WHAT MATTERS HERE ON EARTH – Blissful Oppression Under The Sun?

By Bob Weaver
One of the most frequent phone calls or e-mails received by the Hur Herald since the late 1990s contains the statement, “Somebody needs to do something about…” stating a problem that needs resolved.

The dependence on others to get things done, create change and provide solutions is now part of the culture, or as social scientists say the lack of “social capital,” people being involved in things that are important to their lives.

It is evidenced by the lack of volunteerism and the decline of community.

It is not just a problem for rural and economically deprived counties like Calhoun, it is an endemic decline across the USA.

However, low population counties like Calhoun feel it harder, the lower the population the fewer individuals to show up.

Robert D. Putnam, in his book “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital,” says there has been a decline of “social capital” in the US since 1950.

He described the reduction in all the forms of in-person social intercourse upon which Americans used to found, educate, and enrich the fabric of their social lives.

It would appear that the engagement with local school systems is limited, except to complain. We attended a special board meeting to define the Ten Year Plan for Calhoun Schools and only two parents appeared.

Following the patriotic fervor after 9-11, the Grantsville VFW had a memorial service at the Calhoun courthouse, and the only outsider turning up for the event was the late teacher Elva Yoak, whose brother died in World War II.

During the 20th Century a couple dozen civic organizations were active around the county involving both men and woman. Now there appears to be only a couple, including the Grantsville Lions Club with a few members.

Vital volunteer fire departments have declined to a few members, many struggling to exist, with some blame being placed on ever increasing requirements for training.

In most rural counties few sign-up to serve on Democrat or Republican executive committees, their importance no longer significant in the political process.

Added to the lack of “social capital” is the ever decreasing decline in church attendance.

Putnam says American’s are cocooning with their electronic devices, 400 channel TVs, gaming, and surfing the Internet.

Interpersonal social interaction is now through texting, tweeting and Facebooking, giving a sense of human interaction without human contact.

Americans have disengaged from political involvement with low voter turnout, West Virginia being the worst in the nation, indicating a growing distrust in government.

Politicians have learned that their campaigns need to be directed toward a small number of people defined as “the base.”

Putnam notes the aggregate loss in membership and number of volunteers in many existing civic organizations such as religious groups, labor unions, Parent-Teacher Association, Federation of Women’s Clubs, League of Women Voters, volunteers with Boy Scouts and the Red Cross, and fraternity organizations (Lions Clubs, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, United States Junior Chamber, Freemasonry, etc.).

Putnam says the the disconnect, which he refers to as “bowling alone,” is problematic to democracy.

Powerful multinational corporations have learned to manipulate the populous with the help of their political allies, even convincing many that it is a good things that about 1% own 99% of the country’s wealth.

Putnam blames the technological “individualizing” of our leisure time via television, Internet and eventually “virtual reality helmets”.

In Neil Postman’s prophetic book “Amusing Ourselves To Death,” he outlines the decline of “social capital” in the age of entertainment, which has now taken over mass media news reporting.

Postman said that the contemporary world is reflected by Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” whose public was oppressed by their addiction to amusement, rather than Orwell’s “1984” book where the public was oppressed by state control.

Huxley saw a world where people medicate themselves into bliss, thereby voluntarily sacrificing their rights. Drawing an analogy with the latter scenario, Postman sees mass media entertainment value as a present-day “soma”, by means of which the citizens’ rights are exchanged for consumer entertainment.

Perhaps there is light at the end of the tunnel, a life of oppression under the sun, the bliss of entertainment, replaced with a dramatic change requiring human contact and social engagement.

Personally, I feel most fortunate to have come of age in spending time with my human counterparts, looking into their faces, acknowledging their emotions and expressions, and hearing the words that came from their mouths.

Surely that’s what matters here on earth.