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The National Unraveling—Or Just a New Normal?

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Robert Brescia
September 30, 2022

Let’s review a topic that’s on many Americans’ minds and tongues—the obvious, frequent and substantial changes to our social landscape. Many social traditions and beliefs of the last century have been supplanted by newer ones or modifications of existing structure and concepts. Surprised? You shouldn’t be—these changes are propelled into the public sphere by the media nearly every day. Even language has changed—the way we now pronounce certain words—again, no surprise. One thing is for sure —there still is nothing new in the universe, only rearrangement of existing social structure.

Acceleration of change.

Living in white water seems to be the norm today. Every new wrinkle of an existing social truism becomes a tear in the social fabric—and these small separations can become large ones in short order. Mostly we allow these tears to emerge and form new structures. Flexible and morphable linkages have taken the place of yesterday’s hard social structures. Hard structures of the past, such as police, schools, hospitals, governments, courts and other civic functions have now become the “sandcastles” of today’s society—easier to substantially change in form and function. The relationship between the past and the present has also dramatically changed. We tend to conceptualize our lives and today’s society as more of an ever-changing present. I like historical sociologist Will Durant’s oft-cited phrase, “The present is the past, all ready for action; the past is the present, all unfurled for analysis.”

The Effects of Large Social Change.

Try not to think of social scientist Kurt Lewin’s freeze model of change: “unfreeze—do the change—refreeze” anymore. It’s no longer an adequate conceptual model about how change is happening in the United States. There’s nothing to “unfreeze.” The structures and processes of our society have become so pliable and unreliable that we no longer think of them as we did in the 20th century—as hard structure.

Some Americans may become nervous and apprehensive when they see so many changes happening frequently all around them. They begin to question everything with respect to validity and reliability. Examples would include the current search for racial harmony. I know some young people could find this hard to believe but we had a great deal of racial strife in the 1960s, including the burning of major cities, rioting and violence. We’ve progressed through those terrible times to the betterment of our nation today. Back then, there were no black U.S. Senators or U.S. representatives in the Congress—today, there are three black senators and 58 black representatives. How about the change in the U.S. military? In the 1960s and early 1970s we had activated the national draft. The military services had members who definitely did not want to contribute two years of their lives to defending the nation. In the 1970s, our nation was picking up the pieces of a strategic failure in Vietnam. The military was gutted, the draft deactivated, drug and alcohol problems were very prevalent and we limped into the next decade. Today’s military is all-volunteer and meets the challenge of national defense.

Our spoken language.

The English language we speak every day has changed a lot, much faster than the written language—another topic altogether. We pronounce words differently. Examples include the “ain” and “ant” word suffixes, such as the word, “mountain” and the word “important”. Young Americans nasalize these word endings and drop the preceding “t”. Older Americans park their tongue on the roof of their mouths, giving the “nnnn” sound.  Some older Americans criticize the younger generations for the way they pronounce words but in fact, language changes like these are perfectly normal—they just grate us because our minds are expecting a certain pronunciation that we are not getting—hence it is a disturbance not unlike fingernails on a blackboard. If you under the blackboard analogy, you are of a certain age like me!

When the pillars of society change and crumble, if there is no new structure to take their place, we are headed for trouble and social unrest. We need societal structure we can rely on for stability. We need to know that even if you change Social Security, that it will be there for us when we need it. We need to know that our first responders will not be shackled by rules and restrictions that superimpose social experiments on them.

When I was young boy, all I really cared about was baseball. I dutifully watched the classroom clock because when school was over for the day, I could change into my old clothes and play sandlot baseball until supper time. I followed the New York Yankees religiously. There were no school shootings, no roads constantly under construction and the school auditorium featured 16mm movies for a dime on Saturday afternoons. Church provided us hope every Sunday, clothes had no designer labels and joining clubs was a very popular pastime. While I so enjoyed the 20th century in America, I look forward to the changes of today and tomorrow.

Author: Dr. Robert Brescia respects the wisdom of generations, promotes the love of learning, teaches ethics to university students, government & politics to AP seniors, and leadership to organizations. He is a candidate for National Board for Certification of Teachers (NBCT) at Stanford University. The Governor of Texas appointed him to the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC). Bob has a doctoral degree with distinction in Executive Leadership from The George Washington University. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter at @Robert_Brescia.

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