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The community in an age of individualism.

You and other communitarians have said that an excessive concern with individual rights is undermining community needs. Could you give some examples of where individual rights might have gone too far, and how individual rights and community needs could be better balanced in those situations?

It's a question of where you are historically and culturally: If I were, let's say, in Albania at this moment, I probably would argue that there's too much community and not enough individual rights. And if I were in Salem, Massachusetts, during the witch trials, I probably would argue likewise. Only as of the last few years in the United States has individualism gone too far.

The whole idea of "meism" is nicely illustrated by a finding that I love to cite: When young Americans were asked if they would like to reserve the right to be tried by a jury of their peers, they all said "of course"; then, when they were asked if they would agree to serve on the jury, they said "no, of course not." They had more important things to do. But how can you have a trial by a jury of your peers if your peers refuse to serve on it? People are willing to take, but not willing to give. No community can withstand this refusal to accept responsibility.

At each point in time, there's a creative tension between individual rights and the needs of the community, and any attempt to "resolve- the tension is wrong on the face of it because you can resolve it only by making civil, humane, democratic society - exists when individual rights and community needs are in careful balance.

In the first issue of The Responsive Community, we present an actual case to the reader: There was an open drug market in Inkster, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, so the sheriff threw up a roadblock, and all he asked is that anybody driving through there at a certain time of day show a driver's license and car registration. He didn't search the cars or open the trunks; he just asked the drivers to identify themselves. The drug dealers didn't like that, of course, and overnight the whole drug market disappeared. But the next day the civil libertarians filed a lawsuit, and the sheriff agreed for the time being to suspend the roadblock.

Now, you can interpret the case in two different ways. You can talk about it as asking people to diminish their right to free travel in order to serve the community and make it drug free, and all that's asked of them is a 30-second delay to show a document that they're supposed to have on them anyhow. That's one way of looking at it: a change in the balance between rights and responsibilities. Or you can look at it differently and say that the Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches. But why would you deem this search - it's not even a search to be unreasonable? One could argue it's very reasonable. It's very similar to screening gates in airports, which nobody seems to mind much and which haven't led to a fascist state.

Now, not all of this is a question of rights against responsibilities. For instance, most communitarians very much favor voluntary national service and believe it will be very important for the future of the country. That doesn't take anybody's rights away; it just gives the community more energy from more bodies. 9 I suppose a larger question is, How does one encourage social responsibility in a very individualistic culture?

That question is central to the future of civics. Ideally, you should start with the family, and there the question is, Should we restore the family, or should we forget the family? To the extent that the family is not the moral agent, then clearly the schools will have to step in to some extent, and you have the schools indeed doing that. But how a school can teach moral order and civility is a big subject, and people are struggling with it all over the country. * So communitarians are saying that these questions ought to be raised?

Exactly. We're trying to ask the right questions, look in the right direction. We don't have some kind of manifesto that has all the right answers. But I'd suggest that the answer must lie somewhere in the following realm: that you want to worry about teaching children not only English and French and math and Latin and more science, but you also want to worry about their values and character formation. Now, how you do this without having a state religion is exactly the sort of thing that we need to sort out.

I object personally - I'm not speaking for my colleagues - to this notion of value clarification as being sufficient. There's a nice example I found in The New York Times, about a university in which they showed a videotape about date rape. A young woman kisses a young man, and then she goes agreeingly with him to his room. Then he rapes her, and the question is, Did she ask for it, or should he have stopped when she insisted she didn't want to go beyond kissing and such? The way it's depicted in the article is that they show the tape, and some students take one side, some students take the other side, and it doesn't matter because both sides' "awareness of rape has been increased." And while I think that's a good thing, it doesn't go far enough. I think you have to find a way of telling people there's a difference between rape and non-rape, and just leaving it - well, fine, if you think it was okay, it's okay, and if you think it's not okay, it's not okay - that's too neutral a position for educators to take. No, not in the foreseeable future. I don't think our turmoil has reached the point that people are really craving for a strong hand, though there are some danger signs. We need to put limits on these adjustments in the balance between rights and responsibilities in order to take the wind out of the sails of people who want undemocratic adjustments. Recently, American authoritarians have suggested everything from suspending the Constitution until the war against drugs is over, to quarantining anybody who has AIDS, to having drug users "taken out and shot" - that was suggested, by the way, by the Los Angeles police chief. There are always these right-wing forces, and in a period of economic and social difficulties they can rise in significance, as they did in the McCarthy era. But the best way to deal with them is to deal with the problems by means of sensible, carefully crafted steps. N You've spoken of community institutions serving as mediators between the individual and state. If you have a strong community, you don't have to worry as much about big government or rely as much on the government.

