ONE VOICE
Why is America disintegrating – lessons to learn
by Bingo P. Dejaresco

AN INTERESTING BLOG “Science on Religion” by Connor Wood sent by a friend Ricky had us thinking big last weekend.

It analyzes the “disintegration of American ” society as the reason why a “demagogue like Donald Trump called by many Catholic leaders as manifestly unfit to be president” could be giving Hillary Clinton a run for her money in the November polls for president.

It traces the history of American solidarity that pooled diverse people (in language, culture and religion) from England, Wales , Germany, Netherlands, France, Latin America and the African slaves who “decided to cooperate in order to become one country.”

They had no choice but to forge one identity- complete with new symbols like a flag, songs and stories about their collective adventure in this alien land. They saw one another as belonging to one single tribe -“emotionally responding to the same shared values”- as confederates to cooperate and invest in the collective and not be individualistic.

With optimism and “commitment to a shared society”, they were able to erect infrastructure that was the envy of the world and universities that produced innovation -and became an America that seemed “able to do anything that it wanted to accomplish” The Americans felt as one nation.

Historian Peter Turchin called this asahiya- an Arabic word that means “group solidarity”- where everyone in the community wanted to contribute (without coercion) for the common good – because everyone was confident “ that everyone felt committed too”. The bold last words are crucial, Wood asserts.

It is akin to a group project in school where everyone is assumed to be committed to contribute to the work. When some members slacken- there is resentment from others- who will also begin to cut back on their contribution to the project.The group project suffers.

It is said that asahiya in America is on a decline. From one big broad civic culture surrounded by patriotism aimed at everyone giving their fair share supported by religion and civic conscious clubs, there is now disintegration. America is “frozen by political partisan fighting”.

“Coastal liberals cannot stand to be associated with unfashionable rural people and rural Southerners have little affection for big -city smart alecks. We’re increasingly self-segregating into ideological enclaves with political affiliations replacing older sources of communal identity like churches and clubs. Instead of feeling we are on the same team, we are seeing each other as enemies , or incomprehensible aliens.”

The collapse of asahiya (also as in failed group projects in school) or commitment to the common good is driven , in part, by inequality. Asahiya moves in a cycle. A society starts with relatively low levels of inequality and high levels of emotional commitment. Everyone feels they are in this together. Social solidarity makes cooperation possible , which leads to economic growth. Over the years, however, economic growth invariably ends up concentrated in the hands of just a few people.

The society becomes less equal and polarized.”

When this happens people at the bottom of the social ladder starts feeling like what Nietzsche called “resentiment” (resentment) or envy or hatred of the ruling class. It no longer feels like everyone is on the same team, working together.”

This is when the people withdraw from the ‘social consensus” -their feeling of loyalty and emotional commitment evaporate and they become less willing to sacrifice for the collective.The collective pool starts to shrink.

America today is culturally polarized and with economic and social inequality. The patriotism for collective good has dipped -especially among the young generation often called the “Millennials.”: They increasingly distrust institutions from marriage to organized religion.

The secret in understanding the rise of Donald Trump is that the inequality- economic, cultural and education- spurs the decline of asahiya. ” Students in the most highly ranked ,prestigious colleges are trained to see the world in a way that is almost alien to how most people see it. Their education teaches them to be fiercely individualistic , extremely analytical and preternaturally resistant to social obligations. They see social conventions and traditions as illegitimate, usually oppressive, and constraints on personal freedom.

Their business professors teach them to “innovate” and “disrupt”- but never to “preserve” or “maintain”.

The working class folks , on the other hand, who produce food and build things, revolve around responsibilities imposed from the outside. “If you innovate or disrupt too much”, they will be fired.

There is , therefore, polarization between the privileged and the working class zapping “social solidarity”. For instance, the privileged are seen as “fiscal conservatives” and “social liberals”.

“Fiscal conservatism” gives them no qualms to relocate factories to Mexico and deprive work from the lower class. “Social liberalism” makes them look at the working class as “bad and bigots” – which erases their guilt about the “evisceration of working class America.”

Emotional commitment to common patriotic goals or asahiya has declined. Americans have become moire individualistic and factions pitted against one another. It is this petri culture that has produced a Trump- “populist, nativist demagogue” to arise and wrest power from the decent and the educated.

Trump- despite his social class- appears to have become the symbol of one who wants to keep the community together , “about motivating investment and participation” in the attainment of the collective good- and not just for the privileged few.

This is the kind of new leadership that has the visionary leader- former PM of Britain Tony Blair to be simultaneously – in dread and in marvel-towards this new prototype of a new world leader who is ranting and raving against the status quo.

This kind of analysis brings us back to our own elected president. Though we may not have necessarily voted for Rody Duterte -it explains his meteoric rise to the presidency.

President Aquino enlarged the pie- the GDP cake, as it were- but the division of the growth had remained unequal. Notice how our Top 20 families have improved in the world’s richest list in the last few years ? The GDP per capita has not. Thus we talk of lack of inclusive growth.

The world is no longer about just the ” mere symbols of democracy” and window dressing offered by progressive urban cities. It is about making the masses feel the wind of equality before the law and having three meals a day guaranteed.

Humbug, uncouth, crude and dangerous the new president might appear- Duterte won because he mirrored the people’s frustrations – borne out of exclusion from growth and sometimes suffering from compartmentalized justice- one for the rich, one for the poor.

We just hope the new president will meet all this tidal wave of rising expectations without violating the very principles of freedom that many generations of Filipinos fought and died for.

Happy 118th Independence Day, Philippines.

For comments: email to dejarescobingo@yahoo.com or bohol-rd@mozcom.com


HTML Comment Box is loading comments...