Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Approach two: Reinventing Citizenship, part II

Reinventing citizenship

The underlying problem isn’t erosion of the values on which democracy relies, but rather the loss of civic habits and skills. As advocates of this approach see it, democracy consists primarily of common experiences and civic practices, which take place most of the time in local groups and associations—the YMCA, the Rotary Club, Boy Scouts, church groups, charity organizations, and groups that form spontaneously to address community problems.

It’s essential, say advocates of this second approach, to recognize the key role played by these small, less formal organizations and associations that are closer to home. By participating in these local associations, most Americans gained an apprenticeship in public life.

Citizenship refers not to abstract membership in some group but to practical, repeated involvement in public problem solving. It is not something that we are, or that we have, but something that we do. It presumes a set of common experiences, the recognition of common interests, and the willingness to search for common ground.

It refers, most of all, to certain skills that are essential in identifying public problems and deciding what to do about them.

From the perspective of this second approach, the most troubling symptom of our public problems and the main reason we are unable to solve pressing problems is that the fabric of local associations has been unraveling and citizenship itself has lost its meaning.

As Frances Moore Lappe and Paul Martin DuBois, founders of the Center for Living Democracy, observe, “When we chisel through to the single largest barrier blocking solutions to the multitude of issues facing us, what we find is the impoverished problem-solving capacity of our people. None of our society’s most daunting problems—from poverty to the environment, from racism to crime—can be addressed from the top down.”

The public square has emptied, in other words, because many Americans aren’t making the civic connections that form the habits and sharpen the skills of citizenship.

What are your thoughts?
Reinventing citizenship? You are missing the point I think.

Sociologist Robert Bellah wrote a book titled "Habits of the Heart" Bellah examined the values of several hundred average, middle-class Americans. He came to the conclusion that the reigning ethos in American life in the 1980s was what he called "ontological individualism." This is a radical individualism where the individual is supreme and autonomous and lives for himself or herself. He found that Americans had two overriding goals: vivid personal feelings and personal success.

Bellah tired to find out what people expected from the institutions of society. From business they expected personal advancement. Okay, that’s fair enough. From marriage, the wanted personal development. No wonder marriages are in trouble. And from church, personal fulfillment! Unfortunately, the personal became the dominate consideration.

This self obsession destroys character and without citizens with character, our democracy is doomed!
Ethics is not, cannot be, democractic. Ethics by its very definition is authoritarian. Ethical standards do not change. Morals change all of the time. So, with shifting morals, if 90 percent of the people say that it is all right to do this, then that must be perfectly all right to do because 90 percent of the people say it is. It is a very democratic nation.

Ethics, by contrast, are set in stone.
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