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The Big Answer


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Common Purpose: Strengthening Families and Neighborhoods to Rebuild America

a book by Lisbeth Schorr

(our site's book review)

In this book, Schorr addresses strengthening families and neighborhoods to rebuild America. She looks at many conservatives’ distaste for social engineering, which usually backfires and makes things worse, raising taxes and creating new greedy bureaucracies but solving nothing. She acknowledges these facts, but then proposes that we do better social engineering rather than giving up on it altogether. To a degree she’s saying that with advanced knowledge and methods backed by the latest science and research, we can do it right this time—and to this degree she’s in line with Third Wave thinking.

She agrees with conservative Charles Murray that most successful “attempts to solve the problems of the inner city . . . are local, small-scale, initiated and run by dedicated people, and operated idiosyncratically and pragmatically.” This is also a Third Wave, decentralized, ecological-holistic paradigm approach, and is valid.

Bureaucrats' social engineering usually backfires and makes things worse
Bureaucrats' social engineering usually backfires and makes things worse

But she still insists that public programs of the social engineers can do the job. And she thinks she’ll persuade us because we Americans still believe in fairness, justice, and opportunity for all. She is absolutely correct, in the best sense of Third Wave compatibility, about “. . . the remarkable accomplishments we are now capable of because we have so much of the knowledge we need.” Her book intends to give us some of that needed knowledge.

It gives us examples of local heroes and tells us “. . . we must learn from the breakthroughs these local heroes have made to establish conditions in which well-trained, committed, persevering but otherwise ordinary people can achieve the ends it once took a miracle worker to reach. The systems change pioneers, like those carving out new frontiers in any realm, can make it possible for others, in much greater numbers, to follow. Every community in America already offers living proof that individuals of talent are ready, willing, and able to take on the formidable challenges of the years ahead.” She’d have us combine the best of our public and private sectors and use the experiences in her books to point the way toward strategies that use our full individual and collective strength at the national, state, and local levels.

Her book does show that if people are raised right and get the nurturing they need from one source or another, they tend to thrive and succeed and be happy. But didn’t we already know that? It also shows that when successful local programs turn into national social engineering programs run by bureaucrats, they deteriorate into being part of the problem—and they fail.

If people are raised right and get the nurturing they need from one source or another, they tend to thrive and succeed and be happy
If people are raised right and get the nurturing they need from one source or another, they tend to thrive and succeed and be happy

The biggest weakness of her book is the fact that its context can be stated in one word: intervention. The conservatives that denigrate social engineering because of its nasty track record (at the international and national level especially) aren’t being mean or contrary. They’re being wise and vigilant. They’re advocating increasing community and social connectedness and also creating better work ethics and better morals in media products and teaching better values in homes and schools for a very good reason: They’ve seen the light.

And the light is the fact that we don’t need bureaucratic interventions from big government, more taxes so that even more mothers work and kids get even less parental attention, more socialism, more interference, more usurping of family and neighborhood functioning and roles by agencies and social programs, or more social engineering by political saviors. What we need instead is communities that work right, families that work right, lifestyles that work right, and values and morals and ethics that we can all be proud of and that we believe in deeply and are guided by. [Think MC, since these things won’t happen unless people take the responsibility to make them happen, and via individual lifestyle decisions guided by a Third Wave movement, not social engineering.]

Quit looking to social engineering superheroes and rely on local community efforts
Quit looking to social engineering superheroes and rely on local community efforts

Like the best thinkers keep telling us, we need movements operating from the grassroots up, not programs operating from the top down. This is not only better systems thought, and better ecological, holistic, and Third Wave thought and better logic, it is also much more in harmony with the American character of individual efforts solving problems and such efforts being complemented with private social associations and groups socializing out of common interests and sometimes tackling certain challenges together in a spirit of neighborliness, community spirit and individualism expressed in a collective context. Ask Alexis de Tocqueville.

The author was well-trained to view the world of social problems from a top-down, therapeutic culture perspective that simply refines the interventions until they bear fruit. As long as people are willing to cough up the taxes, the professionals will be willing to design programs. It was a breath of fresh air when the public and politicians together both said no to the parasitic welfare programs late in the 90s. But notice that the agencies didn’t advocate this cutback when their programs failed and actually did harm in many ways. They had to be literally stopped. This wasn’t a moral failing on the part of the bureaucrats (who were, after all, just protecting the take-home pay their families lived on) so much as it was an inherent problem with the Second Wave institution known as the bureaucracy.

