Community-Based Knowledge, Sustainable Business, & Renewable Energy
I'm a writer, so part of my job is to 'talk the talk.' At the same time, I have, many more times than once or twice, also 'walked the walk,' helping folks to organize to get things they wanted, helping to oppose Klan activity's presence in schools and public places, helping to pull people together to talk about peace and justice and renewable energy issues, and so on.
When I speak passionately about democracy, therefore, I can honestly say that my position has some basis in practice, even if I'm a bit of a nerd who doesn't like to mix all that much. Why I 'speak passionately about democracy' is much more than an outbreak of idealism.
A syllogism can efficiently express my point here. If some mechanism for majority rule doesn't occur pretty quickly, then all pretension of 'corporate social responsibility,' sustainable business, and 'business...better' will have the combined weight of less than a single atom of Plutonium, a satanic substance that, in aggregate, will rule the planet instead of the more benign and humane techniques and methods that we insist are our priorities.
That this is so, that the present 'establishment,' 'Standard Operating Procedure,' and ruling class have, beyond any rational doubt, already decided on 'our' energy future should be plain, not only from everything that I write, but also from any honest, even cursory, glance at the current and historical energy situation. Dick Cheney's methods are the opposite of anomalous.
I'll hope that folks can follow this line of reasoning. If they can, then they will jump with joy to affirm, "You're right, Jimbo, we need some more flipping democracy here, tout suite!" And as I've repeatedly made clear, we're not talking any once-a-year, namby-pamby, nod-and-say-yes democracy either.
We have to commit ourselves to the fiercest and most serious emergence of a democratic movement of regular folks, the likes of which very few of the living on this continent have ever seen. Arguably, the Industrial Workers of the World, the Congress of Industrial Organizations, the Civil Rights Movement, even the 1960's Peace Movement, all do represent such true grassroots engagement, the people's vying for real power.
Several articles in this venue have mentioned the efforts of Benjamin Barber as a profound proponent of more profound expression of democracy. His book, A Passion for Democracy "addresses issues of ongoing relevance to today's debates about the roots of participatory democracy, including individualism vs. community, the importance of consent, and the irrelevance of Marxism. Essays in the second section, ... provide a 'strong democracy' critique of American democratic practice. 'Education for Democracy: Civic Education, Service, and Citizenship' applies Barber's theories to three related topics and includes his much-discussed essay 'America Skips School.' The final section, 'Democracy and Technology: Endless Frontier or End of Democracy?' provides glimpses into a future that technology alone cannot secure for democracy."
Barber is calling for a movement for democracy in the land of the Declaration of Independence. He draws a 'bright-line' distinction between the pretensions of 'consumer freedom of choice' and real, rough-and-tumble civic action. For a 'recipe' in constructing such a movement, one might turn to Mark Rudd, he of the Weather Underground, who has written a brief essay, "What It Takes to Build a Movement."
|"(Y)oung people... often tell me, 'Nothing anyone does can ever make a difference.' The words still sound strange:Â it's a phrase I never once heard forty years ago, a sentiment obviously false on its surface. Â Growing up in the Fifties and Sixties, I â and the rest of the country â knew about the civil rights movement in the South, and what was most evident was that individuals, joining with others, actually were making a difference. The labor movement of the Thirties to the Sixties had improved the lives of millions; the anti-war movement had brought down a sitting president... . this is all self-evident.
So, why the defeatism?Â In the absence of knowledge of how these historical movements were built, young people assume that they arose spontaneously, or, perhaps, charismatic leaders suddenly called them into existence.Â On the third Monday of every January we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. having had a dream; knowledge of the movement itself is lost."
Social justice, one part of which is environmental justice, is what built the Civil Rights Movement. The reason that the "I have a dream!" speech still moves listeners to tears is that they still share that dream. The hundreds of thousands in Washington's 1963 August swelter, listening to that speech, and the billions whom that dream continues to captivate, are not responding to King as just another person; they are crying out for justice in the same way that King did. As Rudd notes, 'this is lost,' to our very great detriment.
Building capacity, just as clearly, is part of having democracy. Otherwise, the 'dream' is no more that a fantasy of 'easy street,' of a Big Rock Candy Mountain, with its "lake of stew, and of whisky too," that never ends, "where they hung the jerk who invented work," and so on. And this kind of 'wishful thinking' is worse than meaningless.
