Becoming an American Community

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Dr. James Allen, psychologist and family councilor, delivers a presentation titled, “The Community of We and the Tyranny of Me.”  Its basic theme is that America as a whole has drifted away from thinking and acting as a community, being our brother’s keepers in a good way, and has become far too self-centered.  Dr. Allen is concerned that socially we are isolating ourselves, e.g. communications via cell phones and computers versus face to face, and this is leading to a narcissistic view of life.  He cites as an example one young person’s cell phone greeting, “Hi, this is ___. If you’re cool enough I might get back to you.”  In the long run this lack of personal connectedness makes us all poorer – in spirit, in our social lives, and probably financially.  We can see a clear demonstration of the power of community in the insect world.  A hive of bees or a colony of ants can accomplish major production and construction projects.  Grasshoppers can only eat and make little grasshoppers.

Brian Kahn has a similar theme in his book, Real Common Sense, Using our Founding Values to Reclaim Our Nation… “We have gone off course as a country by emphasizing consumerism over citizenship, entertainment over education, and ‘me’ over ’we’ “.  Kahn’s book is particularly critical of the Tea Party Movement which he believes is over-emphasizing economic individualism and capitalism at the expense of the American Community as a whole.  I agree with this, but only to a degree.  Based on reading Scott Hennen’s book, Grass Roots, a Common Sense Action Agenda for America, and from items in the media, I get the message that the Tea Party is primarily about shrinking the Federal Government, that too much tax money is wasted, and that too much help from Big Brother is making us fat and lazy.  Further, I would agree with the Tea Party theme that the government does not create wealth (food, products) directly, and therefore we want to minimize government.  BUT, The Government (all of us, not just our elected leaders and their appointees) have several important roles to fulfill.  Government’s first role is construction of public works projects.  Just as the ants and bees demonstrate, collectively we can accomplish many things that we cannot accomplish individually, e.g. our highway system and most of the major dams.  These are major government projects that directly support creating abundance. The pioneers, those rugged individuals that the Tea Party would identify as the ideal Americans, banded together to form wagon trains, and they would join together for barn raisings.  Yes they worked their farms and ranches alone or with small crews, but they also joined together to accomplish tasks too big for one person.

Anecdote: I live in Eastern Washington which is a politically conservative region.  One of my co-workers observed, “Most of us are supporters of smaller government, but here we are working at a major government facility (the Hanford Site is roughly 580 square miles and employs 10,000 people).  We are surrounded by agriculture largely made possible by irrigation and inexpensive electricity that are the result of federal government constructed dams on the major rivers.  Are we being just a bit hypocritical?”

Back to proper roles for government. The second role for government is protection:  the military protects us from foreign aggressors, the police from criminals, fire fighters from various disasters, and last but maybe not least, government regulators from unscrupulous businesses.  Unchecked capitalists (business men and women) have sold contaminated milk to our children, ravaged huge areas of forests, ruined many of our rivers, and contaminated our air.  Unfortunately these people have put their personal greed ahead of the community’s need. Thus we need a strong, but minimal, central government as part of our economic checks and balances.

There is another facet to the intersection of business and community, and maybe we can agree on this.  Part of business’s responsibility is to produce excess so that those not able to provide for themselves (permanently or temporarily) have sufficient food, shelter, etc.  I think there is a lot more agreement between the Brian Kahns and the Scott Hennens than the media would have us believe.  I doubt that many Tea Party folks are opposed to providing basic immediate medical care (for infections, allergies, broken bones…) to all Americans.  And most “liberals” would say that able-bodied people should be working at whatever job they can get even while looking for that better job.  I believe that most of us would agree on most of the principles for a good community, we just need to work out the details- a little compromising would be a good thing.  When one watches TV or reads a magazine, they might get the idea that our country is composed of folks whose opinions are miles apart.  The perceived difference is due to the amplification of the media.  “Conditions are Pretty Good,” or “The Differences Are Minor,” are not headlines that will sell papers.  The media has to emphasize the differences in the extreme to make them newsworthy: “Candidate Hotaire Sez – Let the Lazy Eat Grass!”.

I support one cultural change that Brian Kahn discusses.  We need to get away from worship of the Big Buck. We admire people like Donald Trump more for being rich than for building some excellent buildings and golf courses.  We are more in awe of LeBron James’ salary than his shooting. In the words of one columnist, “Paris Hilton got famous for being rich, then she got rich for being famous.”  If Main Street Americans would realign their values away from admiring celebrity and shift them to honoring real accomplishments, it would go a long way toward resetting the American community.  It would help business recognize that it needs to view itself as an engine for providing employment – good living salaries and wages- to makes America strong, as well as provide profits for owners and shareholders, which is also good for the American community.

If we are to give our Grandchildren a better world, we need to think more in terms of “What’s good for the community”  and a little less about, “I’ll going to get mine, you’re on your own.”

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