Thursday, October 07, 2010

The fraying thread of civil society

I wanted to pass on this link to an article in this morning's NYTimes by Mat Bai that seems especially cogent. It deals with the independent voters whose actions appear to be pivotal in the coming elections. He describes the convening by three (non-sponsored) political and corporate marketing consultants of small focus groups of self-identified independent voters who are friends or relatives of one another, meeting in a participant’s living room.

The dominant theme of the discussion, in which jobs and taxes came up only in passing, seemed to be the larger breakdown of civil society — the disappearance of common courtesy, the relentless stream of data from digital devices, the proliferation of lawsuits and the insidious influence of media on their children...One woman described a food fight at the middle school that left a mess school employees were obliged to clean up, presumably because the children couldn’t be subjected to physical labor. A man complained about drivers who had grown increasingly hostile and inconsiderate on the roads, which drew nods of assent all around...The economy was discussed mostly in connection with these other stresses. “We all think that if we had a lot of money,” one woman said, “everything would slow down and we could enjoy ourselves.”

These voters did not hate politicians. They simply saw both parties, along with the news media and big business, as symptoms of the larger societal ailment. And this underlying perception, that politicians in Washington conduct themselves just as childishly and with the same lack of accountability as the students throwing chicken casserole in the lunchroom, may well be the principal emotion behind the electorate’s propensity to vote out whoever holds power.

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