Monday, August 28, 2023

#240 / Passive Spectators?


The Harvard political theorist Robert Putnam observes that during the past thirty years Americans have steadily reduced their participation ... in traditional forms of community involvement, such as the PTA, the League of Women Voters, unions, mainstream churches, the Boy Scouts and Campfire Girls and service clubs like the Lions and Kiwanis ... The key change during the past fifty years, Putnam concludes, is the steadily increasing influence of television ... It worries me that so many of us now sit alone for hours on end, passive spectators paying more attention to the strangers on the screen than to the real people next door.

The book I have just quoted (a book I have mentioned before) was published in 1999. Almost a quarter of a century has passed since Loeb wrote out the words that I have just copied out for you. Putnam's book, which Loeb references, is entitled, Bowling Alone, and was written at just about the same time. I, personally, agree with both Putnam and Loeb that when "citizens" become "spectators," genuine self-government is imperiled.
I am fond of pointing out that we can see ourselves as either "observers" or as "actors." "Citizens," those engaged in the tasks of self-government, must "act," not just "watch."
As I read what Loeb wrote in 1999, it struck me that whatever impacts television may have had on civic engagement, "television" is a puny weakling compared to the media that comprise the social universe in which most of us now live. The "Internet," in all its captivating forms, is like television on steroids. 

Those who want to reanimate genuine "self-government," here in the United States, have an even bigger problem today than the problem that Putnam and Loeb identified in 1999. 

"Passive" is a word that describes the life of a "spectator," someone who is an "observer," someone who watches instead of acting. It may just be that things are even worse than Putnam and Loeb understood: 

The picture above leads off a series of images with the following title: "Let Me Explain The Modern World." Click that link if you'd like to see more. 
If you are concerned about the future of democratic self-government, as I am, it seems pretty clear that we need to return our attention to the "real" world - which isn't going to be very easy, actually. If we care about the future of self-government, we need to overcome our addiction to that spectator role.
That's what we need to do, at least, if we want to be in charge of our destiny and our future!
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