Author Bruce Levine provides a fresh perspective on the current levels of civic engagement (or lack thereof within the United States) in his book Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite. As he puts it from his own experiences in the “afflicted class”, “I would have liked to hear some recognition that human beings often become passive not because they are ignorant, stupid, lazy, or immature but because they are overwhelmed by their pain, and their primary goal is to shut down or divert themselves in order to function at all.” Rather than simply falling back on blaming our modern political structure, social dissonance, the mainstream media, or corporate control of the public sector, Levine works to thread all these things together to illustrate exactly why we have become so disengaged as a culture. What’s unusual about Levine’s perspective is the fact that he readily uses his knowledge as a practicing clinical psychologist to bolster his viewpoints… often railing against his profession and a societal overreliance on empirical data and credentials in decision making, “…in modernity people are taught to trust scientific studies more than their own common sense and experience.” It’s not just the mental health system he goes after but the academic foundations of many professions which he finds to be exclusionary, antiquated, unnecessarily expense, and devoid of the promised good life that millions of Americans hopelessly indebt themselves to achieve.
Get Up, Stand Up offers a number of powerful quotes regarding civic disengagement as well as a critique of modern democratic practices. According to Levine, we have transitioned beyond democracy instead shifting toward a “corporatocracy which he explains as, “A corporate-government partnership that governs society is a corporatocracy. In direct democracy, the people directly rule.” Levine picks apart how this corporatocracy governs our lives and even how it is impacting our assessment of those who refuse to play the game. For me the most attractive element of Get Up, Stand Up was the fact that Levine refused to get sucked in to a hopeless negative assessment of modern society. While Levine is certainly critical, he directs his energy toward pointing out positive alternatives and how society can be improved. Levine steps out of the oft-quoted personal responsibility/boot straps paradigm instead building a foundation for a better society on the basis of respecting ourselves. As he puts it, “When one understands that the battle for democracy begins with the battle to restore individual self-respect and collective self-confidence, one then sees the entire society and culture replete with battlefields in which such self-respect and collective confidence can be won or lost.”
“If one is alone, it can sometimes be helpful to know that perhaps the reason for one’s loneliness is not social inadequacy, but that in fact a television-suburbanized-car-consumer culture is making many Americans more isolated”.
If you’re looking for inspiration and perhaps a little bit of clarity regarding how to navigate the murky waters of civic engagement in today’s complex society, I would definitely pick up Get Up, Stand Up. Levine’s perspective is refreshing if not unique. He juggles a lot of topics and overturns a lot of stones, but manages to avoid a preachy tone is his work. His compassion and overarching goal of creating a more united society is evident. He genuinely seems interest in uniting people rather than pushing a social agenda, evident in statements such as, “If one is alone, it can sometimes be helpful to know that perhaps the reason for one’s loneliness is not social inadequacy, but that in fact a television-suburbanized-car-consumer culture is making many Americans more isolated”. From a technical perspective, Levine offers a solid text which is well-referenced and features a highly-functional subject index. It’s a must read for anyone concerned about the path of society today.
This is reposted from Urban Times, where you can read the original.
Josh O’Conner is a Planner/Zoning Administrator in Asheville, North Carolina. You can find him on the web at triggerhippie.com, localplan.org, or twitter.com/joshoconner. Contact Josh via e-mail (josh -at-localplan.org). He was provided a copy of the book by Amazon for review.