“Moonlight” is a deeply personal movie. With the slow camera movements and up-close, often quiet scenes, one cannot help but to begin connecting emotionally with Chiron, the coming-of-age, shy, bullied American boy with dark skin who we see become a young man in three select life chapters.
Chiron experiences many unpleasant feelings. Angst, among them. Watching this movie is an invitation to share Chiron’s angst.
Much can be said about this beautifully photographed, Academy Award-winning Best Picture, but here I’d like to focus on one subject in particular: the source of the poverty and human broken-ness that frames the entire story of “Moonlight.”
WHO CREATED THE CHAINS THAT NOW CONSTRAIN AMERICA’S POOR?
The struggles Chiron faces as he’s growing up include bullying, a strained relationship with his troubled mother, and youthful homosexual curiosity in a young urban black Miami culture that reacts to gay black boys with cruelty.
It’s also true that the prime source of many of the troubles, challenges, and emotional drama that Chiron experiences is the prime source of the troubles, challenges, and emotional drama for many Americans, especially many black Americans: miserable poverty yoked to broken families, absent fathers, life-destroying addictions, violence, neglect, and domestic physical and emotional abuse.
Many viewers of “Moonlight” might lament the plight of the poor, especially poor black Americans, while thinking—or, more likely, “feeling”—that there is an inevitability about it. “Too bad,” some people might say, “that others must grow up in such terrible conditions, but that’s the way it is.”
But here’s the thing: No one, at least no one in a free country, must grow up that way!
The pain and suffering that usually attend broken families, absent fathers, life-destroying addictions, violence, neglect, and domestic physical and emotional abuse, were not always prominent among black Americans. Or among poor Americans. Or among Americans in general.
These sad social phenomena are relatively recent in American history. How do I know this? Because we Americans created the source of these sad social phenomena. And we did so largely in just the last 75 years.
A BRIEF HISTORY
People with black skin have been living on the North American Continent virtually as long as have been people with white skin. The first African blacks arrived in British North America, as slaves, in 1619, just shortly after the first European colonists had begun to settle.
For more than the next three centuries, people with black skin in British North America and later the United States of America had to contend with the very many and very deep and very great and almost unfathomable problems of government-sanctioned, legalized slavery and then government-sanctioned, legalized civil injustice in the form of Jim Crow, boosted by the efforts of extra-legal, private groups of raced-based terrorism like the Ku Klux Klan along the way.
But during all that time, while facing all those legal and social challenges and hurdles and obstacles—for centuries!—do you know what problems blacks in America did not contend with very much? Broken families, absent fathers, life-destroying addictions, violence, neglect, and domestic physical and emotional abuse.
Neither did poor white Americans. Or poor immigrants.
So what changed? What happened? What is the prime source that first sparked the dramatically rising rates of broken families, absent fathers, life-destroying addictions, violence, neglect, and domestic physical and emotional abuse in the United States?
THE NATIONAL REGULATORY-WELFARE STATE: AN ENGINE OF PAIN AND SUFFERING
Mostly white Americans—mostly white progressive Americans—in all their brilliance, decided to replace the local, personal, voluntary forms of personal assistance that had benefitted Americans of all colors while reinforcing feelings of charity and obligation among friends.
But with what did white progressive Americans want to replace that local, personal, voluntary system that served so many so well while aligning incentives in all the right ways? Answer: They replaced it with welfare policies that are national, government-managed, bureaucratic, and presented as “entitlements” rather than as debts, or favors, to be repaid.
Modern progressive government welfare programs are thoroughly anonymous: Those who pay have no idea who they’re helping, and those who receive have no idea who to thank. There is no human connection—emotional, financial, or moral—for the givers or takers of assistance.
To be clear, these government welfare policies and programs did not instantly or automatically make citizens turn to drugs or alcohol or violence. Government welfare policies and programs don’t make fathers abandon their children or forcefully break apart families. Rather, government welfare simply makes these kinds of bad choices easier by removing displacing natural consequences with tax-payer subsidized ways of life.
