Civic Engagement: Rebuilding Civil Society

All primate and anthropological – and increasingly neurophysiological – research establishes clearly that nearly all primates (including human beings) are biologically programmed to function in groups. That depriving them of social interaction can threaten their very survival. Given the virtual demise of civic engagement, this raises critical questions around the effect of systematically depriving people of life sustaining social and community connections.

Putnam, Nader and other analysts have already explored, at length, the political and sociological causes (falling family income and longer work hours are a major culprit) for the decline in civic life. My concern lies more with the effects – and, more importantly, to re-create the vibrant neighbourhood and community networks that prior to 1980 were a fundamental feature of the American landscape. In Putnam’s US research, most of the people he interviewed acknowledged dissatisfaction with their lack of community involvement – as well as a desire to increase their connections with friends, neighbors and the wider community – and yet seemed at a loss as to exactly how to go about this.

Our Dysfunctional Communities and Political Systems

Putnam, Nader and others have already clearly documented clear links between the demise of civil society, and both our deeply dysfunctional political systems and the breakdown of vital community infrastructure. This is something most of us sense instinctively – that the growing epidemic of alcoholism and drug abuse, family breakdown, domestic violence, child abuse and school and street violence has something to do with the breakdown of all types of community organization – churches, unions, the grange, service clubs and neighborhood and community groups.

Is It Too Late to Do Anything?

The question in my mind – as Americans witness the de facto repeal of more and more civil liberties guaranteed under the Bill of Rights – is whether it’s too late to do anything about it. Whether the corporate controlled US government has so restricted our freedoms that we have become, in essence, chattel slaves to a totalitarian regime. Has it reached a point where we no longer have any choice but to work long hours in oppressive and exploitive jobs – or join the 22 percent of Americans who no longer enjoy this privilege.

I happen to feel that, despite the systematic erosion of rights that has occurred over the past ten years, Americans still have the freedom to make some choices about their lives. However consciously making these choices will require a major battle for all of us to overcome powerful conditioning that bombards us constantly via the corporate controlled electronic and print media.

What Freedoms Do We Still Enjoy?

  • Unplugging the TV or computer to engage in some form of social activity. Let’s face it: TV and computer games are both addictions, just as much as alcohol, drugs and junk food are. They are all a temporary fix for a yawning emptiness inside. However they also block us from finding lasting solutions.
  • Getting out of debt and resisting pressure from advertisers to spend compulsively on credit (a lot of Americans are making these changes already – which according to government analysts is one reason the recovery is so slow. Miraculously we are all starting to save money. Way to go!)
  • Resisting powerful pressure (mainly from the corporate media) to have children or at least weighing the major financial and psychological pressures having kids places on couples (pressures that many marriages aren’t strong enough to withstand). Children are an expensive luxury, especially in a recession. People need to start asking themselves the hard question:  Am I willing to sacrifice fundamental ties with my friends and community to work the long hours required to support a child?
  • Joining national movements to break up the banks who caused the economic crisis, and backing Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich and others seeking to abolish, audit and/or nationalize the Federal Reserve (which is not a government institution but a consortium of private banks).
  • Joining local and state movements to create alternative financial systems, by starting state or city owned banks, local bartering systems and even local currencies (which enable people to continue to buy and sell products and services even if they become unemployed – as well as preventing most of their wage going to banks, taxes, and insurance companies). To be continued.

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