Strengthening communities is not magic. It means having more jobs, more resources, more infrastructure, more sense of power over the immediate environs that all too often, for poor and middle class people, are so close to out of control that they might as well be a hellish video game.
And it also involves creating social capital, as Frances Moore Lappe--whose seminal work, Food First, remains a critical tome to read for those who like to eat --has maintained, along with her collaborator, Paul Martin DuBos, "in their book, The Quickening of America." The Center for Living Democracy co-founders ... reported on ten skills that people in the most successful nonprofit, business, and community groups demonstrate. These 'Arts of Democracy,' as they refer to them, include active listening, using conflict creatively, negotiating, dialogue, public judgment (group decision-making), and reflection. All of these skills are necessary for effective, collaborative problem solving and community building."
If this describes a Tea Party meeting, the normal rant of right-wing radio, or the everyday schtick of Fox News, then, as my granddaddy used to say, "I'm a monkey's uncle." We have to tune in to each other more and turn off the insult machine that most of us carry inside, ready to crank up. I say this in humble self criticism, by the way, but also with an awareness that such destructive mechanisms serve a purpose for those who would undercut democracy to advance their own agendas.
Science, Technology, and Society (STS) is also a component of this capacitation process, both in a conceptual sense of making policy understandable for local leadership, and in bringing to regular people Popular Education techniques that, on the one hand, start the relearning process 'where folks are,' and, on the other hand, listen in closely to understand the wisdom and knowledge that average citizens already possess. STS epitomizes this multi-phase feedback loop for the increase and transmission of knowledge.
Brian Martin, a prolific Australian practitioner of STS and community capacitation, writes about 'grassroots science,' which "usually involves much less expensive equipment. Some people become grassroots scientists because they love to learn about nature but have no opportunity or no desire to undertake a professional career in science. Others want to challenge orthodox theories. Yet others believe that professional science is biased toward corporate and government priorities and that grassroots science provides a way to truths that are otherwise ignored or obscured by vested interests. (In truth), (t)he boundaries between grassroots and professional science are blurry and changeable, and so are the boundaries between science and nonscience."
The fulcrum of everything presented here, underpinning everything that is possible to imagine from this spinning out of possibility, is a manifestation of community power, to which I've also often pointed. Wendell Berry can guide us once more. "A community is not something that you have, like a camcorder or a breakfast nook. No, it is something you do. And you have to do it all the time," he contends, all the while acceding that this, particularly today, is basically impossible.
My final point here flows sweetly from Mr. Berry's rueful paradox, something to which I have, infrequently but pointedly, alluded. Moreover, it has long been missing from the sociopolitical arena in the United States. This is a consciousness of dialectic.
Almost everyone sees the false dualities that daily seem to dominate dialog about our erstwhile democracy. From 'Firing Line' to the Op-Ed pages of papers such as AJC, folks hurl tepid insults at each other to make clear that "I disagree, d*** it! Red is better than Blue," or vice versa.
In actuality, all that such diatribes demonstrate is a false opposition between positions that are so similar that one would struggle to divide them with a dime. This notion, that "not a dime's worth of difference" divides many things that we hear constantly are miles apart, like DemoPublicans and Republocrats, goes back to the crusty George Wallace, and arguably reflects empirical reality, as an assessment of the corporate portion of national political parties' balance sheets might demonstrate.
If as many wise thinkers suggest, we want to move beyond these nutty and non-existent oppositions that both divide our minds and confuse our senses,we might start with a basic definition of dialectic, which is something real and practicable. As an abstract noun, it applies to everything in existence. Thus a dialectic is the way that anything observable or definable consists of a motion or development that stems from diametrically opposed poles.
Or, as Princeton proffers, in one of its multiple iterations of the term, "a contradiction of ideas that serves as the determining factor in their interaction; 'this situation created the inner dialectic of American history.'"
