Building a Community of Citizens: Civil Society in the 21st Century
a book by Don Eberly
(our site's book review)
Eberly hits the nail on the head as he says: “Men and women of principle must move to restore lost integrity in our nation’s political and governmental institutions while also candidly admitting to the limitations of politics to renew American life. Public cynicism is rooted in the fact that while government has underperformed, politics has been oversold. Political agendas from both the Left and Right have been dramatically exaggerated as sources of national renewal. Creating the good society is neither easy nor simple: it requires improving our public life—strengthening both personal and civic virtue—not just cleaning up our political institutions. The wisest use of public platforms would be to summon forth from the people a new resolve to strengthen civil society, particularly the institutions of family and community upon which it rests. . . . we, the people, must do it. Politicians cannot create lost community, only citizens can . . . Whatever government does or does not do, the job of restoration and renewal will fall heavily to citizens. . . . responsibility must be made the cornerstone of America’s basic social contract. There is scant hope for change based upon top-down strategies, impersonal theories, or simply a new round of programmatic reforms. Citizens must take responsibility for nourishing institutions, imparting character, and rediscovering timeless wisdom for daily life.”
Amen. This sparkling gem should be big and bold on the wall of every civics class and every political science class in the U.S. regardless of whether said classes are grade school, high school, college, or post-graduate!
The above should be big and bold on the wall of every civics class and every political science class in the U.S.
“. . . it will fall to individual Americans to confront family disintegration. Like so many topics, the debate over family has become too politicized. Family is not a conservative or liberal idea; it is both. . . . responsible conservatives and liberals should abandon attempts to harness the family to partisan agendas, and undertake joint social ventures to achieve family restoration in the sphere of civil society.” Neither the Right’s capitalism nor the Left’s welfare state strategies, neither more markets nor better safety nets can or will reverse the social corrosion.
The author says that the U.S. is held together by a set of idea and values, and this is a kind of glue that, with neglect, could grow fragile. He cites futurist Richard Eckersley as saying that social disintegration throughout the West comes from the failure to provide a sense of meaning, belonging and purpose to our lives as well as a framework of values.
Registering for MC search and match
The MC movement is designed to provide all of that and more. See Why Register for an MC?. It would be hard to conjure up a scenario with a deeper sense of belonging to family, neighborhood, community and humanity than MC life, with its close encounters of the first, second and third kind. When people’s needs are well met in childhood, they feel full and are likely to want to live a life that is about helping people/mankind get its act together, and the type of values and character that would evolve in such situations would be optimal, and—for second and third generation MCs—possibly unprecedented.
Chain reactions are likely when certain degrees of optimization are reached
This isn’t Utopian dreaming, but a rational expectation based upon all the facts that are known about optimized environments, relationships, parenting and communication. Our site specializes in communicating about such things. There are various optimization experiments in chemistry, physics, zoology, biology, ecology, nuclear physics and systems theory that illustrate that chain reactions are likely when certain degrees of optimization are reached—which the MC movement is aiming for.
Scientific optimization experiments
The Tofflers have outlined the type of systems theory thought that ties together some of these pieces: “. . . life itself is organization and . . . we are continually giving rise to higher and higher, more and more complex organization. Entropy is pointed in one direction, evolution in the other.” (Dr. Ilya Prigogine inspired the Tofflers with this conceptualization, which led to its inclusion in The Third Wave.) The Tofflers look at positive feedback, which amplifies internal fluctuations in a system, and sometimes leads to the old system being replaced by a new system: “Whether the result of runaway internal fluctuations or of external forces, or both, this breakup of the old equilibrium often results not in chaos or breakdown, but in the creation of a wholly new structure at a higher level. This new structure may be more differentiated, internally interactive, and complex than the old one . . .”
