Are we still “a nation of joiners” as Arthur Schlesinger posited in an article for The American Historical Review in 1944? Maybe if joining Facebook counts.
Once, we were a nation of associations and fraternal organizations. These included labor unions, like the old Knights of Labor and then later, the American Federation of Labor. Workers banded together against attempts to pay them less than they thought they were worth, and other exploitive tactics of Big Business. The farmers did the same thing, countering Big Business attempts to divide and conquer. These agrarian organizations were the “Patrons of Husbandry or the Grangers.”
If we’re slowly but surely becoming a nation of free agents, ala, Daniel Pink, does that mean that Whitey TM now has the upper hand? Where do we gather our strength and solidarity from these days?
Just this bit of cursory research for a short blog post demonstrates how much our social connectivity has diminished, all but disappearing over the past 10-15 years. I attribute this to the false sense that our social media platforms can usurp face-to-face volunteerism and engagement. Techno-utopians also find a way to spin digital engagement to show that liking on Facebook is the equivalent of building a playground, or serving at a soup kitchen.
Railing and raging against the machine is all fine and good, but a solitary voice of one is ineffective against the aligned forces of corporate personhood. Apps are equally ineffective in that area.
An article from a year ago by John Summers, editor of The Baffler, riffing on Thorstein Veblen, describes well our current cult of business ascendancy—not necessarily all business—but the profit-at-all-costs model of corporate veneration that is now firmly entrenched in America, which is back-to-the-future reminiscent of Veblen’s time in the early 19th century.
Lo, I must admit my own propensity to join and be part of a team is on the wane. I’m no longer part of a local baseball team, or serving a stint on a local, nonprofit board these days. I am part of an umpiring board, but other than the two hours spent on the field with a partner, there isn’t much solidarity happening there.
Part of it is the nature of being a freelancer. One day, I’m working on an article for a major regional daily. Other times, I’m selling my services to some other bidder. It’s not Monday through Friday in the sense that it used to be. I rarely see the same people on two successive days.
As the world changes and many of the former fraternal relationships have fragmented, how do we re-establish our former connectivity and is it even possible now that we’re so Balkanized?