Yes, that's a very important point. The libertarians talk about the dichotomy between the state and the individual, and given those two choices, they keep arguing for individual rights. If you read the platform of the Libertarian Party, you do not find the words society" or -community. " It's not accidental, because the moment you acknowledge them, you can see there's such a thing as a moral voice.

Many of the things we favor are based on the moral voice and not on coercion. I was asked recently whether doctors should be tested for the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS. I would not want to have a government agency enforce that, but I would want the medical societies to discuss the issue among their members and come up with some kind of a norm for the group to follow, rather than just relying on individual conscience. We have to move away from the simplistic notion of it's either the state or the individual and recognize the social realm and the moral realm as major factors. N So you'd prefer that the members of the community, in this case the medical society, decide among themselves what they ought to do, rather than the government telling them what they have to do?

Exactly. * How are special-interest groups affecting concern for or action on behalf of the common good?

In the United States right now, the interest groups are eating up almost any capacity to worry about the public interest - to the point that some people deny the very concept of public interest. I'll give you a futuristic example: Some scientists argue that, to solve the problem of global warming, we should seed the oceans with iron. This would create blooms of marine algae, which would lessen the greenhouse effect. Now, here's what would happen if you sent such a proposal to Congress. To seed, let's say, 1,500 tons of iron into the oceans, Congress would first of all demand that you also throw some copper and zinc in there, because industries represented by congressional members of districts other than the iron districts would demand to add those metals. Second of all, Congress would insist that you throw in much more metal than you planned to because members would see this as an opportunity to bring in more federal funds to Pennsylvania or wherever. The foreign lobbies would demand that you buy some iron from Brazil, Taiwan, and Korea. Pretty soon, we would be dumping so much stuff that we'd create an ice age.

Now, this example may sound farfetched, but it suggests that on one level our political system has been eaten up to a point that you no longer can get a sensible policy through Congress on most issues because the special interests are so powerful there. Technically competent, eminently sensible policies get sent up to Capitol Hill, but by the time they're put through the interest-group mill, you come up with something that is intolerable. * How can political parties be made stronger so that they'll be able to fend off those interest groups?

One of the best ways would be if campaign contributions would go largely, if not exclusively, to parties rather than to individuals, and then the party would allot them between the various candidates representing the party. At the moment, campaign contributions are so crucial to political success, and when each congressman collects them personally, he can easily disregard any party discipline. * Campaign finance reform raises the whole issue of political corruption and the Keating Five. How can we prevent politicians from being bought off?

We have an article in the first issue of The Responsive Community on what we call the Keating Six, saying in effect that the sixth could be any other member of Congress - except for maybe 10 - because they're all guilty of the same charge they put on those five. The technical list of reforms is easy: We should abolish PACs; we should have public financing of campaigns the way you have for presidential elections; right now, the Supreme Court allows for what is called 'independent expenditures," which means that you can support a candidate indirectly with almost unlimited amounts of money.

But the deeper issue is that no society can have enough police and auditors and inspectors to make it decent, so you have to have a sense - which we used to have and the Brits used to have - that certain things just aren't done. You need an inspector or a police officer for the one out of a hundred who doesn't abide, but most people regard these things as just unthinkable. I find it distressing that little is unthinkable anymore, and every day I read something else about people being completely unabashed. I just read a story about some company that was manufacturing a drug which they suspected would cause major problems. But they had invested the money in developing it, so they went ahead. They marketed it, and they fired the guy who asked questions. You very rarely find somebody who says, "This is not to be done; it's just wrong." * Do people have an inherent sense of responsibility and community? How does that fit with a world in which people are increasingly willing to let anything go?

It's not inborn, so you have to acquire it. We have the potential for it. As the family has been destroyed instead of reformed, as other institutions have failed in their moral duties, and as the community itself has been weakened, the sociological - or rather, the moral infrastructure has eroded. What you get is people who are no longer moral. * As for infrastructure, you devoted the second half of your book An Immodest Agenda to talking about reindustrialization. Is that a subject that you're still pursuing?

I'm personally still interested in it. In effect, I see the current recession from that perspective. The U.S. economy is like an old-fashioned locomotive that hasn't been refurbished or maintained very well. Every time it goes quicker than 2.5% GNP growth, it overheats. So you hit the brakes, and you get a recession, and the economy cools down. But you can't withstand the recession for very long, so you speed ahead, and when it hits 2.5, it overheats again. Well, that's no way to run a railroad. It means you're either driving very slowly, very much below potential capacity, or you're in a recession, which is worse.