And now think of a perfect example of this process: Europeans >>> frustrated Europeans some of whose fluctuations amplified each other >>> going to America to find a freer and better way of life >>> colonies form >>> frustrated colonists rebel against European rule >>> rebellion and revolution in not just anti-European terms but in pro-freedom and pro-better-life terms >>> the colonies’ best thinkers invent democracy, the United States, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and a new form of government >>> we’ve evolved into a powerful, affluent, high-tech democracy full of great potentials for the 21st century. People who valued freedom above all dovetailed with others with the same mindset and furnished positively reinforcing systemic fluctuations, which resulted in a wholly new structure at a higher level of organization and complexity. This evolved the higher quality of life we now experience: a more highly differentiated, complex and internally interactive structure than previously known. The success of this democracy movement served as the example for all the other Western democracies to follow, as the world system experienced positive reinforcement of their systemic fluctuations in the direction of freedom and self-rule.
In Feudalism, serfs carry the royalty, which exemplifies what colonists rebelled against
The MC movement would not require political or military revolution, or actions taken by communities, states or nations, but actions taken by individuals and families to enhance lifestyle quality. Such actions would positively reinforce one another, as would MCs, communities full of MCs, states full of MCs, and nations full of MCs. MCs are a higher and more complex organizational structure than normal, relatively isolated, unconnected, and rootless families in nuclear—and other—types of family structures. Such newer and higher forms of organization would be more internally interactive (with positive feedback amplifying internal fluctuations toward growth and awareness), and the people in them would be more positively reinforcing of each other, their neighbors and their communities and world than people in normal families and neighborhoods.
A chain reaction
Chain reactions of positive social interaction in this MC scenario would lead to individuals being aided to evolve to higher levels of organization, as individuals by the millions would begin making autonomy and self-actualization more the norm and less the exception. Such people would not only be attaining the defined human goal of all the great thinkers like Riesman, Maslow, Fromm and Slater, but also be attaining the social and communitarian goals of Bellah, Etzioni, Gans, Lappé and our Founders themselves, transcending via dialectical synthesis the individual-versus-community continuum.
The Tofflers warn that the evolution into more complex and more highly organized social organisms cannot be planned or predestined in an old-paradigm, mechanistic fashion. The social engineers can no more dictate and oversee this evolution than pigs can fly.
Social engineers can no more generate this evolution than pigs can fly
But then, it’s not a political issue to begin with. It’s an issue of whether or not enough individuals and families choose to positively reinforce their tiny parts of the monolithic social system so that the system’s social and psychological functionality and benevolence result in a cultural evolutionary step. One cannot predict the way such social evolution would work, but one can predict that if each of us does his or her part in creating this new Third Wave civilization—as the Tofflers recommend—then we not only have the best chance of surviving the 21st century, but also the best chance of loving the kind of lives that we lead.
Instead of constructing a new culture and civilization appropriate to the new Third Wave world (as the Tofflers suggest), there are those that are trying to revive the dead past and others who are trying to deny the changes and keep the status quo because they are future shocked, in denial, and unwilling to endure the risk of change—these latter are Second Wave stagnants—a name we give them because they've gotten mired in a stagnant pool next to the river of life and they are now stagnating. This is often caused by dismay over the amounts of moral relativism in today’s world—those who see modern progress as aggravating this process of the slide towards relativism will start seeing absolutism as attractive once again. They may lean towards authoritarianism, fanaticism, fundamentalism, hypernationalism and cults—all ways in which the self is subjugated to the radical group’s agenda, according to Eberly.
They've gotten mired in a stagnant pool next to the river of life and they are now stagnating
John Gardner, Robert Bellah, Amitai Etzioni, et al. feel that restoring community is the answer. Richard Louv wants us to reweave the web of meaningful social connectedness. Carl Sagan wanted us, in Carl Sagan's Cosmic Connection: An Extraterrestrial Perspective, to experiment with new social structures to see if we couldn’t do better. Fritjof Capra wants us to replace win-lose, mechanistic-reductionistic, old-paradigm social practices/structures with win-win, ecological-holistic, new-paradigm social practices/structures. Alvin and Heidi Toffler want to move towards not just a respect for diversity and win-win, new-paradigm thinking, but to specifically harmonize with the Third Wave by use of expanded electronic families and/or cottage industry evolution.
