Chapter 3 of The Common Good
"what makes us a people. The most basic of such commitments are to democracy, the Constitution, equal political rights, equal opportunity, and the rule of law." These words define what it means to be an American' Wrapping one's arms around a flagpole and kissing the flag are not acts of patriotism, they are the acts of a clown shouting 'look at me'. That is not patriotic, that is desecration. I am an American by choice, not by accident of birth. Professor Reich's words are real patriotism, and thoughts I have always strived to follow from the day I became a citizen. Selfishness and greed are Unamerican. Kindness, tolerance, consideration, acceptance of differences, these are the characteristics of Real Americans.
It's odd and strange. I, apparently, have discovered something pretty crazy over the past 8 years. I (and I hope you) have come face to face with the fact that Democrats and Republicans are very different creatures. We are even more different than we thought. Not only are we on different sides of the political spectrum, we are different to our cores. As surprising as it may be, not every Repub is a repugnant, greedy, self aggrandizing human being. (Most are, but that's another story) There are some decent Repubs, but at the very core, we are different. Repubs tend to think like Bankman-Fried about civic virture. Democrats, on the other hand, ascribe to Robert's common good theory of citizenship. Robert's writing has made this clear, at least in my mind. That's where the difference lies, and explains why I can say that all Repubs aren't bad people. Their core beliefs as they pertain to the common good are failed beliefs, and that's the reason they can fall for a con man like trump, the good ones anyway. They don't believe in the common good theory as put forth by Robert is this article. There's a major difference between Repubs and Democrats that goes beyond left vs. right. And that is our very basic thought about the common good, democracy and self government.
It's a big difference. It's an Earth shattering difference. It happens without critical thinking. It's probably an inherited way of thinking. It's dangerous for humankind.
My grandfather boiled it down quite nicely - "You earn your rights, by fulfilling your resposibilties as a citizen."
We do not pay, respect ( or educate) teachers as well as we once did! I had such excellent teachers in my junior high ( (1967-69!) We memorized the Preamble, the Declaration and parts of The Gettysburg Address. And we discussed -- and I mean REALLY discussed by answering questions our teachers put to us! -- what these documents meant and HOW THEY EFFECTED OUR LIVES TODAY! My school, Holden Junior High, produced such knowledgable and engaged students from a supposedly " ignorant" coal camp town, that a Marshall University prof once did research on how it was that his brightest students came from such an unexpected place. He concluded that there were several factors, but the central one was the sense of community. Sense of community and education. Which comes first? Or do they both thrive and foster each other?
Very Good! This idea is fundamental to civilization itself. Where we see the world being destroyed by Climate Change, it is actually being destroyed by the people of the richer nations behaving without regard to the common good.
We must face the fact that we mere humans have no way of knowing how it is that we are creatures of Earth, circulating the Sun in the vastness of space. The scientific method of relying on our senses to come to agreement on our situation is all we have to go on. Life before or after death, and all the spiritual beliefs cannot be relied on to guide our actions, only what we all can sense in common can.
So, we come to the sad conclusion that all we can agree on is that we are an animal that has evolved on this speck in the universe, and that we must choose how we will act based on this uncertainty about existence. Sadly, there may be some like Putin or Trump, that decide they simply want to have infinity power over everything. That is everyone's prerogative. But people who care about the 'common good', will strive to set out a code of ethics that will promote a more pleasant future for all people, and recognize that we are only one species among the countless that have life.
The meaningless statement that : "What is good behavior is behavior that make the future better", needs to acquire substance and agreement on what a better future means.
The "survival of the fittest (meaning whatever survives)" got us to where we are through the powerful action of evolution, but that only applies to animals without the capacity to destroy the world. As members of humanity, we need to strive to define what a better future requires, and ensure that understanding is passed on.
Sadly, we are on the path of making life in the future much worse through war of course, but also through over consumption, over exploitation of nature, and climate change. Instead of a better future, we are creating just the opposite. Civilization is on the threshold of collapse due to our culture of selfishness.
Maybe in a hundred thousand years or so after we crash this paradise, civilization will rise again and not repeat our mistakes? Or, perhaps animals that arrive through the process of evolution are simply not compatible with an intelligent technically advanced society.
I think the 20th Century philosophy of Objectivism, as originally espoused by Russian-born writer/philosopher Ayn Rand, has poisoned America's well of civic virtue. Its central tenet that the proper moral purpose of one's life is the pursuit of one's own happiness and its rejection of the concept of altruism seem to be guiding much of the political behavior in Congress these days, especially among the GOP. Their repeated attacks on social welfare programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security are obvious examples of these positions, as is their constant pursuit of tax cuts for billionaires and corporations. I would like to hear more from Prof. Reich on Objectivism's specific influence on American society and politics.
This is one of the most important and beautiful essays I have ever read. RR understands what the underlying intent of our founders was.
And now we can embrace that spirit of community and the common good - and include everyone. That is a more perfect Union.
For the first time in our history, the concept of public education as an equalizer is being torpedoed at its core - the trust between parents/teacher. The Far Right Republicans playbook of sowing doubts, fears, wedges of chaos and false accusations is the Achilles heel that is being exploited in every community, at the schools, costing us precious time and assets in educating the next generation. That is their goal.
