The Careless Society: Community And Its Counterfeits
a book by John McKnight
(our site's book review)
In a well-needed assault on the liberal social engineering mindset, McKnight points out flaws in the thinking of people who are saying that the cure for what ails our country is to reform its service-producing institutions. We don’t need this, he says: “In fact, our institutions are too powerful, authoritative and strong. Our problem is weak communities, made ever more impotent by our strong service systems.” What’s the incentive for communities to strengthen if bureaucracies seduce us into using their services to make up for the lack of community? He says service systems can never be reformed so that they really care. Only citizens can do that caring. Agencies produce the counterfeit.
An expert: bureaucracies seduce us into using their services to make up for the lack of community
There’s nothing wrong with experts learning things about life and then helping us to profit by what they’ve learned—of such things progress is made. But creating a dependent, uninformed populace addicted to the entitlements, services and experts is counterproductive and wrong. Once citizens feel entitled, dependent, and not responsible, they lose their work ethics and then the culture goes straight to hell. It's 2017, and for many this warning comes too late. They've become permanent parasites.
"Work? Hell no—I've got food stamps!"
Once citizens feel entitled, dependent, and not responsible, they lose their work ethics and then the culture goes straight to hell, the environment gets short shrift, and the planet will get renamed appropriately: "Hell"
Instead, experts can pass on their knowledge via books, schools, the Internet (e.g., this website), and TV, and individuals can find ways to improve their lives. This should be a choice, and individuals need to be independent and responsible for making good choices and experiencing the consequences if they don’t. Like entrepreneurship, one launches an enterprise and risks failure while hoping for success. To guarantee that everything will be spoon-fed to the public regardless of their personal life choices is to go against a century of scientific knowledge gleaned in such areas as human motivation and psychology. Good and bad consequences teach life’s lessons. Without them, the public stays dependently, numbly ignorant, and learns irresponsible habits like our slacker above. Sometimes even illegal habits are learned.
The professional invasion of neighborhoods across America has been observed by many before this author—he names some of them (e.g., Ivan Illich). Peter Berger and Richard Neuhaus have described the negative effects of professional dominance upon the problem-solving capacities of families, neighborhoods, churches, voluntary associations and political parties. The bureaucracies, in order to survive, create the need for more of their services. (This is similar in principle to the way drug pushers operate—the drugs themselves create the need for more.)
If their stated role is to solve a certain problem through their professional help, why does the need for their services always seem to increase once they swing into action? The answer is obvious: The professionals want to be paid—they want to keep their jobs. Fixing anything would be a conflict of interest. So they create more need, more dependency, more services, more jobs for more bureaucrats, and—they hope—even salary increases. There's a vested interest in keeping communities weak—having professionals pull the rug out from under community functioning (which produces social symptoms that need professional help to alleviate). So, no, you won't see much community "fixing" by these people. Experts have no bad intentions. They really do wish to help, and they really do help. There is an old saying that if you give a man a fish, he eats for a day, but if you teach him to fish, he eats for a lifetime. The experts serve very tasty fish. But they never seem to bring any fishing poles!
Give a man a fish, he eats for a day, but teach him to fish, he eats for a lifetime
Professionals pull the rug out from under community functioning, thereby creating an endless need for their services
In the last century, this country has transformed from a goods producing economy to a service economy. And in order to sell services, there must be needs. Old, bald or menopause used to be realities—but they’re now defined as problems in need of services. More and more human conditions are being defined as problems in order to create more service jobs, while most of our “things” are made overseas.
McKnight says “It is becoming more and more evident that rather than producing [effective] services, [the service systems] are creating sensitive but frustrated professionals, unable to understand why their love, care and service do not re-form society, much less help individuals to function.” They don’t see that they disempower and disable in their empowerment attempts. They don't see why liberal social engineers are a nonsolution and an antisocial exploitation.
McKnight says “We are in a struggle against clienthood, against servicing the poor. We must reeallocate the power, authority, and legitimacy that have been stolen by the great institutions of our society. We must oppose those interests of governmental, corporate, professional and managerial America that thrive on the dependency of the American people. We must commit ourselves to the reallocation of power to the people we serve so that we no longer will need to serve. Only then will we have a chance to realize the American dream: the right to be a citizen and to create, invent, produce, and care [rather than depending on others to do these things for us].”
If you don't see why MCs are the precise reallocation of power to the people, check out all MC pages. You'll see why we have the answer McKnight seeks.
Alexis de Tocqueville—in 1831—saw that the United States had a uniquely powerful civic instrument, which was the foundation stone of American communities: citizen groups. They were resource-centered, independent and activist, not deficiency-centered, dependent and passive. He saw these as the hope of America. These citizen groups are virtually gone now. (But MCs will change that—they're the 21st century version of citizen groups millions of our citizens—and authors—have been seeking. See Why Register for an MC?.)
Registering for MC search and match
McKnight says that “It seems clear that new strategies must stress an organizing process that enhances and builds community, and that focuses on developing a neighborhood’s own capacities to do for itself what outsiders will or can no longer do.” (Which is exactly what MCs do.)
McKnight outlines the three visions of society: The therapeutic vision, in which the well-being of individuals is determined by the professionals and services upon which they are dependent; the advocacy vision, in which individuals are protected against an alien community in a win-lose context of the war of rights; and the community vision, in which community networking and a web of significant social connectedness provide the context for job creation, recreation, and multiple friendships (he forgot caregiving of kids and elders). Community associations stress the strengths of each member, not the weaknesses and vulnerabilities to rights infringement, disease, aging or poverty. In real communities, “. . . care emerges in place of its packaged imitation: service.”
The author uses control as a criterion for deciding between bad service and good service. Does a service empower and help a person to get full control of his/her life? Or does it create dependency and eventually assume control over many aspects of people’s lives? The good news is that there are many agencies and service protocols in general that stress empowering people to find and use neighborhood resources, which may take strengthening or education of said resources, or locating childcare resources. The bad news is that to the degree such empowerment strategies succeed, the agencies will be shooting themselves in the foot as they reduce the need for their agencies' help. Anyone who has worked around bureaucrats knows what comes next. After all, bureaucrats have to eat too!
How likely is it for agencies to shoot themselves in their feet?