Saturday, July 03, 2004

tinkerer's damn

"I think on this debate a great deal turns," says the Tutor, pointing to E. J. Dionne Jr.'s overview of a 1997 Brooking Institution study of Civil Society. Much indeed turns on the question of what constitutes civility and society.

Dionne ably summarizes views that reach beyond narrow leftie or rightie boilerplate to suggest that new social forms are what we need. He eases into the metaphor of forging, of tinkering -- the comfortablly craftsmanlike language of the workshop:
Many (in these essays especially) see effervescence and creativity in the effort to forge new forms of civil society. But they also assert that we are only at the beginning of this process and more social inventiveness is required.

Let's rip this bandaid and look at the teratoma beneath it. Sitting in the Brookings Institution we might agree that if we just act with sufficient effervescence, we could "invent" something or other is sure to nurture civility.

If Mr. Dionne were reflecting on civil society while chained to the walls of Abu Ghraib, with a rectal insertion the size of a piano leg to inspire him, he might command more attention.

Stop talking in a vacuum. We cannot repress every idea of antisocial reality and then talk about how to be civil. Run some alien workers across the border, get shot at, then talk to us about civility, Mr. Jr.

3 Comments:

Blogger The Happy Tutor said...

Does it reassure you that Teresa Heinz is on the Board?
http://www.brookings.edu/ea/trustees.htm

The big debate is over government funding. Many, if not most nonprofits, get funding from the government. The charities act, in effect, as the delivery mechanism for government research and social programs. The philosophy and bureaucracy supporting this is liberal. To defund the left you root out these government grants and supporting government bureaus. What will take up the slack? Private philanthropy, armies of compassion, thousand points of light. What will enable the wealthy to give more to the poor? Tax cuts! That will put more money n the pockets of the rich, who will then be more generous, sating their marginal propensity to give. This absurd sophistry is called "supply side philanthropy," most ably presented by Paul Schervish at Boston College. Where do faith based initiatives fit? Under pork for supporters and under co-optation of the black churches. This debate is almost invisible and inaudible to the general public but is hugely important. "Compassionate conservativism" means a return to Victorian morals and economics. Dickensian England, before Dickens. All in the name of small town values, the town green, Andrew Wyeth, self reliance, barn-raising, and a more vibrant civil society. The end result will be vast wealth flowing through philanthropy to elite institutions serving the rich, and moral example and sermons flowing unceasingly to the poor. Compassionate Conservativism built with bricks from the brothel and prison. As always, "Follow the money!" - "My good man, I would give you a dime, that would give me great joy, but I will refrain for it would corrupt your will to work."

7/04/2004 12:05 AM  
Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

Thanks for articulating key ingredients of this Maginot line. My point was not the validity of this debate, but had more to do with the implications of the form known as "debate." In the realm of "media ecology," for example, it is widely believed that setting has much to do with medium, message and the impact of both -- something Mel Brooks richly understood. Just as, in another of your superb posts, you note that we live inside stories that run on tracks which are predictable, conventionalized, and difficult to move, so I am suggesting that forums such as think tanks, white papers, academic gatherings and the like, despite the appearance of openness, dialogue and collective good will, have difficulty reaching into the complex world beyond the end of their armchairs. USian broadcast media is trapped in the same kind of limited discursive space, which always assumes a family straight out of Father Knows Best is watching from the comfortable cushions of some idyllic Family Room. The sacred hearth, to which reality is sacrificed daily. And that's the way it is. You are there.

7/04/2004 12:21 PM  
Blogger Jon Husband said...

we live inside stories that run on tracks which are predictable, conventionalized, and difficult to move, so I am suggesting that forums such as think tanks, white papers, academic gatherings and the like, despite the appearance of openness, dialogue and collective good will, have difficulty reaching into the complex world beyond the end of their armchairs.All this, and the much heavier weight and stiffer constructs of thought and behaviour in a corporate setting (which has arguably extended its reach significantly over the last two decades) makes me feel we are in for some truly uncomfortable ripping off of bandaids before any effective, and holistic, healing can be even contemplated. I expect much darkening of skies, wailing, rending of breasts, gnashing of teeth and letting of blood (unless, of course, Bush's proposal to test and medicate all those who don't see the glory of living in a Stepford society actually obtains traction).

I guess some will call it a time of Rapture.

7/04/2004 9:28 PM  

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