Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Approaching The Concept of Community

Both Lisa's and jim's recent posts on patriotism and hypocrisy, as well as various comments by the usual suspects have got me thinking about how all this fits together. I have refrained from providing a definition of patriotism since I wanted it to not only include the negative side which receives so much play today, but also the positive side which also receives much lip service, but little else.

How to begin?

First with two interlocking concepts which describe a good portion of the overall concept of "patriotism". Which means it's more than a simple definition that I'm offering, something more in the line of a complex concept/ideal type/"ideal" linked with another complex concept, that of "community", hence the title.

The first concept is the distinction between individual and plurality. This comes up again and again in strategic theory since from a strategic theory perspective, such terms as "conflict", "war", "force", "coercion", "strategy", "tactics", "operations", "victory", "defeat" and a host of others refer to political communities, not to individuals. Too often students and practitioners think in terms of their own individual interests, but that is not what strategic theory is about, rather exactly what it is NOT about. Instead it is about the actions of political communities, either groups within those communities, or between separate communities. An individual who acts alone against the interests of a community is by definition an outcast, an outlaw or a tyrant.

The second concept goes back a long way, to ancient Greece, as does the origin of strategy itself. The Greeks were clear that self-interest was the flip side of justice, that is both were two sides of the same coin and required each other to make any sense. It is only in terms of a community that self-interest can be defined and justice is when the community accepts the claims of the individual as being in line with the interests of the group. This system in turn required a language, a means of communication within the group with terms that had distinct meanings which everyone understood. To this it is also necessary to remember that for the Greeks justice was only possible among equals (Nietzsche spoke a lot of this as well in his Genealogy of Morals btw).

Part of the genius of Thucydides's History of the Peloponnesian War is how well he describes how this very mechanism that I have described comes apart. Athens no longer considers herself one among equals, but above the rest with the power to do as she pleases. The citizenry starts to quarrel among themselves and to see democracy as a hindrance to the demands of Empire. Language itself starts to lose relevance as terms take on new meanings to cover and legitimize base actions. Individuals each seek their own advantage at the expense of the community, and the community itself eventually collapses into chaos and suffers defeat at the hands of Sparta and her allies.

Based on what I see going on in our country, I wonder if the problem is more of a community going through a process of disintegration than of formulating the right policy . . .


  1. Strauss & Howe (among others) would argue that we're at the end of the current American saecular cycle and entering the period of "crisis," the outcome of which will set the tone for the next 80 years or so.

    Their theory is a pretty compelling one. Not quite a "unified field theory" of history, but certainly one that helps me make much more sense of the dysfunction observed in everyday America.


  2. I think your comments are very perceptive, Seydlitz. IMHO, we seem to be stuck between the impulse to be one big happy family and waging civil war based on a dozen different dimensions. Kind of reminds me of some family reunions I've been to...

    But I personally suspect that eventually (somewhere 5-50 years down the road) we will break apart. Large countries require a lot of individual willingness to give in order to make the whole country work and individuals seem to be less and less willing to give these days.

    Perhaps the coming Depression(s) will shock some life back into the system...

  3. It is difficult to foster a sense of community and patriotism when leadership seems clueless about what that community is saying and feeling.

    This dust-up caused by Robert Gibbs a couple of days ago illustrates that.


    I have a set of principles about the way society should function. I write about those too, and name people whose ideas motivate me, including Albert Camus, Richard Rorty, Hannah Arendt, and John Rawls. You have never done that, and it makes me think you have no principles.

    I don’t insult people who disagree with me. You do, and so do your Senior Administration Officials.

    In my first post on this site, I argued that we should demand that you pursue accountability for specific acts of the prior administration. You preferred to court the Party of Bad Faith rather than condemn its violations of our criminal laws.

    Where is the accountability for the people who wrecked the economy? No bankers were fired, Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner and Ben Bernanke screwed up and got promoted, Robert Rubin led the deregulation craze and you listen to him and his protégés.

    If you click my name, you can read in detail why I think you have failed the left and the country, in detail, with facts and reasoning on full display. It’s a lot easier to punch the air where a dirty hippie might be than to deal with my views, let alone those of my colleagues.

    There is I think a strong sense that justice has failed us, that no longer are we ruled by law, just expediency for the short term.

    Keith Olbermann and Michael Moore:


    Let it run through Reich, it's all good.


  4. We Americans have such an incredible capacity for self-deception, like the abused spouse beaten down for the n'th time who finds the object of their longing in the arms of another, and then being told, "there's nothing going on...now who you going to believe? Me or your lying eyes?"

