Are we witnessing the end of ‘community’?

Is the word ‘community’ meaningless? Are we living in the most ‘individualistic’ moment in American history? Given the debates about how unequal we have become, as a country; do we  just need a ‘each man on his own’ mindset or do traditional systems such as family, neighbors have any relevance in our lives? I ask these basic questions in an attempt to map out the contours or individualism and community in America, in 2016. This is by no means an easy task and I don’t mean to provide all answers nor all perspectives.

Diverse generations
Multi-ethnic multi-generation group of people from young children to 95 years old.

Steeped as it is, this debate about individualism and Communitarianism is at the heart of many other larger debates. The most important one is that of what are called ‘Culture wars’ in America. Note my use of the word ‘America’ and not ‘The U.S.’. I’ll come to that in a moment. But indulge me for a bit. Be patient and I promise the rewards will be worth your time.

As several scholars, journalists and pundits have argued and continue to argue, we are witnessing the corrosive impact of individualism. Those who don’t agree point to the ‘communities’ that are cropping up, as it were; driven by technology, mass rapid transit and other new-age mechanisms that are bringing us closer ( and also driving us apart). Note that Face Book is cited as one of the leading causes of divorce, by couples in the U.S.

My intention in this project is to look at how ideas of community and individualism are being impacted through philanthropy – the most ‘American’ of values. The discourse of philanthropy is perhaps the most influential one, in the public sphere. After that of God. Infact, more people give to charity, than go to a place of worship; according to several studies. Perhaps there are some surprises in store for us here: just like Muhammad Ali (the boxer) claimed that he was more famous than Jesus Christ – and there is some grain of truth in that. Or perhaps not!

Using philanthropy as a lens, I will argue that the idea of community is no longer irrelevant – whether you are a liberal or a conservative, this notion is very powerful and is reasserting itself in the public sphere. Even if you throw it out of the window, this idea of community will enter through the door.

The trend towards moral pluralism is manifest in areas such as LGBTQ rights, immigration justice movements, as much as they were for racial equality, during the civil rights movements. One can see how this trend for expanding the idea of ‘who belongs’ to the U.S. is in stark contrast to nativist and extremely individualistic notions of belonging.

I will be posting updates on how this project is progressing and invite you to participate, in any way you want. Write to me, call me or talk to me – I need your inputs!

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