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The Big Answer


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Community Properly Understood: A Defense of 'Democratic' Communitarianism

an article by Robert N. Bellah

(our site's article review)

Bellah traces a path that avoids the ideological blinders of current American politics, which has polarized much of the debate into free market conservatism versus welfare state liberalism. He calls it democratic communitarianism. It insists that the function of both the market and the state is to serve us, not dominate us. (See Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite.) Democratic communitarianism is based on:

  1. the sacredness of the individual, and individuals are realized only in and through communities

  2. affirming the central value of solidarity and shared commitment

  3. commitment to family, church, community, culture, economy, government

  4. the idea that participation is both a right and a duty

Although Bellah's ideas are hard to argue with, they could do with more context. Getting bogged down in consensus of shared values and what makes a good community is very academic and theoretical, but the insistence that the function of both the market and the state is to serve us, not dominate us is both obvious and presented in a vacuum. In the theoretical world, restating the obvious gets redundant rapidly. Bellah wanted to avoid the political and focus on the sociological, but how can words like "serve rather than dominate" be nonpolitical and objective in the year 2014? Only to an ivory-tower-dwelling academician.

How can words like 'serve rather than dominate' be nonpolitical and objective in the year 2014? Only to an ivory-tower-dwelling academician!
How can words like 'serve rather than dominate' be nonpolitical and objective in the year 2014? Only to an ivory-tower-dwelling academician!

In 1969, women's liberationist Carol Hanisch stated in The Personal Is Political that "Women are messed over, not messed up! We need to change the objective conditions, not adjust to them. Therapy is adjusting to your bad personal alternative." Therefore, working to change these conditions via protests and articles and meetings and use of the media is political action toward liberation and stopping of oppression. As Hanisch says, "There are no personal solutions at this time. There is only collective action for a collective solution." Community, like politics, like the Women's Liberation Movement, like society itself, is collective action for a collective solution. And words like "serve rather than dominate" is a political statement about power structures and the potential corruption of same.

Women's Liberation Movement member doing her individual part to take collective political action for a collective political solution
Women's Liberation Movement member doing her individual part to take collective political action for a collective political solution

The market dominates us because the Corporatocracy is set up that way. The state dominates us because the U.S. Oligarchy is in bed with the Corporatocracy and the state wishes to give us only the rights and freedoms that do not infringe upon the wealth creation of the rich oligarchs. Free expression, privacy, personal freedom, and freedom of assembly are just a few of the rights and freedoms the state has managed to trample lately in the guise of "protecting us." But, like "who will watch the watchers" (NSA), the issue of who will protect us from the protectors raises its ugly head, since these so-called "protectors" are notorious liars sneaking around behind our backs. The state—an actual oligarch-controlled corporatocracy—is presenting to us a transparent pretense of all of the above being for the purpose of serving the people, although they find it hard to keep a straight face as they lay such a whopper on us. It serves the oligarchy in control, and they use the mechanisms of state to dominate us.

Our leaders tell us they're 'serving' the public, knowing full well it's a lie—Obama's told it so often his nose is growing!
Our leaders tell us they're 'serving' the public, knowing full well it's a lie—Obama's told it so often his nose is growing!

Bellah is not talking theory in a vacuum—the U.S. is hardly a vacuum! Bellah's article traces a path that avoids the ideological blinders of current American politics, but he can only do this by pretending that his ideas transcend thoughts of politics entirely. They do not because they cannot, any more than the women's libbers could. He needs to take one step back and look at why current American politics has polarized much of the debate into free market conservatism versus welfare state liberalism and why it turns out that this is neither the core issue nor even worth any more pondering and pontification. And just like "the medium is the message," in this case the debating itself is the message, not any of its content.

A metaphor for our ludicrous 'democratic election' scam—whose purpose is singular and simple: distraction
A metaphor for our ludicrous 'democratic election' scam—whose purpose is singular and simple: distraction

What is our oligarchy-directed, corporatocracy-funded debate, with all its cliched, bombastic, Culture War passions trying to accomplish in elections, since no significant changes ever evolve and neither side has corporatocracy permission to rock the boat and advocate serious, systemic changes, much less effect such changes? The voters feel impotent since votes for neither candidate will create the changes they need. They wonder why they even bother to vote and why the corporatocracy even bothers to put on the clown shows they call elections.

Voters wonder why they even bother to vote and why the corporatocracy even bothers to put on the clown shows they call elections
Voters wonder why they even bother to vote and why the corporatocracy even bothers to put on the clown shows they call elections

But, a bit of thought and the mystery is solved. What purpose DO elections serve? And for whom? Simple: the purpose is distraction and this purpose serves the oligarchy. As the rich get richer and everyone else finds their money mysteriously ending up in the wallets of the corporatocracy, to keep the unwary public distracted from the robbery the oligarchy makes sure election platforms dwell on emotion-laden, hot-button issues that get predictable responses from the sheep/public as their buttons are pushed.

The rich are shaking us down
The rich are shaking us down

The unwary public is naive enough to believe that the words being spoken have meaning. One wants to shake each sheep, point out the fleecing he's undergoing, and scream that the real meaning of the election isn't about words or issues—it's about the way they're being distracted from not only the robbery and who is doing it, but from the fact that the fix is in: There is nothing they can do—no one they can vote for—that will change the fact that their money, their rights, their privacy and the democracy itself is vanishing covertly right before their eyes but by staying in front of a TV screen watching the election clown show THEY are colluding with the robbers to allow this to happen! The sheep are complicit in their own sheering.

The sheep in the U.S. are complicit in their own sheering
The sheep in the U.S. are complicit in their own sheering

Perhaps they never paid attention in civics class, so they don't see how broken the democracy is and how the democratic process has been greedily and cynically subverted by the oligarchy in power. But some of us see it. We write books and/or articles about it, but when the powers-that-be read them, they wink to one another and smile knowingly. Far from being ashamed, while reading about their greed and the way their corporatocracy and oligarchy run the show, they get a sense of pride for a job well done.

It may be that in theory, in a vacuum, the function of both the market and the state is to serve us, not dominate us. But in 2014 United States of America, the opposite is true. We serve as the cash cows for the dominant oligarchy. (See The US is an oligarchy, study concludes.)

What do you say, reader, are you tired of being milked yet?
What do you say, reader, are you tired of being milked yet?