What do you need to do? You need to refurbish the engine, to update its technology and strengthen its state, so it can run at a more rapid pace without overheating. In short, we need to invest more in the economy's infrastructure. Our forefathers invested in it, but for the last generation, we've underinvested. As a result, our economy is obsolescent and weak and unable to perform at reasonable levels.

The American growth rate during the Kennedy administration was above 6% a year, and inflation was around 1%. That wasn't a hundred years ago; the country is basically the same, so a similar growth rate is not an inconceivable achievement. If we could do that, we could eliminate all of our deficits, we could pay off the Japanese, we could have more social programs, we could increase tax revenues - au at the same time.

So, we need to strengthen the infrastructure. During the Reagan administration, we borrowed a lot of money - which is bad enough - but what's worse is that we didn't use it for investment; we used it to live at a standard of living that we weren't earning. So now we not only have not refurbished the locomotive, but we owe a lot of people the rights to it. * When you talk about repaying debts-as individuals,as organizations, and as a society-how do you convince people that you're not advocating lowering the standard of living?

It's not a question of what I advocate. We're going to get a lower standard of living; the only question is which way we're going to get it. We've been living beyond our means, and to keep the party going, we've sold many of our assets. We really have only two choices: We can either lower our standard of living by means of inflation, or we can say, "Let's tighten our belts for 10 years and put the money in the infrastructure and increase our productivity and production."

In either case, we get a lower standard of living - but one way is voluntary, and we can direct it, and the other one is imposed on us, which is an additional insult. But we have no choice about lowering our standard of living, unless you think the Martians are going to give us a major foreign-aid program! I don't see how we can conceivably keep living $400 billion a year above our income. * Do you see any political leadership saying that the party's over, or are leaders just saying that things can go on as they have been?

Of all the questions we're trying to address in our new journal, that's, for me, the most interesting one: Can a democracy ever face tough decisions? I don't like to point the finger at the leaders so much, because the leaders in a democracy really cannot be too far from the followers. So the question is, Are the followers ready? I'm not sure. I feel that people in general are not willing to accept small sacrifices because they don't see much connection between the additional hassle and the solution. 2 Could you foresee a point at which the impetus for belt tightening came not from the leadership but from the community, from individuals? Will people someday say, "We're ready to hear the bad news now; we want to deal with it"?

In a sense it's happening now because the public opinion polls show that the public is ready. But the public cannot come up with specific policy proposals; it cannot say, "Impose a $5 tax on each barrel of imported oil as of April 1991." That's not the way the public works. Remember, the public is not a bunch of policy analysts having tea. It's truck drivers and homemakers and firefighters, people who lead busy lives and whose public role is very limited. So you have to put it in the form of a concrete proposal for them, and I say they would support a belt tightening if it were commensurate with the * What do you see instore for the countries that have been communist and now are moving toward free markets?

I just came back from Poland, and I think there's an enormous confusion in our heads between moving away from tyranny and communist economies and moving toward capitalism and democracy. It's true that tyranny and communist economies bogged down beyond belief, but that doesn't mean that, once you scratch that away, you find underneath some beautiful little Sweden, so there'll be eight more Swedens in Eastern Europe.

What are you going to get? In my judgment, there's going to be a lot of anarchy and a lot of infighting and most likely some return to various forms of authoritarianism - not necessarily communism - and enormous human costs, which should distress us all. Out of that will arise a whole bunch of Argentinas, countries with some mix of Peronism and democracy and free markets and statism - nothing that will remotely resemble Scandinavia or the United States.

Democracy is a rare plant that grows slowly in rarified climates, and it's not easily transplantable. You need a certain character and certain traditions. So if it's not democracy, what is it? These Eastern European countries are not necessarily going to be police states with complete control of every newspaper and the churches and such. They may leave the churches alone and some newspapers open. But they will move back to relying on force to control the political system because the whole place is just falling apart, in every conceivable way. * What sort of time frame are you talking about? A hundred years? Twenty years?

Well, a hundred years is very easy to predict because not too many people are going be around to call you on it. I'm talking about the next 10, 20 years.. I think that beyond that, in all seriousness, God hasn't given us the faculty to predict these kinds of things. We can talk about radioactive decay and the position of the planets for centuries ahead but when we talk about social or political or economic developments, 10 or 20 years is the most extreme horizon we have. Educational Renaissance: Our Schools at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century by Marvin Cetron and Margaret Gayle. introduction by Bill Honig. St. Martin's Press. 1991.352 pages. Available from the Futurist Bookstore; see page 44 for details.

