Despite our ever increasing social networks and American weekend culture, it is shocking how bad we are at being social.
In 1991, a Canadian Architect named Witold Rybczynski wrote a prophetic book called Waiting for the Weekend, in which he discusses the evolution towards the modern weekend. While people in the past used their leisure time to cultivate their humanity, people today view freetime as a space to do nothing or binge watch an entire season of some TV show. We may enjoy doing nothing with friends and family at times, but the fact that so many in our culture suffer from depression and anxiety associated with loneliness suggest that the quality of our social activity is insufficient.
Part of the problem is that our culture worships individualism under the guise of “self fill-in-the-blank,” (independence, relativity, etc). As a whole, even if never spoken, our actions reveal that our own well-being, desires, and truth are more valid than others. This is the antonym of social.
Do We Actually Want Social Justice?
Despite this lack of social connectedness, we’ve developed this fascination with social justice, a big concept with messy distinction in our culture. Normally, the phrase stresses justice - a concept that humanity’s best thinkers have not been able to neatly nail down - and that typically drives the conversation towards politics. However, social - all that pertains to a society of people living together peaceably - generally produces little conversation at all because it’s taken for granted.
The way our culture has abandoned our need to be social contradicts the very “social” justice that we claim to desire. Though we may not see how these ideas directly correlate with one another, it would be foolish to suspect that red thread could produce a blue fabric. The culture of a society consist of the collective character of its members.
However, if we want to get social justice right, we must first get the social aspect right. For the sake of clarity, I am not suggesting that work towards social justice does not consist of systemic, political problems. What I am saying is that friendship, the most fundamental unit of a community in addition to the family, cannot be legislated. Laws do not mandate hate, hateful people mandate unjust laws.
Community in Crisis
In Dallas, Texas last year a heart wrenching incident occurred in which a police officer murdered a man in his own apartment under the impression that she had entered her own apartment. There was a lot of debate and mystery surrounding the event, but no one can deny that it was tragic. Of course the media spun the story in such a way that would elicit hate from their viewers, but I want to situate the story within our theme of being social.
It is clear that these two individuals lived in the same apartment complex and they did not know one another. However, there was a point in time when people lived in a given area and could not meet a stranger, especially in their own neighborhood. I remember hearing this story and, with tears in my mind, replaying it in my mind but with a different conclusion. Imagine if that apartment complex was not a conglomerate of individuals, but a community of acquaintances. What if those two knew of each other; not that they would be “besties,” but familiar neighbors. One day as the officer walks up to what she perceives to be her apartment, she accidentally ends up on the wrong floor. But, instead of firing her weapon in fear,
“Jane? What are you doing here?”
“What are you doing here? This is my apartment!”
With a smirk, “Jane, I think you’re on the wrong floor.”
A soul would still be here today. A well meaning woman would still be in uniform serving her community. Our culture is suffering because our communities are in a state of crisis. We have the lost the art of being social, and our ignorance has breed a kind of fear that manifests itself as hate for that which we do not understand.
The “Big” Fix
It is obvious that we have a big problem that bears with it a deep, complex history of slavery, segregation and exploitation. The solution to such a problem must not be merely technical, but adaptive. A technical solution requires a simple action that can be done without the need of new ideas. An adaptive change change requires complex action and an evolution in your way of thinking. Legislation is a necessary solution, but it is a technical solution. This is why the abolition of slavery only gave way to Jim Crow and segregation. The law was changed but the hearts of humanity were not.
In addition to the technical changes in our country’s policies, we also need to do the hard adaptive work of evolutionizing our idea of being social. The awkward, tense face to face interactions with those who do not look, live or think like we do is the only way that we can build the necessary bridges to mend our society. In our pursuit of just policy, we must not forget the power of one another.
How are we to cultivate this kind of community with tensions so high, and hurt that roots so deep? More discussion on this topic in response to the question to come in part 2.
T.R. "Ty" Ragland is a husband, teacher, journalist, and graduate student at the University of Dallas studying Humanities. Ty yearns to see truth made accessible to the public sphere through all art forms. Ty is the co-founder and associate editor of The Grounds Journal.