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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Our poor, broken society

Today's Denver Post ran a piece by David Brooks from the New York Times under the heading "Our poor, broken society: two revolutions damaged community."

I found myself nodding in agreement all the way through. The broad thesis is based on the work of one Phillip Blond, a British writer. Brooks writes, "Blond argues that over the past generation we have witnessed two revolutions, both of which liberated the individual and decimated local associations.... First, there was a revolution from the left: a cultural revolution that displaced traditional manners and mores; a legal revolution that emphasized individual rights instead of responsibilities; a welfare revolution in which social workers displaced mutual aide societies and self-organized associations. Then there was the market revolution from the right. In the age of de-regulation, giant chains like Wal-Mart decimated local shop owners. Global financial markets took over small banks, so that the local knowledge of a town banker was replaced by a manic herd of traders thousands of miles away. Unions withered. The two revolutions talked the language of individual freedom, but they perversely ended up creating greater centralization."

That's a beautiful job of reframing the long conflict between left and right to the essential dilemma. To put it in "Fourth Turning" language, our time is about the primacy of individual values over institutional values - to the destruction of both. In my book, that's what I called the New Inquisition.

Over the past couple of days I've gotten a couple of private emails comments about my most recent newspaper column, which I provocatively titled "and government shall save us". These emails follow the typical pattern of the complaints I get about my newspaper columns: first, they accuse me of advocating for a political agenda they do not share, then they seek to complain about my advocacy to my bosses (the Board of Trustees of the Douglas County Libraries), presumably to make me shut up. Often, there's an explicit statement that the library lost its last elections because I'm a liberal, and as long as I'm around, we'll NEVER win. (If they thought I were a conservative, of course, they would have voted for a tax increase?)

Just for the record, I am neither liberal nor conservative. I believe in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. When we get to specifics, I make up my mind based on the evidence and my own thinking. Often enough, I find both political parties simplistic and pointlessly combative.

For the twenty years of my career in Douglas County, I have focused on the community level. I'm not a shill for the state, or the Feds. Library funding comes almost entirely from the people who live in the very same county I live in. The focus of that career has been to serve those people well, focusing on local needs and resources.

And that seems to be Blond's recommendation for the future: "reduce the power of senior government officials and widen the discretion of front-line civil servants, the people actually working in neighborhoods. He would decentralize power, giving more budget authority to the smallest units of government."

This is the philosophy once known as "communitarianism," which I still find more thoughtful and sustainable than most alternatives.

At any rate, I like the Brooks column a lot. Recommended.

2 comments:

Leslie said...

Excellent article and response.

Middle Aged Woman said...

I recommend the Coffee Party. Organized around the principal of civil discourse, regardless of political leanings.