If all the wokesters of current or similar vintage were removed from cultural-academic influence and power over certain cities, would we understand and care for one another better, from the child or parent we disagree with to the foreign neighbor we tend to distrust a little (and vice versa)?
I do think it’d help the severity of the situation, yet that even such a welcome development wouldn’t simply heal our mutually antagonistic zeitgeist.

Paul Thompson
Paul Thompson
3 months ago
Reply to  David Yetter

the Dems of the 1800s were completely different than those of today. They were completely anti-immigrant. They wanted jobs for their voters, not for Irish scum.