    I made a comment on Lisa's thread which focused less of the issue on the subject of our ire, and more on the issue of us...who we are...as a people, as individuals, as human beings.

    I wanted to articulate that we should be...well...for lack of a better term...gracious to the limited affections of the elites, and be somewhat thankful that they are not total automatons devoid of sympathy because in truth...distance does that to an individual.
    Like watching a care accident with people you don't know...of course it's horrible, and of course the scattering of limbs, blood, and other tissue leaves an indelible imprint on one's psyche, but there is also our ability to distance ourselves from the unfolding tragedy.
    To limit the impact of the event on our lives.

    For some, there is a emotive connection to life, and the loss thereof is felt far more sharply, but for the other end of the spectrum...sometimes...well...sometimes just a hint of unfelt emotive conciliation is all that that end of the spectrum can muster. Emotional cripples I would call them...incapable of feeling connectiveness to the rest of the human race...a pitiable condition

    We are breaking apart as a nation.
    The fissures run to deep, and the pressures pulling apart the pieces too great.

    The one question that remains unanswered, and we'll never know the answer is...what will be the final straw that sends the pieces flying?

    I don't know...all I know is that I see the separation occurring on a daily basis...and it seems the politico's are completely clueless and just think this is more amusing political theater that no one outside the beltway takes seriously.

    Really, I'm actually feeling sorry for them now...there is going to be a lot of people PTSD'ing wondering, "what happened?" and that answer will be for the historians to unravel for the next three hundred years as they study the collapse of the American Empire...but for us now...I give us ten years...maybe fifteen, before the charade finally collapses around our ears.

    The rich are only rich because they have something everybody wants, but when the source of their wealth is gone, when what they own is no longer worth anything, and all that nifty green paper they've hoarded is now worth nothing...they won't be rich by anyone's standards...they'll be paupers like the rest of us.
    And then...they'll learn to feel what a human being is suppose to feel when they witness a tragedy.

  5. bb wrote: "It is difficult to foster a sense of community and patriotism when leadership seems clueless about what that community is saying and feeling."

    What is that community saying and feeling? Surely the 1.4 million "99 Weekers" are saying and feeling something a hell of a lot different than several thousand Wall Street brokers. Which group has more influence?

    It's not what's popular that will fix the U.S., it's what's correct. Yes, we have the Constitutional right to flush ourselves down the toilet. The Constitution is, indeed, a potential suicide pact. We are free to elect any fools we choose, and we are doing so with increasing regularity.

  6. Thanks for the thoughtful comments.

    "He who works against community is working against the whole of creation. Therefore, if I respond to hate with a reciprocal hate I do nothing but intensify the cleavage in broken community. I can only close the gap in broken community by meeting hate with love. If I meet hate with hate, I become depersonalized, because creation is so designed that my personality can only be fulfilled in the context of community. . . In the final analysis, agape [Greek word for the type of love seeking to preserve and create community] means a recognition of the fact that all life is interrelated. All humanity is involved in a single process, and all men are brothers."
    Martin Luther King, "Strive Toward Freedom", page 94

    The book in question is King's story of the Montgomery bus boycott of 1956. Interesting how much "community" has changed since then. How the public sphere has essentially become the place where you fill the corporate feeding trough and dump corporate debt. Public services become private enterprise "opportunities" and the public airwaves are so easily filled with hate.

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  8. We are free to elect any fools we choose, and we are doing so with increasing regularity.


    . . and the public airwaves are so easily filled with hate.



    Garbage In, Garbage Out (abbreviated to GIGO, coined as a pun on the phrase First-In, First-Out) is a phrase in the field of computer science or information and communication technology. It is used primarily to call attention to the fact that computers will unquestioningly process the most nonsensical of input data (garbage in) and produce nonsensical output (garbage out). It was most popular in the early days of computing, but applies even more today, when powerful computers can spew out mountains of erroneous information in a short time.

    I've long believed that media who use our public airwaves to consistently broadcast proven lies, stir up fear and hatred should have their license to broadcast yanked if not put out of business entirely. If they want to do this on their own dime, fine, but not as guests of the public at large.

    Barring that, bring back the fairness laws and require a variety of voices on my AM radio, which now only offers O'Lielly, Dreck and Limpball. Basic cable here only offers the corporate media, I have to pay for the higher tier to get MSNBC.

