Dear President-elect Obama,
Since I started writing you letters about how we can all work together to solve our problems, the economic collapse of the United States has become more complete. Opinions differ concerning its causes and concerning whether it is permanent or temporary.
Meanwhile, in our town here in Chile we continue to practice a philosophy of social integration. The aim is for everyone to be included in constructive and affectionate (cariñosas) relationships whether employed in “the economy” or not. We are going about accomplishing this aim rather quietly, in order to avoid immigration to our town from elsewhere. We know that without a bounded territory achieving our aim will be impossible.
For us community service is not a government program. It does not rely on public funds. To some extent it does not rely on funds at all. We organize our neighborhood somewhat as you organized neighborhoods in Chicago , finding out who has a problem and then looking for ways to solve it with whatever resources can be found or shared.
You may remember that Martin Luther King Jr. believed that quite apart from business confidence that profits can be made by hiring employees; at a human level there is no shortage of demand for labor. Any number of workers can be useful in the field of human services, in caring for the young, the old, and the infirm. Mother Teresa in her writings expresses the complementary insight that to a considerable extent the young, the old, and the infirm yearn not so much for specialized services as for a human being to be there with them.
At most places in the world if one just looks around and sees what is before one’s eyes, one sees that there is no shortage of basic goods either. There is plenty of food, housing, clothes, etc. The challenge is to put labor and livelihood together. It is to create opportunities to serve others that are simultaneously ways to make a living. It is to include everybody in a supportive community that will assure that its members are cared for. It is to replace basic stress with what Erik Erikson called basic trust.
Whatever one’s opinion may be regarding the causes of the collapse, it is fair to say that nobody knows how long a cure will take. Some of us believe that the system cannot be cured at all. That is to say, it cannot be cured in the sense of being made to work once again as it used to work (although badly) prior to its collapse.
In our town we think of layered job creation; (1) for-profit business, (2) the people’s economy, (3) government work, (4) non-profits, (5) community service. Neighborhood and family self-reliance in the form of community service is the last of five layers. It is the guarantee that nobody will be forgotten or abandoned.
There are many ways to accomplish what we are accomplishing. History and anthropology show that. See www.gift-economy. com I will try to attach some eyewitness accounts of the ways some Argentines accomplished meeting basic needs during their crash in 2001. If the attachment does not go through, readers who want it can ask me for it and I will send it to them directly.
As the collapse of the American economy continues, it becomes increasingly clear that in the foreseeable future for-profit business will employ only a fraction of the work force. Consequently, the social integration of the rest must be accomplished in other ways.
Peace and all good,