Professor Reich is reminding us of the civic lesson, the covenant of what we owe one another as Americans.
I always think that Charity can be a cold cup, making the giver feel self-satisfied and 'virtuous' and the receiver feel uncomfortable. The idea of the common good where it is the norm to help each other is far better. And I find that, with certain religious people, they limit their charitable largess to people who toe the religious line…..and call the common good 'socialism' like it is disease.
Prof. Reich, you have exposed an area of confusion with ethics and virtue. To be fair, ethics is a very confused topic because people ingeniously look for ways to justify what they do. They invent theories such as effective altruism to dress up discredited ideas.
Effective altruism is a recent “rebranding” of Jeremy Bentham’s (1748 - 1832) idea of utilitarianism, which can be simply put that the ends justify the means. Utilitarianism is the guiding principle of our market-based economic system, like or not. The results of this type of thinking can be seen in the horrific mill towns of Northern England where the end of owner profitability justified oppressive labor condtions. It is also the basis of any business leader justifying layoffs and downsizing on the “greater good” of restoring profitability.
Curiously, the fact that three of the founding U.S. States were called “commonwealths” indicates that there were ideas opposing Bentham’s naked capitalism already at the time the U.S. was established. The meaning of commonwealth has some connotations of striving for a common good rather than just outcomes by any means.
Modern societies try to balance the harshness of utilitarianism thinking with two other models of ethics--Kantian ethics and virtue ethics. Kantian ethics is one largely rooted in the ideas of absolute rights and wrongs. We see this ethical model underlie our criminal justice system, which generally seeks to constrain the worst behaviors in a society.
Virtue ethics brings in the ideas of common good, which is about both good means and good ends. The EU has more effectively used this as a model through the foundational idea of a social-market economy. That idea emerged after WWII as a contrast to the results of naked capitalism and fascism that had led to the Third Reich. The U.S. model does not fully embrace a social-market economy and society. That is an area for improvement. Effective altruism is more of a diversion than an aid on the way to such a more just society.
Thank You for the excellent recollection of how the United States became the greatest country in the world and how Greedy people can tear us apart!
Synonyms of virtue
: conformity to a standard of right : MORALITY
: a particular moral excellence
: a beneficial quality or power of a thing
: manly strength or courage : VALOR
: a commendable quality or trait : MERIT
: a capacity to act : POTENCY
: chastity especially in a woman
virtues plural : an order of angels
I have friends in Denmark. We don't see each other as often as we like these days, but we correspond. Denmark is a functional society. Danes accept a personal obligation to support their society and in turn are supported by it. But my Danish friends tell me that could never work over here. We are infused with a view of our nation, and to a great extent our society, as a capitalist competition to succeed. And the measure of that success is accumulated wealth. Obligations to society are extra burdens that are more often honored it the breech. In smaller units, like family or church or small towns we do tend to be more social and altruistic.
The moral examples Reich cites, from Madison to Lincoln to Jane Addams, have always had a countervailing power, (to use one of Reich's favorite phrases). For every Lincoln, et al, there was a Jay Gould. For every Jane Addams there was a D.A.R. member. Until very recently, the common good in America stopped at the boundaries of one's community, or sometimes one's state, but never transcended one's tribe. The balance between individual rights and the community got seriously out of whack in the Eighties (Ivan Boesky -- "greed is good") and remains skewed. It isn't just Trump or Sam Bankman-Freed. It's a long history of give and take, as much take as give, and it is us. To counter it, we need more stories of Givers, fewer of Takers, which dominate our 24/7 news narrative.
I don't feel like Samuel Bankman-Fried's effective altruism worked as many thought it would. We, as Americans, are open to new ideas but most of us stop short when this idea goes against our commitment to Democracy and the Constitution. I don't agree with Mr. Bankman-Fried's 'the ends justify the means'. All too often that belief leads you down a road to major accountability. These younger people growing up today have been bombarded with negativism about what their country is doing to them. The rappers use dark rhetoric, the reality shows get very nasty, and the parents don't seem to care what the kids are seeing and listening to. To teach our children what is so important about this country, parents need to show through civic actions and deeds. For example, collecting outgrown clothes and toys and donating them to families that need them. Donating food to the local food pantry. Registering and voting. Looking out for our neighbors. These types of actions show children the importance of the common good. It's important that our young do not grow up feeling entitled. All that being said, I still believe that a larger population of Americans who believe in our great nation do teach their children to know and understand that they are living in a country that allows them to pursue their dreams wherever they may lead. They also teach them that in order to continue to do that, it is important to learn how our Democracy works and what it takes to keep it going. We teach them while it is okay to disagree about politics, equal opportunities, and the rule of law, it is never okay to use violence or vile rhetoric to get our way. I see these ideas being taught at every baseball game, football game, hockey game and any other sport being played.
Wonderful article today. Thank you
I am a conservative, who, most of the time, enjoys reading your articles so I can get a better perspective from the other side. You always have interesting points of view that I can mull over and think about. But I have to say, every article, no matter the topic, ALWAYS goes back to Donald Trump with you. It's very hard to keep an open mind and try to learn something when I can see how consumed you are about him. It taints your credibility and objectivity about the issues you write about.