Different Views of America's Social Forms of Engagement with One Another, with the World, and with its own History
The rules of American social engagement come into play, not simply on a personal level, says Robert B, Putnam, in his book Bowling Alone, William K. Tabb in his book Unequal Partners and Alan Dawley in his book Changing the World, but are codified and defined on multiple levels. In other words, the changing and evolving rules of social engagement in America invariably relate to how, as a society, a complex nation such as America is constructed on a socially stratified level, how America functions on a globally stratified level amongst other nation states in a socially and civically minded fashion, and lastly and respectively, how change is constructed in the form of a movement may create a sense of social responsibility, that is absent in our society today. Social engagement with one's peers, with one's fellow nationals, and with one's fellow human beings may have grown increasingly atomized and absent in recent years, but that does not mean such laws have been erased.
All authors see a fundamental lacking in the way that Americans relate to other Americans, how America relates to the world community, and how America perceives its political responsibility to those in need within its borders and abroad. However, all three authors, because of the different paradigms they use to view this lacking of civic engagement, offer quite different solutions. Putman takes a sociological paradigm to examine American post-war Baby Boon social trends, Tabb uses the environmentalist and international relations paradigm of America's location in a global society, and Dawley takes the historian's point-of-view, contrasting the Progressive movement of the turn of the century with American social movements today, stressing the contemporary lack of political movements to cohere and achieve similarly internationalist and civic political ends.
What do the authors think is problematic about our society? What needs to be addressed, and why?
According to the title of Robert B. Putman's work, the society that bowls together stays together. But today we bowl alone. This image is not as humorous as it might initially seem to the reader of his work, Bowling Alone. Before World War II, Putnam suggests that Americans were frequently bound together in community-based organizations that resulted in formal and informal systems of social support. Today, because of the increased sub-urbanization of America, and as America has grown affluent enough on a mass scale to indulge itself in the social isolation and privacy of what was once only allowed to the very wealthy, such organizations as the Junior League, the Boy Scouts, and even local bowling leagues, have fallen into disuse and disrepute. The result has been the wealth of some Americans, the impoverishment and falling through the cracks of the system of other Americas, and the spiritual impoverishment of all Americans.
The title of Putnam's work refers to the fact that even on the level of physical fitness, American society has become increasingly atomized and stratified. Rather than bowling, American go jogging, selfishly enjoying making their bodies fit rather than helping their neighbors. In search of the privacy of suburban communities, individuals have lost their collective sense of engagement and responsibility to a larger America that extends beyond their immediate physical self and families, Rather than joining organizations such as leagues and taking pleasure in the achievements of a community rather than their own achievements, individuals engage in private and exclusive hobbies and pursuits. True, America was always an individualistic society. But now this individualization has come at the expense of the lives and livelihoods of other Americans. Fewer Americans make contributions to charities and volunteer their time to those in need, and America is poorer for it on a social level, says Putnam.
Although he does not write in direct dialogue with Putnam's work, the same thing, says William Tabb, is happening to America on the level of globalization. Putnam's paradox is that affluence and comfort in America as a nation has led to privacy and willed ignorance of the lives of those who lack such prosperity on a global level. America's prosperity has been funded to a great extent, by the Third World, argues the author. Tabb suggests that America as a nation in the increasingly global economy has become more private and inward looking in terms of its own interests, more ignorant of the results of international shifts in attitude, despite the fact that American businesses have more interests and export more goods abroad than ever.
Lately, one of the hallmarks of globalization has been the loss of many American jobs. As well as American affluence, like Putnam, Tabb also focuses on Americans whose livelihoods have been curtailed since the post war boom. Globalization has resulted in American job loss and has also created sustained impoverishment in Third World, where people are paid far less. Thus, Tabb discusses some of the international consequences of 'bowling alone.' Such solitude in attitude, Tabb suggests, has lead to the AIDS epidemic, as individuals in other nations have less to spend on health care and proper sanitation. It has also made governments less willing to spend upon their environments, because they have little economic resources to sustain their population's needs for food. International organizations have also done little to help these nations escape debt.
Both authors see a lack of caring in America today on a national, international, and local level. But in contrast to Putnam's stress of the dangers of American autonomy, Tabb stresses the dangerous dependency American global practices have encouraged in other nations. Tabb's text Unequal Partners stresses how in the post-Cold War era, the growing corporatization of the world has benefited wealthier Americans. But this movement towards American enrichment, or the enrichment of a few American individuals and corporations, has also left many nations behind, in a state of economic dependence.
Tabb suggests as his anti-corporate global solution, not a retreat into protectionism and isolationism. Like Putnam he calls for greater civic engagement -- but on a world scale. Rather, the rights of workers all over the globe must be protected. Only then will the calls to safeguard the physical environment be truly heeded -- and the safeguarding of the world environment will benefit us all, Tabb suggests. America must be more civically engaged as a nation, not simply on a communal level, as suggested in Putman's text, but as a global citizen with concerns beyond its economic backyard, in William Tabb's estimation.
Like Putnam as well, Tabb stresses the responsibility of individuals to a community. Tabb advocates what he calls a globalization from below, in other words, he asks his readership to attempt to lobby and to influence and regulate the behavior of corporations and governments. But while Putnam calls upon his readers to join local organizations, Tabb also advocates greater political and civic engagement, but in organizations that fight for global justice. Interestingly enough, it should be noted, some of Putnam's objectives might be achieved while achieving Tabb's more global and international aims. After all, banding together to aid the world can also cause greater interaction between individuals and greater discussion of social and political issues of consequence, large and small, spanning everything from local recycling efforts to not wearing the clothing lines that exploit Third World workers, to lobbying congressmen to change their voting patterns.
These solutions also harkens back to the historian Alan Dawley's account of the Progressive Movement, to an era that Putnam looks back with a great deal of social fondness in his work. Through acts of international as well as local social engagement, Dawley suggests, social change was achieved within the American nation and also, eventually upon a global level. Dawley specifically begins with an issue that pertains, on a personal, social, American, and also on an international level, to many political lives. The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom may have organized in Zurich in May 1919 but its dedication to peace and to ensuring the voting rights of women connected many women and many pacifists across the world as well as in small, intimate communal networks. (Dawley 1).
Communities need not be viewed in nationalist terms, much less community terms, but as intricate connections of civic interests that can span across the globe.
Dawley's stress upon the pacifist movement is interesting, however, because unlike many of his historian counterparts, he emphasizes that pacifism and isolationism were seldom conjoined. Again and again, the civic engagement of Americans as citizens of communities, nations, and the world is stressed in this author's text. Although the Progressive movement in America opposed American's entry into World War I, the movement also endorsed Woodrow Wilson's League of Nations and Wilson's stress upon making America part of the global community. Dawley's history of the first half of the 20th century creates a parallel between the rapid rise of the United States to world prominence as a result of its international wartime engagement,…