Mark Rudd speaks to an important aspect of this dialectic today.
|"Something's missing. I first got an insight into articulating what it is when I picked up Letters from Young Activists: Today's Rebels Speak Out,Â (in which) Andy Cornell... criticizes the conflation of the terms 'activism' and 'organizing.'Â He writes, 'activists are individuals who dedicate their time and energy to various efforts they hope will contribute to social, political, or economic change.Â OrganizersÂ are activists who, in addition to their own participation, work to move other people to take action and help them develop skills, political analysis and confidence within the context of organizations. Organizing is a process â creating long-term campaigns that mobilize a certain constituency to press for specific demands from a particular target, using a defined strategy and escalating tactics.'Â In other words, it's not enough... to continually express their contempt for mainstream values. (People have) got to move toward 'organizing masses of people.'"|
The former Weatherman voices for us 'the inner dialectic' of the current moment, in terms of education, capacitation, democracy, and community. Should we take this seriously?
Dialectical development is a scientific notion, perhaps not as widely popularized as the theory of evolution, through natural selection, of adaptive individual differences, but nonetheless firmly grounded in reality and, at least at the most basic levels of physics and chemistry and other empirically observable descriptions of all-that-is, incontrovertible. That protons and electrons dance a balance, that catalyst ever ignites its opposite, that male and female do a 'Red-Queen' tango throughout nature, and on and on and on, are not matters of dispute.
Such a view, that "(t)he laws of dialectics, which have arisen out of the investigation of universal processes of becoming and modes of being, apply to all phenomena," is arguably accurate in every realm. "Although each level of being has its own specific laws, these merge with general laws covering all spheres of existence and development."
"So too," moreover "at every juncture of friction and change, dialectics is at work in politics." Only we don't see it, as often as not, number one because we don't make the fundamental choice to recognize its presence and our job to discern it, and number two, because all the aforementioned false dualisms predominate the mediation of consciousness, under the rubric of rulers who don't necessarily want us to begin thinking like masterful dialecticians.
Thus, in today's essay, we explore some basic issues of how democracy can happen. We also delve what the various factors are that have to comprise democratic development. In addition, however, as much as my meager ability allows, we will follow this unfolding of democracy's potential growth in our lives with the clear comprehension that necessity compels us, if we want progress, to think and act with dialectical consciousness and purpose.
I've known Dr. Douglas Taylor for many years; I've watched his work from afar, and sometimes I've had inputs and impacts to offer that served some purpose in the efforts that he launched. He is one of the country's primary hands-on experts on the practice of Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR).
The Southeast Community Research Center (SCRC), of which Dr. Taylor is the founder and director, is a prime practitioner of CBPR, especially in the Southern United States where so many of my articles have pointed out that the capacities of community and democracy face the sternest tests that the 'land of the free and the home of the brave' have on display. Today's report revolves around this acronym that 90% or more of JustMeans readers have never heard before.
Their ignorance emanates in large measure from the lack of grounding in dialectics noted above. This is probable to the point of certainty because, for anyone who is thinking dialectically, the development of such tools as CBPR is not only obvious as a presence, but it is also an important phenomenon to study and engage, whatever ones values, aspirations, etc.
The origins of CBPR go back, at the very least, both to material that we've confronted before and to new information: the CIO and worker-education in the 1930's; the "science shop" developments that followed WWII in Europe; civil society and popular education models that we have seen several times before; among other sources. The upshot of this is that CBPR did not originate from the ether but from specific and tangible attempts by working people to gain power, knowledge, and active democratic capacity.
More particularly, their surging forth in the U.S. over the past two decades, so that the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institutes for Health, and many more rock-ribbed elements of established policy implementation incorporate CBPR as 'best practice,' ties to the creation of environmental justice and social justice struggles that we have already noticed, if we've been reading attentively.
An operational definition of CBPR is discernible in the work of the SCRC, and a multitude of documents further develop this understanding. Essentially, a CBPR approach involves half a dozen components or more.
*It begins with the assumption that, whatever outcome a project anticipates--whether it is a study of diabetes, an installation of solar heating options, an assessment of a State energy policy, or any of the infinite other possibilities of people in action together--the community locus of the program stands in an equal, or even a superior, position to other stakeholders, participants, etc.;
*It always proceeds to tease out the parameters of work in a dialogic process that considers community voices, and community knowledge, as equally worthy and valid as other perspectives;
*In carrying the activities decided upon forward, community members continue to participate and have equal access to and a large measure of input into the unfolding process;
*Whatever knowledge or other production occurs creates a vested community interest in that product or service;
*Ongoing ventures, such as publication, presentation, or simple business opportunities, are equally the option of community members as of others involved;
*The development plans always anticipate leaving the community better off, with tangible increases in capital and capacity.
