Sunday, September 08, 2013

New America Foundation president calls for a culture of caring as well as compassion; more on the supposed deterioration of social capital

The Washington Post has an article on p. B3 of the Outlook Section, Sunday, September 8, 2013, by New America Foundation president Anne-Marie Slaughter, “America should care more about caring”.  The online title is more specific, “Anne Marie-Slaughter envisions an America where caring is as important as competing”, link here. Here professional link is here
She mentions some basic postulates.  Human beings cannot survive alone.  Individual expression only matters when others can receive and relate to it.  But our culture does not now always value “breadwinning” and “caregiving” equally, an process she says as necessary for true equality.  When one has been in a situation of doing or managing caregiving, not by choice but by filial responsibility, this becomes a bitter personal lesson.
It is true that most of her remarks can be understood from a certain safe distance.  It’s true that public policy needs to maintain and protect infrastructure more than facilitate short term profits.  It’s also true that her view of equality would ultimately promote gender equity and even sometimes support same-sex marriage and parenting.  Her remarks indicate that responsibility for caregiving go way beyond the decision just to have and raise children, even properly in marriage.
The more challenging question is what a culture that promotes “caring” would mean for personal morality.  It could mean that people have to accept shared goals defined by their culture, including long-term viability, something we call “generativity”  (emerging from “conformity”) and a process that can invite religious, cultural or even political authoritarianism, and limit individual innovation.  It could mean that people grow up learning to care before they compete with others on their own, or can be listened to.  It could, in some people’s minds, define principles that limit access to sexuality to readiness to take on responsibility for others, especially procreation and child-rearing – the Vatican view – as a way of setting social priorities for everyone so that these things always get done and risks are shared.  It does sound like what in the 90’s we called “family values”, but with a serious caveat.  Much, even most of the time, people stop their sense of caring at the boundaries of family, or sometimes tribe – as if surrounded by a psychological moat.  Different peoples remain in conflict with one another, with the big decisions under the control of authoritarian politicians.  Individualism might seem to challenge this isolationism and insularity when moving out from the family, by encouraging people to reach out and connect to others on their own (the Facebook effect).   Yet, really effective “caring” and outreach in more challenging parts of the world cannot be accomplished without people’s being socialized first within family or local community.  “Intentional communities” and urban groups (like the Ninth Street Center in New York in the 1970s, which spoke about the ability to "care about individual people" as a virtue) find this out all the time. On the other hand, some church groups, doing mission work overseas (as in Central America) find younger adults and teens open to a degree of social intimacy with "strangers" that would seem off-putting to older people.  
Some political libertarian writers, like Charles Murray (Books blog, March 12, 2012), have become properly concerned by the erosion of social capital (or “eusociality”) and the personal insularity that comes with hyperindividualism.  It can lead disadvantaged communities to come to believe that there are no moral values at all, and contribute to the brazenness of some of the anti-social behavior we see these days. (See my "drama" blog, Nov. 4, 2012).  It seems that for me personally, though, that "caring" is more a moral problem, of "right and wrong", than something I really welcome as an experience.  Maybe it is a character issue.  

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