Tim Danahey, Coffee Party USA Director of Public and Member Relations
In the year 2000, Robert Putnam wrote a book entitled “Bowling Alone”. The book contains data from twenty-five years of surveys and trends about American behavior. The book shows how Americans have become increasingly disconnected from each other. It tells how social institutions such as churches, clubs, recreational leagues, and even family dinners and playing games with friends are disappearing.
The book is still relevant as American socialization remains in decline. Every institution has been in decline. Union membership is down. Church attendance is in decline. Movie theater attendance is suffering. In fact, even television-watching among hundreds of channels instead of four or five has denied us opportunities to communicate about common topics.
All of this leads to a loss of social capital. Social capital is different from financial capital because social capital measures the factors that measure the quality of life and life expectancy. Financial capital measures profits and money. When we are working, playing, and discussing issues together, it is demonstrable that we live longer and we are happier. We have more social capital and we, as individuals and as a society, are richer.
Social media is not an adequate substitute for real socialization and involvement. Social media gives us a false sense that a “like” or a “share” is a suitable replacement for real participation in group activities. The false sense actually isolates ourselves from real involvement – real engagement.
The Revolutionary War's motto of “Join or Die” and Benjamin Franklin's statement, “We must hang together or, surely, we will hang separately” accurately addressed the need for people to be together and work for freedom, for justice, and even representation. Naturally, there are powerful entities who might benefit from a nation bereft of social capital. J.P. Morgan once said the equivalent of, “we must keep the people distracted and divided over silly social issues while we move our agenda steadily forward.” Concentrated financial and/or military capital will defeat social capital if people are not engaged and active – and that's how we will lose the fight.
If we are too distracted to participate, if we are too lacking individual self worth, or if we rely upon others to perform the tasks to preserve freedom and justice for us, then we will surely lose the fight for our rights – and those currently with power are okay with that result. Those currently with power will keep us distracted, keep us amused, tell us issues are too complicated, tell us we're just one person, and marginalize our voices. Those currently with power will deny us media attention and perpetuate the myth that people aren't rising to fight injustice. If we believe them, that is how we will lose the fight.
Thus far, this article has been totally defensive about how we will lose the fight. Instead, we must change the discussion to reflect how we will “win the fight” for social and economic justice. Winning the fight entails everyone – yes, everyone – being engaged in something – anything. It all counts. A book club, a political movement, a candidate, an issue, movie discussions, town hall meetings, a quilting club, a charity, Habitat for Humanity – it's all good. Just do something that increases this nation's social capital and your length and quality of life.
Join the Coffee Party USA. Volunteer with us through our many local community groups, issue groups, and media efforts. It will enable us all engage in discussions, activism, and voting to win the fight for our rights – and our career politicans and crony capitalists will hate you for it. And that's good.