Why it's so damned important
I think the critical discussion point concerns what it means to be an American. I mean, what is our nature? Is it in our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, or our tax code? Or our Supreme Court rulings? I was brought up like you, Mr. Reich, believing in the common good and willing to sacrifice for it, by paying taxes or serving in the military. Vietnam changed my thinking, but I still happily paid up. Ronald Reagan did not merely make us think about the size of government; he in fact made us think that it was stealing from us. Unless, of course, it was spending our money with his pals in the California defense industry. I believe it was Ronald Reagan who truly divided us, after the Nixon schism ended in disgrace and we healed from the Vietnam disaster. Reagan demonized the needy, the workingman, and people of color. And he spit on the idea of the common good, extolling instead the virtues of self-reliance and personal aggrandizement. He helped promote the Trumpian idea that paying taxes was for fools. His assaults on our public lands continue to this day. 1980 was the turning point in American political culture. We are living with the vestiges of that rush to selfishness today.
Prof. Reich, this is the crux of all that is ailing the US. We, as a nation, need to get our compass heading adjusted - for the good of our children and families, our people, our communities, our country and our planet. I look forward to reading your book and your wisdom and guidance on how we all can help get us back on track.
The human race survived because we are communal animals who hunted together, gathered food together, watched one another's backs and one another's children, built shelters together, made clothing together, did everything together.
Alone, we were powerless and knew it. Our skin is too thin and soft to protect us from predators or the sun or the cold. Our nails are too weak to bring down a chipmunk. Our teeth are too blunt to chew most uncooked food.
Because we now live with the conveniences others have provided for us, we think we can live on our own--like that poor family whose partially mummified decomposed bodies were found in the Colorado Rockies after they thought they could live "off the grid."
It may be unfortunate that the US was founded during the Enlightenment: the Age of the Individual. The US now embodies the Age of the Individual on steroids, meth, and hallucinogens. We must learn to balance the rights of the individual with the rights of the community, or neither will survive. We have forgot the lessons our ancestors learned that allowed them to survive, and if we do not relearn them, we will not survive.
Isn't the Reality of Our situation that _most_ of Us are in this together, while a distinct minority are in it for themselves? And that unfortunately, that minority actually holds the LARGE majority of the Power? Which they use to keep Us down while They rob Us blind? If it was just a matter of the numbers, Us versus Them, We would win, hands down. But they've got "Our" government so rigged in Their favor that they are now the ONLY people allowed to do anything substantial.... which is, of course, all to THEIR benefit.
Professor, I was struck by your statement that the shift started in the late 1970s because your words harkened to a 1980s commentator’s astute observations relative to, of all things, magazine titles. He noted how in the 50s we had a standout magazine titled LIFE. In the 60s the standout was titled PEOPLE. In the 70s its title was US. And in the 80s SELF. I don’t have a ready commentary to offer, but I do think this relatively rapid and dramatic shift demands one.
I love your writing and your classes. Thank you so much for your hard work and insight, and for sharing it with is.
I am thankful you are here.
Thank you so much! I read your book maybe a year ago and it was a n actual wakening moment of clarity and light on where we are as socially evolved humans. A moment when it was again OK.. actually essential.. to recognise the force of the word 'good ' as a basis for how our lives are lived and how our complex society needs to be structured to embody this.. the present and prevailing economic system and values are at present vehicles for abuse of other humans, and other life on earth and we are reaching the unarguable boundaries for ourselves on this direction - climate collapse and social unravelling. We truly need understanding on the means to change this, as you propose, an understanding, an awakening again through this remembering of commonality and 'public good ' and how we can again come together to reclaim it. I'd like to share that members of my (UK, Unitarian) church are now stepping up and engaging publicly in discussion, support and actually being on the streets to mend our ways on climate justice and creation care.
Three questions from the Talmud:
If I am not for me, who will be?
If I am only for me, who am I?
If not now, when?
Sadly, the current GOP stops with the first question.
I love this column and I am going to buy your book, Professor.
You are the antithesis of the phrase “common good” and have proven throughout your life, your teaching, your artwork and the Substack community that you put your ‘money where your mouth is’ so to speak. You have enlightened me so much in the year-plus that I have been here and I thank you for all that you have done and continue to do for this country. You are some of the best of the Common Good.
Your friend in MD, Anne 🌻🙏💙
Thank you so very much for sharing your wisdom, experience, and humanity so generously online. I have forwarded your classes to many around me, and will continue to do so these next 10 weeks, for The Common Good” !
The world is your classroom!
Back in 1989, before a lot of other books on the common good were published, John Cobb and Herman Daly published For the Common Good. Cobb made the case for process philosophy to replace mechanistic and materialist thinking as our default metaphysics and Daly laid out a plan for a steady state economics, made sensible through process philosophy, to end the destructiveness of growth economies. It was this book, as well as the brilliant work of Arran Gare, which inspired me to become a process philosopher. Over thirty years later we are no nearer to implementing these brilliant ideas because we have not changed the fundamental metaphysical assumptions that dominate our culture. I like your work and will read your book, but change must start with our deepest understandings of reality.
Back in 2017, we were living near Houston when hurricane Harvey devastated the area for what seemed like an eternity. Several communities were under water, and supplies were scarce. Some of our neighbors got together, collected whatever people can spare, and started rescuing trapped neighbors and running supplies to people. Before then, I had never seen people organize so quickly and so willing to help others. We didn't care about politics or religion. We were all in the crisis together. I still think about that time, and it makes me feel like human again. We do have the ability and the heart to care for others. I just hope that it doesn't take a freakish natural disaster to bring that out of people.
“How we vote determines if democracy survives!” This is true, but why? Trump? The Repugs? No way!
It’s our corrupted system! Citizens United and related SCOTUS rulings have unraveled our Constitution. Our government is already gone, or maybe hanging by a thread in some corrupted version of pay to play big money politics. And many democrats don’t really want change. That’s where we come in.
We can restore our Constitution back to us, We the People, with HJR54. But our Constitution will not amend itself.
We need your help. What can one person do? Sign on please: movetoamend.org
And spread the word.
Don’t accept this corruption and stress. It can and will get a lot worse because the Oligarchy has robots and technology. And our planet is dying. It’s now or never to save democracy and our planet with HJR54!
I'm thinking about a parallel promotion of self-centredness and greed in the UK. Margaret Thatcher (Ronald Reagan's good pal) sold off social housing in the UK (originally built by local Councils to rent to people who couldn't afford their own houses) to the tenants, emabling them to make a fat profit, drive up the costs of houses, and enhance inequality. The pandemic has now greatly increased the competition for rental housing the UK because of the shortage and all supermarkets now have donation points for food banks, which distribute groceries to the poorest families. I predict that housing could become a deciding issue in the UK general election in 2024. The Conservatives also began increasingly replacing grants for university students with loans so that the "Americanised" system the UK now has puts a heavy debt on young people without corresponding job prospects, especially if they don't go to the stronger and mainly older two dozen universities (the "Russell Group", comparable to AAU institutions in the USA). The late UK Chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote "Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times", published posthumously, which may be worth mentioning. I hope to read it some time, as well as Reich's book.
Thank you, Robert Reich, for this topic and forum. It always seemed like there was nothing like a crisis or challenge to bring people together ; whether environmental , like a natural disaster, or a war. I hope we, as a human race, can find our common good. Realize that we must co-operate to solve our problems and repair the Common Good. We must rediscover it first. Then act to save ourselves, our children and our environment. May we discover the Common Good soon and work to enhance it. I look forward to reading your book on the subject, and the next installments here!