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What’s Behind the Erosion of Civil Society?

What’s Behind the Erosion of Civil Society?

Rebuilding social capital and social connectedness is not something that can be done by governments or corporations.
As the mid-term elections are widely viewed as a referendum of sorts, let’s set aside politics and ask, what’s behind the erosion of our civil society? That civil society in the U.S. and elsewhere is fraying is self-evident. It isn’t just the rise of us-or-them confrontations and all-or-nothing ideological extremes; social bonds between people are weakening.
There are many probable causes: addictive technologies such as social media and smartphones; chronic economic stress, greater mobility and a host of more subtle factors.
One such factor is the erosion of community and its replacement with state (government) or corporate structures. One of the most insightful essays I’ve read in the past few years is a report from the Guardian (U.K.) on What Happened When Walmart Left a low-income rural community in America’s Coal Country.
One of the most tragic findings, in my view, was that Walmart was the social hub of the community: Walmart was the place to go to meet friends, people-watch, walk around to pass the time, etc.
This is a remarkable reversal of a traditional community, which is centered around communal public spaces such as churches, temples, etc., town squares, Main Street, the local marketplace, etc. Now the center of social life is a corporate-owned private space dedicated to maximizing the profits of the corporation.
This dependency on corporate spaces is paralleled by a dependency on corporations and the state for income and the organization of social life.
This leads to the another tragedy: the near-complete lack of any non-state, non-corporate social structures; the general zeitgeist was near-total dependence on the state and corporations not just for income but for the structure of everyday life, to use historian Fernand Braudel’s phrase.

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