*Feedback and evaluation is as much the right and duty of community participants as these tasks are of any others who take part in the project.
As a model of democracy in action, readers might refer to some of the case notes below, or they might recall that these same sorts of requirements were aspects of the Snelling Institute for Government's groundwork in Vermont's citizen inputs into energy policy.
In the words of a CBPR handbook in use at SCRC, this process appears as follows:
Traditionally, community members have been included in the research process only as subjects.Â The "research subject" has something that the researcher needs in order to investigate a question, and the researcher determines the best way of getting that information.Â In more traditional research - priorities, methods, and use of the results are all set exclusively by professionals who have mostly an academic or career interest in studying a particular issue.
This way of doing things, combined with some very unscientific social biases, has led to a spectrum of ethical conflicts in the way researchers have interacted with communities.
--CBPR is a method directed toward solving real-world problems that affect peopleâs lives.
CBPR values the experience and knowledge of those who have 1st-hand knowledge of the problem. It requires that the people who have real-world knowledge of a problem are decisive in determining what research is necessary, and be included as equal partners throughout the research process.
CBPR also assures that the community shares ownership of the Products of the research.Â Thus, enabling them to take action on the new information and not simply get left behind when they are no longer needed as "subjects" of the research. particular question.
The history of this, as noted above, relates to the primacy of environmental justice as a way of conceptualizing a healthy relation among individuals, communities, institutions, and businesses. As Dr. Taylor has written, "we began to employ participatory methods to assist communities in the Deep South in their fight for social and economic justice."
Dr. Taylor's entry into this work dates to the late 1960's, so he has been an active participant, in the process of which he has earned his doctorate, built several organizations, and facilitated so many campaigns and taught so many workshops that it sometimes seems like an endless whorl of organizing and struggle since time immemorial. But he has made a difference.
While a complete listing of his bona fides and accomplishments would necessitate a CV of twenty pages or so, just a taste of how the SCRC has developed might orient the reader to this work.
|"In 1999, representatives from three organizationsâthe Brisbane Institute at Morehouse College (a university center) Project South (a community-based organization) and The Loka Institute (a national non-governmental organization)âcame together to create a center in the Deep South to promote community-based participatory research. We agreed that it was important to establish a center that reflected the unique history, problems, and strengths of the Southeast. We were committed to building a center that involved research institutions and practitioners, but one that was truly community centered and community directed."|
Now representing a way to move democracy to the front row of policy, in which empowered communities can lead the way toward what we say that we want to achieve, CBPR is a thorny godsend. Its spininess is unavoidable because, as Frederick Douglass has instructed us, "life is struggle," especially in regard to seeking power that presently inheres in the treasure chests of rulers and large institutions.
It is a gift of the cosmos in the sense that it addresses all of the elements that we have identified as essential to build a movement for a socially just transformation, an evolution of social space that permits humanity to flower instead of squashing it like a little bug, on the oncoming windshield of implacable historical forces. It starts with community, proceeds through democracy, and builds on present knowledge to create new learning and the action to obtain popular goals as the end result.
CBPR PROJECTS AND POSSIBILITIES
Like all local, action-oriented processes, CBPR programs inevitably make some powerful positive gains and grapple with significant difficult challenges. In addition to the projects that the SCRC website lists, the efforts of Project South, the actions chronicled in earlier drafts about ongoing developments in Vermont, the global impacts of the Energy Justice Network, and the stalwart interventions of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League all manifest elements of the decades long involvement of Dr. Taylor in this field of social justice and democracy.
Dr. Taylor laughs that the "Jackson Road Map was the "most successful" of a score of Southern projects but that this didn't mean that it was easy. He handled the task of acting as a combination of gateway and bridge, for information and methodology and conceptualization in the first case, and between community leaders and experts and organizers and administrators, on the other hand, over the course of several years, yielding several tangible gains that at the inception of the process seemed all but fantastical.
Among the benefits of the work were community conducted research and interventions regarding various disease vectors, the establishment of an overall process for addressing health disparities that saw cancer and heart disease and other disorders at as much as nearly twice the rate among working class Blacks as that experienced by upper crust Whites, and an ongoing network of citizens and communities to continue the process. Not only this, but community researchers contributed to academic journals in a way that pointed toward continued research productivity.