There’s more: Mostly white Americans—mostly white progressive Americans—in all their brilliance, chose to create mountains of regulations at about the same time so that it became increasingly expensive and difficult for a person with little or no wealth to start a new business or run an existing one.
From the earliest colonial period up until the creation of the modern regulatory state, the individual freedom and right to own private property that used to be protected by the United States government was the greatest anti-poverty program in all of human history!
Motivated by the incentive to keep whatever one produced, and to trade freely with whomever one wanted, the early United States witnessed an unprecedented wave of entrepreneurship, innovation, and invention, as large numbers of people worked their way from dire poverty to a comfortable middle or even upper-class lifestyle.
Then we Americans decided to change all that.
The progressive surge in regulatory burdens made it far more difficult, not easier, for poor Americans of all colors to work productively and earn their way out of poverty. Regulatory burdens snuffed out many entrepreneurial spirits and made jobs harder to come by. All of which made government hand-outs (as well as dealing drugs and other criminal occupations) look more appealing.
This result was something that had never before existed in the United States: not merely fluid economic classes, lower, middle, and upper, where economically mobile individuals move up and down, but a permanent underclass of poor souls mired in dependence on government programs. In what has to be among the saddest of ironies, mostly white, progressive Americans wrecked the conditions of creating wealth and escaping poverty in the very name of fighting poverty and keeping Americans safe.
The new, progressive incentives and disincentives of the modern regulatory-welfare state have had devastating effects among Americans of all colors, especially blacks—among Americans of all ages, especially children—among Americans of all income levels, especially the poor.
These problems are chronicled in Shelby Steele’s White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era. Or more recently in Jason L. Riley’s Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder For Blacks To Succeed.
Or perhaps most famously in what later became known as “The Moynihan Report,” but was originally titled in 1965, “The Negro Family: The Case For National Action,” by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, an American sociologist who was then serving as Assistant Secretary of Labor under President Lyndon B. Johnson and later was elected as a United States Senator.
IDLENESS AND THE SOCIAL PATHOLOGIES ENDURED BY CHIRON
The coupling of a national welfare state with a national regulatory state is the prime source of widespread, unprecedented idleness. And idleness is the prime source of a wide array of social pathologies, including the broken families, absent fathers, life-destroying addictions, violence, neglect, and domestic physical and emotional abuse we see on display in “Moonlight.”
In the movie, we watch Chiron’s mother transform from a somewhat functional crack-user into a full-blown, out-of-control, desperate addict. We never see Chiron’s father. He’s simply absent.
Is Chiron’s mother responsible for her choices? Of course. That’s why at the end of the movie she tells Chiron not only that she loves him, but that she is sorry. Is Chiron’s father responsible for his choices? Of course. Each and every human being is responsible for their own choices.
And for those of you who are proud American progressives—for those of you who have used the power of your vote and influence to create and expand the modern progressive regulatory-welfare state—you too hold some responsibility.
You might persuade yourself that you merely want to help people. You might chatter much about caring for blacks, or children, or women, or the poor. You might protest that your intentions are good and you never wanted to hurt anyone.
Yet you have caused hurt. Much hurt, in fact. For many people. You helped to make it easier for fellow citizens to make really bad, really hurtful choices. You’ve enabled them in ways they never used to be enabled. The policies you’ve supported, politically, have incentivized a terrible human toll: miserable poverty yoked to broken families, absent fathers, life-destroying addictions, violence, neglect, and domestic physical and emotional abuse.
Like Chiron’s mother, you too should say you’re sorry. And if you truly care about people—if you care about blacks, or children, or women, or the poor, or anyone else!—stop using the power of your vote and influence to expand the modern progressive regulatory-welfare state. It’d be the most caring, charitable thing you can do. Stop building onto the biggest engine of human pain and suffering ever designed by human minds. And then watch people become better and improve their lives as they take responsibility for themselves and their children.