An electronic cottage in an expanded electronic family
Don Eberly says that we need, above all, civic revitalization in which the politicians clamoring for attention are summarily dismissed from our minds and we opt instead for mobilization of individuals to improve the social and moral infrastructure of America. (Think MC.) It will be a movement, not a political phenomenon. We will need to form a values consensus. We will need to reconstruct American greatness around character, community and culture. See Why Do We Need Communities?.
Of course, good character isn’t about to result from talks, words, agreements on values, or teaching Good Character 101 in school. It evolves as a secondary benefit of being raised in an inspiring environment. A few unusually strong and resilient people come out of crummy environments with good character or they gain it later somehow. Poverty isn’t a factor here, because the same nests of poverty that produce sociopathic gangs and alienated ne’er-do-wells can and have produced people of excellent character, and the same nests of wealth that have produced spoiled, selfish, arrogant jerks have also produced people of excellent character. It depends upon the genetic propensities of the individual and his or her individual traits, but more than that it depends upon the parenting, communication and relationship practices of his nurturers and whether they filled his or her needs well so that s/he will mature and grow in a healthy direction physically, mentally, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.
Poor people may or may not do well at this kind of nurturing
Poor people may or may not do well at this kind of nurturing. The same goes for rich people and for the middle class. It’s all about what you turn out to be, not what you turn out to have. People like Louise Hart (The Winning Family) have grasped the essence of what it takes to nurture good character: Authoritative or harmonious parenting, win-win democratic relationships, self-esteem empowerment, teaching good self-talk and ceasing bad self-talk, being held responsible for one’s actions, being taught responsibility, being allowed to choose what one does and who one is, being encouraged and loved—not discouraged and ordered around, and being allowed to experience the natural consequences (and nonpunitive logical consequences when natural consequences aren’t available) of one’s actions. Eberly would agree that you do what it takes to produce good character and then you stress responsibility as the highest social need.
He looks at the concept of the individual as client and victim rather than as citizen. Public assistance is often accompanied by a subtle message that recipients are hopelessly trapped in conditions that require the permanent help of advocates, interest groups and government workers, and the mindset this produces feels that citizenship is for others to worry about, not them. Social action is no longer about caring individuals. Caring people have been replaced with expert social engineers applying expensive social engineering programs, and their bureaucracies eat up as much if not more funds than those they purport to help.
The bureaucrats have been foot-dragging because to admit that we now know what to do is to talk themselves out of a job, so they say we need to 'study' it more (so the 'experts' will stay employed!) The bottom line is that kids are getting a raw deal because the social support networks kids and families need are weak or absent. We get it! They know it and we know it and we DO know what to do about it. Check this website! There is no money for socialistic programs run by Big Government heroes, nor would they work. So the people will have to quit looking for political heroes to save them and START BEING TOTALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR OWN LIVES, CHILDREN, AND FAMILIES. IF THEY DO SO ACCORDING TO THE WISDOM IN OUR NOVEL The Forest Through The Trees, THEY'LL NO LONGER NEED 'EXPERTS' BECAUSE THEY, THEMSELVES, WILL BECOME THEIR OWN EXPERTS!
Seeing individuals as clients and victims creates such things as grievance-based politics, focused upon people’s deficiencies rather than people’s talents and assets. Eberly sees that the well-paying jobs in these bureaucracies ensure that there is a vested interest in preserving human problems, not solving them—which would put the bureaucrats out of a job. And anyone who’s ever worked in the government or in any bureaucracy knows that the stated goals of such organizations are virtually irrelevant, since the overriding goal of these organizations is to survive and grow. A bit like cancer or a virus.
As Eberly sees it, Tocqueville wrote about the vigorous civil society in the early U.S. and believed that through such civic activity U.S. citizens expressed and ensured their civil freedom as they developed into rooted, connected human beings. Eberly feels that the intellectual and cultural elites today would turn up their noses at the civic responsibility activities that Tocqueville so admired way back then, feeling that their activities were meddlesome and amateurish as well as ineffective. Said elites want the citizen to just vote and then get out of the way while the experts and social engineers do their serious work. Of course, we’ve tried that, and we have ineffective, black-hole-like, money-burning bureaucracies, and the worst set of social symptoms in history or in the current world, to show for our efforts. Uglier yet, the worse these monsters function, the more the liberals call for us to feed them even more. Job protection—but at what cost in money and social disintegration?