An Atlanta Citizens Panel process was one of the first instances of this conceptualization of a jury of common people addressing a matter of policy concern. Adopted from primarily European roots, this project brought together community leaders from near central city Atlanta to address issues of pollution, environmental health and housing and zoning policy.
"Partially funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and Morehouse College, The Built Environment, Air Quality, and Community Health Project was designed to introduce the concept of Citizen Panels, and demonstrate how a Citizen Panel would help bring relief to these issues by more fully involving those citizens most at risk and who have the least freedom to improve the state of their built environment as individuals."
Dr. Taylor has also labored extensively with the LouisianaEnvironmental Justice Community Organization
Coalition (LEJCOC) and its president Albertha Hasten, in seeking to understand and address the century-long creation of "Cancer Alley" along the Mississippi River. SCRC played an important role in insuring that community witnesses and data reached the documentation of harms and that community input played a role in focusing 'expert' attention.
He also worked, along with Angela Hackel, to make sure that the perspectives and representations of the underlying "Social Determinants of Health" in Louisiana occupied the front row center position in the data that citizens believed such perspectives had to fill, if any sort of transformative energy was to be forthcoming. Thus, when Josh Tickell gave LEJCOC leadership pride of place in his condemnatory film about oil, he was doing so in part because of the intersection of expertise and community knowledge for which CBPR and SCRC stands.
The SCRC website provides further examples, both from the core work that the organization conducts in the South, "New Tools/New Visions" in Georgia, combatting health disparities in Texas, and more. Dr. Taylor has also consulted in most of the lower 48 States, for experts and communities that seek a way forward in solving problems so as to advance social justice.
The overarching network, the capacity to conjoin communities that are capacitating themselves, not just nationally but internationally too, is a logical step toward accomplishing the 'good intentions' that, by themselves, only lay down the pavement for a pathway to hell. Folks at JustMeans should stay tuned for follow-ups on this initial essay, to watch this potential birth of democracy in the guise of empowered groups of communities.
One of the many experts who has signed on to a CBPR approach has summarized the achievements of CBPR methods in the otherwise technical, number-crunching field of epidemiology. Community epidemiology, he calls it.
| "In the 1970s in Japan, minamata disease was causing devastation... Teams of community volunteers, aided by sympathetic scientists, used simple techniques, including interviewing members of local communities, to track down the source of the disease, which was poisoning by mercury pollution from industry. They did this more effectively than well-funded teams of professional scientists using sophisticated methods... .Since then, there has been a considerable expansion of community research, especially in the United States, with much of the work being done in environmental and health areas, where mainstream research is often influenced by corporate and government agendas.
In terms of doing good science, community research follows the model of conventional scientific research, but there are several differences. Community researchers are usually unpaid, often without formal research training. They pick topics relevant to local community concerns, often challenging corporate or government agendas. They largely communicate with their local communities and other community researchers, not necessarily seeking publication in conventional scientific journals. In professional epidemiology - the study of the incidence and transmission of disease - researchers may dismiss anecdotal evidence as unworthy of attention (sometimes in a selective fashion that may or may not be related to its relevance to corporate sponsors). In popular epidemiology, in contrast, the same anecdotal evidence can provide the inspiration for a more detailed investigation."
Clearly, a tremendous capacity exists when people work together. When experts and communities cooperate, when the 'listening' precedes the telling, when the leadership of those who are struggling is acknowledged, unexpected magnificence can result. This is truly capitalizing a society through capacitating its communities.
Social technology and social capital are familiar ideas to those who want to promote Corporate Social Responsibility. However, with only a few exceptions, the bottom-up, 'even-steven' benchmarks that guide CBPR and make it effective as a community capacitation and socially equitable problem solving process, rarely enter the so-called 'social marketplace.'
