The Decline of Civil Society


Excerpt: It is well known that civil society has been declining these past few decades (the whole “Bowling Alone” phenomenon). This is not happening because a one-party state has been monopolizing power. That’s the Orwell scenario. It has been happening because as Huxley feared, we have become a people saturated with information, and distracted to the point of dissolution. We won’t have it in us to resist future persecution because we will not recognize it when it comes.

Among The Counter-Revolutionaries

Here are a few comments on Rod Dreher’s latest article that I found interesting:

ChrisR: The Internet is full of places like this—little clumps of oddballs and intellectuals and crazies, all arguing about the most obscure of subjects. It’s easier than ever to find people with similar interests, but it’s no easier to meet them. At the end of the day (literally), we unplug from our machines and find ourselves alone.

Robert: The seminars we need right now are about technology. Secret meetings and samizdat will be near-impossible in the future (see: China). We all need to learn how to exist in secret online.

Jenkins: In a way, this is the conservative flip side of the infantile disorders who want to FEEL they are on the front lines of a New Civil Rights Movement without having to actually brace police dogs, fire hoses, armed Klansmen actually shooting at them, etc. Some people want to FEEL they are an underground movement resisting an oppressive regime, without actually having to fear the knock at the door in the wee hours of the morning.

Sam Hamilton: I think what Christians should fear is not we’ll be forbidden from holding seminars or that when we do the people who attend will be stigmatized or squashed, but that we’ll hold seminars and no one will want to show up because they don’t care. It’s a very different problem than people faced under Communism. I’m not sure more seminars or classes or meetings is the answer to our perceived problems. So I’m back to square one, wondering what the applicability of the actions of the dissidents is and whether we need a different model.

PW: Is the problem really that people are distracted with information? Among my peers, I find the biggest problem is time. We have no time. Most of us are working 2-3 jobs per family just to keep our heads above water. The backbone of this idealized mid-century civil society was housewives. They were the people who had time to organize everything, attend meetings, and on and on.

Furthermore, working hours are up without end in sight. We don’t have regular schedules. Commute times are up. Jobs are more tenuous, therefore more stressful and requiring more out of us. And that’s for the lucky ones with full time jobs – not the people stringing 2-3 gigs together to try eke out a life.

Further, we can’t afford to live in real communities. I literally cannot afford to buy a house in the neighborhood my parents lived in when I grew up. If you are married with kids, you’re thrust out to the ‘burbs.

The problem with the suburbs is that it takes even more time and effort to collect people and meet. There are fewer public places to do so, and private places are expensive.