We are being tested by unprecedented extremes. It can feel like we are living on the edge. But the disarray in America did not begin with COVID-19. We must keep this in mind.
How is the pandemic influencing our thinking about the conditions that preceded it?
It is easy to stay riveted on current events. But older Americans are painfully aware that social and economic deterioration has been gaining momentum for decades.
Regular readers know of my strategic response to this gathering storm. Does my focus on the importance of local communities make sense to you?
Am I simply preaching sweetness and light? Or is this a question of central importance to Americans if we are to regain control of the future?
Why is genuine community essential for the stability of social order? And why is this especially significant now, as we look into the fog of fear and uncertainty?
A foremost concern for most of us is the need for security in the face of multiple crises.
Without neighbors we can depend on, the immediate future appears bleak. Physical survival in today’s world needs dependable community.
The greater the threats to stability, the greater our need for trustworthy relationships, and the more dependent we become on the practical knowledge, skills, and life-experience of our neighbors.
Safety is essential. But, it is not everything.
Communities are much more than geographic locations. For thousands of years communities have been the basic unit comprising civilized societies, the structure in which justice, social order, and cultural identity are grounded.
It is here that youth learn values, find equilibrium, and gain a sense of belonging. Genuine community encourages members to express their unique identity, character, and creativity.
So it is that community, when endowed with the full engagement of its’ citizens, becomes the substructure for freedom and security. No other institution is capable of serving this purpose.
Among the essential roles of community is to anchor the diversity of institutions, associations, and organized functions that form a healthy civil society.
This is of crucial importance to the individual. Without diverse opportunities and choices for meaningful involvement with others, we become disengaged and disoriented, set adrift, vulnerable to dishonest, despotic and predatory influences.
The absence of mediating associations thrusts society into reliance on an increasingly pervasive central government.
Why have human beings so often abandoned liberty and independence for the charisma of totalitarian despots? What were they missing? The answer is not so mysterious as it might seem.
All of us possess an urge to belong, whether it be to family, a place, or a group where we are valued. To be fully human we must belong somewhere. Americans are no different from any others in this regard.
If the United States is to survive as a constitutional republic we must find our way back to this sense of identity, and to the flow of ideas, relatedness, and continuity which may have become distorted or gone underground but is not lost.
And, if we care about freedom—our experience must be local.
Without communities where we feel at home, where we can serve the greater good, where people know our name—the quest for belonging can easily deliver us to authoritarian tyranny.Are we capable of building stability with our neighbors? Americans have little experience with genuine community. Many of us are barely acquainted with our neighbors.
I am proposing that we learn how to build a society where prosperity has a foundation in local knowledge, independence, and initiative—where our children can be safe and where personal freedoms are respected.
Yes, as Americans we are fully capable of developing community-based relationships, of tackling problems, managing conflict, and organizing local projects.
With COVID-19 behind us, communities can grow and preserve food, support small businesses and jump-start cash economies.
We have the energy. With a commitment to constructive action and a readiness to assess our assumptions we will learn by doing.
Challenges will be met with the spirit of generosity for which Americans have long been known. This is in our character as a nation.
It can be done and we can do it.
Note to regular readers: I will not be posting close to the US elections. You may watch for future activity here on or about October 19 and November 9.