Most of what forecaster Marvin Cetron and his colleagues have been advocating for American education in the last few years can be boiled down to this formula: Pay teachers more, make both students and teachers more accountable for academic progress, extend the school day and school year, put computers in the classroom, and encourage and strengthen school-family and school-business partnerships.

In Educational Renaissance, Cetron and co-author Margaret Gayle, a former teacher and school administrator, attempt to combat the current atmosphere of negativism that is impeding a true renaissance in American education. Their aim is to bring together in one comprehensive book the many success stories that have emerged around the country ever since the educational-reform movement was jolted into action by the 1983 report A Nation at Risk.

"In most areas, the first experiments in reconstruction have already begun, " say the authors. "From them we have learned more than enough to heal most of the ills that now afflict our national school system. There is nothing to prevent school districts across the country from adopting these and many other reforms nothing but the inertia of 16,000 school districts. That is rapidly disappearing in the face of political pressure from enraged parents."

Educational Renaissance is an optimistic book in which expressions of hope and prescriptions for reform are stated as predictions. For instance, the authors state: "In the decade to come, a new wave of educational reform will sweep across the land, flowing outward from the growing minority of creative, experimental, and highly successful schools like the ones described in [this book]."

Cetron and Gayle provide much anecdotal evidence that this positive scenario may come about. In addition, they have compiled a lengthy table in the appendix outlining a variety of demographic and educational data about each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. In this table, the resources of each state are juxtaposed to its children's educational performance, and then the states are given a "yes-or-no- test for whether any of seven specific education reforms have been initiated.

Take Arkansas, a relatively poor state with few resources to devote to education. The poverty rate in 198486 was 22.4%, one of the highest in the country. Average teacher salary in 1989 was $21,692 - second lowest in the country.

But by 1989, Arkansas had already instituted six out of the seven reforms that Cetron and Gayle propose in the book. The state now uses a comprehensive system of performance indicators for schools, delivers sanctions or rewards to schools based on performance, offers alternative routes to teacher certification, has a statewide teacher-incentive program, requires competency tests for high-school graduation, and has adopted preschool programs. (The other recommended reform, which Arkansas had not yet instituted, is the use of mentors or other support programs for beginning teachers.)

One of the things Arkansas is doing right is its preschool program. In addition to Head Start, there are several models for preschool education, Cetron and Gayle note. One is HIPPY - Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youngsters - developed in Israel two decades ago. The two-year program, now offered to 1,400 low-income Arkansas families, uses mothers to teach their own children the skills they will need when they reach school. HIPPY provides books and worksheets for the curriculum, and the mothers spend 15 minutes a day, five days a week, 30 weeks a year teaching their children with these materials. Paraprofessionals from the local school system visit homes each week to give training and advice to the parents.

After 16 months in the program, the children of one school improved their educational levels by an average of 33 months. Yet, the cost of the program is only about 500-$600 a year per child - less than one-seventh of the average cost per student in Head Start. An additional benefit of the program, Cetron and Gayle report: "Half of the mothers in two Arkansas countries, all on welfare, either returned to school, applied for job training, or found a job. "

The authors note that four times as many states (30) now offer earlychildhood-education programs as did in 1980. They point out that a decade from now pre-kindergarten education and day-care programs will be widespread, producing longterm benefits such as reduced dropout rates and improved test scores. Cetron and Gayle also describe school-reform efforts that are more radical and that seek to rebuild education from the ground up. The question of what children should learn has been answered by many an educational theorist, and some schools have attempted to apply these solutions to their problems. An effort that the authors call promising and comprehensive is the Paideia program developed by Mortimer J. Adler, founder of the Institute for Philosophical Research. About 125 schools in the United States have adopted Paideian principles, which discard most electives (including vocational education) in favor of "a more hearty intellectual diet" taught by Socratic methods. Curriculum is organized around knowledge areas, such as language, natural science, geography, and the study of social institutions. The program also emphasizes preparing students "to be good citizens of the Republic, and to make themselves a good life." Cetron and Gayle cite the Paideia program instituted at Suitland High School in Prince George's County, Maryland, as a dramatically successful example. The school had been plagued by low test scores and chronic racial tensions, but two years after starting the new program, it had become one of the top five schools in the county and earned kudos from President Reagan.

In addition to the numerous success stories (and failures) described by the authors, one section of the book is turned over to "horse's mouth" accounts by education officials in Virginia, Iowa, Minnesota, and California.

Whether or not so many anecdotes add up to an overall positive trend is debatable; but the book offers a wealth of experiences for educators to learn from in preparing youth for the next century.
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Author:Willard, Timothy; Fields, Daniel M.
Publication:The Futurist
Article Type:interview
Date:May 1, 1991
Words:4278
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