8 thoughts on “We’re All In This Together

  1. I know him Jim. Discovered him about 13 years ago. I am concerned daily about “true connection.” I believe that what we see in each other’s eyes are the biggest connectors any two human beings can have. I have never not seen the heart in a person’s eyes. I think those of us who feel sure of that special gift we all possess have to keep it up and not be ashamed to do so and “express.” We should never quash who we are and never be afraid to show our heart to the person standing beside us in the grocery store, the elderly man waiting on a bench at the Christmas Tree Shop for wife etc. It is always ok to tell a person a certain color looks nice on them or to tell the young person at Subway you really appreciate the time they took to make your sandwich. It is the little things and they can change a person’s moment and that is all I believe that life is about; moments. Thanks for your post today. You always make me think. And stay the way you are Jim….

  2. Ah, the irony of a Harvard wonk despairing at the results of the very governmental policies Harvard’s best and brightest have been cultivating divide, demoralize and stratify us since the 19th century.

    A decade ago I would have seem Putnam, like Charles Murray, as being insightful. Now I recognize that he’s just another man so well educated that he can’t see the forest for the trees. He sure has a modern scientific method, tons of graphs and polls and surveys, to back up what we all know already.

    What he doesn’t understand is that he is part of the disease. No surprise. As Upton Sinclair noted, “It’s hard to get a man to understand something if his paycheck depends upon him not understanding it.”

  3. Sally, Robert Putnam may be a very good man. I have no intentions of criticizing him personally, nor do I think I have. His published work, however, is deeply flawed, and neither his personal goodness or my inability to walk the sacred halls of Harvard protect that public work from criticism.

    A tremendous amount of the public disaster we now live in stems directly from various policies that came from Harvard, whether educational, economic, or diplomatic. And now a Harvard sociologist is concerned about the results without ever beginning to see their origins in the abstract ideas of his forerunners and peers. There is certainly delightful irony in that.

    The very methods Putnam uses to generate his pages and pages of metrics and charts are utterly useless to the question of How did this happen? He certainly is not unique in documenting what has happened, but in the end all the measures and charts and graphs are just snapshots of something he quantified because, well, it could be quantified. Regrettably, none of it explains How this happened. Why.

    And as such, it is of very poor use as any sort of guide to either fixing it, or moving on to something better.

    If you cannot see the wickedness lurking in the phrase Putnam relies on, “social capital,” then we are not going to be able to ever see eye to eye on my criticism of his work. That phrase to sum up an understanding of our loves, friendships, families,that whole range of Tocquevillian associations he refers to–that phrase is as deeply off-base as “human capital” or “human resources” are.

    I do not think Putnam to be wicked. His concerns about our loss of sociability are truly troublesome to him, as they should be to any good man. But the approach he takes to understanding this disaster (and it is a disaster) is deeply flawed, this idea of people as “capital” that can be managed and shaped as needed, and that leads ultimately to the failure of his effort.

    Where the rubber meets the road, your advice in your first comment is far more useful for those of us living in this disaster.

  4. LP, I think I understand some of your enmity towards academia and institutions like Harvard. However, from my vantage point that system, flawed as it may be, offered you advantages that differed from my own path. My own education has been much more DIY and based on my own efforts as an autodidact; yet I don’t begrudge anyone who receives a Harvard education, nor do I consider them to be my enemy. Actually, Putnam’s education was received at Swarthmore, Oxford, and Yale.

    You know how I feel about Putnam from my post today. I’ve referenced him before. His book, when I read it, helped place some of what I saw as problems at the time re: community connections and social cohesion, in a framework that made sense. It still does make sense to me.

    I don’t think research and graphs are problematic. Of course, they can become overkill and I’m sure I skipped many of them, much like I skipped Melville’s minutiae about the whale when I finally read Moby Dick a few years ago. It’s there for the taking if you want it.

    Your selective quoting of Upton Sinclair is interesting. You do know he was a socialist, right? His efforts in running for governor under the EPIC platform, which stood for End Poverty In California runs counter to what I’m guessing is your own libertarian bent.