    Free Speech does not include the right to inject toxic garbage into the community. It is an unfortunate fact that most people are most easily influenced by playing on their fears and hatreds. "Lies travel around the world before the truth can get its pants on."

    Ban corporate money from campaigns. Rescind or abrogate by law that egregiously bad SCOTUS decision which endowed corporations with personhood. Examined disinterestedly, our government indulges in legalized bribery. Make voting mandatory or if that's too radical for you institute a fine system the Athenians used to staff their legislature, viz., put names in a pot and put our governing bodies into the hands of God, fate, karma, whatever one believes in.

    Can't do worse, can it?


  9. Several years ago, at a dinner at Cambridge University, Sir John Tavener made an interesting statement. He said that he concluded that some groups are arrogantly intractable as a result of a profound inferiority complex. They simply could not afford to be wrong in any regard, lest it confirm, openly, their perceived sense of inferiority.

    At the time, because the discussion pertained to a specific group, and did address a very odd and common behavior with significant supporting examples, I accepted his hypothesis as a reasonable description of a limited population.

    Since then, and the ascendancy of radical right wingnuts and their adoring audiences, I have begun to ascribe his theory to additional groups. It does tend to describe and explain the willingness of zealots to march to the mantras of ridiculously and obviously incorrect stances, or to grotesquely twist reality to support their beliefs.

    WASF. And it is spreading!

  10. We, as a society are slowly, but surely dumbing down. Submit a request for information or services to a major corporation or governmental agency, and the response you will tend to receive will typically come from a computerized "knowledge base". Pure cut and paste. If the response doesn't really address the question and is challenged, typically, the next canned answer in the search will be provided. Often getting through to a person who is knowledgeable enough to realize that the question is not addressed in the "knowledge base" can be a long and difficult task.

    Of course, the clerk doing this is only trained to do a search based on certain key words, and very often the response has nothing to do with the substance of the question asked. While one may raise issue with the "quality" of the clerks doing the task, the real problem is with the managers and executives who decide that all questions about the services they provide can be anticipated in advance and reduced to a "knowledge base".

    Further, as a result of the general dumbing down, fewer and fewer people are able to articulate what it is they want to know or accomplish. The right answer to the wrong question is useless. Thus, people become frustrated. Our government is "useless" in many ways because it and the people it serves have been dumbed down. Often, the dumbing down of the information services are the direct result of minimizing cost without regard to providing a quality service or quality/well trained employees to provide the service.

    Most of life's tasks are not simple multiple choice situations. Yet that's really what people now want, if not even simpler "True/False" ones. Heaven forbid things become "fill in the blank" or even more satanical, "essay" questions.

    With a growing movement to this kind of environment, what other path is there than collapse? As one of my mentors lamented, "All to often, vast problems are addressed with half-vast solutions". (Best understood if the italicized quote is spoken out loud)

  11. http://www.eschatonblog.com/2010/08/getting-worse.html

    No kidding.


  12. The New York Fuckin' Times!


    I s'pose I'll have to go to confession for that.

    These are the people whom Bill Kristol and Liz Cheney smeared as "connected to terrorism" and having "dubious ties to radical Islamist organizations," whom National Review falsely portrayed as unwilling to give a "full throated denunciation of terrorism" and Newt Gingrich, with his faulty understanding of history, accused of "Islamist triumphalism."

    The Times report, however, descends into a kind of "liberal" media known-nothingism when it comes to how this became a controversy, suggesting that " a combination of arguable naïveté, public-relations missteps and a national political climate in which perhaps no preparation could have headed off controversy." This is a remarkable formula that manages to place the blame everywhere except where it belongs -- on a right-wing smear machine that went into overdrive in an effort to portray Rauf and Khan as terrorist sympathizers, an experience no one outside of contemporary partisan politics could have possibly been prepared for. The conservative media lied about the location of the project, they lied about Rauf's background, they lied about the project's funding, they lied about when the project would be built, and they lied about Rauf's political beliefs. And it would have been one thing if it had just been a small group of people lying, but they had an entire cable news station to lie for them, and politicians who were willing to amplify their smears. This controversy isn't about the "political climate." It's the fruit of a conscious, deliberate, and sustained effort.

    I'm sure that the intensity of emotion shared by some of the projects' opponents are sincere. But where they hold Muslims collectively responsible for the actions of a few extremists, they are mistaken, and where their feelings are the result of falsehoods spread by the conservative media, they are misguided, and where they believe the First Amendment does not extend to American Muslims, they are simply wrong.


