The Commons

Readers respond to our May 2020 cover story and more.

The Atlantic

Childhood in an Anxious Age

In May, Kate Julian wrote about why so many kids are so miserable—and what adults can do about it.

Your article was clear, informative, and insightful. But one thing I believe you missed was the demographic-evolutionary account: We now live in a society in which parents’ eggs are—literally and figuratively—all in one small basket. If you have four kids, not only do you have less time to obsess about each, but you carry “reproductive insurance.” But with only one, or even two, the risk of failing to pass on your genes to future generations (likely processed in the unconscious rather than the conscious brain) is increased. So what do you do? You become highly protective!

Jay Belsky
Robert M. and Natalie Reid Dorn Professor, UC Davis
Davis, Calif.

As the president of a small, rural, private liberal-arts college for eight years, I witnessed a threefold increase in the number of students accessing mental-health services during that time. Many students could not effectively cope with independence and individual responsibility when left to themselves.

While exploring the cause of the rise of student mental-health disorders, I learned that too many parents remained electronically and psychologically tethered to their children. Kate Julian’s reporting in the May 2020 issue should be required reading.

Richard H. Dorman, D.Ed.
Westerville, Ohio

In both my work as an educator and my role as a parent of three small children, I have witnessed the contagious anxiety that Kate Julian describes. To her point that anxiety travels in families, I would add that it travels in communities. At playgrounds, my wife and I have been repeatedly admonished by other parents for letting our 3- and 4-year-old girls wander to the other side of the playground and climb or slide by themselves. At times, other parents have taken it upon themselves to hover in our place, because, they said, they “didn’t know where the parents were.” I wonder how many of those hovering parents were acting so protectively by choice and how many were doing it because of social pressure. It’s great that people want to look out for children’s safety in their community, but they should also respect parents’ decisions to have a seat on the park bench and let their kids learn how to climb—and maybe fall—on their own.

Neal Allar
Tempe, Ariz.

One of the great secrets of child psychologists is that most of our work takes place with grown-ups. Kate Julian did a masterful job of walking the line between blaming parents and ignoring them. I hope this is not the end of the story, but rather a jumping-off point for further discussion.

T. David Elkin, Ph.D.
Jackson, Miss.

Exile in the Age of Modi

Aatish Taseer wrote about how Hindu nationalism has trampled the founding idea of his country (May).

What an extraordinarily forceful and perceptive piece Mr. Taseer has written. My own family members were Baghdadi Sephardim who landed in Bombay in the mid-19th century, as the British were developing the city into the subcontinent’s western export hub (we built the city’s first deepwater dock, which is still in daily use). They then rode a spectacular Indian-cotton bubble created by the Union naval blockade of the Confederate States, which starved the English mills of raw material—a bubble that ultimately transformed Bombay from a backwater marsh into the wealthy metropolis it is today. I wonder what future ironies we have in store, for a future “Bharat.”

Tim Sassoon
Venice, Calif.

Aatish Taseer wrote a thoughtful and poignant essay on the ways in which India is changing for the worse during Narendra Modi’s prime ministership. But a couple of clarifications are needed.

First, the Overseas Citizenship of India is a pretend citizenship. It grants a lifelong visa with some accompanying rights, such as buying property. But with an OCI card, you need a valid foreign passport to enter the country; you cannot get an Indian passport, you cannot vote, and you cannot hold any office that requires you to be a citizen. Canceling Taseer’s OCI card on a clearly trumped-up charge was a travesty and cruel both to him and to his mother. But that does not excuse such sloppiness on a crucial distinction: He was not a citizen before the cancellation.

Second, it is true that in the riots in Delhi in February, “Hindus and Muslims alike were killed.” But not in equal numbers, and the implied equivalency gives an undeserved pass to Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. The Guardian reported that at least three-quarters of those killed were Muslims.

Ramesh Thakur
Canberra, Australia

Aatish Taseer replies:

Ramesh Thakur is right that the use of citizenship in Overseas Citizenship of India is the government’s language. The government offers this document as the closest thing to dual citizenship, which India doesn’t allow. It is indeed a kind of fraud, and new policies make the possibility of revoking the OCI still easier. I don’t think any of this takes away from the fact that it was my only means of living and working in the country where I grew up—and it was canceled on grounds that make it impossible for me to go home.

As for Thakur’s second point, it’s a sad truth about communal riots in India that many of them result in more Muslims killed than Hindus. My aim was not to suggest equivalency, but rather to make clear that there were casualties on both sides.

Q & A

In America, the coronavirus has revealed a sick and unequal society incapable of self-government, George Packer argued in June (“Underlying Conditions”). Here, he responds to readers’ questions about his essay.

Q: How do the failings of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fit into your account of America as a failed state? — Katie Whitehead, Chatham, Va.

A: In the article, I cite “a sclerotic bureaucracy” as one of the country’s “serious underlying conditions.” The CDC’s failings stemmed from both weak leadership and endemic bureaucratic obstacles. One solution would be getting rid of stupid red tape; a second would be empowering bureaucrats to act rather than making all the incentives negative, including the pervasive fear and demoralization that Donald Trump has instilled; a third would be to make the director’s job a career position rather than a political one.

Q: Will anything change when this crisis is “over”? Given the entrenched political leadership, where will constructive approaches come from? — Marcia Goldstein, Laguna Woods, Calif.

A: Reform in America comes slowly. Since the New Deal, it’s generally come from the national government, under pressure from popular movements. But political polarization and the Trump administration’s failure have devolved decision making. As they were 100 years ago, the states and localities will more and more be the laboratories of democracy. I hope there will also be a wave of ideas coming up from below, from experts and ordinary citizens alarmed by the failures of the American state.

Behind the Cover

In our present-day politics, complicity is everywhere in evidence. Anne Applebaum’s cover story reminds us that the phenomenon has several damning historical precedents. For the cover, our director of photography, Luise Stauss, suggested that we show an image of a crowd: powerful yet vague enough to suggest many examples of mass complicity. We hired the Spanish illustrator Borja Alegre to render the haunting scene of a single dissenter engulfed in an army of conformity.

Paul Spella, Art Director

Correction: Childhood in an Anxious Age” (May) incorrectly stated that more than a quarter of doctor visits end with a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication. In fact, 7.4 percent do.