Richard Levins, whose Dialectical Biologist has gotten mention in these pages before, commented a few months ago about the propensity of liberal 'good intentions,' in the social capital sphere and more traditionally, to go awry. His question is like a beacon.
|"There is a pattern of a sort: narrowly focused technical solutions reshuffle crises. When one program after another fails again and again, and when the failures are not random but somehow always benefit the owning class, we have to ask, âHow come?â When people, just as smart as we are, regularly design programs that fail to achieve their stated goals, what are they refusing to deal with?"|
This essay would advance a relatively straightforward answer to this question. These 'smart guys,' whether they are advising George Bush or Barack Obama, whether they work for the EPA or the WHO, whether their focus is another grant or a profitable quarterly statement, fail to inculcate the precepts of community, social justice, democracy, and capacitation into their projections. They cannot succeed because they set themselves up in dialectical opposition to community needs, instead of working with communities to comprehend the dialectic in play that might move a transformative cultural moment forward.
In particular, they do not achieve the results that they say they want because they do not begin with an equitable process of dialog that engages community. They come to 'help,' already knowing what they want to 'sell' to folks, about which they seek 'buy-in.'
In particular, their accomplishments are minimal, even counterproductive, because they believe their job is to 'manage' 'subjects' who are the objects of the project. People have other ideas, of agency and activation, or simply disengagement, and things either fall apart or go nowhere.
In particular, their successes are often paltry and their debits substantial, because their purpose is, even if in the guise of 'assistance,' extractive and proprietary. Communities not only deserve a real stake in what they co-create, their members will walk away or sabotage what is in process if they are treated as a vehicle to the gain of 'project principles.'
In particular, the fail because citizens who have relationships with each other and a place remember; they tell each other, "Oh, yeah, these are the guys who left us holding the bag last time, and didn't bring more medicine, money, equipment," or whatever else was part of an explicit or implicit agreement.
Thousands of monographs, hundreds of thousands of articles, and the common-sense experience of five hundred years of community experience under capital's sway all speak to these failings. They direct one's attention, if one is willing to look, and cares enough about 'success' instead of 'getting ahead,' to processes such as CBPR.
Archon Fung and Erik Olin Wright have written one of the above monographs, Deepening Democracy. Their insights and input, though their focus in this passage is on elections, is otherwise exactly congruent with what has unfolded before readers' eyes in this article.
|"(T)he institutional forms of liberal democracy developed in the nineteenth century--representative democracy plus techno-bureaucratic administration--seem increasingly ill-suited to the novel problems we face at the beginning of the 21st century. Democracy as a way of organizing the state has come to be narrowly identified with territorially-based competitive elections of political leadership for legislative and executive offices. Yet, increasingly, this mechanism of political representation seems ineffective in accomplishing the central ideals of democratic politics: facilitating active political involvement of the citizenry, forging political consensus through dialog, devising and implementing public policies that ground a productive economy and a healthy society, and, in more radical egalitarian versions of the democratic ideal, ensuring that all citizens benefit from the nation's wealth."|
Expertise is a presumption of class and a perquisite of privilege, as well as a badge of honor. Douglas Taylor wears his expertise lightly, evincing a capacity to listen to wild ramblings and uncertain fantasy with equanimity and gently probing inquiry. He has also learned to remain silent, to insist that the community members speak up and give voice to "wherever they really are."
Ralph Nader is a lot smarter than I am. He may even be smarter than Dr. Taylor. He's a tough customer too, as I discovered on the two occasions that I tried to engage him in conversation. But a lack of raw intelligence is not the problem that we confront in the world today, any more than the foundation of the present struggle is a lack of reliable data. As a result, really smart fellows like Mr. Nader very often come up with really bone-headed ideation.
At least, if their true purpose is to improve the lives of common people, if they honestly intend to induce equity, if they in any sense care about justice and fairness, their conceptualizations are madness. Of course, if some other end guides their thinking, they might be acting in a savvy fashion. And, since I'm the dumbo in the exchange, of course Mr. Nader could be right(http://www.onlythesuperrich.org/blog/) that Only the Super Rich Can Save Us.
In this "not...fiction...(bu)t practical utopia," the man for whom I voted for President takes us from Warren Buffet's self-sacrificing decision to rescue New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina to a denouement in which Ted Turner and Yoko Ono croon about their happiness in having saved the world, for which the citizens of Hawaii in particular show "their eternal recognition of (the super rich's) labors on behalf of justice for" all Americans.