    You mentioned “fixing” things. My solution continues to be a very localized approach. Finding a way back to a time when people still had what was a face-to-face connection, valuing the human, rather than the virtual. Face time is messy sometimes, however. People are never as perfect as we would like them to be. I know that all too well from my own relationships and work that I’ve been doing the past few years. That’s not to say that people were “better” because they lived at a different place and time.

    Writing consistently and imposing deadlines requires coming up with content regularly. I try to provide some perspective, offer a framework based in my own experience, and I’m sure I’ll continue to reference people that run counter to your own worldview. We’ll probably just have to agree to disagree, as there’s no way to bring our divergent viewpoints to a place of commonality.

    Roger Williams and his ideas of separating church and state didn’t sit well with the Puritans in Massachusetts. He was banished and went to Rhode Island and founded Providence.

  5. I read your piece and I watched the video. I enjoy libertarian conversations and theories and I am always a little disappointed when you disparage libertarianism with a broad brush. I’m trying not to use too many ideological identifiers these days as most seem to be heavy on banner waving and light on true understanding.

    I sometimes find comfort in existential discussions, too.

    That said, I found the video clip offensive in the way I find all Tee Vee offensive. It was a sound bite, with an “a ha moment” everyone will remember and use as the “tool” to solve the “problem.” Aunt Susan is the answer. Yes, I can see Aunt Susan being the new spokeswoman for some mainline denomination, almost as big as “Flo” of Progressive Insurance. Aunt Susan could have a 30 second ad during the Super Bowl. Putnam is an engaging speaker and he’s confident in his material, but I don’t think the answer is so simple as “Aunt Susan.” If I were to run into him at a cocktail party in Cambridge, I would tell him this.

    My own interest, as of late, has been in Maine’s largest ethnic group, the Franco Americans. Their Catholicism was one of their biggest uniting factors, outside of their French language. The Roman Catholic church provided education, health care, and child care. The death of the mills and factories plus the rotting of the Catholic church assisted the decline of the Franco culture. The things that unite ethnic groups are usually within the group and not some idea that is morphed in from the outside. When Franco Americans went outside, to public schools, what was required? Assimilate. Stop speaking French. The Maine state legislature enacted a law in 1919 which made it illegal to speak French in public schools. Being among these aging Francos as of late is sad; I sense loss in them, yet they are unaware of what it is that is lost and so they seem unable to stand up and reclaim anything. It’s too late to reclaim something that is gone.

    In regards to religious decline, all mainline Protestant denominations are in decline as well. Why? Well, because as many writers have said, the religion of America is not about God or Jesus. The religion of America is about progress and hustling. There is a whole generation of successful “Franco Americans” whose success had little to do with their faith or their culture but about following the American religion. John Michael Greer has written a complex and difficult series of essays about the “new religiosity” which may evolve as our economic decline continues. A discussion between Greer and Putnam…now that would be some interesting Tee Vee, wouldn’t it?

    As a follower of Christ, I’m all for the separation of church and state. Bring it. Not having to pay their tithe to Caesar has allowed churches to amass considerable wealth and become like corporations or governments unto themselves. They’ve shirked their responsibility of charity and feeding the sheep. Charity is more than a tax deduction.

    So many people are seeking comfort today; few are finding it within the hollow corpse of American religion.

    Thank you for hosting this interesting and provocative “virtual salon.” I look forward to hosting some “live salons” in 2014, Deo Volente. Maybe we can get LP to bring his guitar.

    • JAB,

      I do agree that this turned out to be an interesting and provocative discussion. I didn’t think much about it when I posted it.

      Much of American life has been hollowed out, not just religion. I think Chris Hedges does a terrific job with this topic in Death of the Liberal Class, tracing America’s demise back to the early 20th century. He indicts our universities, the press, the labor movement, the Democratic Party, and liberal religious institutions; all of these were supposed to serve as a “hedge” in society, championing the poor, working class Americans, and an egalitarian vision that originated post-Gilded Age. All of these have collapsed, according to Hedges. I would concur.

      One of the interesting things about collapse that I think about; while the overall mission and purpose of these institutions are now flawed, there is still value in them that can be leveraged, at least in my opinion. Also, removing a structure creates a void, and who knows what steps in to fill it.

      As Greer and others have written about, there is no exact road map on how societies decline, only examples from history.

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