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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
The Observer

Is anybody paying attention?

Over the past three weeks, I have traveled across the country like a madman.

I have pulled off my best impression of George Clooney’s character in ”Up in the Air”while navigating the TSA, overpriced airport coffees and travel delays. My extensive travel was for both personal and professional reasons alike, but job interviews and spring breaks don’t just happen on their own. I flew and drove all around the country — from South Bend to San Francisco to Chicago to New York City to Los Angeles and back again. As someone who isn’t very fond of flying in the first place, it is safe to say that flying can be irritating. But with that being said, traveling back and forth between the coasts has a way of putting life into perspective. I interacted with dozens of intelligent folks in my travels which assured me of America’s standing as a country of great diversity and opportunity. While many of these interactions triumphed in our successes, conversations with new and old friends alike all pointed to the same conclusion.

America, and Americans in general, are focused on the wrong things. And we are so far behind in the race that we actually think we are winning. Let me explain. 

A culture war can be defined as a conflict between social groups and the struggle for dominance of their values, beliefs and practices. It commonly refers to topics that generate social disagreement and polarization. Our current culture war has pitted cultural liberalism versus cultural socialism in the conflict of our time.

COVID-19. Trump. Russia. Biden. Our southern border. Abortion. 2024. Kanye West. Elon Musk. Twitter. Black Lives Matter. Inflation. The South China Sea. All topics that have ripped America apart at its seams. All topics that have pitted conservatives against liberals and secularists against traditionalists. They mark rally cries and screams of retreat as our political landscape continues to be dynamically transformed.

While several of these topics certainly demand our utmost attention and need for civil discourse, the backbone of our current culture war has been mostly predicated on nonsense. This ooze of buzzwords, self-professed gurus and pseudo-science has caused many Americans to miss the point. As a society, we are losing and our inability to solve varying social issues has been disguised by the cries of “I want a four-day work and here’s why!”

You really need to look to see where the true faults lie, but once you do, it's terrifying. 

During my time in New York, several of my interactions took center stage as I explored and connected with people during my first time in the city. During my five-day stay in Midtown, a sense of urgency hung in the air like the smell of freshly coated paint. Around Manhattan and its surrounding boroughs, blue and white-collar workers alike rushed about with this air of urgency, not thinking twice while jaywalking or rushing to catch the subway. There is a truth that exists in New York City’s atmosphere of opportunity, because well, there is opportunity. Thanks to the world of high finance, the service industry, tourism, the port of New York and everything else in between, millions of jobs exist around New York’s bustling metropolis that can certainly offer benefits for many.

But I have a question: In thirty years, who is going to work these jobs? 

A projected decline in our American workforce can certainly be attributed to our perpetually declining birth rate. Numbers don’t lie, and the numbers that surround our birth rate should make a culture war in any rational society irrelevant. In 2020, our American birth rate was 1.64 births per woman. For context, the global rate currently sits at 2.30 births per woman, placing America’s rate firmly behind the curve. Additionally, in the 15 years since the Great Recession, our birth rate has declined by 20 percent.

While other world superpowers have faced similar challenges, this is an issue we have simply refused to address in political discourse. And yes, I am aware that high levels of student debt and the high cost of raising children make raising children in 2023 a complicated endeavor. But do you want to know what will be more complicated? A sharp decrease in our workforce participation and an even sharper decrease in our economic productivity. If the birth rate in New England doesn't rise by about 0.9 percent, how do we expect to find the people to work jobs needed that will contribute to our society? Of course, this is a complicated argument. But since major players in our culture war continue to discuss Andrew Tate, the Oscars and every other immaterial topic, the future of our country goes unspoken.

During my time in California, I visited two cities struggling with a different issue: homelessness. Like other sunny cities, San Francisco and Los Angeles have struggled with helping the homeless for decades. Unlike other cities, their inability to help the homeless has come to define these cities. While enjoying my vanilla sweet cream cold brew in the sun last week in Los Angeles, I struck up a conversation with a dog walker who was passionate about this issue. She explained that the money has always been there to help, but any such resources have been squandered by political corruption or misuse.

It doesn’t help that California is energy and water insecure, she added. California’s agriculture industry produces delicacies such as almonds and walnuts. 80 percent of the world’s almond crop is farmed in California, and the strain on the state’s water supply is ludicrous. 6,000 almond farmers in California use more water than the entire city of Sacramento which has a population of 500,000. While this industry and droughts have decimated the water supply, no one really seems to be talking about it. 

So while culture wars have always been geared towards winning the hearts and minds of the populace, reality shows that we are a country of complex issues that are in dire need of fixing. But for the time being, as Tik Tok takes the center stage in reporting and rhetoric, we must ask ourselves: Who will have the guts to address and attack these issues?

Stephen Viz is a one-year MBA candidate and graduate of Holy Cross College. Hailing from Orland Park, Illinois, his columns are all trains of thought, and he can be found at either Decio Cafe or in Mendoza. He can be reached at sviz@nd.edu or on Twitter at @StephenViz.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.