So folks have a choice. They can buy that all of us are too willful, too stupid, too incapable of taking care of business, even in a context of democracy and capacitation to do much more in their own behalf than lament the fall of humanity. On the surface, examining any given segment of Fox News, listening in on a Tea Party dialog, dropping in at an Al Qaida strategy session, or sharing party favors with folks from the 'hood, such a view of human possibility may appear apt.
But this perspective comes at a profound, a catastrophic, cost if it is wrong, because the presumed sheep and weaklings, whether in an organized or chaotic fashion, will fight to become human in spite of the prediction that they are little more than turkeys, who have to be protected from the rain lest they look up and drown. And the carnage, whether it merely 'culls the herd' by a relatively small percentage or dooms the lot of us, will color history in the direction of nightmare and cesspool for centuries or more. Folks should reread my posts about Hiroshima and Depleted Uranium for a sense of proportion here.
The other choice is to accept the possibility that the appearance of doltish oafishness is nothing more than a facade, a chimera moreover emanating from the planned policies of the movers and Shakers on whom Nader calls to 'save us from ourselves.' In this view, whatever the warts, the occasional superating sores, the seeming paradoxes of life among the cousins of the earth, community must form the basis for humankind to yield humanity.
"A community identifies itself by an understood mutuality of interests. But it lives and acts by the common virtues of trust, goodwill, forbearance, self-restraint, compassion, and forgiveness," said Wendell Berry. Though I haven't a clue what Dr. Taylor thinks of Berry's work, which I have so often extolled, I am quite certain that Community-Based Participatory Research offers something like a solid, perhaps a certain, opportunity to manifest Berry's lyricism in powerful ways.
A careful commentator on the denizens of democracy has recently written, embodying Berry's forbearance and Dr. Taylor's strategic 'technology,'
|"Benjamin Barber contends that while 'civil society' has become a popular catchphrase on both sides of the political spectrum and is often bandied around by those more enamored of novelty than real meaning in political discourse, the idea nevertheless captures an essential truth about our current democratic predicament: the public realm of government and the private sphere of commercial markets cannot by themselves sustain a democratic society. What is needed is a 'third sector' or 'civic terrain' made up of families, clans, churches, communities, and voluntary associations that can effectively mediate between 'prince and market' â between big government and wholly private commercial markets, between public and private, between the power of public communities and the liberty of private individuals."|
In case folks don't recognize the fact, in the drama of democracy versus doom, this is the cue for CBPR, imperfect, evolutionary, and paradoxical as it often works out to be. 'Business better,' sustainable commercial relations, and all the marvels of renewable energy and technological cornucopia necessitate one end of a dialectical response or the other. The end that looks vaguely human is something akin to community-based methods. At the other pole lies pristine reactors daily adding a new dose of death to their pools of waste, which the governments and operatives can think of nothing else to do with except to make this by-product into a weapon that further decimates the one race of man, cousins all.
Writing for the Manchester Guardian, the estimable professor Barber ushers us toward the end. Historically, one can argue that he leans a little too far toward the liberal band of the political spectrum. But conceptually, as his British hosts might have said, he was 'spot on.'
"(D)emocracy's real product was trust. As the war on government became a war on democracy, it drew down the well of social capital and eroded trust, causing citizens to lose faith in each other and their power to govern themselves. Why now should consumers trust banks? Or bankers trust one another? Or investors trust the stock market? Or anyone at all trust the prime minister or the US president or his treasury secretary or the MPs and members of Congress who don't trust their own leadership?
Trust is at once both precious and precarious, foundational but fragile. No leveraging without trust. No housing market without faith. No stock market without fidelity. No international trade without confidence. All products of social capital, all victims of the "cash nexus" that Marx associated with capitalism's essence. For capitalism is rooted in selfishness and cold calculating self-interest and necessarily dedicated to the welfare of shareholders rather than common goods, and it thus is incapable of generating the trust on which it depends. ...The lesson? The remedy today lies not simply in de-leveraging but in re-democratising. Recreate social capital and trust will follow."
A future beckons in which hope blooms anew. But we must trust each other enough, in spite of all, to let the people lead. We must trust people's capacity enough to persist in assisting to build and increase that capacity further. And we must resist the lure of the quick fix, the bottom line orientation, the mythos that the market will lead us to anything other than what the market has thus far produced, which is the chaotic mixture of madness and perdition that characterize these oh-so interesting times.