Thursday, December 26, 2013

Our Politics And The Loss Of Community

The Tyee has dusted off a piece which Murray Dobbin wrote four years ago. It's worth a read. Dobbin maintains that progressives have been infected by the same consumer culture that is destroying our politics and our planet:

We have known for years that our consumer culture is out of control and our obsession with having more and more stuff has reached the status of a virus. Our consumer-driven global economy is a lethal threat to the planet and every one of its ecosystems.

The lock that consumerism has on Western so-called civilization is formidable -- a virtual death-grip on our culture and our future as a species.

Consumer culture is buttressed by what Michael Lerner calls "secular fundamentalism  --  the tendency amongst mainstream activists to stick rigidly to a rationalist and technocratic interpretation of both politics and culture." That commitment to rigid rationalism leads to civic apathy -- unless, like the Right, you bemoan the loss of community. According to Learner:

The Right speaks about the collapse of families, the difficulty of teaching good values to children, the fear of crime, and the absence of spirituality in their lives. The Right seems to understand their hunger for community and connection.

The Left, writes Dobbin, needs a radical vision of community. It needs to rise above rationalism and appeal to the common good and to common decency. The Right bemoans the loss of community while it advocates hyper individualism. The challenge for the Left is to connect the dots. Hyper individualism leads to the loss of community.

Community is fundamental. Our politics and our planet are at stake.


Lorne said...

Thank you for posting this, Owen. I followed the link you provided and read the entire essay. The insights expressed within are very pertinent to the battles anyone who deems him/herself a progressive fights. Dobbins' solution is compelling; essentially, we need to find heart and soul so that our efforts are not just arid abstractions that no one really identifies with or wants to hear.

The question we now need to address is how to most effectively put this into action.

Owen Gray said...

And -- as Dobbin points out -- Lorne, it means that we will have to talk in spiritual terms.

That does not mean that we advocate any particular religion. But it does mean that we acknowledge that there is a side to human existence which goes beyond the satisfaction of our physical needs and desires.

sunsin said...

Unfortunately, "talking in spiritual terms" involves a whole lot of, well, lying, and the Right does this far better than the Left. The poor will not consent to remain poor because someone tells them they are "rich in spirit," nor should they.

Your illusion that "consumer culture" is unsustainable is another piece of wishful thinking (spiteful thinking in some, though I think not here). Humanity is slowly waking up to the fact that in the sun and the wind we have virtually inexhaustible sources of renewable and non-polluting energy. With enough cheap, clean energy, almost anything is possible. Posts like yours will be retrieved for giggles by our grandchildren, and for an explanation why the Left, though usually correct on the abstract plane, had such difficulty winning mass support. If you relieve yourself on the ordinary desires of ordinary people from a great height, they'll naturally assume you despise them, and follow right-wing charlatans whose prescriptions actually give them less chance of enjoying widespread prosperity in the long run.

The Mound of Sound said...

A lot of those who identify as of the Left are really centre-right these days. Even the NDP has weighed anchor and drifted to the centre. The degree of dislocation undermines the prospects of community because that requires common acceptance of shared values and, where necessary, shared sacrifice. Where do you find that today?

Owen Gray said...

I have no illusions about talking in spiritual terms, sunsin. Telling someone that "their reward will be great in heaven" will achieve nothing.

But telling them that we are all in this together might -- because it's so obviously true. The state of the planet reminds us of that simple truth.

Owen Gray said...

Good question, Mound. The prevailing ethic is competition. And sharing anything in a competition can -- we've been told -- get us kicked off the island.

the salamander said...

.. stimulating perceptions .. and provoking positions
(especially for my day after Boxing Day !)
I too read the entire article.. and I like Dobbin, a lot.

But this is shifty ground.. in a diverse land of immigrant generations where Christmas season now starts before the frost is on the pumpkin.. and last a full two months - 1/6th of the year ho ho ho .. leaving me wondering where 'the 12 days of Christmas' went.

The majority of Canadian's wouldn't dream of shopping within their community.. not even for basics like food, tools, fuel or entertainment.. some even bussing kids to distant schools

And the dream seems to be having the garage as a kind of modern moat with drawbridge.. and you enter the house from inside the garage, thus avoiding the neighbors.. or attackers, pollsters, or Jehovah's Witness .....

My impertinent question, Owen.. is ..
The people implied within Lerner's quote and Dobbin's article.. their consumerism aside.. what do they think about other reflections or abstractions or realities locked into the consumerism? ie are they OK with gigantic hikes to electricity or gasoline costs or flood insurance? Do they mind if we buy F-35's instead of enhancing medical clinics? Or repairing roads or water mains? Or play areas or recreational centers instead of government TV ads and self aggrandizing spin?

Would these people like to see a beat cop on foot in their neighborhood instead of an occasional cruiser once a month?
And what if the rural police force can't afford fuel anyway.. what then?

Things often don't get better and better..
'the problem with normal is it always gets worse'
(Bruce Cockburn ?)

Owen Gray said...

It's the age old conundrum, salamander. Everyone wants to get to heaven, but nobody wants to die. I can love my neighbour, as long as I don't have to live next to him.

And, so, we yearn for community but insist that we have the right to be hyper individualists.

It works if you don't think about it. And that's the problem -- thinking about it.