Lessons In The Value of Community
Community, society, these are essential requirements of the human condition, but civil society is something possible only insofar as its population is vested with equal fellowship in it. In this regard, either we have allowed those files critical to the functioning of our social operating system to become corrupted, or there appears a flaw — either in its design, or our understanding and implementation of it. Increasingly, the system is failing to serve our mutual need. Whatever the cause, be it operator error, design flaw, or outright sabotage, tyranny is the unfortunate result. Restoring ourselves to a state of sustainable civil intercourse, we must foster a dramatic paradigm shift away from the now dominant inward fixation on individuation and narrow self-interest — the mores and values of the “Me Generation” with which we have imbued the mass of our society’s children now for three decades plus — turning outward to an emphasis on the greater good, and a new enlightened self-interest; for what manner of attainment is left to a man whose best hope is that his son might one day become a prince among the beggars, in a land ruled by thieves?
Fellowship and Our Need To Belong
“Man is by nature a social animal. An individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god.”
Speaking to the gods among us, would you all please raise your hands now, and be recognized? Gods? Any Gods? You sir? No? Anyone? Ok well then… how about beasts? Do we have any beasts in the audience with us here tonight? A show of hands? Beasts? No beasts? Don’t be shy…
By The Fruit of Our Loins
“…the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.”
— Whitney Houston
Platitude though it has become, and loth that I am to credit her, Whitney got it right! Children, offspring, fruitful multiplication, these are the essence of what we humans were created — whether by intelligent design or the forces of time — to do. We live, we reproduce, and we die. As with virtually all life on the planet, we have no higher purpose than the perpetuation of our kind. It’s just that simple really. No children… no future… Right? Or a really short future at best. True the universe will likely continue plugging merrily along without us following the end of life on planet earth, but in that context what could be the point discussing notions of any kind of future?
“Were it possible that a human creature could grow up to manhood in some solitary place, without any communication with his own species, he could no more think of his own character, of the propriety or demerit of his own sentiments and conduct, of the beauty or deformity of his own mind, than of the beauty or deformity of his own face. All these are objects which he cannot easily see, which naturally he does not look at, and with regard to which he is provided with no mirror which can present them to his view. Bring him into society, and he is immediately provided with the mirror which he wanted before. It is placed in the countenance and behaviour of those he lives with, which always mark when they enter into, and when they disapprove of his sentiments; and it is here that he first views the propriety and impropriety of his own passions, the beauty and deformity of his own mind.”
— Adam Smith (TMS)
Widely heralded as the father of modern economics for what many regard as his magnum opus An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith understood — some two thousand years after Aristotle — that without the community of our peers we could have — at best — only a meager sense of self, with self-interest relegated to the realm of mere subsistence. Ironically, today a gross caricature of Smith’s Wealth of Nations is commonly exalted by self-styled champions of freedom, self-interest, and supposed free markets as irrefutable justification for their cause. These would-be heroes appear entirely oblivious however, to the implications laid in the cornerstone, the foundational basis upon which The Wealth of Nations is so painstakingly built — Smith’s first book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. A moralist first and foremost, Smith would surely turn in his grave learning how frequently his good name ( and a grossly distorted caricature of his work ) are invoked in defense of the alleged virtue of acting in self-interest; invoked in defense of the blind if closeted faith that — even in the absence of any morality or fellow-feeling, or perhaps especially in the absence of it — a metaphorical invisible hand will magically validate the sentiment that greed is somehow inherently good. In truth, Smith argued quite the opposite, but they care not a whit for any truth which doesn’t support their narrative.
“How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature which interest him in the fortune of others and render their happiness necessary to him though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.”
— Adam Smith (TMS)
How about the the selfish? The closet greedy? Have we any greedy folk in the audience with us here tonight? Come on now, let’s see a show of hands out there…
Smith and Aristotle’s observations are borne out by recent advances in neuroscience revealing that the human brain is actually hard-wired, not for utilitarianistic self-interest, violence or aggression, but rather for cooperation, social interaction, companionship, and love; that belonging is the primary human motivation or drive.
All together now… Everybody! Sing it with me — Kumbaya my Lord, kumbaya…
Common Interests Rule ( or so the promise of Democracy tells us… )
Whatever your ideology, political affiliation or religious faith, like it or not, not only does society precede the individual, in the absence of it, no sense of identity, no sense of the individual self — let alone self-interest — is even possible. Further, as society is essential to the human condition, so children — necessary by extension –– are essential to the formation of it, civil or not depending on the mores, the cultural norms and values by which they are educated, and the degree to which they are either absorbed by — swaddled in full fellowship with that society — or excluded from it. The greater the community, the greater the individual human potential, yet ours is being usurped, systematically, right before our eyes by the very same brand of tyranny as that to which — some 240 years past — Smith’s Wealth of Nations, and the American Revolution both owed their existence, responses to the inevitable abuses (i.e. taxation without representation ) which naturally follow from excessive concentration of material wealth in the hands of a privileged if unscrupulous few.
Lambs Before the Slaughter
Owing principally to our continued if tacit support of it, today, at a time when the richest 85 human beings on the planet have wealth exceeding that of the poorest half of the world, the rich can only continue to get richer, while the rest of us — not just the poor — grow poorer by the day. One can only conclude that — as a mass, and like so many lambs before the slaughter — we are being unequivocally, unceremoniously fleeced. Having interests at polar opposites of those common to society at large, whether through ignorance or complacency we have allowed a caste of billionaires and leviathan corporations, non-human persons, to become the defacto, unrivaled arbiters of public policy. Contrary to what they would have us believe, it is profit and not the public interest which rules the day. Surely, rule for profit — or for any purpose other than the common interests of the governed — must be viewed as nothing short of tyranny.
Hands up now, who among us believes they have equitable representation before the taxing authority? Anyone? Anyone? Of course not. I actually expected as much. You see, the represented — the gods and the greedy beasts — couldn’t be here with us tonight owing to a prior engagement at a $10k per-plate dinner in honor of the late Milton Friedman, where Alan Greenspan will give the keynote address, and the Koch brothers are expected to announce their plan to “re-elect” Ronald Reagan in posthumous absentia.
Getting Back to The Garden
Insofar as paradise may be considered a room to which we all desire admittance, ignorance must be considered its door, education the key to unlocking it, and profit — by inference — either counter productive, or entirely irrelevant.
Okay then class, let’s try this one last time now shall we?
Raise your hand, if you’re being excluded …