The Dance With Community: the contemporary debate in American political thought
a book by Robert Booth Fowler
(our site's book review)
In the midst of nostalgic conservatives pining for yesterday there is the cry for a return to community. The author makes the point that the nostalgic element in this desire doesn’t invalidate the legitimate and warranted quest for community. But he also asks, as Herbert did about Robert Bellah’s community ideals, Do we really want all of this community? An interesting statement later in Fowler’s book is: “Character is everywhere the closest to community that men and women will come.” In good character lies the basis for good community. When we produce so many people with questionable character, are we really that eager to join them in community?
He also says that: “Grounded in dissatisfaction with modern liberalism (though not necessarily with its traditional values), modern communitarian thinkers are trying to reconceptualize the world as a more united, more sharing, more meaningful, and more affective place.”
There is a pandemic of questionable character being produced via normal American lifestyles—much more widespead than the 1918 flu pandemic
Let's get back to noticing that there is a pandemic of questionable character being produced via normal American lifestyles, so why would we really be that eager to join them in community? Why indeed! And yet when working families search for childcare options they often end up with convenient neighborhood babysitters or local unlicensed home care. In neither case is there really that much reason for much commitment on the part of their caregiver, who, after all, just wants to make a few bucks. Even if a center is found that's within the family budget, true emotional commitment to the child may be lacking. Centers are a product of modern liberalism's desire for women to be able to "have it all"—which translates to the opportunity for a career, just like men have always had. Unless one's thought patterns are extremely regressive or unduly influenced by radical Religious Right propaganda, giving women equal opportunity for a full life will seem fair and just. But what about childcare?
Nostalgics find it convenient to believe that the mothers will always be the best caregivers for the kids, and that mothers are the best caregivers, both of which have been shown to be true sometimes but not other times. It depends on the woman and on her social support system. Some women are bad caregivers and therefore should be replaced by better ones, such as the father, some other committed relative, or someone hired for the job who shows himself or herself to be good at it. And sometimes center or home care people turn out to be the best choice, and occasionally even a loving babysitter is the best option. In summary, the second best option is to simply utilize the caregiving furnished by whomever is best at it, while the first best option is to utilize the caregiving furnished by several people who are best at it, all backed by a strong social support system.
In today's families, the person best at caregiving is often a working mother or father who hasn't time for much caregiving. If families don't work, families don't eat. So, often kids get caregiving from whomever is convenient, who may be someone uncommitted to the kid(s). We can look back to the 1950s and say the kids these days are getting a raw deal, with catch-as-catch-can caregiving, which isn't nearly as good as care from a 1950s mother who doted on the kids. Or so the cliche goes. The truth is much more complicated than this. Moms stuck with cooking, cleaning, exclusive caregiving, as they looked with great envy at the full, career-centered life of their husbands, often got depressed, took Valium, drank martinis, and were not that great at caregiving after all. Depression and love are a poor mix—or an unlikely one. So moms coped, and kids coped. Today's catch-as-catch-can caregiving and mom's 1950s' caregiving are likely to be of similar questionable quality.
The questionable quality of caregivers should be reminding us of the questionable quality of the character of average individuals, above, that made us less than eager to join together in communities. Also, think of the TV show Mad Men before you think that the dads could ride in on white horses and save the day in either the character or caregiving area. Not so much, folks.
The dads won't be riding in on white horses and saving the day in either the character or caregiving area
Before you think that it all looks hopeless and no one was fit to raise families then and no one is fit to raise families now either so we might as well loose the dogs of war in the form of nukes and end our endless cultural failure in a burst of doomsday glory, let's notice what's missing in the sorry picture painted above. The communitarians have a point that decent communities, good humanistic values, and strong character are sorely needed, and yet they're a bit weak when explaining how we build a bridge from where we are now to where we need to go.
How will we build a bridge from where we are now to where we need to go?
The question, then, is not so much "Do we really want all of this community?" but how will we transform character so that we will indeed want "all of this community." Keep remembering that good character mostly comes from good upbringing, so we'll never get the former unless and until we get the latter figured out. To sum up, then, how indeed will we ever figure out how to transform character so that the rest will follow? Good childcare leads to good upbringing which leads to good character which leads to good communities which leads to good nations which leads to happy, peaceful, loving world. That is the formula. Actualize good childcare and the rest follows. Which is the theme of our novel The Forest Through The Trees.
The Forest Through The Trees
And yet we've already seen that good childcare isn't really happening all that much from 1950 to 2015 (now). That doesn't mean no one did it. It just means that most did not. Hence our hesitation of being in community with people raised in subpar ways by people of subpar character in relatively nonexistent communities. (No wonder we all escape to online social networks to engage in virtual reality relationships, virtual reality gaming, virtuality sexuality, and a virtual life. It's as if we all want to be anywhere but where we are and with anyone but those we live with or live next door to.)
Escaping with virtual reality relationships and virtual reality gaming
Was there good childcare before 1950? Yes and no. Many things got in the way, such as thinking of kids as property or chattel and even free slave labor, authoritarianism and paternalism which often made discipline cruel and heartless, wars, Victorianism, diseases snuffing out lives before they'd hardly even gotten started, etc. So—no—there has NEVER been a golden age of childcare. Something always prevented it. Lack of knowledge was the main reason before 1970 or so. We couldn't do it right if we didn't know how. Since the 1970s, many tried to do it right and used methods like P.E.T. to ensure that. This worked much better than ignorance-led childcare of the past. But often moms had to work or they had no decent social support networks—or both. Or they were cursed with fundamentalist values which they interpreted to mean they need to treat kids with harsh authoritarian discipline.
Pity the kids of parents who treated their kids with harsh authoritarian discipline
Mother-only childcare worked somewhat poorly even with the use of a good parenting method like P.E.T., since the mom wanted a full life with a career and was resentful of not getting it. And moms needed respite and alternate caregivers so that childcare wasn't such a monolithic burden. So even with good parenting methods a mom perpetually stuck with kids was often not that good at childcare and would often use the TV as a mechanical babysitter to give herself a break, or she'd get immersed in soap operas and be cross with kids who interrupted this guilty pleasure.
Moms perpetually stuck with kids were often not that good at childcare and would often use the TV as a babysitter
If you've been paying attention, you know by now that what it all boils down to is this: for good childcare that leads to good upbringing which leads to good character which leads to good communities which leads to good nations which leads to happy, peaceful, loving world, we need the following:
- An effective, well-proven, authoritative parenting and relationship method
- A good social support network
- Lots of alternate caregivers for the kids
The above criteria will ensure good character, which will ensure that Fowler's worthwhile dream of strong communities peopled by people of strong character will actually materialize. The only thing left to resolve, since we already know what to do about parenting (see Authoritative and Democratic Parenting Programs), is to deal with the fact that in modern America it is extremely unlikely that you'll accidentally trip over a ready-made strong social support network with lots of alternate caregivers for the kids. And we did exactly that—we dealt with it, thoroughly and in detail. It's what this website is about—MCs. It stands to reason that if MCs can use great social and caregiving environments to produce MC-level character and unify our country with a common purpose, the quest for community will finally succeed without any more need for useless, depressing, politicization, divisiveness or empty rhetoric. See Why Register for an MC?.
Registering for MC search and match
Politicians provide useless, depressing, politicization, divisiveness or empty rhetoric