But he sees some good signs: People are giving up on political salvationism and are sick of being treated as if they’re incompetent to run their own affairs, as if they are victims, and as if they’re helpless dolts in need of expert intervention. They want to take responsibility for their lives like the Founders intended. We hope Eberly is right.
Eberly’s critique of postmodernism is possibly the best ever written. He says that the two building blocks of our American culture are that we are all equal and we all have the capacity for progress. It is up to each of us to rise to the challenges in our lives and use our character and virtue and ambition and work ethic to make something of our lives. He believes we are hearing a cry for the renewal of civic virtue because that view of progress and that grasp of equality have been undercut by the postmodernist world view that what should be equal are outcomes instead of just opportunities—a socialism-flavored sentiment if there ever was one.
The postmodernist world view says that if our outcomes are different, it isn't our fault but the fault of social forces. This viewpoint disparages competition and calls for the progressive-flavored redistribution of wealth, which punishes the creators of wealth and makes economic growth and progress impossible. It is a viewpoint which holds that the individual is not responsible for his own actions, and certainly the individual is not to be judged—see Culture of Complaint: The Fraying of America. This viewpoint dismisses the moral, cultural and spiritual as being subjective and thus left to individual whim. Finally, and bluntly, such a viewpoint is shortsighted and wrong. What people do is done by individual people, not social forces, and these social actions are done as acts of free will. America will need to recognize, honor and teach such values (character and virtue and ambition) and attitudes because such values and attitudes will encourage and support virtuous choices, which will provide the necessary building blocks for evolving a prosperous and civil society in the 21st century.
The socialistic idea of producing equal outcomes instead of merely doing our best to insure equal opportunities has been supported by communists and others and expressed in various tragic social engineering errors in the 20th century (and the 21st, e.g., North Korea, an absolute tyrannical monarchy practicing an obscene personality cult and believing the people are not just helpless sheep—which Kim Jong-Un insures—but infants in need of his firm "guidance").
One would think that such experiences would have taught us all to drop this misguided idea (the socialistic idea of the state engineering things so as to produce equal outcomes). Perhaps we should redefine “opportunity” so the Left “gets it.” Equal opportunity doesn’t require a redistribution of money, property, etc. It means starting from wherever your starting point is and having the freedom to learn and grow and work hard and be ambitious and wise and not only become a very good and happy person but an affluent one as well. Those that start out with less resources have to work harder or faster to end up as well off as those who start out with more. But this is totally fair.
Those that start out with less must work harder or faster to end up as well off, like the Red Queen in Through the Looking-Glass who had to run twice as fast just to stay even
Some of our forebears have worked harder or smarter or faster than others in the past—or have even just been luckier—so this gives an extra boost to those who inherit such advantages. This simply means that “doing well” can be enhanced by what this extra boost gives us. This can make it easier to “make it.” But it can also make it much harder, since such advantages inherently present temptations to short-circuit our character building, our individual evolution of growth and civic virtue, and our identity. To the degree one is at effect of others’ efforts and one is not given the opportunity to become someone on one’s own merits, one is cheated.
Socialism is the opposite of communitarian thinking. With the former, the social engineers thwart ambition in favor of the "fairness" of everyone getting an equal piece of the pie (except for the leaders, of course!). With the latter, we build character and civic responsibility and then maximize opportunity so that working smart will pay even more than merely working hard, but both groups will reap rewards, but the highest rewards will go to those that work both hard and smart. Capitalism at its fairest. The emphasis is on high civic virtue and morality in effective, highly successful communities. This epitomizes MCs, but with MCs this communitarian thought is merely the beginning. Read The Forest Through The Trees to fully understand the potentials of super-effective communities.
The core of the communitarian idea is that little squadrons of citizens are the only entities that will ever turn this country around. This immediately reminds us of Margaret Mead’s famous line: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”