WHY DOESN'T SOMEONE DO SOMETHING ABOUT...? - Volunteerism Nearly Dead, Mass Media Becomes "Soma"



COMMENT 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.

A recent call using the phrase cited country cemeteries that are now full of weeds and brush.

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, given away to entertaining ourselves to death with 21st Century technology.

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 or so, including the Grantsville Lions Club, the Family Resource Network, Calhoun Park, Arnoldsburg Community Building, Upper West Fork Park, all 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. On social media they complain, endedlessly with uncivil comments or repeating political memes.

American politics is now driven by an entertaining or hot news tweet.

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.

All has been made worse by the coming of Covid-19.

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 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.

In surveys, most Americans now say the get their "news" on Facebook.

With the advent of Facebook, users have become their own writers, editors and publishers, their "news" rarely using sources.

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.

America's privacy rights have gone down the tube, but we don't seem to care.

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 - now a lack of cultural connection.

Now there are more challenges to our Democratic form of government since the beginning of the experiment.

We are referring to it as "The New Normal," a cultural shift away from what America has held dear within its belief system.

It is really abnormal and dangerous, not only to us individually but to the glue that has held out shaky form of American democracy together.

The evident crack is a culture that has further polarized - "Us vs. Them."

We we not likely to be able to save ourselves without the intervention of a Higher Power.