  13. Al-

    "We, as a society are slowly, but surely dumbing down."

    In one word: "television".

  14. Provocative piece, Seydlitz.

    Yes, bb, there is an idea that justice has failed us, given your examples of outrageous criminality gone unpunished. To Aviator: Yes, we are dumbing down (Bob Herbert addressed that well recently). The tele's part of it, but not all.

    As Sheerah says, on an individual level, we have an amazing power for self deception. That extends to crowds, as well, who are happy to read we are leaving Iraq, "Mission Accomplished". Things are what we say they are, and who is to say they are not?

    Popular dissent will rent our country, I do think. We are not post-racial by a long shot. Our demographic is shifting rapidly, economically and racially. Heck, there are so many ways we seem to be coming down, from the inside and out.

    I don't know how the majority can get on-board with a Richard Florida "Creative Class" concept when they're mired in petty squabbles and tribalism ... Of course, if I lived in Oregon, I wouldn't know about this grubby peon behavior :)

  15. "A rational society will probably place a greater emphasis upon the ends and purposes for which coercion is used than upon the elimination of coercion and conflict. It will justify coercion if it is obviously in the service of a rationally acceptable social end, and condemn its use when it is in the service of momentary passions. The conclusion which has been forced upon us again and again in these pages is that equality, or to be a little more qualified, the equal justice is the most rational ultimate objective for society. If this conclusion is correct, a social conflict which aims at greater equality has a moral justification which must be denied to efforts which aim at the perpetuation of privileges. A war for the emancipation of a nation, a race or a class is thus placed in a different moral catagory from the use of power for the perpetuation of imperial rule or class dominance. . . It is important to insist, first of all, that equality is a higher social goal than peace. It may never be completely attainable, but it is the symbol for the ideal of a just peace, from the perspective of which every contemporary peace means only an armistice within the existing disproportions of power." Reinhold Niebuhr, "Moral Man and Immoral Society", p 154, 1932

    It is amazing to consider how socially conscious the average American was at that time in comparison with today (Niebuhr's book was widely read and discussed). Inequalities existed of course, but people saw them as such and saw the inequalities as betrayal and corruption. Wars were mostly seen as "rackets" and free market ideology as for "suckers". It was clear that the US elite (political and economic) had driven the country off a cliff and it was time for some real changes . . . The comparison with today is discouraging, since after the collapse of 2008, it is today as if Hoover had been re-elected under a program labeled "the same Old Deal" . . .

    In a time of communal disintegration it is every individual (note, not "citizen") for themselves, each attempting to gain whatever they can from the deteriorating situation.

  16. seydlitz,

    A wonderful passage from Niebuhr. As you say, when people pause and see what's what, they understand the inherent inequalities, but strive for a "just peace", etc. When that dialog can occur and be meaningful, vs. just academic, you have society.

    I feel around me a great antagonism. People seem to be content drawing into an angry mob, and a momentary one at that, for there are domestic technological distractions to which to return. You have hit on it: Sans the identity with one's community, one is a solo being laying things up in the larder for the time he must retreat fully, for the time the facade of identity fails utterly.

    That is why I do not think patriotism is a dirty word.

  17. Lisa-

    "That is why I do not think patriotism is a dirty word."

    Agree, "patriotism" would be simply value-influenced behavior/actions which support/sustain the community in question. Increase, rather than decrease the amount of social cohesion of the group.

    The "dirty word" patriotism would be those narrow-interest/self-interest actions which decrease social cohesion.

    The basic dilemma is perhaps what happens when the community in question no longer even recognizes what makes it a community and what in the long term destroys the community. The government operates according to the interests of the vested few to the exclusion of the community's interests, but nobody seems to care, since they have been conditioned to see this situation as "normal".

  18. The government operates according to the interests of the vested few to the exclusion of the community's interests, but nobody seems to care, since they have been conditioned to see this situation as "normal".

    Yet most uproars recently arise when the government attempts to act in the greater interest. Take health care or allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire.

  19. Al-

    Both involve interests. The GOP was against health care reform on the surface since it created more "big government" which was outside the "big government" they prefer which is exclusively in terms of "national security".

    Ditto with the bank bailouts. Given their minority status they could play the spoiler to appeal to the teaparty crowd, but in both instances they were not really against transferring large amounts of public money into private hands imo.

  20. Aviator,

    Plutonomy -- very dismal news.

  21. Adam Elkus picks up on this thread and comes up with a more optimistic view . . .