As long as people are willing to cough up the taxes, the professionals will be willing to design programs
As long as people are willing to cough up the taxes, the professionals will be willing to design programs

We need Third Wave organizations that are wise enough in the systems thinking and ecological analysis areas that they realize that they need to empower community and family functioning, not replace it. They need to have asset/resource perception contexts, not liability/deficiency contexts. They need to locate strengths in a system, get these working to cure the system problems, and then go away and let them be. But, by their nature, bureaucracies don’t do much of that. Their stated raison d’être is to fix and empower, but their covert organizational purpose is to employ professionals, clerks, etc. When they send out their experts to fix us, they're seeing us with liability/deficiency contexts, not asset/resource contexts.

Bureaucracies' stated raison d’être is to fix and empower, but their covert organizational purpose is to employ professionals, clerks, etc., and fixing things is a conflict of interest—they'll no longer be wanted or needed!
Bureaucracies' stated raison d’être is to fix and empower, but their covert organizational purpose is to employ professionals, clerks, etc., and fixing things is a conflict of interest—they'll no longer be wanted or needed!

They must continually convince people how needed they are. They must tell people that they’re the solution rather than the people are their own solution, and do it with a straight face in spite of their track records. They want to help people, but even more than that they want their agencies to grow, to get raises, and to provide for their personnel. So they always see more problems that they need to fix. They perceive the entire society as a bunch of incompetents in need of their expertise. And this is good for neither the professional who begins to feel elitist nor the community that gets dependent, needful, less mature, less resourceful, and loses self-esteem and identity both collectively and individually. This, then, is what her book fails to factor in adequately.

Isn’t it time that the liberals and some middle-of-the-roaders cease indicating that conservatives don’t care and are cheap, mean, and indifferent when they won’t allow the left to continue spreading these therapeutic culture artificacts all over American society like fodder, functioning like a network of middlemen that replace family, neighborhood and community roles more than they empower them? Intentions notwithstanding, these professionals have truly become as much of the problem as they are the solution.

When bureaucracies send out their experts to fix us, they're seeing us with liability/deficiency contexts, not asset/resource contexts
When bureaucracies send out their experts to fix us, they're seeing us with liability/deficiency contexts, not asset/resource contexts

The gist of her book is to make the programs better. And, of course, with big government programs under fire from all quarters, what else could she say? But in her idea about “scaling up” successful local efforts to become successful national programs, she’s forgotten a fundamental fact: It was never the programs that have worked local miracles in this great country of ours. It was the people and communities!

This is another reason why MCs will be able to restore and enhance the American Dream successfully while the ship of “enlightened” social engineering founders on the rocky reef of liberal idealism, restoring and enhancing nothing and eventually being mercifully abandoned. See Why Register for an MC?. MC people believe they are their own solution and they need no programs to “intervene.” All they need is the great microcommunity connections they already have and MC movement guidelines regarding optimizing lifestyles. Their people will be the reason their lives work. They are caring, wise, knowledgeable assets to one another. Schorr keeps looking for a socialistic answer while the MCs seek only the American-styled answer. She forgot how much Americans dislike socialism in any form.

The ship of 'enlightened' social engineering founders on the rocky reef of liberal idealism
The ship of 'enlightened' social engineering founders on the rocky reef of liberal idealism

She didn’t grasp the meaning of the 1996 welfare repeal in which Bill Clinton wisely cooperated with Republicans and signed the bill called Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA), fulfilling his 1992 campaign promise to "end welfare as we have come to know it."

But then along came an ass clown named Obama, determined to destroy Bill Clinton’s signature achievement of his presidency since he was mad his own ugly presidency was nothing but one humiliation after the next. Obama’s administration has opened a loophole in the 1996 welfare reform legislation big enough to make the law ineffective. Its work requirement — the central feature of the legislation — has been diluted down to nothing so that slackers that feel they're too good to have to work won't have to do anything. The Obama presidency will be remembered as the most corrupt and destructive of any president. And the bleeding-heart liberals that made the grievious error of voting for him will be embarrassed forever for choosing him over Hillary

An ass clown named Obama was determined to destroy Bill Clinton’s signature achievement of his presidency since he was mad his own ugly presidency was nothing but one humiliation after the next
An ass clown named Obama was determined to destroy Bill Clinton’s signature achievement of his presidency since he was mad his own ugly presidency was nothing but one humiliation after the next